Advocating For Families Means Loving Them Enough To Hold Them Accountable

“But in my heart of hearts, I know from experience there are situations where it’s true that parents aren’t working their end of the home-school partnership. I think we all know it but none of us dare risk revocation of our Black-card…” Chris Stewart

I couldn’t believe he wrote it. The former single-dad who worked low wage jobs to support his son while taking on the two-headed monster of government schooling and low expectations for black children, ultimately fighting his way to a school board seat and now one of the foremost voices of the education liberation movement in the United States, said it.  And I risked revocation of my “Black-card” by lifting the excerpt from his weekly blog “How Are The Children” to amplify it on Twitter.

Anti-Parent Chorus

Losing my Black-card was not the thing that I feared, rather it was joining the cacophony of anti-parent voices within the education eco-system who blame/shame parents for deficiencies within the school system. So, I was shocked to read Stewart’s reflective post in response to a teacher’s tone-deaf comment at an 8 Black Hands Podcast recording (1/4 of those hands belong to Mr. Stewart): “How can we make parents accountable for their children’s education?” 

And Stewart’s response?

My reply was what I would call “Minnesota polite.” I said the premise of her question was “problematic and in need of calibration.” We shouldn’t take the fact that some parents don’t attend teacher conferences on weekday nights during dinnertime as proof they aren’t accountable for their kids’ success.

This is the same guy that tweeted:

Stewart doesn’t suffer fools lightly – typically. He goes hard in the paint for the most marginalized children and leaves it all out on the field for families desperate for excellence. Mixed metaphors aside, he’s the guy I want on my team calling the plays.

The Lame Blame Game

I have shared several times on Volume and Light my takeaway from a series of meetings with educations and administrators in search for solutions to the dismal reading results for Black Brown and children in poverty where all but one person blamed parents for not reading to or forcing their child to read. Parents are literally getting the blame for the literacy crisis in Nashville. Let’s be clear, I will never separate a parent from their responsibility, but as I have said before, every parent who invests in public schools should expect, at minimum, a child who reads.

Further, where there are academic weaknesses you are likely to find policies that police parents’ hair and clothing…

…and policies that bully parents by threatening to retain children not reading on grade level.

I do not subscribe to parent shaming or placing systemic failures on parents’ shoulders. It’s lazy and unfair.

Accountability Matters

Though I was knocked off my pivot by Stewart’s calm retort to the teacher and acknowledgment that some parents aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, he was right to amplify the latter. There are parents who neglect their end of the school-home partnership. What makes that admission so scary is that the reader will make her own value judgment about the parent’s role in school and home. One parent’s idea of engagement might be bake sales and PTA while another parent sees her efforts to get child fed, clothed, and on the bus as doing her part. Neither is wrong. Our experiences and resources dictate how we interact with schools.

At the end of the day, parents must connect (no value placed here) with their child’s school and make education a priority in the home. Poverty and poor education are not excuses for a non-existent school-home connection.

For Parents and Teachers

I like to end with something you can take with you. Below you will find three nuggets of wisdom for parents and teachers from an educational leadership journal offered by someone who knows these things. Dr. Karen Mapp is a senior lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a well-respected expert on family engagement with a sensitivity for Black and Brown, immigrant and families in poverty.

First, [parents] need to know they are an integral part of their children’s development. That regardless of their past education experience, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, they are their child’s first teacher. And they are already doing things that support their child’s learning, things that can be enhanced through partnership with the school.

Second, they should know that they have knowledge about their children that we, as educators, need.

Third, families need to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to their child’s teacher and school.

No judgment, just information.

As Chris Stewart wrote: “If we dare to ask ‘how are the children,’ we must also be brave enough to ask ourselves how we’re partnering with teachers to ensure that they are well.”

3 thoughts on “Advocating For Families Means Loving Them Enough To Hold Them Accountable

  1. Parent disengagement is of course high on the list of that which ails our public schools. I continue to believe that MNPS would move the needle on too this if it allowed all our 8th graders to compete on equal footing for test-score-segregated Hume Fogg/MLK slots in 9th grade. Sadly, the district tells families “Get away from that integrated middle school down the road as fast as possible, through our lottery into auto-pathway Meigs, or through Valor Charter which has a 5 to 12 clear pathway “.

    How can parents be engaged when the middle school is miles away? How can parents be engaged when the zoned middle schools left behind by the departers are setup for stress?

    It continues to amaze me that MNPS clings to the “you need to leave” mantra, and then is surprised when funding is light.

    Fallout from parent disengagement at our elite private schools in Nashville arrives at the front page of the newspaper once or twice a year. But, in our private schools, at least there is staff to help fill in the gap of the dad and mom who works 80 hour weeks to pay the $30K tuition. At $10K per child in our public schools, ($6K at more affluent schools like Percy Priest Elementary), we need every parent, every business, every resource we can imagine to be on deck to fill in the gap.

    Great post, as always. Thanks much.

    Liked by 1 person

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