Every time I would complain about public schools to a friend of mine who is a public school teacher, he would respond with “You don’t understand how awful most parents are. You are obsessed with your child’s education, but many other parents are not even remotely interested in what happens to their kids. Public school curriculum gets dumber and dumber because parents are getting less and less interested in their kids’ lives. You don’t how hard it is to teach kids to read when their own parents don’t give a shit about whether they learn to read, such that they won’t take even 30 minutes to read to them at home. I’d tell parents their kids are failing the grade, and they’d tell me to take it up with their child because it’s not their problem.”
He’d also respond with this tirade whenever anyone brought up the issue of school violence and bullying. There are a lot of parents who want teachers and school administrators to be wholly responsible for disciplining their child.
What was always surprising to me about these exchanges is that he was not at the stereotypical “forgotten” school. He was not Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds trying to teach British literature to inner-city gangbangers that just wanted to fuck and kill and were going to graduate to prison. He was in a middle class suburb with college-educated parents who could afford all the Baby Einstein they wanted. You ever wonder how celebrities who could afford to send their kids to the best schools end up having to bribe colleges to admit their functionally illiterate children?
Caring about education is not a function of money and class now, assuming it ever was. It’s kind of remarkable how many social problems all come down to the destruction of family life.
After a couple weeks of coronavirus school closures, I totally understand what he was saying. Many parents truly regard their kids’ schools as taxpayer-funded daycare.
Ever since I nixed all my social media accounts, I have a friend here who likes to send me screenshots of all the stupid stuff she sees on social media. It’s kind of nice seeing what’s going around without having to sort through it myself (something my mental health will not permit). Because she’s a homeschooler, the theme from the past couple weeks of her screenshots are parents who are complaining about having to do homework with their children since schools are closed. The memes and comments started off with crazy kid antics, but they’ve become increasingly dark. One said “Day 10 of homeschooling, human biology: testing whether chloroform is really odorless,” and it had a picture of a mother holding a washcloth over her kid’s face. I’m sorry, that’s just sick.
I’m not sure what humor parents take in the fact that they have raised complete hellions that they don’t even like to be around. “Please let this pandemic be over so I can dump my hellspawn off on someone else” doesn’t seem like the kind of sentiment a normal, well-adjusted person would want to share with the world. I would like to think that most parents are not complaining about having more time to spend as a family. That most people think the hours spent with their children are precious because they only get one childhood.
We have a neighbor down the street who works from home on a normal day and sends her child to a private elementary school here. That school has aligned its decisions with the public school system explicitly to avoid liability. They do not want to hold classes when the state is not and then have to deal with lawsuits if kids get sick.
She has sent us two messages so far asking us if we would babysit her child for several hours (during the middle of the work day) so she could be in meetings. No kidding. The notion of fixing your kid a snack and starting a movie for them in another room is too hard? Or handing your child a book to read and telling them that you are going to be on an important phone call, so please be quiet?
I kind of get it now, though. On normal school days, she’s at home but leaves her kid at the school in after-school programs until 5 pm. That only leaves a couple hours in the evening to have to deal with the kid, which is mostly a meal and a bath. During spring and summer breaks, the kid attends a litany of camps – in perfect succession, so the kid never actually gets a break from being managed by adults. There’s no careless summer vacation for that child of racing bikes and building forts. When she’s awake, she waits for someone to tell her what to do and where to be.
This pandemic is quite literally the mother’s first experience of being responsible for her own child for large stretches of time and she’s desperate to find anyone to fill the childcare void that her child’s school served. She’ll even ask neighbors to take a break from earning a living themselves to supervise her child. It doesn’t even occur to her that this might seem insane.
When this pandemic first started, I was skeptical that parents like this existed, but now I understand they do. They are willing to outsource parenthood to any random Joe in their environment. In fact, she thinks that because we have come up with an effective way to homeschool and run our own business simultaneously, throwing her own child into our mix is an elegant solution. Nope.
These are not minor cultural failings. Having parents make it 18 years without assuming any role in their child’s education (and, yes, a child should be getting an education before kindergarten) is a big deal. Having children who need to be professionally managed every moment of the day is a big deal. Even young children should be capable of entertaining themselves and participating in independent activities. And these are really two sides of the same coin. The kids aren’t developing their minds, so they cannot function independently. If your child cannot occupy themselves for a couple hours without misbehaving to get attention, you have a big problem on your hands. And it’s not the kid’s fault. It’s yours. You have neglected a major component of their personal development.
Being a terrible parent is not cute or funny, and you don’t get a mulligan on the responsibilities of raising a child. Being a good parent is also not some impossible task that must be outsourced so you can earn a living. If you can make time to watch seven hours of a gay polygamist meth-head zookeeper on Netflix, you can help your kid with their homework without a bunch of manufactured, self-indulgent drama and martyrdom. And this isn’t just about when your kids are out of school and you’ve lost your taxpayer-funded babysitter.