Should A Parent Play A Role In The Educational Process?

High School Classroom

High School Classroom
(Not Mine)

An article recently came out in The Atlantic by Dana Goldstein. The article is entitled: Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework.

The article references a study by Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke. The study was the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement.

According to The Atlantic article, the study found that “most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.”

With all due respect, I find these results hard to believe. Let me remind you of my background.

I am a high school English teacher in an inner city public school. Between my five classes (3 senior and 2 sophomore), I have 140 students (3 classes have 34 students). There are approximately 10-15 students who never show up to class. I’ve called their houses but never heard back.

Here is my first hand evidence to counter the article and referenced study in The Atlantic.

Parent-teacher conferences recently concluded. Less than 20% of parents showed up. Those numbers are not atypical. A number of my colleagues who I spoke to reported the same attendance rate.

I have been in the school 11 years.  The attendance rate at parent teacher conference has fallen from approximately 65% to the now less than 20%. It has been steadily declining.

And so has the school.

The typical student is less able and motivated than in the past. I’d like to add that the percentage of students who passed has fallen as well. Again, I don’t think all of this is a coincidence.

The media and politicians seem to enjoy bashing teachers these days. All the nation’s problems are because of poor teachers. If we had good teachers, all would be in the good world.

I am biased and have a limited perspective. I’ll admit it. So, read on with a grain of salt.

The mass majority of teachers I have worked with and met are caring individuals. They want to help their students grow, learn, and succeed and are willing to work hard to make it happen.

I have also come across ineffective teachers. And lazy teachers. And teachers who are burnt out and counting down the days till retirement.

Tell me what profession are you in? Does everyone in the profession meet the highest standards of the calling? Didn’t think so.

Of course, teachers are a huge factor in the education process, but they are NOT the only element. Most obviously, the student him or herself matters. There is the administration. There are the therapists, guidance counselors, etc. And then there are the parents.

I’m not blaming the parents, or denying that there are multiple reasons why their involvement has declined. However, I very much believe that their involvement in the educational process would help.

Now, the influence of parents does not have to come via parent teacher conference. Many times the teacher will not be able to see the influence of the parents. However, they often see the result.

Did you ever see the movie Waiting for Superman? The movie Waiting for Superman follows a few students as they strive to get into Charter Schools. I’ll never forget the scenes where parents whoop it up as if they won the lottery when they recognize their child got in to the public side. On the flip side, those whose children did not get in are so clearly dejected. It’s as if they have been told they have months to live.

It’s not a coincidence that Charter Schools, as a whole, have students who achieve higher results than those kids in public schools.

Again, I know there are other factors that one would be naive to ignore. However, the naivety would be just as great if one ignored the influence of the parent(s).

Therefore, I say sorry to The Atlantic, but I can’t agree with The Robinson and Harris study. Parents matter in the educational process.

Pic is courtesy of Photopin

Daddy, What’s For Dinner?

Child eating and enjoying his food - not dinner

SJ eating and enjoying his food. No, it’s not dinner.

SJ is a big boy.

He has been a big boy since birth. He came into this world at 9 pounds 4 ounces.  He remains in the 90 plus percentile when it comes to weight.

And the boy likes to eat.

However, like most 7-year-olds, he is finicky. Recently, SJ informed Ms. MMK and I that he was no longer eating hot dogs. No, it’s not because he has made the moral choice of going vegan. SJ just felt that he wanted something different.

My wife was not taking this decision lying down.

She told him, “Well then, you need to find something else to add to your list of foods.”

SJ was confused, “Huh?”

“You only eat 7 foods [slight exaggeration – 27 is more like it. You do count bagel and cheese and bread and cheese as two different foods – right? ] and if you are removing one from the list you need to add another one.”

SJ sighed. He continues to eat hot dogs. Uggh, the sacrifices he must make.

Let’s recap what I have shared so far: SJ is a big eater and a particular eater.

Okay, nothing earth shattering. That’s probably the description 88.2% of kids. I just made that number up – sounds like a radio station, perhaps Finicky 88.2 – but I am confident the number is similarly high.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I do the food shopping for my family. Not only that, I do the meal planning.

Actually, my wife handles Wednesdays which is take out day. She also handles Fridays – our Sabbath meal.  It’s the best one of the week – BY FAR! I’ll tell you about that another time.

Anyway, the family looks to me to know what’s for dinner. Now between my repertoire, limited time for preparation, and the boys’ inch wide list of things they are willing to eat, there is little variety.

Now, you would think the excitement of what’s for dinner would not be there.

No, no, no. Daddy, what’s for dinner is the first thing SJ asks me when I see him in the afternoon.

I was on the phone with my wife the other day, and I heard SJ in the background. It was a Wednesday when my wife works from home.

He asked Ms. MMK, “Is that daddy on the phone?”

“Yes, do you want to talk to daddy?”

“I want to know what’s for dinner.”

“I told you what I got for dinner.”


“Hello,” I called out to my wife.


“He doesn’t want to talk to me anymore does he?”

“What can I tell you?”

Asking me what’s for dinner is not a once in a while sort of thing. Before, I have my coat off, SJ asks me, “Daddy, what’s for dinner?”

As we walk out of after care, SJ asks me, “Daddy, what’s for dinner?”

On Sundays after lunch, SJ asks me, “Daddy, What’s for dinner?”

Really? Is that all I’m good for?  I mean if I was Emeril Lagasse maybe I could appreciate this. But what the heck do I make – frozen hot dogs, eggs, mac n cheese, etc.

I do have feelings you know.

I’ve talked to SJ about this. I can get him to offer a “How was your day dad?”  And a “good” to my question of how his day was.

And then SJ is back to, “Daddy, what’s for dinner?”

Oh well, at least he wants to talk.

Restless & Still – A Song For My Mood

Did you ever flip through the radio and hear the exact song that fits the thoughts in your head?

Traveling Rucksack.

MMK circa 1995 in a London hotel. Notice the rucksack – a staple during my traveling days.

Recently, I was driving home after doing the weekly food shopping. The road I took was nearly empty, but my head was filled. It was then that I heard the song, Learn to be Still, by the Eagles.

I am a restless sort by nature.

Two days after my 22nd birthday and four days after I completed a summer course for my undergraduate degree, I was on a plane.  It would be the first of four summers that I spent far far from home. Other shorter trips would follow over the years.

Rather than quieting my restlessness, my travels instead breathed greater life into it. You see before those journeys, I thought Born to Run was a great song and not potential mantra for life.

Yes, my 20’s were all about travel. And growth. And change.

Since then, I have been the opposite of a rambling man.

I am the picture of permanency. If I were to give myself a title for my life from my early 30’s and into my 40’s, it would be Mr. Stability.

I’ve been married for over 12 years. I’ve been in the same job for nearly 11 years. My family and I’ve been in our home for close to seven years.

Responsible adult MMK.

Responsible, adult, parent MMK.

Can you get more stable than that?

And there in the issue may lie.

I’m going batty.

Lately, I wake up and I feel like I am living the Bill Murray movie of Groundhog Day. I just haven’t learned how to speak French, driven my car in front of a train, or eaten fattening desserts without gaining weight.

But the sameness is there.

And the boredom that comes along with it.

Maybe, this can be attributed to the brutal winter we went through. One day you’ll find tomorrow will come and I’ll follow the sun.

Maybe, it’s that time of year on the school calendar. I’m feeling worn down and the thought of June is revitalizing. Show me summer.

Or maybe this is what adulthood is.

Being an adult means being responsible. Responsibility is not always fun. I don’t want to clean the toilet, I don’t want to get up early, I don’t want to make the bed.

But I have to.

I have to learn to be still.

Yet, I feel a need to break out, go crazy, and blow off some of this restlessness. I want to grow, experience, and imagine.  What would life be like without such things?

So am I Born to Run?

Well, maybe not that either. After all, I got two kids and a wife, a job, and a mortgage.

I’m an adult with responsibilities.

Yet growth and adventure can and must still occur. However, these days, such developments are more subtle.

I am not sure any song title sums up where I am. Maybe, it’s something about being in the middle, about balancing, about recognizing ones obligations and desires and still moving on.

Know any songs like that?

To My Fellow Passenger on the A Train: You are Not the Only One!

Hey kid,

NYC A Train

NYC A Train on its Route

You don’t remember me.  I was the guy sitting next to you on the A train who gritted his teeth and shook his head.  I didn’t say anything to you. I figured, why bother? But maybe I should have. Someone should have told you that what you were doing wasn’t cool. In fact, it was down-right rude.

Maybe, you didn’t know. Maybe you didn’t realize that the subway is a public space.

Once you inhabit that public space, your responsibility is to be considerate of the others who are around you.

You see we’re all in it together.

Once a rider pays his/her fare, he/she has the exact same rights as everyone else. However, that does not mean that you can do whatever you want on the train.

Now, as a person who has used the NYC subways for years, I have learned that anything can and does happen. It really is a free for all.

So, maybe you have seen others do as they please and therefore think it’s okay.

Well, it’s not.

Let me explain specifically what you were doing.

You were listening to music – loudly. And without headphones.

So, in other words, you were listening to music but subjecting everyone around you to your music.

I don’t know the name of the song, though I know I didn’t like it. However, my liking it is not even the point. Remember, you are responsible to every other rider.

Anyway, the music you happened to be listening to was foul. F you, N this, B that.  Yeah, like I said, foul.

Unfortunately, language like this in music is no longer shocking. However, I am not trying to be Tipper Gore here. Let me get off that soapbox. If your parents are okay with you listening to that kind of music, then it’s not really my business. Yet, I definitely have an opinion, and it ain’t positive.

Anyway, did you even consider that there might be little kids on the train? Did you look around to see who else shared the train with you that weekday afternoon?

Is it right to subject little kids to that music?

What about elderly people? Do you play that music for your grandparents?  I’m guessing no. Did you look around to see if there were any elderly people on the train?

Then, there are people like me. I was the guy next to you who fell asleep after a day of work and another night of a child crawling into my bed.  My ride home on the subway always includes a catnap.  And I look forward to it each day.

Did you look around to see if other people were clearly enjoying the quietish, regular hum of a typical packed subway car?

Look kid, the point is this. You might think the world is yours and you can do whatever you want with it. Many teens act as if the world is their’s for the taking. However, you went too far.  See, the world isn’t yours. Nearly 7 billion of us on the planet – no one exists in a vacuum.

Consideration and decency might not sound cool to you. Or something you have to worry about.  But you do. Cause you are just like the rest of us. Besides, consideration and decency might just take you somewhere that you didn’t know you could go. The world might really be yours, then.

And I don’t mean the next stop on the train.

I appreciate you listening to this advice. No need for thanks.

Take care,

The rider next to you on the A train.

Picture is courtesy of: Google