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Monday, December 20, 2010

Parental Failure

Columnist Jay Matthews of The Washington Post wrote a recent article about the challenges of leadership at Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington, D.C. He applauds the move by interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to return former Dunbar principal, Stephen Jackson, back on the job. He was terminated at the end of the last school year by the management firm in charge of the school, Friends of Bedford, for not pushing improvements in teaching.

Friends of Bedford produced a higher rate of reading proficiency at Dunbar than was achieved at any other high school in the District. However, notwithstanding the improvement in reading skills, Friends of Bedford was unable to get a grip on the high level of student disruptions at the D.C. school. Consequently, Henderson, with backing of Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, decided to terminate its Dunbar contract with the School System.

Matthews believes that the odds are stacked against Jackson, who had plenty of community support. However, the one ingredient missing in the School System’s effort to reform Dunbar and to create a fertile learning environment for the students is the involvement of the parent(s) of these unruly kids? While it is reasonable to expect our public school systems to produce a quality education, it must be understood that we cannot hold institutions of learning solely responsible for poor results when some parents have so woefully FAILED in their responsibility as the custodian of their child’s upbringing. And then those uncontrollable children are unleashed on society through the school system.

There are adverse consequences in a civilized society for failure: failing to pay taxes; failing to perform adequately on the job; failing to preserve fidelity in a marriage; yet those parents who have so utterly fallen short in what could be argued is the most important duty as a responsible citizen, are exonerated and often defended as assiduous members of society. We hypocritically use catch-phrases like, “It takes a village,” when in reality, the surrogate parents of today are too often entertainers who reinforce insubordinate behavior.

I was raised in a village, where if one of the neighbors disapproved of my actions in public, they had the unspoken obligation to grab me by the ear or arm and drag me to my parents. Once they explained my irresponsible behavior, either my father or mother would finish the task of disciplining. Today, if one of our neighbors snatched our child and dragged him/her home, many parents would be ready to file an assault charge, or worse yet, it would be the prelude to a fistfight.

I have argued that childhood delinquency is less a student problem than it is a leadership problem: leadership in the home and in the school system. Why don’t our school administrators have the courage to remove disruptive students from the class room and place them in alternative learning environments and then hold the parent responsible for aiding in rehabilitating that student for re-admittance back into the classroom? This type of remedy has a two-pronged benefit: it requires the attention of the parent(s); and it preserves a positive academic environment for our children who want to learn.

Do we really expect a fertile learning atmosphere when our educators are doubling, tripling, quadrupling, and quintupling as teachers, judges, wardens, police, and sadly…parents?

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