Parental Interference

November 16, 2013, 7:50 pm

Jill Silos-Rooney talks about the “The Problem We’re Afraid To Name:” parental interference in schools.

In recent years, I’ve had to deal with parents much more frequently than I ever imagined I would have to as a college professor. One father even tried to blackmail me into giving his son easier work and higher grades so that he wouldn’t lose his football scholarship. I’m not alone: Many of my colleagues report hearing from parents more and more frequently in the past 10 years or so.

From the New York Times:

1985, “About Education: PARENTAL PRESSURE AT ISSUE:”

Commenting on a recent survey that found parents asking for a greater voice in running the schools, Judi L. Wallace wrote that a distinction should be made ”between parents who want only the best education for their own children and those parents who want to mold the schools to conform to their own religious beliefs.” She added that the latter group was becoming increasingly vocal and active.

1976, “Writ is Served Against Parents:”

…parents have intercepted telephone calls, destroyed office materials and undertaken other actions interfering with the administration at public schools…

1947: “Recommendations and Conclusions in The New York Times Study of Schools and Colleges.”

8. No community restrictions on personal lives of teachers: less meddling by community in way teacher lives her own life.

1928: “Graves Upholds Teacher. He Scores Kirkland (NY) Parents for Seeking To Oust Her

A dispute which started over Peter Peters, 15 years old, a pupil in the school, and split the village into two factions…

1885: “A School Teacher Fined.”

The young lady’s parents, upon hearing of this treatment of their daughter, were almost frantic with rage, and the mother, it is claimed, went to the schoolroom with a revolver and would doubtless have caused bloodshed but for the timely interference of the pupils.

Now, to be fair, a few of these were over corporal punishment, but the point remains: parents have always stepped into the schools in ways to which teachers objected. At least, teachers have regularly complained about such interference. The links also concern K-12 schools rather than colleges but Silos-Rooney makes a point of seeing the two kinds of interference as similar, and similarly new.

So what to make of this? Obviously “helicopter parents” exist and can intrude on schooling in aggressive ways. But they are not a new phenomenon, nor have I seen (and Silos-Rooney does not supply) more than anecdotal evidence that such parents are on the increase. The student-teacher relationship has never been an entirely bilateral relationship. It has always been multilateral, with parents, other students, administrators, other teachers, and so on. Lamenting for an (implied) golden age is ahistorical and mistakes what has long been standard behavior for something entirely new.

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