Schools as surrogate parents – where do we stop?

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The emphasis and importance we place on a career, education, money, and material things, accompanied by the lack of attention we give our children, has created the illusion of a path to wealth, happiness, and success. If your child goes to college she is going to get a better job, be a better person, be smarter, make more money, and be able to take better care of her family. Right?  Isn’t this what we are told and believe? However, as a school psychologist I have learned that because of such beliefs and lifestyles in our society, children are coming to school with more and more problems and needs.  They come to school with emotional, behavioral, learning, and social problems, from as young as three years old.  The school for many children has become their surrogate parent. Parents have handed over their responsibilities to the schools and experts.  Teachers are experts in teaching academics and the schools should be expected to support this.  However, teachers and the schools are doing more and more of the parenting and becoming the “experts” in far more things than just academics.

I went to a behavior training workshop for educators and the presenter, who worked with many districts throughout the state, proudly presented the fact that in another school district, in a high school that was predominately Hispanic, students were allowed to take a nap because they were tired from staying up late the night before watching their siblings.   I once received an e-mail celebrating the fact that the school district I worked for served breakfast to over 2,500 students in 28 school days.   The sender went on to point out research that demonstrated the positive impact on academics, attendance, and tardiness that school breakfast provides.  Well duh, but I missed the explanation about why it was the school’s responsibility to feed so many kids breakfast.  I began to wonder what is next. Where do we stop?  Maybe we should buy kids nicer clothes to improve their self-esteem, or so they don’t get picked on, because kids do get picked on about their clothes.  I’m sure many of us know this from our childhood.  Maybe I should do a research study to “prove” that this is serious problem.  Certainly if they felt better about themselves they would do better in school.  Right!  A common practice in some schools is to have a “check-in” person to prepare certain “at-risk” students for their school day.  These are the students who come to school tired, hungry, missing school utensils, angry, and don’t want to be in school.  A staff member gives them a friendly greeting at the door and prepares them for their day.  I wonder, where was their parent every morning?  And when did it become the responsibility of the school to send children to school prepared to learn?

Education has become plagued with behavior and discipline problems because it is considered to be a right and not a privilege.  We are born in this country with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  However, I thought the right to the pursuit of happiness does not allow us to violate the rights of others and interfere with their pursuit of happiness.  This is what has happened in American education.  Schools across the country have increasing numbers of students who do not want to behave appropriately and learn.  They are wasting the time of teachers and students who behave appropriately and want to learn.  Understand this.  If you are a parent trying to do the right things in raising your child, and your child’s education is important to you, these troublemakers are stealing irreplaceable, critical time of the teacher with your child.  These students are lowering the expectations and standards of public education in every possible way.  At a meeting I was in discussing a behavior problem fourth grader, her regular education teacher said, “This (school) isn’t the real world, because out there they wouldn’t put up with this.”  How true!

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