It's teacher hunting season!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Parent Involvement, Obesity Diets: Insensitivity Behind Blaming Impoverished Parents

A recent blogpost made re-think the criticisms I have had of "uninvolved parents".

Modeducation, blogger Michael Dunn, a San Francisco Bay, California area educator, has written on how the notion of parent involvement make a few class-based assumptions.

I insert below Modeducation's post which misleadingly takes its post title from New York Times' Thomas Friedman's ideas: "Stop Blaming Teachers When It’s the Parents’ Fault!", but in the post Modeducation is actually making a good argument against parent-blaming. After this, I draw the parallels with the issues surrounding food choices and the obesity epidemic. Parents are blamed while there is silence about toxic food pushers win battles to push their junk in school lunchrooms. Undergirding both issues is the toxic factor of poverty. Sadly, poverty permeates many of the issues impacting on education, yet discussion of the poverty factor --or any way to ameliorate poverty or class disparity-- remains off the table.
[In November 23, 2011's] New York Times, Thomas Friedman had an op-ed ["How About Better Parents" {sic}] that seems to bash the Ed Deformers and tell them to get off of teachers’ backs. However, rather than placing the blame for the achievement gap and other problems with public education where it belongs—on the defunding of schools and growing poverty among children—he places the blame on parents, as if they merely need to behave better and become more effective parents.

“Here’s what some new studies are also showing,” he tells us. “We need better parents. Parents more focused on their children’s education can also make a huge difference in a student’s achievement.”

There are several problems with this proposal. First, it conflates correlation with causation. Parents who are more involved in their children’s education tend to be more affluent. There is plenty of data correlating affluence with higher academic achievement. So is it affluence or parental involvement or both?

Secondly, can parents simply be taught, encouraged or forced to be more involved in their children’s education or is this a product of their class backgrounds? And what does parental involvement even mean?

Plenty of studies indeed show that parents who read often to young children and who use larger and more complex vocabularies with their kids end up with kids who have significantly larger vocabularies and pre-literacy skills by the time they are ready for kindergarten, creating an achievement gap before children have even started school. Affluent parents are also more likely to have the time and education to do this with their children. A parent who works two or three jobs or who is barely literate is not going to read to their children or use complex language with them.

Affluent parents are also more likely to be able to make it to after school and evening meetings, open houses and community events. They are more likely to understand how the system works and have the self-confidence (or self-entitlement) necessary to navigate the system, advocate for their children and challenge perceived injustices or inadequacies in their children’s schools and classrooms.

Schools are essentially middle class institutions that have mores, norms and expectations similar to those in middle class families. Middle class children, therefore, come to school with the “cultural capital” necessary to succeed, whereas lower income kids often must learn this culture from scratch.

In short, Friedman is correct that parental involvement is important and parents who do, or who learn to, participate in their children’s education are more likely to see their kids succeed academically. However, his op-ed piece implies that there is something wrong with parents who are not involved with their kids’ education, when in reality it is often not their faults. Furthermore, whether you are blaming teachers or parents, you are still missing the point: the most significant influence on academic achievement is a child’s socioeconomic background. So long as we continue to ignore poverty, as long as we accept a society in which a few have all the wealth and a large minority is desperately poor, neither better teaching, no better parenting, is going to close the achievement gap or ensure that all children succeed academically.

* * *
Now, let us look at parallels with the issue of class, diet and the twins of obesity and diabetes.
A school professional, cash-strapped and a single parent reacted to the news of the government authorities that took custody of a 200-pound Cleveland Heights, Ohio son from his parents, on the charge of medical neglect. She put the issue as this: she supports her son on her own, she pays rent, car insurance, gas fuel for her car, apartment utilities. Only so much is left for food, and with that limited budget, there are few options. So, she is left with just so much to spend. She said she doesn't want a guilt trip for just a couple of times satisfying his son's taste-buds.
Plus, the columnists and bureaucrats who scold the parents surely are not familiar with the staple stores in blue collar neighborhoods: convenience stores, whether the corner store in cities or the gas stations-cum-food-marts. These places specialize in canned or ready-to-eat foods. Blue collar parents cannot find arugula or organic strawberries or other pesticide-free treats. Trader Joe's stores, the middle class alternative to Whole Foods or Fairway Supermarket, do not appear in blue collar minority neighborhoods.

Plus, who are pundits or bureaucrats to scold parents when school lunches cater to sweet tastes with carbohydrate and additive-heavy pizza or burgers. And has anyone noticed that the oranges offered in school cafeterias are the cheapest looking products, more frequently the low barrel "juicing oranges" rather than the navel oranges?
Plus, why are we ignoring the power of the junk food players that push french fries and the like are prevailing over the Barack Obama administration? See Dina ElBoghdady's November 15, 2011 article "Obama administration loses effort to make school lunches healthier" in the Washington Post. (The Department of Agriculture's improved guidelines got nixed by industry-influenced Congresspeople.)
Plus, who are those people to lecture parents when mayoral control mayors such as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg supplant physical education classes with programs overloaded with block-programming doubling up of English and math, along with the competition for gymnasium access when Bloomberg or [Corey] Booker-type mayors make public schools compete with multiple charter schools into their buildings with "co-locations?"
[Another Washington Post article quoted experts that suggest that confiscating or sequestering a child away from parents can contribute to unhealthy stress on the child and its mental development:
“Children at that age are very susceptible to high levels of stress, that’s a biological fact... the neural networks that are developing most rapidly at that time tend to be most susceptible to the biology of stress,” Dr. Robert Anda told me.
Anda is a co-investigator of an ongoing study funded by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. It tracks how childhood trauma can impact the brain and have far-reaching effects. Anda is not suggesting that Zofia [Leszczynski] suffered trauma, but he makes clear that removing any child from a parent at that age has to be considered carefully.

Shoplifting... does anyone see the poverty factor here?]
It is a cruel irony that the government took the son from the parents with the charge of medical neglect. Poverty fuels the condition of poor food options; but parents and children are victims; and by the way, know-it-alls blame the parents.

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