(Note: If you have written a response to Mr. Clark and would like it to appear in my compilation of links at the end of this post, please leave me a comment or contact me.)
In reading the original piece by Ron Clark and seeing all of the responses, one thing occurred to me. To me, it seems like parents and teachers are behaving as though they are going through some kind of divorce dispute. Both sides are essentially arguing about who should have the most control and the most say in the lives of kids. Even the most radical of unschoolers seem to be focusing on the fact that parents should have all of the say and all of the control. I feel like some unschoolers and homeschoolers are painting schools out to be such horrible places so they can scare their kids into not going. Heck, being with a controlling parent would be better than a demonic school. (Or would it?)
I am a home educator and I also have experience in the classroom. When I read home schoolers railing against Ron Clark and schools and teachers, it almost sounds as though they are doing it because they are afraid that their children might want to go to school for some reason. Every year, I give my kids the option of going to school. They have cousins that go to public school. They have aunts that teach in the public schools. For me, it is about giving my kids choices. I have no desire to demonize anybody or anything because I don't think that does much good. Maybe I am way off the mark but I think that demonizing schools and then keeping kids home to homeschool them is not giving them real choice. That is what I consider to be a pseudo-choice. I am sorry to say but there are lots of kids that would choose to go to school rather than stay home.
I think one of the things that a lot of people are missing is that lots of parents have to work. We no longer live in a society where one parent can stay home and take care of the kids. In most homes, both parents have to work. In most homes, parents are struggling to meet all of the demands that are placed on them. Work expects them to live and breathe their job. Schools expect them volunteer and play kiss ass. The land lord or mortgage company want their money. There is the upkeep and maintenance of vehicles. Oh, and lights and water and food costs money too. And, there is the expectation that parents are supposed to cook a hot meal every night. God forbid that an already overworked parent get too much fast food because that means the parent doesn't care. So, how the hell are parents supposed to coordinate all of this stuff while giving 100% to their kids. Sometimes, keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table takes precedence over homework and school.
I am not trying to excuse parents but rather bring some understanding to all of the issues involved. It is never as easy as people like to think. It is really easy to make sweeping statements and generalizations when you have no idea what goes on in a child's life at home. It is rather easy to get pissed at parents when they are trying to live up to a million different expectations from a million different directions. Teachers complain because parents don't advocate for their children and act like they care but then when a parent tries to advocate for his/her child, they are told to shut up and trust the teacher. In some of the articles and responses that I read to Clark's original pieces, several parents indicated that they are afraid of teachers. They are afraid to advocate for their children for fear of retribution from teachers. Parents feel like they are walking on eggshells when it comes to approaching teachers.
Now that I have stood up for parents, I am going to stand up for teachers. All teachers are not control freaks that want to hurt children. I am not about to sit and demonize schools and tell my kids and everybody else that schools are the equivalent of hell. I know a lot of people that have gotten a lot of good out of school. They have gotten some bad out of it too. I think one of the points that is being missed is that all choices have some good and some bad. There is no such thing as a perfect education. There is no such thing as the perfect school or the perfect teacher or the perfect kid or the perfect parent or the perfect homeschooler or, or, or. Well, you get the idea. Nobody is perfect.
I don't think a lot of parents realize how much crap teachers have to juggle. I know that when I was in the classroom, all lesson plans had to be submitted well in advance. In some cases, it was 2 weeks to a month ahead of time. There was very little time for creativity or variation. The schedules and lesson plans had to be followed pretty closely. Also, in a lot of schools, teachers do not get the support of administrators because administrators have their hands pretty full too. Teachers are in a classroom all day with your children. They do the best they can but unruly children disrupt the learning process and there is very little that teachers can do. Teachers pretty much have their hands tied. I know a lot of people that have left the teaching profession because they simply could not juggle all of the demands and still feel like there was time left to really care about the students.
Some teachers leave the public schools and find alternative places to teach. Some teachers are very passionate about what they do and they are there because they genuinely love kids and genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of kids. A lot of teachers have figured out how to work the system to give their students as much freedom as possible. I can remember quite a few really outstanding teachers that I had growing up. Yes, there are a lot of teachers that are on a power trip but I don't think you can paint them all with that broad of a stroke. It goes back to nobody is perfect and there are always bad apples.
One of the things that I have not seen mentioned in any of the responses is what the underlying attitude about children is. Some people agree with Mr. Clark because they think that children need to molded and forced and pushed into learning what the adults think they need to learn. They place a very high value on expertise and education. There are lots of parents that would actually side with Mr. Clark. They are very critical of other parents and are happy to give their power to teachers or anybody else that wants it. Does that make them bad people? Some people will do whatever it takes to make sure their children get the best marks and get into the best colleges and everything else. I think those that disagree with Mr. Clark have a completely different view of children and education.
Some people think that kids should have a say in things and want kids to be treated as equal. Some people are in favor of children's rights and do not like what Mr. Clark is saying because they feel that he is perpetuating the cycle of oppression against kids. Really, I think both sides are perpetuating the idea that kids need to be controlled and kept in their place. I have yet to see anybody mention the kids directly. What does each individual child want? Some kids do not want their parents involved in their education because the parent is overbearing, too pressuring, or something else. Some kids would love for their parents to be more involved but the parents are not available because of all of the things that I mentioned above.
Kids are pretty friggin' smart and they are really good at playing the system to get what they want. They are really good at playing the system to get their needs met. It is obvious that neither the parents nor the teachers are listening to what the kids are saying or making an honest assessment of children. I think some adults are too harsh and some are too lenient. Instead of taking a hard stance on either side, why can't we acknowledge that kids are human? Teachers are human. Parents are human. I don't think people set out to lie but it happens because they don't want to get in trouble or don't want any problems. This applies to the students, the teachers, the parents, and the administrators. Has everybody forgot about the whole CYA thing? Sorry, but a parent is just as apt to lie as a kid is as a teacher is as is every other human being.
The responses from both sides indicate that parents are afraid of teachers and teachers are afraid of parents. How the hell is that helping the kids? How the hell is that making life better for kids? You have two sides that supposedly care about kids and want to do what is the best for kids but neither side wants to actually talk to the other side. Neither side wants to step down off of the pedestal and acknowledge that the other side might actually have some legitimate complaints. I think both sides have legitimate complaints but nothing will ever be fixed because neither side is willing to take a step back and look at the larger picture. The bigger picture is that schools and school systems do not operate in a vacuum. There are other things that are going on in society that are making it difficult for parents and teachers. Why can't both sides lose a little bit of the arrogance and meet in the middle?
I am sorry but neither side gets a pass from me. Instead of parents telling teachers what they are doing wrong, parents need to look for ways that they can do better. Instead of teachers telling parents what they are doing wrong, teachers need to look for ways that they can do better. Whenever I get the urge to start complaining about what others are doing, I go step in front of the mirror because that is where I need to look first!
The following links are to other people's responses along with a short snippet to give you an idea of what the response is. I thought it would be good to compile the different opinions. Each writer that I have linked to below has valid points and valid ideas. Even if I don't agree with each and every opinion, it is worth considering them to get a broader perspective of the views involved.
Educational Blaming and Shaming over at Mocha Momma Has Something to Say with Kelly Wickham. I found this piece after originally posting this list. I think this is one of my favorites because she is real. She acknowledges that Clark has some valid points but his points are being lost in the arrogance, the blaming, and the shaming. She points out some things that I heard and experienced when I was in the classroom, which is teachers being very condescending to students and parents. I think the absolute best line from this post is, "But the voice that is missing from the conversation, once again, is students."
This is what creates gang wars by Lorna at Ourschools.ca. This is another piece that validates what Mr. Clark says but goes further to say that his opinion is what sells books. It is a good marketing strategy and it gets people riled up but it does nothing to shed light on how teachers and parents are actually working together to create positive change.
What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers at the KCH Blog. I like this because it is written by a parent that has participated in PTA and supported schools. I think this pieces is one of the better pieces out there because it does not blame teachers but acknowledges the work that they do and expresses a sadness about not being able to help more.
What Caring Teachers Want to Tell Parents by Michelle Baldwin at Avenue4Learning. I have to say that this is another one of my favorites with regard to responses. I really like that she is an educator and parent and seems to understand that parents and teachers need to work together. I also like that she points out the arrogance that comes through in Ron Clark's article. The best analogy is how it takes the doctor and the patient to figure things out. The doctor alone isn't going to accomplish much even with all of that expertise.
Homeschooling Parent Responds to Disney's Teacher of the Year by Linda Dobson at the Parent at the Helm blog. This is another article that I like because it focuses on Mr. Clark and the message that he is putting out there. It takes apart his words and shows how disrespectful Mr. Clark is towards parents. I think my favorite part about this piece is the quote at the beginning. “Parents give up their rights when they drop the children off at public school.” ~Federal District Judge Melinda Harmon
What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers: What You Do Hurts Our Children written by Laurie Couture. Posted at the blog of the Innovative Educator. Originally appeared on Laurie Couture's blog. This pieces exposes a lot of the problems in schools but it does it in a way that is inflammatory. I am not going to argue about whether or not schools do these things to kids but I will argue that blaming the teacher is not going to do an ounce of good. All it is going to do is piss people off!
What I Really Want to Tell Parents and Teachers written by Josh Stumpenhorst over at the Stump the Teacher Blog. I really like this post because it points out that the derisiveness created by Ron Clark and Laurie Couture are not solving anything. Both points of view are about blaming and making sweeping statements. Parents and teachers need to be working together rather than against each other. This was written by a parent and a teacher.
For the Love of Learning: My Response to Ron Clark written by Joe Bower at the For the Love of Learning blog. I like this one too because it is written by an actual teacher. I like the questions that he poses about how much say a teacher should have over what a child does when away from school. That is a huge question for me.
A Letter to Ron Clark: What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers written by Doug Goldberg on the Special Education Advisor web site. I think of all the responses this one is my favorite. I like it because it provides alternate information without the blaming and shaming. It also shows another side of Ron Clark that is not shown in many other places. I hadn't heard of his Essential 55 rules until reading this post.
Responding to Ron Clark: What Teachers Really Want to Say to Parents by Whitney Hoffman on the Reading Whitney blog. This piece backs up what Mr. Clark is saying and gives parents some pointers on how to help out the teachers and their children. I am not sure that I agree with everything that she says but it is another view point that backs up the idea that parents need to step up.
Parents Take Issue With 'Advice' of Super Teacher Ron Clark by Christiel Gota posted on the Innovative Educator's blog. This isn't a bad piece but it speaks out against Mr. Clark. The one thing about this article is that it gives me pause because it is written by somebody that is unschooling. It is really easy to be critical of a system when you are in a position to pretend the system doesn't exist. I would say that the average family is not in a position to question things at that level. Most families are in a position where they have to send their kids to school.
What Teachers Really Want to tell Parents: CNN Article written by Nick James on Trying Teaching. This is from another teacher that agrees with Ron.
Teachers Vs. Parents: Round Two on CNN by Linda Petty. This is a synthesis of the various responses since the article stirred up such a storm of opinions.