Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Don't punt parenting to teachers

As with many big companies, we have many non- or tangentially-work-related distribution lists. On one of those lists, someone yesterday asked this (paraphrased) question:
I have a two-year-old. How and when do I decide what education to give my child (public vs private; Montessori vs traditional; etc.)?
And because this person made it clear that they were soliciting any advice, I chimed in. Here is my verbatim response:

Okay, since you are soliciting any advice, I’ll go on my tirade, starting off with: Don’t fret.

“The study found that low-income students from urban public high schools generally did as well academically and on long-term indicators as their peers from private high schools, once key family background characteristics were considered," according to the findings. [emphasis mine]

I believe many studies show that genetics and family involvement are the biggest factors in students’ success. Which teachers your child has aren’t nearly as important. After all, your child will spend a few hours each day with a teacher, but he or she is spending much more with you. That said, this may change as kids get older and their peers become their bigger influences instead of Mom and Dad.

So for your two year old, just try your best every day. That doesn’t mean you have to do your best, just keep on trying to do well J

FWIW, my focuses (caveat emptor!) have been on:
  •  reading to my kids early and often (language skills, vocabulary), making sure they’re following along (“How many dwarves are in Bilbo’s house? Who do you think is at the door this time?”)
  • building emotional intelligence (when reading books or watching movies, stopping to ask, “What just happened? How do you think that makes so-and-so feel?”)
  • working on imagination, self-reliance, and a connection with nature; I really enjoyed Last Child In The Woods)

Perhaps not Dear Abby-caliber, but while I'm not an expert in real life, I do play one on email lists.

Today, another non-expert responded with, among other blasé comments, this scathing rebuttal to my email:
I disagree with Adam, as with my schedule my child often spends 10 hours a day with his teachers. It’s important to me that the time they spend with him is positive and will help in authentic ways. 
This person didn't say how old their child is, but if you assume somewhere in the 7-12 year range, they should be getting 10-11 hours of sleep per night. This means your 7-12 year old who is with their teacher 10 hours each day is spending less than 30% of their waking weekdays with you.

But then there's TV. A few years ago, Nielsen noted that kids 6-11 get an average of 28 hours per week of screen time. It's only that low for this age bracket "due in part that they are more likely to be attending school for longer hours." So if you assume a heavy skew toward the weekend -- nine hours on each of Saturday and Sunday and "only" two hours each weekday, that 30% of waking time drops to 15%.

When Andrea was a teacher in Minnesota, she regularly told me of parents from the Catholic school that were on either end of the spectrum. Some were so heavily invested in their kids -- perhaps in large part because they were shelling out money for a private education -- that they knew all the teachers, knew their kids' classmates, and were involved in the classroom. Others apparently felt that the tuition they paid gave them a free ride to punt their responsibilities to the school. "My Timmy is so talented, I just hope you can see it. What are you doing to make sure he succeeds?"

If your kid is in school for ten hours each day, and if you don't think your parental involvement (or lack thereof) is still the biggest influence (along with genetics) on your child's success in school and in life, then you're doing it wrong.