The relationship between public schools and the parents whose children attend those schools has been crumbling for decades. Long gone are the days when parents and teachers helped each other reinforce a shared set of values. Not since the 1950s have they agreed upon the substance or the goals of what was being taught in the K–12 curriculum.
The pandemic of COVID-19 has introduced millions of parents in the U.S. to “involuntary homeschooling,” and close to a billion parents worldwide. It is almost certain that, when this crisis finally ends, many of these parents will continue to homeschool, having learned its benefits firsthand. The question is whether our schools will have learned any comparable lessons.
For several decades, Instead of reaching out to parents and creating tools and resources that would encourage learning in the home, reform-minded scholars in education, child psychology, and child development have chosen to play the “disparity card” and claim that the vast differences in economic circumstances within the student population ensure that some children will be disadvantaged by not having the parental support, educational background, or financial means that others enjoy. Consequently, school officials began to herald “parent involvement in schooling” instead of “parent involvement in learning.”
To be fair, it is certainly true that children living in poverty, or in single-parent households, or whose parents have had little schooling themselves—these children clearly have less opportunity to avail themselves of the powerful educational influences that families can provide. And yet, these are precisely the children—and the parents—who could be helped most by any school that would reach out to them with resources and encouragement for family-centered, out-of-school learning.
Now consider that the last 10 years or so of research into the process of learning has shown there to be a handful of traits that help children become better learners. Traits like curiosity, initiative, diligence, perseverance, empathy, and a few others. These are not so much “character traits” as “learning attributes,” and they have been shown to help children in all kinds of learning.
These traits are perfect for the type of teaching and modeling and discussing that takes place one-on-one, often during a read-aloud, between a parent (or caregiver) and a child, day by day, month by month, year by year.
It will be interesting to see whether our school leaders continue to dismiss all prospects for improving family-centered, out-of-school learning and consider the current crisis to be just an unfortunate interruption in business as usual. But, perhaps, someone will break ranks and challenge the progressive mindset. That someone will surely pay a price for doing so, but nowhere near the price we all are paying today for not having done so earlier.
William F. Russell, Ed.D.,
Former teacher, textbook editor, syndicated columnist, and author