How “education experts” keep out reform minded parents

Of the many positive cultural tendencies evident in America today (such as generosity towards charities), there exist a few negative habits as well. One is the public’s tendency to be content to delegate responsibility of their government and then shrink from its oversight. This has cost parents of American public school students dearly.

Another negative tendency is that this country’s citizens unreasonably defer to the judgments of so-called “authorities” despite the fact that circumstances do not warrant such deference. When it comes to the public school system, years of exploding budgets, debt and mediocre test scores haven’t lessened this tendency.

In part this is fueled by the public school system itself through its attitude that “the rest of us are not competent to judge what goes on in the public schools…” In fact, Peter Brimelow, in his book “The Worm in the Apple,” writes that this attitude is “an article of faith within the teacher unions.”

In a summary of William Cutler‘s book “Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education,” the questions are posed:

“Why aren’t schools more responsive to parent and taxpayer demands for improvement? Because they are a monopoly and they just don’t care? Because they are increasingly influenced by unions and put member interests ahead of the public interest? Or, is it, as the schools claim, because they can’t do better given their resources?

William Cutler’s new book implicitly suggests another possibility: Is it because they aren’t making a good faith effort to change? If history is a guide, the answer is yes. Cutler shows that schools and parents have been at odds for a very long time. Instead of acting to fulfill the expectations of parents and the public, the schools have historically sought to shape and reshape the views of parents and the public to suit their own ideas about education’s aims and purposes.”

In fact, Cutler argues in his book that:

“… educators and experts in family life generally presumed that parents needed to be taught how to rear children and that child-rearing practices should harmonize with the latest pedagogical trends. The notion of teachers as experts in child development, whose role it was to update parents with the latest in research in child-rearing appealed to educators and was enthusiastically embraced by leaders of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers–the forerunner of today’s Parent-Teacher Association.”

Cutler also refers to orchestrated public relations efforts on the part of the schools with the aim of building public support:

“It included cultivating relationships with local newspapers, maintaining a well-manicured school lawn, and the use of ceremonial gatherings such as convocations to further school publicity aims. So-called ‘vitalized commencements’ have been a routine feature of school life since 1930.

Parent-school relations were the key to an aggressive public relations strategy [that has been] dubbed ‘social interpretation.’ It called for teachers and principals ‘to take advantage of every opportunity to sell themselves and their work to the American people, enlisting parents to the cause by drawing on their intrinsic need to believe in the high quality of their children’s schooling.’ Contacts with parents regarding their children’s education afforded an ideal opportunity to solicit parent support.

Although parent-teacher associations were an especially useful tool for harnessing parent support, educators were ambivalent about parent involvement. Parental support was welcome but parent’s attempts to influence the workings of the school were taken as interference. The parent-school relationship was termed collaborative but, in truth, parents were much the junior partners…

The role of educators and parents in today’s parent-teacher groups has changed little from that of the twenties and thirties. ‘Public relations’ is now called ‘public engagement’ – ‘jargon that implies more parental participation than is usually delivered.’ Educators still act as the pedagogical and child- development experts and they subtly steer parent-teacher organizations while ‘maintaining the illusion of parental independence.’ The expected parent role is to trust, appreciate, and support the school and its efforts.

Most school systems seek to build a favorable public impression of their performance through a steady barrage of announcements, events, and media releases. Strengths are emphasized and deficiencies are downplayed. Given that what the public knows about education mostly comes from the schools themselves, it is little wonder that most parents and communities retain a favorable impression of their local schools despite objective assessments to the contrary.

Considering the education community’s traditional response to public sentiment, school reformers will likely remain frustrated. Contrary to their desire for orderly classrooms and measurable results, educators are likely to continue viewing disagreeable expectations as wrongheaded opinion to be countered by public relations, parent education, and political action.”

As long as parents continue to ignore the decades of evidence that most of the “experts” don’t actually know what they’re doing, the public school system will not be reformed.

I highly recommend a terrific resource for parents who are ready to learn more and take action: Kevin Killion‘s

Parents have to realize that no one is going to reform the public schools for them. If they’re not going to find the motivation to act in the best interests of their school aged children, they only have themselves to blame.