Parental Involvement or Teacher Interrogation?

Eleven of us sat there like middle-schoolers, each of us itching to play with the iPad lying facedown on the table in front of us. Although we had been asked to leave the iPads alone, like middle-schoolers, a couple of us couldn’t resist picking one up and poking at the dark screen, perhaps out of boredom or curiosity. Or maybe we think instructions are optional or suggestions. Or perhaps some deeper contrarianism compelled us to do what we had just been instructed not to do. Whatever the reasons, intentionally or otherwise we were behaving just like middle-schoolers as we sat in the classroom, our middle-aged bodies wilting over the sides of the little, primary-color, hard plastic chairs.

The school had invited parents into the classroom to hear the teacher explain how the school was implementing technology. To get an idea of what students experienced, we started with an actual lesson. The teacher handed out sheets of paper, explained the lesson and its goals, and told us how to incorporate both pencil-and-paper exercises with work on the iPad. 30 minutes later we shared our work and talked about what we accomplished. Then the teacher outlined the school’s approach to technology in the classroom and in general. When given the chance to ask questions, the interrogation began.

In confrontational language that mirrored their combative tone, parents challenged the teacher on technology. A technophobic pair of parents used their own inability to work on the iPad as fodder for their technology-in-the-classroom-marks-the-downfall-of-the-free-world argument. They fired questions at the teacher about everything from losing the device to motor and visual difficulties to “surfing the web.” How, they demanded, will “you” prevent students from downloading apps? Aren’t “you” concerned about these apps distracting students when they should be learning?[1] A third parent chimed in with his own doubts: I don’t see what this adds to the “pedagogical” experience. If it doesn’t enhance the “pedagogy,” it’s just going to cause problems. This seems more like the latest “pedagogical” trend than anything really substantive. I wouldn’t have learned any more with an iPad.[2] As the teacher tried to field these questions, a technophilic parent jumped in with a scathing cross examination and condemnation. Why, he wanted to know, haven’t “you” adopted technology sooner? Why are “you” taking so long to introduce computers into the classroom? Aren’t “you” afraid of putting the students at a disadvantage? I don’t think “you” realize how far behind our students are.

Parental involvement is important. Knowing that decisions were made and how they were made keeps parents informed and should bolster their confidence in their children’s educational experience. Parents should be kept informed. We should be allowed a voice in the process and should, perhaps, even be consulted. But at the end of the day, we parents need to admit that we are not experts. We do not have the training, the experience, or the expertise to justify our demands for curricular, pedagogical, and assessment reforms.[3] In fact, we can justify our demands only by some hubristic denial of expertise. As one college professor put it recently:

parents, politicians, and reformers think that they know more than trained educators and experienced classroom instructors, and feel completely qualified to make curriculum changes, press for new grading and assessment techniques, and try to shape education so that it suits their own needs and desires for their children, regardless of their own background, training, or area of expertise—or for what might be good for the children of other parents.

We all have our opinions. We have a right to voice our opinions. We even have a right to think that our opinions are correct—we’re all entitled to that thought. But we shouldn’t confuse our opinions with expertise.

Sitting in that classroom the other night, I heard a lot of opinions. Unfortunately, those opinions were drowning out the expertise I had come to hear.

  1. I understand that the parents were talking to a single person, but I still found their accusatory use of the second person pronoun disconcerting. Most of the parent phrased their questions as direct attacks on the teacher who no doubt contributed to the school’s decisions but was certainly not solely responsible for those decisions.  ↩

  2. This parent did use “pedagogical” and “pedagogy” in his first three statements. He seemed to like the word, drawing out the syllables into an unusual mispronunciation-drawl: pee-duh-GHOH-ghi-kal and pee-duh-GHOH-ghee. I suppose his focus on “pedagogy” distracted him from noticing that he didn’t pose a questions.  ↩

  3. Even the few parents who have the training, experience, and expertise do not necessarily understand what will work best in a different context, with a different set of curricular options and goals, and with a different set of students.  ↩