The Parent’s Role in Education

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The Parents’ Role in Education

Simone and Carl

Let us look at a black upper class family, chosen from the book ‘Our Kids’ written by Robert Putnam. The couple are Simone and Carl [1]  both degreed, doing well financially, and committed to the education of their children. They worked with their kids, using every means available to them. They kept up with the academic performance of their kids by keeping in touch with the teacher, checking homework and grades. When problems arose they tried to be in unity. Their son Desmond made it through college and beyond. They made sure the children did their work and at a high level.

Doing the work, a requirement for success

The acquisition of a work ethic by the child is vital for her life; the parent plays a big role in this. This is done by the parent assigning simple tasks to the young child at home; the child needs to learn to work and to accept it as an integral part of life. One father I know gave his son the job of mowing the lawn and went out leaving him with the mother. When he got back the boy was sitting on the couch watching TV. Apparently after the father had left the boy had convinced the mother that all that sweating and hard work was beyond him and her angel was in dire need of rest.  As for boys, they need to be assigned physical work pretty soon so their muscles can acquire firmness.

Parenting is one of the most challenging endeavors anyone will ever undertake; while it brings great joy, it can also bring serious challenges, sometimes filled with pain and sorrow.  It is an extended nightmare to watch a child suffer drug addiction and get involved in drug activities; the parents will often agonize over where they went wrong, experience feelings of shame and guilt; and wonder if the light of their life will return. What an inconsolable inexperience for a parent to watch a child simply drift out of her control, go to prison, and just seem to keep going down. Parenting is perhaps one of the greatest responsibilities which a person can take on. And although there may be some difficulty in training the child to learn a work habit and to learn to do her school work every day, it is worth the time taken. We are not assured that our doing that will eliminate school problems with our children, but the blessings are enormous when compared to not doing it.

Affluent parents may have an advantage, which is one of the things which the books ‘Our Kids’ and ‘Coming Apart’ mention. Firstly, rich parents have greater school choices available to them and can select the schools where their children go so they might be in the company of those who they feel will lend a positive influence. Additionally, those parents are able to spend money to provide after school activities, such as karate or music lessons; such activities main benefit is that they keep the child occupied, but they also provide some beneficial training such as kung fu or guitar lessons. The children also get to spend time with other teachers who make additional demands for discipline, one of the most important things for success in school or life. A brain is good but discipline is what permits the individual to channel his efforts properly. A bit of money does help. When children live in affluence the job is made easier since the schools chosen are better able to provide more of what the parents need for the children.

The parent needs to provide a place, quiet and free of distractions, for the child to do her school work. It is here that the child will spend hours, over the years, growing in intellect, in spirit and hopefully grace; and even though she will be changing internally she might not be aware of it. By the time the child reaches high school she should have established some pattern of homework and organization in her academic life; writing down assignments, getting it in on time, doing research and regulating her time and activities. This will take her through her entire life. The parent, like those whom we met in the first part will have to continue checking on homework, grades and other things, and to ensure that she is abreast of her child’s activities and performance. As time goes by the parent can find that she has to do less of this. The child acquires the habit of going home and doing her work. She internalizes this practice and it becomes a part of her attitude to life. Indeed some kids in high school begin to push themselves to achievement. Success is not guaranteed but the chances are great. I have never seen a person, young or old work hard and fail. Any failure is temporary once they have learned to work.

Yes it take time, but the child will one day grow up into the person you had wished he should be and it is all worth it.

Parents who live in high poverty communities encounter many problems which make it hard to procure the best education for their children. Often they need parenting education. As a younger man I thought I knew what I was doing but in retrospect I most certainly did not. I did not, for instance read to my kids, feeling that they would acquire it from me.  ‘Our Kids’ gives examples of young people who have to grow up in difficult situations, families and communities. In such neighborhoods, it is important that parenting information be made available to the parents as often as possible. Schools or libraries or some other agency can organize sessions especially for that. Such sessions can be combined with perhaps music or food to attract parents. In the SuperZips which Murray speaks of in ‘Coming Apart’ he shows that the rich educated parents have access to the most up to date knowledge and ideas on babies from the time of conception and indeed way beyond.  Many of the parents who live in poorer areas have problems parenting.  Bountiful portions of parenting information need to be provided to these parents so it becomes part of their awareness.

Some parents who are poor manage to do a wonderful job; perhaps, in such cases, it is because of their constant attention to church and attendance. I have seen a few poor parents who brought up children who are just everything a young person could be. In most instances they were people who attended church and did so from early carrying the children along with them. Watching those children grow one realizes that their parents did most things correctly; they checked on the children in school, spoke to the teacher, made sure the child did her homework. But more so they kept their eyes on God serving Him with fear, devotion, and reverence, never for show. It therefore struck me when Putnam said on p 224,

Compared to their unhurched peers, youth who are involved in a religious organization take tougher courses, get higher grades and test scores, and are less likely to drop out of high school. Controlling for many other characteristics of the child, her family, and her schooling, a child whose parents attend church regularly is 40 to 50 percent more likely to go on to college than a matched child of nonattenders.



Things which have been tried and failed

At one point the blame for the performance of poor kids was placed on schools, and in particular teachers;  many ideas emerged as to how to get teachers to get those schools to be more productive. Some downright terrible ones included bonuses, merit pay, testing and common coring; a whole series of terrible ideas which have not done what they wished to be done.  But teachers cannot correct a problem which desperately needs the focused attention of the communities and those elected to political power.

Testing is now the new reform, but it has not worked


The latest is testing and common core. These have annoyed people, tired students and teachers and used up teaching time with little to show for it except testers who are richer. It does not take a neuroscientist to determine that you cannot test students into higher performance.

Bullying teachers is the worst of the methods used to improve education. No one or set of people wish to be treated that way. Simply offering bonus or even merit pay is an terrible idea with a questionable message, that teachers will do well if money is offered to them. It then becomes a matter of the Benjamins, a cheapening of educational efforts.

But while they might not say it explicitly these people, teachers, have all worked to achieve the academic levels they have. They strongly believe that people need to work for it also. Asking them to ‘make’ students pass is most likely not something they believe in. Most of them believe that people have to work for that they get in terms of achievement, and consequently have a hard time committing to the idea of ‘making’ students pass some nearly useless tests. In violating the beliefs of teachers it must be dearly difficult for them to commit whole heartedly to ‘making’ students pass tests.

Telling students that teachers will get students to pass tests is nearly immoral since it takes away responsibility to work from students. The need and responsibility to work is as ancient as human beings and as we have shown the students who do well are those who have parents who exert much effort to assist them, and to get them to do their work. When students come from homes and communities where there are drugs, and questionable activities pervade the community, those students are in trouble.

The church and its possible role

Yet the book ‘Our Kids’ identifies the church as an organization which provides assistance to poor students experiencing difficulties. Many churches play a significant role feeding homeless. They need now to extend themselves in order to assist the poorer people to get out of the circumstances in which they are.

Putnam in providing us with examples of troubled communities introduces us to Molly and her daughters Lisa and Amy; [2] they live Kengsington which became over time  ‘one of the most dangerous communities in one of America’s most crime-ridden cities.’ [3] When they were experiencing family difficulties a Protestant church stepped in and helped, protecting them from physical hurt at times. Putnam shows different situations when the church played a saving role in the lives of people. In our present state it would seem that the church will find itself with an even bigger task as we try to climb out of this situation in which we find ourselves.


The costs


The Authors of the book ‘Race between Education and technology’ calls the twentieth Century the American Century. America, she explains introduced universal education at the beginning of the twentieth century and led the world for decades in both education and productivity. Then there came a slowdown in productivity in the last three decades of the twentieth century. Their argument is that the American education had for most of the century supplied the trained people that were needed, as a consequence since demand for trained labor and the supply were matched the wages stayed reasonable but then towards the end of the Century the education system was unable to supply the necessary personnel, resulting in the slowdown in productivity and rising inequality. Since the supply side, the education system, was not supplying the people needed, the demand side of the economy was affected resulting in higher wages paid to those available. Another consequence would be the rise in inequality since the wages were so high for some and dismal for others, the many who were not trained or well trained.

Goldin and Katz, in The Race Between Education and Technology ask the question why did the education system not supply the graduates they had earlier in the century or to put it differently how do we account for the slowdown in supply of highly educated people in the last decades of the twentieth century.  Those countries of Europe, and some Asian countries which had been following in America’s path during the twentieth century, caught up and passed America in the supply of highly skilled people. America slipped behind many of them.

In trying to answer the question of why enough people were not attending the colleges one of her answer is that many of the people in the Urban schools have not been adequately prepared so they were unable to finish college. Many of those schools are underperforming. Further she refers to the international tests. Says she,


On standardized reading, math, and science exams the United States has lagged considerably, as demonstrated by the Third [also Trends in] International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Assessment (PISA).   [4]

Goldin and Katz looked for the reason why more people were not attending colleges from about 1970 onwards and their conclusions bring to mind the last political campaign in which Bernie Sanders spoke so passionately for the need to address the cost of education to our young people, who will become the future America.

They say: Two factors appear to be holding back the educational attainment of many American youth.” The first is the lack of college readiness of youth who drop out of high school and of the substantial numbers who obtain a high school diploma but remain academically unprepared for college. The second is the financial access to higher education for those who are college ready. [5]

Many of those who drop out and who obtain diploma but are academically unprepared for college will be the poor – although within those will be a number of whites – the minorities, including black people who are disproportionately affected.


There is more than a productivity problem though. There is also the problem having to pay for people who have to live off the public welfare. The extent to which we can get more of our young people educated lightens that burden for us all. Putnam lays out for our consideration the cost of not attending to the poverty conditions which affect these children of poor communities, white, black, Hispanic.  Says Putnam,

Clive Belfield and his colleagues focus on what they term “opportunity youth,” that is, young people aged 16—24 who are neither in school nor at work, a group that largely overlaps with the kids from poor, less educated homes who are the focus of this book. Belfield and his colleagues painstakingly estimate both the annual and lifetime costs imposed on taxpayers for each opportunity youth. They then do the same thing for the burdens imposed on society as a whole (for example, the private costs of crime or the costs of slower aggregate growth) for each opportunity youth. Their analysis is so comprehensive that it even recognizes the seeming “cost savings” to the educational system that we currently enjoy because these kids have dropped out. The total costs

He says are staggering. [6]



  Taxpayer Burden Societal Burden
Annual (per youth) $13,900 $37450
Adult Lifetime $170,740 $529,030
Aggregate lifetime burden (in present value terms) from the current cohort of opportunity youth  


$1.59 trillion



$4.75 trillion



It seems that we cannot afford to neglect these poor schools for in one form or another and perhaps in both forms the costs to the nation is ghastly.

There are many people concerned about the state of education of our minority children and they continue to fight for changes which will improve achievement in these schools. Looking internationally Finland shows that some changes can pay big returns in improvement. Finnish schools are provided with a group of teaches who monitor when a student starts dropping and then intervene to bring that student into functioning shape. One of the things which Finland has done is to give her teachers more autonomy and it is my feeling that greater autonomy for our teachers is of such importance that without an increase in it we will for some time be struggling with our high poverty schools.

Simply throwing money at schools, poor schools, will not of itself solve the problem. Getting students to work at a high level is rather hard work on the part of faculty. More so it takes the close involvement of parents, their caring for their kids and their faithful watch over their kids. In some poor communities that might not be all that is needed. Simply sending directives from an District office will not suffice for the schools are not a one fit all. The capacity of the individual faculties to look for solutions on continuing basis is what matters and then autonomy becomes crucial, for the decision which was taken last week may need fine tuning or even changed.  It is why in the first place we have as Goldin and Katz say that there so many students who have graduated but are not college ready. When teachers are given some autonomy much changes; these individuals who take teaching as their priority will meet and discuss the difficulties affecting their schools, for autonomy allows them to feel the school is theirs. The myriad decisions which cannot wait on bureaucrats, can be worked out by faculty. In the book ‘Trusting Teachers for School Success’ Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager discuss how autonomous teachers gain a rekindled commitment to the school they work at.

Let us then hear comments from the teachers at one of these schools with teacher autonomy:

When Chrysalis teachers gained collective authority to make decisions related to school success, she said, “Our commitment to the purpose started permeating everything.” [7]

Another comment:

It makes us feel like, “This is my school.” It’s mine. I’m committed to it. It’s not just a place where I work. [8]  This then is the energy which is released when teachers are made an integral part of the school in which they work.

This is precisely what one wishes of teachers that they might feel that the school is theirs. There are many decisions which need to be made at a school needing to be solved with all the good sense and thoughtfulness which a faculty can bring to it. This is achieved when they are given a greater degree autonomy than they presently have. It is the inevitable next stage.



Yes some of it will involve cost but failing to do so may well just cause more national difficulties.





Goldin, C., & Katz, L. F. (2009). The race between education and technology. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap.

Murray, Charles A. (op. 2012): Coming apart. The state of white America, 1960-2010. New York, N.Y: Crown Forum.

Putnam, R. D. (2016). Our kids: The American Dream in crisis. New York, N.Y: Simon & Schuster.

Farris-Berg, K., Dirkswager, E. J., & Junge, A. (©2013). Trusting teachers with school success: What happens when teachers call the shots. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Education.




[1] Our Kids 2015 by Putnam; p 84

[2] Our Kids 2015, p 198, by R. Putnam.

[3] Our Kids 2015, p 199 by R. Putnam.

[4] Race Between Education and Technology by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz 2008, p 5

[5] Race Between Education and Technology 2008, by Goldin and Katz, p 347

[6] Our Kids 2015, by Putnam, p 232

[7] Trusting Teachers with School Success by Kim Farris-Berg, Edward J. Dirkswager p 50

[8] Trusting Teachers with School Success by Kim Farris-Berg, Edward J. Dirkswager p 52

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