Friday, September 17, 2010

College Bound: The Changing Role of Parents

This week, the New York Times advised parents of incoming college freshmen to drop their kids off, “back off,” “walk away,” and “move on” so that their “students can develop independence.” In the article, parents who don’t hop in the car, return home and consider their parenting over are dismissed as “super-involved” or “over-involved” and are described as “Velcro parents,” “Helicopter parents,” or “baby-on-board parents.”

Some colleges join in the derogatory attitude toward parents, going so far as to advise limiting phone calls and text messages. Some provide not-so-subtle indications that parents are not to “meddle.” According to the New York Times, the University of Minnesota holds a separate reception for parents so that their sons and daughters can meet their roommates and negotiate dorm room space without the parents around. Grinnell College has the new students sit on one side of the gymnasium and the parents on the other with all speakers talking to the student side — a symbolic way of putting parents in their place.

These attacks against parenting are another attempt to intimidate parents into surrendering their influence to that of supposedly “superior” intellectuals and professional “educators” who know what’s best for our children. My husband and I spent years on college campuses as professors and as administrators. We saw campus life from the inside. Then, as parents of college students, we saw it from the outside as well.

Certainly, there are over-involved parents living vicariously through their kids’ experiences, but many more parents just “wash their hands” of involvement with their children when they go off to college. My judgment: far too many parents assume that their parenting role ends when college for their child begins. I do not agree that parents are superfluous. Nor do I think kids should be abandoned to flounder in a totally new environment where they are deluged with new worldviews and ideologies. Some students are suddenly cut loose from their anchors in an environment of total freedom without adequate preparation; they move out of a home where there are clear rules and expectations (which stabilize both their conduct and emotions) into a place where there are few rules or expectations for their behavior or conduct.

As I read the New York Times article, I remembered one of my favorite roles as an academic dean. I was given the privilege of giving the keynote address at the evening convocation for students and parents before freshman activities started the next day. Having recently seen our own two children off to college, I could feel the parental uncertainty. My husband and I had given a lot of thought to our new roles as parents of adult children and how to maintain the positive connection and bond of friendship we had developed during the years before our two left for college. We were not going to let our neglect tarnish or erode those bonds with our kids.

Most of the parents I addressed at those orientation sessions proved eager listeners to the following: First, your role as a parent lasts a lifetime. While your role changes dramatically at various stages in your children’s lives, it is important and significant at each stage. You have to learn to be adaptable to those changes, but it is vital that you provide the support that your children need in their college days and provide the guidance that they will ask for when you make it clear that you are still there for them and that you won’t tell them what to do or interfere with their growth into maturity and adulthood. Most of us do not want our children’s first real trip on the high wire of independence to be without a safety net. As the song says, we want to be the “wind beneath their wings.”

As I talked to the parents of incoming freshmen, I wanted them to be particularly alert to three things:

1. Your child is beginning one of the most significant and challenging stages of his or her life. Perhaps for the first time, that child is on his or her own and it is a proverbial “make-or-break” situation. (Hopefully, you have spent the previous 18 years preparing them for this day — emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually.) They need to know that you will continue to be there as a parent to provide support and/or guidance as they request it.

2. Over the four years of college or university life, students will make many of the most important decisions of their lives. Wise parents will anticipate the challenges and temptations and prepare their children with the character and arguments that they need to avoid risky and destructive behavior; loving communication and wise counsel can help your child resist temptation and make good decisions.

3. Over the next four years, your child will sit under the influence of a few professors who enjoy tearing down the moral and religious views of their students. For such profs, teaching is a game, and the intellectual seduction of their students is the conquest that makes their teaching challenging. Their agenda is to separate students from their parents, thereby, they hope, removing the influence of traditional, Judeo-Christian values. Wise parents will listen carefully and be ready to help counter such pernicious nonsense.

There is no reason for parents to accede to the condescending and patronizing attitudes of those who believe that parents are superfluous in their children’s lives once they reach college age. Of course a parent’s role must change, but the parental role is still important, and I can attest to the fact that it can be as meaningful, memorable, and significant in the college days and into adulthood as it was during all the previous stages of your child’s life. Nothing is more gratifying to a parent than to see a child become a mature adult — well-adjusted, well-educated, and well-prepared to make their own decisions.


British School breaks with tradition and orders pupils to address teachers by their first names

Not a good way to foster respect!

A school has told its pupils to break with tradition and address their teachers by their first name. Children have been told they should now informally address teachers as part of a term-long trial.

The pupils at Boughton-under-Blean and Dunkirk Primary school in Faversham, Kent have been ordered to abandon using teachers’ surnames with the title of either ‘Mr’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’ in front of it. Now school bosses say they hope the trial will “enhance the relationship” between the kids and their mentors.

Headteacher Hugh Greenwood, who came up with the idea, said: 'We hope the pupils really take to the concept. 'We think it makes learning a more personal experience and allows teachers to come down to the pupils level. 'Obviously we are just trying it out and if it doesn’t work we will refer back to the traditional custom.'

Now parents at the school, which has over 150 children aged five to 11, have welcomed the trial. Sally Palmer, 35, who has a seven-year-old son at the school, said: 'It’s very strange for the kids to call their teachers by their first names. 'The kids seem to love the idea.'

Another mother of a six-year-old boy at the school said: 'It think it’s a fantastic idea. 'The informality has really helped kids to relax in the classroom and focus on learning. 'My son has been coming home speaking about his teacher called Tom. 'He found it quite imposing calling her teacher Mr or Mrs so this is much better.'


Australia: An education revolution that fizzled

Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party declared the "Education Revolution" at the beginning of 2007. They said it would go through various phases, and spent a lot of treasure on it. By now we should be showing results.

The first part of the revolution was equipment. The government promised a computer on the desk of every student in years 9 to 12. But there isn't. Not even one for every two desks. You couldn't share one between three. The government got its sums wrong and didn't allocate enough money for the back-up and the installation. It illustrates why we need to improve education - ministers need better numeracy standards - and showed this would be a revolution bigger on promise than delivery.

The next phase was to roll the revolution over to buildings. The government announced it was "Building the Education Revolution" with new halls and canteens in every school whether they were wanted or not. This would be revolutionary and "save" the economy by spending about $15 billion.

The BER stimulated a lot of inventive claims for project management fees and inflated building costs. It completed some useful projects, and some useless ones - like the hall at Hastings Public School, which is too small to hold the 39 students, and the canteen at Orange Grove Public School, nice but too small to fit a pie-warmer.

That great revolutionary Josef Stalin claimed that to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs. BER delivered breakages and spillages all over the country. Whether the omelette is worth $15 billion is the question. The BER "stimulus" is still being rolled out, even though we now have an unprecedented mining boom, with interest rates rising.

Julia Gillard says the revolution delivered the My School website that gives information on how students in each school compare with national averages. And that is a good idea. But one website does not a revolution make. If the literacy and numeracy standards showed persistent improvement against historical benchmarks and improvement against other countries, that would be an achievement. If the revolution is about anything, it should be about improving results.

After three years of revolution, it was a surprise that last weekend, when the PM announced her ministry, there was no one described as an education minister. This was once her No.1 priority. Later it was clarified there would be two ministers for education - Chris Evans for tertiary and Peter Garrett for schools - a kind of duumvirate to lead the revolution.

Both men are polite and sensitive. Neither is a fire-breathing reformer. Evans was in charge of stopping the tide of asylum seekers in his last ministerial role. The fact all of the asylum facilities are overflowing gives you some idea of how effective he was and why he had to be moved. And when you talk of ministerial fire it is not effectiveness that comes to mind with Garrett, but insulation batts and house fires. He is lucky to still be a minister.

Their appointment tells us how low a priority the education revolution has become. The sooner it moves out of public consciousness the happier Gillard will be. Don't expect too many more signs to be erected proclaiming the education revolution.

After three years, our Australian revolution is starting to look a bit like Castro's. He's been going 50 years and promises improvement is just around the corner. Cubans like to humour their leader. They know the truth but they keep up the joke. Australians are best advised to do the same. We know the revolution is an expensive fizzer, but we are polite and do not remind our Comrade Leader. She will bury it in her own good time.


The policies of the Australian Green party threaten private schooling

Such policies, if implemented, would be a heavy blow in many country areas. The Green party and the ruling Labor party are now formally in partnership in the Federal government so the threat may well eventuate

BETTER resources for regional education may well be on the national agenda, but new Schools, Early Childhood and Youth Minister Peter Garrett must not allow their delivery to be thwarted by giving in to the Greens, who will deny many young Australians a choice of independent schooling.

While the formal agreement between Julia Gillard and the Greens signed on September 1 makes no mention of education or schools funding, any intrusion of the Greens stance on schools into federal government policy will certainly undermine, for regional Australia, the social and economic sustainability they claim to champion.

Recognising the vital role of the independent schools sector, Prime Minister Gillard earlier this year committed to extending the existing school funding arrangements by 12 months and the capital grants program until 2014. However, to be enacted, this is likely to need the support of the Greens in both houses, putting them at odds with their party's commitment to attack independent schools with a blunt instrument.

According to their website, key planks of the Greens' policies include reducing funding across the board to 2003-04 levels; ending the arrangement for recurrent funding to non-government schools by the end of this year at the latest; and "[ensuring] the viability and diversity of existing public schools is not endangered by the development of new private schools", essentially preventing new independent schools from being set up even if there is a desire for them.

Such ideology makes naive assumptions, in particular about regional Australia and the millions of people who live here.

Negotiations between the three regional independent MPs and the two leading parties that wished to form minority government rightly put regional Australia back in the spotlight. So often overlooked in policy debates, it is a place where more than one-quarter of Australians live, are educated and work. However, regional Australia will suffer if its independent schools are threatened, because educational opportunity and diversity will be narrowed.

Independent schools enable regional children to have access to academic, sporting, cultural, spiritual and social programs that many would otherwise not have. For some, the nearest public secondary school may be hours away, and even then only provide education to Year 10. Most regional boarding schools, often the only option for a child from rural or remote Australia, are run on slim margins, with enrolments influenced mostly by the fickle vagaries of agricultural commodity markets rather than the salary packages of corporate executives.

Already making huge sacrifices for their children, parents who may no longer be able to afford an independent alternative but want a choice for their children will be forced to move from their one-high-school towns to larger centres or the city.

Further, a narrowing of educational choice and diversity will only lessen the attraction of regions to professionals already in short supply. The critical shortage of doctors will be placed on life support, and teachers, regardless of philosophical persuasion, will be harder to find.

Independent schools hold a valued place in regional Australia, not only as economic entities in their own right, but as providers of choice in lifestyle that is so critical to the attractions of living away from the city. Consequently, a threat to independent schools driven by new sympathy for the Greens agenda will have a greater impact in regional Australia than in metropolitan areas.

All this is hardly a recipe for a vibrant, diverse and inclusive regional Australia that can help take population pressures off overcrowded cities.

Educational equity for regional Australia means having equal access to the full breadth of school choices - government, Catholic and independent - and certainty of government funding arrangements is critical for maintaining this.

Depriving regional Australians of such opportunities will only increase social inequity, not help overcome it.


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