EDUCATION POLITICS - I was very surprised to be asked recently to provide a “parent’s” perspective on an educational issue. I didn’t know I had a perspective with a label; I didn’t know a “parent” was a special interest group.
When did it happen that educational politics got parsed up and divided out to four corners of a boxing ring, labeled “parents”, “students”, “teachers”, “administration”? Since when are these entities antagonists? Since when are some of them even ‘entities’?
Because while “teachers” can be said, properly, to be a special interest group of individuals who have collectively studied for and earned the privileged of being a member of this profession, how is it that “parents” are a collective in any way comparable to a professional organization? Teachers opt to be members of a union and elect representatives to it. There is an organizational structure to this collective; it is a true entity. The union’s very existence is the result of an explicit effort to construct a legal entity that represents the collective truly.
Similarly a school’s “administration” can be construed as a coherent political entity. The collective is headed by a professional appointed by the school board, who enlists subordinates with shared political perspective, and in so doing improves efficiency in the administration of schools. It is, however, therefore a strange conceit to consider this political entity of “administrators” independent of the school board that has appointed it. Nevertheless it does represent a coherent political entity from which a “perspective” might reasonably be solicited and considered.
In contrast “Parents” fall into such a category by mere biological happenstance. There is no entity representative of the group “parents”, no organizational structure, either professional or political. My fellow parents just happened to collectively entertain the same twinkle in their eye at about the same time; that is what binds us together. A biological imperative and the political interest we share in providing the very best we possibly can for our children. But this is hardly any basis for expecting or entertaining some common perspective among “parents” as a group.
The interest of “parents” is as diverse as the electorate itself, as labile as the outcome of any local or federal election. We have no, and never can be expected to have any, coherent, representative, political stance.
This is the fallacy that burdens our body politic, from local school board members to national Education Reformers. Waiting for Parents to somehow weigh in is as absurd as Waiting For Godot: there is no ‘there’ there; there is no political entity, no collective, we parents are not organized or even authentically organize-able.
More importantly, there is no equivalence between “teachers” or “administrators” and “parents” as some group from which to collect and compare competing interests. Even “students” enjoy a common perspective by virtue of their being the target population of this whole educational endeavor; “parents” are not a group in this same sense. I am not representative of anyone except, arguably, my own narrow socioeconomic slice.
Note well the necessary implication of not belonging to a “group”. When everyone speaks for themselves alone, lost is any power derived from speaking with a unified, identifiable voice – some mandate from “parents” which the school board in its folly imagines might yet be formulated; out there, and available to be heard from.
Most devastating of all is that with disenfranchisement comes jeopardy and the vulnerability of individuals to bullying and manipulation. Presented as the voice of ‘parents’, what gets promoted and understood as some clarion call from this mirage of a group, is inevitably false. Because there is no group identity of “parents”; any claim to be representative of this set of individuals is improper and inaccurate.
We parents are essential individuals, and as such we are fiercely susceptible to emotional hyperbole and false fear mongering. So desperately do we want to provide well for our own, that we become uncritical repeaters of our deepest fears. Without reason, for example, we can be led to believe our children are not being taught well, and are not learning as they ought. By focusing on the fear and failing to articulate the problem, we are easily assigned to be part of a solution untethered to any root issue.
It is into this atmosphere of fear that crazy get-rich schemes gain purchase and the phantasmagoria of Educational Reform takes hold with its destructive, fragmenting promises.
I happen to be very impressed with the public school institutions my two children have attended. But at the same time there is no controversy about the need for improvement particularly in physical equipment, maintenance and staffing.
All the same it is only a panicked, unreasoned or manipulated response that would call for shutting everything down and starting all over anew, with a system featuring none of the checks and balances that have evolved in our public system over the course of its two hundred year history.
There is no “profit” for the public, we parents, in shutting down the present populist system and replacing it with a corporatized one. But the school board will wait in vain for any organized expression of parent’s collective best interests. We parents are not a constituent collective and will never represent any one set of interests or perspective.
(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor.)
Vol 11 Issue 27
Pub: Apr 2, 2013