Children and authority

Perfection Pending
This post was written for a parenting blog hop hosted by Perfection Pending.

This Monday morning I am mulling over how best to proceed with an issue that affects my kids and their relationship with their school. Does anyone else struggle with teaching their child to respect authority, when that authority does not appear to respect their child? I do not wish to raise my kids to blindly follow, but rather to think for themselves and ask why. There are rules that should be adhered to for the good of all, but when a bad decision is imposed, should we be encouraging our children to respectfully challenge it? Does putting one’s head above the parapet denote a troublemaker or a defender?

I feel uncomfortable on committees and rarely get involved with how things are run. I used to dread having to do my stint on the parent help rotas for preschool or Sunday school, as having to deal with other people’s children makes me nervous. I would sometimes grumble about the decisions being made but would accept that, as I was unwilling to get involved, I would have to accept outcomes.

Once my kids were at big school I always made sure that I went along to the parent/teacher meetings to discuss academic progress. I would attend any shows or performances that my children took part in to offer support for their efforts but, other than that, I avoided the school. I left the teachers to teach while I parented to the best of my ability. Sometimes this included helping with particular lessons at home that had not been fully understood, but I tried my best to be supportive even when I did not always agree with the methods being employed.

There were exceptions to this. If I felt that my little cubs were being badly treated by the adults responsible for their care and education, then I could turn into a fierce momma bear. Injustice of any kind makes me angry, but when that injustice was imposed on my babies in a setting that they were compelled to attend then I felt the need to act. I even removed my youngest child from formal school for a little over a year when it became clear that both he and his potential to learn were being damaged. That difficult decision to home school him was one of the best I have ever made.

I believe that school exists to educate children. The definition of education is broad, but the purpose of the school is to teach the children who attend. Sure, the staff will want job satisfaction and career progression. They should be treated respectfully and I would like to see a lot less central government interference in how they do their job. They are there, though, to benefit the children.

What matters in a school is how the pupils think, work and interact with others. What doesn’t matter is how they look. Now, I’m not advocating that children should be allowed to attend dressed totally inappropriately. However, guidelines for what is acceptable dress can be broad without affecting a child’s ability to learn. Children are individuals and will respond positively if treated as such. I am a big fan of allowing all, including staff, to express their individuality so long as it does not disrupt others.

My children’s school is currently trying to smarten up the appearance of the whole school, including the teachers. The patronising attitude of those overseeing this project risks damaging the good relations between leadership and staff, and between staff and pupils. It is making me angry because it is unnecessary and detrimental to my cubs well being.

Staff relations matter. There is always going to be some staff turnover as newly qualified teachers, employed because they are cheap, gain experience, and then cannot all enjoy promotion within the school so move on. Too high a staff turnover, however, suggests that there is a deeper malaise. It is disruptive to pupils who benefit from building a rapport, respect and trust with their teachers. Fostering good staff/pupil working relationships matters because resentments damage learning. The patronising attitude being adopted at my children’s school over the issue of appearance risks doing just this.

A hand picked committee has made decisions in secret, and is now trying to impose them on the school community. A consultation has been promised, but there is a reluctance to engage in meaningful discussion. This is the second attempt in just a few months to impose change that is not wanted by the majority of those directly affected, the pupils. I cannot know how the majority of other parents feel, but the large number of students that I and my children have spoken to are not in favour of this change.

Change is unnecessary as guidelines already exist that, if enforced, could improve the appearance of the few pupils who are stretching boundaries. If learning is to be improved, and that is why the school exists, then perhaps the school should look at why sixth form lessons have been cut back, or why GCSE science is now to be lumped together rather than taught as three, separate subjects; thus disadvantaging those who are not equally good at physics, chemistry and biology. Changes in teaching methods affect learning far more than what a teacher or pupil wears.

There has been a suggestion that the school is trying to teach the pupils about appropriate work wear to prepare them for when they leave full time education. As many of the older pupils already have part time jobs, they are already aware of and comply with employers dress requirements. A large number of pupils will go on to attend university where there will be no dress code. This is not something that the school needs to concern itself with. I cannot see how any perceived benefit could outweigh the cost in damaged respect.

How do you react when decisions are imposed that you strongly disagree with? I am hoping that I am making a mountain out of a molehill with this; I am hoping that it is not a symptom of a change of direction for a school that I chose because of how it appeared to work with it’s pupils individual needs.

We do not live in isolation and parenting is as much about preparing our children to be good citizens as it is about developing their abilities as individuals. They will have to learn to accept authority, but I do not believe that this should include quietly acceding to every poor decision imposed. Do you think that, by encouraging my children to respectfully challenge, I risk raising troublemakers who will suffer as a result? Should I back off rather than risk being labelled as a parent to be avoided? We only get one shot at raising our kids and I have no wish to mess up.






Reality check

There are many things about the British state education system over which I despair. The teachers seem to be expected to work in a constant state of flux as governments meddle with the curriculum in an attempt to fool the electorate into believing that standards are rising. Hard though it may now be to actually educate our young people, it is the kids who suffer these ill thought out attempts at quick fixes as the exams they work so hard for become discredited. It doesn’t help when the teachers encourage our young people to expect too much for too little.

My children attend a large, mixed gender, state comprehensive school. Today my daughter was discussing career aspirations in class. Her teacher was emphasising the importance of aiming to do something that could be enjoyed. She told the class not to consider the remuneration but rather the pleasure to be gained from a career. Whilst I would certainly agree that money is not as important as happiness, and having money does not lead to happiness, not having enough money to cover essentials is going to put anyone in a very unhappy situation. I did not consider that the teacher was giving realistic advice.

Unless one has a vocation or another source of income, choosing a career can be a very tricky decision, not least because there is rarely only one path to each destination. Most people will go out to work because they need to pay their bills. They will want a few extras on top of the essentials and these must also be paid for. The money has to be earned.

In an ideal situation a person’s job would be enjoyable and fulfilling. However, in reality, most people will have to compromise in order to achieve a lifestyle acceptable to them. To suggest that the first requirement of any job is that it should be fun is to ignore life’s basic economics. Having to go each day to a job that one hates may be miserable but so is being unable to pay for food or heating. It is to be hoped that the choice need not be so stark, but not all jobs are well paid and the implications of that need to be understood.

Our young people are put under pressure to constantly work towards exams but are not given good advice about which subjects will be well regarded by prospective employers. They are encouraged to aim for tertiary education but are not advised as to which courses lead to jobs where there is demand for trainees. These things cannot always be known, but to encourage a young person to start their life with a huge debt and a qualification that few employers will want seems to me to be unwise and unfair.

I would never wish to stifle a young person’s dreams, but I believe that we do them a disservice if they grow up believing that what they want will happen just because they want it. Most things worth achieving take a huge amount of effort and dedication as well as a degree of luck. Having a back up plan which may not be so enticing but is more realistic should be considered.

State schools seem to be so intent on treating all pupils equally that they have forgotten how to manage expectations. There are careers that will suit the more academically able and careers that will suit the more practical students. Ability will not change just because it is not discussed. There are different routes into many careers for those who may not be able to manage exams successfully. In my view, explaining these alternatives and possibilities serves the child better than encouraging them to foster unrealistic ambitions. If a child wants to be an astronaut he can be encouraged to work towards that but with the understanding that being an engineer or scientist could also be pretty awesome.

The most important lesson that we can teach our children when they are considering a career is that they will have to put in a lot of effort to get where they want to be. It is not going to just happen. Suggesting that work should always be fun ignores why people are paid; the incentive is needed. None of this is to suggest that a career that is of no interest whatsoever should be aimed for just because it pays well. There is a balance to be reached between fulfilment and remuneration. Both matter.

Encouraging a culture of self entitlement is going to lead to dissatisfaction. Encouraging an attitude that accepts a bit of humility and a lot of drive to learn and succeed through hard work is more likely to take our young people to where they want to go. There will always be a few who get to live their dreams. For the vast majority it is possible to live a pretty good life by working hard and enjoying the rewards this brings. A great deal of satisfaction can be gained from knowing that achievements have been earned through an individual’s effort and commitment. I would rate a feeling of self-fulfilment over temporal fun.

Money Queen