Rattling the cage: Parental guidance? Give me a break

When I was going to public school in Los Angeles in the Sixties, my parents came to school once a year.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Call me a rotten father, tell me I don't care about my kids, but I've had it with all this parental involvement in the schools. It's gotten completely out of control, at least it has here in middle-class, suburban Modi'in, and I doubt it's much different anywhere else in the country. This need to interfere obviously serves some interest of the parents, but I don't see that it serves the interests of the kids at all. When I was going to public school in Los Angeles in the Sixties, my parents came to schoo l once a year, in the evening, after the fathers got off work, for the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) meeting with our teachers. On my first day of first grade, my mother took me to class. Nine years later she came to the afternoon assembly when I gradu ated junior high school. Three years after that, my mother and father both came to my high-school graduation. And that was it. That's all I saw of them in school, and as far as I was concerned, that was enough. Not that I ever would have thought about it, but I sure didn't want my parents to be around me at school all the time. Which normal kid would? What could be more embarrassing? I've never heard any of my old friends say they felt deprived, that their personality development or their education suf fe red because they had to go to school without their parents tagging along. What's more, I've never heard a parent from those days say they missed not being able to “share the learning experience” with their children, their children's classmates and thei r c hildren's classmates' parents every few weeks or so. But that's what goes in Israeli public schools today (and, for all I know, at public schools throughout the “advanced” world). I have two boys in elementary school, and for years now it's seemed li ke every other day is Parents Day. You're supposed to show up for the first day of class, for the last day of class, for the assemblies marking every holiday on the Jewish calendar plus all the national holidays, plus Rabin Assassination Day, plus Commun ity Day plus I don't know what else. You have to go to class picnics, you have to go on class hikes, you have to go to bonfires and tree-plantings. THEN THERE are the Parents Committee meetings, which every family sends at least one representative to. W hen did my parents ever go to Parents Committee meetings? Was there such a thing? My wife goes for me because I can't stand it, these gabfests, having to make small talk with a bunch of people you don't know and have to pretend to like, having to smile un til your face aches. The reason my wife goes is to try to protect us from these people and their grandiose schemes. The money they demand! Money for food, buses and presents without end. This, of course, is on top of all the money you spend every year on boo ks, notebooks, uniforms and basic school supplies for “free education,” an Orwellian term if there ever was one. Plus you have to host a bayit ham, a house party for the class, and feed a bunch of kids and keep them entertained. Do you think every couple with schoolchildren can afford all this? Of course not, but of course they won't admit it, so they go broke trying to give their children a free education. What's gotten into school parents? I think part of it is just the privatization of mo dern life, the same phenomenon that you see with parents of IDF soldiers, how they meddle and phone up the commanding officer like no parent of a soldier would have dreamed a generation ago. To an extent, it's probably a good thing, the parent taking an a ctive interest in what happens to his or her kid in the army or in school, not trusting the giant institution blindly. But there's a limit, and from what I understand that limit has been passed in the army, and I know from ongoing experience that it's been pa ssed in the schools. The kids don't need their parents hovering over them all the time, the teachers are intimidated by it, and more parents than will admit would dearly appreciate a break. There's an idea that modern, middle-class Israeli parents are so ferociously involved in the schools because they feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids at home, what with their long hours at the job, the gym, gourmet cooking classes, wife-swapping, etc. There may be something to this. Howev er, I think the parental invasion of Israeli schools comes mainly from competition, status-seeking and peer pressure, combined with the long-running rage for “family values.” Nobody wants to be thought a less caring parent than the next mom or dad, so the y volu nteer, they contribute, they go, they don't dare say “stop.” And with nothing to stop it or slow it down, the parents' presence in their children's lives at school keeps getting bigger, more obtrusive, more time-consuming, more expensive. I'm still waiting for the American craze for “home-schooling” to make it over here. o