Parent Poll 2015

A Hard Message to Parents From a Parent: Your Kid Isn't Special

JP Fugler is a teacher, speech and debate coach and writer who has dropped the proverbial mic in a hard-hitting piece for parents at The Huffington Post. As a mother of three who taught for a decade, I think he is spot on with his criticism. He writes to tell parents quite simply that our child is, well, not special. The writer also cites a graduation speech given at my alma mater a few years back in which teacher David McCullough, Jr., (son of the renowned writer and historian David McCullough, Sr.) breaks the news to his mostly privileged and high achieving graduates that they’re not special and that there are 37,000 other valedictorians graduating alongside them in America. Clearly, experienced and smart educators are seeing a trend they don’t like and it is concerning them enough to take a public stance in both the spoken and written word. It isn’t new that as parents we don’t enjoy hearing things about our kids that we don’t like. But what has changed, in seismic ways, is how we respond when we hear them. Gone are the days where parents embraced hard work and were grateful to teachers for challenging their child to put in massive effort just to get a B-. Those are the same days when not making the middle school or high school team simply meant that this year, your kid just wasn’t good enough. The writer zeroes in on one particular statement that he frequently hears from parents as emblematic as where we, collectively as parents, are really messing things up. “You don't understand. My kid always makes straight As.” He continues on:
The parent is always well-intentioned when they say it, but this mentality is becoming an epidemic threatening to paralyze educators nationwide.

What Parents Say

With the release of Education Post’s Parent Poll, I’m reading this teacher’s thoughts with a few of the poll's findings front and center. According to the poll, 43 percent of parents nationwide believe that the primary responsibility for their children’s progress in school falls on them and 35 percent believe it lies with their child. Conversely, 39 percent believe they are responsible if their child fails to make progress and 37 percent believe the responsibility rests with their child. Curiously, only 14 percent of parents lay that responsibility at the teacher's feet yet, in Fugler's experience, these numbers aren't playing out. In fact, according to this veteran teacher, parents are the ones impeding the progress of high-level ambitious learning for their children. He believes (and my experience teaching in an affluent suburban district backs this up), that parents can’t stomach the idea that their child isn’t “gifted” or “special” and so instead, they push back on whoever is causing them to doubt. If their child can’t be the best, they need to find an excuse as to why that it is and blaming has become the default. Often, the assertion is that the teacher is too demanding and the work is too hard. The Parent Poll also revealed that 96 percent of parents believe that it is “very important” or “somewhat important” that their own children attend college. However, pushing back against challenging work and blaming teachers when our children struggle does not bode well for the independence and work ethic needed to succeed at the college level. On the contrary, parents who rush in to rescue their children from every bit of discomfort at school are actually handicapping their ability to navigate the world of secondary education, not to mention the workplace and life in general. One alarming piece of this cultural shift in parenting is that the once valued work ethic has been eclipsed by what the writer sees as apathy, entitlement, and a lack of ambition.
Work ethic is no longer a part of the conversation. Instead, we are swapping initiative for apathy, ambition for contentment, and responsibility for excuses. Parents think their child should not have to work for success because they deserve it. At the heart of the matter, parents equate hard work with the admission that their child is not gifted.
Fugler teaches a high-level course for freshmen that most find very challenging and he sees sheer panic from those who find themselves struggling for the first time. More disturbing is that the parents are the ones who take up the fight, not with their child about working harder or asking for support, but with the teacher for their “unreasonable expectations.” The writer’s take on that?
In doing so, we are conditioning our nation's children to believe they are the center of the universe. We have raised a generation on false hope and fairytales. Today, teachers are paying the price. Tomorrow, the world will. We have two choices of when our children can fail: now or later. Now, they are still in a safe environment with people willing to help them succeed. Later, it will be in the context of the workplace or with their own families when the stakes are much higher. Instead of allowing them to fail, we will have failed them. There's nothing special about that.
Mr. Fugler’s piece may not be the easiest one for us parents to read but it is an essential one if we are to stop rescuing and start fortifying our children, giving them the confidence and determination to take on all that awaits them in this marvelous but also very competitive world.  
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. An earlier version of this post appeared on her blog as Parents' Mentality is Paralyzing Teachers Nationwide.
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...

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