I went into teaching 42 years ago because my leftist political friends said we needed to develop a parent-teacher alliance in order to build a revolutionary movement. Much has changed since then. We still need a revolution, but the nature of our vision has radically changed. My vision, anyway, is that people simply organize to take over from the bottom up. The schools would be a good place to start. So the parent-teacher alliance is still a good idea, and in some small and medium-sized ways I’ve tried to foster this alliance over the years
But I think we need to step up our game. I for one am really tired of watching the system blindly – or maybe not blindly – perpetrate 12 years of child abuse. Children at no age – or adults for that matter – are built to sit still and quiet for 6 hours a day. To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, we need to transform the schools from instruments of oppression to vehicles of liberation.
Child centered education is not a new idea. John Dewey advocated for something like it back in the nineteen-teens. Later advocates were Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky. These progressive ideas were implemented in the Head Start program which grew out of the civil rights movement, and their implementation in the K-12 schools was sporadically attempted in the late sixties and early seventies. But in the seventies the Back-to-Basics movement pushed back and in most cases managed to foist its nineteenth pedagogy on the public schools. This movement in more sophisticated form, with its data-driven models, arcane standardized testing, and common core standards still controls the levers of educational policy.
But if one school decided to opt out of this anti-child, anti-humanistic model, what could they do? It would not be easy. Many parents and teachers still hold a basically anti-child viewpoint. The place we’re at now is at the beginning – or re-beginning – of the conversation.
One program that would move the process would be for the schools to hire and train parents to work as Assistant teachers in every classroom. Such a program isn’t new either – it was standard practice in the heyday of Title I funding back in the seventies – another result of the civil rights movement. In addition to lowering the student-adult ratio to make teaching actually doable, hiring parents also addresses poverty, the one factor most saliently associated with low academic performance.