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Should Schools Parent Our Kids?


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Should the community expect teachers and administrators to deal with problems -- or potential problems -- that do not directly affect students during the school day? Should parents want schools to take on the role of raising their kids?

When my daughter was in second grade, she attracted a young admirer who demonstrated his affection in the manner in which second graders have courted one another throughout history. He teased her unmercifully. My daughter, wise in the way of generations of women, ignored him. Her brother, a year younger and a head taller, was not as sanguine. As the self-appointed defender of his sister's honor, he challenged the young Lothario to a duel. Actually, I believe his exact words were, "Leave my sister alone or I'll beat you up." The response, "Try it!" settled the matter and the tiny combatants agreed to meet late one afternoon in the school playground -- which, coincidentally, abutted our backyard and was as far as my self-appointed knight was allowed to travel alone.

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Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four children, has been an education writer for nearly two decades. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.

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The next day, I received a call from my children's school. The other child's mother had heard of the upcoming face-off and had reported it to the principal. My son was disciplined at school for instigating the fight and threatened with harsher punishment there if a fight actually occurred.

Frankly, having already dealt with the matter at home, I was annoyed at the school's involvement. The scheduled time for the fight was well after school hours. The appointed place was essentially our own backyard. The other child did not live within walking distance of the school; his mother would have had to drive him to the fight. I thought the mother should have called me, not the school. I thought the school, having been called, should have notified me. Period. I thought that punishing my son in school for a potential misbehavior out of school was way out of line. So I griped for few days -- and then forgot all about it.

I recalled the incident while reading about the trial of a 17-year-old Florida high school student charged with killing a classmate. Apparently, simmering hostilities between the two students, which had begun weeks earlier at an out-of-school party, finally erupted into a fistfight. One of the students was fatally injured by a fluke punch. The fight took place after school hours and off school grounds, and yet one of the lawyers tangentially involved in the case questioned why the high school hadn't dealt with the problem between the boys before their tempers exploded into violence.

That lawyer's remarks made me wonder exactly what she thought the school should have done to prevent the incident. Notify the parents? Apparently they were aware of the tension between the boys -- and school administrators deny that they knew of it. Even if we assume that the school knew of the extent of the hostilities, can we really expect teachers and administrators to deal with problems -- or potential problems -- that do not directly affect students during the school day? Should we even want our schools to take on that role? I don't think so.

When I was in school, 100 years ago or so, it was the job of parents to support the school in its efforts to educate their children. Today, it seems, too many people -- including many parents and some teachers -- think it is the job of the school to help parents raise their children. As a parent, thats a job I'd rather do myself. As a teacher, it's a job I'm unwilling -- and unable -- to assume.