The emerging parent union and trigger movements are directing our dialogue toward a question too few of us are asking: Who has the authority over the child? To that, Connecticut Parent’s Union leader Gwen Samuel has added that a parent’s love and responsibility for the child cannot be equaled in even the most altruistic of educators, and our public policies would be wise to reflect that. On the Dropout Nation blog, Samuel writes:
You would think that public policymakers and educators would realize that the best, most-productive, and logical way to improve relationships between parents, teachers and principals is to understand that it’s the love that parents have for their children that moves them into diligent advocacy for them. Policymakers and educators would be wise to channel that love into meaningful support for highly effective teachers because they have our most precious commodity in their care.
The question of love is not sentimental. As Samuel notes, parents are responsible for every aspect of their child’s life, and that responsibility does not, in fact, end at the schoolhouse door. A similar point was made by choice advocates and law professors John E. Coons and Stephen D. Sugarman 33 years ago in their book, “Education by Choice: The Case for Family Control.” Coons and Sugarman asked, Who really cares for the child? The professional educator can be unselfish and well-motivated to meet the needs of the student but is institutionally constrained in ways that often make disinterested judgment about the child difficult. “There is no reason,” Coons and Sugarman write, “to treat as mere sentiment the human perception that children by and large are loved more by their parents than by crossing guards, scoutmasters, welfare workers and teachers.”
Samuel correctly notes that when parents and teachers are empowered to jointly engage in the child’s interest, children “become productive citizens who can work in our economy, pay taxes, and build families.” That can also be put a different way by asking who will bear the responsibility for mistakes made in judging the interest of the child, as Coons and Sugarman write:
Wise policy seeks to link the authority for decisions with the personal responsibility for their consequences. While most professional deciders do not have to suffer the social consequences of bad decisions made for children, families — because of their permanent bond with the child — generally do. Being rendered simultaneously powerless and responsible in relation to their child’s education is sensed by the family both as an injustice to itself and a loss for the child.