Opinion: Teachers should be empowering parents, not undermining them

by Peter Heck · Aug 18th, 2020 9:55 pm

Last Updated Aug 19th, 2020 at 10:30 pm

Several years ago when I first began my teaching career in the public school system, I was approached by a Christian brother who handed me a piece of paper. The paper had one solitary quote on it; one I had seen before but that took on new meaning given the fact that I had just inked my first teaching contract.

The quote came from the January-February 1983 edition of The Humanist. In a provocative essay entitled "A Religion for a New Age," John J. Dunphy wrote,

"I am convinced that the battle for humankind's future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanists values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level — preschool day care or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new — the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism, resplendent in its promise of a world in which the never-realized Christian ideal of "love thy neighbor" will finally be achieved."

Above the quote, my Christian brother had scrawled across the top, "We need you, and I'll be praying. Godspeed, young man."

I'm not that young man anymore, but I am still joyfully in the public high school classroom. I say joyfully (1) because I love it, and (2) because even though I am an outspoken proponent of both homeschooling and private schools, I will always believe there is great purpose for God's people in most all professions; especially those involved in the intellectual and emotional character-building of young people.

Abandoning the public-school system as a Christian adult seems foolish to me. Even if I were to choose that my primary, biblical obligation of raising my son and daughters in the fear of the Lord required me to withdraw them from public schools, I believe any voluntary, self-purging of Christian adult influence in the system would have disastrous long-term impacts for the souls of individual children, as well as society at large.

The recent viral twitter thread posted by Matthew R. Kay, a teacher in the Pennsylvania public school system, reaffirmed my belief. Kay took to social media to sound off about his concerns over the reality of holding "virtual class discussions" with his students, knowing that their parents might be listening in. Here was the full thread:

First, I should say that I don't know Matthew R. Kay, and have no reason to believe he is anything but a well-intentioned educator who truly wants to make a positive impact on the lives of kids. I will never fault a person for that. Still, the idea that a teacher should ever be concerned that parents might be "overhearing" what he is teaching not only represents the boldest of red flags, it exposes an unmistakably inverted philosophy on the moral and ethical authority in a child's life.

We will never solve the greatest problems with American education until we solve the greater problems with the American family. Teachers, above all, should testify to that truth. Far from fearing it, we should be the ones begging for parental involvement, participation, and input as the most critically important piece to a child's healthy development.

The most devastating reality we observe in virtual classrooms is not the periodic glimpses of a concerned mother, or a curious father peering over their child's shoulder. It's the lonely faces of an isolated child shifting uncomfortably among the silent echoes of a physically, emotionally, and spiritually empty home.

It is a confused pedagogy that desperately seeks to avoid the accountability of parents rather than putting that effort into partnering with and empowering them.

I understand that those who share my conservative political views will take umbrage at Kay's disdain for our values and his apparent devotion to utilizing his public-school lectern in a way that would make John Dunphy proud.

But as a fellow teacher, I admit that my bigger disappointment is in Kay's fundamental misunderstanding of our proper professional role as friends and allies with parents. No matter what Kay may think of their politics, parents will always be the most effective and important teachers a child will ever have.

That's something teachers should appreciate and respect, not actively and arrogantly seek to undermine.

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