From the files of “Did she really say that?” comes a post written a few days ago by Diane Ravitch, under the heading: “Do parents always know what is best?” Ravitch extensively quotes a Louisiana teacher, who hardly wins friends and influences people with this opener:
I am tired of this attitude about parents knowing what is best for their children. Parents are easily swayed by politicians, talk show hosts and preachers. They rarely understand how schools work unless they are teachers themselves or have relatives who are teachers….
Yes, that is patronizing. Even worse, it can lead to a lot of dangerous and misguided policy conclusions. It’s hard to put it much better than has Victor Skinner of EAG News:
Let’s get this straight: Since some parents are dopes and will make poor decisions for their kids, all parents should have their rights limited?
That’s not how America works.
We can’t write off all parents’ ability to make a researched decision on where to send their children to school because some “starve, beat, tie up, and rape their children.”
We’re a country of freedom and responsibility, and the public education model until recently has gone against the grain. We’ve been told what to do….
Do parents always know best, as Ravitch frames the issue? No, of course not. But the fact that they know and love their children best of all certainly puts them at a distinct advantage, and gives them a great starting point from which to make informed decisions. While they may go to a doctor for help, sometimes they need to step out and demand a second opinion. If it’s true for a child’s health and dealing with the medical profession, how much more so for educational needs and consulting with teachers?
Is there a real fear that our education system predominately leans in the direction of honoring parent authority at the expense of other interest groups and priorities? Hardly. Just like we shouldn’t design entire instructional policies to accommodate the worst 5 percent of teachers, there’s absolutely no reason to dismiss the concept of school choice because a small number of parents are abusive or completely irresponsible.
Rather than taking a negative attitude, let’s focus on raising the bar. Empowering parents in many cases also includes educating them. And that’s one of the purposes of my Education Policy Center friends’ unique and fantastic School Choice for Kids website.