THE BLOG
09/07/2011 06:58 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2011

Are Parents a Privileged Class in Education?

The question titling this post comes from a genuine and sincere place. And by "privileged" I mean in this context "an immunity from critique" in the conversation on education.

I've participated in a lot of furious debate on- and offline about education, particularly on testing and the role of public schools. Those like me, for whom education is a profession, constantly extol parental involvement. It is often noted as the crucial factor in student achievement, particularly in high-needs or low-income areas. Overall parental support is essential to preserving and reforming our system of public education in a lot of ways.

But my position on parental involvement feels a little different because I don't have children of my own. So, the connection I have to education is that it's my profession and something I've spent years studying.

In few other professions do I see so-called "expert" status conferred upon so many so easily -- certainly not in law, medicine or even plumbing. But an astounding number of Monday-morning quarterbacks and backseat drivers persist in bloviating about how to solve real problems in education, claiming their expertise as a former student or being a parent of a student. Persons in positions of authority don't seem to possess much more experience in education, never having taught or perhaps only going through a short-term stint that they knew was going to end from the start.

I'd be arrested if I went around nursing wounds, declaring, "I know what I'm doing because I've visited the doctor many times," of if I dished out legal advice because "my son's a lawyer." The same should hold true for education, but it doesn't.

The most common and perhaps vitriolic reactions to my thoughts on education have come from some parents who think that educators do not know what is best for their children. There's a kernel of truth to that. We don't know all of your kids. But when I talk about public schools, I'm not just talking about your kid, and I'm not just talking about the students, either. In order to preserve a healthy public school system, we also need to talk about the adults. For instance, improving the pay, work conditions and professional status of the actual educational workforce can also improve outcomes for students.

When I've pointed out that certain ideas might not work on a systemic level or identify some gaps in basic knowledge about curriculum, for example, the concluding riposte tends to be, "Well, you don't know what's best for my kid [or kids]." Therefore, I don't know anything, it seems.

I understand and respect the intentions of parents who want to do what's best for their child. I'm the only son of a single mother, so I get it. But parents everywhere, please understand that like other professions, being an educator takes time, practice and knowledge. It's not to say that practicing teachers have nothing else to learn or, Heaven forbid, that they can never be wrong. Yet, mutual respect comes from the idea that we both have something to bring to the table and sets of experiences and understandings necessarily off limits to the other. A stronger relationship between both parties -- educators and parents -- can come from getting those exclusive understandings to work together.