The staff in my juvenile-corrections facility, where I go in each day as a teacher, have often said, “We make good progress with our youth, but when they go home, they go right back into the problem behaviors. You should meet these parents! In many cases, if it weren’t for the parents, we’d be able to help these kids in a real way.”
They are talking about parents who give their children drugs and alcohol, yes, but they are also talking about parents who are cruel to their children, those who are permissive on one hand and punishing on the other, those who are so embroiled in their turmoils that they can’t guide the children, those who are still seeking juvenile types of thrills and relationships (“my mother’s current boyfriend,” I often hear), and so on.
I have had a large family of my own, and I’d be the first to say that I was not a perfect parent. However, I always remembered that I was a parent! I worked hard to temper my failings and faults for the good of my children.
Kids who live in a home culture that doesn’t value education; that doesn’t supply books to read; that encourages violence and pranking; that teaches children to lie and cheat to get along; that applies capricious and unpredictable punishments; or where the kids are at risk sexually or from drugs or alcohol; or where there simply isn’t enough to eat, where there’s no hot water for bathing, where it’s cold because the heat bill isn’t paid–these kids come to school and we are tasked with teaching them.
Most of the time, nobody hears what’s going on in the home (although in juvenile corrections, we do hear). Much of the time, Family Services is too overburdened to help even a reasonable percentage of these kids.
Sometimes, these very parents are the ones that come in with metaphoric boxing gloves on, to defend their children from what they perceive as mistreatment at school, when in reality, problems at home put the kids at far more risk.
At my small rural junior high, the rate of stable, two-parent homes is less than five percent! Even if all the other homes were somehow functioning in a healthy way, all of these children have gone through significant trauma as marriages have broken up and parents have tried to find their way.
This all sounds rather dismal, and I suppose it is. More than anything, it’s another reason to put aside all the focus on test scores and rather to focus on helping children really learn, helping them learn to learn, so they can know enough to step out of any home culture that doesn’t serve them.