September 23, 2020

Book stresses parent-teacher partnership

MAKING OUR HIGH SCHOOLS BETTER, by Anne Wescott Dodd and Jean L. Konzol, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999, 276 pages, hardcover, $26.95.

School shootings are becoming all too common. American teens seem to lag behind their peers worldwide in just about every subject area. An already obscene gap is widening between school district haves and have-nots.

I’m a parent and, like you, I want the best possible education for my precious children. Stories are appearing too often in the papers that scare the wits out of me, making me wonder how I can be the best advocate for my children.

Fortunately “Making Our High Schools Better” goes a long way toward empowering me to do just that. This rich volume, by Anne Wescott Dodd and Jean L. Konzol, avoids both the condescending tone of many parent-directed how-to books and the over-reliance on insider jargon in communications aimed at educators. It’s easy to see that its authors are parents as well as teachers.

Dodd and Konzol contend that true school reform will be possible only when teachers and parents become real partners and are better able to communicate with each other. Dodd and Konzol went out and talked to parents on their own turf. They sought out a full range of educational experience: the fourth-grade dropout and the college graduate; parents of remedial-education and honor-roll children. When the parents talked, they listened.

Dodd said finding out why parents and teachers talk past each other involves looking beyond the surface of this dialogue. Sometimes both groups may use the same terms while meaning different things. The first part of “Making Our High Schools Better” examines the root of this confusion. The book examines, in great detail, issues with which both parents and teachers struggle, such as what students should learn and how they should be evaluated. The truly inspirational final chapters profile communities that have cemented true partnerships with child-benefiting reforms.

Dodd said the many ways in which high schools communicate to parents sometimes may inadvertently alienate them. Decisions about curriculum changes are announced after they have been implemented, and parent-teacher nights follow scripted formats.

Dodd believes high schools must develop a wide range of meaningful ways to involve parents and the wider community in educational reform. This goes beyond preaching to the choir, or working with privileged parents who share educational advantages. Parents who have had bad experiences with schools must be shown they also play an important role in their child’s education.

Dodd reminds us that even parents satisfied with their children’s educational experiences can’t afford to be complacent. A child who is slipping through the cracks may be angry and armed with a gun in their school.

“We must want for all children what we want for our own children,” she said. “Kids need to be nurtured and valued. We have to care about every child.”

The real sense of depth and richness of “Making Our High Schools Better” is difficult to convey. You need to read it and let it empower you.

Do our children and all children deserve any less?

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