Take a moment and think a bit about your childhood. What did you learn from your parents, extended family or friends and what did you learn at school? More importantly, how did the two learning environments overlap, developing consistency and clear expectations?
I remember my parents (and grandparents) teaching me a wide variety of skills as a child and adolescent: to tie my shoes, dress myself, daily hygiene, read, do simple math, tell time, read a calendar, write and address a letter, organize a to do list, keep a diary, garden, cook, iron, sew, do laundry, housekeeping, to play a wide variety of sports and athletic activities, answer the phone and take a message, host a social event, make eye contact with adults and hold an appropriate conversation, behave in public or social settings that require restraint, use basic manners, understand the importance of voting, take care of aging family members, respect my teachers and coaches, etc.
This isn’t to say that many of these skills weren’t learned or reinforced in school – they absolutely were, but I had a ‘double dose’ of learning as my family and the school system worked together to support my education.
Today, unfortunately, many of our students aren’t receiving the same ‘double dose’ of education many of us enjoyed as children of the late 20th century. Moreover, schools are scrambling to expand their curriculum to give them even a single exposure in many cases.
The decline of parenting over the past 20 years has been documented by mental health professionals, discussed in education and highlighted in news articles, such as this one in MacLean’s Magazine: The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up. Despite many warning signs, including a massive increase in youth mental health, a spike in students requiring special education services and a call from employers than millennials are failing in the workplace, the tide doesn’t really seem to be turning back towards impactful parenting.
Our education systems are scrambling to take the place of roles once dominated by parents, and are hiring support staff to compensate: educational assistants, school nurses, mental health counsellors, speech pathologists, homework club supervisors, summer school kindergarden and early learning program teachers, etc.
The financial cost of hiring support staff is further compounded by the need for increases to special education funding due to the expanding number of students requiring services. See the figure below re: increase of special education students in Ontario.
Although there are many reasons for the increase in special education services, one factor is the fact that many students are behind in literacy skills and as a result are being identified as having ‘communication disabilities’. This can be directly co-related to early literacy skills and vocabulary acquisition that should be happening at home, then in conjunction with primary learning in schools. However, this would involve parents reading with their kids, modelling and teaching them to read and write, recognizing if and when there is a problem and acting on it – all parenting skills that far too many don’t feel are important.
Moreover, schools are also now dedicating funding to increasing school libraries and food programs due to the fact that many of our students come from literacy impoverished homes and/or aren’t receiving a nutritious breakfast before school. Some of these students are from poverty-stricken environments, but the sad truth is that most aren’t. They simply come from homes where basic literacy skills are ignored and undervalued (even thought they are the cornerstone of education), and basic nutrition is set aside for late bedtimes, technology addiction and chaotic mornings.
Increased Teacher Stress
As educators, we’ve felt our stress loads rise as parenting declines. We were once responsible for general academia, behaviour modification and basic physical education, but our portfolios have quickly expanded and blurred the lines of parent and teacher. It is not uncommon for teachers to feel the need to teach their students basic life skills they should be learning at home: tying shoes, personal hygiene, simple social skills, manners, basic information about the need for sleep and nutrition and outdoor physical activity, etc.
The most stress comes from skills that used to be taught at both home and school, that now educators seem wholly responsible for. Examples include: reading, writing, basic math, telling time, behaviour boundaries, etc. Once upon a time parents taught these skills, which were reinforced at school. Today, this isn’t so.
Now, when children are 8 years old and they ‘can’t read’ and ‘can’t even write a sentence’ it’s the fault of schools and teachers. When they can’t sit still, hold a conversation with adults, tell time or do math without a calculator, ‘schools’ and ‘teachers’ are the problem, not parents.
Ironically, even though many parents are completely dropping the ball, instead of looking inward when their child is functionally illiterate, innumerate and emotionally out of control, they look to teachers and the education system to foot the blame rather than reflecting on the fact that they’ve never introduced, modelled or supported these skills at home.
Lost Confidence in Education Systems
Another impact of the decline in parenting is the realization by students that they are completely unprepared for adulthood. However, since they are only aware of their childhood memories, they don’t realize how little parenting they experienced. As a result they also turn to blame the education system for their inadequacies.
Recently, there have been quite a few social media campaigns focused on promoting this disillusion. One that I’ve seen quite a few times is a video about the need for millennials to take ‘adulting classes’ due to the fact that ‘schools’ have not adequately prepared them for their future.
Another example is a 16 year old student in the GTA who has created an online course website called (WYDLIS) – What You Didn’t Learn in School. If this isn’t a direct hit on schools, I don’t know what is, but society doesn’t seem to mind. He was recently interviewed on CTV news regarding the need for his online courses due to what the ‘education system’ wasn’t offering youth. There was little to no discussion about the role of parents and how much of ‘What You Didn’t Learn in School’ was once called ‘Parenting’.
These messages propel the idea that schools are to blame for the lack of parenting students receive which in turn hurts the credibility of our educational systems, when in reality is the decline of parenting that is the real issue.
As education systems and their staff continue to be impacted by a decline in parenting, government needs to step in. Perhaps a rise in parenting courses is required for current generations, or a the very least a stop to demonizing education systems by governments and media for the lack of parenting in society.
Furthermore, schools also need to set boundaries. For the past 20 years, we’ve continued to take on roles and responsibilities that are far beyond our expectations as educators. At some point we need to put our foot down and say ‘that’s enough’.
Parents also need to step in and take responsibility for raising their children; it isn’t the role of teachers or education systems. Many of us have our own kids to deal with. We love our students, but we shouldn’t be responsible for raising them.
What do you think about the decline of parenting and it’s impact on education? How has your school/district/career been impacted by this? Comment below!