Parents held responsible for students’ failure

By Pat Watson Wednesday April 10 2013 in Opinion
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Pat Watson


For almost a decade now this columnist has had the privilege of engaging in one other avocation. This being a city that welcomes the world, that activity is teaching English, mainly to people who have another first language. This has allowed for quite an education in the ways of other cultures, in particular, exposure to young people whose first language is Korean.


What I have learned when it comes to Korean educational pursuits is that, for the most part, young Koreans are not at liberty to choose their education paths. Their parents often lead that decision. A common complaint from young Korean university students is that they do not care much for their major. Upon the decision of their parents, a good number will study some form of engineering since that can open a path to well-paying careers.


Parents are in charge and have high expectations, and children obey. One effect is the youth live with high stress.


Within this scenario came a request recently to work with an eight-year-old on developing English comprehension. Her family is concerned that she does not fully understand when her classroom teacher speaks. The little girl has been in Canada only three months, her English is by any assessment quite good, especially given the brief time she has been here. Yet, her family would like her to receive English instruction every day after school and on weekends.


When the family spoke about tutoring for the little girl, they explained almost apologetically that their expectations for her were very high. She’s doing well, they concluded, but they want her to do more.


Whether it is best for an eight-year-old to have to go through such a regimen in order to learn English is questionable, but such a notion in Korean culture regarding their children is the norm.


On any Saturday morning in neighbourhoods with a noticeable Asian population, the libraries are buzzing with dozens of parents reading to children or supervising their children’s reading. They are guiding children through homework or extra work. There is an idea that the entire job of children is to focus on their formal education. And the parents are exceedingly involved in making sure they stay focused.


This is but a brief sketch of how some manage their children in order to lay the groundwork for their future. It is not to idealize the practices of another culture but to note what happens within another community in this city.


At the same time, I have yet to encounter any parents in any African Canadian community who do not make it their mission to support and guide their children toward success in their formal education. So the propaganda that disinterested parents are somehow the norm in the Black community is character assassination. This is the kind of noxious foolishness that passes for understanding when Black people are viewed abstractly, rather than as living, breathing real human beings.


Modern society holds formal education and post-secondary training as the great answers to success in life. It is an especially meaningful message for those who hope to leave behind a life of poverty. Therefore, the breakdown in education participation by nearly half of Black students here is always a worry.


It is the norm these days to say that lack of parental participation is closely connected to that breakdown. Not so long ago, across many cultures, the norm was that a child was sent to school and his or her education was the prerogative of the teachers, first and foremost.


Now, when the child fails, the parents are considered to have failed the child – not the teachers and not the education system. It is the current fashion, but particular blame in this thinking is burdened onto the shoulders of African Canadian parents.


There are so very many ways that African Canadians are assaulted for just being Black.


A further note on education…


During this current era of a Liberal government at the provincial level, the Toronto Board of Education (TDSB) is striking a different tone that when the Progressive Conservatives under Mike Harris turned ‘Zero Tolerance’ in schools into a political plank, that resulted in many Black students being expelled. Yet, while a recent survey by the TDSB found more children feel respected in school than four years ago and more parents feel welcome to interact with education personnel in schools, the number of Black students who are penalized with suspensions remains higher than the general school population.


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