While racism is still a major factor in institutional discrimination within our society, classism has become more prevalent and pervasive. This is particularly true of our institution of public education. Racial minorities and the poor are now the majority in urban school districts across the country. Most economically advantaged urban families, regardless of their race and ethnicity, do not send their children to public schools. Even public school teachers, people who generally consider themselves achievement-oriented and possessed of middle-class values, avoid public education for their own children.
Thus our schools operate in a contradiction, trying to educate historically oppressed and isolated people so that they can join the mainstream, while elitism and classism have left the schools progressively less equipped for the task. Proposals for vouchers and tuition tax credits are overt attempts to encourage even more separatism in our society.
The economic results of differentiated educational opportunities are devastating, causing more of our taxes to be used each year to care for adults who are unable to care for themselves due to miseducation, unemployment and lack of information related to economic empowerment. Employers spend billions of dollars trying to retrain prospective workers in basic skills that should have been learned before graduation from high school.
In response to this situation, there is much clamor for the institution of education to "reform" itself and provide the nation with a more productive work force. Surely, it is in the self-interest of the business community to assist directly in improving this "product."
There should be a redirection of corporate resources to assist the public schools and the business community, while the students are still in school.
It is no accident that students achieve at a much higher rate in school communities where parents are deeply involved in the operation of those schools. This involvement is conspicuously absent in schools designated to educate the children of the working class and the poor--but not, as some would have it, because of the parents' indifference. If we truly expect working parents to exert a positive influence on public schools in the same manner as parents of private and parochial school children, then we must create a vehicle for that involvement.
I propose that employers give paid time off--at least four hours a month--for their employees to spend time in their children's schools.
It is my belief, born of 23 years' teaching experience, that if every classroom had a parent present while the lesson was being taught, the quality of education in that classroom would improve significantly for the children in that class. Not only would the children begin to recognize the relationship between the value of school work and parental influence, but the parents also would be able to extend the intent of the lesson into the home. Simply by their very presence, they would give reinforcement to their children's efforts. They also would be able to confer with teachers and counselors, observe student progress and assist in voluntary programs such as truancy prevention.
There is precedent for the release of employees to support other governmental aims. We have the practice of releasing employees to serve on jury duty, or as subpoenaed witnesses, with no penalty to their salaries. If we are prepared to support the criminal justice system through corporate cooperation, why not the educational justice system?
Rather than tuition tax credits for private schools, we should establish corporate tax credits for employers who give their workers paid time to visit their children's schools. Since government is a primary employer, and supports many of these parents in other ways, local, state and federal agencies could begin to implement this plan while encouraging private industry to become involved.
To be sure, there will be some resistance to this idea, including the unfortunate position taken by some teacher and school administrator groups that parents on campus pose a threat to the educator's autonomy and would disrupt the educational program. This institutional resistance is another form of classism that keeps the parent, who pays our salaries, at arm's length.
If we are in fact practicing what we teach, the pursuit of excellence, it is only the incompetent who need feel threatened by parental observation. The majority of our teachers and administrators are competent, dedicated professionals, who, if observed and assisted by parents on a daily basis, will inspire those parents to become supporters of the public schools, as taxpayers and as voters. If we had more public confidence in our schools, it would be unnecessary to introduce legalized gambling as a means of support for education.
Our educational, legislative, business and union leaders need to seriously consider such a plan. If those who own the businesses continue to ignore the schools, so central to their employees' lives, we will continue to suffer from educational classism, societal separatism and economic deprivation.
An alliance between businesses and schools to involve parents in the education of their children is not only good for education; it is also good business.