The War of K-12

by Bob Turner on May 14, 2024

There is a raging culture war between parents and schools. It existed before 2020, but that year was the gasoline on the fire. Fights were waged over school cancellations, learning loss, masking, and virtual classrooms. The debate grew to include critical race theory, nationalism, book banning, and every aspect of gender and sexuality. Parents showed up to community gatherings with bombastic mic drops prefaced by a few introductory remarks. Clips spread instantly on social media. 

Where did these zealots come from? Did every problematic Little League dad tell his kid to quit baseball so they could take up school board meetings?

Advisors who formerly encouraged parents to be more involved in their kids' education started having second thoughts. Helicopter parents officially landed the aircraft and initiated the ground attack. This war has made many of us long for the days when our dad approached us at our high school graduation and said “tell me which of these people taught you so I can thank them.”

Yes, I know: some teachers are terrible. They enter each classroom underqualified, underprepared, and underwhelming. Every student is gifted a rotten apple once in a while. James was right when he said, “Not many of you should become teachers” (3:1). In fairness, he probably didn’t think everyone should become parents either. 

One of the common sentiments we hear from parents during times of anxiety is “I know what’s best for my child.” 

As a parent of two, I wish I had such certainty. At this point I have more unanswerable questions than unquestionable answers. When is the right age to give them a phone? When should they be allowed on social media? How do we tell them to be self-assured without becoming self-centered? Should they get to pick out everything they wear? What’s the line between being a disciplinarian parent and a draconian one? Or between being an empowered child and an entitled one?

I have no idea. I don’t often know what is best for my child. Perhaps what parents mean to say is “I want what’s best for my child.” 

Yet even this exposes us to problems if we mistakenly assume that only we want what is best for our child.  Further, the belief that only we want what is best for our child can often produce the belief that we know our child best. 

 I’m not sure we do. 

My wife has been a teacher of Pre-K or Kindergarten for 19 years. That translates to about 500 children who spend 7 hours per day for 180 days per year with her. Any humble parent should concede that she knows more about a 5 year old than they do. 

She’s not alone. Teaching is one of the most significant occupations in the world. Occupy is probably the right word. They never leave the classroom; they just graduate up to another level of learning. Parents think of them as the one who teaches our one, but the truth is that the teacher spends each year learning about a new 25.  This lab teaches them about child psychology, cultural differences, behavioral economics, and the struggles of poverty. They learn what people drive, what they send for lunch, and what triggers their insecurities. Further, they can navigate through the back entrance of every zoo, art museum, science center, and community theater in the city.  I have no idea how they do it; they have the most exhausting job ever (okay, except for the P.E. teachers in joggers; they seem to have fun).

Teaching is more of a vocation (calling) than a career. In fact, it’s the ultimate profession. Teachers profess their values, convictions, and love for their material. It’s why we call teachers of older students professors.

Recently I was with a therapist who was talking to ministers about how to set realistic expectations for kids that don’t inadvertently harm them. She said not to be anxious, it will be fine.  It’s more important for them to know that God has a plan for them (Jer. 29:11) than that we do. She said, “They are God’s kids before they are yours.” If God can trust his kids to us, then we can also trust our kids to teachers.

We owe so much to our teachers. Some have been underpaid and underappreciated. They work long hours and experience increasingly shortened summers. Teachers can mean the world to a child. We should not forget that. Education is worth too much to be sacrificed in a culture war. Educators should not be the collateral damage in a fight; because behind every flourishing child is an army of hard-working teachers.

Tags: education, parents, teaching, school, teachers, best, anxious


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