Friday, October 2, 2009

My open letter to Gloria Romero

The Honorable State Senator Gloria Romero,

I heard the report on NPR about your quest for more parental participation in our children's schools, and I wanted to respond. I am a parent who is serving on the PTA.

You mentioned that we're more likely to "attend a protest than a PTA bake sale." I don't know if you've noticed, but most PTAs don't actually hold bake sales anymore. Some schools have banned them for allergy concerns, and a large majority of us moms are working and not so much available during the day to bake a cake and bring it to school.

But this isn't about the so-called stay-at-home moms versus working moms war. This is about the fact that most of us moms know that we have a greater chance of actually having a larger impact on our child's education by showing up at a Board of Education meeting than selling brownies for a dollar. I find it more than a little shocking that you don't know that.

Did you know, for instance, that PTAs are only allowed to raise and spend money on that which will benefit the entire school, and that a PTA can't save a teacher's job by holding a bake sale (or yard sale or any other fundraiser)? Did you know, for instance, that PTA actually stands for Parent Teacher Association, and that normally only one or two teacher "representatives" show up at a PTA meeting?

This is not a slam against teachers - I know they're busy - but your comment is representative of most people's attitude on what the PTA is and, sadly, not representative of what it can do.

But let's go back to the concept of working mothers for a moment. I remember getting a newsletter from LAUSD a few years back, touting great news! Parents can now use vacation time to volunteer at their child's school! I was flabbergasted. Anyone with vacation time can use it for whatever they wish. There was nothing stopping us before from using it to volunteer at the school! Not to mention, that presumes that most parents actually receive vacation time at their job. Many hourly employees do not have this luxury.

I'm incredibly frustrated about this idea that parental involvement will suddenly solve all of our problems in education. While I agree that being involved is a positive reinforcement to our children that we value their education, and we value them, it is not the magic elixir.

Our children need qualified, passionate, excellent teachers - no matter their number of years at the job. Our children need classrooms that aren't overcrowded. Our children need to not be rushed through lessons to meet standardized test requirements in April.

And while many parents are absolutely willing to help their children with their homework, the implementation is often harder. If we've been at work all day, and are trying to get dinner on the table, and meet our weeknight demands, and haven't been in school to teach the mathematical problem using the same terms and methodology as their teacher, our children may not be all that willing to learn from us. Our children may have more pressing matters to discuss with us - like their fight with their best friend today, or what's for dinner. Our children may want some off-school time when they're home with us, and may just want us to be their mom or dad, not their teacher.

Parents are already trying to teach children better communication skills, social skills, relationship skills. Parents are trying to teach their children how to be a well-rounded, well-liked and well-respected independent being. Parents are working to keep their children in clothes that fit and trying to feed their children well-balanced diets. Parents have to become HTML-code proficient to ensure that our children have a safe environment when they're online. Parents are monitoring their children's television time, reading time, and driving their children to soccer practice to ensure that they have the right amount of physical education time. Parents are supplementing their education by paying for museum memberships, paying for arts lessons and/or music lessons and/or science camps and/or tutoring to make sure their child doesn't get left behind.

And the parents that can't afford such things? They're working 2 jobs. Or looking for work. Or going back to school themselves to get better-paying work. They're scraping up change to pay for their children's arts supplies at Michael's so their children can do their required diorama "book report."

You may not see me at my child's school every day (although, yes, I have taken vacation time to help out). You may not see me pick up my child after school every day because I am at work. But you also don't see me at night, trying to get everything done. You don't see me on weekends, reading articles on education while waiting for the dryer. You don't see me take my children to the theatre. You don't see me talk to my children about their latest sibling rivalry episode, or their absent father, or rummaging through boxes of clothes to find clothes that fit.

I take pride in spending most of my waking hours thinking of my children, working to do right by them, and our snuggle times make it all worth it. Still, it might be in my children's best interest for you to concentrate on the budget fiasco and finding more money for their schools than telling me to bake a cake.


Originally posted on LA Moms Blog, Oct. 2, 2009.

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