Thursday, July 8, 2010

Miss A Parent Teacher Conference and Go To Jail

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is working on a proposal that would see parents who fail to show up for parent teacher conferences spend up the three days in jail.   This is her attempt to deal with truancy, a high drop-out rate and teen violence. 
Worthy first considered her proposal after a spate of shootings involving students that culminated in the June 2009 wounding of seven teens at a city bus stop. The Demarco Harris' trial convinced her she was on the right track.

He had been in and out of school a lot and his parents rarely met with his teachers. Then came Aug. 1 2009 when authorities were investigating a killing.

"When police went to his parents, his parents were not able to account for his whereabouts and it was about 2 in the morning," Worthy said.

Harris, who is now 13, was convicted in May of killing 24-year-old Trisha Babcock. He was sentenced to a high-security juvenile lockup.

"We're trying to prevent any more Demarco Harrises from going down that road," Worthy said.
Criminalizing this situation is not going to make any improvement. It did not occur to Worthy that perhaps the reason why parents are not able to attend conferences is due to an inability to get time off work.  There are people that cannot even afford a sick day, much less taking time off to meet with a teacher. There are also parents that are disabled that may not be able to attend these conferences. I have not gone to a teacher conference in years, but that does not mean I am a disengaged parent; it means the difficulty of traveling to the school during the winter months presents a real barrier for me.   My conferences happen over the phone and this an option that schools could offer. A parent my not be able to attend a meeting, but a fifteen minute phone conversation during a break could be a different story altogether. We live in the age of communication and we should use these tools to reach out to families, rather than insisting on formats that may exclude many.

The areas that Wothy is focusing on are poor and this proposal seems to be another attempt to criminalize poverty rather than offering real solutions.  You cannot systematically remove all forms of a social safety net and then blame people for not being able to cope.  The very conditions of poverty breed a sort of hopelessness that causes many to want to simply give up and stop trying.  

Truancy in particular speaks to me of a failure of the school system rather than the parent.  We know that education enforces systemic inequalities, and in poor neighbourhoods, it is often deficient in many ways.  When a poor child attends school for the first time they have no less desire to learn than a child who is middle/upper class, but by the third grade, the school system has lost them by failing to make education relevant to them or by displaying its casual bias to them. Children are quickly grouped into specific categories at a very early age and it becomes almost impossible for the child to move upward from there.  With exception of hard subjects like math or science, subjectivity comes into play wherein a teacher may grade according to the isms ze has internalized.

If Worthy really wants to help these children she needs to offer supportive solutions rather than criminalizing their failures.  Would it have been that hard to suggest some sort of community support programs. After school programs that engage children, while continuing to build upon the basics taught in the classroom, go a long way toward  encouraging them to stay in school.  Subjects like music, art and gym, have been removed from the curriculum in many districts, and yet these subjects provide a particular grounding that is helpful to children. Community sports in particular teach team work, personal responsibility and discipline.  My children are both involved in karate and it has taught them to work hard and seek perfection. When children go to school they need to feel like they are a part of a community that has come together for the purpose of their personal success and once that is lost, you have lost the child for good.

I think that socially we spew a lot of rhetoric about children being the future and how precious they are, but when it comes to caring for them, we throw up our hands and say that's not my child. The hate aimed at children is palpable despite the fact that the return on our investment in them multiplies throughout the years. We need to stop promoting individual solutions when the problems are communal. If children are failing it is because the adults around them are failing to provide them with the tools they need to succeed.  Throwing a parent in jail is only going to leave a child without parental guidance and support not help them to get on the right path.