Saturday, July 13, 2013

Whose Children Are They?

me grey
Author: Shella Zelenz
I’ve been bridging the parent/teacher border for 20 years now and as long as I adhered to the virtues handed down from above regarding the way I was to view my own child and my students, then all was well and good. I was to take my admonishments and adhere to their guidance even if it didn’t feel right. They knew better than I did. Who was I to argue? I was a young mother and teacher in my 20′s. I trusted those before me who had experience and I trusted the training programs I paid thousands of dollars to help me become the professional I aimed to be. I remember distinctly being *briefly* introduced to ideas that suddenly lit my eyes. As soon as it appeared, it was taken away and I was redirected to the “way things are.”
In my parenting practice and teaching practice, I tried various tricks of the trade, I did as I was told, and I experimented with things I found on my own. The things I found on my own were often much more aligned with what felt right to me than what I was told to do. Upon entrance to my doctoral program, my dissertation chair approached me at the new student orientation and said point blank, “So what’s your dissertation about?” I stared at him like a deer in the headlights. I had just met the professors for the first time. I had just been introduced to the graduate school I signed up for. I was eager to learn. I had no idea what I wanted my ultimate focal point to be. He whittled it out of me. What came was that “I feel the spirit of the child is completely ignored in education.” Oh wow did his eyes light up! I had hit the jackpot! I had no idea what rabbit hole I had just opened.
The results of that one statement have led me down a path of great depth of learning and SERIOUS challenging of all previously held beliefs I had as a woman, as a teacher, as a caucasian, and as a parent. My entire reality has been ripped to shreds and I have been exposed to ideas and concepts that I felt had been hidden in the bottom of the rainbow that people never seem to be able to truly identify. I guess I found the pot o’gold. Wow, funny how discovering such a thing can create all kinds of drama from the rest of the world that REALLY wanted you to just do as you’re told and stay in that box feeling like you really don’t have all of the answers, just parroting what you were told to say/do. The more I knew, the less I was trusted. The more I spoke, the more I was chastised. The most important discovery for me was how the type of education I truly wanted for my own children and for my students, was something that is desperately out of reach for the majority of American children.
Why is that? Well, what I have discovered is that the type of education that offers students the highest form of self-reflection, self-direction, and in-depth, meaningful learning experience with serious comprehension of what respect means and what it feels like, is locked away in these obscure schools that often resemble homes, have loving staff who are not often very adequately compensated due to the limitations on funding, and the only students who are able to attend have to come from homes that can afford the tuition. There are students who receive substantial scholarships, but the schools cannot truly afford to be able to take on very many of these students or they would have to close their doors for good due to lack of functioning financial support. They are often in cities where the cost of living is higher because in these places, it is more likely to find sufficient families who are able to afford to pay for the tuition. So, what this really meant to me as a single mother looking for a solution for my own children, was that I either had to move to an expensive city and pray I found a job that would adequately support my family and the tuition for my children to attend, or I had to make my own school. I opted for the latter first, which gave me even more insight into the beliefs of our society.
This brings me full circle to my return in the public schools after this whirlwind education. After the research, interviews, observations and attempt at starting my own school, I walked back into the walls of public schools and attempted to share my thoughts with my fellow teachers. THAT proved to be quite interesting. The responses were typically curious to begin with, but upon delving into the concepts of trusting children and giving them a voice, teachers were often quick to defend their entrenched beliefs and look for ways to attack my experience. I hit a nerve – a really raw nerve. The nerve that proves how teachers feel that their entire career revolves around the control of the educational experience and of the children. Why do they feel that way? Did the parents expect this from them? Perhaps, but from my own experience as a teacher, I know my pressure came primarily from the administrator that had my job in their hands. All of the little voices in my classroom and the parents who brought those little voices were not the voices I was allowed to follow. My voice had to mirror the voice of the one voice over my head ,whose voice had to mirror the one(s) over his/her head and physically absent from the school we all resided in.
I now ask, as a parent, whose children are they, really? I would like to believe that those who brought these beautiful souls into the world should have a higher voice than one lone administrator who will only see them for a few years or the little bobble head voices who only make appearances for award ceremonies, never to be seen on campus again. I also think that the children should have a say over their own experience. I know I certainly want a say in my own experience. Who knew that letting children speak would be so radical. I know, your next retort is how chaotic and impossible it would be to listen to all of these voices. Well, that is what a democracy constitutes. When everyone has a voice and their voices are collectively weighed, consensus occurs and incredibly effective change happens. Most importantly, eager adherence to the agreed upon choices expedites any efforts made that direct the learning process toward the collective goal(s). Now doesn’t that just feel better?


  1. For a voice to be heard, the owner of the voice must be involved in action. The action is the body of the voice so to speak. Acting is a matter of choice, and if it is to be effective must be wise choice. Your type of school teaches that, but parents are not always happy having children act for themselves. I wonder whether you have reached any conclusions about why the relationship between parents and children tend to be directive. We all have to eat some way, and generally a child does not provide his own food and shelter. Is it parent envy of a child's chance at a different life that moves them to fence in the child's opportunities?

  2. In all honesty, there could be potential for that, but I truly think it has much more to do with societal conditioning and our patriarchally structured society which creates this. The structures within our schools echo those within the traditional parenting paradigm where the "man" of the house controls the money and everyone else falls under that control. That does not mean that the house is a happy one or that healthy relationships occur. Since family roles are shifting and our society is coming to a head with many of it's antiquated beliefs, it is inevitable that we have to address the role in which children are allowed to participate and speak on their own behalf.

    There are many schools that have existed under this structure for 90 years. Yes, 90 years. There are many all over the world, including America. The reason they are not more prevalent is because they do not receive government funding (except there are a few publicly funded ones, one of which has been in existence in Vancouver, BC for 40 years - publicly funded). The success rates of these schools are astronomical. Many highly accomplished students have graduated producing, doctors, lawyers, famous actor/actresses, musicians, writers, and the like.

    What needs to change are the beliefs about children. I am also strongly supportive of empowering women so that they are given full choice to offer their children a voice rather than being forced to oppress them. Many have taken their children from public schools in order to achieve this. They are active in fighting for homeschool rights and children's rights. There is actually a substantial movement that has been building for the last 60 years and from what I'm seeing now, it is picking up momentum. There is nothing that would make me happier than finding democracy in our public schools, which include the parent voice and the students' voices. No one should make unilateral decisions for the future of another human being.


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