As battles between parents and educators over school curricula continue across much of the United States, divorced fathers — an important group who should have a say — are often left out.
Regardless of one’s view of the contribution parents should make to a school’s curriculum, one thing seems certain: if parents are allowed to sit at the table, both parents should be involved.
Some may view this – parents being involved in curriculum development – as a new phenomenon, but the truth is that parents have been involved for years. From the founding of the PTA to calls for desegregation, parental involvement has shaped education in the United States.
The designers of public education in America saw the goal of education as the creation of informed citizens. The question now, to a large extent, is how does parental input fit into this goal? And what lessons does history offer us about the extent to which parents can and should shape education in a democracy?
It’s a debate that will likely continue to rage, as parents attempt to influence education about race, LGBTQ issues, evolution and more. I take no position on what should or should not be taught in school, or at what grade level and so on. Instead, I write to defend the one group that is often excluded from having a say: divorced fathers.
In America, the children of divorce most often end up living with their mother. It’s been that way for a long time in most cases, but not all. However, this does not mean that fathers have no say in matters concerning their children.
School boards and PTA groups should seek input from both parents of all children when discussing issues. And of course, fathers must make the effort to be heard. Fathers need to be part of the discussion.
When parents lack communication, it only hurts their children. Not being flexible at times is also harmful.
It is essential that fathers are part of the school life of their children, and not just to give their opinion on the curriculum. Numerous studies have shown that children whose fathers are absent consistently score below average on reading and math tests. Moreover, fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school as their classmates who live with two parents.
It is also high time that principals and school boards recognize that most children have two parents, even if they live with only one. Both parents should generally be consulted by school administrators and given the opportunity to speak on matters concerning their child.
A well-rounded program is developed with the goals of the community, ie the parents, in mind. However, parents also need to realize that school administrators are the professionals and often have very good reasons for the program they produce. Only in extreme cases should parents turn the school curriculum into a big public issue.
For example, in disputes over school prayer – something that has been routinely banned in public schools due to the constitutional separation of church and state – some parents need to remember that nothing is wrong with them. prevent their child from being prayed in silence at lunchtime or at home.
Other examples abound, but my point is the same. All parties — parents, administrators and school boards — need to listen to each other, while ensuring that divorced fathers have a seat at the table.
Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the law firms of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd.
The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and editorials. See our guidelines.