Sunday, September 11, 2011

Parents Take Issue with Advice of 'Super Teacher' Ron Clark

 Guest post by Home Educator, Christiel Gota

Dear friends who are teachers:

This article by Ron Clark drives me to tears. I know teachers have a tough job and many are doing their very best within this system. However, I have to speak on behalf of parents when it comes to this article.

Sorry, Mr. Clark and all your minions, but I will NEVER stand against my child in support of you or the system. I will never apologize for jumping to my child's defense - and I will ALWAYS jump to my child's defense. Sorry, but I can't trust you - especially when you say my child has a behavior problem. They are no problem at home. If behavior problems only occur at school, it is YOU that is doing something wrong, not me!

And if my child fails a test or misses an assignment because of family issues or illness, it DOES matter. What doesn't matter (ever in life) is your assignments, your tests, or your grades! I do agree on one thing you said, "you shouldn't assume that because your child makes straight A's that he/she is getting a good education." The truth is that you are part of a system - a peg board that is made up of many small round holes. Your job is to take all the pegs (kids) and put them through the system the best way you can.

It's not your fault that kids come in all shapes and sizes. Your job is to smash each and every one of them through the system - even the square pegs that won't go through the round hole quietly. That's why parents and teachers clash. Because we won't put your system above the well-being of our square pegs or oval pegs or star-shaped pegs.

Not all teachers feel this way, either. My best friend is a public school teacher and would not agree with Clark in this article. She is in the system, but not of the system. She knows that a good education is child-centric, not system-centric. Teachers like her who understand this are a rare and precious gem in this crazy system.

Anyone who would defend the system at the price of driving a wedge between the parent/child bond is NOT TO BE TRUSTED! The healthy, natural parent/child bond being assaulted by mechanisms of the system, like Zero Tolerance, standardization, etc. is the real and true problem - not the students or their parents. As long as this system exists, teachers and parents will always be "frenemies.

I felt the need to respond because it really doesn't have to be this way! Parents never have to abdicate their judgement or authority to teachers, especially when it potentially causes damage to the mind and heart of their child! It's what I always tell parents - especially those facing issues with their child at school - your child shouldn't just survive their education, they should thrive in their education. Anything less can and SHOULD be challenged!

Christeil Gota is mother of 4 boys and unschooling in California. The family is happily embarking on their 4th year of home education, following their passions and playing.

Read more:  Learning expert Linda Dobson also takes issue with Ron Clark and Oprah and Disney.  Read her article here.


  1. If I don't get a parent upset, I'm not doing my job. Taking kids out of their comfort zones is often a fight with helicopter parents.

  2. Reading this response to Ron Clark's article - which isn't perfect - makes me wonder if this parent really read it carefully.

  3. As a parent and a teacher, it is insane to me that a parent would not want a teacher that would communicate and issues that are interfering with my child's education. I will be asking every year for that information and tell my child's teachers not to sugar-coat anything. When a teacher knows they can feel comfortable to talk honestly, not just about behavior away from home but academics as well, it is better for everyone. That's just common sense.

  4. It's a shame that parents are more concerned about being friends with their children than with helping them become productive members of society. The child who learns that 'grades don't matter' and 'I can't do my assignment because (fill in the excuse) and mom said it's ok' eventually becomes a huge headache for the rest of society. Teaching a child that he will never be expected to perform to someone else's standards or be held accountable for their behavior does not serve anyone well.

  5. I could be wrong, but I don't think that Mr. Clark is asking a parent to drop support for their child in favor of support for the system. Instead, I think he would claim that parents need to support the system IN ADDITION TO supporting their child. His article seems to be saying that parents torture teachers out of a job by disrespecting the teacher's time, passion, and training. In short, the parents act like they know best, when the reality is often far from the truth. While parents may know their own child very well, the instructor probably knows education very well. And while I agree that the parents should be involved at all stages of the educational process, it seems to me that instructors ought to have the last word on when a child is or is not succeeding academically. Mr. Clark's beef is with clueless (or worse, mean) parents who make excuses for lazy kids, not good parents with legitimate reasons for absence. Another commenter questioned whether Mr. Clark was a parent; I'd have to question whether you'd ever been a teacher. If you had, you'd find that Mr. Clark's article hits the nail on the head about the things that parents need to know.

  6. The best teacher is not the one "giving" the lowest or highest marks. the best teacher is the one supporting the child so he/she can get the mark he/she deserves.
    I think the link between parents and teachers sometimes is lost. Parents know their children the best, teachers know education the best. So they must work together.

  7. At one point Mr. Clark references the "partnership" that should exist between parent and teacher. That is the ideal relationship, and will help create the best future for the child. It's a concept more parents should try to embrace.

  8. The challenge is many "generalize" parents and teachers i.e Parents don't care, teachers don't care... versus "some" parents can do better, some teachers can do better... its the perceptions and stereo-types that keeps these debates live and well and children become secondary to the conversations...Put children first amd indvidual accountability between parents, students, teachers will be front and center!

  9. Gota says, "Sorry, but I can't trust you - especially when you say my child has a behavior problem. They are no problem[s] at home. If behavior problems only occur at school, it is YOU that is doing something wrong, not me!"

    I have been teaching for only 5 years. In my short experience, there are behavior problems at home that are not being addressed by parents. Within five minutes of meet and greet, you can tell who runs the house at home. The above statement is the exact stupidity that has ruined American education and encouraged amazing teachers to leave the profession.

  10. This type of response is part of the problem. Generalizing on both sides only creates conflict - saying someone shouldn't be trusted because of a piece they wrote?! Really? Trust is a much bigger issue than opinions...

    Furthermore, the statements about smashing and forcing and being the system are way out of line - teachers are people to, and you know what, we really do care. We think about the kids who we didn't help during the day and try and make it better.

    Finally, while I disagree with many things on this blog, this type of response moves it from "this is my opinion" to "this is just a rant" which isn't constructive for anyone.

    There exists a middle ground, a partnership, and a sense of community that can be built around a child's education.

  11. Hmmm ... this post comes across as very defensive.

    Parents love their children, and are hopefully involved in their children's education. When parents are a constructive partner in their children's education, positive things happen! When they aren't, the positive "stuff" declines.

    Children are sponges when learning - and they also learn from parent's behavior ... good and bad. Be careful parents ... those "square pegs" have to enter the workforce someday without you there to fight all of their battles.

    I had a parent send me an email today (on a Sunday) worried about her son's homework grade that he received a 0 on. He told her he did it and turned it in online. Of course either of them could have gone to our online CMS system to see my comments on the homework (and the homework itself), but neither bothered. The parent came immediately to the defense of her high school son. On the secured website I wrote to him that he apparently turned in the wrong assignment, and to see me on Monday because he could redo the assignment and turn it in again. So, I wrote comments to him that he didn't bother to look at, his parent didn't bother either, and she immediately sent me an email wanting me to check into the matter because he did it ... it was apparently my mistake. This is such a MINOR example, but non-the-less VERY COMMON with helicopter parents.

  12. Ms. Gota has every right to speak on behalf of herself. She has every right to homeschool her child. I don't know where she thinks she gets the right "to speak on behalf of parents."

    Apparently she has issues resulting from her experience with some specific teacher in some unnamed public school system, and possibly also with private schools. We'll never know the details, or hear the other side of the story, of course.

    In the meantime, she feels justified (in her own mind) in generalizing in an extremely negative way about *all* teachers. Is she teaching her children to be so fair-minded? Will they grow up not understanding what browbeating, villification, slander, detraction, and calumny are, and why these are bad tactics to use in presenting a point of view or a position in a debate?

    I don't have a problem with home schooling. There are many parents who do an excellent job of instructing their children. However, the lessons the children must learn go beyond the "three r's." Ms. Gota needs to look into methods for helping her children learn good citizenship, respect for others, and how to participate in a discussion.

  13. To Anonymous #1: Kids are way easier to teach and get along with when they are in their comfort zone than when they are not.

    To Anonymous #2: Family issues and summer fun are WAY more important in life than homework assignments. Clark himself said that grades were arbitrary in the very same article. The fact remains that homework has and always will suck.

    To Anonymous #3: I agree that Clark meant his criticism for clueless or careless parents and not the concerned ones, but writing the article in the way that he did creates a bigger schism between parents and teachers because of his unwavering support of the arbitrariness of the system. He does however prove that he represents a group of teachers that are equally clueless to other ways to educate and care for children than what is ubiquitous in his world.

    To Anonymous #5: How do you propose to partner with someone when you have fundamental differences in opinion as to what is more important - summer fun or reading assignments? I'm happy to duke it out with the teacher while my kid goes outside to play. :)

    To Anonymous #6: There is such a thing as pathologizing normal childhood behaviors. In the stifling, unnatural environment of a conventional classroom some kids will fidget, or sleep or cry to survive the 6 excruciating hours. I know there are drugs for that, but no thank you.

    To Anonymous #7: Yes you will always have parents that will jump to conclusions and get wildly defensive. Remember that is normal, we pay your salaries and you just have to do a better job of not making us feel like you are enemy.

    To Anonymous #8: Yes, I got very defensive. My feathers were ruffled and I roared like a mama grizzly protecting her cubs. Mr. Clark has his billionaires and 160 years of industrialized schooling model backing him. My kid only has me. Sorry, but you'll have to just deal with it and the big helicopter mess that comes with it.

    Have any of you anons heard of "unschooling?" Aren't you the least bit intrigued by what in the world it could be?

  14. As a former public school teacher, a mom who homeschooled her own children, and a current educator in a variety of private venues, I got a disrespectful "vibe" from Mr. Clark's piece. He did not come off as caring and respectful to students...he did not come off as at ALL respectful of parents, and he did not seem to be truly dedicated to a partners-with-parents paradigm. I'm sure, being chosen as an exemplary Teacher of the Year, he probably really IS respectful and caring, but, if so, I do not think this article conveyed it very well.

    If schools were organized to provide the things children need, the things science tells us promote learning...If schools were more into helping students discover their own interests and their own genius, rather than constant assessment and evaluation, rating and ranking and grading...If communities came together seeking innovative ways to make schools safer, make curricula more individualized and creative, make schools the kinds of places that people of all ages wanted to go to... If, if, if...Well, if the schools were far better than they in actuality are, parents would and should be more trusting and respectful of the schools.

    Of course there are many caring adults/professionals in school. I was one of them. My husband was another. Tens of people I do know and thousands of people I don't know are caring educators. However, the system stymies everyone and creates markedly disrespectful feelings between administrators and teachers and parents and students. I used to run a curriculum lab at a school district--and I witnessed firsthand the horrible attitude teachers had for parents, that parents had for teachers, that administrators had for mostly teachers but also parents, and that everybody had for students. (Of course, it was just "some" teachers, parents, etc., who had these bad attitudes. I am oversimplifying -- but it was terribly, terribly common!) I ran that curriculum lab more than 30 years ago...and from what I hear and see and read, things have gotten more polarized. More disrespectful.

    Even if the system wasn't trying to cope with hungry kids, kids struggling with English as a brand-new language, unreasonable demands from politicians, and way too many standardized tests--even if those problems weren't rearing their hydra-like heads, the seemingly systemic disrespect is difficult to overcome. To me, Mr. Clark's article didn't overcome disrespect, but rather furthered it.

  15. Christeil, you are awesome. I love how bold you are, that you will never stand against your children for the system. I will never of my own choosing subject my son to the abusive, developmentally inappropriate, imprisoning environment of the public schools. Teachers who believe as the propagandist, Anonymous (here on this thread) do have a subtle sadism to them- like they take pleasure in dominating and controlling children as if there is some law of nature that states that schooling is inevitable. In actuality, schooling is a new and mistaken cultural experiment that harms children and families and has failed humanity epically.

  16. Sorry but this stance of "I pay your salary" is not justification for your thoughts or viewpoints, I help pay my own salary through my taxes, just as I help pay the salary of the police force, the road crews, the welfare office, etc. I wouldn't think I could go into the police office rant and rave and get my way. I would think I could make comments or suggestions in a respectful way to the person who can make the changes I'd like to see. I wouldn't stop the road crews on the street and tell them to pick up the pace - I'm paying your salary. Teachers and other public employees aren't elected officials for you to threaten with your lack of support in the next election if they don't do things your way.

    You use this article as a piece of evidence for why you took your children out of public education. However, for many teachers this is the reason that they leave lives as public educators. You want teachers just to deal with it, because "Yes you will always have parents that will jump to conclusions and get wildly defensive." You argue that teachers should “you just have to do a better job of not making us feel like you are enemy” once again, you are not my boss or my employer regardless of your tax contribution to the funding of all public employees and services (see above). This line of reasoning leads me to say, “Isn’t it also your job as the parent to not make me feel like you are my enemy?” If it’s a partnership then we both have a role here, not just the teacher to bow to all demands made, but to take into account what is best for the entire class, even including those students whose parents never once speak to me throughout the entire year.

    And these analogies to mama grizzly's and tiger mothers are becoming a barrier to actual conversation. They are an excuse to act vindictively and behave poorly because you say you do it in the interests of your children. You want a better home school bond? Maybe don't come with teeth bared. This tirade did nothing to further any sort of civilized debate, or solutions to problems facing public education.
    You can use Ron Clark’s tone as a justification, but it would make more sense to move away from inflammatory language and rhetoric if you truly want to engage both sides and not just feel like you’ve been able to “one up” the “opposition”.

  17. Jelayne, yes - you are correct to say that my language was accusatory and inflammatory. And yes, you are right that though I pay taxes, I am not considered a customer, and therefore subordinate to the system. I do acknowledge that there are a few gems in the system that really tried to help. Still, the only solution was to leave the system because the teachers' hands were tied. They couldn't help us even if they wanted to.

    Yes, my line of reasoning does not make for an environment of partnership and cooperation. You are correct. I do not now, nor are ever willing to partner with the likes of Ron Clark. I don't want anyone like him near my children. I don't want a better home/school bond. It is not possible in this current system. I'm not interested in engaging with the other side. I'm simply snapping back as loudly as I can.

    However, you sound like one of those teachers that does really care about her students. I hope you don't stand too close to Clark and risk being grouped with the system-bots that drove folks like us out of the public schools to begin with. Thank you for your service to children, but as long as any teacher promotes the system above the needs of any child, we won't be on the same team.

  18. Your article reflects the natural and everlasting nurturing bond between parent and child. What kind of cruel world would break that? The world Ron Clark belongs to, and that's why God created parents. Ron Clark is mistaken to think power trips trump parenthood, obviously he never comprehended the meaning of "Honor Thy Mother and Father". Ironically, he went into teaching supposedly because his mother told him to, so we know he is somebody's son. But along the way he forgot that everyone is someone's son or daughter. I'll bet my Lotto ticket he has no children of his own...notice I did NOT say my firstborn ;)

  19. From Anonymous #7 to Ms. Gota,

    Please realize that it is NOT normal for parents to jump to conclusions and get wildly defensive. I teach high school students and helicopter parents are NOT the norm. I teach at a school where parents are very involved and supportive.

    My observations are that helicopter parents have a difficult time with their children growing up. Even "mama grizzly bears" do NOT jump to the defense of their offspring when they are older ... only young cubs.

    You are definitely NOT the enemy ... just exhausting and obstructive. In the world outside of school, you could be a customer that is requested to not return (it happens).

    I wish you well in your home school environment. It sounds like that is the best fit for you and everyone in your family is happy. In addition, best wishes for when your children move on to college and the workforce. We need positive citizens who contribute ... not angry ones.

  20. I will add to Anonymous #7's comments. I have taught for 5 years in public schools. It's exhausting and it barely pays my bills, and I love it.

    I think that Mr. Clark's article is inflammatory. It has sparked a lot of commentary in the last few days. I appreciate comments from parents with children in public schools in reference to their intentions, attitudes, and outlook. I see very little value in a tirade from a mother whose children are NOT in public schools.

  21. Good gracious! Must we inflict the college-then-workforce fate on so many innocent children?!?!?

    Such narrow views here. I'm going back to my planet.

  22. Hah! Really, Anonymous from another planet! Don't you know that the only measure of success is college and then life in a cubicle - or in my case - working on other peoples teeth?

  23. The kids used to be in public school. However, my tirade was the same then as it is now.

  24. Ms. Gota,
    I'm glad you're able to home school your child. Not many American parents have that luxury. Most are working in a system that requires both parents working outside of the home to be able to provide food and a home for their family, just as most of the world does. Mr. Clark didn't ask anyone to stand against their child-he is asking parents to support the teacher in their efforts to help their children grow into responsible, successful adults. Sure, there are bad teachers. I also know bad engineers, bad police officers, bad doctors, bad lawyers, and (gasp) bad parents. Believe me, teachers are not in the profession for the pay-most are in it because they love children. Also, I am so sick of hearing, "I pay their salary!" They pay their own salary, too! If anyone doesn't like paying their taxes--move to Afghanistan. I hear it's a great place to live! Anyway, I'm glad your kids get to be home with you. That's more room in the classroom for kids like mine--who get along with the teacher AND the other kids in the classroom, and who WANT to learn. Keep yours at home. By the way-my children are not "round pegs," either. One of them is special needs (we are not afraid of that label), and the public school system has done more for my child than we ever could have alone or that private schools could provide. With their continued help, and God's, he will grow up to be an independent adult.
    Proud parent of Louisiana Public School-educated children

  25. I wish people would fact-check the statement, “homeschooling is for the privileged.” There are many working couples and even single parents homeschooling successfully. And it’s a mistaken assumption that I’m a rich housewife. We made drastic sacrifices to home educated the kids. And what about the better environment provided by private schools? Why doesn’t anyone get angry about that inequality?

    I’m glad you are not afraid of labels, but it’s the very round-hole-only system that shovels the propaganda that labels are ok. Your wonderful children would not be labeled in an education system that accommodated their uniqueness. The modern system of schooling has only existed in this country for 160 years, yet children had been growing into independent adults long before that.

    It is this system that Mr. Clark makes very clear that we should trust. He asks parents, “to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it.” Will Mr. Clark warn the next teacher that his student had “family issues” this past summer and to make appropriate accommodations? No, he probably won’t care much about that kid after his “year” with him. He barely cared in the year he did have him. Ugh. My tirade may be irritating to many, but it’s a pip squeak compared to the highly funded, government backed paradigm that Mr. Clark represents. Why can’t we look beyond the system? Even just out of pure curiosity? Why do we have to sit down, shut up and just let teachers like Clark tell us how it is?

  26. <~~ Another at-home mom who walked away from a good salary in order for the family to hover above the poverty line rather than pay others to raise our children. Not all homeschoolers are wealthy, privileged, or living a life of luxury. We sacrifice a LOT in order to meet our obligation to raise our kids. Trust me - my oldest was a pre-school, pre-k, before & after school, all summer long in daycare, public schooled kid, so I've made that mistake and live with the regret for the days, weeks, and years I can never have back with my son (who is now homeschooling his senior year of high school). The younger kids are benefiting not from our finances, but from having a mama who loves and cares about them enough to know we all do better with me at HOME than simply being able to take a great vacation 7 days a year.

  27. LOL!! Teachers PLEASE keep writing, you make the decision for all of us home ed parents ( a number which increases everyday ) who pull their kids out of your system more rewarding everyday.

  28. Desiree the only time you comment is to say truly awful things and to argue with other people. This post and the comments from Sept 16th are just two such examples.

  29. A lot of people who sacrifice don't appear to others as someone who is struggling to keep their lives in finances in order, so it's hard for people to actually visually see you as someone who is above or below poverty. They have no idea what your income is, they see a well put together woman and and her children, know they home school and make a judgement that way. I don't think there is a lot you can do to overcome that perception that home schoolers are from a higher socio-economic status (maybe run around a rags, begging on the street? I jest).

  30. I am not a teacher. I am an employer. And I dread the day these extra-special children enter the workforce.

  31. I found this blog while investigating blogs for my online class, and it called to me because Ms. Gota is a mother, as am I. I read the article about Ron Clark fully expecting to agree with Ms. Gota. I find that, after reading it all and reading the comments on here, I agree with Mr. Clark.
    Parents can be so blinded by the wonderfulness of their own children that they do not see the truth about them. My children are wonderful, and I will support them forever. However, when they were in school, I know that they were not perfect, and that they learned as much by making their own mistakes as they did by being occasionally perfect in school.
    My perspective here may be a bit different from many because I am a non-teaching employee of a cyber charter school, my husband is a 36-year teacher with a local public school district, and 3 of our children are public school teachers.
    I have a job because people were not satisfied with the condition of education in their local public schools. If public school were perfect, there would be no need for charter schools, and I would not be working where I am.
    However, I am a huge fan of public education. My husband is the best teacher I have ever seen - still excited to teach every day, and his students are a testament to his excellence in the classroom. He is respected and beloved by his students, both current and past. I see that he is frustrated by two things in his career - (1) the parents who cannot see that their children aren't perfect and (2) a school board who is afraid of angry parents and will not provide the support that the teachers need. I respect him so much, and I know that every student who has been in his classroom has come away having learned. He is the reason that 3 of our daughters went into public education.
    So, while I am a mama grizzly for my children, always have been and always will be, I respect those people who come into a classroom every day and deal with the kids who have lousy home lives or stayed up too late on Facebook or just broke up with their boyfriends but can still be engaged and learn something because of a good public school teacher. He will never be rich or have much respect from people who don’t know how hard he works, but that doesn’t matter to him – he has helped kids learn, and he is satisfied. I am so proud of him!

  32. Here is my 17 year old unschooling son's response to Ron Clark's article:

  33. I wonder how many Ron Clark criticizers know anything about the man apart from the article? If you read his books or look into what his school does, you would see that he is a rare educator that goes above and beyond to teach each child as an individual.