When we open the discussion about the poor state of our communities, newspapers, activists, and local politicians often point to our schools as one of the major reasons our communities are in the shape they are in. After all, the children are the future, right? It is definitely a worthy conversation, and an important one when trying to paint the whole picture of how high crime is often the result of the entire system rather than a few individuals.
In his 2016 title, Nobody, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill broke down how a community with a failing educational system can leave the children who reside there vulnerable, and the most susceptible to crime, violence, and incarceration at higher rates than children to attend thriving schools. The importance of being able to get a decent education is clear, even if we understand the content that is taught is skewed to fit the narrative set forth by— and to benefit, our white counterparts. It would be all too easy to place all of the blame on the system and not look at ourselves as a part of the problem, but we are.
Last night I had a conversation with my mother who had a tough day at work. As a sixth-grade math teacher, in one of the poorest school districts in the Bronx, it's not uncommon to have a day that is particularly challenging. She spoke to me about the low effort many of her student's display, and how she frequently finds herself at odds with the parents who never seem to take responsibility for their children's shortcomings in the classroom. She went on to say that no matter what she does there is always a push back that undermines the importance of her role as an educator. A failing report card doesn't mean television or cell phone privileges will be revoked anymore. Instead, students are rewarded with new Jordan sneakers, a new video game, or money for their hair and nails.
In theory, the parent is supposed to be the first teacher. They are the first people their child comes into contact with, and are tasked with solely shaping their child's mind up until they reach the age when they can attend school. From then on the student is sent to school where they will spend eight hours a day learning basic concepts and core subjects. I believe the disconnect happens when parents think their job of teaching and educating their child is over once they are able to attend school; It is the opposite.
Let's face it, in our society teachers are not nearly paid what they are worth. From having a parent who has been a teacher for over 12 years, and from my own personal experience working for the New York City Department of Education, I can honestly say we place too heavy of a burden on teachers. Parents no longer see school for what it is, and what it can do for their child. They see it as a daycare, a place so they know where their child is during the day while they are at work rather than a tool to propel them to a better future. With that mindset, sure, a failing grade isn't anyone's fault other than the person who gave it out. It's "why should I have to take responsibility for my child when you technically see him/her more than I do?" Or "It's the teacher's fault, they must be doing something wrong, doesn't she know my son has ADHD?"
When parents blame other people for what their child does it sends a message to their children that they do not have to take responsibility for the effort they put forth, and the grades they produce as a result. Only when parents begin to see their children's teacher as an intricate part of a team, as well as an extension of themselves is when real change will happen. After all, it takes a village.
Malcom X. Bowser is a writer, curator, and founder of Urban X.