Saturday, October 23, 2010

Put parents in jail for skipping parent-teacher conferences?

The other day, I happened to run across a news report about a legislator/prosecutor in Michigan who wants to make a law that would put parents in jail for missing parent-teacher conferences.  This lawmaker, name of Kym Worthy, contends that children whose parents aren't involved with their schoolwork don't tend to do as well in school... When they don't do well in school, they go on to become criminals.  So her solution, in part, is to make a law that would force parents to interact with their children's teachers and hold them accountable for their kids' success in school.

I'm not a parent myself and I don't live in Michigan, so this is doesn't affect me.  However, I have done some thinking about this proposal and I think it's bullshit.  Here's why.

1.  Worthy says that this plan would only affect kids who aren't doing well...

Parents whose kids are getting good grades wouldn't be hassled about talking to the teacher.  However, I know from experience that good grades aren't necessarily the number one indicator as to which kids are going to get in trouble.  Case in point.  I knew a guy in high school who was super smart.  He was in all honors classes and made excellent grades.  His parents were involved, too.  Dad was the director of instruction for our county, mom was a nurse, and big brother was quarterback of the high school football team.  By Worthy's logic, this guy should be living a perfectly respectable life with a good job, a family, and a white picket fence.  But he's not.  He's in prison.  Five years ago, he and eight other guys got busted for dealing and distributing massive amounts of marijuana and cocaine from California to Virginia.  He should have a legitimate career or something, but he's a jailbird instead.

The fact is, people get involved with criminal activity for all sorts of reasons.  Sometimes it's because their parents didn't care about them or they couldn't get a decent job.  Sometimes it's because they get a rush from being a criminal.  Sometimes it's because of the easy money.  And kids with poor grades or poor attendance may very well end up getting in trouble with the law, but that's certainly not always the case.  Sometimes those kids who don't do well in school end up making a perfectly respectable living despite their poor school records.

2.  Worthy says there are many ways of getting around the conferences if something comes up.  

Watch the video and you'll hear Worthy talk about the many ways parents can get around going to jail if they can't make the conferences for whatever reason.  She insists that it's only the egregious offenders who will go to jail under this proposal and only after multiple attempts at intervention.  Well, if that's the case, why the hell bother with it?  It's just more red tape.  It doesn't sound like this plan has teeth, nor can it be enforced, ergo, it's a colossal waste of time.

3.  This plan is really just a threat to hold over parents' heads to force them to get involved...

First off, it sounds to me like Worthy thinks any parent who doesn't make it their mission to talk to their kids' teacher(s) is just an irresponsible, apathetic deadbeat.  But there are any number of reasons why parents don't come in for conferences.  Maybe they have to work.  Maybe they don't have a phone or a computer or even a home...  And, of course, maybe they're apathetic.  My point is, threatening these people to get them to care is not likely to be effective.  Holding the threat of jail over their heads will only work with people who care... and those who are really apathetic about their kids probably won't give a shit.  Many of those who really do care probably can't make the meetings because of other obligations.

4.  Police have better things to do and taxpayers have more important things to fund...

We live in a complicated world.  People are struggling to get by.  Police officers have better things to do than arresting parents who miss a parent-teacher conference one too many times.  And those parents who get arrested are going to cost taxpayers money in terms of food, housing, and court costs.  Taxpayer dollars should go to dealing with real criminals.

5.  Criminalizing parents is not the way to avoid keeping kids out of jail...

First off, most kids depend on their parents for financial support.  So putting their parent(s) in jail for not attending parent-teacher conferences could very well jeopardize that source of support.  A parent could lose their job for being incarcerated.  He or she could then have a hard time finding a new job.  In this economy, it's tough enough for people with clean records to get hired.

Secondly, what do the authorities plan to do with the child whose parent has gone to jail?  What if there's not another parent to look after them?  What if there are no friends or relatives to take care of them?  Are they going to put the child in the "system".  Again, more taxpayer dollars and more potential for neglect and abuse... and perhaps people who might not be the best influence.

Finally, I wonder which parent will go to jail?  What if the child comes from a two-parent household?  Do you send the mom to jail or the dad?  Who is ultimately responsible?

I agree that people who have children should do their best to raise them right.  But it should be the parents' responsibility to do that, not the school's.  This plan of Kym Worthy's makes homeschooling look even more attractive to those who might have been so inclined... and it really forces schools to take on a role that shouldn't be theirs.  I hope this proposed legislation dies because I think it's very misguided and may set a nasty precedent for other states.


  1. my mom's a licensed clinical psychologist who taught first grade and high school when she was working on her doctorate, and she spent most of her career as a school administrator. She said that early in her career she might have supported a law such as the one you described. as she has gained more job and life experience, though, she says that often the parents who don't make it to conferences or IEP meetings re facing issues that school personnel couldn't even imagine. Also she said that the children who are "doing fine" are white middle and upper class. This would be just one more way to disproportionately penalize poor people and minorities. This is not to say that some economically challenged and/or minority parents wouldn't benefit from being more proactive in regard to their children's educations, but rather, that this measure is not a viable solution to the problem.

    My mom said schools were generally more successful back in the day, when all that was asked of a parent was that he or she feed their children, clothe them, make sure they got enough sleep, and provide reinforcement when a disciplinary issue arose. Some parents choose to do more, which is wonderful and as it should be, but the school will never have success in mandating it.

  2. I agree. I graduated high school in 1990. Things were starting to go a little south back then, but schools today are a lot more prison-like and rigid than they were in my day. I think my mom would have had CPS called on her several times if she were raising me today. She was sort of neglectful.

    In my previous life, I worked in social work and public health and saw firsthand some of the issues facing parents today. It's naive to think the only reason kids don't succeed is because their parents aren't involved. Oddly enough, the woman who sponsored this bill was black and probably should have had more of a clue.


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