Problem children – why blame the parents, not the schools?

When pupils misbehave or fail to achieve their potential, it’s the parents who ae blamed. When they skip school parents can be imprisoned. The slightest “deviation” can cause teachers to call in social workers, educational psychologists, paediatricians, psychiatrists and child psychologists to intervene the family. And every now and again, some politician claims that teachers should have yet more powers – even the power to physically abuse children in their care.

But nobody thinks of blaming the schools. If a kid doesn’t go home, it’s the parents who are scrutinised by police and interfered with by social services. So if a kid doesn’t go to school, why isn’t the school scrutinised for failing to make the child feel happy, safe or accepted? Perhaps if schools dealt with bullying more effectively or successfully made pupils feel interested in the coursework, they wouldn’t skip school. Schools are often far more dangerous than childrens’ homes, with drug problems, bullying and even sexually abusive staff.

Teachers should also face up to their responsibilities. Instead of having endless meetings with families to surveillance every nuance of a child’s natural behaviour, they should correct children at the moment of the misbehaviour. It is the school’s job to deal with in-school behaviour, not a psychologist’s job or the family’s job (unless absolutely necessary). Parents don’t demand meetings with the school every time their child picks up a swear word at school or gets bullied. Families accept the inevitable – that their kids will be exposed to drugs, sarcastic teachers and bad influences at school.

Another problem with teachers referring pupils to other professionals at the drop of a hat is that social workers, psychiatrists and the like are usually members of priveleged and dominant social groups. They’re not likely to be LGBTQ, ethnic minorities, disabled or have less common family forms (e.g. single parent, mixed race or polyamorous families). This situation poses a real threat to such pupils and their families, who may be viewed as deviant or dysfunctional just because they don’t fit the professionals’ model of the ideal family.

With employment discrimination of the LGBTQ community slowly fading (in comparison to previous decades) and the number of professionals who are ex-sex workers possibly growing (if you believe claims that the number of university students joining sites like SeekArrangement.com is skyrocketing since the 9k fees were introduced) this dynamic may change in future. But it will be a painfully slow change because discrimination against LGBTQ people is still rife and many students affected by the 9k fees have not yet become social workers or psychologists.

It remains necessary for teachers and education services to respect families and try to create order and discipline within schools themselves before reaching out to other professionals.

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