Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DEAR RICHARD RIORDAN: An open letter to the former L.A. mayor on making parenting education part of public school reform.

By Esther A. Jantzen | Blowback/Op-Ed in the LA Times

October 15, 2009 -- Mayor Richard Riordan, your disappointment in the progress of educational reform in the Los Angeles Unified School District, after all you've done as mayor and secretary of education under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was palpable in your Oct. 12 Times Op-Ed article, "Course outline for the LAUSD." This lack of progress breaks my heart too.

At the risk of seeming presumptuous, may I make a suggestion to you and to educational reformers everywhere -- a suggestion that is based on experience, common sense and research?

I was an urban public high school English teacher for many years. I tried hard: I took courses in teaching reading and writing; I prepared for classes; I graded research papers on vacations; I won grants for my schools; I won teacher of the year awards; I got advanced degrees; I supported reform.

None of this made much difference. And the six recommendations you made, Mr. Riordan, aren't going to either, though I wish they would because they're definitely implementable.

There's a more significant place where I recommend you put your money and efforts. But it doesn't seem cutting-edge or profoundly innovative.

What's needed -- the sine qua non of improved learning -- is parenting education. Honestly and truly, in terms of real literacy, the home is more important than the school.

You know you can't build a good house without a good foundation. Similarly, family literacy is all the activity in the home that provides kids with the foundational experiences on which comprehending the written word is based.

What parents need to be taught specifically is how to support the linguistic, cognitive, social and emotional development of their children. That means no-cost activities such as conversing with kids, asking thoughtful questions, reading aloud, modeling reading and writing, exposing them to the larger world, showing them how to find and use resources, loving them, hugging them and speaking kindly to them.

I believe young parents can be shown, taught, encouraged and supported in learning to do these things. They love their kids deeply. They want success for them. Often they just don't know the best ways to help them, and that goes for wealthy parents as well as poor ones.

What I'm suggesting goes beyond First Five, Head Start and No Child Left Behind. How about a federal and state Office of Parenting Education and a massive marketing campaign about best parenting practices that reaches as deeply into the home as soft-drink ads do?

Mr. Riordan, I implore you to consider throwing your political weight, insights and resources toward parenting education. You've raised children. You would agree that "parenting literacy" is a missing ingredient in many homes, wouldn't you?

Yet as the Chinese proverb says, "To know and not to do is yet not to know."

Please, Mr. Riordan.

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