Teaching Opinion

Teacher Judgment vs. Family Authority

By Deborah Meier — October 15, 2015 2 min read
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Deborah Meier continues her conversation with Harry Boyte. To read their full exchange, please visit here.

Dear Harry and friends,

I’m leaving my house for the airport at 3:30 am flying from Albany to California. So, quick thoughts on your story about your father-in-law’s hospital experience.

I hate hospitals. I hope I can go to some less prestigious small hospital where I know they won’t mistake me for someone else and ... cut off the wrong leg, etc. And I want a place where those I love can keep an eye out for me and whose views are taken seriously if I’m not in a position to explain myself forcefully.

I think institutions should be “more like” families—but just the good ones. A dilemma right there.

I conducted a workshop on pre-kindergartens at the Progressive Education Network conference in Brooklyn yesterday. I was arguing that pre-kindergartens should be more like families and less like institutions; teachers should mimic the family as a learning place more than parents should mimic school classrooms. I think schools can’t avoid institutional characteristics and many are potentially dangerous for young and old alike especially for those who can least explain or defend themselves, and do not have what we were calling effective “agency.”

Dilemma two. How can we go about describing public institutions in ways that are sufficiently minimal but also in keeping with advancing democracy? For young children I think it essential that the school and the family be connected loosely, as equals. But what “equals” means is not always clear to me! How do we decide when we can’t all agree on everything? Who is the “we”? Isn’t making compromises not part of democratic life?

I’m least inclined to compromise about my 4-year-old. We’re one of the few nations that permits corporal punishment in schools! I find that horrifying. I couldn’t or wouldn’t send my child to such a school, but ... what if I couldn’t afford to do otherwise?

Here’s dilemma three. As young people grow older I think democratic education requires a gradually increasing governance role for them. But I’d leave that decision to local communities in self-governed schools. We need to interfere with self-governing schools only when ...?

That’s the crux of my dilemma. Only if it’s declared unconstitutional? Against the law? What rights do the parents, communities, staff and students of a school have that must belong to them collectively? Unconditionally?

Like you and Lani Guinier (who is our honoree at FairTests annual event in Boston on November 11th) I don’t want such questions decided by external “experts,” but I do want these questions informed by them. Furthermore in some basic sense we cannot have good education if we cannot trust teacher judgment. But again, the question is over what?

Two recent books I’m reading that talk about such issues are Gregory Michie’s We Don’t Need Another Hero and Stuart Grauer’s Fearless Teaching.


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.