Who ya gonna call?


This weeks post comes out of a conversation I had with a colleague this morning around 9.00am. It’s now 9.00pm and the ideas are still in my head. I doubt I’m going to cover this concept adequately in under 800 words but here goes.

In the old days men left each day for work, children went to school, and women stayed home to look after all things domestic. I know this. TV told me so and it doesn’t lie. At least, it didn’t through my childhood. I mean, it couldn’t, could it? I watched it so intensely back then I’m sure I’d have noticed if it was spinning me a tale.

Be that as it may, the society of 2013 is remarkably different from the rigidly gender specific one of my youth. Even TV isn’t what it once was. What constitutes a modern family today is something that comes with enormous variation. Yet some things haven’t changed considerably. In most families ‘education’ is still filed under ‘matters domestic’ and all issues pertaining to it are to be forwarded to the female care-giver. Again, I know this. You may well ask how do I know this since TV is not what it once was. I know this because I’m a teacher and a Year Level Coordinator and I regularly need to call home.

Who do you think I’m gonna call?

I’m going to call the parent that the school data-base tells me I should. The parent whom the family has indicated expects the call. I’m going to call the mother, because that’s who I’m told to.

Now why is that? My unresearched best guess is that mothers are nearly always the parent who nurtures children the most through early childhood and this never really stops. I don’t know, although I strongly suspect, that the typical unwritten understanding of today’s society still considers the mother as best suited to look after the child/children as babies and pre-schoolers. After that it only makes sense that the mothers will do the kindergarten run. This then leads to the responsibility of picking up the kids from primary school and by default, if not design, be the point of contact with school for the next 6 years. Then along comes high school and it’s a big step and all but … well why change the system right?

As I say, so far this has been my unresearched best guess but here’s something that has been researched. In the early days of PISA (the OECD testing monolith) the results for Italy were embarrassingly mediocre. After a significant amount of lobbying by the Italians, the OECD released a breakdown of their data, which showed that the northern half of the country had performed remarkably well but the southern half had been almost equally underwhelming and the average of the country was what had been published. This didn’t really explain the problem though since gymnasiums (elite schools) all over the country seemed to follow this same trend and surely an elite school should have elite school results no matter the geography right? What followed was an impressively thorough analysis and from this it was discovered that only one aspect of the data consistently paralleled the results from region to region: the academic qualifications of the mother. In other words, the results mirrored the academic attainment of the parent who deals with all things educational. Mothers.

At this point I think I should very quickly and loudly establish that I think maternal involvement in children’s education IS NOT A BAD THING! I do, however, think it is a topic that is worth exploring a little more deeply. I mean, it’s Friday night and I’m not really looking for a conflict here but … where are the guys in all of this?

Are they blissfully ignorant of this aspect of their family’s life? Are they respectfully deferring to their esteemed spouse? Are they thankfully hiding from an onerous responsibility? Are they busy with other things and happy that someone else deals with it? Anxiously waiting on the bench and suffering silently because they want to get involved but feel they can’t? Worried? Disenfranchised? Fearful of being accused as meddling, or Johnny-come-lately? Any and all of the above probably, (although I have absolutely no idea what the percentages would be). I just know that I’m supposed to contact mum in the overwhelming majority of cases.

Here’s something else I know. Advances in communication over the last 20 years have meant that contacting parents doesn’t necessarily involve calling anyone over the phone anymore. Schools have websites, faceboook and twitter accounts, and everyone has an email account. At this time, the dad’s of the world can be very well connected to their children’s school, even if they’re out of the house for 8-12 hours a day, five or more days a week.

Just how many families realise or take advantage of this? On a whim I did a quick check of the 200 or so families in the cohort of students I coordinate. Our database highlights the email addresses that we communicate with and here’s what I found. 145 maternal email addresses were highlighted. Only 80 paternal addresses receive information automatically from me if I send a bulk email to families. I know it’s a small sample but still …

When kids reach my classroom they’re barely kids anymore. They’re all desperate to be more independent and self-assertive. They’re maturing physically and emotionally and, above all else, quickly. If things aren’t going so smoothly at school and it requires a call from us, I feel I have to wonder aloud here, in this forum, how effective will yet another chat from mum be about the importance of doing their best at school? Is it possible that the exact same message, coming from another respected adult in another way will have a stronger resonance? In fact, is it possible that, for an emerging young adult, both parents abreast of the schools communication home and cooperatively advocating on what makes sound educational sense, is the ideal situation?    

Hmmm … I fear, gentle reader, that it may appear to you that I have, as they say in the States, just thrown all dads under the bus.

That’s not been my intention. I suppose, what I’m ultimately suggesting, is that, whatever the reason, paternal expertise is an underutilised resource. Perhaps what I’m yearning for is a truly modern world, free from the constraints of 20th Century gender roles. One where it doesn’t matter which parent I call if I need to make a call home. 

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