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Teacher's Tips: Parents need to take responsibility

Although this is not my last column of the school year, I find myself in a reflective mood.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge this a year. In fact, it’s been a flood.

Allegations of sexual assault perpetrated by Ashland High School students. The first on-campus fight in years. Racist slurs spoken by our students.

Let me be clear: I don’t expect any high school to escape its share of problems. In Ashland, it would be easy to conclude that we are a community that is just too enlightened, too tolerant for our students to be linked to race hatred, violence and criminality.

But that’s not reality — no matter where you go to school, no matter where you live.

But what disturbs me the most might sound like a cop out. It might sound like I’m simply trying to shift the blame.

But it’s just a fact: The problems I mentioned are not just a school problem.

They are also a parent problem.

I hear a lot of comments from the community, parents of students and non-parents alike.

That’s a good thing. That’s the “public,” if you will, in “public school.”

For reasons that go beyond taxpayer dollars, schools are ethically and educationally accountable to the community whose families they serve.

But I hear a lot of demands that can be summed up with the following sentence: “School, what are you doing to solve this problem?”

I have a blunt reply: “Mom, Dad, parent, or guardian, what are you doing to solve the problem?”

Take the racial incidents that have marred this school year. I’ve taught at Ashland High School since 2004, yet I’ve never seen racist behavior so overt among many students until now.

It was always part of the undercurrent — sorry, liberal, tolerant Ashland, but that’s just the truth — but for multiple reasons, racism is now more out in the open.

But parents, I ask you this: Do your children somehow magically transform into bigots because they walk through our classroom doors?

What are your kids like at home? What do they say? What do they hear? What are the values you teach? What are some of the not-so-tolerant and not-so-diverse things that you tolerate?

What lines do you draw in the sand when it comes to your child’s behavior?

Or consider the rampant drug and alcohol use that marks parties attended by school-aged children in Ashland.

I know the names of parents who drop their kids off at those parties, apparently unconcerned that substance use by minors is a proven factor connected with vehicular accidents with injuries or fatalities, that creates an environment that makes sexual assault easier for the perpetrator to commit, and at the very least leads to an increasing tolerance of bad behavior “because it’s just weed” or “it’s just a few beers.”

Parents, when are those of you who aid and abet bad behavior going to stop that and then start being the adult in the room?

When I look back over the last few years of writing my column, I find that there is a refrain that I’ve sounded again and again. Parenting is tough job — one of the toughest you and I will ever have.

I promise you that I will give 110 percent as a teacher when it comes to the work I do in order to help kids grow up and become responsible adults. I know that the teachers, staff, and administrators of the Ashland Public Schools all feel the same way I do.

But parents, next time you call for “accountable schools,” ask yourself a simple question: Are you an accountable parent? If you are enabling bad behavior, the answer is “no.”

Effective schools are a partnership. Mom, Dad, parent, or guardian, please be our partners as we tackle the challenges that schools face every day.

It’s your problem, too.

— A former reporter who covered politics and government for newspapers in California and Oregon, Paul R. Huard teaches social studies and English courses at Ashland High School. The opinions he expresses are his own.