Placating parents

21st January 2005 at 00:00
The December 2431 issue of The TES Scotland ran with the headline,"Ban unruly parents from schools, urges union". While these are indeed trying times in many respects for parentteacher relations, it may be of some comfort to know that this is by no means a recent phenomenon.

Writing at the end of the first century AD in Rome, Quintilian, himself a teacher, in his Institutio Oratoria (Education of an Orator) indulges in a literary commonplace of the time and blames parents for over-indulgent behaviour towards their children and lack of moral guidance (I.ii.6-8).

Certainly, this is a refrain that is not out of place in staff rooms nowadays.

More specifically, Quintilian complains about interference from parents and parental pressure on the curriculum (II.vii.1-5; X.v.21). The reference here is to the public delivery of practice speeches composed by their sons.

Parents value this activity highly and want to see it happen more often.

However, Quintilian disapproves. He believes that speeches of this nature are of little real educational value to pupils, but merely serve the whims of parents.

However, Quintilian, rather than challenging "pushy" parents, tries to placate them. He explains the reasons behind the type of activity he would prefer to see, and then offers a compromise. He suggests an adjustment to his proposed curriculum with the intention of satisfying all parties - pupils, parents and teachers.

While compromise may not be the answer to aggressive parents who confront teachers, it is always a useful strategy to employ in anticipation of a problem developing. Education should never be inflexible. Explanation of the curriculum is certainly important, but so is recognising the interests of the parties involved in the learning process.

Tony Kerr Support for learning Motherwell College

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