Are 'Schools’ the new public health and social media police force…and now Lamingtongate?
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last week you would've heard about the great lamington debacle where a kindergarten teacher decided to reprimand the parents for providing a ‘deadly’ lamington in a kindy lunchbox. As we know lamingtons are deadly, oh hang on no they're not….they're actually a nice little treat and occasionally it's a lovely surprise for your child to find something in their lunchbox that maybe they don't have everyday.
As a parent that's one of your joyful rights to give your child little treats occasionally. I do it as frequently as I choose to, and good luck to anyone who tries to police it. I cook my son organic vegetarian, he eats extremely well, he can even have meat if he chooses. So school lunches, well his are quite boring, I reserve the bulk of his nutritional intake for breakfast and dinner, so his lunches are simple, but occasionally I might sneak a chocolate into his lunchbox (insert shock horror face)… because like most parents I know that kids get bored with lunchboxes and sometimes you need to mix it up a little bit and give them a little surprise and make them happy. I'd rather put my time into creating a great dinner than try create some sort of bento box of culinary art work every lunchtime.
Education on any topic including nutrition (and for anyone especially kids) is about providing examples and scenarios for learning so in fact putting a small treat in your child's lunch box can instil a sense of balance and an acceptance that treats are ‘small’ and occasional. To outright ban them is not conducive to teaching responsibility and good lifestyle choices. It's removing the learning experience.
I worked in education for nearly 20 years and I've taught in classrooms with young people and adults so don't get me wrong this is not in any way a teacher bashing exercise, quite the opposite, as a teacher and the manger of a teaching department I experienced and witnessed the enormous amount of responsibility that shifted to teacher from parents, right up to the TAFE and even Uni level. Where teachers often step in and provide guidance and support on issues that often left me wondering "Isn't this the parents job?" As the mother of primary school child I've seen my son's teachers demonstrate incredible capability but also struggle under the volume of administrative and 'miscellaneous ' responsibilities vying for their time. I've seen the ever growing number of schools and teachers policing parents, with the government using schools as their police force and consequently some teachers and schools now thinking they have the right to police parents. Isn't it a parents job to parent appropriately? When did it become a teachers job? It's no news to most that the government have over regulated, administered and imbedded social issues into school curriculum to the point that now government, schools and parents think it's the schools job to police many aspects of parenting. Yes teach kids nutrition in the schools but maybe schools need to keep their nose out of parents jobs. If the government want to address parental nutrition education, they need to stop using schools as the police for everything. Teachers are over burdened enough. Instead teach parents directly, provide workshops, give guidance, provide them resources, address the rubbish packaged food available in shops but stop giving schools the authority and disempowering parents, thus giving schools a perceived superiority over parents. Yes kids have a lot of rubbish in their lunch boxes but this is a systemic problem that the government need to address directly with retailers and manufacturers and directly with parents not a job for sticky nose schools and teachers on a power trip. Teachers and schools need to focus on doing their job, to teach kids not police parents. So let's stop confusing the need for a public awareness campaign with the academic education system.
Are Schools the new social media police rather than an education SERVICE provider?
This leads me to the next issue....the new police force also known as your ‘local school’. Now no doubt I'll get into trouble with some local parents for daring to broach this subject… but let's talk ‘social media policy’. I'm not talking about the policy on teaching kids kind and meaningful communications and anti bullying strategies for the use of online technology… I'm talking schools policing freedom of speech of ‘parents’ (their customers).
For starters as an educator and university business department manager I look at education as a service that people pay good money for. It's not a hand out, we pay for it through very high taxes and private fees. So keep that in mind as you read on.
But first let's go back to the kids experience for a minute, I see a learning opportunity in everything so yes I allow my young (8yr old) to have an Instagram account. It's completely supervised and provides an incredible learning experience on expressing and exploring his interest in animals and nature, photography, editing, technology, written communication and even social interaction, including showing support for his friends, family and peers who also use this media for their interests and businesses. He gets to see his cousins dog on walks and learn about his aunties therapy business and follow his cousins amazing University experience in environmental biology. In addition he occasionally sees something that doesn't fit with his ethics, maybe about animal treatment. So that too is a great learning experience. So I say to him “What can you do or say that might make a difference?”. He might write a little comment expressing that animals and pets have feelings or get upset and we need to protect them. That in itself is an enormous learning opportunity, to express his social conscience, to be a voice for those that don't have one and to use social media to possibly communicate about important issues.
So when the schools get on the bandwagon of ‘Facebook policy’ or the ‘social media policy’ ….. let's just think about it …are they policing parents opportunity to express and defend their opinions, freedom of speech and rights? Imagine if any other service providers be they fully privately funded or partially government funded like a hospital, doctors, dentist, housing, hairdresser, personal trainer, cleaner, gardener, plumber presented you with a social media policy and requested that you sign or agree to it, effectively deeming your right to speak openly about an experience with their service is removed. Imagine if a shop somewhere that you regularly bought your food or your clothes or your household items or your furniture decided that they had the right to tell you what you were allowed to talk about in your social media. So it's a little bit baffling as to why this one particular 'service' provider that we pay for through our taxes and through private fees have decided that they have the right to tell us that we are no longer allowed to communicate openly about our child's experience in education, about what we think could be improved and about what we think they have done well, or what we enjoyed, and what we didn't enjoy in relation to our child's school experience.
No other service provider could get away with this but somehow we have been conditioned that schools have this power, the authority and they are now policing parents in a country which is thought to value freedom of speech. Like every other service provider, including my own businesses I have to make sure my customer service and the quality of my products and services are at a standard to make sure my customers do not complain about it and if they do complain about it on my social media or I become aware of it I need to make sure I fix it. I won't be sending out a noticed for my customers to sign saying that you are not allowed to openly speak about anything they feel about my products or services. That is positively ludicrous.
To put it in context one of my past experiences in my teaching and education management career was to Project Manage the RMIT University customer service training strategy. It was an enormous roll out of training at multiple levels of staff from teachers, administration to senior management. I don't remember at any point our training consisting of slapping a gagging order on parents of students in the form of a social media policy directed at parents rights to freedom of speech. Just food for thought….
Social media provides a platform for the general public to now have a voice and to demand better quality service and standards to communicate with their peers about what is potentially good or poor quality, to get ideas, to try new things to share experiences… for any organisation or institution to feel that they have the right to police that is a form of corruption and abuse of the system.
Many of us have had at least one experience where the line between schooling and parenting has been uncomfortably close.
Never one to hold back my opinions, I was once notified by my son’s school to advise that I had breached the school social media policy by talking about my dissatisfaction with the homework experience that he had. (So imagine what they'll think of this article). My conversation was set to private friends only and was primarily with my 40+ past colleagues and professionals in education who I was seeking advice and guidance from and asking whether they had had similar experiences or felt that it was appropriate whilst I vented. Unfortunately one of my ‘friends’ and I use the term loosely decided it was their right to share my private conversations with the school. Obviously I informed the school that their involvement and any access to this conversation is an incredibly infringement of my privacy and freedom of speech. The only real lesson there for me was to not accept online friendships from bored mothers with nothing better to do with their time than cause problems for others. However I know I'm not alone in experiencing the wrath of the "Big Little Lies" type soccer mums for daring to go against the grain and be honest.
So before you sign or accept your child's school policing your diet or freedom of speech stop and think, is this really their place in society or should they focus on the academic support and development of children and leave the parenting to us? You might be surprised that teachers and schools might be happy to push back some of the responsibility to parents and remove themselves from the equation. It might be time for parents to start questioning the status quo and draw the line in the sand between home and school... parent and teacher...