kitchen table math, the sequel: parent triangulation

Saturday, October 6, 2007

parent triangulation

from anonymous:

"The top 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2010 didn't exist in 2004. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven't been invented in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet."

An administrator from my district said this quote verbatim followed by a plea for more money. I raised my hand and said, "This could have been said in 1930." I rendered him speechless.

Bravo, anonymous! Well done.

I personally have managed to render an administrator (temporarily) speechless only once. I remember the moment fondly, and like to tell the story whenever I see an opening. So....if you've been reading ktm for a may want to skip down to the next post.

My speechless administrator triumph was the moment in which I finally overcame parent triangulation.

Parent triangulation means that whenever a parent makes a request or raises a concern, the administrator instantly rejects that request or concern on grounds that other parents have the opposite interest or concern.

It took me years to catch on.

One year, when C. was still a little guy, we had a terrifically cold winter. The kids weren't allowed to play outside, so by spring C. had gained all kinds of weight and was being called names by his friends and bursting into tears when he stepped on the scale.*

From time to time, during that very long winter, we would say to the school principal, "We know it's freezing cold, but C. needs to get outside and play."

The principal -- one of our favorite people in the district to this day, btw -- would say, sympathetically, "I know he does. But other parents want their kids kept inside."

For years, we failed to see the flaw in the logic here.

Possibly my favorite moment of triangulation happened at a board meeting, where Ed and a confederate were pressing the board to post more information about their doings on edline. Without missing a beat, one member replied, "We can't do that, because some parents feel there's too much information posted on edline."

That may have been the high water mark in parent triangulation here in Irvingtonland. The board member's statement was absurd on the face of it, because, practically speaking, there is no information posted on edline. Sure, there's stuff. Log on to edline and you will see stuff.

But nobody can find the stuff he's actually looking for, because edline is impenetrable. The information architecture is incomprehensible, and the thing has no search engine. Plus it crashes a lot.

(Have I mentioned that one of my schemes is to create an edline knock-off that actually works? You know, a web site with all the same stuff, but with information architecture and a search engine? If I had the time, I'd do it. That would royally tick people off, I bet.)

Back on topic.

So this went on for years. Ed and I would make a reasonable request in our then mild-mannered way; we would be told that the administration would like nothing more than to do things exactly the way we wanted them to do things, except for all those other parents out there who wanted the opposite of what we wanted. I spent years of my life thinking Ed and I were parent outliers, people who wanted weird stuff, like recess in winter, no other Irvington mom or dad would countenance.

Eventually I caught on.

Those other parents, the ones who always got what they wanted while we never got what we wanted, did not exist. They were a simple rhetorical ploy we had spent 6 years of our lives falling for.

My moment of triumph arrived at a Coffee with the Principal.

Edline had just been installed, and all the parents present were eager to use it. Problem was, the teachers weren't using it. In place of the promised homework assignments, test schedules, and grades, there was.....nothing.

Edline was empty.

The two principals parried the numerous queries from the parents present by saying that it would be dangerous to put too much information on edline, because some parents would become obsessed, and would start clicking onto edline many times a day, anxiously checking to see whether there had been a change in their children's grades.

This went on and on. At one point a parent confessed that she herself would be at risk for edline addiction, and then went on to request that more information be posted to edline.

So there we were, a room full of parents who wanted information posted to edline.

And there they were, the two principals, explaining that they couldn't post more information to edline, because other parents didn't want more information posted to edline.

Finally it was my turn to speak.

"This room is filled with parents who want more information posted to edline," I said. "Other parents, not in this room, don't want information posted to edline. Why are you choosing to honor the wishes of those parents, but not to honor our wishes."

That stopped her cold.

Stopped her cold, but didn't knock her off her game (she's one of the smartest people around - thinks on her feet). The problem, she said, was the teachers. They were resisting; they were dragging their feet; they were recruiting early adopters to lead the way and persuade the others through example to follow; etc.

That didn't seem particularly reasonable to me, I must say.

I mean, I'm the parent and taxpayer; I've just paid for edline, and.....the teachers are refusing to use it?

Well, fine. I'm sure the teachers are refusing to use it; I'm refusing to use it myself, at this point. Edline is a lousy, miserable excuse for a web site; it's so out of date and amateurish in nature that it's prehistoric. If it's impossible for a parent to find and download stuff from edline, how easy can it be for teachers to upload stuff?

So let's bag edline.

Let's get together a committee of people with web expertise, research the various options, and purchase a district web site that actually works.

Maybe Anonymous could get that point across.

parent triangulation update

My solution to the parent triangulation business has been to start talking choice.

Other parents want something different?


Give them something different!

Give me Singapore Math; give them Trailblazers!

This tack, believe it or not, has done some damage to the top-down, my way or the highway model of school administration.

"Choice" is easy to say. Choice, choice, choice.

There are very few parents who, hearing "choice," will say, or feel, "I don't like choice, I prefer to have a winner group and a loser group."

Well, guess what?

The administration has adapted.

No longer do we hear tell of a non-existant group of parents who want exactly the opposite of what we want (and who, miraculously, have the clout to get it).

The new meme is: parents are cats.

Parents all want different things, there's no rhyme or reason, they send 100 crazy emails to the board each week.

So: since all you parents want different things, and we administrators just want one thing, our path is clear.

* That prompted a successful family foray into child dieting: Trim Kids and Shangri-La Diet are the books you need here.


Anonymous said...

My dyslexia is killing me. I first read this as parent strangulation.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm lollling.....

Here's a serious question, though.

Does dyslexia produce you "Freudian" readings of texts?

Unknown said...

You don't need to purchase a system. See the Sakai Project:

It's far, far better than blackboard or any of the other proprietary systems out there.

Catherine Johnson said...

Really - this can be a school web site???

GirishLaikhra said...

parent triangulation update is a very nice article and news......
Awesome posting this article......
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