Let’s Stop Blaming the Parents

By Michael Kaufman

In the aftermath of allegations by six former Newburgh Free Academy basketball players that they received preferential treatment from administrators and the head basketball coach, some folks are beginning to point fingers at the parents of the players.  Attendance records show that the players from school’s 2009-2010 championship team cut nearly 1,200 classes over a period of approximately 135 school days. Administrators and coaches are said to have turned a blind eye despite pleas from concerned teachers and a formal complaint by the teachers’ union at NFA. Four of the six failed to graduate.

Kevin Gleason of the Times Herald-Record, which broke the story three months ago, brought up the role of parents in a recent article. “When will it end?” he wrote. “The answer is only loosely related to the length and outcome of the investigation…. It will end when parents instill a healthy value system in their children, setting a good example, teaching them right from wrong, holding them accountable for their mistakes.

“It will end when parents demand to know what’s going on in their child’s life, what he’s doing in school, who he’s hanging out with, where he’s going, how he’s acting, what he’s feeling….Yes, folks must be held accountable for allowing so many kids to cut so many classes with minimal consequences. But district accountability is a short-term solution. The long-term solution involves producing kids who can thrive in any scholastic environment.”

In the days that followed publication of Gleason’s article, the paper published several letters to the editor harshly criticizing the boys’ parents for their presumed lack of awareness of the class cutting by their sons. I have no idea how aware the parents were and neither do those holier-than-thou letter writers. From my reading of the news articles on the subject it seems as though at least some parents had expressed concern.

Family life in this country has changed a great deal since the 1950s, when the majority of married women in “middle class” families did not have to work to contribute to the financial support of their families. Today we often hear of couples who work two jobs, of children being raised by grandparents, and there are more single-parent families now than at any time in our country’s history. More than ever, families must rely on the schools to assume the parental role during school hours and after-school activities. The Latin words for this are in loco parentis and the concept has been around since the late 1800s. Until the 1960s, when it was challenged by the Free Speech Movement at the University of California campus in Berkeley, it was also the norm at colleges and universities.

In any case I am wary of the tendency to blame parents for someone else’s wrongdoing. An article in the June issue of Psychology Today goes so far as to suggest that Bernie Madoff’s mother may be to blame for his swindling ways. The article, titled “6 Clues to Character,” quotes Susan Engel, a psychologist at Williams College. “Goodness comes from somewhere and so does badness. People model themselves on those around them.” Bernie wasn’t the only cheat in his family, says Engel. Guess who had her own financial brokerage firm when little Bernie was growing up and who was investigated by the SEC for failing to file financial reports? But before they could revoke her registration, notes Engel, she withdrew it. “She might have been defrauding customers, sneaking past the regulatory commission, or cheating the government, and if so, there would be a good chance it was rubbing off on Bernie.”

Of course a psychology magazine would have an article that blames “zee mother.” I am surprised they never came out with one about the mother of Osama bin Laden. Perhaps she was too overbearing during toilet training or teased him about his height when he was growing up. Personally, I’m with Einstein on this question…..not Albert, although I tend to agree with his opinions. I mean Charles Einstein, author of How to Coach, Manage, and Play Little League Baseball; A Commonsense Instructional Manual.

The book, published in 1969, was an invaluable resource when I coached my son’s Little League team years ago. Einstein mentions some of the obnoxious ways that parents can behave and how their behavior influences that of their kids. But he also says there are just some times when the parents are great….and the kid turns out to be a bum anyway.

The NFA players are not bums and neither are their parents. They are the victims here. Worthy of praise are those teachers who tried to fulfill their role in loco parentis and were ignored by the powers that be. Like some of their counterparts at colleges and universities, they placed more value on winning an athletic championship than on providing a quality education to their student-athletes. The blame is theirs.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.


5 Responses to “Let’s Stop Blaming the Parents”

  1. Steve Stone Says:

    I would not give any of the parties involved in this soap opera a free pass. They all have some responsibility in enabling the student to be taught to make the right moral and ethical decisions in life. Time to stop passing the buck. If the news articles on this subject are inclusive of all aspects of this issue, I suggest the students, parents and teachers ALL need to take ownership of the problem and take corrective actions.

  2. Michael Says:

    I see your point, Steve, although I’m not sure why you did not include administrators, who seem the most culpable of all. With the exception of the basketball coach, the school’s teachers did take ownership of the problem and sought corrective action. Their pleas were ignored.

  3. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    Oh, please! First, kids must be instilled with integrity, mostly learned at home. And the parents hold the ultimate responsibility for their children regardless of “hardships” of working. My husband and I both worked fulltime and still made sure that we knew where our kids were at all times, knew their friends and their parents, and what everyone was up to. Rely on the school? Others are not the moral compass for our children; we are. Your kid misses 1200 classes, doesn’t graduate and suddenly it’s a problem. Where were the parents during report card time and teacher/parent meetings?

  4. Michael Says:

    Those are good questions, Jo. Maybe we should have the answers before rushing to condemn six families we know nothing about. On the other hand we know that school administrators allowed flagrant violation of school and interscholastic athletic association rules for the sole purpose of achieving a winning basketball record.

  5. Jim Says:

    Thanks for bringing to light the “shoot from the hip” inaccuracies
    about parent blaming. For the past forty plus years as a practicing social worker I’ve learned that parenting is a factor in human development but not a very reliable factor. My own experience strongly suggests that there were influences on my life that were greater than parental control. I was raised in a very religious conservative household. Church attendance, prayer, obedience, homework, and school attendance were
    not optional, they were absolute requirements. Indeed I was the recipient of “a healthy value system” and consistently schooled in the vicissitudes of “right and wrong”. Yet by the age of nineteen I was a high school drop-out, an incompetent petty thief, a jailbird, and a morally challenged heroin addict. At the age of thirty, I met a guy named Pete who was employed as a teacher in an institution where I was then incarcerated. Pete said that I was college material and strongly suggested that I take advantage of the GED program. He also introduced
    me to ideas from Martin Buber, Karl Marx, Frances of Assisi, and other great personalities. After release, I met a woman named Lisa who continued to influence me in moral development. This was the beginning of a spiritual journey blessed with the connectedness of many outstanding mentors.

    I have a friend and colleague (actually an “adopted” granddaughter) who had a very different childhood than mine. Her crack addicted parents were not very good at parenting and by her mid-teens she had been in three foster homes, juvenile detention, and a group home. She too met a teacher who convinced her that she was salvageable. With help and support from other mentors along the way, she went on to complete high school, college, and a masters program in social work. Today this young woman is a highly respected mental health practitioner, an involved parent, and a budding leader in her community.

    These two accounts bring to light the axiom of “it takes a village to raise a child”. Coaches, athletic directors, and school officials are part of the village. When they use authority for personal gain rather than for the well being of children in their charge, they disrupt the parenting process and no matter how healthy the home value system is, parents fight an uphill battle in correcting the mess. For the folks who blame parents, I summon the words of Herbert Spenser: “There is a principal which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principal is contempt prior to investigation”. Thanks for the article Mike.


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