Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
School of Teacher Education and Leadership
We plead for a better, a more just, a more open and straightforward, a more public society, in which free and all-around communication and participation occurs as a matter of course in order that education may be bettered. We plead for an improved and enlarged education in order that there may be brought into existence a society all of whose operations shall be more genuinely educative, conducive to the development of desire, judgment and character. (1)
Participation is concerned with three groups; students, trained experts, and parents. None of these, in the eyes of Dewey or Kilpatrick and their school of thought is most important to the continual process of improving our schools. In too many instances today, the first two groups only are in regular participating activities.
The schools, if any agency in our country can be so charged with the responsibility, should provide for the future by looking to the past and by fully keeping up with the present. In the most ideal situation the present is not found in books, but in the felt needs of the citizens of the community today. As never before in history the needs of a nation may change momentarily.
It is the attitude of many that through the school, as most of our democratic institutions, received its birth at the hands of layman citizenry, it has now developed and grown into so complicated and specialized a field, that the average layman cannot fathom its depths. This is incorrect and damaging and impedes school improvement. As education has developed so has the level of the ability of the citizens to comprehend and solve their own problems.
Baldwin and Osborn made a detailed study of home-school relations and demonstrated that as the school learned to know parents better it acquired more confidence in their judgment and good will. Similarly as the parents learned to know the school better, they understood the problems faced by the school. (2)
Kilpatrick, speaking to administrators suggested:
The bringing together of teachers, parents, and experts who represent all aspects of child development will provide a necessary clearing house for information and lay the basis for intelligent programs of action. (1)
Education today is in process; it is changing and developing toward a more efficient and effective way of accomplishing an adjusted and an informed citizenry in America. Dogma of the past yields slowly to the new. Tradition, apathy and inertia on the part of patrons and educators alike coupled with higher costs of better methods form a discouragingly slow team at times. In the field of education as with McCormick's reaper, it is not enough to have a better method or a more efficient tool. The consumer must be sold on the idea. He must be educated to the new, and as the child learns by participating, so the parent must participate to understand the problems of the modern school.
Parent participation not only provides for these needs, but exposes problems, creates a learning activity, informs the patrons, provides a situation for democratic action, seeks solution of greater mutual approval, sells the product to the public and provides the funds. In other words, participation should be an agency of evaluation, modification and public relations of the school.
In the past, parent participation has often meant Parent-Teacher Associations. P.T.A. is the only contact between home and school in many areas even today. The P.T.A. is and has been the first to recognize some weaknesses inherent in and within its organization. Any investigation will reveal a great body of self-criticism. Most criticism from within and without is rooted in the failure of patrons rather than the organization. If attendance at any school community P.T.A. were to average 90 per cent and there were no abuses of social mores, position, or other self-destructive forces, it still would fall short of the activity to be desired in a full participation program. This is a fact not generally realized by many patrons who consider the P.T.A. to be all the participation necessary and the limit of obligation.
The P.T.A. is the logical and established organizational structure upon which to build, direct, coordinate and conduct an active participation program. It is not the whole program. Churches, civic clubs, commercial groups and clubs, business organizations, lodges, fraternal organizations, and municipalities can be stimulated through active parent participation not only to create recreational opportunities, but as suggested in the following contribute to the well-being of the community.
- Lay persons can assist with teacher workshops.
- May serve as resource people in the school and in adult education.
- May direct camping and outdoor educational programs.
- Plan jointly the activities of the school.
- May direct a youth employment agency.
- Direct projects, clean-ups, improvements, civic additions.
- Direct workshops, hobbies, and crafts.
- Direct music, sports, and drama.
- Participate in censorships, study groups, problem solving.
- Parents, pupils, teachers jointly planning curriculum and life experience projects.
Curriculum, of necessity, under present circumstances, is to a great extent a theoretical transfer of the knowledge in the book into the reluctant mind of a student. There exists little practical relationship or use in the minds of many students for much of the bill of fare.
The value of a life experience curriculum may be illustrated by the following example from teaching experience. An arithmetic problem dealing with crates of oranges was incomprehensible to the students. Repeated, patient repetition of the information was to no avail until the creates of oranges were exchanged for baskets of peaches, a product familiar to all the students in the area. Although this oversimplifies both the problem and solution it serves to illustrate the role experience and participation with things and people play in the step-by-step process which is learning.
Where the school has been united with the agencies of the community in participation activities with an eye single to the improvement of the community, an environment for learning has been created which fills the needs of the community and school.
Consider the following description presented by the American Association of School Administrators:
The early schools of America were close to the people. The school board in the small community selected a site, constructed a building, and employed a teacher. Frequently, the teacher lived in one of the homes from which children attended school. A majority of the people in the community attended public school meetings in which the budget was approved and educational policy was formed. There was ample opportunity for parents and other lay citizens to know the school intimately and to take part in shaping the community's educational program. (3)
This brief paragraph gives us a picture that we in America seem to consider old fashioned and unnecessary to our modern world. The quoted group proceeds in the next paragraph to point to the dangers to our educational system of this attitude.
In our more complex community life, schools are in competition with other agencies and institutions for public interest and support. Many aspects of administration and instruction have become too complex to be understood easily by lay citizens. More and more, people take the school for granted or regard it as an impersonal agency from which educational services can be secured by the payment of minimum charges in the form of school taxes. Lay citizens' participation which keeps the roots of the school deeply embedded in community life and gives a true reflection of the interests and needs of the people cannot now be secured without continuous, carefully planned efforts. (3)
Today we live in a highly competitive world. The school at best is handicapped in completely preparing the child for this world. Some of today's schools try to eliminate competition that is unfair, frustrating, or which represents defeat to the individual child. The world the child will enter makes no differentiation or qualification on members who fail. Success or failure is all that registers. Parent participation can be the middle ground of the school system.
Within the organization can be introduced problems, solutions and results along with all the diversities of opinion, success or failure that may arise. In partnership of both mature and immature shoulders life's realism can be demonstrated to the child without shouldering him individually with defeat or failure.
If parents want a school that will provide their children with tools for tomorrow's world they can make it by participating in its activities. This is the challenge; it is being done in many places.
Anderson, Elbert J., "Parent Participation at Central School of Brigham City, Utah" (1955). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 1637.
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