In public education, parents’ role is not Megatron

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Back in the 1980s, when the City of Lansing was building the Lansing Center on Michigan Avenue, the idea was sold to politicians as an attraction for conferences and exhibitions. Our part of the state didn't have much-dedicated space. I was a daily newspaper reporter at the time. 

Most people knew that dinners for local and regional groups would be held there. But the City Council, including Lucille Belen, a successful flower shop owner, and Alfreda Schmidt, who wore hats very well, balked at putting in a kitchen. It also balked at putting air conditioning and heating in the skyway over the Grand River to connect the center to a parking ramp and hotel.  

HVAC seemed luxurious, and meal caterers could keep food in warming towers, the Council reasoned. Of course, the food got cold, to the disgust of diners who paid $20, $35, and $50 a plate at fundraisers. And people walking the skyway either roasted in summer or froze in winter.  

The "luxurious" features were added after project completion at a much greater cost. 

Which brings me to the Governor's Parents' Council.   

The Governors Parents' Council was born July 15 by executive order about the same time that the fiscal 2023 $76 billion state budget was signed by the governor. It's the biggest budget ever, and $22 billion of it goes to education. As it should.  

And both Republicans and Democrats signed off on it. An accomplishment.  

Education has taken a beating in our state for a long time. Maybe 50 years, ever since taxpayers started backing away from its responsibility by passing some of the support over to the lottery. Since 1973, the lottery has raised $26 billion for education. That's the rough equivalence to this year's budget. So, in 50 years of gambling for education, the lottery has paid for one year.  

And then there was schools of choice, which was welcomed by communities which have been known for and enriched by good public schools after they discovered they were losing students. And that poorer districts had the kids.  

And then by charter schools, the Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory-born idea to siphon off public money to private interests. That effort is ongoing.  

Now the political idea is giving parents control over education. Republicans are pushing that because they want private education with public dollars. BridgeMichigan, a nonprofit, nonpartisan online news organization, reported that in February the Michigan Senate called for the governor to "publicly acknowledge the fundamental right of parents over the upbringing of their children, including a central role in what it is their children are learning." This, but Republicans in this media report do not like Parents' Council as Whitmer's response. I don't blame them, but it serves the political purpose.  

Fortunately, the Parents' Council is not a serious idea. How do I know? Unless it's already set up, there's not enough time for it to be a success.  

The governor announced the Parents’ Council on July 15. The members, seven parents meeting diverse characteristics, will be selected after Aug. 8. The work of this advisory council is to be reported on by Dec. 9, so the Governor's Office can have access to the talk from a series of regional roundtables on "combatting unfinished learning and student mental health." The council dissolves in March 2023.  

That timeframe is seven months, beginning to end. 

Ha! It boggles the mind. How does a temporary group get all that work done in less than a year? They don't. 

Supplemental education based on their family values is where some families spend their time and money. But where do millions of adults take their kids every year? Disney World.  

In terms of real life, parents wanting more control can go traditional. Attending PTA meetings. Parent-teacher conferences. Get a little job in the lunchroom to hear talk about any lessons in being "woke."  

The State Education Department is hard-up for educators and has a number of programs to increase those numbers. Among them are educating already employed school staff to be teachers. Getting former educators back in the classroom. Forgiving debt taken on for college tuition.  

College too much? Lots of people think so. There is a whole effort to get 60 percent of graduating Michigan high school students into college programs by the year 2030. Some could be teachers.  

Still, parents can program home screens for WKAR-TV and check out the offerings of PBSkids.org. Sports offer fun, love and basketball for boys and girls. Study Lions gameplay, if your heart can stand it.  

Be a parent chaperone on school trips. Or, use family vacations to educate. For geography: The Great Lakes. The Grand Canyon. Try Yellowstone for thermodynamics. To the Everglades for reptiles. For cultural arts, attend Sphinx violin competition showcases, Children's Community Choir concerts. Libraries. Visit the Wright African American Museum in Detroit, the Flint Art Institute, the Broad Museum. Grand Rapids Art Prize is an education in itself.  You get the idea.  

Parents want to be an all-powerful Oz home school, but, hereafter the COVID shutdown, we know that teaching is not as easy as it looked. Help out in the classroom. Just don't try to take it over. That's Megatron action. 

Parents, don't take a road primed for battle just because a politician says parents know best. Do what you can do, and leave the teaching of Michigan's nearly 1.5 million public school students to the professional educators. 

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