Adults should seek to be supportive, not self-righteous, of children's education | Opinion

When I was growing up in East Tennessee, our high school had a pretty intense rivalry with another prep school in town.

Like most schools, competitions were hallmarked by student-led cheers for our team and taunts against the other, huge flags and banners with our colors, and raucous celebrations of victory.

Unless they were alums, adults were pretty far removed from the festivities, and while there might have been some eye-rolling about the other school the rivalry was benign and all in good fun.

This fall, something feels different. I’m finding that along with adolescent-centered rivalries our educational culture has a heaping amount of adult-centered judgement in regard to other schools or methods of learning.

Our current educational climate seems ripe with a militant “I’m better than you” mentality among parents that has magnified what once was a friendly contention between schools into a fight over moral and societal superiority.

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There is too much shameful judgment

Never before have I witnessed such disdain and rampant gossip about schools. Whether it’s the harsh criticism of rush culture, the despair over Metro Nashville’s teacher shortage, or the reaction to gender policies of area high schools, seemingly everyone feels entitled not only to an opinion but to angrily broadcasting it, thereby allowing the hate to create an even deeper divide in the broader educational system.

I fear we have become so engrossed in our own opinions that we’re not paying enough attention to hearts and minds of the students in the desks.

As a parent I’m less concerned with the issues of individual schools and more worried about the shameful behavior of adults and their inability to discuss policies of schools in a respectful manner.

Rather than seeking to understand different choices, I’m concerned that parents are laser-focused on proving their “rightness” in their own decisions.

At the end of the day, the haughty phrase “I’d never send my kids there” doesn’t tell me anything about the school itself but instead highlights the speaker’s need to assert their own supremacy.

As adults, we appear to have forgotten who is caught in the crossfire of our self — righteousness — our children and young adults. And they’re paying attention to our behavior.

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Parents must set an example

As a society, when did our default response be to critique and condemn others rather than be curious about their views? What’s more, what does it say about us that we — the adults, not necessarily the students — appear to delight in maligning others in order to build ourselves up?

Traditional school environments teach much more than academics: they foster life-skills, character, teamwork, and empathy. Many of us learned as children that the playground bully only behaves that way out of their own discontent. Are we now, as adults, so unhappy with our own lives that we have morphed into the mean kids?

As we set an example for the students in our midst, I wonder what would it cost us to be generous and kind in our discourse. By learning to live, work, and study alongside those who make other choices, we can strengthen the moral fabric of our community rather than continue to rip it apart.

Instead of engaging in pointless gossip and projection about what the choices of others, let’s harness our energies to work productively to enhance the formative educational years of our children.

Mary Cady Bolin
Mary Cady Bolin

Schools should be havens of hope for a better tomorrow, not institutions replete with adult judgement. If you’re upset abut your local school, volunteer to make it better. If you can’t give of your time, call and ask how you can pitch in monetarily. Vote for politicians who believe in the power and purpose of education. We have a wide range of ways to help if we would only choose to engage with the frontline educational workers rather than throw stones from afar.

As we realize that we are all in the same boat, simply looking for the best ways to educate our children, my hope is that a cohesiveness will permeate our city. When it comes to preparing the next generation to interact with one another in respectful and meaningful ways, perhaps we can create a world where a good-natured rivalry is the only conflict.

Mary Cady Bolin is a writer and pastor based in Nashville. She writes about spiritual life, current events, and family.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: School parents should seek to be supportive not self-righteous