Educators must now ask for permission to teach, stunting learning experiences 

As schools have changed over the years, increasingly protective parents may be limiting children’s opportunity to learn, according to several teachers interviewed by the Calgary Journal.

Because of what the teachers see as efforts by so-called “helicopter parents” to filter their children’s education and protect them from a risk of failure, teachers are being forced to send home permission slips at a widely increasing rate.

“Many parents seem to be afraid to let their children be part of situations where they might fail,” says Tracey Bowes, a frustrated teacher and parent.

Bowes adds that she sends home approximately 10 permission slips a year for any activity that could be a potential risk or include content that could be deemed inappropriate such as politics, sex or religion.

Bowes, a Grade 9 teacher at Chestermere Lake Middle School, is concerned that today’s youth are growing up without important experiences such as failure and critical thinking:

“Children that can’t problem solve grow into adults that can’t problem solve. We need to give our kids more credit for what they know and stop ‘hovering’ over them to catch them if they fail,” she says.

Elaine Roy, a parent of two soon-to-be preschoolers, also says that parents need to understand the possibility of their children failing and ease up on being over-protective.

“Kids need to learn for themselves the ups and downs of life, even if it means them falling down a few times,” she says.

“They need to learn how to pick themselves back up.”

THE CHANGES

In recent years, teachers have increasingly had to hand out permission slips just to cover a curriculum topic because parents are worried the topic will be too controversial, the teachers that were interviewed say.

Bowes has handed out countless forms to parents just so she can teach topics such as the justice system or a story that was covered in the news.

“Students are just curious about how the law works, sexuality and religious rights…. We have to be sure that parents know we are respectful to all cultures,” says Bowes.

Roy says, “I have heard from other parents that there seems to be a lot of paper coming home quite often.

“It does remind parents what’s happening at the school,” she adds.

Married couple Carol and Ray Brydon, both retired teachers from the Calgary Catholic School District, have also noticed a change in the amount of permission slips sent home with children.

Both the Brydons say that parents have become increasingly more protective since they started teaching; they also suggest teachers feel parents don’t trust them as much as they used to.

Joanne Pierrard, a rural schoolteacher says she has noticed some changes too.

She said that the teacher-parent roles have switched. Before, parents had to send in letters to excuse their children from a particular activity; now, she says, teachers have to ask permission simply to teach the children.

Bowes, meanwhile, suggested that parents sometimes allow their kids to make decisions counter to teachers’ plans.

“Parents in the last few years don’t send their kids to school on field trip days or special days because the kids don’t feel like it,” she says.

“If it weren’t beneficial for kids, why would we put the effort into planning these activities?”

PERMISSIONS

The Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District policies are to ask permission for any off-campus trips. The Calgary Catholic School District also requires permission for sex education.

But spokeswomen at each board say they haven’t noticed an increase in the amount permission slips being sent home.

All four teachers interviewed, however, says that parents previously had to send in a letter if they didn’t want their child to participate in classes such as sex education. But now, teachers must send home a request for specific permission.

Bowes says that such limitations on teaching are taking away students’ autonomy and chance to learn life lessons.

“The biggest fear we should have as parents and educators is that we are raising a group of children who are not personally responsible for their actions,” Bowes says. “When something goes wrong, it is easy to blame someone else instead of owning up to a lack of judgment of their part.

“After 22 years of teaching, I still feel that kids are the same, it’s the adults who have changed. Kids are still fun, energetic and open to new ideas… until a world that blames everyone else for its failures tells them otherwise.”

hcawsey@cjournal.ca