Parent-Teacher Relations

When to Remove Your Child from an Activity at School

As the new school year begins, you may be concerned about books, topics, or activities your child might encounter in class. If you face such a concern this school how do you know if you should remove your child from something in class? Here are five questions you can ask yourself when thinking about opting your child out of a lesson at school. 

1. Is the activity truly that bad?

A very upset mother once called me concerning what her daughter was being told to read in class. The book was about Native American spiritual beliefs. The mother had already gone to the superintendent of the school district and told him to have the book removed or she would see to his dismissal.

I asked her three questions. First, in what course was the book used? Second, how old was her daughter? Third, had the mother read the book? To my astonishment, she answered that the book was used in an elective course on mythology; her daughter was a senior in high school; and, no, the mother had never read the book, but she felt the cover looked spooky. Obviously, she was overreacting. I explained how, since the daughter was certainly old enough, she could use the book as a teaching tool to discuss their family's religious faith in comparison to Native American spiritual beliefs. I pointed out that this could actually be an opportunity from God to strengthen the girl's faith, not an invitation from Satan to abandon it.

There are times when an educator may expose children to an inappropriate subject or handle a legitimate topic so poorly that you feel the need to remove your child from it. You know your child better than anyone and will need to make that decision. My advice is to get as much information as you can before making your decision.

2. How emphatically will it be taught?

You need to determine how strongly the teacher will promote a particular value. It is good to learn about the ideas and beliefs of others. However, sometimes a teacher's opinion is taught as the proper way to think when, in fact, it is in conflict with your family's beliefs. This is when action might be taken. However, your action might be to teach your child discernment rather than remove him from having to listen to the teacher.

For example, after visiting with our daughter's health teacher, Kim and I realized the teacher would be briefly talking about abortion and we had a hunch she was pro-abortion. However, from our conversation, we also felt that the teacher would not push her values on students. We talked about this with our daughter-predicting that the topic would come up and asking her to watch for it. It became somewhat of a game for her as she came home each day to report what was said in class. Rather than shield her from the topic, we prepared her to be discerning.

3. Will the lesson last a long time?

If the subject in question is addressed only briefly, it may not be a concern to you. Find out how long your child will be exposed to it.

4. Is it having a demonstrated effect on my child?

Does your child seem upset? Has he changed what he believes about a subject that you consider a core value of your family? List actual behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs you think might be linked to a particular classroom lesson, or that you fear my arise because of a lesson that will be taught.

Is it possible that your fears of what may happen due to the program are exaggerated? Certainly, young children may be affected more by something than older, more independent children. It may be helpful to share your concerns with your spouse or a friend to see if they also see a potential problem. 

5. Can I teach my child to be discerning in this situation?

Webster's dictionary defines the word discern as meaning to perceive something hidden or obscure and to perceive differences. Depending on the topic and the age of your child, you can help him be discerning rather than simply accept what is taught in class. To teach your child discernment, you will need to teach him what to look for.

In college, I took an astronomy course that met in a planetarium because part of the course involved learning to observe the constellations. The instructor would display the stars on the ceiling and point out various constellations. Only by knowing what to look for could we see a pattern of stars emerge from the night sky filled with little dots of light. Once I knew what to look for, spotting a constellation became easier. 

Being concerned about what your child might be exposed to is natural and healthy. But overreacting isn't productive for your child's development or for your relationship with your child's teacher. You may find it helpful to use the decision grid below:

5 Key Questions Not at All Very Little Somewhat Very Much
  1. Is the activity or lesson truly that bad?
  2. How emphatically is it taught?
  3. Will the lesson last a long time?
  4. Is it having an effect on my child?
  5. Can I teach my child discernment?


How to Talk to a Teacher about a Concern

Parents often ask me what they should do when they object to something their children are taught or exposed to at school. You may be one of those parents who wonders how to handle such a situation.

It's understandable that you feel angry, but venting your anger on the teacher isn't a particularly good way to influence what happens in class. Instead, I recommend that you engage in a conversation. I call it the "Help Me Understand" technique. Here are the three steps involved:

FIRST, ask the teacher to help you understand the reason behind a method she is using or an activity she is having the class do. Literally start the conversation with the phrase "Help me understand..." Say it in a non-threatening way, not with a tone of "how dare you teach this to my son!"

At this point in the conversation you simply want to know why the teacher chose the questionable activity or book or lesson. You may discover that the teacher's reason was entirely different than what you assumed.  

SECOND, affirm what the teacher is trying to do in general. For example, you may object to the particular book being used, but you can appreicate that she wants the students exposed to a certain literary style or current issue. I recommend that you talk for a bit about what you like about the general idea that is motivating the teacher's choice. Your concerns are not an attack on the teacher. You like what the teacher is trying to do in a general sense.

THIRD, transition to your concern by using the phrase "But have you considered...." The teacher may not have considered certain unintended consquences. Maybe the material is too emotionally mature for the students; or maybe the teacher's emphasis on one topic implies that other opinions are invalid. In other words, the teacher's motives may be good, but she hasn't thought about other results from her choices.

The goal of your conversation should not only be to improve the classroom environment or lesson, it should also be to help the teacher grow in her understanding of how her lessons may impact her students. The teacher isn't your competition for your child's development, she is your partner. Having that persepective helps you show the love of Christ while also discussing your concern.