I try not to get too exercised by parent involvement articles in the mass media, knowing that the nuances of involvement are often lost on reporters who cover minivans one day and best vacation spots the next. But this New York Times piece today (“Frazzled Moms Push Back Against Volunteering”) is so one-sided and, frankly, poorly done that I just had to respond.
The article paints this picture of Moms who go waaay past balanced in their volunteering to the point where they are causing harm to their family lives and even their personal well-being. Does that happen? Absolutely. We’ve written about volunteering that goes too far many times on this site.
My problem with the article is in the conclusions. Reading, one would think that the only solution to over-volunteering is going completely cold turkey. One of the moms celebrated in the article won’t even let her husband write a check to support a school fundraiser? Really? She went from running about everything in the school to attending nothing, supporting nothing and (obviously) volunteering not at all? That’s the solution?
How about balance? Millions of parents do a great job leading parent groups in a balanced way or finding a way to volunteer or support the school that fits their lifestyle. I can name you 200 moms and dads at my kids’ school who work full-time but who have found a way to chaperone one field trip or help with the weekend school basketball program or solicited some donations for the school auction. That much more common experience doesn’t even get a mention in this article. Ludicrous.
My biggest objection is to the writer not mentioning the decades of research that makes a compelling case for the value of parent involvement at schools. My kids do better. The other kids at school do better. The school as a whole does better when the school has higher degrees of broad parent involvement. To read the Times story is to think these Moms who have completely opted out are some kind of heroes. They’re not villains for opting out (sounds like they had trouble finding balance any other way), but the story potentiallly does real harm implying that zero connection to school is the right recipe.
I know there are folks in this world who live by extremes. If they volunteer, they are going to be the greatest, most committed volunteer in history. And if they stop volunteering, boy-oh-boy are they ever going to stop volunteering. But don’t we expect our reporters to go beyond the extremes to where the real facts lie? This article takes a stereotype, find three examples to back it up and – voila! – school volunteering is only awful. The Times can and should do much better.