I begin my thoughts on education by reflecting on the recent scandal in the United States around college admissions. Fifty people have been indicted on charges that they falsified school records, invented sports teams, provided substitutes for tests, asked for extra time to complete the tests, and bribed college officials. And these fifty people are parents! They were trying to get their children accepted into colleges with the prestige they believed their children deserved, despite the fact that their children were not qualified for admission.
What motivates parents to go to such extreme behavior around their children? I had heard of the term “helicopter parents” for some time, about parents who constantly hovered around their children. But now I heard the term “snowplow parents” which applies in this situation. A “helicopter parent” might need to talk to their college student every day. But a “snowplow parent” has a different job. That parent is determined to remove any and all obstacles in the way of their child’s forward progress. This is called helping.
Sad to say, this “helpful” behavior actually handicaps their children. Most of us realize that it is in overcoming obstacles that we grow. There is a real satisfaction in achieving our own goals without the interference of “well meaning” parents. A child’s wonky science project pleases her much more than the carefully finished one of a fellow student’s whose parent stepped in to finish it. The one knows she can accomplish something. The other doubts her own abilities and believes she will always need to be rescued.
Unless the snowplow parents hoped to pay for their children’s essays, pay for substitutes for their exams, and feed answers to them through earpieces in class discussions, their children were bound to fail their classes. Sadder still, their children would feel like failures when all they needed was to be celebrated for the people they actually were, not the lofty projections of their parents.