Opinion | Parent-teacher conflict crosses party lines. Here’s how to manage it.

Mary Katharine Ham: My pre-pandemic take on school was pretty traditional. I was a public-school kid who was going to send her kids to the neighborhood public school without a second thought. I knew for a center-right family in Northern Virginia, there would be some ideological push against what we believe, along with the usual ups and downs. Been there, done it my whole childhood, happy to take it all on.

That was, until my oldest was sent home in March 2020.

The pandemic gave me new perspective. My school board made decisions that seemed to have little connection to the real world, and showed contempt for parents and students who objected. I didn’t appreciate them telling me my kids were in grave danger. Hard pass on the obviously incorrect pitch that putting my 6-year-old on a screen for several hours a day would be good for her.

I saw the writing on the virtual message board by summer 2020. Students weren’t going back in the fall. I withdrew my eldest child from her elementary school and embarked on an uncertain course of reluctant home schooling.

Then something amazing happened.

We found joy and beauty and poetry and art and fun and faith and nature, and a refuge from a world gone mad. My 6- and 4-year-old both learned to read and write. They loved learning so much that I began to wonder whether more regimented ways of teaching left a lot to be desired. I learned, too — about their learning styles, their strengths and struggles. And, as I told other moms who remarked on my “bravery” for home schooling, it was less work than my role as a Zoom butler in spring 2020.

That year gave me confidence that I did in fact know my children better than the experts did. It taught me I should have preferences about what and how they’re taught. Advocating for them, changing plans when evidence called for it, persevering through tough and scary times, and doing things differently because we believed it was the right thing was itself a class in critical thinking and nonconformity.

I’ve since had two more children. Each will thrive in different environments, be it at home with me, at the neighborhood Christian school that stayed open throughout the pandemic and became a refuge for us, in a public school that wins some trust back, or something we haven’t tried. My children will face new challenges, among them the specter of skyrocketing adolescent depression and anxiety. When those challenges come, I want my kids rooted in family, scripture, nature, literature, art and the practice of listening to different views and finding truth in the storm of modern life.

In the past, I would have trusted the school down the street to prepare them. I would have looked at that institution as a partner. That wasn’t how it worked out.

Now my family takes this sacred duty to oversee our kids’ education much more personally and seriously. We found a school whose track record and philosophy showed they respect parents and serve kids. They are steady, unlikely to shut down or shift at the first sign of either virus or teaching trend. They also want my kids ready for coming challenges. I don’t expect any setting is ever going to be perfect, but they are partners. — Ham is a host of the “Getting Hammered” podcast.

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