More Parents in the Classroom, Please
“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” That line, delivered by Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial debate on Sept. 29, became a call to arms for concerned Virginia parents and turned the race on its head. McAuliffe was far from the first political figure to say something to this effect—although none with as little tact as the governor’s race loser. At one point or another in the past year, teachers union bosses, school board members, and other politicians, even the surveillance state, have all voiced their disdain for parents standing up for the quality of their children’s education, whether through opposition to remote learning, classroom mask wearing, or critical race theory curriculum.
As it turns out, parents do know a little something about their children’s physical and mental wellbeing, and sometimes more parents in the classroom is exactly what children need.
Take Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, for example. A school of just under 1,700 students, Southwood was ranked in the top half of all Louisiana schools in 2018-19 and is among one of the best schools in the Caddo Parish School District because of above average proficiency in math and reading.
However, over the course of just three days in September, 23 students were arrested for fighting. One brawl that broke out on Sept. 16 resulted in the arrests of 14 students. Despite heightened school security, deputies with the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office had to respond to another melee just before 10 a.m. the following day and arrested eight students. The eight students were all girls between the ages of 14 and 17, Caddo Parish Superintendent T. Lamar Goree said at a Sept. 17 press conference. Authorities believe the fight started at an apartment complex the night prior to their arrests and continued on campus the following day. Goree added the girls were charged with disturbing the peace, released into the custody of their parents, and faced expulsion.
Southwood High, and schools like it in the area, have apparently struggled with gang infiltration and violence. “I do think it’s important to note, many students haven’t been engaged because of virtual learning. Some issues are with transitioning back to life on campus. Much of it is related to a surge in gang activity. It won’t be tolerated at our schools,” Goree claimed.
To stem the tide of violence,“We will do random searchings, that means metal detectors,” Goree said. “We will have to reach out to students to create a safety net.”
In his remarks at the conference, Sheriff Steve Prator said, “Parents have responsibility to send kids to school that have discipline, with a desire to learn something, not just wanting to come in and stir up strife. I want parents to get involved with what they’re doing on social media and after school. If they’re out of the house at 2 a.m., someone needs to get involved with these kids’ lives.”
Little did Prator know, a group of concerned parents were about to answer his call to action in a big way.
That Friday, Michael LaFitte, a Southwood High School dad and president of the Shreveport NAACP, hosted a meeting with other Southwood parents to discuss strategies to put an end to the scourge of campus violence. “I decided to call a group of parents that I know who are active at the school and said, ‘Hey, what can we do to get in front of this?” LaFitte told the Shreveport Times.
The meeting that was only supposed to last 45 minutes ran several hours. When LaFitte and the other parents emerged from their conference, they had a plan.
“At the end of the meeting there was a group of fathers who decided to just go to the school and patrol and walk around and show a strong male presence on the campus,” LaFitte said of the meeting. “We’re dads. We decided the best people who can take care of our kids are who? Are us.”
The group of around 40 dads, dubbed “Dads on Duty,” now show up to campus every day at 7:30 a.m. to usher in students to class, and can be seen patrolling the campus in their matching Dads on Duty shirts during lunch and after school.
“I don’t care how old you are or what size you are, it’s something about seeing a man, a positive male figure, a father, your daddy or whatever you want to call them, at the school. It will make you straighten up and fly right,” LaFitte said.
“Because not everybody has a father figure at home – or a male, period, in their life. So just to be here makes a big difference,” a Dads on Duty member told CBS News.
When the Dads on Duty started showing up at Southwood, “I immediately felt a form of safety,” one student told CBS News. “We stopped fighting; people started going to class.”
And stopped fighting, they have. Since the dads descended on campus, there has not been a major school-yard brawl.
When one student was asked why Dads on Duty has been so successful in curbing campus fights, they succinctly replied, “You ever heard of ‘a look?'”
Dads on Duty has had an impact far beyond quelling student on student violence. The dads, already balancing their work schedules with their new gig as extra campus security, have also found a way to balance between bringing an authoritative presence and a welcoming one.
“We are dealing with high-schoolers, and high-schoolers want to have fun,” LaFitte explained. “So at the end of the day if we’re looking to get something done for them, the easiest way to do it is by making them laugh.” What better way to make a high school student laugh than some classic dad jokes.
“They just make funny jokes like, ‘Oh, hey, your shoe is untied,’ but it’s really not untied,” one student said.
“They hate it! They’re so embarrassed by it,” LaFitte said of the dads’ wise-cracks.
Thanks to the dads, “the school has just been happy — and you can feel it,” another student said.
The Dads on Duty have been able to turn their cliche comedic jabs into real connections with Southwood students. “One of the issues that we have a lot of times with correcting children is we are not listening. We have to respect them on that level, to listen to them, because once we listen to them, they will take instruction,” LaFitte told the Shreveport Times.
By bonding with the students of Southwood, the dads have opened up a dialogue “about life skills, about grooming, about self-respect,” among other things with the students. Now, students are actively seeking the campus dads’ approval on positive changes they’re making in their own lives. “They say: ‘Look, Mr. LaFitte, I have a belt on today,”‘ LaFitte added. “It’s just the little things.”
As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman, and Dads on Duty gets a lot of help and support from Southwood moms. “The women are behind them; I am one of them,” Southwood Principal Kim Pendleton said. “The main thing we all have in common is that we believe in the whole child.”
Hopefully, your children’s school doesn’t struggle with gang violence like Southwood once did. If it does, Dads on Duty is looking to start chapters at other schools! No matter the situation at your children’s school, the story of Dads on Duty should be a letter of encouragement. If a group of dads can change the entire culture of a campus for the better in just a few weeks, imagine the positive impact sustained parental investment in our education system can have across the country.
Don’t expect the nationalization of our education debate to slow down as more parents push back against Big Education in their children’s schools. Impassioned local school board meetings will continue to eat up more and more time on the airwaves of national news outlets where pundits will discuss what kinds of citizens our education system is churning out. With this national framing, it’s easy to forget that education is a local and communal process. An even more proximate goal of education than a more informed citizenry is the creation of an involved and upstanding member of a community—a community defined and invested in by parents through their posterity.
It’s well past time for parents to have their proper say in the values and curriculum a few administrators and bureaucrats have determined should be imparted on children at school. What truths we decide to teach our children don’t just end up as scribbles on a test or are typed within the margins of a term paper. Children bring the values learned from educators and their peers with them first into the home, then their community, and eventually broader society.