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Parent Pow—is this what we’ve come to?

September 9, 2011

The Daily Riff, one of my favorite blogs about educational reform, ran a 3 part series yesterday on Parent Pow, which they describe as “Parent POW is an innovative platform that promotes a new conversation between parent and child, and between families and schools.”

As a bit of a techno-fiend, I was curious about how a platform could promote conversation between parents and children, so I watched the two minute video. You’ve got to check this out.

Let me get this straight. I’m a super busy over-committed dad, but I still love my kid and want her to succeed. Research says the most successful kids are the ones who think about what they are doing, and really talk about their day with their parents. So the best way to do this, isn’t to drop some of the stuff I’m doing, and sit down and have a real conversation with my child? Instead, it’s to say, “Hi Maddie, I’d really love to talk to you about your day, but please first login to ParentPOW, rate these half dozen aspects of your daily life on a ten point likert scale, journal about your feelings and then, once I’ve read the digest of your day, we can talk.” Uh-huh.

I submit this as Exhibit 11,234 of everything that is wrong with the world today. First, you may recall my thesis that many of our problems in education today stem from shallow conversations about value and learning (SAT scores, grades, and college admission). I also fear that instant updates of meaningless data and treating our children as investments like a stock portfolio are making us lose sight of the hard to quantify arc of learning progress and the value of deep thinking. ParentPow hits the two-for one of making conversations more shallow (by sucking up time that could be spent talking filling out ratings on a website) and giving me meaningless data to obsess over rather than truly focus on getting to know my child as a growing, thinking individual.

You can see delusion throughout the ParentPow video.

  • At one point the narrator says “In just a few seconds, I actually find out about what’s going on in Josh’s math class.” No, you don’t find out anything in a few seconds—If you want to find something out, you have to actually take the time to talk to your child.
  • Parent POW claims to give “kids a voice in their own learning experience?” Really? by choosing a 1-10 rating for each of their classes? Are you serious?

This is before I go off on the horrible teacher stereotypes in this video. The teacher in math class lecturing away while children are asleep, the teacher buried behind the stack of paper confronting parents with a “data dump of test scores”, implying that Parent WOW can arm parents for these conversations. Is this the model we want to portray of teacher parent interactions? Who can bring more meaningless data to the table? Where is the model that the parent and teacher are an allies working together to figure out what is best for the child?

Here’s the thing. If you want to “give children a voice in their own learning experience”, or make a “real difference in your child’s learning success,” there is only one thing you need to do: talk to your child. Have family dinners—ask them about their day, and make it a habit that everyone shares what they learned that day, highs and lows, and generally enjoy one another’s company. No need to interrupt the conversation to login to some website to promote “conversation” prepare you to data-mine your own children.

So I find this website deeply disturbing. Rather than telling parents to step up to the plate and truly get to know their children by being an active part of their lives, this site again feeds the narrative that we’re all too busy, and if we could just boil all those messy details of our kids’ lives down to some easy to interpret (but utterly meaningless) number, then we’d all be better off. When the reality is that the opposite is true. Every time you have a click click through a soul crushing set of likert scales before engaging in a real conversation with mom and dad, you’re valuing shallow, transitory and meaningless data over real, authentic and deep engagement.

What boggles my mind is that the normally awesome folks at The Daily Riff have taken so much energy to be a shill this “platform” that is surely looking for ways to cash in on the relationship between parents and children.

So where does this stop? Khan already wants to report back to me all the time kids spend watching his videos, rather than more authentic measures of their ability to problem solve and find real enjoyment in math. The folks at the College Board keep trying to convince us that the ability to make quick strategic guesses with limited information on the SAT is somehow an indicator of future success (though all research says it isn’t). What’s next? I’m starting to find all those finger paintings my child does to be a chore to look at. Maybe some web startup can come up with a cool way to help me quickly judge their quality by measuring the time my daughter spends swirling her hands around on the paper, bonus points if you could just some how scan those paintings and I’d never have to look at them.

Again, I’m no oracle of parenting advice; my conversations with my 10 month old are mostly babbles and gibberish, and I’ve made more than my share of mistakes as a dad and a husband. I certainly feel as busy as the next person, and I love it when technology comes along and offers me some sort of new trick to free up some time in my day, but I can say with absolute certainty that the day I ask my daughter to log in to some website to tell me about her day is the day I’ve failed as a parent.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Shawn Cornally permalink
    September 9, 2011 12:02 pm

    As someone who spent countless hours this summer writing an app dedicated to student-parent-teacher communication, I can tell that I’m sickened by the simplicity of this.

  2. September 9, 2011 12:04 pm

    Can’t recall who said it but I love the quote that “time is the nectar of care” and I agree with John that “virtual time” simply doesn’t cut it.

  3. September 9, 2011 12:47 pm

    Man, yuck. Double-yuck. But….should we really be surprised by this? Everything in our education culture today is about how excellent technology is, how Web 2.0 is going to change teaching, about how valuable 21st century communications skills are. To me, this is just a logical outgrowth of things like PowerSchool and other such “district-parent” communications technologies.

  4. Ashley Haddock permalink
    September 10, 2011 3:15 pm

    This scares me. In my short experience with parent teacher communications, I have noticed a continuing theme of keeping parents out of the loop. This just seems it would exacerbate that problem. For a healthy relationship to stay intact between parents and children, trust must exist, and for trust to exist families must be able to talk about these difficult subjects. While this site may help expose any issues a student may be having in school that they would otherwise be embarrassed or afraid to admit to their parents, children do not need to get used to the comfort of hiding behind a computer screen and avoiding face to face interactions. I fear this would not only diminish relationships adults have with their children, but also counteract any confidence these kids may have developed to stand up and take responsibility for their actions. Surely school systems are not promoting the use of this site?

  5. September 10, 2011 8:21 pm

    WOW! Thank you for showing this and for your excellent commentary. The line that most resonates with me is, “you’re valuing shallow, transitory and meaningless data over real, authentic and deep engagement.” This is really what’s happening, isn’t it? It’s happening all over education with standardized tests and how this company/group of indiciduatls wants the concept of data to take over their parenting.

    BTW – I loved (ya right) the part where the daughter is talking to the dad and he is dozing off. Hmmm…. that said a lot. What a creep! Your daughter is talking your ear off because she needs you to listen to her, and you are falling asleep? wow…

    I do think parents should know what goes on in their child’s virtual world. See what they post on Twitter and FB, watch their use of the computer, etc, but to use technology in this way to simply see how their day went – gross! We humans NEED contact and for heaven’s sake, our children need the physical, emotional and verbal contact of their parents.

    • September 12, 2011 8:55 am

      The stereotype about the Dad dozing off while the daughter talking is terrible, and I can’t believe I left that out. I do think we have this strong sense that somehow we’re “overloaded” with information, and everything would be better if we could just boil everything down to a few easily digestible metrics, and I think you see the damage that is doing to education, the financial industry and just about every other organization that seems to prize ratings and rankings over slower, more holistic measures of progress and growth that readily acknowledge their incompleteness.

      And I’m totally with you that students and parents should be plugged into each other’s digital lives, but I don’t think they need to fill out web forms to each other to let them know about this. Why not just sit down with your child and have them explain something cool on their facebook page to you?

  6. Anna Moore permalink
    September 10, 2011 11:21 pm

    How about this for a teacher-parent interaction instead. (By the way, this is NOT made up). My 9-year-old had a gymnastics competition today. We sit (for hours) on tiny, hard, over-crowded wooden bleachers in a gym where we crane our necks to try and see our child compete on all 4 events. We’ve all spent a good deal of time that morning gelling and spraying hair into immovable buns that are now covered in spray-glitter to match the sparkles on the leotards. It’s all very cute and very wonderful and involved many rituals of parenthood/ childhood that serve to form lasting memories. Here’s the twist: My daughter’s teacher came to this event. She came to watch one child. She came because she knew that one child would be overjoyed at that effort by her teacher. She knew full well that her 4th grade student would have no idea of the sacrifice of time and effort this “field trip” would cost her teacher. But, this amazing teacher knew it would matter to my daughter to have her teacher see her doing something she loved and spent hours working on each week. This teacher, over the course of this school year, will go watch one out of school event for every child she teaches. And, she and I sat together on the bleachers. We did not talk about my child’s grades or her need to retake a geography assessment. We talked about sports, food, our memories of teachers, the amazing things she’s watched her students do over the years, how hard my daughters works in gymnastics, how hard my daughter fought in her beam routine to save a split-leap that went akimbo. It was an authentic moment that strengthened a relationship in ways that will undoubtedly serve to enhance our capacity to work together this year to educate and nurture my child. Now, I’m not saying all teachers can/ must do this. I just wanted to share an example of a Bright Spot. This teacher is amazing. My daughter will never forget her. I will never forget her.

    • September 12, 2011 8:56 am

      This is awesome. I guess your daughter might rank than a 10 on the ParentWow site, which to me seem so much less satisfying.

  7. September 12, 2011 4:58 pm

    I think their best point was with the kid who was reluctant to talk about his experience. I can believe it’s easier for some kids to start talking about their feelings with really small, discreet questions. I think a handbook full of those kind of questions could be a great resource for parents – just advice about how to ask questions in a welcoming way.

    I applaud them for focusing on parent-child communication. I think I could be convinced that little ratings could add up to a significant picture, and that Parent POW could really help that communication. What I worry about is parents thinking that Parent POW is the whole solution instead of a low-level toe-grip.

    Thanks for focusing on this, John!

    • September 17, 2011 4:36 pm

      I totally agree on the handbook idea, and my limited experience in the world of parenting books tells me that there are a lot of great resources our there. I think you’re exactly right that parents might be tempted to view this as a complete solution (thank in no small part to ParentPOW’s videos which seem to overprimse quite a bit), but there is some value in ParentPOW opening up the discussion about the value of parent child communications (though again, I’m saddened to think this is a point that needs to be made).

      • Agnes permalink
        September 21, 2011 8:42 pm

        I see the designers (and business) of Parent POW looking for the market niche of:

        1) The parent away on business with no time to call home. How nice! To have a ‘conversation’ with your kids you do not need to be there! (These kinds of parents already feel guilty about not being there, and marketers will try to sell them anything to assuage their guilt.)

        2) The parent who loves graphs and charts and wants to think they mean something.

        3) The parent who is intimidated by AYP’s, CRCT’s, and feels alienated by countless other graph and charts coming from their kids’ school. Parent POW graphs and charts as a way to ‘get back’ at the system.

        • September 26, 2011 7:08 am

          All three of these are pretty sad niches to be taking advantage of. It would be nice to seem them focus instead on how to develop a meaningful relationship with your kids and get past the useless stereotypes about kids, families and teachers they are peddling.

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