In downtown Greensboro, Alabama

The Passive Activist #2

We Americans are living with an unprecedented absence of leadership. In the Deep South, we have lived with this void for most of our history, so we’re a little more used to it than the rest of the nation— but that doesn’t make it OK. As we try to make sense of Congressional deadlock, soaring national debt, secular/religious strife, rogue policy actions by state legislatures, mistrust of the police, declines in public education funding, exorbitant college costs, internet predators and trolls, crumbling labor unions, global warming, and TV shows like “The Voice,” the Passive Activist series offers ideas for how ordinary people can create and implement positive change in our own lives. Movements are made up of people.

#2. Join a parent-teacher organization.

A school is a community institution that centers on cultivating our most precious resource: children. Schools can’t educate children alone, and whether they’re paying taxes or tuition or both, parents have a role to play beyond simply opening their wallets from time to time to buy cookie dough.

The Catholic Church emphasizes this central idea: the parents are the primary educators. This inarguable and inviolable concept is the basis of all parent-teacher organizations. Children may learn their three Rs at school, but at home, they learn their values. Thus, for a school to be able to educate the children, parents must instill the sense that schools have value, that teachers are worthy of respect, and that learning is important.

One way to do that is by joining (or starting) a PTA, PTO, PTSA, PTC— call it what you will. The PTA (Parent Teacher Association) is the largest organization of its kind, but they aren’t the only option for parents who want to organize in support of their school. The PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) offers another option. Some schools add the S for Student, creating a PTSA, while others have independent groups – call it a Parent Teacher Council, maybe – which may not be affiliated with any national organization.

Participating in these supportive groups is often not very cumbersome. Membership fees are usually under $10 per member per school year, and general meetings are often held only once per month. Certainly, some members who choose leadership positions may have more duties, but those are choices that individuals can make for themselves.

In addition to the benefit of showing the school’s children that the adults are actively involved, a parent-teacher organization can be used very effectively for fundraising, of course, or for advocacy behind the scenes. When school funding is cut or staff is reduced, what better group to contact legislators or school board members than a parent-teacher organization?

Whether the community being served by the school is geographic, as in a zoned school, or socioeconomic, as in a private school, that community can only be enhanced by having its parents and teachers organized.

Moreover, if you’re a “what’s in it for me?” kind of person: national groups often have member benefits, like discounts at certain stores or businesses.

A person can typically join a parent-teacher organization for a year for about the cost of one fast-food combo meal, and could attend every meeting by showing up on fewer than nine evenings a year. That’s not asking much to gain more knowledge of what is going on at your child’s school and to know that you’re making an effort to ensure quality there.