Friday, January 21, 2022

Feeding the Falsehood


I am tired of people arguing about babysitting. 

Yesterday the school system made a decision about the weather and the weather didn’t pan out. It happens. It’s inconvenient. I worry less about affluent parents and more about the hardship for kids who may not eat. Believe me, the folks who make these decisions know. 

But it galls me to see the old argument arise yet again when frustrated teachers respond with the angry, “parents just think of us as babysitters.” 

Why does it gall me? Let me tell you.

Babysitting is when Mom and Dad or other primary caregiver want to go out to the movies or whatever and hire what is essentially a casual employee at an hourly rate, probably in cash. 

What parents struggle with on an unexpected day off from school is not a lack of babysitting. It’s childcare.

Childcare should not be a dirty word. But we treat it like it is. From even the earliest age levels, I see parents and teachers say, “Oh, I wouldn’t want that,” or, “I wouldn’t do that. It’s just childcare.” 

Having worked in facilities that provide care from infants on up, I can assure you that childcare is education. Every, every minute. Whether it is learning that you are safe, that your actions will bring a response, that there are adults who want to interact with you and meet your needs - - all of that is the beginning of education. Brain development and speech development don’t happen in a vacuum. 

Each developmental level builds on the one before. That doesn’t stop when a child begins their “formal education.” But our culture pits “teachers” against “caregivers” both in terms of status and pay. And, the older the level one teaches, the more respect one is accorded. 

I often wonder why that is.

Is it purely because we see the curriculum at the highschool level as being more complicated stuff, so that those jobs are more intellectually rigorous? (And therefore more valuable?) Is it because we value education more when the students are perceived to be focused on the content alone? Primary teachers get less respect than secondary, probably because of the perception that their role requires more caregiving.

This is a ridiculous distinction which, in my opinion, should be smashed into a million pieces and then burned. And, let’s face it, it probably stems from the fact that childcare was for so long considered the responsibility of mothers, which is to say: a woman who has no choice providing a valuable service for no pay whatsoever.

We are in this mess because our culture puts high expectations on requiring parents or other primary caregivers to be employed while placing a low value on children. Period. This perpetuates the desperation to find and keep good childcare while also devaluing the people who provide it. I know many good teachers who feel demoralized by a feeling that they are looked at as nothing more than free childcare. 

I am deeply sorry that they feel demoralized. I know they are good and dedicated teachers.

But the truth is that people need childcare! That is not something to feel shame about. Wanting to provide the very best care for one’s children is one of the greatest aspirations we have as parents. But American culture isn’t centered around that very basic need. We don’t value families and children. And, as long as the only lifeline we have is free K-12 education, that’s where all of parents and children's needs will be piled.

It is wrong, it is exhausting, it’s counterproductive, and it’s unsustainable. I don’t blame teachers for pushing back.

It makes me sad, though, to see such a rejection of childcare as a part of the equation. Because, the truth is, those teachers who “just want to teach” are caring for our children all the time. The elementary teacher who fosters independence in a way that helps students academically and socially. The middle school teacher who has an open door lunch policy for lonely or awkward students who have no one to sit with. The high school teacher who is the first to notice an abusive relationship and coordinates with other staff to get help. This is all childcare, because it is caring for children. 

It is not separate from, or less than. Teaching children and caring for children are extremely valuable and deeply intertwined. Our culture doesn’t honor that. That promotes this false distinction which makes everyone feel terrible and does nothing to help children. 

Let’s stop feeding the falsehood and work to fix the real problem.

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