This is likely a crude distinction, but I think there’s a real difference between high expectations and low expectations parent organizing.
Low expectations parent organizing occurs when you simply meet parents where they are at, without having much urgency about tackling systems level issues.
For example, organizes might work for parents for a few years on issues like lunch quality, bus routes, and extracurricular activities.
If organizers and parents work hard and a few year later the lunches are a little better, what’s the point if the vast majority of the kids can’t read or do math on grade level, or if the school culture fails to build students with strong values?
This feels like low expectations: working too long on these issues is implicitly saying that parents are not smart enough to tackle the most pressing issues facing their children.
High expectations parent organizing starts with the premise that families can grasp systems level issues, and that the quicker they are engaged on important issues like teacher and school quality, the better.
I’ve had the opportunity to discuss really hard educational issues with families living in deep poverty. And while it’s surely true that they start from a deficit of policy knowledge, they tend to come up to speed quickly and, most importantly, can merry policy arguments with the brutal facts that they see day in and day out when the are forced to send their children to struggling schools.
Based on my experience (and I still have a lot to learn in this area), I’d say the following are the key components of great high expectations parent organizing:
- Organizers begin with the mindset that families can grasp and advocate for systems level policy solutions.
- Organizers provide unbiased (as much as feasible) educational classes and experiences to families so that families can grapple with systems level policy issues.
- Organizers both possess and cultivate a sense of urgency – so that educational experiences start leading to powerful systems level actions.
- Family leaders fairly quickly take the reigns in terms of determining the future policy and advocacy agenda.
- Family leaders increase their operational chops so that the actions and campaigns they are less reliant on external organizers.
Ultimately, this is a two step high expectations game: first, you need to believe that families can understand systems level issues, and second, you need to believe that they can lead the charge.
I’m still trying to get smarter in this area, so I hope that the organizers who read this blog will correct errors in the comment section.