This post is about two different pink slips. If you are my age, you remember when that meant, you were fired, or that you owned your car. I am not discussing those pink slips. Rather two completely different approaches to child development. Pink slips coming home from school have become “a thing.” Who knew!? I am not sure why they chose they color pink, but it seems to be theme. Perhaps it is because bad news delivered in pink is supposed to be less condemning. I am thankful that God’s judgment will not be meted out on pink slips.
This tale of two pink slips will hopefully demonstrate different approaches to school-parent communication. While it is true that life rarely fits into tidy little scales where we can weigh one concept neatly against another, there are things we can learn from differing approaches.
Pink Slip #1
Once upon a time, a pink slip was created for a school. It’s purpose was noble. It would convey vital information to parents about their child, in order that they may be part of the development process. This way, the school and the home are operating in perfect harmony and the child is the beneficiary of this focused attention. As the pink slip grew, it began to demonstrate some surprisingly dark tendencies. When our pink slip reached maturity, it was no longer the lovely herald of tidings that it was intended to be, but rather a harbinger of doom. How did this happen you say? The explanation is actually very simple: There was darkness in its heart from the beginning.
Yes, I know, it is a little over dramatic, but I think you get the point that what looks like a good idea, can easily turn out to be a bad one if the execution is off. The pink slip in our first scenario details a list of infractions that a child may have committed throughout the day. Possible infractions include: forgetting a textbook, failure to turn in homework, a uniform infraction, etc. The pink slip I am describing (not in the picture above) is one that is distributed at a very well known, and respected school. So respected, it is emulated across the country in various manifestations. I am not criticizing the school, or even the pink slip. Rather, I am challenging the thinking behind it in the first place.
Parents I know, of children I have watched grow from infancy have been recipients of multiple pink slips a week (for one child) and most have more than one. I understand that all people make mistakes, but you probably don’t know these kids. They are a genuine blessing that I believe any parent would be proud of. Here is the first execution problem: more is less. To help understand this, consider your email. I don’t know about you, but between my work and personal email, I am receiving close to 400 email messages a day. That means I have to be very selective about what I pay attention to in order to get anything done. When you communicate this level of minutia, you have to expect that much of it will be downplayed. Why? Because it should be.
Every time the child brings one of these pink slips home, the school is forcing the parent to make a statement to their child. Verbally or not. Here is the second execution problem: the school derives its authority from the parents, not the other way around. The school is forcing the parent to either adopt its culture at home or undermine the school. Neither choice is good. If you ignore the pink slip, you are undermining the school’s authority. In other words, you are telling the child you disagree with the school. Therefore, your only option is to discuss it. If you address it, you are acknowledging their behavior was a problem. Given all of the important things to discuss with our children do we really want to spend time discussing why they neglected to wear their belt today? Or why the textbook was left on the kitchen table when they went out the door rather than in their backpack. I am not saying those things don’t matter, I am just wondering how can they possibly be important enough to receive a special note home from school.
In my opinion those execution problems really pale in comparison to the last execution problem: forcing the child to carry home their own condemnation. Many of you may have not have issues with this because “normal” kids typically don’t show symptoms of a problem with this, until they are much older. Even then, many of them will likely just laugh it off when they are older (because they will see it as silly). For those that have children with challenges, you will know right away what the issue is here. Children with challenges frequently have issues understanding the degree of an offense, but they know that pink slip means there was an offense. This means that guilt for wearing the wrong socks will feel to them the same as guilt associated with knocking down a classmate. And, we are making them carry that home. Regardless of whether you have children with challenges or not, this is a horrible idea. How does this fit with the correction cycle of teach, model, and reconcile. You may remember “wait ‘til your father gets home.” How did the rest of the day go for you? Is a child going to get anything out of the rest of their classes? Not much, I would think. So in the end, if the pink slip was effective at anything, the children missed learning so their uniforms would be neat and orderly in the future. That is completely counterproductive.
There has to be a better way. In fact there is.
Pink Slip #2
The picture to the left is an actual pink slip that PC brought home. This pink slip is what inspired this post. It was such a refreshing difference from our friends experience that it shocked me. The child is able to bring good news to their parents and it is something they are proud and happy to share. Positive mental chemistry results and learning is much more efficient and effective. What a contrast. Our little pink slip is an angel of good news again. Adults are happy. Children are happy. What could be better?
At our children’s school, the teachers are in constant communication with us. There are so many forms of communication available now, it is almost unfathomable that we would make the child carry home bad news on paper. We know before the child gets home if they had issues. In addition, as their parents, we can decide how to address it (or whether to address it). This is how to empower parents to more effectively raise their children.
If a school truly understands that it derives its authority from the parents, and not the other way around, then you can simply do this. It is a small change, but it will have profound positive fruit: let the child bring home the praise, and communicate the correction directly to the parent.
Happily Ever After
Communication with children is a complicated subject because parents are regularly dealing with issues with children. We all pray that it would be as simple as remembering to bring your things to school. However, we all also know that there is a lot more at stake than that. Real children have real life problems and our conversations with them ought to be spent helping them navigate those. If not, the alarming rate of kids that abandon the previous generation’s values will continue.
Here is on last thought on the subject. Something to ponder as an exercise if you will. Schools that want to see more of their children “own” those great values that they are trying to instill should consider what values they are actually communicating. That is the only way we will all see the happily ever after for our children.