I advise incoming freshmen at Dartmouth each year, and one of the first things I ask them is whether they are now children or adults.  Typically, half answer adults, and half answer children.  I tell them that every faculty member at Dartmouth now considers you an adult, so you’d better start acting like one in everything you do.

Too bad many of their parents don’t do the same!  Every Dartmouth faculty member could recount for you numerous incidents of parents calling them to complain about Johnny’s grade in their class, or Susie’s need to have outlandish accommodations for her work.  Let me recount for you just two interactions with these types of parents that I’ve had.

Last year, I received an e-mail from the parents of one of my students.  The student had taken a couple of my courses, she had chosen me as her major advisor, and I was the departmental faculty advisor for her Honor’s thesis (for which she received High Honors).  So I was fully engaged and committed to this person’s education.

A few days before the e-mail arrived, the student had come to me to say that the last class she needed for her major to graduate (she was a senior at this time) had been cancelled, and she needed to find one more course to complete her major.  We talked for 20 minutes about various options, and settled on a physiology course, which was ideal for her line of study.  We agreed, I revised her paperwork for graduation to substitute this course, and she was all set.

Then the e-mail arrived.  The e-mail’s To: field was addressed to the Dean of Faculty, cc’ed to me, and the text of the e-mail was a letter written from the parents to their child.  The letter said that I was out to destroy the student’s life by forcing her to take yet another class with a B median, which would further degrade her GPA.  

These parents had already written the deans to have other members of my department reprimanded (i.e., fired?) because they had not chosen the student to participate that year in our Foreign Study program.  Admission to this program is very competitive, because so many students want to take classes in the jungles of Costa Rica, and most students are not admitted the first year they apply.  The student got in the next year, based on her own merits.

The other story I will recount is from some years ago when I was the Chair of the Biological Sciences Department.  As frequently happens, the parents of a student who failed a biology class called the Chair (i.e., me in this case) to have the grade changed.  In this case, the student had failed our introductory course in Cell Biology, a course that all Pre-Health students take because of the MCAT exam.  I politely told them that I couldn’t change the grade, but I would talk to the student.   So I asked the student to come see me.  

He came to my office, and we talked.  I started the conversation by asking him what his problems were with the material in the course.  He immediately told me that he flunked the course on purpose.  He said that he had been told by his parents all his life that he was going to medical school.  He figured that if he flunked introductory cell biology, his parents would then give up the pressure for him to go to medical school.  He wanted to be an English major and become a poet.  I told him that’s what he should do, but he really needed to have a very serious conversation with his parents.

As you might imagine, this is also another incentive pressure on faculty causing grades to be inflated.

Parents – education is not a system for you to manipulate to your offspring’s advantage.  In fact, the more you do these kinds of things, the more infantile you make your offspring, and the poorer the education they will receive.  Moreover, what are you teaching your offspring by doing such things?  

By the time they reach colleges and universities, the people in our classrooms are adults and should be treated as such by everyone at those institutions AND by their parents. Education is something your offspring must engage with fully and take responsibility for fully themselves. So demand great things from your offspring.  Also, demand responsibility and integrity from your offspring, and show some responsibility and integrity yourselves.