Joe Biden’s Idea of Why Parents Don’t Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences Is Way Off

Right now, former Vice President Joe Biden has a very strong lead in national polls among Black voters, and is holding on tight to his front-runner status before the Democratic presidential primaries begin. I am not here to sway anyone one way or another on that front, I assure you. I am merely here to give you a parenting perspective on the man’s words about poor, Black parents. Specifically, I’m pretty pissed off about what Biden said to the New York Times editorial board in an interview this week.

In getting Biden to clarify his position on reparations for Black Americans, the board reminded him of his awkward reply at the Democratic debate in September when he said parents needed to have “the record player on.” At the time, it sure seemed like he was putting the blame for poverty and poor educational outcomes on parental neglect, not systemic racism. This time, given the chance to correct himself, he may have dug the hole even deeper.

“[T]he people who don’t show up on the nights when there’s a parent-teacher meeting are not people who in fact don’t care, but folks from poor backgrounds,” he said, citing wife Jill, a teacher, as his source. “They don’t show up because they’re embarrassed. They’re embarrassed the teacher’s going to say — and it’s hard to say, ‘Well, I can’t read’…”

Is that really why parents don’t show up to parent-teacher meetings? At my son’s school, those meetings happen on one specific day, within just a few specific hours. If you’ve got to be at work during those hours, or if you’re a single parent and can’t find childcare, your only choice is to make an appointment for a separate time. Even making a separate appointment might still mean more time off work or a need for childcare. I’m sure many overextended parents struggling to make ends meet and working multiple jobs to do so might wind up putting that 10-minute meeting low on their priority list.

The Times’ Jesse Wegman pointed that out, too, suggesting, “Or they’re working a second job, right?”

“Well, that’s true, but there’s also a good deal of it, and check with the educators, there’s a good deal is they just don’t know what to say many of them,” Biden said. “A lot has to do with, you know, we underestimate, I think, across the board, the degree of pride people have, their pride. They just want to be treated with some dignity.”

So, pride is the real problem? Really?

This is the second time this week Biden tried to seem in touch with working parents’ issues and fell just a little short. During Tuesday’s debate, he talked about how he had to rely on his family for childcare when he became a U.S. senator just after his wife and daughter died. He said he couldn’t afford other options on his salary of $42,000 a year.

That sounded like such a relatable story until fact-checkers looked at the data and reported that in 1972, $42,000 was the equivalent of $256,000 today. What a relief that senators are not members of the working poor.

Biden has a lot of progressive proposals that would help families do more than just survive. If the time comes that he got to make those plans into actual legislation, let’s hope he has a few people with current, relevant experience to give him a better perspective.

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