Parent vs Principal(le): The Weekly Mentor by Oliver DeMille


The New Name for the Conveyor Belt

finger-gun_canstockphoto15677802I got excited when the next reading in my day’s pile of news clippings was from Parents magazine, but the title made the corners of my mouth turn down just a bit: “School Discipline Gone Bad.”

I almost skipped it. After all, I’ve read enough articles on how ridiculous school policies can be—often treating students and parents like numbers rather than unique individuals. But for some reason I read this one anyway.

It’s really disturbing how the phrase “Zero-Tolerance Policy” has become a euphemism for the conveyor belt. If acting like each child is just a cog only applied to discipline, I guess we could mostly live with it.

But it frequently translates to academics as well.

A Product of Our Raising

As I read, I learned about another parent sitting across the principal’s desk being lectured like a naughty six-year-old. As if the parent works for the principal. As if the parent answers to the principal, instead of exactly the opposite.

The truth is, public school officials work for the parents. Why can’t television figure this out? Why can’t principals figure this out?

But the real question is, why can’t more parents seem to grasp this reality? Maybe our own conveyor-belt experiences as youth make us turn off our adult brains when the principal calls us and revert to our school years.

The article discussed how a five-year-old was expelled for something he didn’t understand, bringing to school a mini-knife he had found in the family camping gear. His fingers weren’t even strong enough to pry open the blade. Response? Lecture the parent; expel the student.

The article detailed a number of similar cases where the so-called broken rule wasn’t even close to this bad–all with the same result. Then it ended with guidelines for parents on how to counter a school suspension (e.g. “start by engendering cooperation rather than confrontation,” all the way up to “you can get an attorney if needed”).

Show and Tell

All in all, a helpful article. And very telling. It’s an interesting world we live in. I found myself suggesting homeschooling aloud as I read the article. Two of my kids walked in and asked why I kept saying, “Homeschool!” over and over out loud. I laughed, then I shared parts of the article with them.

My son reminded me of the time he found his older brother’s pocketknife and brought it to me to show him how to use it. I taught him to carve, discussed safety rules, and we went to town and let him pick out a small, inexpensive, age-appropriate pocketknife for himself.

For the first month, he had to ask to use it, and I stayed with him to teach safety and proper usage—then he had to return it to me when he was finished.

What the Right Way Produces

My seventeen-year-old daughter laughed about being suspended. “That would be great!” she announced. “Then I could read whatever I want.”

She didn’t say it in a rebellious way. She was just really excited at the prospect of more time to read and learn.

“Does your response mean you’re too busy doing assignments for your school classes?” I asked her.

“No, not at all,” she said. “I’m just excited for summer. I’ve got a whole stack of books I’ve been putting off.” books

I looked at her, while my brain churned. She had begged us to take the classes, several from a private school, and one (a performance choir class) at the local high school.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as I furrowed my brow.

“Well, would you like me to suspend you from school for the next week, so you can read?”

We all laughed.

“No,” she responded. “I’m loving my classes, especially my writing class, debate, and choir. I’m just excited about summer.”

I nodded. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know. I’ll be happy to call your high school principal and tell him you’re suspended—any time you need more reading and learning time.”

I laughed again, and so did my son. But my daughter didn’t. She realized I was actually serious.

“Thanks, Dad,” she said, tongue firmly in cheek. “It’s really great to know you have my back on that.”

I smiled and replied, “Don’t ever let your schooling get in the way of your education.” It’s an old saying around our home, but this new twist on it hit home with both of them.

Seeing Both Sides

I knew there was more to the article, so I said: “Let me ask you both a question. Why do you think many schools have a zero-tolerance policy for weapons or drugs?” We had a good talk about it, considering various perspectives on the issue—and how both sides have some valid points. It’s important to understand both viewpoints, and it was a good discussion.

When they left, I turned back to the article, and the first thing I read was that 42 percent of suspensions in California during the 2010-11 school year (the most recent data available) were for things like refusing to take off a hat or coat when asked. “One study found that 95 percent of all out-of-school suspensions [in the U.S] were for non-violent, minor disruptions such as tardiness or disrespect.” I’m sure there’s merit in some of these, but not all of them.

Another study found that “Preschoolers often don’t understand what they’ve done wrong and aren’t yet capable of making the connection between the misbehavior and the punishment…” I finished the article and moved on, relieved to read something else.

Ironically, the next article in my pile came from the Washington Post and was titled “Feinstein: CIA searched Intelligence Committee computers”. It detailed how an executive branch agency allegedly removed documents from the Congressional committee that was investigating it.

I found myself wondering why zero-tolerance is applied so often to children in our nation’s public schools but so seldom in Washington D.C.

The Reason Why

After I wrote this article up to this point, I re-read it and had to ask myself, “So, what’s my point? This isn’t typical of the articles I write for The Weekly Mentor. Why isn’t this more uplifting? More positive? I nearly always write because I feel passionate about something. In this article, what was it?” I reviewed it again, looking for the real point.

When I read it, I knew I’d found it.

We live in a highly conveyor-belted world where many parents act like they work for the schools and school officials, and where school managers frequently do the same. This is a serious problem. If parents work for schools, we’re going to get indoctrination, not education. But if principals and teachers work for the parents, quality education is possible.

Here is how this vital principle applies to homeschoolers, and all parents, in fact: “Don’t let schooling get in the way of a great education.”

Almost all of us can do a lot better at this.

Seriously. Ask yourself how you can improve on this, in your family, with each of your children and youth. Spend some time thinking about this, and writing out your thoughts on how to improve. This will make a huge positive difference in your home and the education of everyone in your family.

To what extent is schooling—the rules, the systems, the curricula, the structures—getting in the way a truly superb education?

To be a great parent, or principal: Find out, and change it.


Welcome to our new subscribers this week! For more information on how to apply TJEd in your home or classroom, check out the TJEd Implementation course, Mentoring in the Classics >>


od crop Education and Career in the 21st Century: The Weekly Mentor, Oliver DeMille Oliver DeMille is the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd. He is the NY Times Bestselling co-author of LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through Leadership Education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

About the Author:

Rachel is the co-author of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio series Core and Love of Learning: A Recipe for Success, and the author of the award-winning educational resource, This Week in History. She is an accomplished musician, writer, literary editor, public speaker, consultant and momschool organizer.


  1. RAY March 26, 2014 at 5:10 am - Reply

    THANKS FOR THIS TIMELY ARTICLE…My wife works as a Social worker in a local elementary school….she is about the only conservative person at the school…I have read all your books and love Leadershift…And suprizingly we went to our younget sons Parent Teacher conferience and were early..along with a mother of another child and asked her a few questions getting to know her making a friend…I threw in a comment to see if she woulf bite …I asked do you sometimes wonder if the education of your child is somehow changed from the time we grew up? She just came alive in her answer I was suprised at her answer..SHE SAID THERE TEACHING OUR KIDS WHAT TO THINK ..NOT HOW TO THINK..I which I had a copy of Thomas Jefferson Education in the trunk of the car I had driven..but I didn’t ..Bad Move on my Leadershift will Make people start to think I PRAY….MUNICIPALITIES 1ST…God Bless you Oliver ..
    ray lenardson / LIFE BUSINESS

  2. Ammon Nelson March 26, 2014 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Kind of funny, I read through the Parents article before I read the rest of your post. I was thinking “Homeschool!” throughout the whole thing too. It surprises me how limited our thinking is that we seem to think that the “official” solution is the only solution.
    To me there is a key phrase that describes the problem, “I found myself wondering why zero-tolerance is applied so often to children in our nation’s public schools but so seldom in Washington D.C.”

    I also found myself wondering how I could do better at not letting my children’s schooling get in the way of their education. I know there are ways, and one of them is to treat the schooling and/or programs in which we have them enrolled, as a few of many tools in the toolbox for their real education.

  3. Mrs. W. March 26, 2014 at 11:41 am - Reply

    As always, I found this article insightful and inspiring. I read Mr. Demille’s messages in an effort to keep my own classroom “on-keel” as much as I can. (I teach a 3rd grade class in a public school). I have spent a fair amount of time trying to define what is education vs. what is schooling. So far, I have come to the conclusion that “schooling” is the discipline enforced within the classroom to enable a large body of students to exist and learn at the same time with one teacher. Education is what happens within people when they discover something new, add it to what they already knew, and apply it.

    I am really interested to see the turn that public education will take over the next 5-10 years with the implementation of the common core. The crux of the new core is to teach kids how to think (this is good!) We are being taught as teachers how to get kids thinking and discussing to figure things out instead of spoon-feeding it to them. We are also encouraging creative thinking, and accepting more than one right answer for many things. On the opposite side of this however, is the barrage of testing that schools and districts seem to deem necessary to make sure that they are “getting it”. I feel that these two things contradict each other. While we do need to see that they are progressing, I also know that the pressure inherent in testing inhibits creative thinking…So my point? Keep your eyes and ears open. We might be in for quite an education in education by watching what happens in our local education.

  4. Jennifer Bowler March 26, 2014 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Zero tolerance means zero thinking.
    Instead of working through a problem schools/government /businesses just point to the rule. Our society is moving away from looking at individuals. We just wait for people to cross a “line so we can we “throw them in the lions den”
    I great education teaches us to see the spirit of the law (as taught by Paul.) I am afraid to many of us see only the letter of the law.

  5. Ammon Nelson March 27, 2014 at 8:47 am - Reply

    I see a sort of false dichotomy forming with zero-tolerance cultures, and the tendency to revolt from them.
    It’s true that zero-tolerance means zero-thinking, but that is what is meant by the rule of law. The reason we have laws and a constitution is to ensure that no one is above the law – hence the zero-tolerance culture. From the standpoint of the institution of government this is a good thing, but it only reinforces the merit of the concept that government should stay out of the realm of education. It is (or at least should be) primarily the realm and under the purview of the parents or legal guardians to direct the educational efforts for students. Teachers, administrators are (or at lease can be and should be no more than) excellent resources to the parents in helping their children pursue an excellent education. Which is the whole problem with Common Core. It is something that is being handed down from the most distant and general level of government to something that only functions under an environment of individual freedom.

  6. Mrs. W. March 27, 2014 at 9:05 am - Reply

    Actually the government has nothing to do with the common core. It was created by a coalition of teachers. This is largely misunderstood.

  7. Ammon Nelson March 27, 2014 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I guess that all depends on what you see as “the government.” The State School Board absolutely has everything to do with Common Core. At least in Utah, they are a publicly elected government institution.

  8. Pennie Rumsey March 27, 2014 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    I have a theory I’ve been working on a paper about “Authoritarianism” and I think this just helped me clarify it more. Living your own path of education seems to really be about becoming your own authority. So much of the paradigms of the world push us to give our authority away to institution outside of the home when the real authority that we need to listen to is our Inner Voice.

    I’ll share my paper when I get it done. Thank you for all the education you inspire in my life! You may never know the difference you have made for us.

  9. Holly March 28, 2014 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    Here I have been longing for someone to share my somewhat recently aquired love of old books with (thanks to a sudden obsession with C.S. Lewis and all he loved to read), and here you have been all along! I am thrilled that you gave me homework to do in the last appendix in TJEd! Now I have a systematized way to learn, and I really miss writing papers sbout the things I enjoy learning. Thank you for providing me with a “class” to take, and for showing me how to do this whole teaching thing for our homeschool. I just started my Commonplace Book. Milton’s Comus and MacDonald’s Phantastes have been my passions lately, along with Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse. And thank you for showing me how to take the pressure off my kids, enjoy, and yet still learn.

  10. Wen March 29, 2014 at 7:55 am - Reply

    It scares me to think of the number of educators that are on board with Common Core. Common Core is ALL about government and Progressivism. The goal is cradle to grave control and what better way to create a generation of lemmings than to indoctrinate them by the masses thru the public school system. I can remember when I was a little girl that Kindergarten was optional, and it may still be, but no one felt pressured to enroll their child if they didn’t want to. You could completely skip it. When my niece started K (she is now 21) she had to attend a full day because she was “behind”. Her parents had not put her in Pre-K. We seem to feel this pressure to hand our children over at younger and younger ages. We are sold this notion that it is a positive thing and that it is best for our children. In my opinion, that is a lie. It is a ploy and it is by design. Unfortunately, too many parents take the bait.

    I am thankful for TJEd and for the opportunity to learn what it is to be truly educated. It’s hard work to go against the grain (the system), but it’s the right thing to do. I also want to say how much I appreciate those educators who work so hard to really mentor children in the classroom and who fight the battle everyday.

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