I have never visited a hot dog factory, but I have been warned against it by people who refuse to eat hot dogs afterwards.  Apparently, lots of stuff can go into a hot dog, and none of it looks like something you would slap on the grill, so the input does not match the output. I rarely buy hot dogs because I ate too many in college. (Seriously, the cheap ones were sometimes four packages for a dollar!) Nevertheless, toss a few on the grill, and I still find them hard to resist.  Something about animal lips and mustard!

Come to think of it, schools are like hot dog factories because the tiny tots that entered Pre-K do not always resemble the graduates we produce, but there is a clear difference between hot dog factories and schools. It is a matter of input and output.  Factories have full control of whatever enters and exits the manufacturing process, but schools can never exercise complete control over input or output, for those are ultimately parental rights.  Parents have the right to know everything introduced into their children’s education, and they also have the right to everything their child produces during that education. No individual parent can unilaterally decide policy, curriculum, or library books for everyone, but when it comes to your child, you have the ultimate right of input and output.  

Regarding input, nothing should ever be taught, introduced, or presented to school children without parental access to the information, parental knowledge, or parental assent.  Parents rarely demand to preview everything, because they are busy, but everything should be available if they ever ask for it.  And above all, parents should always be notified beforehand if something is potentially controversial, sensitive, or age inappropriate – to ensure parents can opt out their children for religious, moral, or cultural reasons. 

Likewise, parents always deserve full disclosure regarding the output. Anything a child says, produces, or discloses in a school must be provided, available, or accessible to the parents. This includes not only classwork but also potentially harmful or sensitive issues, so parents can be involved in the solution. One of the biggest mistakes an educator can make is withholding sensitive information from a parent, even if the motive is good. Parents have a right to know information about their children that is uncovered in school, even if it is unpleasant or difficult to discuss.

Of course, in extreme cases involving the safety of the child, parents may be temporarily excluded from input and/or output, but this is the exception and not the norm, and it involves the appropriate authorities. Normally, all parents deserve full access and disclosure to both input and output related to their children. When this happens, schools run well, and parental rights are upheld and respected. Parents and educators trust each other. Furthermore, when parents have access to all input and output, they can make the best educational decisions for their children, based on factors that only a parent can know. Thankfully, most parents and educators understand this partnership, despite what you may see in the news.  

Making hotdogs and making graduates are both messy processes, but unlike hotdog factories, schools do not fully control the manufacture of their future graduates.  Our “hot dogs” also enter the factory cuter than when they exit, so I suppose schools are backwards hotdog factories.  They enter as bubbly cuties and exit as moody teenagers!  

Another big difference: our factories are open for inspection by parents. You really should see your hot dogs being made, every darn step. You will not always like or agree with everything in your local school, but when it comes to your children, you can expect full disclosure about the input and the output.  It is a fundamental parental right, and if schools ever forget that, we have lost our way.  On the other hand, if you start demanding to know what’s in your hot dogs . . . well, you’re just asking for trouble.  Sometimes, ignorance (or mustard) is bliss.  

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com