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Mitchell: Should parents be rewarded to pick up their kid’s grades?

At press conference Eugene Field school L-R are : Mayor Rahm Emanuel Walgreens C.E.O. Greg Wasson. Rahm shows 25 dollar

At a press conference at Eugene Field school, L-R are : Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Walgreens C.E.O. Greg Wasson. Rahm shows the 25 dollar gift card from Walgreens that will be available to parents who look at their child's report card.. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: December 2, 2012 2:18PM

I’m not sure why Mayor Rahm Emanuel thinks it is a good idea to give parents a $25 gift card for picking up a report card.

Maybe he is truly looking for ways, as he put it, to “incentivize” responsible parenting.

Maybe the Walgreen Co.’s $25 gift card is just that — a gift card and not a clever marketing tool to help get the pharmacy chain’s reward card into circulation.

Whatever the case may be, parents at the 70 schools targeted for this “gift” should feel insulted.

Giving parents a $25 rewards card for behaving like responsible parents is essentially bribing them to take care of their own kids.

Worse yet, if the Chicago Public Schools has to go to these lengths to get parents involved in educating their children, can you blame people for believing all the negative portrayals of minorities?

Sure there are children of all races in CPS schools, but as we are constantly reminded, public schools serve a predominantly black and brown and low-income population.

Picking up a child’s report card and participating in parent-teacher conferences is what all parents are supposed to do.

Rewarding public school parents for fulfilling their responsibilities reinforces the negative stereotypes about low-income parents.

We all know what the stereotypes are.

GOP presidential candidates have trotted them out during every presidential election since 1976, when Ronald Reagan told a New Hampshire audience the audacious story of the fraudulent “welfare queen.” The Tea Party and conservative candidates are particularly skillful at portraying Democratic social policies as handouts that benefit minorities to the detriment of working-class white Americans.

For instance, Newt Gingrich knew exactly what buttons he was pushing when he labeled President Barack Obama the “food stamp president.”

And GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was following the same script during the campaign when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of Americans are “dependent on government,” “believe that they are victims,” “believe government has the responsibility to care for them,” and “believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing.”

Even Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill), felt compelled to tell his constituents the Democratic Party wants African Americans and Hispanics to be dependent on government.

According to a mayoral spokesman, the 70 schools participating in this gift card incentive are spread across the city.

Brian Metcalf, principal of Eugene Field Elementary School, 7019 N. Ashland, where Emanuel and schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced the plan on Tuesday, said his school has a 92 percent report card pickup rate.

“For me, that is not good, because I want 100 percent,” he told me. “I am not satisfied. I think this partnership between the mayor’s office and Walgreens can help us get that 100 percent.”

But that good intent doesn’t make it right.

If a parent is too trifling to pick up a child’s report card and talk with a child’s teacher, a $25 gift card isn’t going to change the underlying social ills that are behind such neglect.

The real problem is in the homes, but no one wants to go there.

For example, Metcalf told me he doesn’t even ask parents why they didn’t show up to pick up a report card.

“We don’t ask those kinds of questions. I am not passing judgment on parents one way or another or telling people how to parent,” he said.

“I think this is a creative way by the district and mayor’s office to encourage parents to become more involved in school.”

Yet until schools can figure out how to educate the parents who are neglecting this responsibility, little will change.

Giving parents $25 to spend at the drugstore may sound like a creative idea, but what happens when the gift cards run out?

Obviously, there are times when a parent, for whatever reason, can’t pick up a report card on the designated day.

But parents who want to do the right thing find a way to make it happen.

So if CPS and Walgreens want to spread loyalty rewards, honor the mentors who show up at schools faithfully to help someone else’s child.

Or reward volunteers who guard dangerous corners to make sure children have a safe passage to school.

But please. Don’t reward parents for being parents.

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