Parents are children’s most important teachers, home the best classroom
For the Appeal
While Dan Mooney and I would probably have some difficulty reaching consensus on many social issues, I did appreciate his column concerning moving the perception of who is responsible for the education of our children from the school to the family.
However well made his point, I think there is more to be said concerning why and how we prepare our families for this most fundamental responsibility.
It is most evident: We are in a crisis. The public is rapidly awakening to the fact that their most precious assets – their children – are not receiving the education they need or deserve. And further, their cherished institutions, especially public education, are not able to solve the problem.
Teaching children in school is clearly not enough. The evidence is on the streets in shattered innocent lives. We have been lulled into some vague sense of confidence that sending a child to school is the equivalent of providing him or her with the tools to have a successful life.
It’s not that our schools and teachers are doing a poor job. In fact, they work wonders in their limited environment. It’s that with our almost ancestral faith in the totem powers of schooling, we too often attribute exaggerated value to educational institutions and programs rather than to the people for whom they were designed.
It is not possible to simply put children into school and expect them, like biscuits from the oven, to come out done. Education does not happen in the school, it happens in the child. The people who can best nourish a child’s self image are not teachers, but parents. If there is a failing in education, it’s our fault as parents and our responsibility to correct it.
We, as parents, are the child’s most potent teachers. We provide the all-important environment. Good manners, good language, love of good books and music, life’s ideals, the framework of a healthy self concept – in fact, the whole outlook on the world is developed largely in the home. And so, of course, are dislikes, prejudices and weaknesses.
If the home did not exist, the wise educator might well seek to create a similar small group in which meaningful, one-to-one relationships might take place. It would be impossible to create a more intimate arrangement than is provided in the 24 hours of normal daily family life.
Too often, much of the teaching-learning in the home environment detracts from education for responsible living. Parents are so ill prepared and little supported in this educational function.
We, as parents, are teaching constantly by what we are and do. We provide the moral climate – or lack of it. Our children learn trust or distrust, love or hate from us.
Example is most powerful. We cannot impatiently teach patience. We cannot with faltering uncertainty teach truth. We cannot anxiously and fearfully teach courage. We cannot in bitterness and strife teach love. We cannot teach a healthy lifestyle if we cannot live one ourselves.
Education programs in this country are just now beginning to take into consideration the decisive role that the family plays for good or for ill in the nature of children. The time has come for a new interest on the part of all of us in building a sound education program for the future to deal with this factor.
We must have a clear concept of the place of the family in the teaching process. This means that involving the family will not be an afterthought or an accidental part of school activity. This is not about having a well-attended PTA meeting. Instead, it will form the foundation of the educational triangle. The enrollment of a pupil in school should carry with it the acceptance on the part of us, as parents, of an obligation to carry forward a home program as intensive, if not more so, than our child encounters in the school.
We begin by giving greater resources to the parents and adults in our communities and then entrusting ourselves, as such, with the task of giving our children those experiences by which they grow up into responsible participants.
We owe a tribute to our schools and teachers despite the crisis. The explosion of adverse challenges in our communities, the frequency with which they approach our children, makes it impossible for us, as parents, to counter every negative impact in a child’s life. The quantity of things to be learned is immense and much of it calls for formal, structured learning experiences. Yet, as far as nurture and building the all-important self-concepts necessary to live healthy productive lives are concerned, homes are still the launching pads. They set the vital machinery into motion.
The home must be made part of the school. Classes, courses and capable teachers must be offered not only in our secondary schools to future parents but on a regular basis as part of an extended curriculum for all adults.
We need to be and can be involved. An investment of time and effort in our own training will pay off.
Every school administrator and teacher needs to ask: How often and how meaningful are we communicating to family groups? How deeply are the parents really involved in some kind of educational opportunity themselves? Are we offering creative ways to involve parents in all aspects of a child’s education?
A return to such basics is a great task for Nevada’s education system seemingly so far removed from its roots in family education. Yet teachers who learn to work with parents and not merely for parents will labor with greater satisfaction. And parents who choose to see themselves as the “system,” and not merely a part of it, will surely arrest this state’s slide into the abyss a poorly educated population.
Today, in the Nevada Legislature, there is being waged a debate on whether we should, and have the resources to, offer full-day kindergarten classes to our children statewide. Of course we should, and must find the resources to do so.
And when we do, let’s break with tradition and find a way to see that as the beginning of new ways to involve the true teachers in those children’s lives, their parents.
• Roger Volker, of Carson City, is a lecturer and consultant and former chairman of the Nevada Maternal and Child Health Advisory Board.