Parenting and education collide

By Reade Brower | Sep 04, 2014

“Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire.” — William Butler, writer, (1865-1935)

Joe Gauld has devoted his career to education and, in addition to founding a school that is predicated on effort over achievement with integrity at its’ foundation, Joe has a simple premise that he will share in his column that appears in this week’s paper. [See Story ID 1232690]

He writes; “in character development, parents are the primary teacher and the home is the primary classroom." Joe believes that this is the cornerstone necessary if American schools are to ever return to leading the world in education.

In a society that values achievement, over most everything else; creating a system that honors attitude ahead of aptitude is problematic and must start with a cultural shift.

Parents have it tough; if we get too involved in our children’s lives, we are butting in or called hovering helicopter parents. If we don’t involve ourselves, we are labeled as uncaring and part of the problem.

Isn’t there a middle ground? Allowing our children to learn is allowing them to fight their own battles. However, when they look to us for guidance or for help, if we are there for them and show them the way, we are teaching them, not doing for them.

And the major point I keep close from Joe’s philosophy is that parents are the primary model for our children. It is not what we say or tell them, it is what we do and how we act that affects them, and hopefully motivates them.

In Joe’s mind, parent involvement is a must. At his school, parents must attend monthly regional meetings with other parents and with a facilitator who leads the discussions. Parents must do their own personal work and take hold of their own issues; letting the child figure things out themselves is honored best when they see their parents working through their own issues and dysfunctions rather than trying to control theirs. When we blame our children, the mirror image can be blinding, if one is willing to look at it.

We can all understand that we inspire our children when they see us struggle; they look for us for strength, but when they see us struggling and vulnerable, they realize that we are human and we don’t have all the answers. It then becomes more about relating to them, coming from a place of personal experiences, rather than telling them what to do.

The most important piece I learned from Joe in the years I’ve known him is that my children do not listen to me, they watch me, and they create their moral fiber by the actions of me and my wife. It is not what we tell them, it is what we do.

I can tell them to be honest in a consistent manner; then after 13 years of this, we go to the movie theater and they see me tell the ticket taker “one adult and one child," when the sign clearly states child as 12 and under, and all that work, or should I say “talk," is down the drain. If you want to teach them that honesty is elective or selective, you’re on the right track. Otherwise, you’ve shown, by your actions, that it is OK to lie when it suits you and your pocketbook, or when you don’t think you’ll get caught, or when it is “no big deal."

In another example, when your child sees you scared, walking the ropes course that they just practically sprinted across and they tell you; “dad, it’s OK, you can do it," and you do, it inspires them to face fears, to accept that you don’t have to be the best at everything you try, and teaches them that being human is to be fallible and humble.

When you tell your children to be kind and then you talk, behind your neighbor’s back, about your neighbor and how he acts like an in-bred and a redneck, you are modeling a behavior. So later, when you hear your child talking meanly or bullying another classmate, the reason should be clear; it is not the child creating the mindset, rather it is the parent that paved the path.

In our public school system, parent involvement is not mandatory and, except for a few parents who often are “over-involved," parents expect that it is the teachers and administrator’s jobs to teach our children. The difference between teaching and guiding is lost, and though teachers can be mentors, they do not have the same influence as parents.

The school Joe Gauld founded, The Hyde School in Bath, operates differently than most public and private schools in their approach and in their parent meetings, parent retreats, and parent/student FLC (Family Learning Center) weekends.

Part of the Hyde ritual is that all kids have to sing a song in front of the student and faculty body when they first arrive. For most students this is a daunting and scary proposition. They are expected to do it, and they do. For the parents, the FLC weekend brings a similar challenge. Parents are expected to pick a song, memorize the words, like their student did, and perform it in front of the other students and parents in their group before the end of the weekend retreat.

When a parent resists these interactions and refuses involvement, it becomes clear to Joe and his team at Hyde that the child is a product of their environment; if the parent “won’t sing” why should they expect that their child will?

“It doesn’t fall far from the tree” is usually closer to the truth than not, so when you see a troubled child struggling with substances, lying, or any other issues, don’t look to the parents for the answer, look at them for some of the reasons. This is not about blame, it is about working with your child, and the school, to create a better adult.

Challenge of the week:

Remember, character is what you do when nobody is watching. Remember, your children are always aware of who you are and what you do, not what you say.

Apology of the week:

And, speaking of character, brussel sprouts are good. In last week’s column, I did not mean to imply anything negative, or impinge on their character or value to the vegetable lover readers. Sorry.

Onward. Turn the page. Go to school!

Reade Brower can be reached at:

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