Parents Are Failing their Child’s Education

I was able to retire at a pretty young age. Shortly thereafter I undertook substitute teaching. At one point or another I worked all grades, kindergarten through 8th grade. In those positions I got an up close and personal look into what is expected of today’s youth and how they are meeting those expectations.

Certain things have not changed since I was in the public-school system. Those students with a high degree of intelligence do well regardless of the situation into which they are thrown. That is a qualified “do well” however. The qualification is that if there is something at home which is very negative or if they have undergone a traumatic experience. Such students will need more and specialized attention. I will go into that a little bit later.

I believe that all students, regardless of capacity, have expectations thrown upon them which far exceed those of my generation and for a number of generations following. Towards the end of my educational experience in the public system I remember that “new math” was being introduced. That, of course, is a misnomer because there is no such thing. Math, regardless of what name you put upon it, in essence has not changed much in 100 years. Certain portions of advanced, college level, math have been introduced such as theoretical math. But for our public-school kids, such things do not and should not apply.

I have worked in four different school systems in the near-in Boston suburbs. One thing that was a constant across these systems was the amount of parental responsibility. This most important part of the educational system is greatly lacking if not entirely missing from the student’s education. How much a parent involves himself in their child’s educational experience greatly influences that child’s ability to succeed. Most importantly, the parent must set boundaries, discipline and structure for their child. A rebellious child is most likely looking for attention. When these things are not in the child’s home life, they end up in the lap of the schools, and in particular, the student’s teacher. These students frequent present a disruptive influence in the classroom which requires extra attention from the teacher. This, in turn, impacts the other 20 to 25, or more, students in the classroom. Then there is the student who consistently fails to do his homework. This again goes back to the parent who does not participate in their child’s education by failing to ensure that all homework in completely done.

When I was young, that information that was not given me in the schools, came to me via television, newspapers, magazines or my friends. The advent of social media on devices like computers and cell phones have given the young person an unprecedented access to the world. Some of the things these children have access to may not be healthy for them. This is a point at which society today struggles to differentiate what our children should see from what they should not. The cell phone, in particular, has become a device too often used to bully other children. And this is where parents fail most frequently. I have had many experiences in the school system where a parent is called in to talk about how his child misbehaves and is a bully. The parent, however, will not accept what is being offered and declares that his child is not a bully. One factor in their making such a decision is that they do not fully understand what a bully is.

When I was in elementary school, one of the ways we boys settled disputes was through wrestling on the playground. Fist fights were extremely rare and even then, they were forbidden. But somewhere along the way it was decided that no child should touch another child for any reason. We also played flag football which more often than not turned into tackling from behind. I do not remember any of us ever getting hurt but when we returned to the classroom a lot of our extra energy had been expended. But today’s overly protective atmosphere does not allow for this.

Today’s students are being taught concepts, particularly in math, which were usually not introduced until high school when I was in school. While I can see the benefit of an earlier introduction, it is sometimes put-upon children who are too young to understand these concepts and so they fail.

These educators, who I suspect all reside in college academics, have built a model that does not allow for the greatest chance of success at a particular grade level. Students fall behind and fail because this teaching model has failed to introduce the student to certain fundamental aspects of education. First, and foremost, students are not taught how to study. And by this I meant, at some point, possibly the third or fourth grade, a full year class in who to read effectively, how to study effectively and how to write effectively, be taught. Students are taught how to read and write, but that knowledge is never intertwined with how to study.

Finally, it is my belief that all school systems be required to have a state certified social worker at each school. The social worker would not be answerable to the school’s principal, but to the city’s mayor or town’s manager. Their being independent from the school system, and that being understood by all students, might greatly help students who are struggling with bullying, bad home life and trauma. Such a person could easily have a great effect, a positive effect, on a student’s success.

In recent years school systems have come under fire for failing their students. To some degree this is certainly true. But to a much greater degree it is the parents and state education administrators who are actually failing our students. This can all be resolved via parental involvement in a school system’s doctrine. Through Parent Teacher Organizations, parents can take control of how their child are taught and what they do in the schools. Communities must come together with educators. They must look closely at the students who are failing or those who are underachieving and find a course that will address those students’ needs.

It is not our schools that are failing us, it is we who are failing our schools.


Looking For True Happiness? Take Care of Your Shortcomings

I have found that one of the best and most keep-able New Year’s resolutions, or any other sort of resolution, is to promise myself that I will identify and deal with all my shortcomings. It was a little less than 20 years ago that someone suggested I do just that so that I could be happier and feel freer. But he suggested I use the “seven deadly sins” (wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony, I had to look these up) as the basis for this discovery. I have to admit that once I saw what those sins are, I was skeptical, to say the least.  I thought some were actually desirable or that I was just not willing to relieve myself of them; they were comfortable and seemed necessary. But then it came to me, those “sins” are meant to be a starting point and to consider them only in their excess. That is, if I were lazy, sloth, was I being so lazy that it was detrimental to me in one way or another. Or if I over ate, gluttony, am I doing so in a way that endangers my health. When looked upon that way, it made more sense.

But then I had to do a self-inventory. In this it was suggested that I start at two points, fear and resentment. As I blogged about earlier, resentment is when I drink the poison I wish someone to fall ill from. Most resentments are between two people but a resentment can exist between a person and an organization. The latter is much easier to deal with so I will take it first.

A guy gets fired from his job. He complains that he was unfairly dealt with, that he was treated poorly by his boss, and that he was not appreciated. A good friend asks him a series of questions: How often were you late for work? How often were you out sick when in fact you were just looking for a day off? Did you always complete your assigned work on time, completely, and to your boss’s satisfaction? The guy honestly reflects upon those questions and finds that he was guilty on all counts. And then the friend asks if he had been the boss would he have fired himself. The guy realizes the answer is “yes” and suddenly the resentment vanishes.

Now I will deal with the tougher of the two, the resentment of one person towards another. This is particularly important when it concerns two family members. The worst are resentments children hold towards their parents. There are some exceptions to this, e.g. the father deserts the family and the children are resentful. This is one place where a parent richly deserves the resentment. Resentment in such cases are entirely understandable, however, the resentment still only hurts the person holding the resentment. Resentments are always poisonous for the person holding it. The person holding onto the resentment is not allowing for his other feelings to surface, a healthy reaction. Having experienced the feelings he can move on to resolutions that will allow him to go on with life without the resentment. He can also feel free to consider the reasons the parent deserted the family. I suggest cowardice as a good one. You label the person a coward, you feel sorry for them, and then you move on. You are not excusing the person from their misdeeds but are simply defining them as best you can. Comfort can be found in reason.

Sibling rivalries are so common that for such a thing to not exist is probably an exception to the extreme. One of the most common complaints and basis for resentment is the old “mom always liked you best.” But even in cases where that is true, to what end does it help to hold a resentment towards your sibling? It is common for the eldest to feel displaced by the youngest. I know that for fact being the oldest of three. But there came a time when I had to look at my parents as human beings and detach their parental status. I needed to consider their shortcomings as best I could fathom them. In doing so I quickly gained a better understanding for both my parents and realized that so much of parenting is trial and error. My father died at a young age so I don’t have a lot to draw on from him but my mother lived 89 years. As time passed I think I understood her well, understood those actions of hers I felt resentful towards, and in the end found I was basically an idiot for not having done this at a much younger age. My parents were exceedingly good people doing an exceedingly tough job, trying to raise me. I was a handful to say the least. My parents always did their level best but being human failure on occasion was inevitable. They are not to be faulted for those failing, just understood and where needed, forgiven. The central question to their relationships with me was, did they love me? The answer is a resounding yes and that being true, I need to be satisfied.

All this introspection brought me to a conclusion about all of humanity: fear is the most pervasive feeling all humans have and the most difficult with which to deal. And a large portion of the human race does a poor job in dealing with fear. But fear is the one shortcoming that also owns a necessary place in our existence. But fear holds a special place because of its dual status. Fear is that extremely basic thing within all of humanity that was responsible for our survival from the earliest of days. It kept the human race alive back in its infancy and it keeps us alive today. No soldier who has ever been on the battlefield was devoid of fear. Even those who receive medals and are revered for their bravery will admit that they had a healthy amount of fear going in. Fear puts the body on alert that it is in danger and that a defense may be necessary. Fear heightens all our senses. That is the good fear. That is the type of fear that we not only cannot overcome but which we do not want to overcome.

But even that type of fear, that primal instinct of self-preservation and all others, come from a person’s lack of knowledge when faced with situations that require an action of them. We fear judgement. We fear being wrong. We fear rejection. We fear heights. And when we look at ourselves long and hard, we find that we all have a rather long shopping list of fears. Those fears range from the easy to deal with to the impossible to deal with.

One of the more common fears is that of being judged, particularly when that judgement comes from a person with whom we have a personal relationship. This is a tough one because it is human nature to desire to always been seen in a favorable light. This fear, however, can lead us to another character defect, honesty. People will say they were less than honest to save a person’s feelings. You are not responsible for another person’s feelings! If being honest means hurting a person’s feelings it may be better that way. But if it is one of those rare occasions where hurting the person’s feelings achieves nothing, then be judicious with your words but keep each word fully honest. You might find it wise to respond by saying “I need to think about that” or words to that effect. All of us are confronted with questions everyday but not every questions needs to be answered an instant later. Many question needed to be considered at some length before being answered. Most of the time saying “allow me to think about that for a minute” should suffice. Sometimes you will need to think longer. Regardless, engage your mind before engaging your mouth.

But there is one thing which is absolutely necessary. You must talk about your fears with someone you trust, if not a therapist. Many times a fear that is bouncing around in our heads loses all its power when shared with another person. Just our saying the very words “this scares me” frequently reduces the level of fear if not eliminating it entirely. I can say with absolute certainty that regardless of what scares you that exact same fear is shared by others and may actually be very common. One of the best things which can happen with sharing a fear with another person, is that person validates our fear by admitting they share the very same fear. Another frequent result of admitting a fear is finding a resolution to that fear in the process.

I have already touched upon honesty but it deserves further discussion. I have adopted a principle of absolute honesty even to my own detriment. That simply means that when someone asks a question of me, particularly a question which will require me to reveal a part of me of which I am not proud, I will give a fully honest answer. The only qualification to that is that the person asking the question has a right to the knowledge I hold. My wife has a right to ask absolutely any question she wants and I in return have an obligation to answer her honestly. But my sister, parents, other relatives, and friends do not have a right to access that information. What I cannot do is lie instead of telling them it is none of their business.

I have some young friends who have decided to not drink anymore and they struggle with how to deal with friends who use peer pressure to get them to drink. I tell them when asked why they are not drinking to reply that they simply do not want to. And if that person persists even after having asked twice, I suggest that they ask the person questioning them, “why it is so important to you that I drink?” This is shifting the burden in place of lying or of revealing a part of themselves they consider private. You are questioning their motives.

At this point I need to bring up the principle of “owning your own crap.” Everyone screws up, some of us more frequently than we care to admit, and yet it is still true. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is “I wasn’t caught.” Yes you were! It does not matter that no one else saw your indiscretion, you saw it, you know about it and you need to own it. The principle here is you cannot get rid of any crap you do not own. That is just logical. Let’s say you put an old refrigerator out behind your house, then an old car next to it, then a box spring, and before long you have what appears to be a junk yard. The city comes by and tells you that you need to get rid of your crap because you are in violation of an ordinance. You tell them it’s not yours. As ridiculous as this scenario seems, this is something people do every day with regards to non-material crap. They deny they have done wrong, they deny they lied or were less than fully truthful, they deny that taking a bunch of paper from work is wrong, etc. But as long as they use denial of the truth as the barrier from taking rightful responsibility, they will suffer its consequences. The consequences is that these things are additive and they weigh upon you. That weight gets heavier and heavier and frequently leads to a loss of friends, relationships, of trustworthiness and even jobs. There are few things more freeing than to admit that you screwed up. Having taken ownership of the screw-up you can then commence a course of relieving yourself of that crap. This should bring into sharp focus the concept of denial as being a major shortcoming. People use denial regularly do not realize they are lying to at least one person, themselves, and probably others. It creates unnecessary barriers. It keeps them from enjoying a lot of happiness and freedom.

Some of my other shortcomings are laziness, procrastination, over eating, and many other things I just cannot think of at the moment. The thing is, I accept that I have each and every one of these shortcoming and that to overcome any one of them, I need to take some sort of affirmative action. I think it unlikely I will ever overcoming my overeating tendencies but I task myself with a certain level of exercise to overcome the shortcoming, or at least lessen its effect. It does not always work but it is a solution among the several available. My shortcomings keep me from being as happy as possible. But by acknowledging them and having a method of counteracting the shortcomings, I am assuring myself of much more happiness than by not doing these things.

Parent Child Misunderstandings

Many years ago, on a trip to Canada, my father lost his patience with me.  He exclaimed, to my horror, “you’re just like your mother!”  My father was an incredibly patient man, but more than once I pushed him past all reasonable patience, and into something else.  That was just one such time.  I remember that incident so well because I could not believe what he had said.  And for years afterward, I made it a mission to insure that I was not anything like my mother.  She and I had always had a contentious relationship, and that is putting it mildly.

My father grew up in an upper middle-class house while my mother grew up dirt poor, and adopted by an aunt and uncle who could not have made her feel more unwelcome.  They were married shortly after World War 2.  My father was a WWII vet and met my mother after he got back.  It was a set up but a mutual friend, but a good one.  My view of my parents’ marriage was that it was excellent, a model of what a good marriage should look like.  I have not changed that view at all.  But what I have changed is my view of them as individuals.  Unfortunately, my father died right before my 21st birthday, and I never really got to know him.  That was in large part due to adolescent and teenage selfishness on my part.  I forgive myself that because I believe it is something most, if not all, teens go through.  While teens we think how dumb our parents are, and when we get older, we discover how dumb we were.

My mother lived to age 89.  I firmly believe she could have lived longer if she had desired.  But I think she gave up living.  Along the way she had lost the only man she ever loved, and she adored him.  Of that there is no doubt.  Then she suffered the loss of a child when her son, my brother, died.  That almost killed her, literally.  At some point after that I decided to discover who she really was.  My mother was very tight-lipped, and did not care to talk about her childhood.  It was miserable so why would she?  Her father had deserted the family when she was only 4, and then her mother died when she was 11.  She was shuffled around between relatives, not uncommon in those days, until she settled with an aunt and uncle.  She graduated high school and went to a hospital that sponsored a nursing school and took up her profession.  She was, by all accounts, an excellent nurse, and it served our family well during some lean times we experienced.

I was so angry with my mother for years for doing this and not doing that.  But at no point did I stop to consider the tools available to her for bringing up a handful like me.  She called me a bull in a china shop, an apt description, as I was my own little force of nature when I was young.  I had to have my way which frequently collided with her having her way.  Seldom was it a question of right and wrong, just a question of who would prevail.  That made it difficult for my father, brother and sister to contend with but I don’t think either of us ever considered that very much.

In my 30s I suffered from a particularly severe case of depression.  Although I know the reasons, they are not germane to this.  What is important is that my mother did not take the news well.  I know now that at the time she viewed it as a failure of hers.  It was not, of course, but that was what she grew up believing.  I found out some years later that she had suffered an extremely severe case of depression of her own that required ECT.

Then I became a parent and had children of my own, three daughters.  I adore them but I know for fact that my good intentions do not always come across that way to them.  I am certain they have thought of me as intrusive, and not being sensitive to their desires.  It is this realization that let me know that I was indeed, in many ways, very much like my mother.  We parents have this tendency to take our children’s problems personally, and our distaste for something they are doing is really our fear that they will be hurt.  We do not always express ourselves well, and I know that was the case with my mother.  My mother had the extra problem of having virtually not support system when she was a young parent.

The human being has yet to be born who does not have one serious problem during their life.  Usually it’s many.  As parents we want only the best for our children.  We want them to have better lives than we experienced.  We want them to be happier.  We sometimes, foolishly, want to shield them from failure, sickness, and bad people.  That is simply impossible.

If your parents are still alive, get to know them all over again.  Ask them lots of questions about what they experienced when they were children and when they were your age.  I had to learn about my father through his sister because, as I said before, he died at such a young age.  And parents, just be sure to tell your children that you love them, and be big enough to admit that you are still capable of making mistakes.

How We Mess Up Our Children’s Minds Everyday

You do not have to be a parent for this post to be relevent.  Just be a member of the human race necessarily means you as an adult contribute to what children learn.  Parents, of course, are who a child models himself after. But children see everything around them and notice a lot more than many people give them credit for.  One way a child learns is through imitation.  They also form the value system through things they see, things they hear, and what any group of people they come in contact with are doing.

I wrote earlier about how we are failing our children in education.  What I did not include in that article is the education a child receives outside school.  Every human on earth learns from his environment, his experiences.  A simple example of this is how we refer to people having “street smarts.”  Anyone who grows up in an urban environment is intimate with that education while someone who grows up in rural America does not have it.  This may seem like simply a matter of where you grow up, which it is of course, but it is a great example of exactly how we learn.

In probably every country on Earth people discuss their future when they are looking towards their children.  But most of such discussions revolve almost exclusively around two things, formal education, and religious education.  I will not comment of religious education but I believe formal education to be an extremely large portion of any person’s ability to succeed in the world.  For argument’s sake I will put that portion at 51%.  But leaves another 49% to be accounted for.

From my experience in the primary education classroom, I can tell you there are informal activities that hugely affect every person’s life experience.  First among these is socialization.  In any group of kids you will find the full spectrum from the social butterfly to the wall flower.  But be warned, the social butterfly may not be any more self-confident than the wall flower.  Sometimes children act in one particular way as a means to cover up their fears.  The wall flower is afraid of rejection but it is possible the social butterfly acts as such because she fears not having friends.  One thing I know for certain, children always give clues as to why they are acting as such.  As much as we need to reassure the wall flower we need to ensure that the social butterfly is  simply having fun and not play acting to cover up a fear.

When I was a boy my mother caught me reading a girly magazine of some sort.  For an instant I thought I was in serious trouble.  My mother was a true disciplinarian.  But to my great surprise, and of course her credit, she told me the pictures of naked women were not in themselves bad things.  It was my reaction to those pictures, or as I think she put it, what  I did with those pictures that made the difference.  The message for me was, enjoy the beauty of the naked body but always respect women in person and in my actions.  I bring this up because as a society we have this predilection of hiding nudity from our children.  But most parent do nothing to hide all sorts of violence from children.  Children are bombarded with images of wonton killing but protected from nudity.  I find that absurd.  Worse,  children take violence as the norm and nudity as “bad.”  A teacher who happened to show young children a picture of Michelangelo’s “David” would chance firing but that same teacher showing a picture of one person engaged in killing another would probably not even be spoken to.  This shows a basic lack of good definition of right and wrong in our society.

What children need the most of are models and depictions of caring and love, of friendship, of good citizenship, of heroes.  These things are woefully lacking, in my opinion, in the lives of too many children.

In school yards today the rule is a child cannot in any respect put his hands on another child.  Boys rough-housing, wrestling, and other such activities are often outright banned.  Someone seems to have forgotten that this is exactly what boys do and it is usually very healthy.  When I oversee children at play I allow for a certain amount of rough-housing.  Even more, when a child comes to me crying about having fallen and hurt themselves I comfort them a little but I do not allow them to go running to the nurse.  I reassure them by noting that they are not bleeding but they are feeling the pain of having bumped themselves.  I send them off by promising them that if they are still hurting a lot after 5 minutes I will allow them to see the nurse.  Not a single child has ever gone to the nurse after that.  What I am teaching them is that you are going to fall, you are going to hurt, but you will be all right if you give things just a little time.  I always allow them their pain but always have them take some time with it just so they can see they will be all right.

What I have seen is too many parents at one end of the spectrum or the other.  There are, unfortunately, parents who protect their children from little or nothing.  These children become adults with bad attitudes, who are very defensive and worse who strike out at others, who are maladjusted and headed for a life of frustration and failure.  At the other end are the overprotective parent.  They will have a boy who wants to play football but the parent will not allow it because they think football too violent.  They are the parents who attempt to control who their children play with.  They are the parents who fawn over their child when the child is hurt and goes out of their way to end the hurt as quickly as possible.  They seem to have forgotten that living through hurtful things is a good thing when the child involved fully appreciates how they will be all right afterward.  They will not have such an experience if the parent takes it from them.

Some of the things no child needs to see are his parents have long verb altercations, or any physical altercations.  They need to see their parents hugging one another, and kissing.  They need to be disciplined.  There has never been a child who does not try to find and push boundaries.  It is a normal learning activity.  But when such boundaries do not exist, what do they learn?  They need to hear their parents apologise to them.  They need to know that telling the truth when they have been wrong is not a bad thing.  That is, they have to experience reward through truthfulness.  Parents should never, ever, lie to their children.  When the child walks in on the parents having sex, definitely do not chase the child out but tell him mommy and daddy were loving each other.  Then tell them it is private time and ask the child to leave.  Children need a healthy response to their missteps.  Most mistakes children make are innocent but they learn better when they are given gentle but firm correction and not being yelled at or worse.

The bottom line is, if we want our children to act responsibly we have to act responsibly.  We must acknowledge our mistakes in full view of our children.  We must never make hollow threats.  We must gently guide.  We cannot condemn failure as failure is a part of life.  We have to remind our children that frequently great success comes after a long series of failures.  We have to make it all right to be less than perfect.  We cannot afford to allow our children to be enamoured with physical beauty over inner beauty.  It is our duty to give good example as that gives our children the greatest chance of success.