A civilized society won't survive for long without a sound educational system. When our schools succeed, they graduate doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals who will lead us forward. When they fail, the reverse occurs, and we all become victims.
After years of teaching, I believe we have systematically mass-produced failure. Today’s graduates, hunched like cripples, stand as evidence. Many of them totally lack acceptable reading, writing, and math skills. Their logic is questionable. And far too many can’t make decisions without peer approval, simply because they haven’t the courage and values to guide them.
Seeing our youth, intellectually maimed, flounder often leaves us feeling helpless. Yet, there is no reason why this should be the case. There is something we can all do individually. It won’t bring over-night change, but it will bring change, painlessly! Here are my recommendations, after 14 years of teaching:
1 Listen to your child when he speaks. His words open the door to his thoughts. It is very important to know what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking, IF he’s thinking. His thoughts are often based on a collection of ideas and faulty conclusions that he has acquired from his peers, teachers, and even you. If what he says or does isn’t in harmony with what you believe is true, gently intervene and guide him with your adult sensibilities in the right direction. To ignore him by not addressing his errors could lead to disappointment later.
2. Never reprimand him when he speaks. If you don’t approve of what you hear, you must never make him feel foolish for his innocent thoughts. This will only force him to slam the door shut on you. What you must do is help him sort through his thoughts intelligently by providing him with another view, an intelligent adult view, backed up with objective facts. By doing this, you are giving him the essential information needed for making rational decisions on his own.
3. Always try to identify the source of your child’s information. You should make every effort to know where he learns what he believes: Who planted the ideas and how? Sometimes his conclusions can be the result of faulty logic; other times misinformation. If it’s faulty logic, identify his error so that he understands. If it’s misinformation, teach him to question anything that seems to be implausible or illogical. Never forget: he is never too young to learn that some sources, despite their credentials, are not always reliable.
4. Never stop children from watching television. If his school friends watch a particular show or series, he will want to watch it too. To stop him from watching it will only anger him. What you can do to prevent unsuitable entertainment from causing any psychological or intellectual degeneration is to guide him through the experience by identifying the silliness of the program or the irrationality of its premise or the pure vulgarity of the program. To do this successfully, you should compare it to the reality he knows and understands. Your best weapon against such programming is to encourage him to appreciate the world’s beauty and sanity, not its ugliness and madness.
5. Acknowledge your child as an intelligent being. There is potential for greatness in each child, and, as a parent, it is your responsibility to recognize it and let it grow. When a child reaches out to explore the world around him, don’t respond negatively. Instead, peek into his thoughts, before you react and try to understand what’s happening at that moment that is leading him in that particular direction. Once you understand you are better able to redirect him — or lead him forward. This eliminates frustration for the child who is growing and needs adult guidance, and it eliminates disappointment for you who love your child and want to see him happy and free. To deprive him of the growing process by discouraging him to explore your adult world, guided, of course, by your wisdom, is to stunt his development temporarily, maybe even permanently.
6. Teach your child only what he is ready to learn. Children seek information at sensitive periods in their lives (i.e., those periods in which certain information is crucial to their healthy growth). If you are attentive to your child’s needs, you will recognize these periods of sensitivity by the questions he asks or the things he does. Once his needs are identified provide him what he seeks on a level that’s suitable for him. His interest and enthusiasm should determine the amount you offer. Don’t expect him to absorb too much too soon. Let him grow like a plant at his own rate. Water it and give it all the sunshine you can and learn to hold back when it has had enough.
7. Acquaint yourself with good teaching. It is impossible to make decisions about your child’s education, if you don’t know what a good teacher is. To quote Jacques Barzun, good teachers motivate children by bringing life to their subject. They do this daily by "raising the ghost of an object, idea, or fact, and holding it in full view of the class, turning it this way and that, describing it — demonstrating it like a new car or a vacuum cleaner." (From Barzun’s book Teacher in America.) But that isn’t all. In my articlesTeaching World Literature andHistory as a LinkI go further. I explain how a teacher must connect ideas, so that a student can grasp cause and effect. Too many teachers fail because they don’t present fundamental information logically. Information to be useful must be logcially presented with one idea or fact linked to the next, built on an unshakable premise. This information must be urgent and reflect primary trends. In short, a good teacher makes his subject live by carefully defining his subject and selecting examples exactly. In “History as a Link,” for example, I explain the importance of arranging information in a historical perspective, so that a student can understand how one idea leads to another idea, connecting the past to the present, and even to the future. Teachers who teach like this have great respect for the mind and for the reasoning powers of their students. When you meet such a teacher, support him. When you find a school that supports such teachers, embrace it, and tell all your friends.
8. Reserve some time for your child. It’s very difficult to manage a home, earn a living, and still be a parent. It demands considerable time and energy. Despite the difficulty, it must be done. There is no reason why your child can’t help you with your chores — shopping, house cleaning, etc. Working together not only allows you the opportunity to teach him good work habits, but it also provides you with the extra time together needed to get to know each other well. But the time spent with your child mustn’t be all work. You must keep a balance and introduce him to life’s pleasures as well.
9. Encourage respect for others. Children today have so little respect. They are self-absorbed and totally lacking in sensitivity to others. To overcome this, parents must teach (not only by example, but by guidance) a respect for the unique intelligence of others. As you must learn to appreciate your child’s special talents, they too must learn to appreciate such talents in others. One way to do this is to expand your child’s world and bring all types of children and adults into it. So many parents merely give their children things, not culture and exposure, because it’s easier. They don’t realize what a child often wants and needs for fulfillment is knowledge about the world in which he lives.
10. Help your child discover himself. I find it very sad to see graduates waste important years searching for their identity. Adults deserve the blame. For years, we have told children what they must be and think without ever permitting them to grow naturally. One day they wake up and they are adults who have been shaped by others, and suddenly they feel unhappy and empty. They don’t know who they are, only what they’ve been told to become.
Adults must stop burying children with layers of commands and must permit them to grow naturally. It will reduce years of experimenting and floundering and create in the end fully realized adults with well-defined goals. And, if their education is exact, they will have the skills to go after what they want with ease and confidence. And you will have done what you’ve always dreamed of doing: create another Einstein or Mozart — or a very happy adult!
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