America's Short Circuit: Parenting and Schooling

Think of "who" and "what" has contributed most to making our lives what they are today.

I think the "who" for most of us would be our parents, and the "what" the character they drew out of and/or instilled in us -- qualities like perseverance, courage, honesty, grit, kindness, loyalty, leadership, humility, faith, purpose, humor, insight, and so on.

So how did we end up with an educational system that ignores this powerful human growth base?

What has led those in power to continually take this primary character development role of parents and family for granted, and instead, increasingly immerse American education in academic college and workforce skills?

The picture that comes to mind is the unbaptized football coach intent on teaching his team a sophisticated system of "Xs and Os," while assuming they already know how to block and tackle. Even the great Vince Lombardi kept his primary focus on blocking and tackling right up to the day of a Super Bowl.

For 50+ years now, this gap between the basic purposes of American schools and American families has widened. A Harvard study of 10,000 students found that 80 percent said both they and their parents would choose achievement and happiness over caring for others. However, 96 percent of their parents instead reported the development of moral character as "very important, if not essential."

So why do the students say their parents value achievement and happiness and their parents say they value character?

I believe it is because when push comes to shove in our educational system and society, parents go with achievement over character because they don't want their children to fall behind in the competition.

This family-school disconnect is not healthy for family or school. Schools look to parents to support their efforts; parents become advocates for their children, sometimes leading to oppositional parent-teacher and parent-coach relationships. (One local coach had parents sign a "no interference" agreement before the season; then, in spite of a winning season, parental pressure forced him to resign.)

Given that the family generates the foundation for character development, this disconnect with our educational system has not just weakened family and school, but ultimately, the American character.

For example, there are 6.5 million Americans who are presently collecting social security checks by representing individuals at least 112 years old. As of last November, we only knew of 12 such Americans.

It is also very troubling that over the last 50 years, this system has helped create two Americas: the privileged and the underprivileged -- as the middle class shrinks.

Enough has been said how the educational focus on academic achievement greatly favors the privileged class. I don't think enough has been explored on how much it discriminates against underprivileged students. It primarily focuses on their greatest weakness -- academic proficiency -- while ignoring their greatest strength: family.

This misguided academic focus puts such students on the defensive, thus allowing unequal competition to overwhelm their deeper motivation as well as the power of curiosity, especially in youth.

But regardless of how dysfunctional the homes and neighborhoods of these students may come from, they are supported by an adult commitment that needs to be recognized, built on, and strengthened.

These students have potentials that will be discovered with a program that begins with strengths, not weaknesses.

Hyde Schools seek to help students find success in college and life by building a curriculum on a foundation of character, which centers the educational process on family/guardians. This deeper development of character leads to self-discovery, self-confidence, grit and a sense of purpose in students.

For example, our Hyde-Bronx School serves one of our nation's poorest districts in which only 49 percent graduate from high school. Ninety-four percent of our first graduating class went to college, and 89 percent of them registered as college sophomores this year.

Our experience convinces us American schools need to build a strong family-school bond, particularly in disadvantaged areas. This bond is established by the statement: In character development, parents are the primary teachers and the home the primary classroom.

This initial focus on character builds a vital community by strengthening both family and school: teachers help parents establish strong families; parents help schools establish strong foundations for effective academic programs, with character providing the foundation for a student's effectiveness and fulfillment in life.

Once we accept family and school are interdependent growth institutions, I believe we will realize solid solutions to many of our problems today.

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