The Chicken or the Egg: Good Parenting or Good Teachers – What comes first?

“For more than forty years I’ve taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in major American and Asian universities, and in progressive preschools and schools. In part because of the subjects I teach, in part because of the ways in which we work together, students of all ages often confide in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught. In particular I’ve learned that for all human beings nothing in life is more important than our experience of parenting. How we’re parented determines almost everything about how we envision and respond to ourselves, other people, life, and the universe: how we exist, how we seek, and what we accomplish.” Peter Glassman

I too taught school and had students confide in me with ‘uncommon intimacy and trust”. There was Gloria, whose mother was having an affair with a student who was 20 years younger than her mom. The student came to Gloria’s house one afternoon and shot and killed the mother. Gloria escaped his rage by hiding under the bed. I saw Gloria once after that and then she went to live with a relative in some distant place. Then there was Zack, who sat beside my desk one day. He was a “hippie” at 15. He drew a flower on the floor with chalk and said to me, “It is not the place where you live that makes you happy; it’s where you live in your head that makes you happy.” Zack walked onto the interstate one night in a happy state of mind and was hit and killed by a truck. Billy came from a family of PhD’s. Expectations for his success were high. He had blazing red hair, a frail frame, artistic nature, and was gay. He could not bear to reveal this to his socially prominent parents. He confided some of his misery to me. He became an addict. Kathy was the only child of doting parents. She was a talented artist who loved my English class and its emphasis on the art in each child as we studied literature and composition. She came to me one day in tears describing her parent’s shame with her desire to be an artist. She ran away. I too learned more than I taught.

Despite the immense importance of parenting we do not require courses, instruction, direction, or mentoring before a man and a woman make this amazing decision to have a child. However, we do require instruction, licensing and permitting for driving a car, flying an airplane, operating heavy equipment, opening a business, or practicing a profession. But in parenting, the single most important responsibility we ever undertake as adults, we offer no preparation in what children need, how children develop, and how we best can fulfill our immense opportunities and responsibilities in guiding, guarding, and gracing our children’s lives. Faith traditions, schools, or workplaces do not and should not assume this vital work.

This is the sole responsibility of parents in the early years. They are the ones who build self-esteem, confidence, sensitivity, compassion, and intellectual curiosity in their offspring. Parents are the ones who instill manners, respect, vision, ambition, and a desire to learn and to know. Yet in every jurisdiction on earth anyone can become a parent. We can raise our children, shape their minds, or devastate their souls in almost any manner we choose. Step into your malls on any weekend to observe our nation’s parenting results.

We create voids in a child’s life with our unskilled parenting. Voids create vacuums which are opportunistically filled with one substance or another. “Children have but one work in life. They learn. Learning is all that children do. They do it full-time, and they do it with genius. They observe. They glean. From the foundation of their own experience, they employ their intellect. They interpret. They judge. They learn.” Peter Glassman

Children long to learn from their parents; they are their first example, their first love, their first hero’s. However, as we parent badly or ignorantly, the void in a child’s life slowly fills with powerful competitors, the fascinating and alluring electronic media and their peers, who are a major influence in their lives. Because they have no strength of family to sustain them, they succumb to these immensely empowered alternative forces: schools, friends, play environments, and most importantly the contemporary pop culture that form our children’s emotional civilization. Parents, who have many excuses for their haphazard parenting skills, surrender their responsibilities for their children’s soul life to televisions, computers, or iPhones. These artificial caregivers become our children’s primary companions.

In our own hurried, frantic lives we let go of the careful and necessary supervision of our schools. We let lapse the passion for our children and our basic and necessary expressions of love and care. Children will not accept this void. They need to be loved, guided, and parented. If we can’t be there for them they will do three things to compensate for their unfulfilled yearning: they will decide we do not love them; they will conclude they do not deserve to be loved; they will look for, discover, and become profoundly influenced by other persons or presences that will parent them in our place.

In the end, we send these hapless children off to our schools, where classrooms are chaotic, disruptive, and filled with children whose parents had little time for them in the early years. Teachers often teach in classrooms that are obsolete and filled with children who have no identity or purpose. We expect teachers to be surrogates when we should be expecting them to bring the intellectual curiosity of our children to life. Teachers should be setting children on fire with knowledge and exploration of their God-given abilities. This should be the most exciting adventure of each child’s life; learning and exploration. So who is to blame for the failure of our schools? For the failure of our children?

Is it the chicken or the egg?

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