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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?

The Family; A Serious Decision

October 6, 2010 1 comment

I used to tell my sons, “The most serious decision you will ever make in your entire life is the woman you choose to be the mother of your children. Your children and your family will prosper if you make this decision carefully, thoughtfully, and with love.” It’s a simple concept and yet so many children are born haphazardly into relationships where their parents are children, and whose parents were children, and so it goes.

I don’t know how to change humanity. I don’t even know how to influence the children who are having children. Since they come from families where they were conceived with little thought, and raised with little guidance, how can we expect a generation of the thoughtlessly conceived to care about the uterine environment, birth, and childhood of their children? How can we expect them to care about raising their children with love, care, and discipline when they were not offered this opportunity in their own lives? It is a leap! I am asking for a leap into the unknown. How do parents become something that was not demonstrated to them as children? This is the dilemma.

In order to change a generation, the generation who produces it must change. Change is difficult but it is possible. I did it. If I did it, anyone can do it. I was raised by parents who were teenagers when I was born. Childhood for me was difficult at best. However, when I became an adult and had children I was determined they would not be raised as I was. I knew I had to accept the responsibility of changing myself so these small, innocent wonders would have a different life than mine.

It is the responsibility of each generation to improve the next. If this enlightenment does not occur then generation after generation languishes in an unending cycle of ignorance, poverty, and repetition. How undignified! How humiliating! What a curse to place upon an infant before they even have time to open their eyes and smile up at whoever it is that birthed them.

Now you might ask, “What does this have to do with education?” Everything!

If we are unable to reach and influence today’s parents about how they birth and raise their children in stable environments, and who are surrounded with care and love, then we will never have an opportunity to produce a generation that will be free of the repetitious past of the generations preceding them. We need to begin at the beginning. We need to find a way to reach into our culture and have parents realize that when they have children they are their guardians and teachers. They are their example.

This begins in the uterine environment where the child gets its nutrients through the mother’s placenta. She is the Beginner. How do we do this? How do we change those who are soaked in poverty and humiliation? How do we unhinge peer pressure that manipulates so many children into staying where they are, wearing their sloth like a badge of honor? Somewhere, someone has an answer and I am anxious to hear it. We are running out of time. We are falling behind and soon our nation’s children will become the slaves of those nations whose children are motivated by parents who are raising and improving the next generation.

We need to send our children to school with an attitude of self confidence, intellectual curiosity, and undaunted creativity. We need to unburden our educational system from the job of disciplining children and set them free to teach, educate, and enlighten. We need to return to discipline, structure, and compassion in the classroom. This can only be done when there is discipline, structure, and compassion in the home.

I know this sounds so old century to a generation that is hyped on technology. But you know, the truth is some things never change. Some things are absolutes. Parenting is one of those unchangeable, absolute laws of nature.

The Family; It Begins at the Beginning

October 4, 2010 2 comments

We blame our Public Educational System because we say they aren’t producing educated children. We pile on teachers because we say they are lazy, self serving, and cannot teach. We blame teacher unions for protecting incompetent teachers, who cannot be fired. We say these teachers and their unions are destroying the future of our children, the future of our country. Our politicians throw billions into this seemingly corrupt and incompetent system and we blame them for pandering to unions and teachers. When you think about it we have conjured up an amazing array of scapegoats for our failures as parents to birth and raise our children so they are able to be educated.

I am not excusing the system, its teachers, or their unions. I was a teacher once. I was compelled to join the union, whose dues were deducted from my check. I know the public educational system is crumbling, figuratively and literally and I don’t much care for politicians. All of this awareness and finger pointing does not solve the problem of educating our children. It only keeps the blame game going on endlessly with no hope in sight for resolution. However, it does make for empty cocktail conversation that resolves nothing.

Somehow we must lift unaware parents into an awareness of their parental responsibilities so they may send intellectually curious, alert, physically healthy, and disciplined children into our school systems. If we take away the excuses the educational system has for not doing their job, we then allow our many good teachers to actually educate. With properly parented children we take back the power to demand the best results for our children. As the Japanese say, “Forget about blame; solve the problem.”

Instead of beginning at the end; let’s begin at the beginning.

I read an article this morning, At Risk From the Womb, by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. He is a man who champions the rights of women from all over the world and has written a book with his wife called, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”. I admire his honest writing. His article points out that the uterine environment is a critical factor in determining the mental and physical success of the child. He says, “Researchers are finding indications that obesity, diabetes and mental illness among adults are all related in part to what happened in the womb decades earlier.” What struck me most about this article, which I highly recommend you reading, is that a stressful uterine environment may be the mechanism that allows poverty to replicate itself generation after generation. Women who come from poverty will absorb the stress of their environment into their uterine child and instead of one generation improving the next these offspring remain dormant, stuck in a cycle of deprivation based upon ignorance.

We will solve our educational problems by beginning with parenting, and we must begin during the uterine cycle. Mr. Kristof goes on to lament, “The result is children who start life at a disadvantage — for kids facing stresses before birth appear to have lower educational attainment, lower incomes and worse health throughout their lives. If that’s true, then even early childhood education may be a bit late as a way to break the cycles of poverty.”

We must begin at the beginning, the uterine environment. Then we must develop an awareness of infant needs and responses after birth. How can we really expect our teachers and schools to deliver a high standard of education and literacy to our children when we resist learning how to parent them with diligence? An article in my June 25th post by Dennis D. Muhumuza of Uganda, quoted Mr. Fagil Mandy:

What is the true measure of a parent?

First, one must be knowledgeable enough – one is not going to be a parent worth their soul when they are ignorant; a parent must know a bit of everything because they are the encyclopedia for their child. Secondly, parents must know how to do several things because a child must follow their example; you must be a good reader, be able to clean your own compound, fix a bulb and have a multi-skilled capacity for your child to emulate. Also, you must be healthy; no child likes to grow up with a dying parent; remember, a parent must help the child lead a healthy life and how can you do that if you are not healthy yourself? Then of course, a parent must be able to generate enough income to look after the family and be available to provide the time required for the child. If you are unavailable, don’t produce the child. (My emphasis)

Simple, straight forward, uncomplicated – Mr. Fagil Mandy is on to something in Uganda!

This is the beginning.

UTERINE CHILD

The Family; The Smallest School

September 7, 2010 1 comment

“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

I have talked about many things regarding children. I have discussed infant brain development, parents, teachers, curriculum, education, teacher unions, public schools, obesity, and nature, to name a few topics. All of this discourse has brought me back to “The Family; America’s Smallest School”. Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley wrote a report for the Educational Testing Service in 2007 on this topic. It is an interesting and informative read. They assert, as I have in my book, “Peek-a-Boo, I See You!”, that the family is the determining factor in a child’s success in school and beyond. Family means Two (2) Parents + Children.

At last, we are looking at and demanding change in the way we educate our nation’s children. Alarms have sounded and we now admit that our children do not read at grade level, cannot balance a checkbook, write a paragraph, or speak the English language articulately. The richest, most powerful country in the world is producing an illiterate generation compared to its European counterparts. We are depriving our American children of the freedom that comes only through education and literacy. Without these tools they will always be someone else’s slave, never free to create, invent, or fulfill their destiny and promise. It is the Family that ensures a child’s destiny and success, not anyone else, or any entity.

Let’s look at a few statistics:

•    Forty-four percent of births to women under age 30 are out-of-wedlock.
•    Sixty-eight percent of U.S. children live with two parents, a decline from 77% in 1980. Only 35% of Black children live with two parents. In selected international comparisons, the United States ranks the highest in the percentage of single parent households, and Japan ranks the lowest.
•    Nationally, 19% of children live in poverty. The percentages increase to nearly a third or more of Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Hispanic children.
•    Nationally, 11% of all households are “food insecure”. The rate for female-headed households is triple the rate for married-couple families, and the rate for Black households is triple the rate for White households.
•    Nationally, one-third of children live in families in which no parent has full-time, year-round employment. This is the case for half of Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native children.
•    There are substantial differences in children’s measured abilities as they start kindergarten. For example, average mathematics scores for Black and Hispanic children are 21% and 19% lower than the mathematics scores of White children.
•    By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than the average child in a working-class family, and about 35 million more words than children in welfare families.
•    About half of the nation’s 2-year-olds are in some kind of regular, nonparental day care, split among center-based care; home-based, nonrelative care; and home-based relative care. Black children are the most likely to be in day care.
•    Overall, 24 % of U.S. children were in center-based care that was rated as high quality, 66 % were in medium-quality center-based care, and 9 % were in low-quality center-based care. Of those in home-based care, 7 % were in high quality settings, 57 % were in medium-quality settings, and 36 % were in low-quality care. More than half of Black, Hispanic, and poor 2-year olds were in low-quality home-based care.
•    As of 2003, 76% of U.S. children had access to a home computer, and 42% used the Internet. Black and Hispanic children lag behind.
•    Eighty-six percent of U.S. eighth-graders reported having a desk or table where they could study, just above the international average but well below the averages of many countries.
•    Thirty-five percent of eighth-graders watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday. 24% of White eighth-graders spend at least four hours in front of
a television on a given day, while 59% of their Black peers do so.
•    One in five students misses three or more days of school a month. Asian-American students have the fewest absences. The United States ranked 25th of 45 countries in students’ school attendance.
•    Since 1996, parents have become increasingly involved in their child’s school. However, parent participation decreases as students progress through school, and parents of students earning “A” averages are more likely to be involved in school functions than the parents of students earning C’s and D’s.

A new report card by UNICEF on the state of childhood in the world’s economically advanced Nations paints a bleak picture for the future of education in the United States. In the report, UNICEF compared the United States with 20 other rich countries on their performance in six dimensions of child well-being. The United States ranks in the bottom third of these 21 countries for five of these six dimensions. It ranked 12th in educational well-being, 17th in material well-being, 20th in family and peer relationships, 20th in behaviors and risks, and 21st in health and safety.

We can make all the changes we want in our educational structure by implementing and funding Charter Schools, The Seed Schools, Teacher Operated Schools, Parent Operated Schools, Magnet Schools, Waldorf Schools, and Alternative Schools. These progressive and innovative ideas may work for a few, for a time. However, unless the Family, two parents, changes the nurturing of their children, the unattended masses will remain the slaves of those who were nurtured and loved from birth.

The freedom and success we wish for our children is birthed in the Family. Literacy development begins long before children enter formal education. It is critical to their success in school and in life!

Family is A Mother and A Father + Children

I will explore many of these issues in my next series of posts.

Children in Crisis; Taking on the Challenges of Parenting

It seems these days that all things begin simple and go to complex as the discussion moves up the chain of command. For example, what is complicated about parenting? It takes common sense, serious thought, dedicated action, and daily commitment. Instead of focusing on the simplicity of what should come naturally to parents in raising children, we build elaborate explanations for poor parenting. Instead of tackling the parenting issue in a straightforward manner as Bill Cosby does, we build an array of complex solutions that require funding, governmental intervention that support places to dump our children, and academic treatise that define a multitude of esoteric explanations devoted to “parenting problems”.

Having said this, I was ruffling about in the stacks of papers on my desk looking for my latest thoughts on parenting when I came across an article I read and printed on March 7, 2010. It was printed in “The Daily Monitor; Truth Everyday; Uganda News…” It came from the Sunday Life section of the paper. I have no recollection of the article and I was intrigued as to what it was that made me print this article by Dennis D. Muhumuza. He credited Fagil Mandy, an educational consultant in Uganda, who developed a series of trainings. Mandy says, “The rising cases of child sacrifice, street children, starvation of children and violence in homes has resulted in a parenting crisis.” The article is amazing in its simplicity of solutions. Follow below the thinking of Fagil Mandy as he is interviewed by Dennis Muhumuza on Uganda’s “parenting crisis”.

Why have you started the Good Parenting training?

Because there is a parenting crisis and we cannot afford to have our future generations going without proper tuning and direction. Parents or potential parents, young people and university students, policy implementers or leaders both in government and private sector or even those interested in learning more about good parenting need to know about addressing the challenges of parenting today; we are going to look at the world of work and education; how to train a child to be a worker, thinker, leader. The world is changing so fast that the demands on a child or the growing up generations are so intense and diversified and the parent must be brought along to understand the diversity in the world today.

You talked of a parenting crisis. What really is the problem?

I’ve run workshops for parents and young people and have made some discoveries: I’ve found out, particularly children from middle class parents have no capacities to deliver, to work, to produce or generate ideas. And, today, because most parents are working, the child is largely neglected so there is an increasing mystery or this huge gap between the parents and the children. Also, I’ve met a lot of parents who think parenting is simply producing a child; most of them think that a child of four or five years doesn’t need any particular guidance and counseling, or driving in a certain direction, so there’s a heavy dose of ignorance. Even more, our education system is not equipping our children with the right attitude, mindset and physical skills to succeed in this tough world.

What are the major concerns of young people in regard to the way they are brought up?

The last time I carried out a leadership training programme, I asked the children what they would have wished their parents to teach them. Many of them regretted that their parents had not talked to them enough about issues of love, relationships, sexuality and even politics and leadership. Also, most of them complained their fathers hardly featured in their lives and that they feel not protected or guided by their parents.

Did you also register any complaints by parents about their children?

Of course! Most parents cried out about the cartoons on TV; their children are becoming cartoons themselves; TV has become a preoccupation for young people. And most TV stations show pornographic material – it is killing their children.

But how can children keep themselves occupied meaningfully in a situation where parents are at work and cannot keep a close eye on them?

But you see, I don’t agree that every parent must work away from home. One of my sons works but his wife is a stay-at-home mother. But most mothers don’t want to first stay home and raise their children because of greed, it’s all primitive accumulations; we think that the wife must produce so much money and the husband so much money but I think someone intelligent enough must sacrifice; why can’t wife and husband organize their activities in such a way that, say, the husband works out and the wife stays at home or looks after a small family business that involves the children too? Parents must involve children in the family business.

In this age of emancipation, women cannot surely be expected to stay at home to look after children.

Why not? I think, again, it is greed; a lot of women are running around in this so called economic independence because they want to run wild programmes. I disagree with that sort of thing because every child needs a stay-at-home mother because there is no way you are going to compensate for the emotional dislocation of a child who has not had proper parentage.

What is the true measure of a parent?

First, one must be knowledgeable enough – one is not going to be a parent worth their soul when they are ignorant; a parent must know a bit of everything because they are the encyclopedia for their child. Secondly, parents must know how to do several things because a child must follow their example; you must be a good reader, be able to clean your own compound, fix a bulb and have a multi-skilled capacity for your child to emulate. Also, you must be healthy; no child likes to grow up with a dying parent; remember, a parent must help the child lead a healthy life and how can you do that if you are not healthy yourself? Then of course, a parent must be able to generate enough income to look after the family and be available to provide the time required for the child. If you are unavailable, don’t produce the child.

Simple, straight forward, uncomplicated – Mr. Fagil Mandy is on to something in Uganda!

Are animals better parents than humans?

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