The most important thing for a parent to remember is to teach his or her child to think.
A reader once wrote me a note in which she elaborated on how she teaches her child to think in all kinds of ways. She discusses moral or other kinds of dilemmas in everyday life. She encourages conversation about books that her kids are reading. She engages them in discussion about what’s online or in the newspaper. She talks about events that happen locally and in the world at large, in terms her children can understand.
Day by day, she raises her child to the level of a committed thinker. She doesn’t sit by and whine about the computers, television and even the lousy schools. She gets the job done herself. Home schooling is not necessary. If her child actually learns to think at school, all the better. If the school is mediocre or worse, she can provide the rational antidote simply by helping her children to think rationally and confidently, day in and day out.
The biggest mistake I see parents make is to assume that schools (public, private, whatever) can replace their own responsibility to ensure that their children learn to think. Parents just expect the process of thought to be developed ‘somehow.’ They place way more confidence in teachers than most of them deserve. This is always a mistake. The mistake becomes a disaster when parents make this mistake within the context of government-run public schools.
Consider what Maria Montessori, arguably the greatest educator of all time, defined as education: ‘Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.’
Montessori was right. Education is not something done ‘to’ you. It’s something you attain on your own, over time and through a series of complex yet rational stages. Schooling can (or should) facilitate education, but cannot impose it. Parents should not be intimidated by this. They need not be ‘experts’ in the ‘science’ of education. In fact, the self-proclaimed experts (at least today) know less about the theory and practice of education than even the below-average parent. The name of the game for parents is to teach your child how to think. Whether you send your child to the most expensive or the most mediocre of public schools, there are no excuses.
You can and must teach your child how to think. Here are some specific suggestions:
Have discussions. Block out time for doing so. Start when your child is young, so it becomes part of the culture of the family.
Talk about ideas, about people or anything worth thinking about in terms the child can understand. Young children crave attention from adults, so the best time to introduce this habit is in early childhood. And the earlier, the better. If you can successfully get your child excited about thinking, then the habit will most probably extend through the teenage years all the way into adulthood.
Don’t be dogmatic. Don’t try to impose opinions.
Don’t make it about yourself or what you think. Make it about thought.
The goal here is to encourage your child to become a thinker. Yes, some ideas are rational and true while others are irrational and false. Sadly, there’s nothing new about irrational ideas. No matter the source, however, the antidote to irrationality is, and always will be, rational and objective thought. The antidote cures the disease every time, especially with young, impressionable minds.
Training kids to think is a challenge for any rational parent. Children are intellectually honest, and can ask tough questions. ‘Why is there no God if so many people seem to believe in one?’ Or, ‘It’s warm today. Doesn’t that mean there’s global warming?’ Or, ‘When someone wins a game, the loser’s feelings are hurt and they’re disappointed. Isn’t that wrong?’ In order to give rational answers to these honest questions, you must have a good grasp of why you hold the views you do. It’s good for your own mind, and the child’s.
The most precious gift you can give to children is the aptitude and appetite for thinking. Schools often don’t do this, and today’s government-run schools will never do it. That’s OK. Mankind has somehow survived and produced great thinkers, scientists and entrepreneurs, generation after generation, despite the stupidity, authoritarianism and even despotism of governments. Parents stand alone between their innocent children and
Don’t worry about stress on your children from bad schools. If you have taught them to think, they’ll see the idiocy or mediocrity for what it is. As young people, they’ll want validation. In essence, they’ll want you to answer the question, ‘These people are pretty
nutty in what they’re saying, right?’ And you can reply, with confidence, ‘I know.’
You can make their home an oasis of rationality that they can carry into adulthood in their minds and psyches. Childhood isn’t all that different from adulthood. If you’re rational and sane, you’re still surrounded by people (even the majority) who tend towards the opposite. But somehow, you get through it by finding people of your own kind and by creating a benevolent, sane universe within yourself. If a parent can manage to create this universe, then your children can as well.
And who knows? One day the world might just become sane.
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