Four Ways to Undermine Love of School
Yesterday, I saw a young mother and father in the Decatur Library leaning forward over a small table at their three-year-old daughter as she tried to put together the puzzle of an alligator with 26 green pieces A to Z. The A-piece belonged at the nose and Z at the tip of the tail. Their intensity was disturbing. They talked at her constantly as if their willpower could get their daughter to put the alphabet in order.
In the current zeitgeist, the pressure many parents feel to teach their children seems to be causing some to be both bad teachers and bad parents. Anxious that their children may fall short academically one parent actually defended her daily academic work with her four-year-old with these words: “These days if your child isn’t reading by kindergarten, he won’t succeed in school.”
Naturally a parent might be anxious in this climate, but motivation from fear usually produces bad results. Love, not fear, is the main ingredient in building self-confidence, and love looks like believing in your child as she engages in ever more complex challenges. Internal motivation is critical to her can-do attitude.
Recently, I observed a group of twelve five-year-olds in a classroom as they were being assessed for their readiness for kindergarten. Ryan was the only one of twelve students who was unable to pursue his own interests, work with others, and engage in the activities on his own. Later, in talking with his parents they proudly told me their method for preparing him for school: flash cards while he is taking his bath. No wonder when he went to class, he kept looking at the teacher for direction. In their conscientious attempt to make sure he was prepared, Ryan’s parents had inadvertently undermined his ability to do what kindergarten would require of him. Their focus on academics was ruining him as a student.
Even if education were a race to somewhere, the best way to win it would be the slow, steady and thorough building of character strength rather than trying to get a child to pass the grade level benchmarks ahead of schedule. Racing ahead to get there first to prove you’re smart (or not dumb) tends to create a dysfunctional fixed mindset rather than lasting self-confidence. Self-confidence wins the race.
Anyway, it’s not a race. As parents assume the responsibility of being their children’s first and most important educators, they shouldn’t necessarily model themselves after teachers. They will be the best educators they can be, if they focus on being great parents. In fact, I have seen many teachers who would be better educators if they took a few lessons from parents.
Children are generally happy to go to school—at least at first. They want to learn all they can learn. They want to learn to read, and by first grade they are dying for homework. We must build on that enthusiasm for learning. We can take it away by:
a) caring about it more than they do,
b) getting worried about their success,
c) making them give up play (which is a child’s right) to take on schoolwork, and
d) turning ourselves from good parents into bad pedants.
These days, parents and teachers can support each other in resisting the social pressure to get swept up in the achievement panic. They can remind each other that the education of character is education itself and that accelerating kids ultimately holds them back.
By the way, the Decatur Public Library is a beautiful space. Libraries are often a great place to come with your kids, not so much for teaching but for learning.