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Our Nations Most Powerful Educators; The Parents

By Tiffany Chappelle

‘Oh, I wish I had the time!’ are the words most often uttered from other parents when I mention I read to my two sons, ages six and eight every single night for a minimum of thirty minutes. I am torn between insult by this comment, which suggests that I am not as busy as they are, and pity they and their children are being denied such an amazing experience. I see this time as essential not only for reconnecting with my boys after a day apart, as a chance to snuggle and be affectionate, or to create a magical, bonding moment that will be treasured for a lifetime, but also as a chance to practice our listening, comprehension, and vocabulary skills. No, I don’t have a degree in education, and I am not striving for one. But the day a person becomes a parent they are given the honor and responsibility of being the primary and most influential educators in their child’s life. A mother or father is the first educators a child encounters, the ones that know their children best, and the ones who should have the highest interest in their children’s success in school. It’s a tragedy that we as parents in this country are not living up to this important role in our children’s lives.

There are three primary excuses parents give for failing to live up to the role of educator to their children. First is the belief that we are paying taxes to supply our children with an education delivered by trained professionals through our public school system, and that should be enough. I liken this to sending a child to daycare to fulfill their need for affection and attention. Not to diminish all the wonderful things quality schools and daycares do for children, but teachers and daycare providers are simply no match for a parent. No matter how phenomenal they are, those instructors simply can’t give the personal attention to each of the twelve to thirty students in their charge that a parent can. Most teachers will only spend one school year with a child, approximately 180 days according to the Education Commission of the United States. A parent has the advantage of years with their child; time to learn that child’s individual learning style, needs, strengths and weaknesses.

Time is not the only advantage a parent has in being a more powerful influence on a child’s education. The fact that they can love their child like no other plays a large role in how effective they are at planting ideas and information in those little minds. A child’s primary role model and source of information are their parents, after all. Countless books have been written on the various ways that parents have intentionally or unintentionally damaged their children through the implantation of negative ideas and values into the fertile little minds. We recognize so readily that powerful role of education a parent has when it the result is detrimental, and yet make excuses for not using that incredible power to instill quality education into those minds.

A further hindrance to the influence a teacher has over instilling education into our youth is the regulation and standardization of education. I feel fortunate to not be bound to the restrictions that teachers have as educators who are hampered by beaucratic red tape limiting the subjects they are able to teach. Professional educators are in a unique position in that they not only have to answer to one supervisor, but all the parents of their students. It is so much easier to not talk about sex, politics, or religion rather than deal with the inevitable fallout from parents for teaching subjective topics in a manner that doesn’t coincide with their personal values. The burden of education is placed on the shoulders of our teachers, who we then restrict through fear, are the first to be blamed when our children aren’t being taught. Rather than taking responsibility ourselves as parents, we have instead chosen to regulate and restrict curriculums through standardized testing, forcing teachers to devote what precious little time they have with our children in educating them not in learning, but passing tests. Placed in such a no-win situation, is it any wonder that according to a Times Daily article, teachers are more likely to dropout than students?

The second excuse parents give for taking a passive role in their child’s education is lack of financial resources. Books, computers, and learning materials all cost money, it is true. But the majority of Americans have access to public libraries, which provides not only access to books, but the Internet as well, which is an invaluable resource for finding ideas on free and low cost educational games and activities to share with children. The Internet is the first place I turn when my sons ask me a question to which I don’t have an answer, and according to an InformationWeek article, a resource that as of 2006, 77% of Americans have access to.

The Internet is one of many low to no-cost resources to use in education. Schools have limited funding to provide field trips, but parents can easily plan them independently. A trip to a local farm or farmer’s market is an chance to learn about where our food comes from, the difference between organic and conventional foods, providing the perfect time to try something new, and learn about nutrition. Followed up with a cooking lesson, this could be a lesson full of valuable, real-world, hands on learning. Trips to the local police department or fire station might inspire little ones to think of future careers or create a connection between them and their local community. A trip to an art museum can inspire them to try a new art medium at home to express themselves. A trip to a church, synagogue or temple can provide an appreciation for other cultures and religions. All of these experiences are far easier for us to generate for our children than it is for a teacher with thirty students in tow.

The third, final, and most common excuse I hear parents cite as to why they don’t actively educate their children is lack of time. Certainly we all have busy days working, and cooking, and cleaning, but education is something we can all make time for. According to the US Bureau of Statistics, in 2009 the average American spent .16 hours a day on homework, and 2.82 hours per day watching television. These figures indicate the hard, cold truth. While we claim to be too busy to actively participate in our children’s education, we aren’t too busy to spend the time watching five sitcoms a night. In addition, a Bloomburg Businessweek article claims that on average, children themselves are spending 4.5 hours a day in front of the television, and 1.25 hours playing video games. While we claim to be a society that values education, these statistics show that when our children step off the school grounds, those values are not lived up to through our actions at home.

The solution is simple, and obvious. We need to turn off the televisions and interact with our children. Turn TV time into learning time. Read together, work on projects together, build, learn, and grow together. It’s truly amazing what we can teach our children even without a degree in education, and it is even more amazing to open ourselves up and learn all that they can teach us. When my son asked me about which planets where the largest, our Internet research turned into a model making project, from which I re-learned facts long forgotten. When my son asked me about life in Europe during the Nazi reign, I was excited to pull out one of my favorite childhood stories, Number the Stars, and tell him the story of a Jewish family in Denmark escaping to Sweden to avoid persecution, and relived the same excitement and sorrow I felt turning those same yellowed pages twenty years ago. These educational experiences that my boys and I create together are constructed around our passions, interests, values, and learning styles, and virtually impossible to duplicate in a classroom.

If we want our children to crave education, it is imperative education is cultivated at home. We can’t underestimate the influence and power we have to develop our children into lifelong learners. I don’t expect to be able to teach my two sons everything they want or need to know, but I do believe it is my responsibility to teach them through example and positive experiences that knowledge isn’t something they should seek because their teacher told them to, but because it is a truly enriching gift that will open their minds and make them better, stronger, happier, more confident people, and set a new parenting standard for future generations.

Tiffany can be reached at tiffany@chappellephotography.com

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