March 2017: Teach Your Children Well

March 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Teach Your Children Well

Monday, March 20, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Crosby, Sills, Nash & Young in song told parents to have a code to live by, to feed their children on their dreams, and never ask them “why?” since this could lead to tears. (Watch video of song on YouTube) Would this work as a child rearing method? Do we want children who obey the rules or who think for themselves? Are the youngsters pre-programmed by genetics or can adults make a difference? Are we supposed to teach or indoctrinate our children? And who should do the teaching—parents, the school system, the children’s peers, television and the internet. (Or did Tarzan’s parents have the right idea and let the apes do all the work?) And what can the young teach us?

It is claimed there are four parenting styles (some assert up to twelve):

  1. Authoritarian: Parents are demanding and set strict rules without child input with discipline to enforce obedience. Key phrase-“Because I said so.”
  2. Authoritative: Parents have high expectations, set a structure for children through rules and routine which are explained, and encourage communication. Favored by developmental psychologists.
  3. Permissive: Parents are indulgent, undemanding, and avoid confrontation. Parent may try to be child’s best friend and use bribery to obtain compliance. The child is loved but not guided. Considered harmful except possibly by the happily spoiled child.
  4. Neglectful: Key phrase-“Why bother? Parenting’s hard and you’ll be blamed whatever you do.” Child rearing is handed off to schools, local gangs, correctional institutions, and in rural areas packs of wolves.

Other parental modes such as “Tiger Moms”, Helicoptering, Narcissism, Toxic Parenting, or Vulcan Father, Betazoid Mommy are thought to be variations on these four styles. Since parenting is mostly done by rank amateurs, it’s surprising so many kids turn out OK.

How should schools teach our children? Do they reinforce good parenting and take up the slack for the less than good? If teachers have values, how do they communicate them and should they? Does society need rule keepers or independent thinkers? Can it have both? Or should schools be teaching reading, writing, science, and math and not worry about truth, justice, and the American way? Do we socialize the young or break their spirit? Is school an idyllic land of teachable moments or a daytime detention center for kids who would otherwise roam the streets?

Experts study how children learn and their stages of development. Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, even had the strange idea of actually talking to the young and asking them what they thought. Behavioral psychologist, B. F. Skinner, claimed the key was positive reinforcement of acceptable and negative reinforcement of unacceptable conduct. Sometimes electric shocks were used. But despite pictures of her in a box, Skinner’s daughter said he was good Dad and never electrocuted her. So after centuries of study do we actually know how kids learn and how to help them do it better?

For the religious and/or ethical is something missing from this picture? Are the Ten Commandments or the Humanist Manifesto more important than anything child psychology and a suspect school system offers? Are eternal spiritual or secular values the real key? St. Ignatius of Loyola claimed that if he can reach a child at age seven, he would shape the rest of the young person’s life. What role does moral teaching have in education? And what if a child endures years of religious or ethical instruction and seeks the opposite? What role should philosophy play in education? Both Justinian I, the Christian Emperor of Byzantium and ISIS banned philosophy from schools as blasphemy.

The song “Teach the Children” also implored children to teach their parents well. Can adults learn from the young? How many of us rely on seven year olds to program electronic devices? How many have found their fashion sense, taste in music, and general knowledge of what is important “weighed in the balance and found wanting?” After all when we were young, we knew everything. Hasn’t it gone downhill since? French aviator and author of The Little Prince, Antoine de St. Exupery observed, “Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” Can we as adults hear the wisdom of intellectual inquiry over indoctrination when spoken from the mouths of babes?

On Monday, March 20 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue (corner of Summit & Pierce), St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if we can teach children anything much less teach them well. Our learning tools will be the agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality. If we don’t have a child to lead us, maybe we’ll still find our way. Positive reinforcement will be provided by wonderful treats!