Friday, May 27, 2011

Advice for Parents

I know that one should not be quick to give advice.

I know that I run a risk, the risk of hypocrisy. None of us always do what we know we should. I am no exception. But I still know what I should do, even when I don't do it.

But I'll run that risk. I have advice that I wish to give, advice for the parents of my students.

I'm certain that this advice will offend. I'll be told that the obstacles for some are simply too great. In my defense, let me say that I do know how hard life can be. I know just how unjust - economically unjust - our country has become. But you simply cannot wait for a solution from outside. If the poor do make any gains, it will be only slowly and in tiny increments. There will be no revolution, no quick transition from the gross inequality of the present. If there are to be solutions, solutions for the present, they must come from within your family. They must come from you, the parent. You wish your children to have a decent life. But this is not possible without a decent education. You have to take the reins. You must make your children do.

"But the schools, Dr. Mason! The schools are no damn good!" I say that they're better than many folks believe. The primary problem here isn't the facilities or the teachers. (I don't say that they're perfect, or that we shouldn't concern ourselves with their improvement. Of course we should. I just say that they're not the primary problem.) The primary problem is the students. Too many don't value their education. Too many don't do their work. Now, my purpose here isn't to condemn. Instead it is to point a way out. I don't much care how we got into the fix we're in. (I have a theory about that; I suspect you do too.) I care about how we get out. I'm convinced that the solution must be bottom-up. It must come from within the family, and it must be initiated, guided and brought to completion by the parents.

I do know that no one can follow this advice always and everywhere. But in your home you should establish a pattern, a norm. This advice should be followed whenever possible, and that of course is most of the time.

Now for the advice.

1. Do you have a conversation with your children at the end of each school day? Do you ask them what they learned? Be ready to question them at length. Demand that they answer.

2. Is homework your child's first priority once they arrive home? Play is for later. Homework comes first. It must always be completed. It must always be turned in.

3. Does your child have a quiet place to work? Turn off the television. Put away the cell. Spread out on a table. Get quiet. Get to work.

4. Do you help where you can? Stay close by as your child does her homework. Answer questions when you think it appropriate, but refuse to do the work when you know your child can do it.

5. Do you review the homework? Even if you don't know yourself how to do the work, you will of course know when the work is shoddy and incomplete and when it is not. Demand that your child redo what was not done well. (The first time you do this there will be wails of anguish. If you don't cave in, there likely won't need to be a second time.)

6. Do you contact the teacher whenever you have questions about your child's work? We're really quite delighted when parents get in touch. For most of us, it's a rare event.

7. Do you share a meal with your children? Is that meal nutritious? Your child should not have free access to crap. Better yet, don't keep crap. Don't pretend you don't know what the crap is. I know that it's easy to give in and let the kids have their crap. Don't.

8. Is your child in bed at a decent hour? I'll be blunt: no child should have a TV in her room. The temptation is simply to great to turn it on and watch. Children have little impulse control. Your task is to control their impulses for them. Do you know that the cell is off when your child goes to bed? You can find out; I know you can. If you suspect that your child uses her cell when she should be asleep, I have a simple solution: just take it away.

9. Do you wake your child so that she has enough time to eat, bathe and get to school on time? If your child is chronically tardy, the fault is yours. Fix it.

10. Do you reward your child for work well done, but refuse rewards when the don't do well? Rewards that are given come what may are worth nothing. They serve only to spoil a child. Rewards given only when rewards are due? Now that's something that will be cherished.

11. Do you punish a child when their work isn't up to their ability? If you don't, your child has no motivation to do well. Children simply do not think about the long-term consequences of their actions. You have to do that for them. If they screw up and you don't punish them for it, you haven't done your job. Take something away that they value. Don't let them out of the house when they're not in school. Do something they'll really dislike. Really punish them. (That word "punish" doesn't have the currency that it used to. We need to bring it back into fashion.)

I also know that if you begin to do the things I've advised you to do, your child is likely to throw a long nasty fit. So be it. You can weather the storm. There can be no real change without real pain. Be firm. Stay strong.

No comments :

Post a Comment