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What is the most important aspect of your child's education?

Posted October 14

The Eyres remind parents that how well a child does in school and in life will have more to do with your involvement in his intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual education — with what she actually learns from you about people and about life — than it will have to do with how much you push for good grades and high SAT or ACT scores. (Deseret Photo)

How important are kids’ grades in elementary school? In junior high? In high school? How do we motivate our kids to get higher grades and be more competitive? How do we prepare them for tests such as the SAT and other college entrance requirements? Are private schools worth what they cost and will they get a child into a better college or university? What are the things prestigious universities look at, and how can we be sure our children have checked off those boxes?

Are these the right questions?

Or should we be asking some other things, such as how do we teach our children values? How do we help them discover their unique gifts and interests and talents? How to we help them think for themselves? What are their educational options? Are we focused on who our kids really are and not on some preconception of them as an extension of our own egos, of what we want them to be or wish we had been ourselves? How do we balance academic emphasis with raising a well-rounded child?

Our point here is that it is possible to become obsessed with our kids' grades, with making the honor roll, with getting them into a “name” university, with being sure they jump through the hoops of the educational system in the established way that will lead to honors and compliments for them and for us and that will land them a great job in a high-status profession.

And sometimes we might try to help them do all that without thinking hard enough about who a child is as an individual, what his unique gifts and talents are, how he learns and processes information, what makes her happy or what she is most passionate at or interested in. Other things we often fail to consider is where a child's heart is, how she treats other people, how his character is developing, if his faith and values are well in place and whether he can make good choices and decisions. On top of that, we need to consider how much and how early have we taught him about drugs, about sex, about violence, about tolerance, about danger, about looking for other kids who need help or who need a friend.

The point is that our stewardship as parents contains a lot of opportunities and responsibilities that are ultimately more important than pushing our kids to get top grades.

The three R’s of “readin’, ’ritin’ and ’rithmitic” are important, but so are the other three R’s of responsibility, relationships and right-brain learning or creativity.

And not all kids learn in the way schools try to teach. Not all kids should go to Harvard. Some kids have mechanical or social or creative gifts that don’t match up perfectly with the academic talents that lead to straight A’s. There are other ways for kids to be successful (and other definitions of success) beyond making the honor roll every semester.

In speaking to groups of parents around the world, we have come to admire those who strive to raise responsible, well-rounded, caring and values-driven kids more than those who focus only on academics. In some places, the academic focus is so acute that there is no time left for anything else. In many Asian countries, particularly Japan and Korea, we frequently observe kids who go to three or four hours of “cram school” after their regular school ends each day, and in families that can afford it, moms often leave their homes for years in order to live in the U.S. with young children so they can learn English and attend prep schools that will get them into a prestigious university. We have found that the husbands, left at home with their careers, often flounder emotionally and morally.

And here closer to home, we see some parents going into serious debt to have their child attend an expensive private school that boasts a good record of getting kids into Ivy League schools. It is as though parents are measuring their success (and sometimes their own self-image) on their kids’ grades and on what college they get into.

Those who know us through valuesparenting.com know that we think the most important thing we can teach preschoolers is not early academics but the social and emotional joys that ready them for school and for life. With elementary-age kids, we think the key is teaching responsibility, and with adolescents and teens, the emphasis should be on sensitivity, kindness and decisions.

No one would argue the fact that academics are important, that a fine education is a wonderful and lasting gift and that how well a child does and where he goes to school can be a powerful factor in how much money he makes or how good a job he gets. But remember that there are other factors. Remember that character and values and identity and empathy will have more to do with ultimate happiness than academics. And remember that how well a child does in school and in life will have more to do with your involvement in his intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual education — with what she actually learns from you about people and about life — than it will have to do with how much you push for good grades and high SAT or ACT scores.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak worldwide on family issues. Their new books are “The Half-Diet Diet” and “Life in Full.” See valuesparenting.com or eyrealm.com.

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