Most schools are interested in helping students find their better selves -- particularly when personal transgressions arise. And most parents -- most of the time -- are steadfast allies when it comes to helping steer their kids in the right direction. It is the exceptions to this general rule, however, that make it very difficult for schools to adopt anything but a very minimalist approach when it comes to introducing kids to the basics of how to be a decent human being.
I remember an incident involving three girls who were being rambunctious while waiting for their commuter ferry in a passenger shelter. For some reason, they kicked a plexiglass window and broke it. I heard about this and contacted the three parents to let them know that part of the resolution would be that the girls pay for the damages. I received three different responses to this proposition. The first was immediate acceptance of the plan and clear support for the idea that the girls need to take full responsibility for their actions. The second offered only begrudging support because she wanted to challenge how much her daughter was involved and what portion she ought to pay. The third parent flat out refused to have her daughter pay. She said, remarkably, that “BC Ferries has insurance for that kind of thing”, with the implication that it should not be up to girls to pay for the damages.
Another story. I had a family with a son at the school whose attendance was erratic. On one occasion, I asked the young man why he had been away, and he explained that he was sick and had to spend the day in bed. I subsequently learned that he was not sick at all, and had in fact played basketball during the evening in question. A few days later, I had a meeting with the parents and asked them about his absence. With completely straight faces they explained that he had been ill for several days. In other words, they flat-out lied. Is it any wonder that the boy himself did the same?
There are some who would say that the youth of today are immoral, lazy, irresponsible and entitled. The truth is that they are what we make them. My experience is that most young people are more than willing to be good-natured, industrious, responsible, respectful and honest if given the right support and direction. If kids end up being otherwise, it is because they have had people they ought to trust leading them down another path.
Parents and schools both have an obligation to present young people with expectations that they will be honest, respectful of others, and take responsibility for themselves. Neither of them can teach these lessons alone. Parents and educators need to be allies in perhaps this most important of educative goals.
Dr. Ted Spear is the founding Principal of two independent schools in British Columbia, Canada. Using research on contemporary educational innovation, and drawing on 25 years of teaching and administrative experience in public and independent schools, he is currently writing a book on the future of grade school education.