After 33 years with K-12 special education students, I am now teaching freshman writing classes at a state university. I am amazed at how thoroughly I enjoy working with these students. I had always thought that my ‘mission’ in life was to teach remedial and/or disabled students in K-12 schools. Now I realize that my mission in life is to teach.
I never wanted to leave the classroom for the time it would have taken to earn a PhD, but I now regret that decision. I would very much like to teach in the Education Department since I believe that future teachers — and thus future K-12 students — would benefit from having me as an instructor; as a trainer. However, to qualify for such a job I would need “An earned doctorate and 3 years of teaching experience.” An M.A. plus an extra 30 years of teaching carry no weight. I will write of that in my book, but now want to discuss the role that a family’s make-up plays in the educating of children.
Too often people try to justify divorces and one-parent households, claiming that children are resilient. We hear that “it takes a village” to raise a child, and although that concept may work in some closely knit tribal societies, here in America children need a nuclear family; preferably a family led by the biological parents.
Danger and indifference too often lurk in a society shared with child molesters; serial killers; unrestricted and immoral media; uninvolved stepparents. The village cannot be trusted to do its part and all too often it actually undermines parental teachings; blocks a family’s attempts to protect children.
I have long known the importance of a two-parent family and the role it plays in a child’s development; in the growth of academic and life skills. However, I had not really experienced this, since my careers had limited my exposure to typical families. As a social worker, I worked with foster parents and foster children. The foster parents were wonderful and strong, but foster families are usually not typical. (How many parents have enough time and love left over from their own parenting to welcome lost, unloved, and needy children into their homes?) As a special education teacher, I too often taught children from fractured families. As a sibling of children with handicaps, I observed, firsthand, special education issues, and the inherent problems they bear — heavily — on the family.
The American nation works against the best interests of children. Welfare programs continue to increase the number of fractured families by creating / encouraging / enabling / supporting the one-parent families. The education system drops the final curtain on potential by failing to educate most students (or at least 996 out of every thousand). Welfare and schools — two major forces that are supposed to help children and families — set the stage for ever-greater numbers of children and families to go into adult life without the skills necessary for life. Schools, and weak or fractured families, are failing to teach young people to…read, spell, cipher, write; are failing to teach students to…wonder; ponder; think; question; compare; evaluate; assess; decide; aim; train; learn; work; earn; are failing to support families…so that children have fine examples to emulate so that they, too, grow up knowing how to…pass on living, learning and loving skills to the next generation. It takes a family to teach values; give love; and set examples.
The village, and its media, display and dwell upon the lives of individuals who are: disreputable, whether they be clothed, semi-clothed, or unclothed; rude; coarse-mouthed; illegal; immoral; stupid. It is no wonder that our young people wear clothing that is immodest, inappropriate, rude, crude, insulting. Too many of the fashions, while leaving little to the imagination, provide much to cause alarm. It is no wonder that children from fractured families and/or weak families, have a difficult time sifting through the options thrust into their lives; a difficult time trying to separate the chaff from the wheat and make wise decisions.
During the decades that I spent teaching special needs children, I met far more broken families than intact ones. When one becomes accustomed to experiencing unnatural situations, natural ones become all the more unexpected. I will never forget the day that friends and I — all teachers of the deaf at a state deaf school — were strolling through the first mall to be opened in our city. (Yes, I have been teaching for a lonnng time!)
Children were walking with their parents, chattering about all the new sights and sounds. My friends and I reacted with shock; stunned to hear children speaking with fluency, clear pronunciation; extensive vocabularies. “My goodness!” we exclaimed, “Those children cannot be more than 4 or 5 years of age!” Later, discussing the experience, we realized that we had been too long away from hearing children. We had forgotten that hearing children learn to speak early and with ease; are saved the stress and delay that deaf children experience. Our expectations had become distorted by repeated exposures to non-typical and delayed examples of language acquisition.
I have been going through a similar readjustment/realignment of my thinking and expectations while teaching at the university. I am experiencing, firsthand, the educational and character-building outcomes of two-parent families! It has been eye-opening to realize that most of my university students, several of whom were in special education classes at their K-12 schools, come from — two-parent families! Not only have these young people come to college; and are being successful at college; but they are the nicest; the sweetest; the most respectful (of themselves; of their parents; of teachers) students with whom I have ever worked.
It was rare, indeed, for one of my special education students to go on to college, despite my earnest efforts to prepare them. It has been rare, indeed, for one of my special education students… during this last decade, at least…to come from a family led by two birth parents. Parenting a special needs child puts so much stress on a family that too often parents separate and those most needy of children, as well as their siblings, grow up in broken homes. A student in one of my college classes explains, “My parents are both very special to me for they have raised my handicapped brother…Many families get stressed out and fight over things. Most cannot make it and…end up getting a divorce. It takes a special couple to raise a special child and my parents are.” I was so pleased to learn that she was not only benefiting from such parental decisions and commitment, but was recognizing them as unique.
My college students were to write a paper entitled, “My Parents Are Different” and I would like to share some of the insights; perceptions; wisdom; and … advice…that these young people express. I would like parents to hear all of this directly from young people:
“My parents do not plan to get a divorce because of their differences. They have many differences other than my dad being very laid back, and my mom being a worrywart…In the end, they get around it (emphasis is mine). I would say that we have a happy life and a happy family.”
“My dad is an amazing father because of what he does for us. My mom has a heart of gold that she proves by all the many things she has sacrificed for her family…I love them for being different and working together to parent us with love and wisdom.”
“I have come to realize that the things that make them different are what make them great. Where one is lacking in strength or confidence, the other makes up for. If both parents share the same strengths and weaknesses it would be hard to help each other in times of need.”
“Having parents who are different may actually help. Each parent has his or her own parenting style; problems they can help you with; and lessons they can teach you. I would not change anything about my parents because they are perfect in their own way and without them I would not be the person who I am today.”
“All of these actions that they have will help us prepare for becoming a parent also. They do not teach us these things for us to just brush off and never use again. There are many reasons that they teach us these things. But the most important ones are so we can raise a good family. So that we can teach our kids what is right and what is wrong. But in conclusion, these measures are simply just that unless we have the ambition to make them work.”
“My parents are really good people and give a lot of things to the poor and take really good care of me and my sister. They get along well with each other and they do everything they can to make my life and my sisters’ the best it can be. Although they are very different as people, they work together to parent us with love and wisdom.”
“Despite many differences, when my parents met they fell in love, and I think that because of the diversity, they are still together today. I believe that they enjoy the continuous trail of knowledge that each other leads the other on, learning more and more about their differences.”
“As parents, your number one job is to raise your children right. Now as a kid, I really was not too fond of all the rules, but that has been and still is today my parents’ job…Parents and kids both have rules they have to follow. Yes, I may compare my parents to other parents and find that other parents don’t do that so why do mine? Well, I learned the answer to that question and the answer is that my parents are better at their job than other parents and I respect that…are examples for other parents. It is important to raise children and provide for their families. Good parents are important because they provide their children with support and brighten their day up. Parents are the first teachers you have as a human being; they are your first life teacher. I could not ask for better first teachers. I am really lucky to have parents who are so considerate of my well being and love me as much as my parents. They have taught me to respect life and live it to the fullest potential…They have done an amazing job. This, unfortunately, is not true in so many homes. I am glad that my parents are so different.”
“As I look back I realize that when I have my own children that I will look at the world and decide that I will raise my children the same way that my parents did. I realize that my parents had rules because they loved me very much.”
“My parents are different from other parents. They always want the whole family to be together…All of our holidays are spent together. All of our birthdays are spent with one another. Every summer our family goes on a family trip somewhere.”
“Everyone’s parents are different, whether it is who is better to go to when you get in trouble, who cooks what, or what kinds of movies they like…I think that it is good if your parents are different because they balance each other out and it is always good to have two different kinds of views for things.”
“So in conclusion, my parents are the best thing that has ever happened to me. When I was young they gave me chores and plenty of responsibilities. Because of this I was able to carry that into college with me and know what is expected of me. It is also something that I will pass on to my children. When I first came to college, I was terrified at having to take care of everything myself. When I talked to my dad about it, he just reminded me of everything that he had instilled in me when I was younger. After I was done talking to him I realized that I would be just fine.”
And finally…this story of parents who kept their marriage intact during times of great adversity:
“After the violent destructive Vietnam War, my parents settled in America. First they both attended school and got used to the American life style. It was pretty rough for my dad to attend school because he was older…With many troubles, my parents learned English and were able to adapt their life style to one common to others. Now they are [still] together and are almost the same as native American citizens. They manage to support the family and live happily ever after.”
I would not have, for anything, missed the opportunity to teach these fine young college freshman. I have learned so much from them; I only hope they have learned as much from me. I applaud all of their intact families. I encourage all parents to use their own differences to good advantage in supporting their children; in leading their families; in parenting for the future.
Parents can learn to work with differences; stay together; use various strengths and talents to make their family stronger. A strong, intact, supportive family will almost assure that children will be successful in life.
“Get around it”!
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is an educational consultant, homeschooling mom, and public school special ed teacher. She is available for presentations, inservices, and workshops.