Thursday, April 22, 2021

Eight in Ten Youths Believe the Adults in Their Lives Value Achievement Over Caring for Others

Here's the good news: in a national survey conducted by Harvard University, roughly two-thirds of youth listed kindness as one of their top three values and 64 percent included fairness in their top three.

Here's the bad news: Approximately 80 percent of these same kids report that their parents and teachers are more concerned with achievement more than caring for others. The vast majority of America's youth agree with this statement: "My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my class than if I'm a caring community member in class and school."

When parents and teachers are asked, most say that raising caring children is a top priority, ranking it as more important than achievement.

In other words, we adults, despite our best intentions, are falling down on the job. There is a significant disconnect between our intentions and the results we are achieving. We might hold things like empathy and compassion dear, but our kids aren't buying it. Indeed, it seems we are teaching them exactly the opposite.

And no wonder. Most children spend their first couple decades forced to attend schools where the highest values are obedience and academic achievement, and they are surrounded by adults who are being judged by how well the kids in their care behave and achieve. For educators, the judgement is overt. Teachers risk losing their livelihoods and schools their funding should the kids' achievement fall short of arbitrary measures set up by policymakers. For parents, the pressure is less direct, but crushingly real nevertheless: we all know that when our children misbehave or if they are indifferent students, we will be, at least in part, blamed for it. "It's their parent's fault" is a kind of mantra we fall back on whenever we consider our collective failures.

We all worry about the "moral state" of our youth, yet most of us don't think we're part of the problem. This also shows up in the research. So just know that if you are tut-tutting right now over all those hypocritical adults out there, know that they are doing the same thing about you. In fact, I've seen other surveys in which educators believe that academic achievement is all parents care about and vice versa.

So what can we do? It seems like we need to spend more time talking to one another. I mean, most of us agree that we live in a society that needs more kindness and fairness. Our children value kindness and fairness. We know that life for everyone would be better with more caring community members. Yet, according to these Harvard researchers, our day-to-day communications send the message that competition, obedience, and academic achievement should be our top priorities. This is one of the primary messages behind my e-course, Partnering With Parents. It seems to me that the way out of this bizarre situation is for educators and parents to get to know one another better, to communicate our values, and to learn that we all want the same things. I can't imagine anything more powerful than educators and parents united, not around grades and test scores, but around the higher values of kindness and caring.

The joke is that our children don't listen to us, but when it comes to values they clearly do. Indeed, we've more or less compelled them to it with systems of reward and punishments, carrots and sticks, both overt and subtle. This is how we are teaching them what we value and, in turn, what they should value. They are listening to us, but it comes at the price of basic human kindness.


Educators and parents have similar goals for children, but it often doesn't stemlike it. There are few things that can improve your life as an early childhood education than improved relations with the parents of the children you teach. As preschool educators, we don't just educate children, but their families as well. For the past 20 years, I've been working in a place that puts the tri-cornered relationship of child-parent-educator at the center, and over that time I've learned a great deal about how to work with families to create the kind of village every child needs and deserves. I'm proud to announce that I've assembled what I've learned into a 6-part e-course called Partnering With Parents in which I share my best thinking on how educators can and should make allies of the parents of the children we teach. (Click this link to register and to learn more.) Register now to receive early bird pricing. Discounts are available for groups.

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