Where Has All The Parenting Gone: Schools Have Become The Parent?

Where Has The Parenting Gone: Schools Have Become The Parent?

School was never designed to replace parents, but in effect that is what has happened. In the past, whether the parents were farmers, hunter/gatherers, or shopkeepers, their children were with them throughout the workday. Being near parents who worked gave children a very real look at daily life. They saw firsthand that effort equals results, and that hard work and cunning put food on the table. They slowly learned the skills and nuances of their parents’ work.

Present-day children see their parents go off to work and come home, occasionally with this piece of paper called a paycheck that represents their efforts. Children in modern culture seldom see their parents working, and have little grasp of what all that work stuff is really about. It’s far easier for a father to model good work ethics in person than just to lecture about it at home. Allowing children to see the actions and results of work moves them out of the abstraction of principles passed along in school and into the reality of actual experience.

Learning from Role Models in the Community

When I was a kid, one of the coolest things I did was to go to work with my father occasionally. When he was a bread delivery driver, sometimes my brother and I would tag along. We’d help out, get some pastry treats, and feel grown up. For a time, my dad was a night security guard at a new high school that hadn’t opened yet. My brother and I sometimes went there to keep him company. We got to play on the switchboard, have the run of the building, and make his rounds with him, which was kind of scary. But I had a good sense of what he did when he said he was going to work.

In my classic blue-collar neighborhood, I picked up little bits and pieces of the work puzzle from the other dads. We had the milkman down the block, the roofer across the street, the carpenter next to him, the truck driver at the other end of the block, and the butcher next door. We boys hung around anyone with tools, played on the roof while it was being repaired, and checked out the truck driver’s big rig. We saw what our dads did, and wanted to be like them.

A critical offshoot of this dynamic is that having children tag along throughout daily work efforts keeps them under the family’s learning umbrella. Family values and ethics are constantly reinforced, while a modern child in public school is actually removed from his or her parents for a minimum of six hours a day, five days a week, for twelve years. Typically, once all family members return home at the end of the day, most available time is taken up with homework, dinner and dishes, baths, chores, and so on.

Can Twenty Minutes A Day Be "Quality Time"?

Where Has All The Parenting Gone: Schools Have Become The Parent?Modern parents strive to create “quality time” with their children, partly because they are removed from the family for such large blocks of time. The average American father spends only twenty minutes per day talking with his children. Is it any wonder, then, that family values and parenting abilities have diminished?

As children now often spend more of their awake time at school than at home, it’s not surprising that parents face an uphill battle trying to instill their own values in their children. Keith Jackson, with the San Diego Gang Suppression Unit, provided the following information from a study regarding the changing influences around children in this rapidly progressing society:

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Greatest Influences in a Child’s Life



1. Family

1. TV/Other Media

2. Church

2. Peers

3. School

3. School

4. Peers

4. Parents

5. TV/Other Media

5. Church

As you can see, the influences have basically reversed themselves in just one generation. This is a critical shift, in that it opens the doors for other problems to manifest. A century ago, teens were not separated off into their own section of society, but this is precisely what has evolved as a result of compulsory schooling.

Expecting Schools to be the Model for Work and Life?

I believe that a high divorce rate and removing children from their families five days a week for schooling have certainly created a “diminished family” system. And rather than parents passing along vital information and modeling about work and life, we now expect school to do so. Having deferred this great responsibility to our under-equipped and overburdened schools, it should surprise no one that so many of our teens seem to be aimless and disdainful of adult life.

Perhaps no one can speak more knowledgeably or eloquently on the subject of kids and school than John Taylor Gatto (author of Dumbing Us Down and Weapons of Mass Instruction). He spent much of his illustrious, award-winning career deprogramming kids from the daily school ritual. Gatto contends,

Young people are indifferent to the adult world and to the future, indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence. Rich or poor, school children who face the twenty-first century cannot concentrate on anything for very long; they have a poor sense of time past and time to come. They are mistrustful of intimacy like the children of divorce they really are (for we have divorced them from significant parental attention): they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.

So what can be done? Gatto concludes:

[School] needs to stop being a parasite on the working community. . . . only our tortured country has warehoused children and asked nothing of them in service of the general good. For a while, I think we need to make community service a required part of schooling. Besides the experience in acting unselfishly that it will teach, it is the quickest way to give children real responsibility in the mainstream of life.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Park Street Press, an imprint of Inner Traditions Inc.
©2004, 2006 by Bret Stephenson. www.innertraditions.com

This article was excerpted with permission from the book:

From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age
by Bret Stephenson.

From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age by Bret Stephenson.For tens of thousands of years all across the globe, societies have been coping with raising adolescents. Why is it then that native cultures never had the need for juvenile halls, residential treatment centers, mood-altering drugs, or boot camps? How did they avoid the high incidence of teen violence America is experiencing? In From Boys to Men, Bret Stephenson shows readers that older cultures didn’t magically avoid adolescence; instead they developed successful rituals and rites of passage for sculpting teen boys into healthy young men.

Click here for more info or to order this book on Amazon.

About the Author

Bret Stephenson, author of From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent AgeBRET STEPHENSON is a counselor of at-risk and high-risk adolescents and a men’s group facilitator. In addition to serving as executive director at Labyrinth Center, a nonprofit organization in South Lake Tahoe offering classes and workshops on adolescent issues for teens and adults, he is currently designing and implementing employment and entrepreneurial projects for teens. He has been a presenter and speaker at the United Nations World Peace Festival and the World Children’s Summit.


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