The schools don't teach us how to be parents. The job is often left to the churches, which also beg the issue by preparing people to get married and not teaching people how to be married. So the young work to live a life that will pass the premarital ecclesiastical interview and assume that something instinctive will trigger some native ability to care for a family the instant the first child is born.
The recent 50th anniversary celebration of the Baker parents gave some of us pause to remember where we learned to be parents. Despite the lack of formal instruction in schools, we seem to be doing OK. The small and large problems in our families are solved despite the sentiment that George Bernard Shaw wrote of in "Misalliance." "If parents would only realize how they bore their children!" (Episode 1).The miracle is that we were once the children, perhaps bored, who learned to be parents by being in a home with parents who had learned to be parents by being in a home with parents. . . . The miracle is, as Wordsworth said: "The Child is but father of the Man;" ("My Heart Leaps Up").
So we have become the parents we have. The Baker kids can look in mirrors and each see a reflection of parents who have set an example for 50 years. More important, the hearts of the children reach back and forward, back to the hearts of the parents and forward to the children. Hearts reach because they have not been spared the lessons and the tests.
I think that Life has spared
those mortals much
And cheated them of more - who
have not kept
A breathless vigil by the little bed
Of some beloved child.
("Vigil," Faith Baldwin)
Now as we savor the flavor of small acts of service that span a half century to accumulate to near infinite goodness, we also remember a debt that we now owe. Our service as children and now parents is the rent we pay for being raised in the Baker home.
Our service and love in our families is how we can teach as we were taught. It occurs to us that these good lessons on parenting should be taught in the schools so all can have the advantages that we had.
Wouldn't our world be better if every person while in school learned how to parent?
The problem is that this lesson cannot be taught in school. The home and family are such strong institutions that the only place the values of home and family can be taught is in the home and with the family. Support of the school is appreciated by the diligent parent, but the only effective place to learn to be a parent is in a family. The school just doesn't have the power to do what is done in a family, whether or not the family is teaching effective or ineffective parenting skills.
A second reason why the schools can't teach people to be parents is that making choices of which values to teach would pre-empt the very institution that the school would be trying to help.
Parenting values are choices to be made in families, not in schools. This attitude must be almost instinctive, given the immediate defensive response of parents when schools sometimes overstep bounds by teaching values with sex education and other value-laden subjects.
It may not work very well or be very efficient to rely on the family to perpetuate family values, but that is where this education will occur. It works in the home because that is the institution that educates the heart. It is where hearts return to the parents.
The proper role of the schools may be to support parents in a difficult task. Perhaps the schools, along with churches, ought to be places where parents can find help and resources.
It would be nice to look back after 50 years of teaching in a family and know that we are where we want to be partly because of the support of the schools. It may be, however, that parents like the Bakers were successful despite the influences of society - sometimes including the institution called school - that can send very mixed signals. It is certainly true that the Bakers taught well because they were educating hearts with hearts, which can't be done in schools.
- Roger G. Baker is associate professor of Eng-lish/education at Snow College. Comments or questions about "Learning Matters" may be addressed to Dr. Roger Baker, English Department, Snow College, Ephraim, UT 84627.