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Posted: Mar 23, 2004 10:25

The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have

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The Hyde School Program
For Character-Based Education and Parenting
By: Laura and Malcolm Gauld
New York: Scribner: 2002

Reviewed by: Lon Woodbury

Founded in 1966 by Malcolm’s father Joseph Gauld, the Hyde School in Bath, Maine provided the kind of education he though students really needed. He was concerned the mainstream schools focus was almost exclusively on aptitude, while almost completely ignoring attitude. To be effective, Gauld felt a school needed to work with both aspects, and felt part of the growing problems with America’s young people revolved around the imbalance created when schools did not take a student’s attitude seriously. Over the years, he developed what is referred to as the Hyde School education, which combines College-prep academics with character education.

In the early years, while working at establishing the uniqueness of his school, the elder Gauld enrolled a number of students who were struggling both academically and behaviorally in school. These were the students who obviously were not well served by their home schools. Gauld figured if he could prove his approach was effective in this difficult niche, he would have proof it was beneficial to any student. His success with these students gave the school the reputation of a “turnaround” school, but the authors emphasize Hyde School is not a school for “troubled teens.” It works well with students who are modestly struggling, but they emphasize it is far from being a “therapeutic boarding school.” The book emphasizes Hyde is a regular boarding school with a unique approach, and most students are mainstream with common adolescent problems, who just need the personal growth experiences they were not getting in their home schools or the culture at large.

Over the years, they found poor student attitudes were closely tied to family dynamics. Even though a student might be very successful at Hyde School, if the parents were not actively involved with the school, the student might lose all their progress when he/she went back home. To solve this problem, they evolved a parallel parent track of education, which allows parents to work on their own personal growth, while their child learned personal growth at the school. In a sense, when a parent enrolls their child at Hyde School, they also enroll themselves.

Evolving a very successful and unique school curriculum, Hyde School earned an enviable reputation throughout the country, but especially on the Eastern Seaboard. In my education consultant practice, many of my clients, especially public school teachers on the East Coast, were very familiar with the Hyde School. After contacting the Hyde School, they were calling me because their child’s behavior was too extreme for the Hyde School to be effective.

As the Gaulds learned, and polished their approach to education, they expanded in several ways. They cloned the original school by establishing a sister school in Woodstock, Connecticut, so now there are two boarding schools using the Hyde approach to education. The basis of course for both is adding a commitment to character, attitude, and a sense of purpose. By utilizing the Hyde School philosophy, they also expanded their reach into the public school system. They now successfully run public schools in New Haven, Connecticut and Washington D.C., and are expanding their family education efforts by conducting Biggest Job workshops to thousands of parents across the country.

This book starts with the observation “We have created a system in which our students do not believe their best efforts will be respected,” and the authors insist parents must lead the way in creating a new system. This book then explains what they consider the Biggest Job We Will Ever Have to be, and how their approach is a new “paradigm for reconnecting education with core values,” which they see as the solution. As explained in the book, the core belief is that the most important teacher a child will ever have is his/her parent’s, who have an “enormous impact on how their children approach education and life.” It also understands parenting is not for wimps, and it is difficult under the best of circumstances, thus the title “The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have.”

In the authors’ view, one of the hardest aspects a parent has to grapple with is finding the right balance between achievement and character. Our society in general provides very little guidance regarding this vital task. Applying this in everyday situations is tricky, and the Hyde people have developed 10 core beliefs – the school’s 10 Priorities-“addressing how families can find the right balance between character and achievement.” They report astonishing results when parents learn from either the Biggest Job workshops or family education at the Hyde Schools, because they focus on how to improve “family dynamics and introducing honesty into all aspects of family life,” which are the essence of the ten priorities.

Different from most books on parenting, this book is not a quick fix, nor does it promise one. There are no pat answers, or easy formulas. It is a thoughtful program based on more than 35 years of experience in working with children and their parents in identifying what is truly important. The Gaulds explain these principles very clearly, with the proviso that problems arising in families are rarely clear-cut, and parents needs to use judgment when learning which or how many principals to use in specific situations. To learn this takes time, practice and work.

In the national debate over the causes of the apparent increase in indifference, alienation, and malaise among the nation’s youth, the Gaulds make a compelling case through example, and by illustrating how a major part of the solution is combining personal character growth with challenging academics. This How-to book does a good job of explaining exactly what the Hyde School approach is, and how this approach can help parents and their children succeed in what is really important. Of course, teen indifference, alienation and malaise just – disappear when teens and family have a vision of what core values and principles are most important.

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