Fix Parents, Not Kids
Joseph W. Gauld
Founder of Hyde Schools,
Bath, ME 04530
The difficulties of the therapeutic school industry, highlighted
by the bankruptcy of Browne Schools Inc., were inevitable.
Simply put, therapeutic schools were designed to "fix"
the off-track kid. After founding four character-based schools,
I've learned the real solution is to "fix" the families.
The Browne Schools were essentially closed by disgruntled
parents who had expected educators to transform their kids
without changing the kids' parents and families. This amazing
naiveté reflects a national attitude, and a society
oblivious to the tragic decline in the overall quality of
Over my 53 years as a teacher, I've seen parents' expectations
for their children's futures steadily rise, but the quality
of their preparation of children to realize such higher expectations
Once today's kids hit adolescence, many experience the tension
caused by this wide gap between expectation and preparation.
This leads them to escape the tension through drugs, sex,
acting out and other off-track behaviors. The present rehabilitation
focus on kids and not families simply encourages kids to remain
child-like, feeding a Peter Pan syndrome.
Character development is the foundation for preparing kids
to realize high expectations in life. Character is primarily
taught by parents-and primarily by their example. Parents
today must come to realize the vital character foundation
they provide children simply by how they live.
Adolescence is the ultimate challenge to help teenagers realize
the deeper intellectual, emotional and spiritual potentials
they need to meet high expectations and live an exceptional
life. The metaphor for human adolescence is nature forcing
the caterpillar to develop strong enough wings to break out
of its cocoon-which in turn enables it to fly as a butterfly.
The American family today is a slowly weakening cocoon.
American parents today often value harmonious family relationships
above challenging their teenagers' best.
At our Hyde Schools, in which our primary focus is developing
character for life, we require parents to participate in a
rigorous program that addresses parental growth and family
issues on a regular basis. Our formula is simple; if we succeed
with parents, we know we will eventually succeed with their
Fortunately, therapeutic schools are slowly learning to focus
on parental and family growth to succeed with students. So
what can our society learn from their difficulties? What about
the vast number of off-track students in America who simply
can't afford therapeutic schools?
The problem-and its solution-lies in strengthening their
parents and families.
We Americans have a choice. We can continue to ignore the
decline in American childrearing, and simply tolerate the
millions of high school drop outs and other off-track kids.
Or we can find the courage to revolutionize American education
by helping parents become its primary teachers and the home
its primary classroom, and thus offer every child a real opportunity
to realize one's high expectations in life.
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