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Posted April 15, 2005 

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 American childrearing.

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 steadily decline.

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 kids.

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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