A recent talk by Elder Perry seems appropriate to celebrate this Mother's Day. What follows are some excerpts from his talk given in April, and my personal thoughts concerning them:
"Teaching in the home is becoming increasingly important in today’s world, where the influence of the adversary is so widespread and he is attacking, attempting to erode and destroy the very foundation of our society, even the family."
Two thought provoking and provocative books I recently read assert that public schools are one way families are being attacked. Both books are by John Taylor Gatto, a renowned, 30 year veteran school teacher of the NYC public school system. (Dumbing us Down and Weapons of Mass Instruction, I recommend the second more than the first. It is more historical and substantive. While I do not agree 100% with everything Gatto says, his books are well worth a discerning read.)
One premise in his book is that by taking children away from their families for the majority of the day, when they are most vulnerable to outside influences, parents eventually become secondary in the lives of their children. Ever seen this happen?
Do We Know What our Children are Taught Outside of our Home?
"My siblings and I were quizzed very carefully by our mother after we had been taught away from the home to be certain the correct lessons were reaching our ears and shaping our minds."
How many of us quiz our children about how their minds are being shaped as they are away from us? Are we able to "detect the subtle and brazen" attempts to destroy our families. A few recent examples from our own life seem pertinent. These examples speak to the questionable influences of school in my own child's life. Two represent outward pressure enforced on children by other children, resulting from the financial aims of the school and the final a disturbing lack of solid curricula.
Our school cafeteria devised a contest scheme amongst classrooms. The class with the most students purchasing school lunch in a month would receive a class party. Now, I have eaten lunch at our school and the offerings are little less than poison to a growing child's body. The pressure resulting from this contest, had a dear friend of mine, with 4 children in the school, baffled and digging deep into her pockets to supply the sudden desire of her children to eat school lunch. It also led to comments from children like "Our class isn't going to win because so-and-so has allergies and he will never eat school lunch." Hmmm.
And then yet another contest Ellery came home passionate about. The class with the most children visiting a particular website (and she proceeded with a 5 minute discussion of the password, multiple clicks and destinations required) and purchase a season pass to the local water park would receive a party. She was devastated when I told her we wouldn't be purchasing a season pass. I am having a baby and it isn't practical. "But we have to so my class can get the party!"
Can you see where this is going? Why did they spend so much time "schooling" my child about how to visit a website to raise money for the school? The sponsorship and encouragement of these contests results in the shaming and guilt of the non-participative children and families. Inexcusable. This is not the kind of socialization I want for my child. It is pitting children against their parents. Our innocent little ones want a party, who doesn't, and when mom and dad stand in the way, who becomes the bad guy, the school or the parents? I realize this is not deliberately done by teachers or administrators. They are good people trying to earn a living and help children, in a broken system. I know, I was one of them.
Finally, a third example which distressed me recently. We attended a little program put on by the first graders. The children spent a great deal of time learning and memorizing songs about families, being VIP's, sharing, being kind to Grandma etc. It was very cute and entertaining program. (Although Ellery complained several times in the weeks previous about how boring it was to always practice the songs.) So why does this upset me you wonder? What could be wrong with teaching the children values at school?
The problem is school is not the setting to teach these values. Values separated from God, the gospel and our families don't have staying power. They are simply words from strangers, divorced of meaning. The home is where values are taught. Schooling should be about educating. If we aren't educating at school, and we have no time left to do it at home, when does it happen? Why wasn't my child singing cute songs full of accurate historical data? Why was she learning "social studies" instead of history. (Another great read addressing this issue is Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch. The middle gets a bit long, but he presents some compelling data on how schools are failing to educate our children anymore.)
As I read Elder Perry's talk I think about the "luxuries" afforded to mother's and families 70 years ago. He speaks of washing dishes and churning butter (I know churning butter doesn't seem like a luxury, but it was time the family worked and did things together)...school, media, and activities weren't so intrusive. Time was left for the chosen curriculum both secular and spiritual of his mother. Many families today don't have that luxury. By our own design, through over-scheduling and media, or through the demands of school assigned homework. Homework is not curriculum chosen by mothers or families.
"Parents must resolve that teaching in the home is a most sacred and important responsibility. While other institutions, such as church and school, can assist parents to “train up a child in the way he [or she] should go” (Proverbs 22:6), ultimately this responsibility rests with parents."
I believe an extremely vigilant parent can work within the school system and have a strong family. However, without severely limiting activities and media, constant surveillance, and supplementation of their education I don't know how this is possible. Who does that? Is that why families are falling apart? Could that be why LDS church leaders beg us to filter out media from our lives and really focus on our sacred God given roles?
Being the Central Cast Member
"According to the great plan of happiness, it is parents who are entrusted with the care and development of our Heavenly Father’s children. Our families are an integral part of His work and glory —“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). On God’s eternal stage, it is usually intended that parents act as the central cast members in their children’s lives. Fortunately, there are understudies involved in the production who may step in when parents can’t. It, however, is parents who have been commanded by the Lord to bring up their children in light and truth
(see D&C 93:40).
Brent and I are determined to be the central cast members in our children's lives. It will be difficult and I know we will face scorn. Any time our choices move out of the mainstream people feel threatened or offended. I still struggle getting past my own insecurity in dealing with the scrutiny and questioning of others in our decisions on how to raise our family, but I am constantly comforted and guided by a husband, impervious to what others think of him (a true gift), and the Holy Spirit.
"I believe it is by divine design that the role of motherhood emphasizes the nurturing and teaching of the next generation. We see so many challenges today from distracting and destructive influences intended to mislead God’s children. We are seeing many young people who lack the deep spiritual roots necessary to remain standing in faith as storms of unbelief and despair swirl around them. Too many of our Father in Heaven’s children are being overcome by worldly desires. The onslaught of wickedness against our children is at once more subtle and more brazen than it has ever been. Teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in the home adds another layer of insulation to protect our children from worldly influences."
A Challenge and Vision
I would challenge each of us as mother's or parents, to prayerfully discern the best ways to be the central role players in our children's lives, to insulate and protect them. Personally, I feel lucky. This is a journey most effectively begun now when my children are young. It is about being the best mother I can, looking back on Mother's Day many years from now without regret, only with joy.
Happy Mother's Day to All...Now and Future