Thanks to a thoughtful parent, I am in possession of a copy of an eye-opening article from last Friday’s Wall Street Journal that has a critically important message for all parents. The point of the article is to highlight the most important factor that can lead a child to academic success.
In portraying the ethnic makeup of the successful 830 students out of the many thousands of 8 th grade applicants who were accepted to one of New York City’s most prestigious public High Schools, Asian-Americans captured three of every four slots, which is way out of proportion to their percentage of the city’s population. Their performance on the entrance exams, which are measures of the totality of a student’s verbal and math abilities accumulated over a lifetime, reflected highly successful learners, despite many coming from homes where English is not the native tongue.
In a separate analysis, a researcher tried to discover a common thread among the finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She discovered that rather than innate intelligence, it was tenacity that brought these children to the finals. They were willing to forego watching TV and texting friends in favor of hours of tedious work making flash cards and memorizing the spelling words.
This is unusual – for a child to be able to avoid being distracted by popular media and to focus on studying to such an extent. It can only happen because a parent has set the stage. It is the combination of driven parents and motivated students who create Olympic stars and spelling champions. It doesn’t happen without the parent.
We are not advocating such an extreme approach or undue pressure on any child. What is crucial to extract from this article is the realization that the parents’ role in their child’s academic and school success is central and pivotal. Fostering a positive attitude to learning, making the home conducive to intellectual striving, reviewing basic facts through games and songs, welcoming the opportunity to admit and learn from mistakes, teaching and modeling responsibility for one’s actions and assignments, aligning educational growth with school goals and celebrating real accomplishments are some of the actions and attitudes that separate the achievers from the strugglers.
We live in a society that has many excuses and explanations for failure. It is easy to find external factors to blame for a child’s mediocrity in learning; class size is too large, teacher isn’t inspired, textbooks are old, too many misbehaving children in the class and the list goes on.
However, stop and ask any teacher or principal anywhere to think of the five top students in their class or school, and then to think of the parents’ role in actively supporting their child’s education. Ask them also to think of a student or two who’s shown significant improvement and it’s guaranteed there will be more of a correlation between success in learning and supportive parental involvement than any other factor, trait or talent.
If a child has a real learning challenge that requires additional, expert intervention beyond the regular classroom, it is even more critical for a parent to face the situation forthrightly, advocate for the child, get the help needed and be a source of continuous patience and encouragement as the child navigates the increased difficulty of his or her situation. Success will be measured commensurate to the challenge, and here too, appropriate parental involvement and expectations will spell the difference between achievement and failure.
Parents hold the key to their children’s success in life. Make sure to use it to open the doors of opportunity and growthand not to lose it among the distractions and attractions of modern day life. Expect more (within reason) and you’ll get it!
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann