6. The Role of Parents in Education

R.J. Rushdoony • Mar, 19 2024

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  • Series: Christian Education
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Let us bow our heads in prayer. Oh Lord our God, we thank thee for our children, and for the privilege of parenthood. We pray for thy blessing upon us as we seek to guide our children in the way of righteousness and truth, and to make them best prepared for life in this world. We pray for thy blessing upon our staff, upon the teachers and the principle, that they may be useful towards the end that our children may be all that they should be, in thee. Bless us this evening in all that we think and do. In Jesus name, amen.

I would like to speak this evening about parents and education. This school is something that was my idea and something I had looked forward to starting for years. I will begin by saying that it is far from what I want it to be, although I am happy with it, but it is moving in the right direction and will for years to come. I don’t expect ever to be satisfied with it, because when you are satisfied with something you are doing you stop progressing.

We have put a lot of time and effort, and had some frustrating times as well, in the development of this school. It has meant a great deal to me, and to my son Mark and his wife Darlene, it takes a lot of capital investment, and when we started out there were some months when Mark and I had to wait for our check, because we couldn’t take our pay and pay for all the equipment and supplies and what not that a school requires. So we both put something into this school; but not as much as you have. You’ve put your children into this school. You’ve made the most important investment that can be made.

Now, for that reason I want to explain what we are trying to do. I will only scratch the surface, and I will do it in terms of parents and children. First of all, children can learn more than they have been learning. When we go back in American history, a one hundred, one hundred fifty, two hundred years ago, we find that children then accomplished then in eight years more than students now do going through the university, and they came out far better educated. Men like Abraham Lincoln had only three years of schooling, and about a six weeks term each year, but they knew the King's English, and were educated men.

When you go back, and I brought with me some examples from my collection of old textbooks, The National Fifth Reader which goes back about one hundred forty years, and you find that it has for the fifth grade, all kinds of writers like William Work, Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, and Thomas D. Quincy, and other great writers of that generation and before. Historians like Thomas Babington Macaulay; most students don’t read now at the university, and many another. It was a book that today would be difficult for college students.

Or the McGuffey Fourth Grade Reader, which has very mature readings, for example by Samuel Johnson, a seventeenth century literary critic, Parallels between Pope and Dryden, two of the poets of the era; stories by Washington Irving, an article on Egyptian mummies, tombs and manners by Belzoni, On the Value of Studies by Lord Bacon, whom I read at the university, and much more.

Now, you might say: “Well, the children then were obviously of a different caliber.” The fact is that in those days a high percentage of the students who started school could not speak English, because those were the days when millions were pouring into this country from all over Europe, and those children were starting not only kindergarten the first grade without knowing any English, but also the fourth grade and the fifth and the sixth. But the schools made them very literate and capable students.

What has happened is that there has been a steady decline in content, a dramatic decline; and the school year has been lengthened, which was not bad, but the content has been lowered, and the school term spread out indefinitely. So that, today, instead of a student going to the university at fourteen or fifteen or getting out into the world, he today may be thirty years old if he goes on to graduate school, before he is ready to start. Now consider the difference that has made to society. It meant that someone was a man when he hit his teens. Admiral Farragut was a fifty-year veteran of the US Navy at the age of fifty-nine, he became an enlisted seaman at the age of nine, and two years before that he was a cabin boy. Well before that he went to school, and he was not an illiterate man by a considerable stretch of imagination. He knew the world, he knew how to express himself. What was the difference? Content; the character of the school, and the character of the family.

Today more than ever we need to return to that kind of standard. Why? Well, in my lifetime a tremendous variety of jobs have disappeared from the labor market because of the upgrading of the character of work, work becomes more complex and requires more skills all the time. Tragically, children are less and less prepared for that world; but they have the aptitude. One of the most interesting things that nobody has bothered to evaluate is this: children have taken to computers. They have taught themselves how to operate computers, and they have actually been able to tap into corporate and Federal computer banks and get all kinds of information. In fact, in one New York class, the boys got together and they broke into some of the most complex computers in the United States. They didn’t do it with any criminal intent, but just to prove they could do it.

Now, something is wrong when the students are getting childish stuff that bores them, but when they are challenged by something as complex as a computer and the possibilities of playing games and doing things with it, the biggest headache that banks, Federal agencies and others today have are these kids from ten to fifteen or sixteen, with their computers. Obviously they have a capacity for learning a tremendous capacity, and we are missing the boat there.

Now what I want to see in this school, and I believe it is going to take place in this school and countless numbers across country, Christian schools; not in my lifetime, perhaps not in your lifetime, but I believe in your grand children’s lifetime, is that the school is going to so improve its content that first we will compress all twelve years or K-12 into about ten years, and then in nine, and then in eight. It was done once, I believe it can be done again. And the interesting thing is that wherever school has presented the toughest challenges to students, there the students have responded the most; and it makes no difference whether that has been done in a ghetto or a wealthy suburb. Children have a lot more potentiality than most of us realize. We want to help them realize that.

Then, second, I want to deal with the role of parents. No-one is a better teacher than a parent. In my book on the Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum I pointed out that the most difficult task in all of education through graduate school is routinely tackled by every mother: it is teaching a child who doesn’t understand a word of any language the mother tongue between the age of day one and two years. Sometimes it takes a little longer. Now that is the most difficult task in all of education, and every one of you mothers have performed it.

Let me tell you something further. I have been, over and over again, sometimes many times in a year a witness in school trials, trials of Christian school parents, or of Christian schools, or of home schools, where mothers keep the child home to try to teach the child. On the average, what we have seen is this; the Christian school parents on court ordered testing by state psychologists have come out between eighteen to twenty-four months ahead of the public school children. The home school children have come out on an average two years ahead of the Christian school children. That is four years ahead of the public school children.

When you have the involvement of the parents in the Christian school you equalize that. You used to have that involvement in the public schools, but about the time of the late thirties, and beginning especially after WWII, the philosophers and administrators of public education, not the teachers, but the philosophers and administrators, began to say it was not good for the parents to try to help their children, it only impeded the learning process and they began to do a great deal of harm to the children with that. Then they proceeded to create the new math, and new English and so on to make it impossible for the parents to help their children, and the damage was increased.

The best learning is where the parent does it, or the parent is actively interested, involved, and has an input. There is no getting around that fact. One of the worst things that I hear over and over again these days, and I never heard it until after WWII and especially since the sixties mothers saying: “I can’t do a thing with my children.” When I was young I never heard of that, mothers knew what they could do with their children, and the children knew it too. That is just a surrender. That is saying that: “I can produce them but I can’t handle them after that.” That is abdication. What a mother has to recognize is that she above anyone else can do the most with her children. So, the Christian school can do wonders if the family and school work together- no teacher can do it alone.

About 1960-61 when John F. Kennedy became president, we still had segregated schools in the south, and so a commission was appointed headed by Dr. Coleman of Johns Hopkins to study all the schools in the country to see what segregation did, the damage it created and so on. Well, with the newly developed computers the commission was able to feed all the data into computers, data from schools everywhere in the country, and the results were a shock. First they found there was no correlation between integration and segregation and educational performance. Second, they found that there was no correlation between the amount of money spent by a school district and the performance. And right on down the line, everything that was assumed to be important made no difference. They only found one correlation: between the stability of the family and the performance of the child. So the best index to the performance of the child was the stability of the marriage and the concern of the parents for their children. If you had that, whatever the race or the nationality or the educational level of the parents or the economic level made no difference, the child did well.

It is interesting, ever since then Dr. Coleman has been trying to find some loopholes and chinks in his own results, he didn’t like the results so he has been trying to disprove them. But it still stands. The family is the most important factor.

Thus, today more than ever, because we are in the midst of a great world crisis, this decade and the next will be the most critical in all of world history; because the whole of the monetary system, the economic system of the world is creaking to disaster, not just one country, but the whole world. The stable home is more important than ever before, and so parents have a responsibility and Christian schools have a responsibility to work together to create the kind of child who can be a molder and shaper of the world tomorrow, who has the stability and strength that is basic to society.

I mentioned the Coleman report, I would like to mention another tremendous research that was done, well, it began in the twenties and it was ended in the late forties by Dr. Karl C. Zimmerman of Harvard. Dr. Zimmerman in his book onThe Family and Civilization studied the data on families in every civilization where there was any known data, and he found that there were three types of families, and the type of family that prevailed determined what was happening to civilization, whether it was going ahead or downhill. The first kind of family was the trustee family, where the family, as the Bible tells us, is the most important institution in society, and it is the basic governmental unit. It controls children, it controls property, it controls inheritance, it controls welfare, it controls education. Those are the basic powers in a family. Did you know that the Bible gives every basic power in society to the family except one, and that is the death penalty? Every other basic power the Bible says the family is to have. Well, the trustee family whenever it has existed has created a strong and stable civilization. But then as the state has become more powerful you have had the domestic family, in which the family is still important, but the state is beginning to take over more and more power. And then the third type, Zimmerman said, is the atomistic family, where the home is no longer a home, it is a place where you eat and sleep and watch television, but basically you live your own life; the children go their way and the parents go their own way. That means the end of a civilization.

Well, Dr. Zimmerman about 1958 wrote another book, this time with Father Lucius Cervantes, a Catholic priest, entitled Marriage and the Family and he carried the research he did in the first book a step further, and he made some predictions about the future, and one of his predictions was that we are going to see as civilization began to approach the crisis stage the greatest revival of the strength of the family in all of history. And I think we are seeing that, I think you are all evidence of it, because you are paying a double tax in order to put your children in this school. You are also more concerned about your children, that is why you’re here.

The family today is paying more for education than the state and Federal governments. The family today is beginning to take over welfare and take care of its family members. The family today is beginning to take back more and more of its old powers, and is doing remarkable things. What is needed today is a report which would take a lot of money to produce because it would be gathering data that nobody has collected, but is there; on the revival of the power of the family, and how the family is beginning to shape the future. It is a very important fact.

The interesting thing by the way is that the only good schooling in ghetto areas with one or two minor exceptions is by Catholic and Protestant Christian schools. Why? Because such a school brings the love of God and the parental love of the children together, and the results are dramatic. In ghetto areas where no one figured that the children were headed for anything but prison, children are now being turned out, are going on to the university and becoming important and useful citizens.

Now, there are certain things that are needed in this alliance of school and family; cooperation, but that can mean a lot of things- it does not mean teachers talking and parents listening- it means communication, it means helping one another. It means, moreover, that we cannot leave the task of education entirely to the school. The basic task in education is discipline. Before there is learning there has to be discipline, and this is why the public schools have problems; the courts and the philosophers of education have stripped the teachers of their powers. As one teacher told me, a public school teacher: “Every time there is a hassle between me and a child, the administration makes me the loser.” Well, that is destructive. It is destructive of education, and it is destructive of the family, because it is the parents, first, who need to prevail; and then the teacher.

Discipline is of course essentially a home product, and it is a problem for all of us because we live in a culture that is hostile to it. One of the top philosophers of education said during the sixties and seventies over and over again that the students who were creating the rioting and the disturbances and defecating all over the Pentagon were marvelous, they were the best students of all because they were giving expression to themselves, and this was the way to a good society. The fact that these ‘students’ were learning little did not register with this philosopher.

So, discipline. Well, of course discipline is a problem to all of us because we are products of the modern world, aren’t we? We have been brought up in a culture that has become increasingly permissive. Some years ago at a conference I was asked to talk to teachers about self-discipline, and I told them the best way to discipline yourself is to start each day by doing the things you like least of all to do; because we can all busy ourselves you know with all kinds of tasks that we enjoy doing, and at the end of the day we are too busy to do the things that needed doing that we didn’t like to do; so they keep piling up and piling up, and we get a bad conscience about them, and they start giving us headaches. The way to handle that is to do the things we least like to do first of all, get them out of the way, and the rest is easy going. We do very well with the rest. And to teach our students to do that. That is why it is important when your children come home, before they do anything else, have them sit down and do their homework. When you give them chores to do, don’t tell them: “You can do it later in the day,” have them start the day with it, and then be free afterwards. When we do the things that we least enjoy doing, it is a discipline, and it puts a different focus to our lives and to our children’s lives. It is most essential, therefore.

Then we have got to realize something that our age is not willing to realize. There are differences, you know, between male and female, between boys and girls. Let me add further that when aptitude tests are not doctored, and IQ tests are not doctored, the results don’t make the male of the species look too good. Our tests, by the way, are doctored to show no differences between the sexes; a matter of principle for the testers. In every field except two, girls and women test out ahead of men or at least equal, so they have the edge or are equal in their performance in most fields. There are only two fields in which, according to anthropologists who have done this kind of testing, where boys and men will excel. One is in ‘aggression’ or ‘dominance;’ the male wants to be dominant, he wants to excel, and God has given him the headship in the family, but He didn’t give him the superiority in most areas, so if he has any sense he relies on his wife. And second, men excel in abstract thinking which doesn’t appeal to women at all. They excel in practical thinking, practical reasoning.

Well, this means that there is a difference in the learning of boys and girls, that dominance bit leads boys to be stand-offish, and act as though learning is not for them, if they don’t do well at it, why they kind of push it away, they are too masculine for that. So they need to have their nose kept to the grindstone by the parents as well as by the teachers. Girls on the other hand are more eager to please the teacher, that is why it is usually a girl who is the teacher’s pet. She doesn’t have that will to dominance or aggression, and the result is she makes a better student. The boy, because of his dominance bit, is likely to be careless about things that he knows that the teacher expects. It is his way of saying: “I am independent.” So he may wear the same clothes three or four days in a row and get by his mother if she is not watching, and growl and complain if he is told to go back and change his clothes, or to wash up before he goes to school. So boys present that kind of problem, and we have to be realistic, and we have to know that there are differences between the two. But there is nothing better for a child than closeness to parents. It is the greatest force in education.

Now, and I am not going to continue much longer, I want to call attention to something. We have developed in this century, and it was developing a little before that, something that has only occurred a few times in civilization; it is a rare disease that has come only when a world is falling apart, and it is known as ‘adolescence.’ Now, adolescence is not a biological fact, adolescence is a psychological fact, where the culture creates rebelliousness in the child. In most cultures, when the child becomes what we call an ‘adolescent,’ he begins to feel maturity, and is then most eager to imitate and emulate his parents, to learn what it is to be a man and a woman. Throughout history this has been the case; only when Rome was falling, or in the Renaissance, culture was collapsing, have you had, and today, what we call ‘adolescence.’

Now I believe that with the Christian school, working closely with the parents, working to give the child a recognition that they have to learn, they are going to be men and women, that the girl is maturity not rebellion- we are going to see adolescence begin to disappear.

I know our youngest daughter, Martha, when she was about ten and noticed some of the goings on of the girls in the neighborhood, shuddered one day and said: “Oh, I hate adolescents, I hope I never become one.” Well, she never did. She never did. And I hope we will see the disappearance of adolescence in our culture in a couple of generations.

The family is the key to molding the future. A culture is molded by its family life; and one of the sad facts in civilization has been that every time you develop an aristocracy in a culture it commits suicide; why? Because they hire nursemaids to take care of the children. The English nannies destroyed the English ruling class. The nannies were often far better persons than the mothers, but there is no substitute for any kind of reasonably good mother. The Southern Nannies were marvelous, but they destroyed the Southern aristocracy, because the child knows its mother. Do you know that recent studies have shown that a child knows its mothers voice and its fathers voice from about the second or third month of its conception? Recognizes the voice, and after birth will turn its head toward the father and the mother. The voice is a bonding, they have heard it for months when inside the womb. And no matter how loving some other woman’s voice may be, it cannot replace the mother if the mother is doing a reasonably good job. So the sad fact is that aristocracies have repeatedly destroyed themselves by failing to appreciate the power of the family, and the molding force of the family in civilization.

I am going to close in a minute or two, but to illustrate that I want to tell you of a tragic fact that happened in Beverly Hills. I very casually knew the woman and her husband involved in this. They both inherited wealth and didn’t have to work, but they were too busy for their child, and they hired a wetback nurse to take care of the child, a boy. And the boy was trotted out to say: “good morning mother and good morning father” and “goodnight mother and goodnight father” and to say hello to visitors, and that was about the sum total. When they entered the child in kindergarten, the parents were furious with the school, and they felt that the school had no right to humiliate them as they were humiliated. Why? Because that school simply called them and said: “your child speaks almost no English, but excellent Spanish.” And when I was a boy back in Michigan I knew of a case where the same thing happened except the child spoke Finnish, because the nursemaid was a Finn.

So, what I am saying is that nothing can equal the importance of the family. So as this school goes ahead, our hope is to strengthen the tie between you and the school, it is your school, it is your children. You have a greater involvement than any of us, and we want your help, and we want to help you. So let’s go forward on that basis.

Let us bow our heads now in prayer.

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Our Lord and our God, we thank thee for these families, for their love of their children, and for their desire for the best for their sons and daughters. We thank thee that they are concerned with their children’s education, and we pray that their children may grow up into Godly manhood and womanhood, and may become useful, able, and disciplined in whatever they do. Bless the parents and their children and the teachers. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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