Sunday, June 1, 2008

Is Good Best? – Part 1

This article first appeared in Independent School magazine, Fall 2003

Just what do we mean today when we say, “That’s a good kid” or “She is such a good girl”? To begin a frame of reference for myself, I asked a number of parents and educators that question, and there was a common thread in their descriptions. Not surprising to me, no one referred to academic achievement, and nearly everyone included the words “hard working.” I was intrigued and heartened by the fact that a majority of the respondents used words and phrases like “willing to help,” “obedient,” “kind,” “sensitive to the needs of others,” and “trustworthy” to describe a good child. Does academic achievement have any place in the description of a good child?

At a recent NAIS workshop that I attended, President Pat Bassett talked about good children. He concluded his talk by citing a study conducted by Dr. Anthony Campolo, noted speaker and educator. As part of the study a survey of Japanese parents was conducted in which they were asked, “In one word, describe what you want most for your children.” The answer given most often was “success.” Parents in the U.S. were also polled and asked the same question; the majority of Americans said “happy.” As I sat listening to Bassett speak, I was comfortable with what he was saying, but then he went on to ask “Would it be reasonable for that one word to be ‘good’?” It turns out kids who are morally good turn out in disproportionate numbers to be both happy and successful. This data is also supported by Douglas Heath’s works, Schools of Hope and Lives of Hope. That is when I sat up and began to ponder, could that be acceptable to either the Japanese or American cultures today?

Garrison Keillor in his popular radio show “Prairie Home Companion” closes his weekly Lake Woebegone diary with “. . . where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” If his thoughts on America have any validity, his tongue-in-cheek insinuation that every parent believes his/her child is above average might speak to how today’s society is supposed to view its children. There is a constant tension we face in the care of today’s child — the tension between success and happy. I would commend to you Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel; in her book, she addresses this tension, parents, stress, and raising good children. I believe that she hits the mark in trying to help us find a proper balance. (To be continued in the next post)