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Are parents the best teachers?

Parents, children, educating, inculcatiing

It is simple to find out how important parents are for children. A visit to an orphanage is proof. The children wear a lost look, approach any visitor with eagerness, and desperately want to be loved. Foster parents brought up the famous Marlyn Monroe because her own mother had to be admitted in a mental home. Her father never gave her his name. This total lack of parental guidance made hers a life of humiliation, insult and torture throughout her childhood and adolescence. Even when she was a top star in Hollywood, memories of a disturbed childhood continued to haunt her. She had a string of failed marriages. But she finally committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. She was 38 when she died. Her real name was Norma Jean Baker but she did not like to mention it.

On the other hand, we have the example of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, whose early upbringing under the able guidance of his mother Amita Sen, father, Dr. Ashutosh Sen and maternal grandfather Kshitimohan Sen made it possible for him to win, among many international awards and recognition, the Nobel Prize for Economics. “His father motivated him with the greatest of human values like honesty in life, integrity of character and the determination to stick to his roots. This makes him come back to Shanti Niketan to see me and to ride around the town in a bicycle like he used to do in his youth. Fame and fortune have not changed him at all, ” informs Amartya Sen’s mother Amita Sen, who is still alive. Interestingly, when Amartya Sen was only two years old, his parents left for London leaving him along with his sister Supoorna under the care of his maternal grandparents at Shanti Niketan. The natural surroundings of the small town and institution set up by Tagore, the lessons he learnt from his grandparents, and later, from his parents, shaped Amartya into the man he has today become. He looked upon his grandfather as his greatest idol in life. “Nature too, has had a deep impact on his upbringing,” says Sen’s mother.

Indian cricket captain Saurav Ganguly’s parents Chandi and Nirupa could have easily allowed their two sons to turn into spoilt brats of a stinking rich family. But they did not. Nirupa has been instrumental in correcting her younger son Saurav when he used every prank in the book to avoid his teacher and his studies. The father instilled in the boys the love for sports because this is one family “that is crazy about sports – be it cricket or football,” says Saurav’s mother. Instead of buying his sons luxury cars and memberships to elite clubs, their father invested in a gym right at home “so that I could supervise them as they worked out,” he reminisces. Today, the Ganguly couple has every right to be proud of their son’s international achievements.

Teachers cannot take the place of parents in a child’s life because:
(a) Teachers are permitted to teach given subjects from a given syllabus within a classroom situation.
(b) They are bound to the prescribed rules and regulations of the school, college or university.
(c) Teachers remain with the children for around eight hours for five or six days in a week. So, time and space limit their interaction with students.
(d) Since teachers rarely meet the students they teach beyond the school premises, their understanding of the nature and mindset of the children they teach is limited to school hours and school discipline. They have almost no way of knowing how these children behave at home, or, with their neighbours, etc.
(e) Teachers generally teach an entire class of children where one-to-one communication is absent. So, they find it difficult to tackle individual problems of a child from a large group.
(f) Teachers are mainly concerned with the teaching of academic subjects and have no time to instruct children on the more important aspects of life such as values, principles etc, except in an indirect manner.

Parents teach less by telling children what they should or should not do, and more by example. A father who wakes up late, will never be able to teach his children to wake up early. A mother who lies all the time, cannot expect her children to be honest in their speech. Parents, who are disordered and indisciplined, will not realise the importance of teaching their children to be orderly and disciplined. Value education is the education we receive from our parents. Academic education is the education we get from our teachers. Parents who are cowed by temper tantrums and screaming defiance are only inviting more of the same from their children. An alcoholic father is very likely to have an alcoholic son. Research on marriage and divorce has shown that children of divorced parents are very likely to have broken marriages themselves.

Why parents are the best teachers -
1. Parents have subtle ways of humbling you, of reminding you of your origins, perhaps by showing up at the moment of your greatest glory and reminding you where you went wrong.
2. Parents can be understanding and accept the more difficult stages as necessary times of growth for the child.
3. Parents don't make mistakes because they don't care, but because they care so deeply. (Berry Brazelton)
4. Parents through their own behavior and the values, by which they live, provide direction for their children.
5. Values like honesty, integrity, discipline, obedience, loyalty, and reverence for elders are passed on by parents to their children.
6. Parents can offer their help by suggesting and locating resources likely to be unfamiliar to children, such as people, books, and materials that can be useful.
7. Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go.

British novelist Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) rightly said that parents cannot expect advice to have the same force upon their children as experience has upon themselves. It would be apt to conclude with Fred Rogers’ quote. He said, “parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go.”

“Parents teach in the toughest school in the world: The School for Making People. You are the board of education, the principal, the classroom teacher, and the janitor,” wrote Virginia Satir (Columbia World of Quotations, 1996.) Are parents the best teachers? It depends on what one means by the term ‘teaching.’ If teaching is limited to elementary lessons in the three ‘r’s, namely – reading, writing and arithmetic, then, formal educators in school would perhaps be considered the best teachers. Teachers who teach us in schools and colleges are educators. They are necessary for the formal education of all children. But they are no substitute for parents. They never can replace parents in the shaping of the child’s character, life and future.
Published: 2006-08-03
Author: Shoma Chatterji

About the author or the publisher
I am a freelance film critic and author of 16 published books.My areas are - Indian cinema, gender issues, human rights, lifestyle, personality profiles, writing techniques and media. I have won two national awards, one state award, two private awards and one national research fellowship for my writing on cinema specially. I am thoroughly professional about word-counts and deadlines. But I do insist on regular, above-the-board and good payments

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