The School of Athens. Fresco by Raphael (1510–1511)

By Joseph W. Gauld, originally posted on the Huffington Post

Americans need to seriously rethink our present child-rearing/educational system.

Presently, it establishes standards of perfection for kids: an “A” or “4.0” grade point average, 2400 SAT scores, and excellence in extra-curricular activities and behavior.

Please note I use “kids,” not children, to address the “young people” they really are.

These standards stifle the natural growth of kids. Kids are all unique—each endowed with a unique potential. One set standard discriminates against all, even those whose potentials best favor it.

Howard Gardner of Harvard has identified nine different human intelligences of which our present system only emphasizes two. But 66 years of teaching young people reaffirmed for me there are as many intelligences as there are kids.

I was dropped from the “college” into the “general” track in high school. But after serving in WWII, I went to prep school for a year and passed a summer school trial at Bowdoin, from which I barely graduated.

However, once I started teaching, my unique potential kicked in and, coupled with hard work, helped me gain a Masters in Mathematics as I sought excellence as a professional educator.

The ridiculous idea of classifying all these unique kids by an arbitrary standard of academic performance might appear to serve colleges, but it quickly separates kids into the successful, the average and the “learning disabled”— those who can’t keep up with the academic pace.

Some believe this system serves our colleges and job market well, but I take issue with that. If it does not in fact challenge each individual student’s true best, then it is not producing our best students and workers.

So I strongly advise parents: stop abdicating your authority to our present system by urging your kids to primarily seek good grades; Instead, firmly reinstate your character standards: In character development, parents are the primary teachers and the home the primary classroom.

This revived standard will be welcomed by your kids because it puts their individuality, not their academic abilities, front and center in their growth process.

This will be welcomed by schools because student behaviors will significantly begin to change for the better; an energized student motivation will inspire teachers to discover the kind of education they had envisioned when they started teaching.

I’m not describing something new. This was pre-WWII education: parents and family were the key players; schools were adjuncts who supported them. But after the war, the GI bill allowed many of us to go to college to “get ahead” in life, and schools soon became competitive in nature, with all seeking higher places on the academic totem pole.

Democratic schools are not designed to create a competitive society like Sparta. Their souls are more expressed in democratic Athens’ respect for the individual and Socrates’ educational focus of “Know Thyself.”

But our present Spartan system is completely removed from any philosophy about individual “child development.” In fact, it is virtually ignorant of such thinking, simply viewing children as “mini-adults,” pathetically emphasizing one’s intellect, an adult strong point; a kid weakest quality, helping make kids almost completely dependent upon adults.

Parents have the capability and the power to change all this.

First, parents need to share their own growth experiences with their kids, because their kids can identify with their growth, but not with their achievements. Parents who become a “work in progress” transform into a lifetime loving mentor whose kids will seek their guidance in life.

I have seen thousands of parents make this transformation from our present system and culture to establish character-bonded families who then live meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Parents have the power to develop character, which in turn develops both good students, people and leaders. I believe it is only a matter of “when” that they collectively restore character as the primary emphasis of America’s childrearing/educational system.

That will make America both united and great.