Recently I completed the MOOC "Moralities of Everyday Life" via Coursera . The lectures and discussion focused on things like human disgust (why do some people feel disgusted at the mention of gay individuals and others do not?) and the impact setting, time, and space on moral decisions. I reflected on a number of things I've held as fundamental moral truths and questioned the origin of the variety of morals I both consciously and unconsciously use as criteria for my daily decisions.
One of the lectures was about a concept called circles of morality, a topic more fully explored in a book called The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress. From what I understand this has much to do with how we treat our circles differently. For instance, you would probably give your own son or daughter a hand up in life more quickly than someone outside of your family. And you will probably defend a cause for someone from your own community than from outside it. As our circles get larger, the questions of morality get more complex (think: intervening in Syria vs focusing more on our own national crisis of poverty).
So what does this have to do with parents and teachers?
In his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough shares a plethora of research about the impact of stress and anxiety of the early lives of children on how they performa and function in years later and how it is more detrimental to learning than many Americans realize. After reading the book, working in a Title 1 school for a few months, and now doing media production for a community college it seems to me that our conversation about education is really lacking in a discussion about American parenting. When you look at it, parents are the first circle of morality around their child, thus the most impact. Then comes neighborhood or community, followed by school and finally government. We are spending much of our debate and energy on the THIRD and FOURTH circle of morality for these kids!
Don't get me wrong. I am not pointing at parents as the group that deserves any bit larger portion of blame than other groups.
Perhaps the largest issue is poverty. The disparities are enormous. My wife and I read books and thoughtfully ponder ways to help our new baby from what sort of food to give him at certain ages, to what activities and songs we should use to best help him develop and connect with us. On the other hand I've met folks who don't have the time, knowledge, or preparation to do these kinds of things - and their child then suffers the consequences and will inevitably repeat the same treatment of their offspring in the years to come. Other parents have the resources and ability to nourish their child properly, but allow nannies and hired help to do the actual parenting. Besides biology, the fact remains that there are no credentials required to have a child.
So when we get a generation raised on Sponge Bob and McDonalds, of course we are going to have some issues. It isn't that parents don't care about their kids, but the cycle of poverty forces many to spend ALL their time and effort to just produce food on the table. Reading books, doing special attachment activities with babies, and other proven activities for healthy child development is just out of the question if you don't have the energy or the basic skill set to deliver these things.
My question then, is why aren't we having more discussion about helping parents be great parents? If parents already come with a strong desire to do the right thing for their kids - and they do in many ways including biologically, morally, and psychologically, than why not leverage the proximity of this moral circle? Like him or not, Geoffrey Canada is at least partly on to something by working closely with parents to become better at raising kids and forming attachment with them.
I am a graduate student in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. I enjoy writing, hiking, and spending time with my family.