Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Teach Your Children Well

A Beautiful Song, But I Think Our Job As Parents Has Changed

(I promised to write about historical fiction and I will, but a couple of experiences this weekend made me feel I needed to explore this topic first).

Remember the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song? Here is a linkto the lyrics as well as some options to listen to it, I’ve always liked it and seen it as an expression of something in my generation, the 60s kids, wanting to pass on a dream of a better world. The next line in fact  is,"there father’s hell did slowly go by/ and feed them on your dreams." So as young parents we were to say the hell of the Vietnam War, racial clashes, would end, and we would bequeth to our kids our vision of a different future. A couple of experiences this weekend made me realize that we actually have a very different task: preparing our kids for a future which we cannot quite envision. We are not passing on a dream — as an antidote to a nightmare — (which is, in effect, preparing kids to live out our battles, and be defined  by our hoped for victories) but rather preparing to let them go into a world in which they are more comfortable than we are.
      This weekend Ruth Pennebaker — whose YA novels I published at Holt, she now has a cool blog and has just sold a great-sounding new adult novel — and psychology professor husband lent us an apartment in NYC. There Jamie had a dual screen computer set up. As it happens, Sasha has just joined in a website created by his fellow fourth graders in which he covers the sports beat. Sasha rushed to the computer to resarch, write, and post his first columns. The author-illustrator Chris Raschka came over with his family. His 14 year old son Ingo now has his own Youtube channel where he posts the movies he makes. Meanwhile our young son, Rafi, who has mastered Google to find Ben 10 mashup videos, was busy playing counting games on his toy computer. Forgive me all of you parents, librarians, and teachers who have seen all of this long ago, but the afternoon of young people exploring new media showed me the future. I saw no danger to reading — Sasha was reading a bio of Vince Carter on one screen to write about the Nets game against the Magic and Vince on the other screen — but it was clear that they are living their dream, not mine.
      As parents and teachers we need to give them skills to function in a world we don’t quite know yet and in which they will be ahead of us. Perhaps the 60’s was the end of the old world of the farm, the guild, the good union job — where the father prepared the son for the work he had learned  from his father, the mother shaped the daughter to be the woman her mother taught her to be. Maybe that was the great clash, we knew that world was over. But we thought we would create a new future, ours. Instead we entered a time where the future keeps changing. We did not go from one steady state to another, but from a world which valued continuity to one predicated on change. So how do we teach children well to be what they will be, when we don’t know that ourselves? How do  you prepare children for change — in technology, in forms of media, in forms of narration and community — as a constant? We of course need to give them the basic school skills and human relations tools. Sure. But what  elese? What are the rules of the guild of future explorers?  
Your thoughts? then back to historical fiction


  1. Vicky Alvear Shecter says:

    Tough question. How can we come up with “rules” for a future that is beyond our imagining? I give children tours at the Carlos Museum (Emory U) and I always make sure to stop at one case that shows the development of the oil lamp. The kids look at it in a glazed disinterested way. And then I tell them that it took 1,000 years for craftsmen to advance the “technology” of the oil lamp from a wide open shallow bowl that must have been responsible for countless fires to the closed and protected clay oil lamp of later antiquity. Then I ask them how quickly the technology for their phones or computers grow out of date. They really get it and it stuns them. We are talking about a pace of change/advancement that was inconceivable even a couple of decades ago. Our job is to not let our fear of change get in the way of their extraordinary adaptability…[sorry, didn’t mean to go on so long!]. Great post.

  2. Vicky:
    Not too long at all, a wonderfully apt story. I don’t feel much fear of change, in fact I enjoy the challenge and am thrilled at the vistas of possibility. But I also feel that, as you say, the pace of change is so rapid it requires a kind of running send off of our kids who will fly while we watch them from the ground.

  3. DEBRA HANSON says:

    I think the best we can do is help them learn how to learn and unlearn, how to adapt, and how to stop and think about what they are reading/ learning/ experiencing each day. The mere task of “keeping up” is exhausting for most of us these days – so learning how to select what is important and being able to ficus and then re-focus as necessary is going to be critical.

  4. Laurie Thompson says:

    Aside from the most important rule of all, the Golden Rule, I think we just need to focus on teaching them HOW to think and learn, much more than on WHAT to think and learn. Tolerance and creativity are going to be keys to the future.

  5. in a way Deb’s and Laurie’s comments are a nice matched set. Laurie says we need to teach tolerance and how to learn, Deb says we need to learn how to correct ourselves and select from options — which could be seen as a further articulation of How to Learn: you learn by trying out ideas and experiences, judging carefully what is working or not, developing from that working concepts that guide you to new experiments and experiences — always realizng those concepts may themselves need to be revised. You need to tolerate the idea that you may be wrong.

  6. I think it’s very important to help our kids find and develop their strengths and identify where their aptitudes intersect with their passion. We can’t hope to prepare them for a specific job in the future when we have not idea what the future will be. But if they know what makes their heart sing and have confidence in their skills they will be able to contribute to their world in a way that is fulfilling for them.

  7. Mary:
    Yes that sounds like the right mindset for a parent or teacher, but the challenge for an educational system is how to translate the nurturing approach you’ve spelled out into a specific curriculum.