Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Who Will Raise This Child, The Parent or the Family?


The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is thought to have come from an ancient African proverb.  It is not clear as to where and when this phrase began, however in 1996 Hillary Rodham-Clinton wrote It Takes a Village And Other Lessons Children Teach Us which re-established the phrase.  Through her experiences Ms. Clinton is convinced that how children develop and what they need to succeed are inextricably entwined with the society in which they live and also how well it sustains and supports its families and individuals.  In other words, it takes a village to raise a child.  Although I agree with Ms. Clinton up to a point, I cannot accept her overall conclusion that it takes the village to raise the child.  The village should be a support to the family, which I believe is the most important and ultimately holds the responsibility when it comes to raising a child.
            In order to understand the importance the village plays in our lives, I think it is significant to understand what constitutes the village?  According to Oxford English Dictionary, the village is defined as a collection of dwelling-houses and other buildings, forming a centre of habitation.  The centre area of the village consists of a community which is a body of people viewed collectively.  One can define it in more detail as extended family, teachers, neighbors, friends, and all people you come in contact within your school, workplace, neighborhood and all others within the city you live.  Each of these people and organizations make up the village or community in which we live.  We may share certain aspects of our communities, however, each is different depending on where you live, work, who your friends are, or what types of organizations you belong to. Your circumstances will dictate how you access the community in which you live. 
In today’s society, the village has become a valuable source of support for many people. Due to certain circumstances, there are those who rely heavily on the village when it comes to raising their children.  There are others who use the village to help and provide support for them and their families and do not rely on the village as heavily.  In both cases the village plays a very important part and fulfills roles that are needed for both the parent the child.  Although I agree that the village plays an important role in raising our children, I believe the family is the most valuable and can have the best influence upon how a child is raised. 
In today’s society there are many types of families.  There is the myth of the perfect family or Norman Rockwell family (Clinton).  The Norman Rockwell family would be the perfect family, one that has a father, mother, siblings, and probably a pet.  The father would have a good paying job that was able to support all the needs and wants his family could desire.  The mother would be able to stay at home and tend to the household chores.  There would be dinner on the table each evening and they would sit together and enjoy pleasant conversation.  I am sure there would be disagreements, but they would be resolved with the correct amount of discipline and each would walk away feeling that their needs had been met.  Each child would grow up to be a productive part of society.  Some may paint this picture of the ideal or perfect family; however, no family is perfect.  In today’s world the family is different for each person.  We have families with both a mother and a father, single parent families, large or small, rich or poor families, and families with the same sex parents, all different.  My point regarding the family is that no matter what type of family we have, the amount of responsibility should be the same.  Whether you are a parent of one or six, you still hold the same amount of responsibility.    
 When I was a little girl I lived with my father, mother, sister and a dog.  We lived in a great neighborhood in the corner house with my elementary school practically in my back yard.  My best friend, Peggy, lived eight houses down the street.  We sold Kool-aid on the corner for $.25 a glass.  During the day we would ride our bicycles all throughout the neighborhood and on the weekends we would play night games.  I was a girl scout and each year would go door to door selling the infamous cookies.  My father was a police officer and was very protective of my sister and me.  We were not allowed these freedoms without detailed safety lectures accompanied by strict rules which I was expected to follow. Today, my children ride their bikes throughout the neighborhood.  They play night games on the weekends and sell Kool-aid on the corner.  Their father is not a police officer, but they too have detailed safety lectures accompanied by strict rules which they are expected to follow.  The simple freedoms that I knew as a child may not seem different than the freedoms my children enjoy today; however there are differences.  The differences are seen in the villages or communities where we live. 
When discussing the drastic differences in our society today, we realize that many aspects have been affected.  An example would be, during the 1950’s when teachers were asked what kinds of discipline problems they experienced answers such as making a mess in the hall or classroom, dress-code violations, and being noisy were often uttered (Garbarino ix).  Today these answers are quite different according to Kelly Blake, a member of the Washington County School Board.  He stated that our teachers deal with bullying, bad language, security issues, and drugs on a daily basis.  “Our children are facing many more issues today than we did as kids.”  They also deal with bullying, bad language, drugs and also internet, pornography, teenage sex, and insecurity issues. 
James Garbarino, author of Raising Children In A Socially Toxic Environment (1) adds; Drugs: There was no crack cocaine available. Violence: It was almost unheard of for a teenage bully to have a gun. AIDS:  We were warned of sex, but no one said we would die from it.  Television:  The content of television programs was bland and innocuous by today’s standards.  Family instability: Most families had two parents and could afford to live on one income (ix). These changes have come into effect over the years as society and our family values have changed.  These changes have greatly affected the village in which we all live as well as affecting the way parents raise their children and also the way children behave.   Each issue adds to the responsibility that we have as parents.  Our parents can give advice, but times have changed so much that we need others to help us and to offer information so that as parents we can make the best decisions regarding our children.  I believe these issues help us realize the need for a good support system that can be obtained from parents and from the village alike.
Joan Chipman, a fifth grade teacher at Sandstone Elementary, shared insight on the importance of parental support.  In her class, she has approximately six children that have very little or no parental support from home.  These children show signs of delay when it comes to social skills and also experience educational delays.  In Mrs. Chipman’s opinion, lack of support is one of the vital reasons for these delays.  There are numerous reasons for the lack of parental support such as; both parents working full time and not having the time, single parents, an incarcerated parent, and possibly a lack of knowledge.  In these situations, these parents rely on the school system to teach their children not only educational studies, but also social skills.  Mrs. Chipman felt that this was not due to a lack of love, but a lack of understanding.  These parents do not realize their vital role in their child’s development.  When parents expect the village to raise their child, they are giving up their responsibility as parents and turning it over to the village.  In this situation, the lack of parental support only applies to a small number of Mrs. Chipman’s classroom, yet the lack of parental support in or out of the classroom is something that is happening in many areas across our country.  Mrs. Chipman’s comments have helped to demonstrate the importance of parental support in the classroom.      
Mrs. Clinton stressed the importance of parental support throughout her book.  She intertwined it with support from the village as well.  She writes concerning technology, transportation, education, family, communities, to name a few.  Each is an important topic which she covers in detail in her book. While I agree that each of these is important, I disagree with her resolve for the issues.  In each instance she recommends government regulated programs that would be responsible to solve each issue.  I do not agree with having the government responsible to resolve issues regarding my children.  I believe this action should be my responsibility as a parent.  In some instances, however, where there is not parental support, I can understand where the community can provide the needed support along with government programs.  My point is not to rely on the village or the government, but that we should access the help that the government is in a position to supply.  There are many good things that these government programs can offer, but the programs would not be beneficial if they are not reinforced at home or if the parent is not doing all that they can to help it succeed.  The government should be a support system for the parent. 
A Government regulated program that is a good example of helping the parent with their responsibility is The Head Start Program.  It is also one of the programs that Ms. Clinton referred to.  Head Start was established in 1965 with the goal of providing a comprehensive developmental program for children and their families who are of low social economic status (Web).  Over the past four decades, the program has provided education, health, nutrition, mental health, and social services to more than 24 million families (Web).  Head Start is a program that educates the parent, which allows them to make well advised decisions regarding the wellbeing of their child and also provides assistance in a child’s education when a parent is unable to do so.  The government regulates this program by monitoring the progress of the families, by funding, and by educating.  By emphasizing the wellbeing of the child and the family, this program benefits the parent, the child and the community.      
An example of a Head Start program was used in a study conducted by Carol
Hammer, George Farkas, and Steve Maczuga.  The study regarded the language and literacy development of children in the Head Start programs and revealed that children’s vocabulary abilities were affected by a number of results; one in particular was that children’s vocabulary increased due to the frequency of home literacy activities (Hammer).  In other words, children who were read to, told stories to, taught letters, taught songs, etc. during the pre-kindergarten years improved significantly over those who did not receive this added support.  The survey gives validity to the fact that a child learns and excels better when he or she has the added teaching from home. 
In addition to realizing the need of support from home, the study also showed that the children of more educated mothers had higher receptive vocabulary knowledge than the children of less educated mothers.   This means that a parent that is educated can provide a better learning environment for their children.  The Head Start program can help with this also.  The program helps to educate the parent in ways to better their lives so that they are not dependent upon the government for their support.  This study shows that intervention through the Head Start Program increases a child’s ability to learn and also increases the knowledge of the parent as well.  This does not happen by the Head Start Program alone, but is a great resource that can be used as a support to the parent.  The parent has the opportunity to learn and then must follow through with the instructions given to him.  Also, the programs that are taught to the children are also taught to the parent.  The parent learns to be the teacher while the child is at home.  They must follow the teaching within their homes to reinforce what the child is learning at school.  By doing so, the child learns on a quicker scale than a child that does not have the support from home.   In other words, a child that is read to by a parent on a regular basis increases their ability to learn.
When my daughter, Chelsea, began kindergarten, she was so excited.  We did the traditional school shopping for clothes, backpack and school supplies.  I felt that she was physically and mentally prepared for kindergarten.  As the year progressed, I realized that Chelsea was not progressing at the required rate.  At each parent teacher conference, I would inquire about the fact that she was below grade level.  Each time I asked the question, I would get responses such as “She is progressing.  She just does things at her own pace.  She will catch up over time.  Don’t worry.”  As the parent, I knew that I did not have the education that her teacher did; thus I relied on her teachers and their expertise.  As parents, we read with her each night and made sure she completed her homework as we were taught but that was not enough.
Chelsea continued to lag behind until the fourth grade, when she met Mrs. Cozzins her fourth grade teacher.  Mrs. Cozzins recognized that Chelsea needed additional help and she began working with her.  She taught me the reading program that Chelsea was using every day in the classroom. I was given a packet to work with Chelsea at home.  This packet helped me reinforce what Chelsea was learning during the day.  We also requested that Chelsea be tested for a learning disability.  She qualified for additional aid and was placed in the Resource Program in her school.  The program itself is a government regulated program and is an exceptional learning tool that teachers are using to increase the reading level of struggling students. 
Between the government programs and the expertise of her teachers along with the support of her parents, Chelsea is now reading on grade level.  She continues to receive additional help from programs at her school.  By reinforcing what she was learning in school, we made great strides in her improvement. In Chelsea’s case she benefited from help received from the village.  As her parent, I did recognize that she needed help that I could not offer nor did I have the expertise or the knowledge to do so.  Thus I had to rely upon others to help me with the things that I did not know.
Although government programs such as these can be very beneficial, I still maintain that when a parent relies solely on these programs without doing all they can, the program cannot be a success.  A successful program teaches not only the child, but the parent as well.  The parent needs to learn how the program works and how to reinforce at home what the child is being taught in school.  If we had not worked with Chelsea at home, she would not have excelled and been able to catch up with the other children her same age.  This is a prime example of a parent taking the responsibility to provide for their child by using the means available to them from the community around them.
There are parents that do not easily assume the role of teacher.  “They may lack the confidence, be unwilling to devote the time, may be too tired to read to a child or enforce rules on TV-watching or phone use, too preoccupied to seek out extra help for a child who needs more practice with math or a foreign language” (Clinton 245).  In my opinion, this implies that parents do not understand the importance of their role as parents.  This logic of not understanding the importance shows through results gathered in a Gallop Pole (Web).  Parents were asked questions regarding the government’s role in regulating television viewing.  According to the pole regarding the government’s role in regulating the types of programs that children watch on television, Americans were more likely to see the government as lacking in this regard with 46% not doing enough.  The remainder of 38% felt that the government was doing the right amount and 12% thought they were doing too much (Web).  This pole would suggest that Americans feel the government’s needs to do more to regulate the types of shows our children are watching.  Although, I agree that the regulations need to be in place, I do not agree that the government needs to do more.  I believe that it is not the government’s responsibility to decide what is or is not appropriate for our children to watch.  
A form of regulation would be the V-chip which the Federal Communications Commission has made mandatory in all televisions (FCC).  This V-chip is a device placed in the television to help parents monitor the type of shows their children are watching.  The types of television shows are tracked via this chip and each show is given a rating which informs the parent of the type of content (FCC).  I see the placement of this chip as a guideline.  As parents we are responsible for determining what is appropriate for our children; thus regulating the types of shows that our children watch.  When we allow the government to regulate the type of television viewed by our children, we are giving up our responsibility to the government and allowing it to make these important decisions for us.
By giving up our responsibilities as parents, I believe this shows that parents may not understand fully the importance of their roles as parents.  I feel that our role, as parents, is the most beneficial in raising our children.  We know our children best.  We have a value system that needs to be taught by us, the parents.  We cannot expect the village to teach our children all that they need to know.  This lack of knowledge or lack of confidence does not alleviate us from our responsibility.  Can we use this lack of understanding of what our children need as an excuse to justify giving up our responsibility to others to care for and to raise our children?  I say no.
  In a recent interview with Sam Despain, a police officer for the City Of St. George, he related an experience to me regarding a parent struggling with their responsibility as a parent.  He had been dispatched to a home with a family dispute.  Upon arriving he found that the dispute was between a mother and her daughter.  The daughter had been expressing her opinions about a life style that was much against the mother’s wishes.  The situation between them had elevated to a point that neither one of them could discuss the matter.  They had come to a point that the daughter was no longer compliant with the rules of the home.  Because the mother did not know what to do with this child, she called in the police department hoping they could help her.  Her resolve was to have the police ‘take her away’.  She was giving up her responsibility as a parent.  Officer Despain was in shock when he heard this request.  He explained to the mother that this was not an option.  The police department was not in the position to raise children.  Officer Despain’s responsibility in this situation was as a third party.  His job was to help calm the mother and her daughter and to keep the situation from escalating into a larger more volatile situation.  He was serving as an aid to the parent.  He was acting as a member of the community.
By serving the family in many different aspects, the police department and other public officers are great examples of the village.  We rely on these public agencies to help keep our village safe by making laws or by enforcing these laws to keep order throughout our community.  We elect public officials and instill in them the right to act in our behalf.  We rely on educators to teach our children and also to provide a safe atmosphere for them to learn.  Religious leaders are people that we put our faith in to help teach our children of God and how to become better people.  All of these examples give support to the importance of the village in our lives.  As parent’s we choose who we surround ourselves with.  We pick who watches our children, who their school teachers are, what movies they see, and many other things in their lives.  My point is that we are responsible for our community around us.  We cannot leave these types of decisions to those in the village to make for us.  As parents we need to know what is happening around us and within our community.  By keeping ourselves aware, we, as parents, are able to make informed decisions that are best for our children.
One way to stay informed is to become a part of the community.  This gives us
the opportunity to know what is happening around us and to have some control of the environment in which we live.  A great way to become involved would be to volunteer our services to others around us.  In a Citizen Study, conducted in Canada, great success was shown with people who were part of a community who volunteered regularly.  Voluntary agencies themselves become largely responsible for assisting disadvantaged people throughout their community (Ilcan 131).  By volunteering in their community, a parent has the opportunity to serve others.  But not only is service given, many lessons are learned by the person giving the service.  Through the example shown, children are taught to think of others, to organize, be creative, to be compassionate, to be more hardworking, learn responsibility, and humility just to name a few.  I think the most beneficial aspect that comes from service would be that you are not only being responsible and teaching your child, but you are improving the community around you.
            The village or community in which we live provides many things; friends, support, safety, knowledge, companionship and resources.  Each is vital in our survival; nevertheless, the village is not responsible to raise our children.  The village can provide the support that you need, but only if we access the information.  Without accessing the resources that are offered us, we may lose this opportunity to increase our knowledge and access the added help that is available.  It would be similar to having a delicious peach tree in your yard and yet never partaking of the fruit.  As parents we need to realize that we do not know everything regardless of all our experience and we must realize that we cannot do everything.  Thus, we realize the importance of the village. 
            Herman Melville stated “We cannot live for ourselves alone.  Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results” (Clinton 7).  We provide the actions and the village provides us with results.  Each child is an opportunity (Gabardine).  We are their guide, their support, their teachers and their hope for the future.  This is our responsibility.  By understanding our role as a parent and by understanding the role of the village, we can work together to create an atmosphere that is a positive learning experience for our children without giving up our responsibility as a parent.        

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