A genius possesses rare talents of the mind and heart. They are usually awkward introverts, strange, muttering fellows who boil vast quantities of complex information down to a simple, useful truth. Stephen Hawking fit the universe in a nutshell. Charles Darwin explained the evolution of all life through the wizened smile of a tortoise. Jonas Salk pondered millions of polio cells and created the tiny vaccination that rescued humanity.
Genius and talent are not commonly attributed to parents. Parenting is not, after all, a competitive field of inquiry, though it often feels like it is. Parents can set a good example, influence, guide, challenge and care, but the control we exercise over our children and the choices they make is finite and limited. A parent’s success cannot be measured by a child’s accomplishments.
Parenting is now complicated in ways that can be disorienting. Kids are enrolled in violin lessons before they can tie their shoes. We expect our children to compete athletically before we give them permission to cross the street. Middle school students are hustling to algebra class, but they have no idea where to look for red apples in the grocery store. Adolescents spend their days in virtual worlds, disconnected from the real people and relationships that would give their lives meaning and value.
Countryside teachers work hard to help parents act with the intelligence of a genius. When we are in our classrooms, our goal is to offer children one simple gift: independence. Countryside kids work with resilience and joy, believing they are participating in something wonderful and worthwhile. They learn how to read, write and calculate. More importantly, they are self-sufficient. They can function independently in a complicated world.
Our best parents are ordinary people chatting with ordinary kids in cluttered kitchens. Their fine parenting is revealed in private conversations, secrets whispered in language young people can comprehend. The benefits of the education these parents offer their children become magnificently public when children act with confidence, motivated by years of good memories and experiences of both failure and success. These fortunate kids are vibrant and strong, inspired by great varieties of dreams that pull them forward from within.