In his March 10, 2012 column, “Pass The Books. Hold The Oil,” New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman asserts that “[k]nowledge and skills have become the global currency of 21st-century economies, but there is no central bank that prints this currency. Everyone has to decide on their own how much they will print.”
Who is the “everyone” Friedman is talking about? In the case of children, parents are the ones who must decide how much to print.
My maternal grand-parents were not educated people, but they had a dream that all their children would have a college degree. Their dream came true, as all the World War II survivors in my family received a college degree. Parents are the ones who dream. Parents are the ones who instill values.
Friedman writes that “societies that get addicted to their natural resources seem to develop parents and young people who lose some of the instincts, habits and incentives for doing homework and honing skills.” I see the connection. When we opened the Russian School of Math fifteen years ago, the immigrants who enrolled their children had arrived to the U.S. only recently. Most had been in the U.S. for only five to seven years. Our first few immigrant students worked very hard. They had tremendous ambition and drive, fostered by the immigration experiences of their families.
Over the years, many of those families found great success. Today, most of our students are born in the U.S. and the majority of the immigrant parents obtained their education in the U.S. These families are by far more laid back. There are exceptions, but overall, the immigrant instinctual drive disappears very quickly.
When parents lose their instinctual drive, children suffer. Many blame society for this decline of drive. It is far too easy to blame society. It is time instead to ask young parents to take responsibility for their children’s future. Parents, after all, are in the best position to provide the necessary organization and discipline to develop their child’s habit of intellectual work. Parents must not be afraid to exercise their parental authority, which must be respected if children are to retain the values they are taught.
A few years ago, I ran into a parent in the hallways of The Russian School of Math. The parent’s older child had studied with us years back. The parent was waiting for her youngest daughter’s lesson to end. I recognized the parent as a successful business-woman. The newspapers had reported that she sold her company and made an impressive profit. I became curious as to why she was bringing her second child to our school, when both of her children would benefit from an impressive inheritance. I asked her to explain. Her answer was simple: “I want them not to be handicapped by math. I want them to learn how to embrace and enjoy intellectual challenge. I want them to be thinkers. This is the only inheritance that I can guarantee for life.”
Mr. Friedman writes that in countries with little natural resources education has strong outcomes, in part because parents in those countries teach their children that “skills will decide the life chances of the child and nothing else is going to rescue them”. Knowledge and skills are indeed the currency of the world. Parents cannot afford to lose their instincts. They must print as much of this currency for their children as possible.