December 12, 2011

The Secret Weapon in Education and Child Psychiatry

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Paul King, MD

Parkwood Behavioral Health System, Olive Branch, Mississippi


Billionaires are offering money and ideas for education reform. The name that comes to mind first, of course, is Bill Gates, but the Walton family and others have also spoken about the need for education reform. I have always maintained an active interest in education because I trained and taught for 5 years in New York City schools prior to entering medical school. During that period, I was involved in 2 funded experiments to improve education. One had little success and the other limited success. I talk about them because millions of dollars are thrown away annually on programs to improve the schools. Since I left teaching more than 40 years ago, the same mistakes continue to be repeated, and changes are not focused on what really needs to happen in the field of education.

In my first experimental program, I was chosen to teach biology and algebra to a closed group of high school students who would be guaranteed a place in college on full scholarship if they could meet the City University of New York’s entrance requirements. The children were sweet and enthusiastic, and they were given the very best instruction that we could offer. Few of the children made it to college, however, and the experiment was abandoned. There was little parental involvement.

A different experience was at an 8-hour-per-day high school that ran 11 months of the year. The entire school was an experiment. Students would volunteer to go to the school and would travel there by subway, sometimes for an hour. There was creative programming, and every department offered choices. The school was wonderful for the students who were motivated and committed. The creative teaching propelled those students to achieve, go on to college, and advance from there. The students who were already behind in reading and math, however, did not flourish, and, about 5 years later, most of the funding for the experiment began to vanish. Again, the students who were behind lacked parental involvement.

The documentary Waiting for Superman gives emphasis to the parents who truly care. The problem with education is often a lack of a sense of commitment from both the students and the parents. Education requires commitment. This is the secret weapon.

Are there systems that appear to work? Now, there is much interest in charter schools, although it seems that their results are mixed or yet to be published.

Some private schools achieve success by encouraging commitment. The Christian Brothers, for example, state that they create “a caring, Lasallian community environment which includes students, parents, teachers, administrators, staff and alumni.”

In 1998, Ted Forstmann and John Walton established the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides partial tuition (about 50%) for children in low-income families to attend private schools. Parents pay the rest of the tuition, which means they must sacrifice and contribute to help improve the chances for the child’s future success.

Mental health professionals who deal with children are well aware of the “secret weapon” of parental commitment. Child psychiatrists know the importance of parental involvement in a treatment plan and in making sure the child takes his or her medication. Child social workers have to do the best they can for children too emotionally broken from abuse and neglect. Child therapists cannot get a behavior plan to work unless the parent is involved. In the area of autism, the parent practically receives as much as or even more treatment than the child.

Educational success also demands parental commitment. That involvement includes providing structure at home so homework is done; paying at least a portion of the cost of education; working with educators instead of against them; and requiring that the child be respectful and accountable both at home and at school. This is the recipe for success—it is really no secret.

Financial disclosure:Dr King had no relevant personal financial relationships to report.​

Category: Mental Illness
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19 thoughts on “The Secret Weapon in Education and Child Psychiatry

  1. Dr King, Should the “secret” ultimately be revealed by the initiated and informed past and present educators and mental health professionals ?
    You are recounting how numerous time and money consuming experiments ended in fiasco.
    Is there a better way to grasp attention and parental commitment to carry through their own childrens’ educationall success??
  2. Dear Dr.King
    In my country Turkey almost all of the families are giving commitment in the education. Even if the family has financial problems they still sacrifiesand send their kids to private schools for better education and for better university. But still we have a lot of problem. Since the parental commitment had started 30 years ago every year that is getting very strong. Now the kids started to say that they have to do that for me that is not sacrify they gave me the birth they obliged to do everthing. As you see now that started as the duty of parents. They even do their homeworks and they stop their social life when they are at the freshmen just to make the kid study for college exams. For college exams kids are going to school all they and after that they go special courses after 5:00 pm until 8:00 pm and through weekend for the prep of college. See what is the result of commitment. I think we should try find a balance model
    Assoc.Prof.Nesrin DÄ°LBAZ
  3. @Nesrin. With all due personal respect, I taught in Turkey from 1986 to 1996. at Anadolu HS/lycees, at Bilkent, at Marmara, at an Imam Hatip lycee/HS/2ndary school as a consultant. In both private and public secondary schools. I now live in Ä°kitelli. My adopted son from Erzurum who saw hıs fırst lıghtbulb at age 12 dıd hıs fırst 8 years of school by exam wıth prıvate tuıtıon, then attended the neighborhood HS/lycee. He finished 2 universities in finance. Was an TC ambassador artist as a semazen. Was translator for his dance troup. All over Europe and the Middle East. He was in the top 1,000 in his nationwide university exam and solely because he attended an ordinary HS/lycee, he was denied a seat in any university he applied for. In the top 1000 out of over a million. I moved to Saudi Arabia to earn enough to pay for a new private university. My HS teacher salary couldn’t pay for his dershane, orhis university.

    Education in Turkey is for the rich, exclusively for the rich. Middle class and working class folks are actively systematically were denied any real chance at an education by the government until ErdoÄŸan became PM. Working families haven’t got a chance. When my adopted son went to pick up his middle school diploma, the ministry office said there was no way a “hillbilly” like him could pass tests honestly so they denied him his diploma. I had to go to the Minister of Education as a Fulbright Fellow with the help of the US consulate to get his diploma so he could enroll in high school. For “hillbilly” [daglardan köylü] you can read “Kurdish.”

    Yes without very strong very expensive commitment by parents kids haven’t got a chance. BUT over the last 25 years I’ve never seen any rich kids fail. Never do the top 1% of the rich ever see any of their kids fail. They pay what it takes to whomever it takes. It isn’t education. I know very successful kids good kids from the top 1% who are still friends of mine. Real scholars. On Facebook. Some very famous. But Turkey does not educate the great majority of its people and Turkey’s native arabic, laz, cherkez, zaza, kurmanj, hemshin, georgian, and other language minority students get no education at all. Only Armenians, who have their own private schools. Protected by international treaty.

    Yes parental commitment in Turkey is crucial, but Turkey offers no solution to American educational problems at all. At least all americans have a local school where they can learn something, and in their native tongue in many areas.

    Since parental and family commitment is provenly so crucial, does this author propose abandoning the goal of educating those kids who have the bad luck of choosing the wrong parents?

  4. How do educators generate commitment in parents who’ve known hundreds of years of systematic discrimination hate apartheid genocide and exploitation. I’ve taught in innercity schools. they have the worst facilities, the worst teachers, the worst administrators, the largest classes, the least music art sports language classes, and live in poverty, which factor regardless of background reduces educatibility. Doesn’t look like much of a secret to me. Looks like an excuse.
  5. I would suggest that scholarship money be given for parental performance. That money could be used only for educational related supplies, materials, or entrance to a better school if enough scholarship points are earned. Maybe that would ,motivate some parents???
  6. Prof Nesrin: All life is a matter or balance. We can go overboard with too much parental push which I know exists especially outside of the US. In the US, though, we have a major fiasco in education and it is only getting worse. The movie documentary called “Waiting for Superman” highlights this quite well.
  7. Isa: I taught in one of those deplorable inner city schools for three years and went there as a student. Those students with parents who truly care, not just talking commitment, but showing it, help their children to get out of the ghetto. The only way out of the ghetto is through education.
  8. Please read my response to Isa. I was once one of those poor inner city kids but parental commitment to my learning to read well and become educated was the magic weapon.
  9. as is said in the wisdom traditions: there are 10,000 secret weapons … 10,000 variables !
    how about: #OCCUPY EDUCATION
    if not me and you, who ? if not here, where ? if not now, when ? if not #OCCUPY, how ? WHY? because the next seven generations demand it !

    honour,respect,blessings,compassion … in spirit!

  10. I have been working in mental health, off and on, for almost forty years. I really never wanted to work with children, but I somehow keep getting involved with working directly with them. As we all know, there has always been a direct correlation between proper parenting to the child to ensure educational suggess. Unfortunately, we all discovered long ago that too many parents are detatched from their children on so many different levels. More than anything, a child simply wants to know that he is loved and appreciated. Children will work hard to show you that you have chosen correctly by giving them unconditional love (no, I’m not talking about a perverse type of love). IQ levels certainly limit a child’s ultimate ability (a kid with an 89 IQ is probably not going to be an rocket scientist), but the child can go on to be a happy and productive citizen if provided with proper, loving nurishment (regardless if it comes from teacher, parent, or other authority figure). Children look for consistency. You can’t provide attention one day and not the next. YOU have to be consistent with the child to make a difference in his life.
  11. Michael,I am a 40+ years of practice psychiatrist and am in total agreement with you. The love and committment will work if they are consistent.What if they aren’t and/or cannot be?
  12. And we’re coming back to the same query “how to grasp attention and parental commitment” so much required for our childrens educational success?
  13. Yes, I have to agree with Dr King. But what it is that their children are being taught, is also as relevant to the childrens’ success. If it’s bigotry and bias that’s part of the ” curriculum,” as seems to be the case in some religious schools the generations perpetuate social conflict. And in many parts of the world educating girls is deemed inappropriate. But in the usual sense, as in the
    schools in the U.S.generally speaking, committed parents, whether biological or foster parents, parents who commit time and dedication to what goes on both inside and outside the classroom are almost always parents of the best performing students. This is from a personal point of view. My own children are all grown up, and I look back with regret that I did not involve myself more in their schooling ( ? typical doctors ‘ kids?). I think they would have had an easier time in subsequent education.
    Baz. MB ChB DPM
  14. I agree Michael. It’s also interesting to note that children who are abused/neglected during the first 4 years of life experience more academic challenges. For example, lack of sensory input (being picked up, rocked…) is thought to harm the brain and result in difficulties especially in mathematics and attention…have often wondered if we wouldn’t see improved school performance if more parents knew the importance of early childhood nurturing (consistency, love, attention…). In the U.S. especially I worry about the trend of putting very young children/babies in day care for long periods of time…
  15. The saddest truth is that the most indispensable yet abundantly available asset, when prioritized – parental commitment – is exactly what is so scare and “expensive” and always has to be wrenched out of some parents. In our educational enterprise, our most valuable asset has become our most devalued because we have collectively, as a society, sacrificed the most spiritual of all gifts, love for our children, and have rather chosen to value the greatest of our curses, hedonism and selfishness, to the psychological and intellectual death of our children. This has also led to the demise of parenthood as evidenced by the abysmally high rates of adult-initiated divorces, single-parent headed homes, coupled with the economic stranglehold of both disproportionate poverty, middle-class apathy, and destructive wealth among even among the so-called one percent. Hopefully, there is still time for us to recapture these secrets for the hope and survival of our civilization.
  16. Excellent insight and well put. If I can go very abstract, I want to use a metaphor. Beethoven was depressed, feeling hopeless and wrote a suicide letter. In the 5th Symphony which begins with the hand of fate, knocking on the door, the symphony ends with courage, strength and hope. Beethoven never acted on his note but coninued to compose even with declining hearing until eventual deafness. How can we tap into that kind of strength to overcome the disaster of the child’s upbringing. Parenthood appears as dead as Beethoven’s hearing, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the end.
  17. I home-schooled my two sons. I was the first person in Ohio to do so. I was more concerned about what they were than what they knew. My goals were focused on becoming self-starters, able to break down a task and organize its parts, knowing when a task is good enough, appreciate the importance of spirituality, learning to forgive others and themselves, learning how to be self-sacrificing, how to anticipate situations and plan for them, to take personal responsibility, and similar goals. We also had a very demanding curriculum but were able to spend only the time needed each day to accomplish it. The basic skills of reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic were the curriculum emphasis. They never had to just sit while other children finished their work. We had no television, no video games. We developed an active social life that mixed people from many ages, racial, and economic groups. They are grown now and these qualities of personality have served them very well. They were in this way equipped to follow their interests and develop a way to make a living. It seems too much emphasis is put today on knowledge instead of developing character.

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