A friend of mine recently posted a wonderful quote on Facebook, which got me thinking. I’ll post the entire quote at the bottom of this post, per the original author’s instructions, but here’s the relevant part:
“The problem with teaching children explicitly is that we are rarely aware of what we are teaching them implicitly.”
This came from a discussion on parenting, but it got me thinking about the way we institutionalize wrong messages in schools. We tell kids that cooperation is good, but send them to the office for talking to each other (yes, that happened to me) and punish them for working together. We tell kids not to be competitive, but force them to compete for grades. We tell kids to eat well, but serve junk food in the cafeteria. We tell kids to think for themselves (how many times were you asked if you’d jump off a bridge because your friends told you to), but judge them on their responses to standardized exams. We tell kids it’s okay to make mistakes, and then punish the victim when their mistakes are inconvenient for the school. What are we really teaching these kids?
Part of this, I think, is the result (or maybe the cause) of a bizarre sort of corporatespeak that has arisen in schools. By “cooperation,” we don’t really mean “working with others to accomplish something” (all of these are my definitions, not from a dictionary), we mean “obedience to adults.” By “responsible,” we don’t really mean “thinking through the consequences of your actions,” we mean “doing as you’re told.” By “not competitive,” we really mean “don’t be mean to the dumber kids, it causes so many hassles.” And so on…
Here’s the complete quote:
The problem with teaching children *explicitly* is
that we are rarely aware of what we are teaching
For example, if you tell your children to say
“thank you,” the implicit lesson is that expressing
gratitude is something they *should* do whether they
feel like it or not — not somet…hing that comes
Better to say “thank you” yourself — to model the
appropriate behavior *joyfully*. Joy is attractive
and, eventually, they’ll want in on the fun!
Your child doesn’t internalize what you *say* as
much as the *energy* with which you say it. Pay
close attention to how you feel and you’ll notice
that teaching often carries a subtle vibe that
So when you must teach explicitly, clean up your
energy first. Otherwise you might be teaching the
When you teach by example, you are following the
advice of Gandhi who said, “you must BE the change
you wish to see…”
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Copyright (c) 2009 by Scott Noelle