Preparing Teens for Life Should be a Cooperative Effort of Student, School, Parents

BY: Joseph Gauld

Mastering the course content is important, but it’s even more important to master oneself.

I founded a network of Hyde Schools in rebellion against our one-dimensional educational system that:

  • Sends underdeveloped and underprepared kids into life;
  • Stunts creativity in teachers by turning them into technicians;
  • Completely ignores parents—the primary teachers of children.
  • Most students don’t like school; 30% drop out.
  • Education isn’t an attractive profession; many teachers burn out.
  • Without support, parenting and family continually go downhill; without involvement, parents and schools often have strained relationships.

In contrast, Hyde’s educational focus upon character development unites student, teacher and parent by challenging their deepest potentials, while preparing students for both college and life. Let me illustrate:

It is 1968, Hyde School, Bath, Maine. I just interviewed Ken, a local boy whose father works at Bath Iron Works. His quiet mother, excited by the depth of the interview, startles her son by saying to me, “If he gives you any guff, give him the back of your hand!”

I laugh—I can’t imagine her even raising her voice to her very respectful son. She’s just telling both Ken and me that Hyde has her full support—a step in letting go of her son.

Ken becomes the “perfect” student at Hyde. But like every student, he needs challenge and struggle to find his true best. I do feel Ken is too respectful of authority. Ken later writes:

Perhaps the most meaningful experience in my life came one October morning when I walked into Mr. Gauld’s office to ask for a recommendation for college. …I distinctly remember his looking deep into my eyes and saying, “Ken, you need a challenge and a struggle. I want you to go out and do something against your creed and values; then tell me how you feel.” This statement was forceful and direct; Mr. Gauld left no option.

I left his office totally perplexed and scared. I remember my eyes got misty. I recall telling my parents, I guess looking for comfort and support. I didn’t get it. They were also perplexed, but my mother’s only reply was, “Well, what are you going to do?”

I struggled within, a week passed and I hadn’t done anything. Finally I just had to talk to Mr. Gauld. I was really scared, probably visibly so. After all, I was defying his authority.

I simply said, “Mr. Gauld, I can’t do what you ask; my conscience won’t let me.” I was ready for lightening to strike. Yet the only response from Mr. Gauld was a huge smile, full of warmth and love. To say the least, I was totally perplexed. I just couldn’t grasp the meaning of our encounter.

I found college a struggle. I spent little time reflecting on what I was doing. Then by my junior year, I began to realize something…I was intimidated by college. I was doing what was expected of me to please my professors and coaches. I would give 100%, but only get 20% in return.

I began to question their attitudes, accountability and authority. I became actively involved in student groups, struggling to make someone accountable for our education. In short, college and authority no longer intimidated me.

This experience finally explained my encounter with Mr. Gauld. He challenged me to stand on my own two feet and demand respect. I now understand Mr. Gauld’s smile and realize the strength in me.

Ken’s parents not contacting me expressed their confidence in their parenting, son and school, and illustrated the power of family-school trust.

By 1974, Hyde realized much more involvement from parents was needed, so we developed a program to regularly address parental growth and family issues.

In fact, everything we asked (and expected) of our students – challenging others and themselves, struggling openly, going after their best – we also asked of Hyde parents.

We had already expected this from our teachers, who were proving daily how character is taught by example.

This sharing creates a powerful trust that enables creative teaching and encourages students to accept the challenge of taking leadership roles in the school as a means to discover themselves and their potentials.

Imagine if the Hyde experience were the norm in public education across the country. This bonding of American families and schools would create an educational model for the world.

Oh, and Ken eventually did graduate work at Harvard, and ultimately became Hyde’s “go-to” guy: Founder of Hyde Wilderness School; Founding Head of Hyde-Woodstock CT. School; CFO of Hyde-DC Charter School; Director of Studies of Hyde-Bath.)