Speech made by Founder Joseph W. Gauld to parents over Fall Family Weekend
The theme this weekend is courage. Since in character development parents are the primary teachers and the home the primary classroom, your courage and leadership this weekend is the foundation of our success this year.
The theme takes me back to a night before I began my first headmastership at Berwick Academy when I decided my focus would be the development of character and I formed the five words. My first word was courage, the foundation of our individuality.
It ultimately led to the courage to resign after my first year at Berwick, in spite of my success, because I realized I was envisioning change beyond what the trustees would accept.
Then, in my struggle determining my next step, including how to care for my family, I was awakened in the middle of the night to realize I needed to found a new school to honor my commitment to find a better way to educate American kids.
Once I succeeded in founding Hyde School on the premise that every individual is gifted with a unique potential that defines a destiny, I sought to support the school with a new college prep curriculum emphasizing character, specifically Courage, Integrity, Concern, Curiosity and Leadership.
I soon discovered character is primarily taught by example and realized I needed to confront my fear of heights, by doing what paralyzed me most—climbing the 80 ft. cliff at Hurricane Island. I took my 13-year-old son with me to keep me from copping out.
Each of these acts of courage transformed me and brought potentials out of me that enabled me to lead this revolutionary new school; potentials well beyond my effectiveness as a New Hampton teacher-coach.
Courage is a critical growth resource for all of us because life is deliberately difficult. That difficulty has been essential in developing our human species.
Life for our species began in the middle of Africa, but continued only for those who went north. Why? Because north had the more difficult environments to challenge and develop human potential.
Challenge has proven essential for human survival. The Historian Arthur Toynbee noted that all 23 civilizations that have disappeared from this earth were formed in adversity, and then eventually decayed in their prosperity. Connect the rise and fall of the Roman Empire with too much wine and carousing. We humans thrive in adversity, but flounder in prosperity.
Don’t we often see this pattern in our own families?
I remember the Hyde father, shaking his head about his son’s problems of partying and indifference to school, telling me “my parents were sharecroppers and their parents slaves, and here we are; we finally live in a very nice suburb with great schools—so what’s the problem?” I stunned him by saying, “Your son didn’t grow up with your critical advantages.”
It reminded me of Andrew Carnegie’s warning, “I’d rather leave my son a curse than a fortune.”
A strong metaphor for human growth is the caterpillar’s struggle to break out of its cocoon. This difficult challenge transforms its legs into wings strong enough to fly. That was nature’s design for the caterpillar to reach its potential as a butterfly.
No human species survived until ours came along—Neanderthals; Cro-Magnon man; etc. We were the first to learn to depend upon each other for survival. Now there are 6 billion of us. Apparently, that was the challenge nature designed for homo sapiens.
So as parents, we first need to prepare children for life by teaching them to depend upon others, beginning with us, as the prelude to teaching them to depend upon themselves.
Next, our parenting needs to ensure that their best is challenged, so they are comfortable addressing adversity as they seek to fulfill their purpose in life.
This requires our high expectations for them. We should not be concerned whether or not these expectations are met, only that they are effective in challenging our children’s best.
We should recognize the more we expect out of children, the tougher it gets for them, and the more struggles they will have. But we only need to ensure these struggles are the right ones to develop their potentials and a confident sense of self.
So please understand that none of you ended up at Hyde because of your problems; you ended up here because of your high expectations—something all of us at Hyde share. Now together, we seek to ensure our children experience the right struggles trying to fulfill them.
Secondly, as parents we know that society has always ignored the vital importance of parenting–what has to be biggest job we’ll ever have. So compared to all the major professions, parenting is the least skilled human endeavor today. Society basically leaves us to work out child-rearing by ourselves, as if we have some magical power to figure it out. Nature clearly revealed to us in human survival—work things out together; the same surely applies in parenting.
This weekend provides us a powerful synergistic experience of committed families helping each other realize their best.
In addition, nothing could be stronger or deeper than the power of the parent-child bond.
It begins with the great faith and courage of becoming a truly effective parent, because the demands are extraordinary.
The true parent is completely committed to just two goals — bringing out the child’s best and expediting the child’s self-sufficiency by roughly age 19 — while expecting nothing from the child in return.
The parent who seeks the love of a child, or something from the child, undermines this deeper parent-child love and thus becomes unable to achieve these unique goals.
Focusing on these two goals addresses the deepest, but largely subconscious and very deep concerns of the child, and thus the source of a powerful parent-child bond of trust.
No matter how much control we may have over children, we need to heed Kahlil Gibran’s wisdom, that their “Souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
I was married to a parent who achieved those two goals. I remember the day we dropped Malcolm off at his first teaching job once he finished college, and as we drove out the driveway, she wiped tears from her eyes, saying “Well, that’s that!”
During my wife’s alcoholic years, our three children challenged her, but at no time did it affect their deep love and respect for her.
Today in our society, it has pained me to see a strong parenting movement away from this unique parent-child love, and toward a new parent-child relationship based more on harmony. As many of you have recognized, harmony often does seem to be placed above truth in our families. Surely we all can recognize that does not respect what nature expects from us as parents.
So please consider this question. Do you believe your present parent-child relationship allows you to do your parenting best for your child, as well as making your child receptive to your vital mentorship?
If not, then I ask you to have the courage to discontinue your restrictive harmony-over-truth relationship, and have the faith that both you and your child can and will achieve this unique parent-child love and bond of trust– regardless of whatever struggles it may take.
Please consider that if you didn’t have this capability, your family never would have been accepted to Hyde.
If you accept this challenge, then whatever the initial struggles, you will eventually develop a harmonious family and home, grounded in truth. You will also develop more of a mentorship with your child, because you see more in the child than the child sees in him/herself.
While I grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional alcoholic family, with a strained relationship with my stepfather and a close one with my mother, I wouldn’t be where I am today without their powerful mentorship. Leaving home, I felt the only thing I had going for me was my mother’s belief in me. I don’t know what she saw in me, but I knew she saw something. My stepfather’s relentless focus on discipline and character enabled me to ultimately utilize it.
The importance of parents as mentors was reaffirmed by University of Chicago’s Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s study of 120 exceptional individuals in the fields of music, art, athletics, mathematics and science. While he found the key to their outstanding achievement was a superior developmental process, it was inevitably started on this higher tract by their parents.
So the first thing we have to do, is instill a growth mindset in our children, and undo any fixed mindsets in them, to use terms introduced to us by Dr. Carole Dweck. Dweck became famous for studies in which she would praise one class for being “smart” and another for their “effort.”
While the smart kids started out OK, as the tasks got harder, the effort kids increasingly outperformed the smart kids. The conclusion was that harder work gave the effort kids a challenge to show off their effort—the harder the better. But harder work threatened the status of smart kids. They felt safer if they just didn’t try.
So if we praise our kids for being smart, we are encouraging a fixed mindset that seeks the stagnancy of right answers. We want our kids to seek the truth, which means to question, try things, make mistakes and learn from them. That signals a growth mindset.
Dr. Angela Duckworth in her book GRIT (and her TED talk) has moved millions of Americans from their fixation on talent to a better appreciation of effort. As she points out in many examples: effort is twice as important as talent, which she expresses in the formula: talent x effort = skill, then skill x effort = achievement (effort is relied on twice; talent once.)
As for dealing with adversity, Duckworth’s family has the “Hard Thing Rule,” that is, all family members must engage in some activity that is difficult for them. Their family also has a rule about quitting; you can only quit an activity at a proper time to quit.
Challenges that make our children struggle but are within their potentials, help them develop their potentials, resilience and confidence in themselves. Studies reveal suffering itself does not lead to helplessness; only suffering you cannot control. So kids unhappy in the struggle turn out fine as long as they believe they can prevail.
A sense of purpose greatly enhances their development. As parents, we often move our children along to what we know is important in preparing them for life
But it is vital to also help our children define and fulfill their own meaningful goals as they grow, which both maximizes their motivation and gives them increasing control over their lives.
Then — given their best attitude and effort toward a goal — whatever they may achieve, they begin to develop a deep confidence, and trust in themselves that they can handle whatever challenges they may face in life.
This supports their forming a purpose in life based primarily upon their potentials and vision, not primarily based on the conditions of their environment or family situation.
So as we think about all this, which parent have we been? One that has the courage to fully challenge the potentials of our child, while remaining a source of reassurance as our child struggles to meet those challenges and gain the strength to be a confident individual?
Or do we have to admit that we have become too concerned with our child’s feelings or state of mind to challenge our child’s best?
I know how difficult these questions are to deal with. But all of you are part of the Hyde family now, and if you are ever going to deal with them, this is the place, and the time is now. You will find the commitment to you and your family here is genuine and based on love.
I wish you all a very meaningful family weekend. Good Luck! Joey