Sunday, November 11, 2007

Authoritative Parenting

Both Laura Berk (Awakening Children's Minds and Charlotte Mason focus on the tension between authority and obedience. In her third principle of education, Charlotte wrote, "The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental." Charlotte devoted the first two chapters of Volume 3 and an entire chapter in Volume 6 to this topic because she knew the pendulum had swung from very strict "children are to be seen and not heard" (pages 2 to 3), and parents were searching for direction.

Before I get into the meat of the post, I will give an example of the difference between authoritative parenting and rote obedience. Pamela has delayed fine motor skills, and we enjoy making paper toys. Nearly all of the toys require cutting, a skill in which she needs support and practice. Sometimes, the directions are not clear on where to cut or how to put it together (the chocolate truck). That creates productive uncertainty and the opportunity for Pamela to borrow my perspective.

As her guide, I let Pamela cut whatever she can do. When she finds a part too hard to cut, she references me with a questioning look and sometimes says, "Help me with this." Then, I will do that part and non-verbally with facial expression point her to where she could cut next. Sometimes, she is confident and will do it. Sometimes, she is not sure and may give me feedback that it might be too difficult. In this way, she is not simply obeying because she lets me know when she thinks a cut is too challenging. She is thinking about her own abilities and determining whether or not she feels able to handle something I think she can do. Since I respect her as a person, I provide greater support, and we continue making the toy.

In cutting the cardstock paper, Pamela showed me a teachable (docile) spirit, respecting my more experienced view. However, I showed a teachable spirit toward her in respecting her understanding of her own abilities and limitations. I can gently encourage her when I think she is more ready than she thinks or give her more support when I think her self-assessment is accurate. Charlotte does not see teacher and taught, but two learners expanding their own area of what is known, "Docility implies equality; there is no great gulf fixed between teacher and taught; both are pursuing the same ends, engaged on, the same theme, enriched by mutual interests; and probably the quite delightful pursuit of knowledge affords the only intrinsic liberty for both teacher and taught (page 71)."

Laura Berk does not dwell on authoritative parenting too long, but she does point out that many cultures throughout the world "mingle concern and affection with guidance and control" (page 50). This type of parenting, which "combines the motivating power of warmth with the guidance inherent in scaffolding [effective adult support], predicts many aspects of children's competence" (page 73). It boosts the child's competence throughout childhood:
In early childhood, it predicts positive mood, self-confidence and independence in mastery of new tasks, cooperativeness, and resistance to engaging in disruptive behavior. And in middle childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, it is related to high self-esteem, social and moral maturity, academic achievement, and educational attainment (page 51).
Charlotte Mason found two conditions necessary to secure a teachable spirit and willingness to respect an adult's authority. First, "The teacher, or other head may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience" (page 73). The ultimate authority for Judeo-Christian parents is God!

Whenever my dearest random son complains about having to take math courses or learn grammar, I remind him that I am not arbitrarily picking subjects with which to torment him. I am subject to follow the homeschooling laws of South Carolina and must keep paperwork to back up what we do every day. Not only that, I also point out to him that he must know enough reading, writing, and arithmetic to score well on the SAT to gain entrance into the college of his choice.

The second condition was that "children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher." This would take a whole other post or two to explain. Let me give you an example. Charlotte believed children ought to read fine, living books and narrate what they got out of the book. She did not believe in drilling bits of knowledge into a child's head. A child who narrates the right books over the course of an education will learn and remember much more knowledge than those pumping and dumping facts out of textbooks for tests. This method did not require fancy oral lessons, over-the-top enthusiasm from a teacher, constant review, carefully planned themes, etc. The child's mind connected with the mind of the author with very little intervention of the teacher, other than to see what the student got out of the book.

For me, this is the big difference between a behaviorist way of teaching and a relationship way of guiding. When Pamela was nine-years-old, we toured a grocery store. The guide headed us into the storage spaces in the back, but Pamela absolutely refused to go. She would not budge and would have melted down had I tried to force her to obey me arbitrarily. The group came back and explained Pamela's mysterious behavior. Children with autism have acute hearing, and Pamela heard something none of us could hear. In one of the rooms was a huge, loud box-crushing machine. She knew that getting any closer would be extremely painful for her delicate ears. I am just thankful that on that day I gave her that "fine sense of freedom" to choose between going and staying behind and respected her as a person who is willing obey when the order is reasonable.


JamBerry said...

CM's point #1 reminds me of 'limit setting' and how limits must not just be capricious and arbitrary, but yet must be enforced and respected by all parties
CM's point #2 reminds me of 'trustworthiness' and how both the guide and the guided must earn the trust of one another and must work together to repair the relationship with that trust/trustworthiness is compromised (which it inevitably will be, because none of us is perfect).
The horror of behavioralism is the lack of trust and respect between the two parties, leading to increased distance and separation. The beauty of guided participation is the mutual trust and respect leading to growth for both, individually and together.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Please keep posting. This is feeding my soul so much. Tammy, I have been doing what you write about with my son and I can testify to you that -CM ways with what little bits of RDI I do- have helped bring my son back from an overwhelmed child to my sweet son. I do not regret pulling my son from school! You have been an answer to prayer. Thank you. Sincerely, DianeG.

Jennie said...

Isn't it something how our children with autism can react in noncompliance when they are being forced into doing something? My daughter is that way too. I have to find creative ways to get her to do things sometimes...and sometimes I just plain ol' say "you have to do this. There is no other way." Then she usually complies.

Thank you so much for all of your posts. You are like an internet- homeschool-mom to me (mine passed away 5 years ago) guiding and walking along! The way you rearranged your blog is very helpful to a new follower like me who is not aware of what you have posted in the past.