Monday, 16 August 2010

Field is right about a 'good parenting' GCSE

Erstwhile Labour minister and 'collaborator', Frank Field MP, is heading an important Government review of poverty and life chances, focusing especially on the vital early years of childhood.

The whole exercise might not be Lord Prescott's cup of tea and round of cakes, but then Field has always been something of an iconoclast in Labour ranks and by his own admission is a small 'c' conservative.

Recently, in an Indy interview, Field floated the idea of a GCSE teaching good parenting.  He is reported to have said that "we could teach this not as a separate subject but through other subjects, as part of the national curriculum... There would not be another course in it and it would not be imposed on schools."

On most things educational I'm a definite traditionalist.  Teach children proper history with dates and great sorts; proper science in discrete disciplines with ripple tanks and blowing things up; and proper muck and tumble on the games (not sports) field where there is a winner and a loser (okay, cricket is an exception to that final dictum, but many maintained schools sadly don't have the facilities for hopscotch let alone a sizeable cricket oval).

The thought that schools might start teaching good parenting to 16-year-olds struck me as just another daft bit of needless managerial classroom meddling that so typified the Labour regime.  Had Lord Prescott caught up with Mr Field and given him a meaty right hook, rendering him all wobbly between the ears?

No.  Well, if he did, Mr Field protected his grey matter because this idea is potentially brilliant.  First, societal breakdown, enclaves of poverty and low achievement at school are serially blamed on family breakdown and parental absenteeism.  Granted, there are heroic cases of single parentage coming up trumps, however such cases have other supporting factors at play, not least the presence of a decent person as the single parent.

More often than not, family breakdown and its corollary, bad or non-existent parenting, is the root of society's ills.  Desperately and miserably, this circumstance is self-perpetuating.  For every child in receipt of sub-standard, ill-informed parenting, there is another potential parent walking around with no decent grounding in how to do it.  This is not something that is innate, like taking your first breath, walking or the urge to reproduce.  Parenting needs to be taught through example and learnt through observation.  If more and more children are growing up without such example and observation, it is the state's duty to fill in the gaps (or pick up the tab later down the line in other ways).

Secondly, Britain suffers from the worst rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe.  For all society's (not many) and the state's (plentiful and expensive) efforts to stem this tide of premature childbearing, the problem only seems to be getting worse.  Some on the moralist right will claim that the welfare system is to blame and that young girls are becoming young mothers in order to benefit from the generous support on offer.  I wager this is very, very rare indeed and, quite frankly, the benefits aren't that generous.  I would have thought getting your head down and working hard at school (and maybe university) to get a decent job would be more financially helpful, less strife and provide a better social life.  I believe teenagers are, for the most part, just bored and badly informed.  One cause is, again, bad parenting - there you have it, that self-perpetuating cycle.

So, teach better parenting and you might just nip in the bud many of society's ills.  Even if you don't, you're teaching 16-year-olds how to be a good parent just at the point that a depressingly large number of them are about to become one.

1 comment:

  1. There are a couple of issues here:
    1. What is a 'good' parent?
    2. Also, what's good for one child is not necessarily good for another.

    The difficulty with teaching parenting is that there is no single way to be a parent. There are so many subjective issues, even on simple matters. The idea seems positive but wouldn't prove the super solution it sounds.

    Being a parent myself, it's amazing how my views have changed from pretty common ones (that would likely be taught on 'good parenting' courses like this) to some wildly opposed opinions.

    Why are they opposed views? Because they are damaging? Because they are dangerous? Because they have no scientific grounding?

    Nope. It's simply because they go against 'common knowledge'. As soon as you start researching below the surface, you find a wealth of new suggestions and alternative possibilities. Some things have changed my life for the better and yet other parents try to move me away because they think I'm suffering. They think I'M SUFFERING! That's after I've explained how grateful I am for having discovered something amazing.

    Even amongst those who were given a 'good' upbringing, how many actively research parenting? You hear certain things, look up the odd question, get given friendly advice on some magic 'solution', and often follow what they've been told is right. A course in good parenting is, therefore, quite a responsibility and could be just as dangerous.

    Don't get me wrong, I believe some form of grounding toward responsible parenting is a great move. In fact, perhaps the word 'good' should be replaced with 'responsible'. I'd give the course a bit more credence if the focus switched to responsibilities as opposed to methods.