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Living with Children: Message wall displays confusing parenting aphorisms

| Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, 8:12 p.m.

In Raleigh, N.C., on the backside of the Department of Education building is a structure known as the Education Wall. Completed in 1992, the EW was conceived and created by artist Vernon Pratt and writer Georgann Eubanks. Engraved into the polished red granite are various messages that presumably reflect my home state's commitment to children.

One of the messages reads “YOU ARE A CHILD YOU ARE SUITABLE TO BE AWED.” Interestingly, featured on the North Carolina Public Schools Facebook page is this quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

The only conclusion one can draw from this inadvertent juxtaposition is that education bureaucrats in North Carolina are confused. On the one hand, they are in awe of children; on the other, they believe children should be taught humility. Rev. King could certainly tell them that a child who believes he or she should be the object of awe is also a child who is unteachable. The awesome child, like the awesome adult, does not possess suitable capacity for self-criticism. The awesome among us do not believe they are capable of error, moral or otherwise.

I am by birth and residence a North Carolinian. Thanks to the EW, I now realize that I was cheated of my birthright by knuckle-dragging miscreants who did not think I was awesome. In fact, I distinctly remember both of my grandmothers telling me, on separate occasions, that I was a “very bad little boy.” (Once upon a time, when child mental health was not, as today, in a state of crisis, adults told children the truth about themselves.) I was informed of my badness not to make me feel worthless, which it did not, but to correct, which it did. My grandmothers, I was sure, loved me. When a person who loves you tells you, as a child, that you are bad, they are telling you because they love you.

I even remember my grandmothers' tone. It was a combination of sadness and hope. They were not angry with me. They were grieving for me. Despite my inability to articulate any of the above, I understood and resolved to do better. One day, I hope to live up to their standards.

Another saying on the North Carolina Education Wall informs us that “LOVE WORKS WHERE DISCIPLINE FAILED.” This is not philosophy. Philosophers, generally, know that sounding right and being right are often two different horses of two entirely different colors. This is pulp fiction. Unlike the EW's implication, love is not the antithesis of discipline. In the proper raising of a child, both unconditional love and unequivocal discipline are undeniably necessary. Furthermore, love and discipline are not two different things; rather, they are complements. Love is necessary to the proper discipline of a child and proper discipline is necessary to properly loving a child.

An imbalance in either direction is toxic. Love without an equal measure of discipline defines codependence. A parent who is in a codependent relationship with a child is an enabler, and enabling is toxic to both parties. Likewise, discipline without an equal measure of love eventually becomes abusive in one way or another. No, when it comes to raising and educating a child, love does not succeed where discipline fails. If one fails, both fail.

The Education Wall is located in North Carolina, but the question becomes: Does it reflect a more widespread contagion? Do American educators and educational bureaucrats truly believe in the sort of unmitigated drivel that adorns the EW? If so, then we are all in a heap of a mess, as the authentic North Carolinian might say.

A wall full of my grandmothers' parenting aphorisms would have been a far better use of taxpayer money.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond's website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at questions@rosemond.com; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.

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