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Mother’s Day will be celebrated this weekend. Several women emulated good mothering skills to me before I became a mother myself. One of them was my own mother who is 86 years old and still dispensing advice; albeit in a different way from when we children living at home. My mother says that mothering never stops no matter how old one’s children are!
This past Friday evening, there was a grand celebration at the Atlanta History Museum for a couple whose work has had an amazing impact on generations of children, including my own two sons, who attended The Heiskell School in Atlanta. Mr. and Mrs. Heiskell are now ninety years old and have had to withdraw from the day-to-day activity of overseeing the Christian school they began 60 years ago in their home. These two individuals taught me, along with many others, how to be a good parent. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Heiskell for your many years devoted to training up future generations and, in the process, training parents as well.
A School Like No Other
When my husband and I moved to Atlanta in 1979, I took a teaching position at the Heiskell School. The school is a family-owned, for-profit enterprise that began in a very small way in 1949. The founders of the school, Mr. and Mrs. James Heiskell, without hesitation, give God all the honor and glory for the school’s existence, and the godly principles on which the school was founded are still very much in evidence today.
Ten years ago when the school’s 50th anniversary celebration was held at the Atlanta History Museum, several thousand invitations were sent out to former students and their families. The line of people waiting to enter the History Center to greet Mr. and Mrs. “H” (as we affectionately call them) extended across the vast parking lot. It was a testimony to how God has used this couple to provide an excellent Christian education for hundreds and hundreds of young people spanning generations.
The first week of teacher orientation at the school made my head spin. I had taken a position with seven years of experience behind me and viewed myself as a very good teacher. I had no doubt by the end of the first day of preplanning week that working at this school would be unlike any other teaching experience. I discovered that there was still much to learn. High standards were demanded in every area from pre-school through the eighth grade. The school has an outstanding reputation, and its students are readily accepted by other prep schools in the area when they are ready for high school. Those of us who didn’t washout at the end of our first year teaching at the school and stayed the course gained priceless insight and wisdom from the school’s founders which cannot be acquired from reading a book or taking education classes.
The Pygmalion Effect
The most memorable talk during orientation that first year was a session on “The Pygmalion Effect.” You may have viewed the 1938 movie Pygmalion or the 1964 musical My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. Both productions are based on the 1916 play by George Bernard Shaw. Professor Henry Higgins makes a wager with a colleague claiming that he can tutor the lower class Eliza Doolittle in refinement of speech and manner. The transformation of Miss Doolittle into a lady is spectacular. Mr. “H” explained that teachers must do the same for their students—transform them into all that they can become. High expectations produce spectacular results. He wasn’t speaking only about academics; expectations in all areas of life should never be lowered. The point was well taken and reinforced the philosophy taught to me by my parents. Hearing it again from Mr. “H” served to remind me of the expectations required of me as a Christian teacher and later on as a parent.
Low expectations have taken over our society. We see it everywhere: education, business, and government just to name a few. As Christians, we are held to a higher standard, and we should be. God commands His people to excel in all things (Eccl. 9:10; Phil. 1:9–10; 2 Cor. 8:7; 1 Thess. 4:1; 1 Cor. 10:31). How can we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind if we are lackadaisical in our approach to work, parenting, school, athletics, or relationships?
Parents Must Begin to Parent
Low expectations prevail even in the Christian community. There are exceptions, but too often Christians can be observed parenting badly. No longer are children responsible for their actions—their bad behavior is always someone else’s fault—teachers or other children. Children are pulling the strings, dictating what they want from Mom and Dad who “dance” on cue.
Good manners have been lost. Few parents require children to use “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’m” any longer. I would be thankful to hear “yes” instead of “yeah” or “pardon me” instead of “huh?” or “what?” How often do you observe a young man stand up when adults enter the room or open the door for a young woman? Respectfulness and consideration are missing in society.
Young ladies are scarce. Fathers and mothers are not teaching daughters to be godly young women. Fathers are not showing love for their daughters when they permit them to appear in public as if they are working the streets at night. Modesty is a learned virtue. Christians have melded with the world. We are supposed to be in the world but are not to be of the world in our daily walk with the Lord (John 15:19). Too frequently Christians look just like the world. It is refreshing to see a young woman dress as a young lady and not as a vamp. I know of a few fathers who inspect their daughters’ new clothing purchases. On occasion the garment is returned to the store because it fails to measure up to the family’s dress code. Those fathers are praiseworthy, for they are doing what they are called to do—bringing up children in the love and admonition of the Lord.
An artist friend and I attended a museum exhibit. As we moved from room to room enjoying the art work, we noticed three high school students viewing a particular painting. We were drawn to the three young women because of their attractive outward appearance. Their uniforms indicated they attended a private school. Unlike many students, including private school students in uniform, these young ladies were fastidious in appearance from head to toe. Their hair was worn attractively, their uniform was neatly pressed, the skirt length was appropriate, and there was no loud jewelry that distracted from the pleasing look. We knew nothing about these students, but their engaging appearance drew us to them. We spoke with them for a few moments and came away with a favorable impression. These young women were positive representatives of their school. As Christians, we should be excellent representatives of our faith.
When I was teaching at the Heiskell School, female teachers were required to wear skirts and dresses, and male teachers wore dress shirts and ties. When Mrs. “H” was asked if the women could wear jogging suits on a teacher retreat, without hesitation, her reply was, “No, I’ve seen some of you in pants!” We were professionals, and we presented a professional appearance. The hallways, classrooms, cafeteria, grounds, and even restrooms exhibited orderliness and cleanliness. Students were responsible for helping to maintain the appearance of the school. High expectations dictated all that we did. And I might add that parents pay high tuition fees for their children to attend this school. The cost is well worth the price, because children learn far more than the academics.
The students wore uniforms and adhered to dress standards or the parent was called. This only had to happen a time or two with a small number of students, and generally the students made sure they were properly dressed in uniform—no missing belt or improper footwear. This may seem very picky, but having high expectations, even with uniforms, taught the students that they had a responsibility to meet those expectations. The boys’ hair could be no longer than the top of the ear. If they broke this rule, a note went home notifying the parents that a haircut was in order. If the haircut did not take place in a few days, the student could not return to school until he had visited the barber. Rarely did the hair length infraction occur.
The school hallways were meticulously clean and if a book bag slipped from its hook outside the classroom, it was quickly picked up and returned to its place. Students were required to wipe the lunch tables and clean up the floor after eating in the cafeteria. The next group to eat lunch quickly let the prior group know if they had performed poorly. Students vacuumed their classrooms, washed boards, picked up trash on the playground, took out the classroom trash, and left the rooms neat and clean at the end of the day. Teachers didn’t plead or cajole the students to do these things. Some parents were amazed that their son or daughter would do chores at school that they didn’t perform at home. High expectations!
You might wonder whether or not the school employed custodial staff since the students and teachers did much to maintain the neat appearance of the school. Yes, there were custodians, but one of the strengths of the school was the training of children in all types of responsibility. I might add teachers, too. Many adults shirk their responsibilities and teachers are not exempt. All of us were responsible for keeping the school clean. I can’t tell you what a difference there was between this school and many other schools where the teachers and students expected someone else to do the “dirty work.”
Whenever we took students on a field trip, it never failed that someone would ask which school we represented. People were impressed at the conduct of the students and the good manners they exhibited. The good behavior didn’t happen accidentally. Having high expectations and expecting students to meet those expectations was part of the success of the school. Students saw their teachers walk the talk. As parents, I encourage you to do the same. Parents must live the way they desire their children to live. Parents cannot expect their children to perform to the best of their ability when the parent doesn’t. Sometimes, I had to take a second look at what I expected from my own children when I was not living up to the expectations I required of them. Be careful! Children will notice the hypocrisy and be much too eager to point it out to you. That old phrase “Do what I say, not what I do,” will become old and weary to your children if you rely on that worn out refrain.
Teaching at the Heiskell School was a pleasure because rules were clearly defined and enforced. Infractions of the rules were not common because the students knew that there would be repercussions for breaking them. When we made rules, we backed them up with action when they were disobeyed. Much more was achieved because of this orderly approach. Parents should do the same. If you have told your children that there will be a certain punishment if they do not obey in a particular area, and you fail to follow through, you only make parenting much more difficult the next time there is an infraction of that rule. Your children will develop an indifferent attitude because of your idle threats.
Reasons for Rules
Rules are not for making life miserable. Adults have rules to abide by—traffic laws, business conduct, tax regulations—and if they don’t follow them, there follows some sort of punishment. Many rules protect us. Speed limits are an example. Rules we set for our children are for their protection and preparation for adulthood. Some are for promoting order in the home—keeping the playroom neat, for example. Teachers and parents should not burden children with an overabundance of rules or make demands that are impossible to attain!
In my classroom, I had just a few rules listed on the wall at the front of the room, always reminding students of what was required. The first two rules were the most important in maintaining an orderly and optimum learning environment: “Treat one another the way you wish to be treated” and “When the teacher speaks, listen and do not talk.” If children learn to follow the first rule consistently, few additional rules are needed.
Dumbing Down Produces “Meniality”
We have lowered expectations, along with the rest of the world, and our progeny reflect the watering down of God’s Word. The Puritan work ethic needs to be reinstituted where life is not divided into the sacred and secular: The Puritans viewed all of life as belonging to God. Even the lowest job was performed honorably. We must raise the bar and train up future generations. Take advantage of having a superior guide book.
God wants His people to abound and excel in what they are (inward character) and in what they do (behavior or good deeds). It would seem obvious that there is simply no way one can love God with all his heart (Matt. 23:37) without seeking to do his or her best to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). The pursuit of excellence is both a goal and a mark of spiritual maturity. This pursuit must not be reached as a result of pride but of desiring to please the Creator.
Preparing your children to fulfill their role as Christians in the world should be your goal. Fathers and mothers working together teaching and training their children to pursue excellence is commanded by our Lord. Do not be content to teach your children to accept second-rate status. We do them a tremendous disservice and dishonor the God we serve. May great expectations flourish once again among Christians throughout the land!
I was recently invited to the Heiskell School to view a performance by the second and third grade classes of the play—Go to the Ant—I wrote while I was a teacher at the school. If anyone is familiar with Judy Rogers’ music CD Go to the Ant, then you can understand how much fun it was to write a play using her wonderful music. To my surprise, the play has been incorporated into the school’s curriculum and is performed on a regular basis. I was taken to where the students were making final preparations for their dress rehearsal performance for the pre-school students. I was treated as if I were someone really famous. The students were precious, and I am happy to report, well-behaved and well-mannered.
I was asked to say a few words before the start of the play to the pre-schoolers who filled the auditorium. A pin could be heard dropping on the hardwood floor of that large space. Those little ones sat cross-legged on the floor, just as my own sons had years before, quietly waiting for the play to begin. My heart was overjoyed to see that high expectations still exist at the Heiskell School.
Read more from Carol DeMar in her new book It Takes a Backbone to Raise Terrific Kids. This book makes a great gift for young mothers. Purchase several to give for Mother’s Day.
Article posted May 5, 2009