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Public Lives

Parenting

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A parent whose biggest goal in life is to see all her children graduate from the University of the Philippines wrote me the other day to ask what advice to give her son who had taken a leave of absence from his studies in UP in order to work in their town’s local government. The young man seems to be enjoying his part-time job so much that he has not talked of going back to finish his course. She says her son needs just a few more units and a thesis to graduate. As if to remind everyone that time is slipping by, his younger sister recently just graduated from UP.

Reacting to my recent column on “Generations” (Opinion, 6/2/13) in which I wrote that, as parents, my wife and I explicitly refrained from telling our children what careers to pursue, or from pressuring them to excel in school, the concerned parent says that she, too, always gropes for a reasonable balance between parental dictation and gentle advice. “What I did and continue to do is to guide and support them in all their endeavors. I tell them I will be a  miron  (kibitzer). But sometimes, like in chess, I feel a strong urge to make a move for them to get the things they need for their careers. I stop myself, realizing they have their own  diskarte  (style), and that I should only comment when asked.” Still, she says, she can’t help wondering what is happening to her son.

I am always hesitant to offer any opinion or advice about concrete situations or problems where I am not aware of the essential facts. We don’t know why the young man took an academic leave of absence. There’s no indication here of a financial issue. He might have incurred academic deficiencies or piled up “incompletes,” or ran into some difficult teachers.  Whatever it is, something made him lose interest in his course. The saving grace is that he has not said he is no longer interested in studying.

In my reply, I suggested that he should explore other courses, for which he could get most of the units he has earned credited. He could choose a course directly relevant to the work he is doing now—like community development or public administration. Because they finish high school at a very young age, our students usually find themselves trapped in courses for which they have neither aptitude nor talent nor interest. They should not fear shifting to other courses, and indeed should be encouraged to take subjects outside of their prescribed curriculum.

At the same time, we must make room for restless minds that altogether resist being strait-jacketed by standard curricula. They come to the university not so much to get a degree as to develop their minds. Typically self-supporting, they get part-time jobs and are content to audit classes. They never graduate.  Learning becomes a lifelong passion for them. Steve Jobs was such a mind.

The world of work, however, particularly in our society, still demands college degrees and diplomas as proof of possession of competencies.  Degrees will likely remain as entrance requirements for jobs for a long time. But in the future, they will become less and less a gauge or proof of what one can do. Employers will instead be demanding portfolios of past projects or works—in short, palpable records of one’s abilities and achievements—just as today one has to have a minimum number of published articles in peer-reviewed journals or books to merit appointment to a tenured faculty position.

“As long as your son can still look to the future with hope and yearning, you do not have to worry about him,” I tried to assure his mother.  “In immersing himself in local community affairs, he may be pursuing what he thinks will give him a handle to the world. Right now, he may not need a college degree. In the future, he may be asked by employers to produce one. But that depends on what he wants to do. In politics, you don’t need a college degree. But if one day he decides to teach, he will be told that he needs to have a degree, preferably a graduate degree. For now, what is important is that he doesn’t lose his sense of wonder, and that he keeps reading and writing to develop his mind.”

I was so focused on this parent’s problem of how to persuade her son to resume his studies that I forgot to share what to me were the more crucial lessons about parenting I have learned over the years. Letting go of one’s child is perhaps a parent’s most difficult achievement. Having grown up in a traditional family, I was myself inclined to be an authoritarian parent. The parenting style I imbibed was heavy on fear and obedience.

My wife, in contrast, always believed that parental trust was a more effective builder of responsibility than fear. As long as the rules are clear, she said, the sooner we trust and let go of them, the more self-reliant they would be. She was right. Trusting our children did not mean we were sure they would not make mistakes. Indeed, they made mistakes, but they quickly learned from them. Our readiness to trust boosted their self-confidence. They made their own decisions early in life, yet they were not afraid to seek advice or to discuss the consequences of bad decisions.

There is probably no other way to go in a complex world. More than at any other time, Filipino parents today have only a tenuous grip on the values of their children. Friends at school, their teachers, the mass media and now the social media, all have a formidable claim on their children’s time and attention. It is easy to lose them completely to the seductive pluralism, instantaneity, and novelty of global communications. The only way to neutralize these influences is by helping our children cultivate self-reflection and personal discipline—the ability to subject oneself to the regulation of self-chosen virtues. These are traits formed in the course of long conversations.

* * *

public.lives@gmail.com


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Tags: education , opinion , Parenting , Public Lives , Randy David , UP

  • Fulpol

    Randy David is clueless.. Randy David is a member of the oldie generation.. their life stages goes like this: study, work, marry, bear kids, work harder to finance kids education, get memorial plan, then retire…

    the UP student he mentioned has different perspective in life.. his mother, a member of oldie generation is clueless too like Randy David..

    the oldie generation live in poverty… the poverty of possibilities to live life..

    the younger generation is now being offered with so many possibilities to live life.. they are no longer seeking securities like job securities, high paying jobs, money in banks.. or even to get marry and have kids..

    the oldie believed that the younger generations are confused, disillusioned, lost people..

    i bet, the UP student might refute it by saying, “I was enlightened”.. maybe he read a book or books about the thoughts of great Philosophers including the founders of antiquated religions… he might developed his own philosophy, thoughts and values.. then he sought what he love to do in accordance to his belief system and philosophy..

    he never dare to follow, to imitate the system of the oldies.. because the oldie system sucks…

    clueless oldies living in oldie world system…

    • Istambaysakanto

      Sana hinimay mo ng husto ang mensahe

    • Guest

      I take it you personally and fully know Mr. David, much more the “oldie system” and/or are also a parent like me and him? Otherwise, those are quite some stretchy conclusions to make.

      (In case you see fit to question, I make no claims other than being a parent who – like many parents – mainly want what’s good for his/her child while teaching him/her as best as I can despite what others think and what the circumstances are.)

      On the other hand, it usually takes an equally clueless person to conclude how or why another individual is clueless. If it’s any consolation, though, the world is full of clueless people (including me in some aspects), so at least you’re not alone.

      Then again, Fulpol, your comment is just an opinion, which is all it’ll ever be. Heh, must be a slow Sunday.

      • DaveZ

        Oddly it seems I made the same comment twice, so I deleted the first one. It’s been a while since I commented in Disqus.

    • Guest

      I take it you personally and fully know Mr. David, much more the “oldie system” and/or are also a parent like me and him? Otherwise, those are quite some stretchy conclusions to make.

      (In case you see fit to question, I make no claims other than being a parent who – like many parents – mainly want what’s good for his/her child while teaching him/her as best as I can despite what others think and what the circumstances are.)

      On the other hand, it usually takes an equally clueless person to conclude how or why another individual is clueless. If it’s any consolation, though, the world is full of clueless people (including me in some aspects), so at least you’re not alone.

      Then again, Fulpol, your comment is just an opinion, which is all it’ll ever be. Heh, must be a slow Sunday.

  • pj2003

    parenting?… a relative came to me one day asking for a help, her daughter need to pay the tuition fee before she is allowed to take final exams, the amount is not that big but since they are economically challenge the parents need to source it somewhere… my hearth bleeds to the daughter when the mother told me she’s the only hope they (parents and siblings) have to get better life if she can finish her college… I cannot blame the mother for putting big task ahead for her daughter, as parent thinking that four other children are waiting in line, the child that will graduate ahead of the others is a spark in the dark path of her siblings.



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