When my children were little and we tramped through the woods, planted flowers in our garden, or poured water into successively smaller bath cups, I spoke to them constantly and shared what I knew, putting in what I hoped would be a strong foundation for language and understanding.
When my children grew to be school-aged, with homework in the afternoons, I was “on call” to clarify or think through their assignments with them. Sometimes, the teachable moment was one that my children needed to figure out on their own – a process crucial for learning and for confidence-building. Other times, I identified a need for more substantive support and provided it. I didn’t consider this help cheating in any way – but one of my daughter’s teachers did.
My sixth grader came home with an assignment that was out of her grasp: compare the theories of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes in their understanding of human nature and government. (“Locke and Hobbes? Are you sure the teacher didn’t mean Calvin and Hobbes, honey?” No. No, he didn’t.)
I am pretty certain that this assignment was out of the grasp of my daughter’s classmates, too, and perhaps the parental support I ought to have provided was a phone call to the teacher to complain. But I didn’t do this. The teacher had a record of being quite thoughtful in his assignments, creating projects that were appropriate for the level of the class. And under the circumstances, I was uniquely positioned to run interference: I got my Ph.D. in philosophy. I am well versed in the theories of Locke and Hobbes on human nature and government, so I set to teaching my daughter some of the basics of Enlightenment thought. Her grasp on the assignment tightened.
As we delved into the material, both my daughter and I had separate concerns about my “teach-in.” My daughter wanted my help but felt anxious. Her teachers have routinely emphasized the importance of doing one’s own work. She felt clear that she could employ research and reference sources, but she was much less clear about whether I – an in-house philosopher – could serve as an appropriate resource…
Read More: nytimes.com