‘The Biggest Job’ – Are You Valuing Achievement Over Character?

by Red Pill Mama · 1 comment

in Book+DVD Reviews,Character,Education

While I’ve read plenty of books about raising children, most that impart an overall parenting philosophy seem to simply articulate common sense, and deliver it with enough of a swift kick in the parenting pants to get you off your lazy butt and doing what you know you should be doing.  But leave it to my mom, the Original Red Pill Parent, to give me a book that has provided me with a whole new pair of parenting glasses.

This book, oddly enough, sat on my library bookshelf for years.  With everything else in that room clamoring for my attention, it just didn’t look like the most interesting thing on the plate.  Mom would periodically ask me if I’d read it yet, and I’d say “No …” and she would say, with patient, sage knowing: “Ah well, you’ll pull it down when you’re ready.”  When your kids are babies and toddlers, you’re not so much worried about their character, are you?  But there was something about having my daughter enter second grade this year, letting her go with a whoosh of air behind her, knowing this was the year when maybe I might not figure as heavily in her ever-expanding orbit — and that this is the year when bigger things matter, beyond bedtime routines, looking both ways and shoe tying.  And then there was The Red Pill Parents, and you.  I was ready.

The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have was written by the current head of The Hyde Schools, along with his wife, who directs the schools’ family education programs.  The subtitle — “Finding the Right Balance Between Character and Achievement for Your Child” – already calls into question what many of us surely believe to be a given in raising kids: that the pinnacle of success for any parent is to raise a child who grows up to achieve great things.  Right?

Not according to the Hyde philosophy.  Hyde works to prepare students for life, rather than just prepare them for college (a novel concept, eh?).  They believe that who we are is more important that what we can do.  And when you really think about it, it makes perfect sense:

The “results” culture that prevails in most schools is damaging to students in a number of ways.  Those who try hard but don’t have the aptitude of the class stars come to feel as if they’re fighting a losing battle and begin to ask “Why bother?”  Meanwhile, the top performers gain a false sense of accomplishment when they are not challenged to explore their full potential.  Across the board, these [students] sense the hypocrisy at work and become alienated and apathetic.  Creativity, curiosity, and enthusiasm flag, and restless energy looks for less constructive outlets.

They believe that it is wrong for American schools to maintain their “oppressive focus on variables that are not within the control of the students … to persist in valuing aptitude over attitude, ability over effort, talent over character.”  Indeed, where are the columns on the report card for effort, positive attitude and character?

This situation can, of course, be applied outside our school systems, to our society in general.  People of questionable character constantly float to the top in our culture simply because they have achieved – through innate talent, lucky breaks, the power of money, or the biggest mouth — not because of who they are.  Hyde’s Five Principles are: Curiosity, Courage, Concern, Leadership and Integrity.  How often do people with these qualities of character float to the top?  The Gaulds write: “For some strange reason, our society has decided that outcomes achieved with little effort are worthy of awe.”

What also sets this book apart from others is that rather than laying out a philosophy or method to try to change our children’s behavior, it first and foremost works to change our behavior, as parents:

When we see our children act inappropriately, it is important to look at ourselves: Where am I with that?  How am I dealing with that in my life?

It all starts with us – of course!  Think of any topic we’ve covered here on The Red Pill Parents: and once you come to the realization of what ‘doing the right thing’ entails, you know you first have to do it yourself, to model it for your kids.  The Gaulds write: “Many of the parents we have worked with over the years have been so preoccupied with the behavior of their children that they have neglected to address their own character.”

The Hyde School’s philosophy has 10 Priorities.  What do these phrases make you think of: Truth over Harmony; Principles over Rules; Attitude over Aptitude; Value Success and Failure; Take Hold and Let Go.  These are radical ideas, huh?  Don’t we all think that a household based on harmony, rules, ability and success is a … successful household?  We are the parents; we are in control: what’s this about “letting go”?

I’ve given you the basic premise and a little bit to tease you with, but you need to read this book, of course.  Let me just give you a few more thought-provoking nuggets of powerful wisdom to fully entice you:

On Your Responsibilities as a Parent:

Your primary purpose is not to have a relationship with your children.  Your primary purpose is to help your children connect with their unique potential.

One of the most disappointing family dynamics we encounter exists in the form of the parent who is so risk averse that the family remains locked in a holding pattern of mediocrity.

We cannot give [these qualities of character] to our children.  Very often we need to get out of the way and let other people give them to our children.  Sometimes we need to get out of the way and let them earn them by themselves through their own initiative.

Our preoccupation with harmony can keep us from seeing the real truth about our children.

The deepest love of a parent for a child is expressed in a parent’s commitment to raise his or her children to honor their best and to better their world.

It is easy to get caught up in the belief that our strengths and achievements will inspire our children.  When we show our children our ability to admit mistakes and move forward, they will truly respect us.  When [they] see us in that light, they trust their struggles more.  They see their own struggles as a normal part of life rather than something to hide.

On Kids’ Independence:

Allowing our children to handle as many of their problems as possible gives them the opportunity to learn indelible lessons.

A … problem with an obsession with discipline is that our children will fail to take ownership of their own goals.  If they learn to feel that their goals are always being set by others, they will ultimately rebel against any expectation of effort or accomplishment.

The old seventies philosophy of self-esteem was, “If we make kids feel good about themselves, they will do great things.  Hyde believes, “If kids do great things, they will feel good about themselves.  The former sees self-esteem in the form of a birthright that can be bestowed simply for the asking.  The latter sees self-esteem as hard-earned.  If self-esteem can be easily given, it can just as easily be taken away.  When self-esteem is earned through one’s actions, it may be harder to gain, but it can never be taken away.”

… the more we talk as parents, the more we automatically rob our kids of the opportunity of owning and overcoming their obstacles.  In most daily situations, our intervention is not only unnecessary, it can be destructive.


The Hyde Schools’ Biggest Job workshops typically end with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can.

Think about that: and how your own kids want – and need – you to help them reach their potential.

Perhaps a new emphasis on attitude, effort and character could result in a new family, a new school, a new community, and ultimately a new culture.

Wow — wouldn’t that be something!

Happy Reading,

Red Pill Mama

(With Thanks to Malcolm and Laura Gauld, and Mom)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Out of the Blue March 12, 2010 at 9:28 am

Thank you! Thank you! After reading this I went straight to order the book! How motivating and inspiring your post is!

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