A disturbing 2008 survey conducted by Common Core shows that far too many graduating seniors fail when it comes to answering even the most basic history and literary questions. However, the same survey discovered that the higher achievers tended to have four things in common.
One: At least one of their parents had a college degree.
Two: Most had read at least one piece of literature not assigned at school.
Three: Invariably, they took part in local cultural events with their friends and families—visiting museums, concerts, and plays.
Four: Often they were members of an orchestra, band, performance group, or choir.
These happy few tended to achieve grades one to two levels higher than students who lacked these advantages. So what can a proactive parent do to take advantage of this survey? Well, if you are already doing all of the above, congratulate yourself for doing your utmost to provide your kids with the support they need to succeed in a subject where, according to the US Department of Education, “the amount of weekly instructional time…fell by 22 percent between 1988 and 2004.”
Congratulations aside, what about the rest of us? I mean what can parents do if they don’t have college degrees? Well, mentoring becomes all the more important. Parents should actively seek out opportunities for their kids to interact with college graduates in a casual setting. I am sorry if that sounds snobbish, and I do know many self-educated individuals who could beat the average college graduate in Jeopardy. That being said, encouraging your kids to hang out with educated people, whether college educated or self-educated, will foster a love of learning in your kids. Children tend to live up to the expectations of those they admire, so be sure to provide your kids with role models worth admiring. Many organizations exist to foster these relationships, and a proactive parent will find a way to encourage these important childhood friendships. Consider Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or having them volunteer for a community organization that interests them. When I was a kid, I practically lived at our various community theatres, and I learned more about literature while volunteering for those theatres than I ever did in high school.
Next, encourage your kids to read for fun. Make friends with your local librarians and ask them for help finding books that will appeal to your child. Keep lots of book options on hand at home. Make personal reading time more important than chore time, homework time, and even bedtime. In other words, when children are reading, they get to keep reading and nothing is allowed to get between them and their book. I know as a child, I hated bedtime because I was never tired. My mother bought me a bedside light and let me read quietly in bed for as late as I wanted. Consequently, I devoured books by the dozens.
Finally, even if you can’t afford spending time or money on museums and plays, you can still provide access to cultural activities through film and the Internet. For example, if you know that your kids are about to study American History then rent HBO’s John Adams and watch it together. Check out PBS’s wonderful documentary and companion website entitled Liberty! If you know that they are about to read Romeo and Juliet then rent Zeferelli’s brilliant production and watch it together. Many of these films are available at your library. Now, merely sitting your kids down and telling them to watch a documentary will not work. Actively watching these programs and exploring these websites together is the key. Moreover, keeping these activities fun is essential. Eventually, they will learn how to seek out answers on their own, and then they will be truly educated. While you are at it, every so often, you might try taking out a map and ask them if they can help you find Afghanistan. Even better, take out a timeline and ask them if they know when an important historical event happened. Don’t worry if you don’t know. Discovering the answers together can be twice as much fun, and Historybusters will continue to help you find the answers whenever we can.
The bottom line? People do not value what they do not perceive as valuable. If you as a parent do not value literature and history by making some small space for it in your daily life then your kids will follow suite. It doesn’t take much to hook a curious young mind on history and literature. After all, who doesn’t like a good story? And that is what we are talking about here—the world’s greatest stories.