Chores

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Children should not have chores.  They make a larger mess trying to be “helpful” than if I did the work myself.  They are even too short to reach cleaning supplies so I have to be bothered to go get the necessary items.  Finally, the job is never done right.  After fighting with them (and ruining my serenity) I end up doing the work anyway.  Children should not have chores.

Now before any of you come after me with pitchforks and torches in the night, let me quickly state that the opening of this column is an accurate paraphrase of an article I read recently in (of all places!) a parenting magazine.  I am compelled to point out the wrong-headed, selfish attitude of the mother who penned this nonsense.  First, learning to wield a broom and dustpan is an important ability.  Organization, being tidy, and taking pride in one’s surroundings are life skills that really matter.  These don’t come naturally. They are learned behaviors.  Secondly, a parent is a child’s primary teacher.  Yes it is more work than doing it yourself.  And if you are sending your child the message that “nothing you do is good enough” then your child is going to be spending some serious coin with therapists sometime down the road.  Finally, and perhaps the most important objection, has to do with the child being valued as a member of the family.  The children in the first paragraph make no contribution to the family’s welfare because they are not allowed to contribute.  I need to be needed at some level.  So do you.  So do the children.

“Are you valuable to your family?”  This is a question I often pose to middle and high schoolers.  It is a provocative question that produces a high quality conversation.  In part the young people begin to realize how much other family members provide for them.  Gratitude bubbles to the surface.  The responsibilities of full adulthood are imagined, and I sense that they become motivated to become even greater contributors to the common good.  In those families where chores are routine, the pride is evident.  Sometimes the frightening question “Could my family get along without me?” appears.

Most of us who work in educational institutions refer to various departments or classes or grades as being like a family.  We also indulge in fantasies of having the “perfect” class of learners (as if there were also a “perfect” family of origin out there somewhere).  Those don’t exist.  But I do have a thought that could perhaps move us closer to the ideal.  What if each teacher in each classroom looked at each student with the notion that this one child is absolutely necessary for the class to function as it should?  This one child is a contributor without whom the class cannot succeed.  What if each student knew that she was valued as a contributor?  That he had a job to do that impacted the rest of his scholastic family?  That we depend upon him?  That we cannot function without her?

Think this is a pipe dream?  It’s happening in the best classrooms today.

Source: Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

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