To Educate vs. Discipline

The French are blessed with many labels but could French parents be superior at “educating” their children?

A new parenting book, Bringing up Bebe, launched this week amidst a parade of paparazzi. The Today ShowWall Street Journal, New York Times, NPR all joined in the chorus – some with good notes, others not so good.

The author – journalist and parent Pamela Druckerman – spent three years in France observing that French children seem to have far fewer tantrums, are able to play by themselves and appear less anxious than American children. Likewise, French mothers seemed to yell less, get their children to calmly eat broccoli and keep things under control so they enjoy more adult time.

Weather or not you agree with the premise of the book, Druckerman gives us something to think about on how these two cultures view parenting and education. Druckerman writes in her Wall Street Journal essay:

The French, I found, seem to have a whole different framework for raising kids. When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. 

“Ah, you mean how do we educate them?” they asked. “Discipline,” I soon realized, is a narrow, seldom-used notion that deals with punishment. Whereas “educating” is something they imagined themselves to be doing all the time. They are zealous about talking to their kids, showing them nature and reading them lots of books. They take them to tennis lessons, painting classes and interactive science museums.

Je suis comprende. In the English dictionary, discipline’s root origin is to learn but its definition is to punish; training that corrects. Educate means to give intellectual, moral and social instruction to, provide schooling for, to train or provide information.

Two different perspectives on teaching and learning, certainly not exclusive to one country or another. With discipline, an expectation exists that a wrong will occur. It’s more fault or fear based. It hints at pouncing. To educate suggests giving upfront instruction or schooling. It takes a more pro-active empowering attitude and provides information – before a mistake occurs.

In the end, parenting always comes full circle. A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher – in France, the U.S. or anywhere. Our role in sculpting our children’s young minds and “educating” our children – is huge. And it continues long beyond their elementary years.

Thank you Bringing Up Bebe, for reminding us that parents are children’s most influential teachers. And that education trumps discipline. Beyond that – je ne sais quoi.

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