At the root of this problem may be a rhetoric/reality gap, a gap between what parents and other adults say are their top priorities and the real messages they convey in their behavior day to day. Most parents and teachers say that developing caring children is a top priority and rank it as more important than children’s achievements (Bowman et al., 2012; Suizzo, 2007).
A 2014 Research project titled "The Children We Mean To Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values" makes for interesting reading - I first discovered it three years ago, shortly after it was released by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, "Making Caring Common Project". In the report, over 10,000 students from 33 schools in various states were asked to rank what was most important to them - caring for others, achieving at a high level or being a happy person. They were also asked to imagine how their school peers and parents would respond to the same question.
Significant numbers of students reported they valued achievement in school and personal happiness over helping others - and reported their parents did as well.
While achieving well in school, working hard and being happy are all important aspects of life, there are also many, many times when we are called upon to not put ourselves first, in the interests of others and the need to care for and build a caring society. I believe the report captures this nicely when it describes:
"there are countless moments throughout childhood and adulthood when our happiness and desires to achieve collide with the interests of others, whether we’re helping another student when we’re studying to ace the same exam, taking care of a sick relative when we’re exhausted, or passing the ball during a basketball game when we’d really rather shoot. When the balance shifts too far toward our interests, we not only compromise our relationships, we’re also at risk of being cruel, disrespectful, ungenerous, and dishonest. When children don’t prioritize caring, they’re also less motivated to develop the social and emotional skills, such as empathy, needed to treat people well day to day.
Further, any healthy society depends on adults who are able to take responsibility for diverse members of their communities and to put, at pivotal times, the common good before their own. Our research suggests that we are not preparing children to create this kind of society.
And the irony is this: The intense focus on achievement and happiness can make children not only less caring, but also less happy.
Our findings suggest that both youth and adults do value caring, even if it is not their top priority. The issue is not that the values of caring or fairness have disappeared. It’s that they appear in too many circumstances to be subordinated to personal interests such as achievement and happiness.
How can we close the gap between what adults say and what they actually seem to prioritize? The big challenge is not to convince parents and teachers that caring is important—it appears they already believe it is.
The challenge is for adults to “walk the talk,” inspiring, motivating, and expecting caring and fairness in young people day to day, even at times when these values collide with children’s moment to moment happiness or achievement." (p. 5)
As a school that is philosophically organized around the principles of Peace Education, a number of the guidelines the report suggested to foster greater student investment in being caring above all resonated with me - and I wanted to share them here:
1) Children and youth need ongoing opportunities to practice caring and helpfulness, sometimes with guidance from adults
2) Children and youth need to learn to zoom in, listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, taking in the big picture and considering multiple perspectives
3) Children and youth need strong moral role models
4) Children need to be guided in managing destructive feelings
These are steps we take into consideration every day at Eric Harvie School and they do account, I think, for the strong ethic of care that exists among our students, that they take with them into their everyday lives and eventually, we hope, to middle school and later life as respectful, caring and active citizens of the world.
We build these experiences with our students only through the tremendous support we receive from our families to be as caring a school as possible - clearly that makes us very fortunate indeed to work in a community where adults 'walk the walk' of caring. And we will continue to make these four guidelines our focus in the years to come!
I encourage families to take a look at the whole report - their infographic can be found at
and the full report at
Our students consistently strive to be caring towards each other - and sometimes that is hard when they are playing together and disagree - as well as through our school initiatives to help the community through ventures like Jacket Racket, our Christmas project 'Families Helping Families' and other initiatives. This is something we are quite proud of in our school and our community and I believe this is one small way we are helping to change the world :)
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School