What Parents Can Learn from JFK to Turn Crises into Opportunities

In 1959, future president John F. Kennedy was speaking at a United Negro College Fund event and shared a bon mot that has value for our turbulent times. Kennedy said, “In the Chinese language, the word crisis is composed of two characters: one representing danger, and the other, opportunity.” Those words have been quoted in countless other speeches, and while it’s not a perfect translation—Chinese linguists point out that a more accurate translation is “a point where things happen, change”—they help us see all crises differently, and that’s a good thing.

What bearing does this have on the life changes the world is experiencing as a result of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders? There are many ways these words apply, but my focus today is on the educational sea change as children in America and elsewhere find themselves unexpectedly finishing their school year at home with parents as their teachers. While homeschooling is certainly nothing new, it represents a huge adjustment for families who have never had to take charge of educating their child(ren).

Not only are there time constraints (most parents still have jobs to do from home), but what about the curriculum? What if parents are called upon to explain concepts they have forgotten or never had the chance to learn? If there are several kids at home, how can one or two parents discover and meet the needs of kids who learn differently and make sure their kids have the foundation to begin their next school year well prepared? It’s an endeavor that has a lot of moving parts. In fact, there are memes all over the internet from new homeschoolers with messages to the effect of, “It’s day three. Everybody has graduated.” Or “In an Apocalypse, no one cares about geometry.” I get it. This is complicated and more than a little overwhelming.

But here’s the thing: in the midst of all this chaos and crisis, there is also a huge opportunity. What, you ask? It is the opportunity for parents to observe firsthand how their child is doing educationally. This is a time to identify learning issues that may have heretofore gone undetected. Is the child struggling? How is their reading? Are they getting frustrated with written assignments, having trouble holding a pencil, getting stressed about reading aloud? Are they talking negatively about themselves i.e., “I’m stupid,” “I can never get anything right,” “I can’t do math”? How long is their attention span? Do you detect anxiety or depression based on facial expression, body language, or oppositional behavior? These clues and many more are things parents are rarely privy to because they’re never in the classroom with their child.

Well, now home is the classroom, and the insight you will gain into what your child’s true educational needs are will be priceless. Indeed, my hope is that, while this is a stressful, challenging time for homeschoolers, you and your child will look back on this time as the opportunity that it was to optimize an encouraging, nurturing, hope-filled learning environment for your child.

Here are links to a few brief articles that I hope you will find helpful if you see responses in your child that are puzzling or unexpected.

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