One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters

Yesterday was Father’s Day, a tradition first started in America in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, in honour of her single parent father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, who reared his six children singlehandedly.

I searched online for quotes on ‘Fathers’. One quote that caught my attention is by 17th century British Poet, George Herbet who said, “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.”

George Herbet was educated in Trinity College, Cambridge. He excelled in music and literature. His scholarly talents were admired by King James and he served in the British Parliament. He also held a prominent position in Cambridge University and in the last part of his life, served as rector in a small parish in the Church of England. He was noted for his unfailing care for his parishioners, especially those who were ill or in need.

For a highly educated scholar who had received the best education available in Britian in his time, it must be something for him to declare that the father’s role is more important than a hundred schoolmasters.

I do not think he was referring to the academic aspect of education because as a student, he must have interacted with some of the best teachers and headmasters in Britian at that time, who certainly had more academic knowledge than his own father. He must have been referring to the holistic development of the child and how important the parents’ role is in this development, much more than what schools can teach to the child.

I recall the recent flurry of letters and online comments in response to Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat’s call for parents to relearn the way they teach their children. Mr Heng has asked parents to adapt to new teaching methods in Mathematics, particularly in problem solving at the primary school level. One writer responded by calling attention to the ‘arms race’ by schools and tuition centres in setting harder and harder Maths problems to show that they have the toughest test papers. Another writer criticised the unrealistic expectations put onto parents over their children’s ‘academic excellence’. She prefers to focus on helping her children have happy childhood memories and to develop them into good people and citizens.

 TODAY newspaper also carried an interview of Sony Board member and mentor-to-CEOs, Hsieh Tsun-Yan who amongst other things, shared his parenting philosophy. He and his wife decided they did not need to see their children’s report cards. To them, the report card is meaningless. They rather judge their children by what comes out of their education: “Are you well-mannered, are you making friends with the right people, are you thinking more about the world than about yourself, are you involved in community work, and making some modicum of contribution.” He also felt Singaporeans had become too preoccupied about elite schools, scholarships and the “pecking order of things”. These, he felt meant nothing on the global stage. For him, the important things are the inner resources of the person, the humility to learn and the resilience to pick oneself up after a setback.

Years of exercise in ranking and branding schools, as well as many streaming examinations to constantly sort students over the years into different buckets have created excessive stress. Education outcome has become measured by grades schools can churn out. Our society has now been conditioned to put a huge premium on academic achievements. This has caused many parents to push their children to develop themselves mainly in the academics.

It is timely this Father’s Day to remember that a very important role for parents is also to develop values and character in children, to give them the inner strength to see themselves through challenges the real world will throw at them in the future. A proverb from the Bible says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Parents can certainly do much more than schoolmasters. A belated Happy Father’s Day to all fathers out there.


One comment on “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters

  1. Well-said. Academic achievements alone do not make a person “educated”, but wholesome values, selfless life principles and social commitment to advance the interests of others are some of the important things that help in a person’s overall development. Like the recent case of ex-MOE scholar Jonathan Wong is one example. An academically brilliant undergraduate studying at the University of York in the UK, a former Hwa Chong Junior College student and a scholarship holder, he committed sex crimes involving an under-aged girl and was jailed for 5 years.

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