Several years ago, I attended an event honoring phenomenal women in the DC region. Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis was one of the awardees. As she brought her remarks to a close, she challenged those in the audience to reconsider the basics of education, also referred to as the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead, she urged audience members to expand their idea of education to a more comprehensive model, explained in the three E’s: expectations, exposure, and education (comprised of the three R’s). As soon as she said it I nodded my head in agreement because I share her philosophy. Though if you had asked me to describe our parenting process when we were in the thick of it, I wouldn’t have used that vocabulary. Nevertheless, we were in fact using the three E’s model to educate our children. And I can tell you that it works. The three E’s are a lot to consider, so we’ll deal with one at a time. This month, it’s expectations.

Always have high expectations.

My apologies in advance if I step on toes, but too often we settle for less than the best from others and expect too little of ourselves. While there are plausible reasons and theories to explain and excuse patterns of thinking and ways of being that keep us from realizing our highest potential, settling for a subjective “good enough” in our education and other aspects of life does not bode well for our children, our families, or our communities.

I truly believe that we, as a community, desire greatness. Unfortunately, too many of us do not have a reliable road map to get us there. Instead, we depend on and beckon to sources of information that keep us in psychological, emotional, and physical bondage (e.g., broken school systems; parenting practices built on deficit-model thinking; popular culture that implores overconsumption of material goods). For the sake of clarity, please understand that I am not suggesting that we eschew any- and everything that doesn’t promote the uplift of African American families and communities. However, I do advocate that we be intentional about desiring, supporting, and presenting the very best of ourselves and holding our children and our families to the same high standard.

The old adage “nothing worth having comes easy” is truth. Desiring and having the best takes work, and in some cases it takes hard work. To reach the pinnacle, we have to develop a mindset that dictates that we think, speak, and behave in a manner that begets our best and the best from others. If you are constrained by a contrary mindset – small thoughts, language that tears down instead of builds up, and unhealthy, unproductive behavior – then you have a lot of work to do. And I beg that you be up to the task because you will not be disappointed with the results.

Our thoughts about our children should be of the highest substance. We should see and imagine them exhibiting and possessing solid character traits and putting forth their best effort in academics, athletics, music, art, etc. In order to gauge our child’s best effort, we have to spend quality time with her. When we are with our children, our focus should be on them – not our phones, not what’s going on at work, not other relationships. In general, we should be informed about their education and what’s going in their lives, including friendships. This level of engagement requires that we have relationships with their teachers, their friends, and their friends’ parents.

We must hold our children accountable for doing their homework, studying, and practicing. And just in case you don’t already know, homework and studying are not the same.

The purpose of homework is to reinforce the subject lesson and it allows the teacher to assess the student’s understanding of the material. If your child has trouble completing a homework assignment, he may not quite understand a concept, or the entire lesson. Either way, it’s an indication that further explanation or attention (tutoring, etc.) is needed. It’s our responsibility as parents to make sure our children seek and get further explanation and/or additional help when it’s needed.

Studying results in mastery of the subject. Studying requires dedicated focus on the subject material to ensure comprehension. Once the subject is mastered, the child should be able to explain the material in detail. Mastery occurs when the student becomes the teacher. If she can’t explain it to herself, to us, or others (practicing with a classmate), she hasn’t mastered it.

Practice (athletics, music, art) develops proficiency through repetition. Some people are born with exceptional gifts and talent, but without practice, they don’t reach peak performance. Practice, like homework and studying, requires time and effort. Nothing worth having comes easy. The best and the strongest put in the most time and effort.

Having high expectations is part of active parenting. An active parent is proactive and intervenes when necessary. Most children take their cue from their parents. If you have high expectations, they will also. If you take their education seriously and hold them accountable, they will take their education seriously. What we do, in large part, dictates what they do. Put in the time, put in the effort, and hold them accountable for their success. At times it’s going to seem daunting but remember, “nothing worth having comes easy”. Do the work. Be an active parent, have high expectations and you won’t be disappointed with the results.

Next month we’ll look at the second of the three E’s – Exposure.

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