Should you be worried about whether your child is getting enough of one academic thing or another? Two parents have posed the question to me in the past few days.  These are folks whose days with their kids are characterized by a range of things – exploring social and natural surroundings, reading extensively on many topics, visiting museums, running experiments in the kitchen, inventing, designing, building things. They want to know if their kids are  getting enough math, or spelling, or writing in the course of it.

The question can come about naturally in the course of parenting, as one reflects on how it’s going and how they’re doing.  With the 3 proverbial Rs in particular, the concern can really escalate in a climate of fear over enough-ness.  The parents I spoke to this week have children who’ve been downright demoralized by their experience of school and/or academic mandate.  Yet the first things we want people to worry about are spelling, multiplication, and the like.  Where to start when you’ve got a child whose spirit and confidence have been damaged?

I was reminded of the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians upon completion of training.  I found this translation of the first precept, from the National Library of Medicine: “I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgment, and I will do no harm or injustice to them.”

If you imagine your work regarding your child’s learning to be of as great import as the physician’s with any patient, and map this precept of medicine’s oath onto what you do and choose for your children, you might find interesting and dramatically different results.

You can ask yourself “Which practices can I apply my greatest ability and judgment to, in the interest of opting (first) out of harm and injustice?” Your greatest ability and judgment. It’s possible that when you’re worrying about the particulars of basic academic work you are employing your greatest ability and judgment, but it’s more likely that you’re not.  I invite you to consider what it would look like if you brought a commitment to that to your work with your children and your oversight of their education.  What will it take to start with doing no harm, and building from there?