Engaging Fathers in the Education of their Children

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By: J. Glenn Hopkins, President/CEO

One of my very favorite songs is Luther Vandross’ "Dance With My Father".  There is a lyric in the song that tugs at my heart strings every time I hear Luther sing it:  My father would lift me high and dance with my mother and me and then / Spin me around ‘til I fell asleep.


My father died at the age of 96.  In all those years I don’t recall that he ever lifted me high or danced with me and my mother.  True of many children of my generation, my father didn't spend much time with me.  Rearing children was the domain of mother and my father knew well to stay his distance.


The traditional role of women and men in raising their children is finally beginning to change — and not a minute too soon.


Studies abound about the value men bring to the growth and development of young children.  These studies show that the active and nurturing style of fathers and men in the lives of young children results in better verbal skills, higher intellectual functioning, and greater academic achievement.  Their involvement also supports emotional security, increases intellectual curiosity, enhances social connections among peers, and encourages positive social behaviors as children grow into adolescence.


Early childhood experts, including Professor Ivy Beringer of Northern Virginia Community College, tell us that children who have involved men in their lives "are more likely to do better in school, less likely to suffer from depression, and experience fewer school behavior problems." 


Although my father didn't dance with me, I do have fond memories of male teachers and tutors who took a keen interest in me when I was a child, and kept me in my books and out of trouble.  But, sadly, this experience is not the norm for most children.


According to the National Association for Elementary School Teachers, just 13 percent of elementary school teachers are men, and these men largely teach in grades 5 and 6.  And, the National Association for the Education of Young Children reports that less than 3 percent of early childhood professionals are men.


Mothers and women have demonstrated exceptional skill preparing generations of children for success in school and life.  And, they deserve our admiration and respect. But, if given the chance, men too can play an equally important role in the lives of young children.


Despite mountains of research pointing to the life-defining impact quality early childhood education can have on a child’s social-emotional, academic, physical, cognitive and creative skills – all necessary for school success – the early childhood and elementary education profession stubbornly remains under-valued, due in large part, no doubt, to the traditional view that caring for children is woman’s work.


Parents of young children and childcare professionals bear some of the blame for this.  We are wary of male childcare professionals and do little to make it comfortable for fathers to engage with young children — even their own. 


For the sake of our children, we need to change this.  A first step is to make childcare centers more welcoming to men.  Simple things, such as displaying photographs of fathers, father-figures, and men interacting with children, can be easily done and at little cost, with immediate, positive effect.


From there, we need to move on to the heavy lifting, by raising the pay of early childhood professionals (men and women) to a wage commensurate with the education and talent they bring to the job.  In time, through their achievements in school and life, our children will thank us.


We'd love to hear your thoughts.


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