Second Dean’s Forum Addresses Power, Parenting and the Human Condition

News Story: April 1, 2011
At the Dean's Forum are, from left,
Drs. Michael Higgins, Kieran Bonner,
Seamus Carey and Kathryn LaFontana.

A recent survey suggests that the level of happiness for a married couple decreases with the birth of children – and actually increases once they leave home and are on their own. And yet, says Canadian Professor of Sociology Kieran Bonner, parents uniformly say it’s all worth it and they would do it again. The difficulty is that while we may be trained for six or eight years to become a top-flight educator or engineer, we receive very little preparation for successful parenting.

“Power, Parenting and the Human Condition” was the subject of the second Dean’s Forum, held Tuesday, April 5, in the Schine Auditorium. In this case, the principal presenter was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences himself, Dr. Seamus Carey, who is also a professor of Philosophy and an authority on parenting. He sat on a panel moderated by Dr. Michael W. Higgins, the University’s Vice President for Mission and Catholic Identity. Other participants were Dr. Kathy LaFontana, chair and associate professor of Psychology, and Dr. Bonner, who teaches at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the panelists explored multiple facets of parenting and power. Dr. Bonner began with thoughts on the limits of power for parents and guardians, especially in a world where their children are bombarded by so many other influences. A native of Ireland and one of 13 children, he spoke of his formative experiences as being substantially different from what young people go through today. Children and even college students, added Dr. LaFontana, are more anxious today since so much is expected of them. Indeed, some parents seem to live vicariously through their kids. Dr. Carey noted that, as a basketball coach for nine-and-10-year-olds, he finds the children quite willing to live in the moment and just enjoy the game; too often, the parents interfere and do not allow that enjoyment to happen.

The group – and members of the audience – spent considerable time examining the role of discipline and the “grade inflation” that rules in too many situations. Where everyone is a winner and losing is not even an option, all the children lose. There is something very healthy about not coming in first, Dr. Bonner offered, and picking up and starting over. For some, it may mean continuing on a team, for example, even though they are not the stars – because they love the game. For others, it will involve changing sports entirely or “starring” in non-athletic roles.

Many in the audience were SHU professors who find themselves operating “in loco parentis” – in the role of a parent within the classroom. So the lessons of power and the human condition have special meaning for them as well. Despite the contemporary pressures on children these days, many of them unknown to their parents and grandparents, children and young adults are basically the same. As Dr. Carey put, calling on a favorite teacher, Aristotle, “All men hunger to know. Kids at young ages often test brilliantly but by the time they reach college, we have beaten that excitement out of them. We must reveal our own passion for the subject – and encourage their own.”

The Dean’s Forum is a quarterly opportunity for College of Arts and Sciences faculty members and selected guests to explore issues of significance to the larger community.