KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Barbara Unell was sorting through the paperwork and personal items of her beloved Uncle Dan, who had died at age 98, when she came across a surprising artifact.
It was his fifth grade report card from 1914. Why would he keep that?
There was a cover page with his name and school in Kansas City, Kan. She opened it and saw that the left side was labeled "School Report" with a typical list of elementary school subjects and his grades.
But on the right side, carrying equal weight, was the "Home Report," with a list of "Home Activities" and assessments of each. The back cover contained a message from the school superintendent:
"The worth of a child cannot be measured in terms of 'Per cent' alone. The home life of the child is an important part of the whole life. The teacher's judgment will be a much better one if the home will kindly cooperate. Parents are asked to carefully consider and mark 'Home Report' as indicated."
To Unell, the author of several parenting books, including "20 Teachable Virtues," the document was a stunner. It led to a new book she wrote with her husband, Bob Unell, titled "Uncle Dan's Report Card."
"It was one of those moments: Is this real?" Unell said about the discovery. "It was almost like out of a movie. The report card has been such an adventure ever since I found it."
Unell revered her uncle, Daniel Brenner, who was a lawyer, a judge and president of the University of Missouri Board of Curators. But to her and other family members, more important than his professional accomplishments was his role as family sage and counselor.
When Unell was growing up, at gatherings of the extended family, Brenner would remind the youngsters to be grateful to their parents and to make the best of their opportunities. He would ask about their grades. Brenner had no children of his own.
"There wasn't a 'gotcha' sense to it, like you were going to get in trouble," Unell said. "He authentically wanted to know how things were going in your life."
Unell supposed that her uncle turned up the report card at some point and planned to show it to her. He would have known she'd be interested.
And how. The "home report" was a masterwork, she thought, the wording of the "activities" skewed to the times but the values they referenced far from outdated.
Parents were asked to numerically log, for instance, "Books Read" and "Money Earned" for their child and grade him or her on such activities as "Care of Teeth," "Care of Clothing," "Manners," "Helping Mother, "Helping Father," "Evening Duties," "Obedience & Promptness" and "Habits of Kindness."
"It seemed to me you could not find a better list, and trust me, I've studied this for 30 years," Unell said. "It's the basic ingredients that define parenting, about being a mother and a father."
Unell showed the report card to school administrators, teachers and parents, and the reactions were similar: "What happened to this? Can we get it back?"
The "home report" can be motivational for parents and children, Unell said. Children want to be held accountable for good behavior and love being rewarded for it. Adults appreciate the help in focusing their attention on what really matters in parenting, she said.
A pilot program concluded as much, Unell said. At three schools with students from a variety of backgrounds, use of the "home report" helped to build a sense of responsibility, and parents saw positive changes in areas such as manners and promptness.
"It's exciting because it's not about punishing," Unell said. "It's about encouraging and promoting and validating. What would it be like to bring back a 'home report' not only across our community but across the country?"
For a research summary of the pilot project and a video, go to http://www.uncledansreportcard.org.