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How Schools Can Make Kids Stupid and What Parents Can Do.

If the deadening weight of school ever threatens to extinguish the love you came here with, don’t let it. We were wiser than we knew when we wrote those college personal statements. Remember the person that naïve teenager wanted to be. Be that person, and more.

–Aarti Iyer—Columbia College Senior*

Episode 1: Taking Recess Away

Teacher: “Class, you can have your lost recess time back when you show me that you can sit quietly and focus on this worksheet for the next fifteen minutes without talking or staring out the window or bothering someone else.”

With one voice Class replies: “No deal. Here’s the deal: We will complete this worksheet if you: 1) allow plenty of time in the schedule for us to do it, 2) suggest various worthwhile options for what we can do if we finish early, 3) give us opportunities to be creative, 4) let us work quietly with a partner, 5) show that you understand how important friends, joy and physical play are for making us smarter and more capable of doing your worksheet by never, ever, threatening to take recess away from us, again.

“How can we trust you as someone who will make us smarter if you use recess as a bargaining chip? Haven’t you kept up with the brain research? (Heck, have you no self-awareness?) When you see us “playing” don’t you realize that we are managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, learning the difference between self and others and working to harmonize the dissonance. Don’t you see the connection between recess and our ability to solve a math problem or understand what the author is trying to say in a novel? Let’s make a deal. We will respect you, if you show that you understand what our passions are telling you about which neurons are trying to connect in our brains. We will try to understand how that math challenge will make us smarter.

“So that’s the deal. Oh, yes, one more thought, why don’t you embed the lesson in an activity that accomplishes some of our cognitive development needs so that when someone visits the class they will be impressed with a) how inquisitive we are, b) how collaborative we are, c) how creative we are, and d) how meaningful we find the academic portion of our lesson?”

Loving, self-aware parents, who have been to school and whose reason is not compromised by fear for their children’s future would want the teacher to get this message. Since the children are probably developmentally not ready to talk like this–and generally too polite, we parents need to speak for them.

In Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School Alison Gopnik reports on new research which shows that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, may backfire.

In the Huffington Post Sam Chaltain tells us not to believe the hype about the value of a college education.

In “Seven Ways to Love a Child” Jennifer Rogers lays out what loving your child looks like. Only one of the seven ways include anything academic, and that one is “4: Read together.”

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing educators from the Decatur public schools speak about education. I am more convinced than ever that both parents and teachers know in their hearts what is good for children—and what is not so good. There is always a consensus about what good education is and what an educated person looks like. The institution of “school” is a principality with the power to take education away from children. Parents and teachers must work together to make sure that this does not happen.

Parents: Go talk to your child’s teacher and make a plan so that he or she wants to go to school every day. That way we can be sure that our children get an education.

* Aarti Iyer is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing. Reading Between the Lines was published two days ago in her last month of her senior year.

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4 Responses to “How Schools Can Make Kids Stupid and What Parents Can Do.”

  1. Dr Marty April 27, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    This is a very important topic. Thank you for writing about it, Rick. Passing it on.

  2. Susi April 28, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Just heard Jill Vialet, president and founder of Playworks, an Oakland-based organization that promotes play and physical activity in low-income urban schools, on Forum making this very point. You can listen to her at
    http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201104261000

  3. Dawn April 28, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    I agree. Thanks for opening up this conversation.

    A love of learning seems to be the key ingredient missing in many schools these days. As more and more demands are being placed on teachers and students, the passion is being sucked out of the big balloon we call education.

    There are no easy answers. There’s plenty of blame to go all around, but blame only fuels the fire. The question is, how can each of us play a part in turning around the situation in a positive way? We can start in our own homes, classrooms, towns, and schools. No step is too small.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, and some great links, Rick!

  4. Tina Camden May 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    Dear Rick,
    Wonderful work! When we treat children with dignity they flower and grow into the individual that they want to be!

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