What Are the Life Skills?

At dinner one evening in the fall of her high school sophomore year my daughter Lizzie said, “The new science teacher is not a good teacher. He just isn’t teaching right. I can’t understand what he is trying to do.” Continue reading

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What is Genius and What is Gifted? (Part 4: Chloe and Sean)

 Chloe

Chloe went to the large urban grade school, and her parents were very engaged in her “education.” In fourth grade when Chloe’s homework was  too easy, her parents sent notes to the teacher. When she came home from school to report that the work was stupid, the parents set up a parent-teacher conference. Finally, in fifth grade they sent her to a school for gifted and talented kids that focused exclusively on making sure that each student was challenged academically.

Chloe’s social skills (never her strong point) became weaker and weaker, Continue reading

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Kindergarten Readiness: Parent Strategy for Best Results.

A very reliable way of assessing children’s readiness for kindergarten is to bring twelve four-and-a-half-year-olds together for a one-hour mock kindergarten class. A teacher greets parent and child at the door, and the parent says good-bye. Most of the time the children leave their parents happily and launch off into what for them is a super play-date. Continue reading

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Should Parents Give Their Children Books For Christmas, or?

 Love

When I was nine and my father asked me what I wanted for Christmas I said, “Something I can build and then when it’s built I can play with it.”

Fifty years later, when my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas I said, “Fifty pieces of rebar two feet long.” Continue reading

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This March on Washington, Where’s the Dream?

At the end of this month there will be a  “Save our Schools March” on Washington. Unlike the 1963 March on Washington, there is no clear, shared vision of what it would look like if the desired changes happened. What would it look like if teachers and parents “took back the schools?”

Last month I published “Nine Lies about Academic Achievement that Parents and Teachers often Seem to Believe—but Don’t Really” in which I suggest that parents and other educators actually do know what we want. We want schools to graduate young people for the world as it is rather than for the industrial age.

The good news is, we know what those graduates should look like. Educators from Tony Wagner at Harvard to Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford have identified the kinds of skills the world will require of our graduates: focusing, making connections, changing perspective, creating, making judgments, finding meaning, working with others, managing conflict, planning, taking on challenges, persevering, etc.

Citizens with these skills, however, will not come from whomever wins the big debates over testing, teachers, unions, accountability, privatization, vouchers, charter schools, and so on.

The great news is that the changes we want have already occurred in some schools for some students. Hundreds of schools across the country, both public and private, rich and poor, are learning communities whose cultures are focused on bringing out the best in each person, building their character and their competence, and growing their authority. They have abandoned the Pyramid Model. For these schools and the people in them the game of school is not the “Get the Right Answers Game” but the “Work with Others to Investigate Interesting Questions Game.” These schools are graduating young people for the future—any future.

I have met many of these young people. They are everything we say we want: confident, creative collaborators who can communicate, they can speak and write, and solve problems on their own and also know when to involve others, and they are not into measuring up but rather into making a difference. They are trying to find their own unique place in a very wide world, and seem quite ready for the dynamic never-ending process of self-reinvention.

Moreover, they aren’t all under 30. Apparently this change has been going on for at least a generation. A parent at one school was going on about how wonderful her daughter’s school was. He said: “I visited 15 different schools. I could tell in five minutes that I wanted this school.”

So, I asked, “Terrific, but what’s so great?” Continue reading

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Nine Lies about Academic Achievement that Parents and Teachers often Seem to Believe—but Don’t Really.

Nine Lies about Academic Achievement that Parents and Teachers often Seem to Believe—but Don’t Really.

Why do Americans want one set of things for our children and then behave as if we want another? Parents and teachers I talk to want their children to be self-confident learners who are good at working with others, and they want school to help with this.

Of course we want our children to read, write and learn the language of mathematics, but we want much more, too. We want them to learn the requirements of our family and our society and to become active participants—leaders, actually—in an increasingly democratic world. We want them to grow up with self-discipline, respect for others, critical thinking, self-confidence, resilience, a love of learning, and the internal motivation to make something of themselves. We want them to be people who take responsibility and make a positive difference to others, their community, and the world, …and the world needs people who think creatively—now more than ever.

When it comes to school, however, we often behave as if all we care about is test scores and what colleges our children attend. In urban systems our expectations drop even lower to things like “Our goal is for all students to be at or above grade level.” We are even blind to the obvious fact that such a goal is impossible and self-defeating.

Why? Fear.

When we are confident and courageous, we act as if authenticity matters. We trust the part of us that knows that success and happiness depend on pursuing your own calling and finding your own niche in society. We realize that great colleges are looking for leaders, people who think creatively and make a difference. We, therefore, act as if we believe in the genius of each individual child and encourage them not to lose sight of their own personal mission as they find their fit in society. We create environments at home and at school that value inquiry and are open to the wisdom of silly questions. Achievement is put in its proper place as a subset of learning. We have a sense of humor.

In an atmosphere of fear, however, our minds are taken over as if by an evil empire dominated by a social pyramid where life is a race to the top. In this model it is quite reasonable to be afraid that some children will be left behind. In fact in this model the vast majority of children will be left behind, and only a few will make it to the top—it’s a pyramid, right?

We seem to believe the many myths of this model–lies like: Continue reading

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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: Continue reading

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Gettin In (or not): What is College Admission Really all about?

Message to a teenager who was accepted at her second choice school and is anxiously waiting for word from her first choice:

Sorry for your nail-biting time. You are a great girl and will land on your feet like a cat–as you always do. Congratulations on your A’s and B’s this year. Continue reading

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