What is Genius? Part 1: Calli’s Love Life

Finding genius is not about finding ability. Finding genius is about unlocking the creative potential of the human brain.

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Continuing the Discussion of Gifted Education

Last week’s post began an important conversation about gifted education. Let it continue.  Project Bright Idea is showing that gifted education works for all children. The moral of the story is: “Treat students as if they are gifted and they will show up as gifted.” Take a look at the video and see what you think. Continue reading

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A Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday For Children, Parents, Teachers, Principals and Presidents

When we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., we celebrate a great deal more than the life of a great man. We even celebrate more than a period in American history when our country took a very large step forward toward the dreams of our founding fathers. We celebrate the whole idea that each of us has a responsibility bring out the authority in others.

Today in so many schools across the country children of all races and economic backgrounds are being abused in the most insidious way. Continue reading

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In Education Failure IS an Option: New Myths for Successful Kids and Better Schools

In Education failure IS an option, and a pretty good one at that.

Fear of failure is not a big issue for most kids going off to first grade. Their life is not yet framed with questions of success and failure. Even after a year in kindergarten where their mission was to make friends, create, do fun things, and learn as much as they can, the concept of failure isn’t really on the brain, much.

Unfortunately, most schools try to change this. Our culture is obsessed with success and failure in the context of a pyramid model of society, Continue reading

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Blessings on the First Day of School

On the first day of school, Peter had had a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast. His teeth were brushed, his lunch and snack were in his backpack, and his favorite shirt was on his back. As his father scurried around the kitchen, he talked to Peter saying things like, “Have you got your lunch? Have you got your backpack?”

Peter was in the lead as they stepped out the door and down the steps to the car. Five feet from the car his father yelled: “Peter! You don’t have any shoes on!”

Looking down at his stocking feet, Peter saw that it was true and said, “Okay. But you don’t have to get mad at me.” Continue reading

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Vulnerability on the First Day of School: Weakness, Worry, Worthiness, and Seven Ways to Ensure Success

On the first day of school Leila’s mother said: “Leila was looking forward to school all summer. Then two nights ago she started getting anxious.”

I know Leila struggles with “giftedness.” Nonetheless, I asked, “What was she anxious about?”

“Will my friends be in my classroom this year?”

All children are completely different, each with their own peculiar set of strengths, weaknesses and things to worry about. However, the number one reason children go to school is to be with other children, and regardless of whether they charge into school on the first day all smiles or cling to their parents’ legs, they are all the same in one major respect: their bottom-line aim is to avoid embarrassment.

And embarrassment is a possibility for each one of them. “Will I say something stupid in opening circle?” “Will I measure up?” “Will anyone like me?” “Am I worthy?”

We humans are social animals. We all want to be worthy and are aware that our weaknesses put us at risk. We are anxious that our vulnerabilities will trip us up. So in most social environments we lead with our strengths, trying to hide our weaknesses. We can expend a great deal of psychic energy trying to hide those weaknesses.

And yet, school is usually designed to make hiding hard. 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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Five Tips for Teachers (and Parents)

One day Iliana (age 6) seemed to want to strike up a conversation as she was leaving school with her Mom.

“Goodbye, Mr. Rick.”

“Goodbye, Iliana.”

“You’re the principal.”

“That’s right. I am the principal.”

“You are in charge of everything.”

“That’s right.”

”You can DO anything you want.”

At that point I realized I was in a different conversation—not the usual pleasantries in which mutual affection is communicated, but a conversation with substance. Continue reading

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High Responsibility; Low Control

Genius is the axis of the spinning top that we call school. To keep great teachers in the business and get the test scores up we must spin on this axis. Increased reliance on tutors and the demoralization of students are all manifestations of the top wobbling. Fear has caused us to lose our center as a democracy based on the decision making capacity of each human. When the top starts to wobble, bring the focus back to genius. The commitment to lead each character’s genius into the world teaches us the art of “High responsibility; Low control.”

Yesterday my beautiful, brilliant, corporate bigshot wife Continue reading

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Keeping Our Eyes on the Long Haul

Large, mature oak and locust trees arched over the booths of the farmer’s market in Lincoln Park, Chicago. I tried to picture what these trees looked like when they were a hundred years younger. The gentle September sun brought out all the colors of oranges, apples, baby clothes, carriages and chatting mothers all arrayed on the bright green grass, and the still, blue sky brought people, grass, food, and trees together with the bricks, glass, concrete and cars of the city.

The earth meditated as I walked up North Clark Street past all these blessings toward the intellectual epicenter of an educational revolution still in progress Continue reading

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