How to see Parenting as Leadership. (Hint #1 Don’t Underestimate Children.)

One day, Suzanne said to her five-year-old niece Emma, “My that is a beautiful stuffed lion you have there.”

“I know, I saw it in the store and Mommy bought it for me.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yes. Well, she wasn’t going to.”

“Oh?”

“No. She wasn’t going to,” she said. “So I went,” and screwing up her face she acted out, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” then said, “She took it off the shelf and bought it for me.”

“Huh,” replied Suzanne, hiding her smile. She was delighted by this window into the workings and self-awareness of this delightful five-year old brain.

Later that day in the kitchen Suzanne was talking to her sister and started to tell the story 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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What Good Schools, Happy Families and Successful Adults Have in Common

An educated person has the ability and inclination to use judgment and imagination in solving the problems that confront them at work and at home, and to participate in the maintenance of democracy.

-David Berliner

Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy for the same reason. (Tolstoy only got it half right.) The same principle holds true for schools.

That reason came to me yesterday, when one of the men who was working on our new home in Decatur discovered I was an educator and wanted to talk. He started with: “If you ask me, the problem with our schools is all about discipline. The problems all began when parents stopped supporting the authority of the teacher. Continue reading

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The Goal of the Parent-Teacher Partnership

Two weeks ago, I walked through the double glass door of a large, rectangular, brick building that houses the Baker Demonstration School in Evanston, Illinois. To my right was the Principal’s Office, but on my left were two three-year-olds who greeted me with: “Good morning. Would you like to come to our art gallery?”

“Why yes, of course,” I replied.

“Admission is five cents,” the boy said.

“Rats,” I answered. “I don’t have any coins.” Continue reading

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Parents, Teachers, Do You Trust Your Children? What Does it Mean to Trust a Child?

“I Want to be Trusted.”

When Katie was growing up, every once in a while she would blurt out an emphatic, “I want to be trusted.” She would always say it with an intensity that was a little startling, as if she were mad at not feeling trusted, or profoundly afraid that she would not be, or terrified, herself, that she was not trustworthy. Perhaps it was an emotional outburst in anticipation of a scary decision she was about to make. 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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What Do Good Parents and Good Schools Have in Common?

How to Exercise Authority

Of the 20 schools I visited last fall, two stand out. Any parent would know in the first five minutes of each visit what I knew: I want my child in school A, and I will fight like hell to keep my child out of school B. One was a place of education and one felt like a prison. I will call one The Learning Academy and the other Brand X.

In The Learning Academy all kids were on a mission, they seemed lit from within with the joy of learning. In two hours I saw no bored or unhappy students, and they were all engaged in challenging academic work. Each classroom exuded creativity—in every corner of every classroom.

In Brand X I saw three students Continue reading

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Can the Good-enough Parent Demand Mastery?

Great vs. Excellent

Last week when I wrote that trying to be a “superior parent” is crazy, I seem to have been like the little boy who said: “The emperor has no clothes.” The idea that if children get only the three things they need (love, respect as a decision maker, and accurate feedback) they will turn out just fine hasn’t been said much. Once said, however, almost everyone nodded, cheered, or breathed a sigh of relief. Striving to be “The Best Parent I Can Be” is driving parents crazy.

What about our children? Should they be striving “to be the best they can be?” Continue reading

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“Superior Parenting?” That’s Crazy Talk. Children Need Only 3 Things.

Years ago, I was standing in the back yard of my uncle’s house talking to my cousin. “I feel like I messed up my kids,” I said.

“Oh, Ricky, Don’t you know? We all mess up our kids. It’s all set up that way.”

I was an educator, who by then had known about a thousand parents, and was experienced enough to know that she was right. However for me, the Dad, I needed to be reminded that there is no way to do the job of parenting “right.”

Since then I have seen about three thousand more parents in all situations, and I still know that she was right. Three of my four children have children, and I watch with admiration how they raise my five grandchildren. I also watch the “mistakes” they are making, and I am smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, just look at them. They are terrific. My cousin was right.

So when Amy Chua came out in the Wall Street Journal ten days ago claiming that Chinese mothers are “Superior,” 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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