The most important thing we can do to ensure that our children speak mathematics when they are older is to make sure that mathematics is part of their world during their first 10 years of life. Continue reading
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.
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
Months ago in some online comment Janet Lansbury wrote:
“Maybe it’s because I was encouraged by a mentor (infant specialist Magda Gerber) to view babies as whole people from the get-go, not my projects, not reflections or extensions of me, their emergent personalities never felt like my responsibility.”
That babies are whole people is actually a revolutionary idea and one that I hope takes hold in the hearts and minds of all those who care about not just babies but children and their education. Unfortunately, acting as if children are incomplete adults is still the dominant way, and ignores the fact that adults are incomplete, too.
Children when they enter kindergarten have already logged upwards of 43,800 hours of practice mastering the world. Continue reading
I am thrilled to introduce my first book, The Genius in Children: Bringing Out the Best in Your Child. It represents forty-some years of helping parents and teachers educate children. Since education is a science, there are principles to follow and disciplines to practice; the book identifies many of these. However, in so far as education, like living, is also an art, this book and this blog are attempts to spark creative thinking about education rather than attempts at definitive solutions.
“Is My Child A Genius?” is the wrong question. Your child has a genius; every person does. The question is: How can I help this genius lead my child out into the world gracefully and effectively?
First, we must return to the original meaning of genius: “The tutelary spirit of a person, place, or institution.” There are many other words for this spirit. To the ancient Greeks kharakter was the imprint that the gods put on the soul at birth. I stand with James Hillman who says that muse, psyche, soul, calling and character are all different manifestations of the same thing: the you that is becoming. Elizabeth Gilbert thinks of genius as “out there.” I like to think of it as inside us. It doesn’t matter. Maybe it lives under the bed. Our job is to act as if it exists.
This is what education is all about and schooling is one of the many things children do to become educated. It is the obligation of parents and teachers to make sure that schooling occurs in the context of education.
What can we do to help? See their academic struggles in a long term context—they will learn how to read, you know. Support them through all their struggles without owning them. Avoid rescuing. Respect the challenges they choose. Value mistakes and conflict as some of the best sources of learning. Maintain boundaries tirelessly as they make their decisions and suffer the consequences. Cultivate the courage to face fears—your own especially. Play position. Love unconditionally. Most of all, believe in the untapped complexity and power in all children.
I wrote The Genius in Children with the hope that it will help each of us notice—or at least catch glimpses of—that beautiful, brilliant, ineffable, unique genius that each of us has. My dream is that we will all come closer together in respect for the infinite variety and complex diversity that make us all the same.
I am deeply grateful for the students, parents, teachers and other educators of Children’s Day School who unknowingly helped me write this book. I am indebted to all the great educators I have known as well as to all the enlightening conversations I continue to have with so many people. A special thanks to my family, my children, and my wife Victoria, who knowingly helped me write this book.
Please join in the conversation and have fun raising children; it’s the only way.