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There was a very salient piece in the Huff Post recently.  The author addressed the topic of what she called “life skills”, then later “executive functions”.  I’ve written significantly about these in this space.  They are the “be all and end all” of education as far as I’m concerned.  Without these you cannot live your life successfully.  Full stop.

Why is this so evident to me? Because life requires you to take command of YOUR life, which requires self-control, efficacy, emotional regulation, communication skills, and the like.  This tangent is what will make it or break it for most.  You can have all the academic smarts possible, but if you haven’t developed the above then life will not be a fulfilling and joyful experience.  I think we all know this.  This is not controversial.

The fact that there is research supporting the long-term effects and benefits of early development of these skills (executive functions, self-regulation) surely will help to get some attention, but the fact that they are essential skills should not be questionable.

So where does this leave us?  We need to get serious with retooling education, that’s where.  There are small glimmers of change here and there, but we can fast-forward very effectively and implement a highly successful model now rather than stumble forward ever so slowly and maybe make a bunch of missteps along the way.  We can do this if we look carefully at Montessori schools.  The Montessori model has an integrated approach to developing these essential life skills along with all the academics you could imagine.

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The New Innovators

The crisis is still with us.  Grads look for jobs and don’t find them.  People call for a rescue to save them and others.  There’s despair and longing and a sense of hopelessness.  But not everywhere.  For some there’s a better way.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  The ones you will see rise up today are the ones who can tap into what made this country what it is: intrinsic motivation, perseverance, inventiveness, confidence, curiosity, boldness, independence and courage.

Watch  this music video and what do  you see?  I see two young people ” just doing what needs to be done”.  They put themselves out there.  They are making something of value because they can, and maybe they have to.  Hand-outs are not ever an answer.  Hand-outs train people to wait for help.  It trains them to “rely on” and become DEpendent.    That’s no future.  Maybe it’s just me but the passion and confidence I see in these two is what will carry them.  Never mind the particular song if you don’t care for it – see the souls of these two, their spirit.  I’m not worried about them.

The world is spinning out and we need young people to understand what will get them ahead.  The ones who are capable of rising themselves up will be the ones to make the future, to carry the world forward.  We need education to play a role in nurturing these young people, to show them that this is possible. We don’t need schools that  train them to sit and wait, to follow the rules, to be lead and to just  do what they are told.  Maybe too many generations of that is taking its toll today.

Education needs a reality check today.  It needs to be able to show all students  (i) that they have something inside themselves that they can contribute, (ii) that they can develop the skills to make that contribution.  But that skill development is not what’s on offer in most schools today.  There’s no path there for the innovators and creators.  Half of them are “tamed” with medication to help them “focus” and be calm and controlled.  That’s a shame because the taming also suppresses that which actually makes them tick, that which would unlock their contribution.

So, “cheers” to those who are striking out on their own, who have discovered their contribution.

the power of dyslexia

Oh yes, you read that correctly.  It’s time to stop talking about dyslexia as a problem or learning disability… as something to be “fixed”.

It turns out it’s not a dis-ability but an actual ability, just not one most of us know about.  Research reveals that dyslexics are better at seeing patterns and what is called “visual gist”.  Dyslexics are also found in significantly high percentages in creative and scientific fields.  Like educational psychologist Jane Healy encourages us to do, we need to think of dyslexics as “different”, not “disabled”.  That is, there isn’t something wrong with them, they just learn and function differently.

So much of what passes for “something to be fixed” in children has to do with a mythical image of some “learner” that has ONE profile.  Fall outside of that box and you’re out of the club and in need or remediation and fixing.  The move to identify these people is swift and passionate, almost with a “round ’em up” attitude.  Yes, there are children who need assistance and it is right to find them and help them.  But there are many who learn differently who don’t need helping or fixing.  What they need is a better school system one that understands that school isn’t a one-size-fits-all operation.

If we fix all the different learners who fell outside the box, we’ll lose a lot of “outside the box” thinking.  Where will that leave us?  Innovation does not live in a box.

To Assist Life

Yes, true education reform remains the hot topic.

Education needs to be reconceptualized as “that which a human being requires to develop from birth to maturity”. That is such a different focus from the conventional conception of education as the transmission of data/facts.

All we can do, in this new understanding, is “to  assist life”.  What does this mean? : what does life “want” and how can we assist it?  What does it mean to ask  this question or to even think this way?

Life, all life, not just human life, wants to thrive.  A basic element of biology  is this: living things want to thrive.  We see this everywhere in nature: the wildflower growing out of a rock face or through dried leaves in early spring; the instinct of animals that serve to protect or propagate.  It would be wise to learn from nature – being a part of it.  The secret is there for us to see, if only we’d turn our gaze to it.

Children are born ready to learn, to thrive.  Our task is to clear  the way and provide safety and security for this life to unfold.  Nature knows what to do.  We’ve learned about the nature-nurture dance, about the value of  enriched environments.  Let’s do that: prepare the environment that nature requires, then stand aside and let it work its magic.

This is what it means to “assist life”.  It’s easier than we think.  Nature is a lovely, beautiful, integrated and powerful  system –  let’s unleash it, respect it, honor it.  Instead, conventional  education has blindly and misguidedly tried to invent something that doesn’t need inventing.  Education is a natural process if you conceive of  it as life merely unfolding.

This is a different way to conceive of education and if there’s a chance for education, for children and for our world, we need more people  to begin to come to this understanding.  Montessori schools get this.

Education talk is so frustrating.  Especially those who wear the self-appointed label of “reformer”.  The frustration comes from their having misnamed themselves- they are no more calling for meaningful reform than would be the case if “Oreo reform” was a call for red cookies on the outside instead of black.

Now what’s being discussed is the collective reference to the “school reformer movement” that has groups (Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst) pushing against the status quo and teachers unions.  It’s supposed to be about these groups wanting something better, etc.  BUT all they call for is “value added” assessment of teachers’ performance, measured by test scores.  really??  We think we can assess teachers by how much stuff their students “retain” (let’s not bother calling it “learning” – see elsewhere on this site for that discussion).

Why is it so hard to get the point across? Is this going to  reform anything of substance?  If you keep standardized tests and add measuring teachers by the progress made on them, don’t we see the writing on the wall: motivation to cheat, to be easy graders, teaching EVEN more to the test and other forms of dysfunction and mismanagement?  Do we really think that teachers will “teach more or better”?  And with what methods? The same old ones that have failed for generations, focused on the wrong things, etc.  THIS is where the reform is needed- why is this so hard to see?  What are we looking for? “the king is dead, long live the king”? new paradigm same as old paradigm?

When will the meaningful talk of TRUE reform come to the forefront?  What will that take?

An adult was heard to say “my dad didn’t teach me what to do, he just lived and let me watch”.

That’s rich.  How many parents spend a great deal of time “telling’ their children what to do, how to do it, how to be “polite”, “kind”, etc.  Is this the best way?  The adult above clearly valued a different approach: modelling and let it be.

People learn best through self-discovery and exploration.  “Telling” rarely communicates what is important because it is disconnected from your own experience- it amounts to accepting received wisdom, so to speak.  Parents who live their lives well, don’t tell their children to do as I say not as I do”, teach them what is important and teach them in the best way possible.

The other thing at work here is not micromanaging a child’s development or future. Sure, as parents we all want what’s best for our children, we all want them to succeed in their endeavors.  There is a difference between providing opportunities and support and what some parents do, which amounts to controlling their children’s lives and not allowing for self-expression and self-awareness.  Letting your child discover what moves them, what contributions they can make to the world, is the best way to help them become both whole and happy.

 

A business executive recently said in an interview that “You’ve heard this a million times before: The only way to fail is to not fail, because otherwise you’re not taking risks. You’re not getting better.  You’re just doing the things that you know will work. Now, the difference is that you really want people who learn from their mistakes.”.  Get that? ” The only way to fail is to not fail” : which means that failing is the key to success.

So why do our conventional schools not understand that?  In schools it’s all about the “one right answer”.  Red marks on your paper are an embarrassment: a sign of wrong answers – failure.  To be avoided.  Students “learn” to regurgitate and not take risks.  Like I  said in my previous post, how you go about “teaching” conveys a great deal about what you will actually convey – the process is inherent in the message.

We need to embrace failure as the necessary road to success, to achievement. There’s truly no other way there.  Avoid failure and you avoid success – now that’s not what schools teach students, not the conventional ones.

Tied up in this are parenting styles that endeavor to “protect” children from disappointment, helicopter parents and any parenting that amounts to “making sure it all works out”.  How will our children learn to cope, to persevere, to manage disappointment, if they aren’t allowed and encouraged to fail?  I’ve written about that here too.