Posts Tagged ‘education’

“Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!”  (sing it with me.)  Yes, Pink was on to something.  Parents – leave them kids alone!

When did parenting become a vocation?  When did parents become artists whose children are the raw material from which to sculpt their masterpiece?  This is what too many parents do these days: from Baby Mozart (hopefully mostly debunked… right??) to prep-school for a prep-school for a prep-school…. getting into the “right” kindergarten, yes?  Otherwise it’s all downhill.  Helicopter parents who attend job interviews for their 18 and 22-year olds – then call up the employer when they don’t get the job to ask why.  I don’t make this stuff up.

When president emeritus of the American Public Media Group, Bill Kling, was asked what his parents were like, he said “They were wonderful.  They absolutely left me alone.”  What?! Come again.  Not in today’s world.  He talks about all the exploration he did and experiments he invented (and, yes, things he blew up!) – all in the pursuit of his own ideas, his own conceptions, his own thinking, innovation and curiosity.  That’s an education.  That’s a child given the space, the freedom to learn.  Not plugged-in, entertained and “activitied” (I made that up: it’s the parental over-scheduling act of having activities being thrown at you all too frequently).  No, this was a child left on his own to learn.

It really is that simple.  We are born to learn.  That’s the one huge gift we are given at birth: ready and powerful learners.  Naturally curious and explorative we will figure it out, whatever it is.  It’s what humanity has done all  along and will continue to do if we don’t short-circuit the system.  Leave them children alone, and all will be fine.

We need anxious parents to relax, take a step back and understand that this is how it works best.   There are too many parents motivated by good intentions but who are lacking some basic information.

A good new website provides some guidance: http://www.aidtolife.org


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From the minute a child is born she is learning.  Some will argue before.  This is literally true, and fascinating in its truth.  Think about  it.

Because  learning is happening in every waking moment of a child’s life, we should pay attention to what they’re learning – because they are.  Parents are teaching their child with every little thing that they do.  As an educator/administrator I remind teachers who are dealing with an unruly child that “they weren’t born that way” (Lady Gaga is talking about something else).  The point is that the child learned to be unruly by what she saw or how she was treated.

The parent who always brings to their infant the very thing that  the infant is seeking, so that they won’t have to exert so much energy and can be happy NOW, is teaching the infant that effort and persistence are unnecessary and that things will come easily.  This is what learning in every waking moment means.  The child has no choice about this- it’s how nature set the system up.  For this “now happy” infant: what a shame.

“Maybe their lives will turn out differently” says president emeritus of the American Public Media Group, Bill Kling, when talking about his childhood opportunity to explore things first hand, on his own.  “I think  we often undervalue the importance of giving kids that kind of hands-on experience.  It may not lead to their deciding what to  do with their lives, but  it’s surprising what they will  absorb- and maybe their  lives will turn out differently.”

Indeed.  Let’s step back from being so on top of our children.  Let’s give them space to explore, inquire on their own, make mistakes, mess up, fail, and of course… learn all the while.

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Educators can learn a lot from the parenting author Wendy Mogel. She’s a clinical psychologist who took what she learned from listening to parents and their children and has written two books that basically tell parents to “chillax”.

On the heels of the Race to Nowhere phenomenon, stories of helicopter parents, long lines to get children into the “best” preschool, parents vying for the preferred second grade teacher like it will matter for the rest of their 7 year old’s life, and so on…. Mogel tells it like it is: none of this matters.  She understands that the problems created by all this stressing out, for parents and their children, is just that: problems created, manufactured.  All could have been just fine if left alone.

Schools, teachers, educators of all sorts are complicit in this game, this destructive culture.  How often do teachers tell parents that it doesn’t matter  which  teacher they get?  Or that it’s okay if their child doesn’t get straight As?  Educators need to begin to deflate this myth.  We need to help parents appreciate that their children are not, as Mogel puts it, “your masterpieces”, nor are they a reflection of you.  Mistakes are what we learn from, where wisdom comes from; and our present culture of perfection and one-upmanship to get into the “few” good college spots is harming our children as well as presenting a picture of the world that is not real.

Mogel echoes the spirit of Ken Robinson when she tells parents that your children will be what they will be and that if your daughter or son is meant to be a baker it’s a waste of your time to try to make a doctor out of them.  More than just a waste: you’ll make both of you miserable in the process, turn them into unhappy adults who will, what?, make the world around them unhappy (because that’s what unhappy people do) and contribute more misery to the world.  Yes, there are a lot of dominoes that will fall if you try to make a doctor out of  baker.

Educators need to step  up with this message.  Let each child discover their own passions and skills and let them bring that best self to the world.  What follows then is amazing – isn’t that the world we all want to live in?

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In a valiant effort to make the case for better homework, Annie Murphy Paul in her recent Op Ed piece in the New York Times simply fails to grasp the immensity of what she’s up against.  She truly can’t see the forest for the trees.

Paul goes on about how the better way to approach homework can be found in some studies that show how to improve test scores and retention via some “new methods”.  Those would be “trees”.  The forest is a real education, real learning.  Paul has no idea that better test scores are not an indication of better, or actual, learning, just as better retention (recall) is also not an indication of learning.  Learning is most emphatically NOT remembering. That’s been addressed here before, so let’s not go there.

Great that she sees that most homework out there is busywork and of little value, but unfortunate that the solution is focused on improving test scores.  Why is it so darn difficult to understand that learning is something different from retention as evidenced on a test?  Is this such a radical idea? So thoroughly on the educational margin that it’s out of focus to most –  strike that, it’s not out of focus, it’s out of sight.  Sadly, some educators will jump on this latest “fix”, change-up their approach to homework, have a parent night about how this will repair things and “boy, have we got a great solution for your kids”…. and in 3-5 years they’ll move on to something else, having forgotten that THIS was supposed to be the fix.  What a system: conceive, apply,  fail, repeat.

However, those marginalia ideas are out there, and slowly, in little blips, they  are making headway.

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What on earth will it take?

The NY Times ran a story the other day about an Arizona school district that has spent millions of dollars on classroom technology over the past 5 years, with little to show for it when it comes to assessing learning.  How many such stories do we need before we come to realize that the way to improve learning is not to replace the teacher’s chalkboard with an electronic one, it’s to replace the teacher’s style, approach and materials.

Stories about how technology has failed to make any gains have been around as long as technologies have been touted as silver bullets.  It’s true – look it up.  It doesn’t matter whether it was the radio (yes!), television, computers, the internet or smart boards – every one of these was championed as the thing that will solve the educational problem- the holy grail of education.  Not one ever did.  Not one ever will.

The problem, as has been written about extensively in this space, is one of style not technology.  The solution lies not in how we present content to learners but in the very emphasis of presenting content.  Conventional education remains what I call a “content delivery system” with its emphasis on passing along content, as if that’s what learning amounts to or how it occurs.  Until we come to recognize that learning is something the learner does, through a process of self-directed, self-initiated action, we’ll not make any meaningful, long-lasting improvements to education.

Has our culture been so permanently hoodwinked by flash and speed that we can no longer see the issue for what it is?

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A recent NY Times book review (of Steven Brill’s Class Warfare) discusses the author’s claim that “truly effective teaching… can overcome student indifference, parental disengagement and poverty” – because these things have been shown to act against student achievement in conventional schools.  Making the case that “good teachers” can overcome these would be a good argument for having more of these quality teachers as well as pointing to a possible solution other than the more complicated solution of fixing those things in our culture that leads to these kinds of things in the first place.

All very interesting, but completely beside the point.  What the author, Brill, is looking at is test scores as a measure of student achievement and how “effective teaching” can overcome some of the very obstacles that many teachers argue stand in their way of making progress.  What Brill is missing is the fact that (i) it’s not effective teaching that will solve these problems, it’s a NEW APPROACH to education, and (ii) test scores don’t measure “learning”.

Simply getting better test results in a “content delivery system” model is a low goal, and one that truly lacks an understanding of what an education is supposed to do for a person.  A new approach, a new paradigm, that fully recasts what education is and how it takes place is what can address ALL of the kinds of issues that Brill raises.  The results are in and it’s demonstrable  that a better fundamental approach can correct for all of the factors that Brill identifies.  AND, it doesn’t require parents to become super-parents.

Have a look at the results that have been logged at the East Dallas Community School.  They adopted a new education paradigm – not some window dressing new reading program, not longer school days, not more technology – they  simply  sis one thing: throw away the conventional content delivery model and adopt one that actually works on all levels… they became a Montessori school.


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The relatively new field of neuroeducation has made it clear that emotion plays a role in learning. Getting more specific, the field has shown that stress plays a role, a destructive role.

It turns out that stress prevents the human brain from developing optimally.  It does this by preventing neurogenesis from taking place.  Neurogenesis is our brain’s ability to create new neurons- brain cells.  If you grow up in a healthy and stable environment your brain is able to generate new neurons, which help you to learn.  Provide an enriched environment and you’re off to the races.  Stress takes you in the opposite direction of an enriched environment.

How does this inform the education paradigm-shift position?

Conventional environments create stress in students.  Whether it’s from the fear of failure and mistake making or the upcoming quiz, there are daily stressors for most students in a conventional environment.

The New Education Paradigm removes these stressors.  By placing the learner in greater control of her activities, by encouraging mistakes (in the spirit of risk-taking that is necessary to look for new questions and answers), by shifting to alternate modes of assessment, amongst other things, the new paradigm creates a rich environment that minimizes stress in the student/learner.  The result is a student who is not only motivated to participate and apply themselves fully, but a brain that is there to support them by creating the new neurons that they can then use to learn.

Now, if only we can get the prime movers in “industrial education” (new term) to catch up to  the science of the day, maybe we can begin to help more students sooner.  In the meantime, check out Montessori schools – they’ve understood this implicitly for decades.

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