“Effective parenting refers to carrying out the responsibilities of raising and relating to children in such a manner that the child is well prepared to realize his or her full potential as a human being. It is a style of raising children that increases the chances of a child becoming the most capable person and adult he or she can be.” Dr. Kerby T. Alvy
When it comes to fostering a life-long love of learning, parents are the biggest support for their children.
Here are my top 5 things parents need to teach their children so they are successful in school:
Teach Them How to Talk to and Respect All People: Students who cannot talk to or respect other people will have a hard time in school. There are so many students who are disrespectful to others; it is truly shocking. Having positive relationships in school affects students’ abilities to function in that school. Most issues are avoidable when one realizes it is caused by lack of respect, plain and simple. Teaching children how to respect peers and adults will help them to have great relationships and help them benefit from collaboration with teachers and peers.
Teach Them to Stand Up for Themselves and Others: Obviously, not all children will be respectful and kind to each other; it will be necessary, at some point, for a child to stand his or her ground. Parents need to have conversations with their children about when it will be necessary to stand up for themselves and others, and then give them the tools, words and confidence to say enough is enough in a mature way. Teaching this can be tricky as well. How do we teach our children to stand up to someone without turning into bullies themselves? There is a fine line, but it is necessary to know where that line is. Students who are not afraid to protect themselves and a weaker person have the makings of true leaders.
Teach Them the Necessity of Working Hard: A new trend in student achievement seems to be that even minimal effort should be rewarded with an A (according to some students and parents). If students want A’s, they need to be willing to put in the hard work necessary to get that A. It is unfortunate that parents are supporting this trend because it leads to students only caring about the grade, not the learning. Students who do not value working hard will be susceptible to cheating, which will lead to more severe consequences as they get older.
Teach Them Accountability and Responsibility: Students who are not afraid to answer for something they have done are more likely to make better decisions as they get older. If students cannot admit to wrongdoing for small things, and think they got away with it, the trouble they can cause and get into will intensify exponentially as they get older. Being accountable also means that students know their responsibilities. Students need to show up to class; they need to come prepared with all materials for that class; they need to be rested and ready to learn; and they need to find a way to connect with the material the teacher presents.
Teach Them Failing is Learning: Every self-help book tells its readers: Learn from mistakes. Learn from the setbacks. Yet, the current education movements seem to revolve around the idea that failure is not an option. Failure always has and always will be an option, and people can learn some of the best lessons from their failures.
This list comes from Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System. Pauline Hawkins’ book is available on Amazon as well as directly from the publisher using the link in the right margin.
What roles do teachers have in creating kind and compassionate citizens?
Teaching is about investing in our future.
Teachers need to do more than teach content. We are so much more than knowledge transmitters and test proctors. We are human beings that have made it our life’s mission to improve the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.
I became a teacher because I wanted to help children/teenagers become the best they could be. I had a few amazing teachers who changed my life, and I wanted to be that teacher for other people.
Teachers stand in front of the classroom and help a room full of people discover the beauty of knowledge, and discover who they are and who they can become some day. If teachers are not embracing the importance of their role, then they may be doing more harm than good. Whether we like it or not, we are role models; we are educational coaches and knowledge facilitators.
When I taught in the high school, I taught the whole child, not just my content area. I love English and everything in the curriculum: writing, grammar, literature and oral communication. But what I loved more was how the English curriculum lent itself to teaching my students life skills, particularly kindness, empathy, and compassion. I believe these characteristics are more important than content knowledge because they will help students become successful in all areas of life, not just in the classroom or with standardized tests.
As a mother, I am also a teacher and role model to my children. I am not the perfect parent by any means; however, I have been raising children for 30 years now; my daughters and stepsons are adults, living on their own, and enjoying happy, successful lives, through which they are contributing positively to society. Ian is thriving and making significant gains in school.
As I navigate through my parenting experiences, I struggle with many of the things parents and teachers are currently dealing with. I struggle as a mother on the other side of the desk with how my son is treated by teachers and students in the classroom. However, my experiences as a teacher have given me insight into my collaboration with my son’s teachers. What I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that if we all work at behaving as and creating kind and compassionate citizens, we can effectively help our children become happy, successful adults.
As important as it is for teachers and parents to model and teach kindness and compassion, students have a responsibility to engage with this part of their education as well. It is through the daily lessons, contrived or not, that students discover who they are and who they want to be. If we all work together, we will help students acquire the skills necessary to become civic-minded individuals who continue our work in improving the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.
Much of this comes from the “Introduction” to my book, Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System. I have changed a few parts to focus on the question at hand.
How do we teach young people the rigorous critical thinking and research skills to distinguish news from propaganda? How do we ensure the next generation is one which communicates civically, values honesty, and recognizes reality?
First, we have to have courses for young people to take that are centered on critical thinking. Most college campuses have an introductory course that stands alone or coincides with a writing class, but until college, most students do not have intensive critical thinking instruction.
In the critical thinking class I teach at GBCC, we read about and practice observation skills, word precision, facts and inferences, assumptions, opinions, viewpoints (and their filters), arguments, logical fallacies, and inductive and deductive reasoning. The most important part of this course is not the tests students take, but the discussions we have as we explore the concepts and share our experiences with critical thinking or the lack there of. What students learn is that they need to read, ask questions, be willing to say “I don’t know, but I’ll research it,” and then actually do it. They learn to spot those logical fallacies and not be duped by them. I tell them never to just believe anyone, not even me. They cannot trust the majority of sources, including mainstream media, because everyone has an agenda.
However, within the constructs of my high school English classroom, I still made sure students received some critical thinking lessons. During research projects, I showed students how to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate sources, where to find those legitimate sources, and how to use them ethically. We also had a number of shared inquiry sessions during classes on the most controversial subjects that didn’t have easy answers. Here are a few questions I would ask during these sessions: Did George do the right thing when he shot Lennie? Who demonstrated the worst behavior in Romeo and Juliet? Who is responsible for the destruction of freedom and equality on Animal Farm? Through these discussions, students learned to listen to each other (regardless of whether they agreed with each other or not), go beyond their own experiences and care about people and/or characters outside of their own bubble, and look back at text support for their responses—all critical thinking skills.
Which brings me to me next point: Students need to read more, and not just for pleasure, but also for exposure to the human condition. Reading diverse texts will arm them with knowledge outside of their limited perspectives. People cannot be critical thinkers when they have limited knowledge and limited experiences.
Finally, it’s not just young people who need to learn these skills. We have far too many adults who are role models for these young people that do not have critical thinking skills. I’ve said it before and will say it again: We cannot expect our children to learn skills the adults in their lives are not demonstrating on a daily basis.
As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Felicia’s essay on volunteering fits well with that mission and my own passion for reforming education.
Imagine a world in which we could feel confident enough to leave the major decisions and responsibilities that need to be addressed in our country in the hands of our young people. We would do this and feel secure that the oversights and misdirection our country previously was subjected to by its predecessors would be rectified by an involved, enthusiastic, emerging generation. It would be invaluable to have young idealists addressing the concerns and issues facing their communities before they turn into larger problems that then become national issues. What a world this would be if, instead of leaving the complicated issues our country faces on the shoulders of an unwilling and unprepared younger generation, we arm them with the value of community and the tools for successful civic engagement.
We all know that as the US. Population grows, newer and newer generations emerge, each one seemingly worse off than the last. Prior generations, unless otherwise affiliated with public institutions such as churches, private schools, or youth based organizations (where volunteering is required), were not shown how to offer impactful change in their community. Without these examples of how to care about more than one’s own immediate personal needs, each new generation of young people grows increasingly detached and uninvolved as time goes by. Alison Muller made an observation about what she witnessed during her volunteering initiative offered by the students that reside at the troubled youth facility she worked at:
One of our most successful volunteer activities was with a local senior nursing home. We had an idea of what we had hoped could be gained by volunteering with the elderly, but we could not have anticipated all of the benefits the youth received, especially for those deemed the most troubling. We found over time that the youth who were most problematic within the residential program were often the best volunteers or helpers. The same qualities that caused problems in the residence made them successful with our senior citizens. (Mueller)
Even with the most troubled of our youth, volunteering can have great impact on their social and individual development irrespective of the social/emotional challenges they may face.
I’m confident that most people can list a minimum of three or four issues they feel either their community and or state deals with, whether environmental, institutional, or public, that involve not only themselves but their fellow citizens directly. The need for change is obvious, and the need for volunteering is nationally recognized. “Volunteerism during the Transition to Adulthood: A Life Course Perspective” points out the need for more visibility of our young people in volunteering:
Concerns about the maintenance of American democracy and civic society is heightened by a presumed disengagement of the contemporary younger generation from the political process and civic life, as well as its greater individualism and materialism. The empirical evidence for the perceived disengagement of young people is mixed, however. While trust among young people has declined and materialism has grown, rates of volunteering and community participation have remained stable or even increased over the past two decades. Despite this evidence, concern about young people’s civic involvement and the future of American civic society continues. To be concerned is warranted, since learning a sense of civic-mindedness and being engaged in the community early in life is found to be of utmost importance in developing responsible and civically active adults.
Why is our younger generation so uninvolved? Are materialism and consumerism going to be all we demonstrate and pass on to our future generation? Can we encourage and promote community based problem solving? I would say, “Yes, we can,” and “Yes, we should,” specifically while our students are attending school and while their minds are pliable and open to guidance.
There are those who have some definite opinions surrounding this idea of volunteering and students specifically in conjunction with the school environment. Robert Grim weighs in on the topic:
School is a key area for youth socialization. Not only is it a place where youth begin to develop an identity apart from their family, it is also a context in which youth begin to develop a sense of a larger community to which they belong. In addition, previous research has shown that involvement in volunteering through schools, whether through community service or service-learning, can lead to improvements in self-esteem and academic achievement. In response to the overall decline in civic engagement among Americans, the past decade has seen a growing debate on the role that educational institutions should play in promoting civic education in schools. (Grimm)
He makes a great point. Volunteering adds a substantial enrichment component to the education of school aged children. Isn’t emphasizing a sense of community just as essential to our children’s education as other skills taught? We should equip our youth with the ability to facilitate group projects that are beneficial to their community, state, or country. How can we truly say that we are preparing our children to become the best people they can be if we are not somehow tracking the way their minds and ideas are developing and whether those ideas will hinder or fall in line with civic engagement fundamentally?
A good solution for dissolving the unappealing image volunteering has will be to familiarize/normalize volunteering and civic education. It should be written into curriculum starting from third grade and up. Most adults hold the impression that volunteering is time consuming or that they get no direct immediate benefit. Some feel that they simply don’t know where to start. All of these misconceptions could be dispelled through early engagement and information on participation.
There are those who feel that forcing students to perform mandatory-volunteering is an oxymoron. This is not completely inaccurate. This is precisely why more attention to and the creation of service learning and civic education curriculum should be implemented as soon as possible into public and private schools alike. It’s important to remember that not all the benefits of volunteering go only to the students. Large scale volunteering itself sets the tone of the community in which it’s frequently offered. Implementation of this idea not only would make the process familiar to each new emerging generation, but also for the current members of the community. The relationship between volunteer and recipient is a unique dynamic:
The new pattern of volunteering offers challenging and meaningful activities . . . the engagement is for short term and the turnover in the organizations is rather high. These developments are linked to a general process of individualization, which however cannot be totally identified with egoism. . . . nowadays the service-oriented attitude is emerging, which creates a climate of trust and results in a more satisfactory and productive relationship between volunteer and recipient, in contrast with the earlier “merely” helping attitude, where reciprocity was not necessarily prevalent. (Feynes)
It’s not an easy task, trying to locate recent studies or statistical information on the frequency of youth volunteering. This is because volunteering is not a topic that generates enough conversation. There are organizations that employ the use of young adults to teach service learning to school age children in their community. They also facilitate and organize volunteering projects in those same communities. One such organization is called City Year, another is called AmeriCorps. Both organizations encourage youth volunteering and try to educate about civic engagement and leadership. Both also offer a presence within the local school systems as well. The relationship with schools and the organizations is a very idealistic initiative. However, on the part of the public schools, the amount to which each organization is allowed to introduce their objectives and volunteering initiatives is extremely limited. This seems counterproductive, even with organizations being readily accessible.
Think about how many times you’ve volunteered in your life. How did you feel after? Now place yourself in that same scenario with one major difference. You have a solid understanding of what it means to make the choice to step into leadership roles, and civil service has now become your instinctive. This could be achieved with our emerging generation, but only if we teach unconventionally:
These new ways of understanding and brain-friendly approaches to learning are creating waves of change in all levels and domains of education from the instruction of formal schooling in both private and state based programs, to education policy, to an increase in academic research institutes, to special needs education, to private educational and therapeutic enterprises. However, such new advances are still young, with research yet in its early stages of development and acceptance. Many educational systems across the world still adhere to more traditional approaches and more enlightened institutions are grappling with the transition from the old ways of thinking to the new. (Karabulut)
In conclusion, no matter what your political views or opinions are, we all want our country to progress and strive for improvement; we don’t want to continue to witness the corrosion of our “democratic” nation. This starts with us. But for everyone to carry the same sentiments it must be instilled early on.
As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Rose’s Letter to Millennials fits well with that mission. I have been working with millennials my entire professional career; they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Rose is no exception: Her letter is insightful, powerful, and a must read.
I would like to start by saying that I’m sorry for the bum rap our generation has, but it’s not entirely our fault we have been deemed lazy.
During this age of technology and smart phones, I will admit that we have become a sluggish bunch. The youth of today seem less involved in what is actually going on in the world, and more focused on what is happening in the cyber world. The constant yearning for likes and thumbs up have caused us to be a generation that craves approval and is therefore further let down by those around us when we don’t receive any. I must admit that social media is a huge contributor to the negative self-esteem experienced by today’s youth. Think back to when you were young and the world seemed full of backyards to explore and swings to jump from. Life was so much simpler when the only way to know what people really thought of you was to ask them on the playground. Those were the times of a No Harm No Foul policy, and if you didn’t like what that kid had to say about you, all you had to do was walk away from them. Today the struggle becomes not only what that person has to say to your face, but also what they say online after you have turned your back and walked away.
It has become harder to escape the constant scrutiny that follows every one of us around, so we can’t be blamed for feeling sad and wanting to avoid what is waiting for us outside the safe walls of our home. I will admit that human beings have become more hurtful with their words and actions, and empathy has all but disappeared. So I urge each of you to take the extra moment and think about how your words are affecting others, and together we can begin to end this cycle of nastiness. As stated in Psychology Today, “Millennials are reporting the highest levels of clinical stress, anxiety, and depression than any other generation at the same age” (Angone). Believe it or not, we are all in this thing called “life” together, so it is time to start acting like it. It is time to practice unity among our fellow people.
Our generation, the millennials, is the largest at over 85-90 million people in the US (Angone). So it’s no wonder that everything we do is under scrutiny: If one of us makes a mistake, then the whole generation is blamed for it. You as an individual can’t control the quantity of our generation, but you do have the power to change the quality. If you expect to be shown respect by others, then take the steps to earn it. And I don’t mean just when you want something, or only to certain people, but with every single person you encounter.
I understand that growing up in this world hasn’t been easy, and it doesn’t feel fair for others to judge you because your parents took it easier on you than theirs did on them. But the world has become a lot more complex over the years, and the lines have been blurred between what is considered easy and hard. A huge complaint of many is that our generation is growing up entitled. One cause could be the participation trophies we have been given (by the previous generation that criticizes us, I might add) our entire lives. The common thought, and I have felt this way myself, is that “Millennials were given trophies for just existing” (Angone). Our elders created a double-edged sword—on one side, they had a desire to create equality among us, but on the other side they didn’t create a reason for us to deserve receiving something for nothing. As long as we showed up, we deserved to get a trophy, no matter how much or how little work we put in to earn it. The over sensitivity to equality appears to be both a blessing and a curse, but not in the way that people expected.
Participation medals, however, aren’t the only problem. Pair that with the dramatic change in what it means to win and be successful.
“When I look at the millennials, I don’t see a generation entitled to success, we are obsessed with it. And for good reasons. We don’t know how to fail. And when we do, we’re pretty sure we’ve actually won. We grew up in a competitive, bell-curve, wait-list society. Fighting for a spot on the team, in a school, at a job, for the win. We don’t want blue ribbons because we feel entitled to them; we want them because we’ve been in a cage match to win them our entire lives. Now, the stakes to win those blue ribbons are just slightly higher” (Angone).
Everything these days feels like a race to win, rather than racing towards a dream. We see this on the youth soccer fields and baseball diamonds when parents scream at coaches, officials, and players over bad calls and plays. It doesn’t matter what we are fighting for anymore because everybody just wants to come in first. That’s the way we grew up. It has been hardwired into our brains through example and experiences that the only ones who actually win are the ones who come in first. And in terms of morality, it doesn’t seem to matter how we won, as long as we did.
I would ask each of you to think about why, even though you have so much provided for you already, you still crave more. I think that there is a dual battle going on inside each of us. On the one hand, we know what it is like to already have the basic necessities provided for us, and on the other hand, we feel as if we still need the luxurious items that we realistically could live without. It is not enough to simply have a phone or a car, but now we feel as though we have to have the newest version of phones or the coolest looking cars. Why? Because to us, that is winning. Practicality is no longer important to us when we could have something better.
I know there are many people from older generations who are so quick to refer to our generation as lazy and spoiled. But a funny thing happens when you grow up: You have a biased view on what you were like growing up. It is so easy for older generations to call us the lazy ones, but they don’t remember that they used to be just the same when they were our age: “So it’s not that Millennials are lazy or narcissistic; it’s that young people are lazy and narcissistic, and as they grow older and more responsible those things tend to right themselves” (Burkus). The older generations don’t remember as clearly as we do all the pressures we have right now to find a good paying job, and how daunting it is to have your whole life ahead of you with seemingly no time at all to figure out what you want to do with it.
Not surprisingly, this generation is the most educated (Angone), but somehow that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Getting a college degree isn’t enough to get us in the door for a job, and to some it feels like the equivalent of a high school diploma. It seems that the college education we indebted ourselves to is just another way to try to win, to come out on top—not something we go into because we have a dream job waiting for us on the other side of it. It was always a goal of mine to go to school and graduate from college, though I didn’t know what for—only that I had to do it. I know that there are others who feel the same. But this is what we think it takes to make the proper transition from childhood into adulthood. But what if that transition has nothing to do with school and more to do with who we are?
The problem that previous generations have with ours is that it is taking us longer to get through this transition step, which makes us look lazy, but the world is a different place now than it was back then, and there are many other options besides school. A diploma no longer gives you a big one-up from other job candidates. I would agree that this generation may not be as motivated as the ones before, but there is so much provided for us that we don’t feel the need to go and get it ourselves. When parents, teachers, and bosses over provided for us, there isn’t as much drive to run towards the next step. When we don’t know where that next step will lead us, where we are is good enough. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls it “emerging adulthood.” He says, “as young adults today, [we] aren’t stepping full-force into adulthood, we’re backing into it….It’s just taking a lot longer than we ever could’ve planned” (Angone).
So how do we battle the unknown world ahead of us having grown up the way we did? I don’t have the perfect answer for any of you because to each of us, where we hope to end up will look different. I do know that it is hard to have the courage to do what we really want when we constantly worry what others will think of us if we do go for it. Here is the truth that we are too inexperienced to realize and the previous generation seems to have forgotten: This phase you are in right now is not your final phase. If you know you have long term goals, don’t push them aside for the short-term factors. As hard as it is for us to let go of what’s happening right now, it is truly the only thing we can do in order to move forward and reach those long-term goals.
My friends, accepting change and looking inside of ourselves to find out why we must do so are the only things we really can do to provide ourselves with a fulfilling life. Once you take those first steps, the rest will fall into place. The profitable thing you do that makes you happy (commonly known as a job), the kindness you show to others (such as letting others have a turn to win), and pursuing your true dreams (A.K.A. putting in the work) are the most important factors to having a successful life. If we as a generation all took these steps together, we would reflect a better light, and instead of looking down upon us, the ones who criticize would rejoice in the fact that we have become a generation to be proud of.
In closing, I would suggest to not let what our elders have to say about us dictate the legacy we will leave behind. We should not be giving in to the pressure of their hasty assumptions; rather, we should be making a new name for ourselves that we would be proud to embrace. It starts today with each of you. Don’t do what they expect of you, but do what you would expect of yourself. Do not settle into the title of “lazy millennials,” but go out and show them that you are better than that. Yes, presently we do not have the greatest reputation, but with a little change from each and every one of us, someday we will.
I know too many people who are not educators (and some who are) that are in favor of the choice movement in education. The biggest reason people want choice is to improve the education for their own children and then create competition so that other schools will be forced to improve or shut down. Unfortunately, both reasons are based in misconceptions about education.
I will concede that “choice” is not a bad thing when you are talking about businesses, service industries, and commodities. We definitely want businesses to compete for our money. Competition makes businesses strive for excellence. That’s why people, outside of education mostly, thought that “choice” would make all schools better, but it hasn’t.
Why? First, because education is not a business; it is a humanright (Article 26) that isprotected as part of our inalienable fundamental rights to which people are entitled simply because they are human beings, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour (sic), sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
In other words, if a business fails, the owners can start over, maybe poorer and a little wiser, but no real harm done. If a school fails, it has negatively affected the human rights of every child that went to that failing school.
So how does the “choice” movement hurt human rights? Bear with me as I try to explain this point.
If you are for “choice” in education, you want better “service” for your child. We all want what is best for our children–I’m not arguing that. But if your child is going to a failing school, and you have the money to pay for private schools, which is part of that choice movement, then you will no longer care about that failing school because you can give your child something better (unless your child makes a mistake which will result in an expulsion with no chance of return to that private school). That is great for you and your family, but what about all the other children who can’t afford to pay for private schools?
The next question is usually, isn’t that why people came up with charter schools, so that people who can’t afford private schools can still get a quality education? Yes. Charter schools, in general, are another great idea–on paper. You don’t have to pay for charter schools out of your own pocket—technically—but your tax dollars go to those schools. Our government gives charter schools a certain amount of money for every child enrolled in that charter school; so just like public schools, our government pays for your child’s education—that is if you are lucky enough to get selected, and your child behaves well enough to stay at that school. Most charter schools operate on a lottery system, so not all students will get in, and most schools will kick students out who make mistakes or make the school look bad in any way.
Once again, for those parents who want choice, this sounds great because those children who are selected have a great atmosphere for learning.
However, what people forget is that there are many students who will have to continue going to that failing school. If you can’t worry about someone else’s children, then just consider this: Pulling your child out of the failing school does not pull them out of the society in which they live. One way or another, the negative effects of that failing school will still affect you and your children.
Just to summarize the first point, education is not a business; it is a human right. Therefore, educational choice is about people only caring about their children—no one else’s. Those who can afford it will choose to pay for their children to go to private schools. Out of those that remain, some parents will apply to charter schools and a few lucky students will get selected. That leaves the rest in public schools because public schools will take every rejected and expelled student and do the best they can to educate those students within the confines of the system. Public schools also have incredible students who are successful despite the “choice” movement.
Is it any wonder our public schools look like they are failing if the wealthy and well behaved students are all going somewhere else? Along these lines, by eliminating the heterogeneous classroom in all three options, it makes it harder for those struggling students to see what work ethic, study skills, and perseverance looks like. On the other hand, a classroom that has students with different genders, talents, abilities, interests, backgrounds, and cultures will help all students work toward a higher standard. The students in heterogeneous schools can relate to the world better because they experience diversity on a daily basis. The homogeneous classrooms found in private and charter schools miss out on this necessary part of children’s education. Also, when you remove the top tier of motivated students, the learning culture deteriorates on multiple levels. Students with average ability, motivation, or interest lose that interest, and kids who struggle for whatever reason just give up. Remember, we want our children to be civic-minded and global citizens. How can they understand the global world or empathize with the struggles in our society if they grow up only relating to people just like them?
Second, it is important to note that private and charter schools don’t operate under the government’s watchful eye, which allows them to reject the highly controversial Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and refuse to participate in the corresponding state tests. Since these schools operate independently, they don’t have to participate in the very reasons that people are complaining about public schools. As a matter of fact, many private and charter schools saw the CCSS as a flawed document right from the start and opted out of it.
Remember, CCSS and the state tests are mandated for public schools by the government, while at the same time, the government is pushing for more charter schools that do not have to follow the mandates of the government. Does that make sense? So how can this “choice” movement improve the quality of all schools, when public schools don’t have the autonomy to fix their schools?
Third, to make matters worse, the government is giving money to private and charter schools because of that “choice” movement in the form of vouchers—money that could be given to public schools to improve those failing schools. Of course private and charter schools are going to appear as the right “choice” when they have money to purchase the newest technology, have the freedom to be innovative, and can reject the foolish educational reforms that are more about money than about our children.
Those outside of education do not understand that public schools cannot choose to change their operating methods, so it is impossible for public schools to compete in this so called “business market.” Besides the fact that education is a human right and not a business, the business competition model cannot change public schools because public schools are at the mercy of the government that continues to cut the budget of public schools to pay for tests and to give vouchers to private and charter schools.
Fourth, people and the government are not paying attention to the problems with some charter schools. John Oliver did this great piece on charter schools that exposed the problems with the government funding these unregulated entities.
Many “nonprofit” charter schools are finding deceptive was to make a profit. Once again, if “choice” education is supposed to create competition and a striving for excellence among all schools, Oliver’s research shows how that business model is failing even in the charter school industry.
On the other side of this issue, though, I will admit, there are some amazing charter schools out there. This is my biggest frustration: If there are innovative schools that are working, why can’t we adopt those innovations in public schools?
If parents truly want choice, this is where we as parents and educators need to concentrate our efforts. In Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the statement that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” should be taken literally and used to fix public education for all, not to give choice only to the wealthy and the fortunate.
If we want true education reformation, we need to make sure the public tax dollars are being used correctly to create an actual choice movement within the public school system itself: Increase money being spent on public education to improve ALL schools, regardless of location; increase teachers’ salaries to create a true competition for quality teachers; increase public school autonomy so that principals and teachers can use their knowledge and experience to innovate and create the right learning environment for their students.
If people are really concerned about choice, they should make sure their local public school is doing what their children need in order to thrive. Imagine a public school that has the elite academic prep curriculum of Phillips Exeter Academy for those students who are college bound; the innovation of The Ron Clark Academy for those who are creative or learn differently; the care and nurturing of the Learning Skills Academy for those with learning disabilities; and The Independent Project (https://youtu.be/RElUmGI5gLc) for those who want independence and a nontraditional education. Using these innovative schools as models to transform public schools would meet the needs of every student regardless of race, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status—not just the wealthy and lucky few.
I had the pleasure of talking about my book on the Uncle Phil Show on Friday. It’s a bit long, but a great hour-long discussion with Phil and Marshall. We had some deep conversations about education, bullying and how to help our children in this climate of fear, but mostly, we laughed and bonded over our mutual desire to make the world a better place.
How do we better engender a healthy, happy, and productive school environment where both teachers and students can flourish?
In Martin E.P. Seligman’s Flourish (published April 5, 2011 with Simon and Schuster), he writes about the five elements people need in order to flourish. It goes beyond trying to find happiness: “Flourishing rests on five pillars, each of which we value for its own sake, not merely as a means to some other end.”
So what are the five pillars and how do we create those elements in a school environment?
Here are my thoughts:
In order for our schools to flourish, they need to be a place where positive emotions reside. At the moment, school systems, teachers, and students are surrounded with negative emotions. Most teachers try to create a positive environment for their students, but so much depends on what happens outside of the classroom. If we want to improve that outer atmosphere, we need to make sure teachers are happy and not stressed out over the increased pressures surrounding their profession. If the teacher ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Students engage when they have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the subject matter, which is a direct result of the teacher’s engagement. I engage with my students because I want to hear and read what my students think about what we are learning in the classroom. The more control I have over the content of my classroom, the more engaged I am, which creates that atmosphere for my students. When reform agencies dictate the content of teachers’ classrooms, engagement diminishes significantly.
Even at the college level where I rarely see students for more than a semester, I have developed strong relationships with my students. I also encourage students to form strong bonds with each other because they need to trust each other when they share their thoughts in classroom discussions and essays in writing workshops. If students aren’t talking to and collaborating with each other, they will never build those necessary relationships.
Teachers find meaning in their chosen profession; it’s intrinsic to their job description. However, the current educational trends take away that intrinsic process from students: Students’ choices are being stripped away, with most schools buying into the factory model of producing only college-bound students, instead of creating a place where students can discover their own passions and direction in life.
One of the reasons video games are so popular with children and teens is that they offer a sense of accomplishment as players move through the levels. This element is sorely lacking in today’s school system. In middle school, students can move through the grade levels without passing a single subject. Some parents are demanding that their children are rewarded for little effort. What has hurt teachers in this area is the evaluation system that measures teachers’ accomplishments through a deeply flawed test. No matter what we tell ourselves about the growth we see in our students, if our accomplishments can be stripped away by a flawed test, we will operate from a defeatist position.
As Seligman states, each of these five pillars needs to be present for people to flourish. It only makes sense that they must be present in the school system for teachers and students to flourish as well.
How can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?
I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.
Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:
If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and anxiety?
If students were allowed to embrace their creative sides, would they grow up into adults who needed art therapy?
If art is therapeutic, why do we give it so little importance and relegate it to an elective in secondary schools?
Why do parents and educators allow people who don’t really care about their children to make unhealthy decisions for their children?
Why does the very notion of school imply that everything that is taught there needs to be quantified? Can’t we just enjoy learning without testing or assigning a letter grade to it?
Why are math, science, social studies, and English classes more important in a child’s education, than art, music, dance, and theater?
Why do people think that studying the arts is a waste of time and not preparation for college? Why can’t students who truly love the arts immerse themselves in those areas and continue to do so in college?
Why is our society so bent on educating only half the child? Do people not see the damage being done to our children when we eliminate the things that bring them the greatest joy?
How do you help students accept and work well with people of different beliefs, cultures, languages, socio-economic statuses, education backgrounds, and learning styles?
Acceptance and respect are best taught through example. As a teacher, I set the mood, tone, and pace of the classroom. If I mistreat any student in my classroom, it will give students permission to do the same. That old adage “Do as I say, not as I do” must have been coined by someone who didn’t understand human nature. If we want our children/students to accept those with different beliefs, cultures, etc., then we need to show them how it’s done. The number of teachers who have admitted to rolling their eyes, smirking, and/or belittling students in the classroom that they found weird or culturally different amazes me; then, those same teachers will complain about how nasty other students are to them or to other students. It’s easy to make the connection between the two situations, yet some teachers would rather blame children for the negativity rather than themselves. I know it’s hard to change children’s behavior in all aspects of their lives if their parents are modeling negative behavior, but teachers can impact students’ behaviors within their classrooms.
Not only do I model kindness and understanding in my classroom, but I also share with my students how every child/teenager/adult I have met and worked with helps me to grow. Every person that comes into our lives has something important to teach us. I’m always learning something new because of the diverse people in my life. While being exposed to a beautiful array of cultural differences improves my knowledge, it also improves my empathy—a necessary emotion that allows us to become healthy and connected human beings. Without empathy, we become selfish and in extreme cases, narcissistic and/or sociopathic. When we can look beyond skin color, clothing brand, religious symbols, and chosen paths, and care to hear the stories and see the similarities within each of us, we will realize that we have more in common than we think. Whether we know someone’s story or not, it’s safe to assume that everyone is struggling with something. Wouldn’t it be horrible to add pain to someone’s already difficult life?
The other important thing to teach children/students is the difference between opinions and facts. We are living in a society that believes in the validity of its own opinions. Although everyone is free to have an opinion, it doesn’t mean that every opinion carries equal weight, especially those opinions that have no basis in factual evidence. This is part of critical thinking skills, but it must be taught from the position of compassion rather than pure logic. Some opinions come from inductive and deductive reasoning, and others come from fear and prejudice. Regardless, all opinions are worn like a badge of honor. It is only through patience and informed discussions that we can help our children/students open their eyes to the biases that have formed those weightless, negative opinions. Through these critical thinking discussions, students will remember those role models and begin to practice empathy, learning to accept and work well with people who are different from them.