Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teaching for Whose America?

Tom Friedman's recent op-ed column in The New York Times, "Teaching for America", is garnering a lot of attention among education bloggers and commentators.  For a couple of responses, check here and here.

As for me - well, I'm not a huge Tom Friedman fan in general, and I think this piece is particularly riddled with inconsistencies and misstatements.  For example, on the one hand he says (or quotes Tony Wagner as saying) that we need to focus on the most important skills for the knowledge economy: critical thinking, communication skills, and collaboration.  I buy that, though I would say that this list is hardly exhaustive.  However, Friedman goes on to say that we should use student achievement data (read: standardized test scores) to calculate teacher compensation.  Even if we accept the premise that standardized test scores accurately measure student achievement in certain academic areas, which I do not, they clearly do not measure how effectively a teacher has developed critical thinking, communication skills, or collaboration in her students.  One has to be in the classroom watching the dance between  teacher and student in order to properly evaluate how well a teacher is inculcating his students with these abilities.

We need more good teachers in our schools, that is for sure.  But this is another area where Friedman totally misses the boat.  He says that since countries that are successfully educating their youth - specifically Finland and Denmark - require that all their teachers come from the top 1/3 of their college graduating classes, that we would be wise to follow suit.  Statistics 101, people - correlation does NOT imply causation.  Better students do not necessarily make better teachers - I would argue that the opposite might just as well be true in a system where school "success" requires regurgitating facts and filling in little black dots with #2 pencils better than your peers.  Teaching is an avocation, a gift - and a skill, one that can be honed and refined, but not one that can be predicted from a person's GPA.

And here's the kicker:
Wagner thinks we should create a West Point for teachers: “We need a new National Education Academy, modeled after our military academies, to raise the status of the profession and to support the R.& D. that is essential for reinventing teaching, learning and assessment in the 21st century.”
Setting aside the mixed metaphors - are our schools like the military, or like a Fortune 100 company? - the idea that we need to create a high-profile academy in order to raise the status of teachers is, once again, totally missing the mark.  As long as we view schools as simply training grounds for raising the next generation of money-makers, the teachers will continue to be seen as the privates in the trenches, making possible the work of the high-ranked generals who are really running the show.  The only way we are going to raise the status of teachers is to start valuing the work they do for what it is, and not what it will one day become.

If we want our children to not only develop the skills they need to participate in tomorrow's workforce (whatever that will mean), but to develop the qualities they need to be happy, responsible and productive human beings, then we need to rethink the whole system.  This is one place where Friedman got it right - we parents need to do our parts.  We need to demand, and to build, places where students can learn how to learn, where they can develop their unique gifts and talents, where they can nurture the sparks of curiosity and creativity that lies within each of them - places, of course, like Wellspring!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

'Ready to Learn' Equals Easier to Educate

Generally, when Alfie Kohn talks (or writes, as the case may be), I listen:
The phrase "ready to learn," frequently applied to young children, is rather odd when you stop to think about it, because the implication is that some kids aren't. Have you ever met a child who wasn't ready to learn -- or, for that matter, already learning like crazy? The term must mean something much more specific -- namely, that some children aren't yet able (or willing) to learncertain things or learn them in a certain way.
You really should read the entire article from The Huffington Post here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tips for Raising Thankful Children

We could all use some more gratitude in our lives:
As Thanksgiving approaches, the chaos of the winter holidays can overshadow its essence. The spirit of thankfulness is a complex one for young kids to grasp, but by by modeling generosity all year long and talking about the subject, your child will begin to absorb and emulate this emotion. It’s a great start to discuss thankfulness during this time of year, but its more powerful to incorporate it into the everyday all year long.
Read the whole article on Child Perspective here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Standardized Tests Diminish the Joy of Learning

This article describes one mother's approach to keeping her son's love of learning alive despite his experiences in the classroom:
Appreciation, however, is not covered on standardized tests. Although standardized tests allow administrators to gain valuable measures of general success across various school districts, they do not leave room for the notion that appreciation and love of learning can lead to better overall understanding.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Helping Children Make Beautiful Music With Their Lives

I love this post from my friend and mentor at the Institute for Humane Education, Mary Pat Champeau.  I highly recommend Suzuki's book - it is focused on teaching violin, but his philosophy could easily be applied to parenting or teaching:
I learned so much about parenting from a little book written by the violin teacher Shinichi Suzuki called Nurtured by Love. It is part personal history and part love letter to the violin, and part instruction on how to nurture a beautiful heart through music lessons. I learned that correcting what is wrong is nowhere near as powerful as praising what is right. His idea was to shine the light always on what worked, and let the rest wither in the dark. He believed that children could learn to play music and love it just as they learned to speak -- starting when they were young and having music all around them. 
Read the entire post here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaching the Art of Sharing

I especially like the idea of giving children a script to follow in difficult social situations.
[Power is] a motivating source that allows them to learn and become more proficient and independent.  If sharing is presented to them as a loss of power (“You must give something up“) rather than as an opportunity to be powerful (“You can choose what or when to share”/”You can help someone be very happy“), they will naturally resist.  Help children recognize the power in sharing.
Read the entire post from Simple Kids here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kids Haven't Changed - Kindergarten Has

The Harvard Education Letter reports that children are being pushed to perform tasks in kindergarten before they are developmentally ready.  Just because a child can recite 3+2=5 does not mean that the child understands the concepts involved:
What’s tricky, says Guddemi, is that children can be trained to perform tasks (called “splinter skills”), such as writing names or counting. But just because “April” can pen her name doesn’t mean she can perceive letters with oblique angles. “You can train them, but the knowledge and understanding—the true learning—has not happened,” she says. “Our country has this hang up that if the child can perform, that they know.”
Read the entire article here - please!!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An Ode to the One Room Schoolhouse

An oldie but a goodie from Mothering magazine:
As I observed successful multiage classrooms in Canada and Washington State before the creation of the multiage class my own kids would eventually take part in, I noticed that every child was on his or her own individual path of learning in a continuum that mutually supported the greater social structure (in this case, the other classmates) around them. I realized I was witnessing a touch of that "village." Many different ages and skill levels interacted, competitiveness naturally melted away, and the higher forms of human interaction--such as the desire to help others--came forward. When there is no obvious unit of measurement to be compared to, competitiveness has less fuel to grow on. 
Read the whole article here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

7 Keys of Great Teaching

Based on the premises of Leadership Education (or Thomas Jefferson education), I think these keys could be of interest to anyone:


1. Classics, not textbooks
2. Mentors, not professors
3. Inspire, not require
4. Structure time, not content
5. Quality, not conformity
6. Simplicity, not complexity
7. You, not them


Read more here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Encouraging Our Children to Live Passionately

Some great tips from Zen Family Habits on how to make this happen:
One of my hopes for my children is that they’ll live a passionate life, not settling for less just because they’re told they should or because the alternative seems too hard. But living passionately isn’t easy because it involves taking risks, putting yourself out there and being confident, even when you fail. I don’t think it’s something that can be taught or learned. Our best hope is to model and encourage it.
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Are Teenagers Growing Up So Slowly?

The short answer: because we are sapping their lives of meaning!  Another must-read article by Po Bronson from Newsweek.  
As Allen writes, “We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.”
Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Taking School'Work' A Little Too Far?

An education activist reports that some children are required to spend their days working in cubicles.  All I can say is:  Yikes!
In a world with such looming catastrophes and such extraordinary opportunities the last thing our children should be doing is sitting at cubicle-like desks filling out worksheets day after day. Their world desperately needs them to be educated, able to think critically, creatively and cooperatively to build a healthy future relying upon the great and amazing strides their forebears have already achieved and solving the problems those same forebears, often unwittingly, caused. They will never learn this doing worksheets behind cardboard screens.
Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

You Change Them

I had the pleasure of hearing Marla McLean speak at the Educating the Creative Mind conference last spring, and then had the privilege of visiting her at her studio at School Within School at the Peabody School in Washington DC.  She maintains a blog as a way of documenting her students' work and it is well worth a visit.  The photography is beautiful, her creativity is impassioned, and her insight into the process of education is inspiring.


"I think you will be inspired! What does inspired mean?”
“You can’t believe your eyes”
“Cool!”
“You want to look at it for a long time”
“Really really really really pretty”
“I know what inspired means, it means, you change them (the paintings) but it can still be them”

This type of deep work,  can be revisited in life endlessly:
Making marks to create memory.
Observing deeply.
Internalizing inspiration.

What Mani said, is  a succinct definition of inspiration.
“You change them, but it can still be them.”
It is also a beautiful metaphor for teaching.

Monday, November 1, 2010

October Photos

Photos of Wellspring in October are up on Facebook!  Halloween, Welcome to Wellspring Night, Dads and Special Guys Day, it's all there.  Head over the check them out, and don't forget to Like our page in order to receive links to interesting articles and updates on what is going on.