Archive for the ‘Early Elementary, Watson’ Category

Left Behind

May 18, 2011

I read an illuminating and provocative essay recently about how, and why, the No Child Left Behind Act has failed—and I thought it worth sharing in this space.  It happens to have been written by my older son, Nate Dolin, as a paper for his Junior year history class.  He became interested in this issue having volunteered in several public elementary school classrooms, having worked with special needs/autism spectrum children and tutoring kids who struggle in their public middle school… and having been faced with numerous inequities, subsequently found himself wondering why things are as they are.

So, if we want our kids to be encouraged to consider growing up to help, perhaps even to step up and educate, the next generation of kids… our future grand children, we are well-served to deepen our understanding of why things may be as they are.

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Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind act seeks to leave no child behind in terms of academics, but the intentions of the act will never be met.  Even though President Bush claimed that the act was having a “dramatic effect” in 2008, the average white student scored 28 points higher on the reading section than the average African American student, and 26 points higher on the math section.[i]  Since the White students are obviously not inherently smarter than the African American student, what is causing the immense score gap?  Is every child in America really treated equally?  If society believes all children should have an equal opportunity for education, why are the most disadvantaged children being left behind, why is excessive testing proving to be more harmful than beneficial, why can’t the “supposed” intentions of the act be met, and why do some argue that the act was intended to benefit the economy rather than the children?

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We Miz

May 4, 2011

A recent NY Times news story, “In a Mother’s Case, Reminders of Educational Inequalities,” by Peter Applebome plunged me into fetid shadows akin to Dickensian London and Victor Hugo’s Paris of injustice on the brink of revolution… the dark and shameful inequalities that define the American school landscape circa here and now.

“Facts” are troublesome (and I perhaps no reliable narrator), but the story at hand is of a drug-involved mom who allegedly used her babysitter’s address to enroll her kindergartener in a better school district—and who now finds herself (aside from drug charges) facing charges of “first degree larceny” and “conspiracy” on account of sending her kid to a better-equipped suburban school when she actually lived in a poorer urban school district.

The boy, Andrew Justin Patches, bears a name-is-destiny sort of Dickensian yoke (just in patches/rags) and half made me wonder if I was dreaming (or is it nightmaring?) as my dandelion tea cooled beside my laptop last Thursday morning.  Is this a narrative to illustrate the spirit, if not crisis, of our time?  Are these people for real?  Are we, as a culture that leaves so many kids behind for real?  What sort of revolution might grow out of such injustice?  And what good might it do if this is where we are, centuries after much-vaunted revolutions in France and America, that have come and gone on in business as usual inequality and injustice?

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Sweet still at sixteen

June 3, 2010

Andy and I were talking and she suggested that it might be nice to post something on how kids, even at they continue to grow (and despite being intermittently mouthy, rude, entitled and impossible) actually remain cute and sweet to us parents.

When our little crawlers were still in car-seats, the big boys and girls kicking up sand at the park and racing up and down the slide represented a stark contrast between our kids (cute and adorable) and those other kids (brutal and rather advanced, maybe even talking in sentences, not always kind sentences).

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A tale of two camps

May 14, 2010

The summer camp that my parents sent me to was a well-respected and venerable institution in the north woods of Wisconsin.

The summer camp I went to, at least in my mind, was something more akin to a Nazi concentration camp.

As a grown-up I might like to spend some time amongst the pines, “roughing it,” swimming in the lake, fishing, engaging in manly sport and jocular good cheer with fellows.

As an eight-year-old child, I was put on a transport vehicle, slept on one-inch thick mattresses and had forced work details for insubordination:  “green buckets” that had to be filled with either pine needles, pine cones, or (hardest to come by in the immaculate woods) trash.

As a grown-up I can see how this very camp helped shape David Mamet’s love of guns and cabins in the woods (he went there and I’m sure he loved it; in my mind he might have been a capo, collaborating with the authorities as some sort of “counselor in training”).

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Practice

May 3, 2010

A recent Marketplace interview by Tess Vigeland of Matthew Syed, who wrote a book called Bounce seemed worth blogging about.  The main take-away:  perseverance is way more important than talent.

Syed was the U.K.’s top-ranked table tennis player, and the fact that a number of his mates from the same street also ended up as top players got Syed thinking down some Malcolm Galdwellesque directions to ponder what makes for excellence.

The short answer:  practice, practice, practice.  Agreeing with Gladwell’s notions of an activity requiring the magic number of 10,000 hours of dedicated practice for one to achieve mastery, Syed also draws from recent research to support the importance of praising kids for their hard work rather than for their talent.  While there is certainly room for debate about whether Forest Gump sawing away on the violin for ten-k hours will make him into Mozart, it certainly would seem to make for a better world than if he did those same hours on a violent video game.

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Executive Function and SEL

April 26, 2010

While I think that there is a Mercedes SEL, and I imagine some “top executives” might drive them, a big topic in psychology and kids these days is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and “executive function” (related to decision-making).

A number of programs have been developed to target and teach young kids how to regulate emotions, solve problems constructively and work well with others, and the research is coming in to support the value of this sort of focus.  The results suggest that kids who get this sort of teaching early on show an average of ten points higher on later tests of academic achievement, a needle that proves very hard to move (even if it is the over-focus of much misguided education these days).

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April Showers

April 16, 2010

When I was a kid I loved the song “California Dreamin’.”  In Chicago, when all the leaves were brown and the sky was grey, I would imagine living in sunshine and making sand-castles on the beach, the fading taste of Orange Julius playing over my seven-year-old sense memory after a family holiday to Los Angeles.

Although it is just a touch ironic to bother California Dreamin’ when you already live in California, my kids really liked that song too when they were little, and we’d play it fairly regularly in the car rides to and from school.  And so it was that Andy heard Will, when he was six or so, singing the song to himself one day; only his version of “If I didn’t tell her…” had, by way of the misheard lyrics telephone game, become “If I didn’t shower, I could leave today.”

There’s just something about wrong lyrics that I simply love.  Like when we were kids and my friend Mike’s version of Elton John’s “Bennie & The Jets,” included not “She’s got electric boots, a mohair suit,” but rather “She’s got electric boots, a Moham Sue.”  When we asked him what a “Moham Sue” was he just worked his chin with his fingers pensively and said, “It’s just one of those things.”

“A trip to the moon, on gossamer wings… a Moham Sue?”

What’s your favorite mistaken lyric?

Now that we’re into April, maybe we can all be safe and warm, even if we don’t live in LA—singing it loud, proud and maybe even totally wrong, but in the service of all our collective kids.

Namaste, Bruce

When did we stop being us?

March 23, 2010

I love this picture of Andy.  To me it’s just adorable, but it’s also very real—a kid just being a kid, being her true Self.

Andy and I were talking about how we’re just starting to feel like ourselves again, those Selves that we were when we were five or so… after all these years of trying to be whatever it was we thought we were supposed to be, compensating for whatever we thought was wrong with us and not good enough about us.  She’s fifty-one and I’ll be fifty this year, and so it seems that moving fully off the radar of what our society is interested in is rather freeing.

Sadly, Andy tells me that soon after this picture, as she became closer to eight, she started to think she was ugly.  She wanted to have straight blonde hair and blue eyes—she wanted to be a different person.  She came to hate her curly hair, her tallness and particularly her shyness.  Andy thinks that her self-esteem dropped away because her mom was displeased with her, with her shyness in particular.  That pervasive negative view made her not like herself and eroded her confidence and her joy.

She was musing on how this picture, taken in one of those old photo booths, is a situation where what you look at is yourself.  Thus this is a picture of a little girl cracking herself up, goofing around with her angry face, her sweet face and enjoying her Baskin Robbins milkshake.  This is the way we look at ourselves before we learn to look with judgment, with the critical eye, with the need to look like other people wish we looked.

For me, the silver lining might be best summed up in the Leonard Cohen Lyric from “Chelsea Hotel”—“You told me again you preferred handsome men but for me you would make an exception.”

So, let’s dedicate today to striving to recapture the Selves we were before we were five, and to using those to see the beauty in the natural and unselfconscious being that we can find, if we gaze softly enough, in all our collective children (and in each other and in that wary stranger in the mirror—myself included).

Namaste, Bruce

Brutus the Cat

March 15, 2010

Happy Ides of March.  In honor of this day I though I would share a story that I made up  long ago when my boys were little, in the off chance that some readers might have kids in the three to five or six range to run it by and see if they like it too.  It might not be much of a story, but little kids seem to really love it if we bother to make up stories… and although I made up a lot of them when my guys were small, I know it can get exhausting and so it can be good to have an extra one lying around when we can’t think about anything but our pillow and how it calls to us.

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Brutus the Cat

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, in Ancient Rome, lived a cat named Brutus.

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Red Flags

February 25, 2010

Years ago, when Andy and I had a meeting with our child’s preschool teachers, I remember sitting around the little table meant for Playdough and snack-time and the preschool director saying something about certain behaviors being “red flags.”

I had walked in expecting to hear something like, “his crayon scribbles are really creative” or “he really likes hanging on the climbing structure.”  To be honest, to this day I can’t really recall what the “red flag” was a “red flag” for, just that there was a “red flag,” and that this made me feel woozy, and sad, and worried, and inadequate.

A red flag that made my inner Ferdinand just want to sit and smell the flowers; a red flag that made me swoon with fears about having already messed up my kid, maybe by being a therapist, maybe by giving bad genes.  I’ve worked with so many parents by now that I’m more calm to know that we almost ALL seem to have these worries to some degree or other.

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