Archive for the ‘Late Elementary’ 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.


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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July 7, 2010

While in the abstract I look forward to being a grandparent, in the meantime I find myself musing on the role of the uncle and an inkling about “uncling” in general.

My brother recently visited with his middle child, and because we live far apart and have busy lives I only see my nephews in very widely spaced snapshots of their childhoods.

Thus I got to know nine-year-old Charlie for the first time since he was much younger, and after he left I kept thinking of one of my favorite films, Meet Me in St. Louis, because there’s a character in that movie who’s equally full of life and completely captivated with things scary, much like Charlie (if you’ve not seen the movie, it’s quite charming, particularly the Halloween sequence).

From his hammerhead shark pj’s to his love of horror films (shared with Will), Charlie was keen to keep up with his big cousins, thirteen and sixteen, and took much interest in boy things (particularly things macabre, scary or potentially “inappropriate”).  It’s sweet to see a nine-year-old having manners while testing limits in contrast to mouthy teens who have been eroding the shores of decorum with random stormy onslaughts of curse words (that by now we mostly let wash right back out to the sea of been there done that vulgarity).

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Saving my kids from “Saving Private Ryan”

June 6, 2010

A few years back, when both my boys were still in elementary school, we were still holding the line on shows like Family Guy and various R rated films that my kids swore up and down that their friends were getting to watch.  Reasons for certain kids we knew “getting” to watch certain media fare ranged from parents who seemed to want to “toughen” kids up, to lack of supervision, to children with much older siblings who had paved the way for leniency.

Still, at this point we were holding the line on violent and inappropriate media, having lost various battles such as prohibitions on toy guns, video games in general, junk food, etc.  It seems that for many of us we begin the parenting journey with high ideals and then the realities of day-to-day childcare erode our positions.

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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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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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Missing Miss April

April 15, 2010

The year nineteen-seventy marked one of my worst (see “My Scariest Teacher”), but one of the few bright spots was when a Playboy truck tipped over on the North Side of Chicago, spilling thousands of Miss Aprils onto the streets (it might have been Miss March, but let’s not let a month get in the way of an erotic and evocative story).

I cannot honestly say that I got one of those centerfolds (oh how I always wished that we lived closer to the city), but when you’re ten and it’s 1970, just the idea of Miss April flying all over the streets of Chicago in her birthday suit is a highly charged image.

After years of reading much in the way of archetypal symbolism from alchemy to Zarathustra, I am struck by how my own memory of an incident of Teamster premature dissemination also serves as apt symbol of the return of Persephone from the underworld.  I know that the equinox is the official return of Miss Spring, but after atypically ample rains this year, the wildflowers in California are just now dancing in a Dionysian riot (along with their raggy-weedy sisters’ allergy assault).  And so I think of multiple Miss Aprils once and eternally swirling about the City of Big Shoulders, presaging the Animas in their summer dresses, and I think about how lonely I was then in 1970.

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Love that makes us crawl

April 8, 2010

A reader inquires, “When is enough ever enough?  My eight-year-old is driving me nuts with this stuff!  No matter how great the holiday/vacation/ meal/present (fill in the blank) there is ALWAYS something lacking in his eyes.  It was either not what he expected, not what he really wanted, or isn’t as much as someone else’s.

I’m just at a complete loss on how to help him feel satisfied with what he currently has rather than what might have been.  I know I’m not alone on this, and maybe this is normal developmental stuff for 8-year-old boys growing up in Hollywood, surrounded by images of gluttony and excess.  But I still struggle with how to help him enjoy the moment and appreciate what is right in front of him.

We read Thich Nhat Hanh (Pebble in Your Pocket) and other lovely books on this similar topic (Three Questions, Zen Shorts), and I’m hopeful these are getting in to the place in his heart where this hole is, but I’m lost for what to do real-time.  We do lots of talking about what is going on at the moment (and follow-up later), but it always leads back to he simply *wants*.  He wants more of everything.  Help!”

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Kids’ Worries: Feeling Known, Feeling Loved

January 6, 2010

In order to truly feel loved, it is essential that one feels accurately understood.  Therefore, if our kids are worried about something, it’s important that we parents are reasonably aware of it—both for helping kids feel loved and understood; but also so that we can help provide assistance for anxiety and/or depression if this happens to be needed.

Recent data from an American Psychological Association survey on stress in America (Monitor on Psychology, January 2010) suggests that there is a large discrepancy between how worried parent believe that their kids are and how worried those kids actually say that they feel.

For example, three times as many kids say they get headaches (33%) compared with the thirteen percent of parents who realize their kids get them.  Twenty percent of kids said that they worry a lot while only three percent of parents viewed their kids’ stress as highly elevated. 

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December 2, 2009

Gregory Uba works with a non-profit agency in LA, Connections for Children, serving parents across a wide range of needs from parenting classes to referrals and financial assistance for child care services. 

While my particular brand of parenting support trends toward the mindful, spiritual and even esoteric, the approach I favor still boils down to thinking deeply in the service of working practically and pragmatically.  Folks like Greg keep me honest and grounded in challenging me to think about how the most at-risk parents could make use of ideas such as floated in this blog—as these parent often may be tasked with the care of some of the most at-risk of our collective children.  On the other hand, all kids struggle, and all parents struggle too, so whatever really helps any of us is likely to be of some value to all of us parents.

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Orchid Children

November 23, 2009

A recent Atlantic article by David Dobbs on the “Science of Success,” offers a wealth of insights on parenting kids with highly sensitive genes—or at least genes that put them at risk for depression, ADHD and the like.  While rough and tumble kids might be likened to dandelions, which can grow in any old crack in the sidewalk, kids with potentially problematic genetic proclivities are compared to orchids—delicate beings that need the special care of a greenhouse in order to thrive.  The bad news is that if we mess up, or fail to engage and attune with these “orchid children,” they can have serious problems with school, life and mental health, however if we get it right, these kids can be truly exceptional—even more gifted than kids with what we would have thought were “better” genes.  For the article see:

As sometimes happens with science, men come running out of the lab shouting “Eureka!” about things practically every experienced mom could have already told you—only she’s been too busy taking care of the kids to spend thirty years watching monkey moms raise (and sometimes fail) their children.  Just as the world was actually round even before it was a science newsflash, folk wisdom has long known that orchid kids are potential superstars if they get the right parenting.

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