Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Better Clean Hands

Stephen Dubner, author of Freakonomics, was interviewed on "The Takeaway," a morning talk-show. BTW, if you have not listened to it yet, give it a try. It airs the same time as NPR's "Morning Edition." A study of doctors at an Australian hospital using self-reported data on hand-washing rate at 73%. After hiring nurses to spy on the doctors, the study revealed an astounding hand-washing rate of 9%. If you want to listen to this interview (6:20 long - 5:30 into the piece), click on "The Takeaway" link.

Better, a book by Atul Gawande, that has as its first chapter "On Washing Hands," gives an alarming inside look at how critical this easy yet complicated procedure is for the medical profession. More on Better later.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Internet Impact on Learning

What are the long-term implications of students working from the Internet? Do they get as much from reading from the Internet as opposed to reading a book? I remember growing up in the 1950s and 60s and the big debate about the value of reading comic books. Some would damn the picture magazines as useless, others said, "The kids are reading, what difference does it make what they read, so long as they read?"

Capture the same 2008 debate brewing by reading Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic Monthly article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" and Motoko Rich's NYTimes article "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Blame Game© - Part 2

How can we avoid blame as we work to raise and educate children? To begin, I recommend reading Dr. Michael Thompson’s insightful Independent School article “The Fear Equation” (Spring 1996). It will give you a good view into communication between parents and teachers and how adults are the engineers in the special project of raising/educating children.

Whether we are dealing with homework responsibilities, apportioning screen time, analyzing grades, assessing athletic playing time, or setting curfews, here are some strategies to employ when you suspect that a child (your son or daughter or your student) has not met certain expectations or agreed upon goals:

• Ask the other invested adults first rather than assume neglect or mistake on the other adult’s part.
• Approach other interested adults, asking how can we help the child move forward.
• Always temper urges to bring relief to one’s own frustration or ego by immediately resorting to blame.
• Reflect on a viable solution and present it to the other adult(s), asking for their thoughts and ideas.
• By all means solicit information from the child on why he/she has not met expectations. Be ready to (re)adjust expectations to meet the child’s abilities.
• Make goals, objectives, or conditions concrete for the child by using paper and pencil, constantly referring back to the written word well before completion dates.
• Strip away the emotion when dealing with the child, parent or teacher and envisioned expectations. Move forward on (re)adjusting goals and expectations and always work in support of the child.

In our world of parenting and education, blame lurks everywhere and begs to be used. Let us as parents and educators work together on behalf of our children, avoiding The Blame Game©—a game that invariably cripples, distorts and interferes with our ability to work for our children, supporting them as they grow and mature. Avoiding blame with one adult will multiply to others . . . and others . . . to a whole generation. I vividly remember the prophetic song, The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. It was on the Top 10 chart in 1989, and if you listen to an easy-listen radio station, you will inevitable hear it. The song’s lyrics begin

Every generation Blames the one before And all of their frustrations Come beating on your door

Let us agree to leave The Blame Game© in a box on the shelf.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Blame Game© - Part 1

This article first appeared in the summer 2004 Independent School magazine.

Game Instructions

Players: At least two adults and one child.

Equipment: A pointer finger on each adult. Note: A board is not necessary, but the game becomes more intense when the child claims boredom at school or the adults are bored with their own lives.

Game Play: The adults establish goals and expectations for the child. As soon as the child does not meet the goals, adults begin to point fingers at one another, attempt to shift responsibility, and blame the other adult, asking what he/she did to interfere with the child not achieving the set goals and expectations.

Time Limit: The appeal to The Blame Game © is that the Game can be played forever — all throughout life. So long as there is a child and the adults who care for the child are willing to set goals and expectations for the child, blame will always hover.

Winning: When one adult backs down and accepts the blame or when the child accomplishes the established goals on his or her own.

Variations: Insert a grandparent as one of the adults or introduce one or more of the following: divorce, job change, or move to a new school. Then watch The Blame Game© accelerate. Also, the Game can take on an interesting flavor when two educators gang up on a parent or two parents corner a new teacher.

* * * *

Maybe if we look at blame, not as a game but try to analyze it without expectations set,
we can circumvent the inevitable emotional strife, work in the best interest of the child, and create an environment that is productive and supportive of the child.

Blame defined:
blame vt
1. to consider somebody to be responsible for something wrong or unfortunate that has happened

2. to find fault with somebody (used in negative statements and questions)
blame n responsibility for something wrong or unfortunate that has happened *

How often do we find ourselves as parents and teachers mired in blame, losing sight of support for the child? Throughout my years as a parent and educator, I cannot count the times I have listened to parents and teachers blaming the other for a child’s perceived failure. Too much time is spent on assigning blame to the other parent (especially in dysfunctional families), or to the teacher, or from the teacher to the parent, or from the teacher to the administration or vice versa. Somehow, we inevitably lose sight of the objectives by reverting to blame, which often is the catharsis of choice in dealing with our own frustrations.

Blame can be found in all forms and in most cultures, and never fails to touch our lives. I distinctly remember reading Rising Sun a novel by Michael Crichton where the author carefully differentiates between American and Japanese cultures, analyzing responses and approaches to a problem. The story was clear about how Americans perseverate on the need to assign blame for the problem or mistake and the Japanese tend to side-step blame and go directly to correcting the problem.

* Encarta World English Dictionary, 1999 Microsoft Corporation

To be continued . . .

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's a Boy

Dr. Michael Thompson hit the big time with Raising Caine: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys when it became a NYTimes bestseller; it's no wonder that he has been on the education scene for over 30 years. When I first heard him talk at a conference 25 years ago, I knew he would be influencing parents and educators for years to come. Click over to his webpage to see and hear several short audio and video clips of his work. I think you will be impressed. In the meantime, be on the lookout for a review of It's a Boy in a future issue of Independent School magazine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An American Educating Children Abroad

"The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die . . ."

This inspirational book written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin about Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber who establishes schools in and around Pakistan, is in its 74th week on the NYTimes paperback bestseller list, often at the #1 slot. Coincidentally, he has worked tirelessly to established 74 schools. His primary objective is to educate girls. Here is a slideshow that will give an idea of the joy and pride Mortenson takes in his work with children.

My favorite quote in the book is where he opens chapter 4 with "Greatness is always built on this foundation: the ability to appear, speak, and act as the most common man." -Shams-ud-din Muhammed Hafiz. I believe this is the route to crippling classism.

Read Nicholas Kristof's recent op-ed piece, "It Takes a School, Not Missils," to gain an interesting insight on how to establish America's presence in a foreign country.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell

I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. If you have read any of his articles in The New Yorker or his books, The Tipping Point or Blink, you know how fascinating his research and take on life are.

Click over to his TED Talk and hear him talk about "What we can learn from spaghetti sauce" (17:42). Much like the theories of Daniel Pink, Gladwell uses the research of Howard Moscowitz in analyzing what people like and what sells.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dweck on Intelligence

Here is another excellent article from Dr. Dweck (see April 18, "Get to Know Dr. Carol Dweck" post below), "The Perils and Promises of Praise" that appeared in the October 2007 Educational Leadership. Also, on the NAIS Heads' Listserve, President Pat Bassett recommends her book Mindsets: The New Psychology of Sucess for summer reading. The latter link has some excellent links to her recent articles, research, and work.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Private with a Public Purpose

Having been raised in public education through college and having worked in independent schools for my entire career, I continually bump into independent school parents and colleagues who are drawn to supporting public schools.

Rob DeBlois chose to open an independent public school (precursor to the charter school movement) in Rhode Island. The Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program, established in 1989 and situated in Providence, serves middle school students. The school’s goal is to care for those students who need a second chance. Michael Brosnan’s book, Against the Current, tells the story of this truly remarkable school and the man who founded the school.

Please click over to “Accelerating America” and watch the seven minute trailer of this powerful documentary.