Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on November 4, 2009 at 05:30 AM

Education is about developing human beings, and human development is not mechanical or linear. It is organic and dynamic. — Sir Ken Robinson, How Schools Stifle Creativity, writing on CNN about reaction to his famous TED talk and his new book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

Special thank you to Deirdre, who wants to know: How do we start the revolution?


Comment by UTBTKids on November 4, 2009 at 01:16 PM

Have any one watched two million minutes? How does every one feel about the campaign that US schools must increase science and math focus?

I am an engineer from India and I feel the other way. I feel that the change must start in India. In India there must be improvement in the of institutions providing quality education and children must have choices in terms of the career.

In India, owing to culture and the population certain jobs are revered and hence there is tremendous amount of pressure on the kids to perform. The competition is cut throat. On a day an average 15 year old spends 8 hrs in school, 4 hours in private coaching, at least two hours commuting between all these places, four hours in catching up on the school work and the extra coaching. Weekends are even more brutal. At the end of this the child might loose his/her spot on a top institution by .5 marks or .25 marks. Its a very sad model to follow.

Comment by Stacey on November 4, 2009 at 04:02 PM

Since I tend to babble I wrote my response in my own blog:

Comment by Sarah Jackson on November 4, 2009 at 07:54 PM

You're back!! Here's hoping the flu has finally exited your household.

I've been ruminating on this all morning, and for me, it's about letting go of the expectations formed by school (for me) and letting the learning happen in its own way and its own time. It's exciting for me to watch the connections happen and the lightbulbs go on. I see it happening in so many unexpected places and ways. My job right now, is to provide the open spaces, both in our schedule and in our minds, for that exploration to happen, and to make available the tools that they need and want. It's frustrating sometimes, when things don't go according to my preconceived notion of how they should. But they always happen, and often in better ways than I could have predicted.

I need to remember that I shouldn't organize and schedule and mandate the ways that their educations will flow and evolve. I can be there as a guide and a partner and a resource, remembering that they will get to where *they* need and want to be so long as I support them in their endeavors.


Comment by Lori Pickert on November 4, 2009 at 09:12 PM

UTBTKids, i have seen two million minutes, and i couldn’t agree with you more!

stacey, you know i love it when you babble.

re: what you wrote on your blog…

you said, …“Like religious leaders, alternative educators can become charismatic leaders to their particular vision of education but that can create a situation where some parents end up taking a step back from the process and allowing the educators to take over.” i completely agree. i feel like i was an evangelist when i was running my school. but i knew that if i let go of it, no one would pick it up. it only lasted as long as i was willing to breathe life into it. for real change, you have to have consensus in a large group — a group large enough to form a community.

but here’s another question. i don’t think it’s enough to connect with other families that feel the same way you do. that isn’t enough. you still have to reach other parents, others families, the community at large and convince them that change is needed. otherwise, your community dies as your children grow up. similar to my situation with my school, you meet your own children’s needs, perhaps, but there is no lasting change. it is a pebble dropped into a pond.

a revolution, i think, would require people at every level who were passionate about changing what education looks like in our country — from parents to teachers to administrators to politicians to our society at large.

sarah, i am into week two and not completely well yet! ugh!

i like everything you say, and we were talking here about those open spaces (or white space ;^) this morning — basically how parents have to make that a priority in order to *really* offer their children the chance to explore their own interests and live and work creatively. and to give them that time and space, they have to say no to other things — an over-scheduled life does not lend itself to this kind of growth. and parents have a hard time giving anything up, letting any opportunity for their child slide, whether it’s music, art, sports, social life, field trips, co-ops, clubs, and on and on. i think they would rather try to shove everything in that they can and feel they did all they could than clear out a big empty space and let things happen organically. the confidence just isn’t there.

Comment by Stacey on November 4, 2009 at 10:56 PM

I agree about bringing the ideas to the larger community but that I think comes after the beginning conversation. In my head I could outline the whole revolution but I was only dealing with the very first stage. I think to be able to reach the larger community you need to have some consensus on what you are saying to them.

Comment by Kat on November 5, 2009 at 01:19 PM

In the good tradition of Lori's open threads, this has nothing to do with the revolution.

I am exchanging emails with a mom whose child is such a perfectionist when it comes to writing - he wants his letters to look exactly like printed ones - that he doesn't want to write at all. I told her I am walking the same tightrope with Amie. Sometimes she wants to draw something so realistically, she will get very upset when of course (she's four) the result doesn't look exactly like the thing or photograph she is drawing from. Drawing is her anchor: it is what she loves to do, is praised for most often, what makes her happy again when she is upset or sad... Help! What to do?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2009 at 02:08 PM

stacey, my teachers and i (and i counted as both a parent and an educator!) used to sit around and wonder where the revolution should start. you seem to be suggesting it can/should start with parents. but in my experience that doesn’t work, because the wheels grind so slowly and parents stop caring when their children age up out of the system.

re: consensus on what you/we are saying — oy — yes.

i have some stuff i should send you about what they were doing in australia — the goals they set, etc. — and then they went out to do it in only a select number of test schools … and friends of my from au said they’d never even heard of it. and i think it petered out and wasn’t approved for wider distribution. i think the list of educational goals would delight you, as it did me.

kat, that is the tradition! :D

perfectionism … sigh. i’m familiar.

i wrote about it a little here:

and here:

(there’s a link there to some discussion we had in comments about this same issue.)

i don’t think there’s a magic cure for perfectionism. my older son is still a perfectionist. he still has ridiculous standards for his own work. i think it’s simply a personality trait or intellectual tendency that needs work — something to acknowledge, discuss, and try to curb as much as possible.

i have a quote somewhere around here by a writer that says what stops most people from becoming writers is that early stage when the work they produce doesn’t come anywhere close to the work they admire — basically, you have to be able to get through that stage and realize that you are going to improve slowly but surely in order to really become a writer. you can’t just skip to being what you know is excellent.

that is true of everything in life, and i think it’s one of those life lessons we need to impart to our children. it’s okay to recognize that their work isn’t where they envision it could be. (i don’t think it helps to argue, “no! your thing is GREAT!” when the child is adamant that it isn’t what s/he expects/wants/demands.) and the only way we get better is by working on it. it’s easy to share lessons from our own lives, since truly this is the only way we learned how to do anything well ourselves.

for the child who won’t write, i would point out (nicely) that he won’t ever be able to write the way he wants to write if he doesn’t practice. that he has that ability but it needs to be developed — just like a basketball player can’t play like michael jordan until he puts in his hours on the court.

for amie, we’ve had some success (with my son and with children at school) exposing them to a wide variety of artists’ works and talking about how they draw things differently — birds, flowers, people, etc.

but that probably won’t shake her conviction that her own drawing simply doesn’t look the way she wants it to — for that, i think you have to return to the conversation about practice, and developing, and the more you draw the better you draw, and that’s true for every single person no matter how old they are.

Comment by Stacey on November 5, 2009 at 03:24 PM

I was part of a wonderful school (first as a student teacher and then as a teacher) that had been started by parents. You actually describe the problem we had the school was started and conceived by a group of energetic parents but as their children graduated (or in many cases decided to school themselves) the school lost it's drive. This I think has to do with the other thing you mentioned, how the parents need to go to the larger community with their ideas, if they had done that the next generation of students who were just families who chose the school, rather than being very involved. Sadly, by the last year I worked there the school had basically turned into a school for at risk students (it was a charter school and without strong family support the district started to "use" the school as it wanted.

I do find it so what reassuring that the original concept behind charter schools is to fill an educational need that the parents see that the school are not meeting in hope of having the traditional schools incorporating some of the concepts being used if they are successful. Unfortunately successful varies by who is looking at it.

Comment by Bethe on November 5, 2009 at 08:32 PM

I wrote about this piece last spring -- SKR is so powerful, but I fear Arne Duncan et al are still not listening. The race to nowhere is still on. Sigh. Here is the post I wrote at The Grass Stain Guru:

Cheers- Bethe @balmeras

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2009 at 08:55 PM

bethe, i don’t know if you caught it but the cnn piece is new, with sir ken talking about the response to his original TED talk. interesting.

i agree re: arne duncan — i was really disappointed at his appointment and i don’t see anything different happening in education in the near to medium future. frustrating.

Comment by Karen on November 6, 2009 at 05:05 AM

So true! And this quote that I read somewhere I think sums up well what happens when we try to make learning linear and/or mechanical - in other words, when we take the 'play' out of learning: "The opposite of play is not work. It is depression."

I have perfectionist, too, and one thing that I've found that helps him is to see the writing and drawings of the children he knows... he has a great respect for comics, lyrics, and other stuff that's handwritten by his buddies, and I think seeing their imperfections has made it easier for him to realize that it is okay to make mistakes.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 6, 2009 at 02:35 PM

karen, i love that quote. definitely the side of the coin that has play and humor and ease is opposite the depression side.

interesting that comparing his work with others helps your perfectionist; i have known pefectionist children who become über-frustrated by comparing themselves with others. if you are with a wide enough range of children, it should give a more realistic view of what other children your age are producing, though. perfectionists tend to compare themselves against what they see in their mind’s eye — that ideal outcome they are always after.

being part of a community that values work (creating works of art, writing, drawing, building, solving problems) and that enthusiastically shares their work is a very valuable thing — for kids and adults. whether that community is a school or a homeschool group or a family.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on November 6, 2009 at 03:09 PM

Man, I was dealing with that "mind's eye" thing yesterday. Annika wants to draw, for example, eyes that are mirror images of each other (she's 7). Her brother is 11 and a fairly accomplished artist. "Why is Gunnar so great at everything and I'm nooooooot?" No amount of discussion about practice, age differences, Gunnar showing her work from when he was 7, etc. will dissuade her from being convinced that she is already a failed artist. Oh, and then she'll pull up the Disney site to show me that the *Disney artists* can draw perfect eyes (of course with the tools of computer graphics, but those are just pesky details).

No suggestions or ideas. Just feeling the perfectionist pain.

Comment by Barbara in NC on November 6, 2009 at 03:30 PM

My 8 y.o. isn't really a perfectionist, but she can get very frustrated when things don't come quickly and easily. It's one of the reasons that we've stuck with piano, in spite of some ups and downs--it's given her the chance to experience what can happen when you practice. She'll often take one look at a piece and say, "That's too hard, I can't play that!" but if I sit with her and calmly help her break it down into smaller steps, she can work on it and learn to play it--which is immensely satisfying, of course. I do think the lessons here have helped carry over to other areas of her life and work.

My husband had a great insight about this process--when Maggie is frustrated, she will often yell at us and there can be a lot of strum and drang as she metaphorically bangs her head against the wall. I haven't tended to have much patience with this, but Steve suggested that I try and just let it go. Let her rant and carry on as she needs to as she moves through her frustration. And he was so right--if I can just ride the wave with her, she can get past it more quickly. Rather than demand "mature" behavior (i.e. not fussing at your mother who's just trying to help you), I sit with her, absorb some of those big feelings, and help her move forward when she's ready.

I guess we're both learning patience!!

Comment by nancy on November 6, 2009 at 09:08 PM

"creativity should have the same importance as literacy"
"frightened to be wrong by adulthood"
"educated out of creativity"
these are some points i jotted down after listening to his talk, very inspiring.
thanks for sharing.

Comment by Karen on November 7, 2009 at 03:43 AM

Hey Lori,
You're right - it is unusual that my perfectionist takes solace in the 'imperfect' work of his friends. I think it works for him because (as you brought up in your response to my comment) it puts him in a community of makers, rather than one of viewers. There is no way that his work is going to look like something he's seen in a museum, but he stands a fair chance of measuring up within our community. Does that make any sense?
It makes me value our community all the more!

Comment by Lauren on November 7, 2009 at 04:41 PM

I agree that involving the broader community in educational change is vital to its cause.

If we want to involve the community, the learning that happens behind the walls of a school needs to be visible. The teachers' and childrens' thought processes need to be presented to the community in order to start really dialoguing and discussing our values as a community and our beliefs about childhood.

This is done very well by the educators in Reggio Emilia through documentation, which they admit is one of the most central themes in their philosophy.

I was there a few weeks ago, and have written on my blog about documentation as a means to involve the community:


Comment by Sarah Jackson on November 7, 2009 at 08:50 PM

Barbara - I bow down. I struggle with that a lot. Thank you for the reminder to let the frustration happen and move through it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2009 at 12:28 AM

stacey, yes, this is wisdom gathered from when i was part of a wonderful school (mine ;^) started by a parent (me ;^) … and we worked hard to try to connect with the community. but there is no avoiding the fact that every year you have a different community and it completely changes over every X years. so you are always starting over.

whether it’s one person or a small group who start and run a school, when they leave, it tends to fall apart. i find this to be generally true, and somewhere around here i have a quote from john holt expressing the same thing. he said that is why he recommended that people homeschool. ;^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2009 at 01:35 AM

barbara, lovely example with the music — and *so so true* about allowing them to feel their frustration and being patient while they work through it. this, to me, is part of helping children develop good habits of mind. demanding that they be mature or deny how they feel doesn’t work.

thank you, nancy ;^) xoxo

karen, that does make sense, and i meant to reply to barbara also something about how i feel our family has that kind of community — we are interested in doing a lot of different things, we are always exploring new interests and trying new things, and we talk about the whole process together. i think that makes for a community that values learning and slowly mastering new skills.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2009 at 01:38 AM

lauren, congratulations on your trip! :^)

Comment by Barbara in NC on November 8, 2009 at 12:42 PM

Oh Sarah, don't bow down to me! All of this is a work in progress, and I'm stumbling every day. But I feel lucky to have the time and space to learn as I go with my great kids teaching me new things all the time.

Comment by Anne Thrall-Nash on November 13, 2009 at 06:40 PM

Lori, first thank you so much for these discussions. I have a 2 year old and am flabbergasted to already be coming up against the problem of overscheduled children and not being able to schedule free playtime with even one of my son's little friends. And the parents are all so sincere in wanting to do the "best" for their kids and expose them to all this stuff. And my son asks me about his friends and I have to tell him they're busy and can't play. At 2! It's just nuts.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 13, 2009 at 11:00 PM

anne, yes! we have always been people who do a bare minimum (or zero) organized activities and lead very relaxed lives — but it’s hard to find other who do the same! a lot of my boys’ friends are in tons of activities (both traditionally schooled and homeschooled kids) and have full schedules; they are rarely available to just .. play!

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