What I’ve been reading
“If you don’t take the time to get really clear about exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, then you’re forever doomed to spend your life achieving the goals of those who do.” — Steve Pavlina, Personal Development for Smart People
Here’s the problem in a nutshell: School isn’t really for learning, and in fact, it inhibits our kids’ ability to learn.
Since learning well is the foundation to all success in life, that is no small problem.
“This was a particularly depressing visit, not because it was atypical, but because of how typical it is…
Consider the following two examples:
A ‘regular’ (non-honors) English class. Thirty-six students are sitting in rows in a darkened classroom at 10:00 AM. The teacher is showing final minutes of a video on a 1950s classic high school text. As I scan the rows, I see four students asleep with earbuds in place. Six students in the middle facing the teacher are carrying on a conversation having nothing to do with the subject of the class over the top of the teacher’s attempts to engage the class in a discussion. Four students sitting in the back are engaged in a valiant attempt to salvage the discussion by responding to the teacher’s questions. The teacher calls on these four students repeatedly. The remainder of the class sits silently, staring into space, waiting for the bell to ring.
An ‘honors’ English class. Thirty-one students are sitting in rows in a brightly-lit classroom, each with a fat three-ring notebook. By their dress, their ease of interaction, their casual demeanor of privilege, it is clear these are the ‘chosen’ students. The topic of discussion for the class is how to organize the notebook into a portfolio–which papers and quizzes go into which tabs, where to put teacher comments, what to do with class notes, etc. It is clear that the students are having a good time doing this; it is also clear that they have written a total of about ten pages of prose between January and May; and it is clear that the main reason they are having a good time is that they are forestalling whatever the ‘work’ is for that day. After 45 minutes of excruciatingly detailed, rule-oriented discussion of what goes where in the portfolio, the teacher suggests that the students spend the next 40 minutes silently reading a section of the text.
I wish these were exceptional examples. They are not. I wish that the teachers and administrators who were observing classrooms with me were as outraged by what we saw as I was. They were not.”
“Mostly what I see in my visits to middle and upper grades classrooms are examples of what of Michael Sedlack, et al. (1986), long-ago characterized as ‘the bargain’ — ‘you give me order and attendance, I’ll give you passing grades and [minimal] homework.’
The only other public institution in our society that works this way, with this degree of focus and dedication, is the prison system. ”
“I wonder…whether [they] are aware of what classrooms in American secondary schools actually look like — the dismal, glacial, adult-centered, congenially authoritarian, mindless soup in which our children spend the bulk of their days.
I wonder whether people are aware of how robust the old ‘bargain’ is in the face of so-called ‘high stakes accountability’; how little the monolithic beast of American secondary education has been affected by the bright, high-minded optimism of professional reformers; how little the exemplars that professional reformers use to justify their role in society have actually affected the lives of adolescents.” — What Would Happen If We Let Them Go?
I wonder, too, whether parents really have a good grasp of what school looks like today. An professor of education told me that part of her job is observing student teachers who are placed in local schools. She is horrified by what she sees there. She says if her children were still in school, she would pull them out and homeschool them.
I gave a talk to a university class of elementary education students. They behaved exactly the same as the “chosen” students in the quote above. Out of two dozen students, two or maybe three were leaning forward, paying close attention, wanting to learn. The others were killing time until the bell rang. And they are our kids’ future teachers.
Last week I wrote:
Why are teens so uninterested in their own future? Perhaps because they’re so entirely uninterested in their present.
As a person who loves to learn and has two teen sons who love to learn — and as a person who has owned a school and spent seven years trying to create the optimal environment for learning — this makes me pull my hair out. How can this be happening and why don’t we change it?
Here’s a clue:
“[A 10th-grade girl] asked me:
‘I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?’
I was floored. All I could think as I talked to this poor girl is ‘America, you’re doing it wrong.’
I was 15 in 10th grade. If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time?”
“Do we want a society that dreams new things and then makes them happen? I hear that we do, every time I hear a teacher, or a politician, give a speech. So why are we trying so hard to teach the next generation to do the exact opposite?” — Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail
It’s almost like this student doesn’t realize that school is for learning.
“Students are rational beings. They know that school is about grades, not learning.”
“If schools were for learning rather than showing off, we would design them entirely differently.” — Schools Are Good for Showing Off, Not for Learning
Everywhere I turn these days, people are writing about Carol Dweck and the growth mindset. I am a big fan of Dweck and have been written about her a lot. But it is very evident that the way we are organizing education today is not for a growth mindset. This 10th-grader is not focused on growth. She is focused on protecting herself from failure.
Think about the way we punish schools for not meeting benchmarks for standardized test scores and you know our schools are not focused on growth. They are focused on protecting themselves.
So what do we do? Lots of suggestions here:
“Realize that Out of School time tends to be more inspiring and powerful to lead to a life of creativity than school time.
Innovators tend to take responsibility for their own learning when they are on their own time.”
“Show how getting Out of One’s Comfort Zone, taking risks, persevering and being energized by failure builds character and stamina which leads to breakthrough ideas.”“Have Adults encourage, support, and listen to children to better evoke a constant sense of wonder. Aunts, uncles, teachers, parents, friends of parents and even siblings who listen and mentor are more valuable than those who provide too much structure and rules that want students to be someone they are not.” — How to Inspire the Next Generation of Creative Thinkers and Innovators
“Ryan Orbuch, 16 years old, rolled a suitcase to the front door of his family’s house in Boulder, Colo., on a Friday morning a year ago. He was headed for the bus stop, then the airport, then Texas.
‘I’m going,’ he told his mother. ‘You can’t stop me.’
Stacey Stern, his mother, wondered if he was right. “I briefly thought: Do I have him arrested at the gate?”
But the truth was, she felt conflicted. Should she stop her son from going on his first business trip?”
“The college-or-not debate neglects other questions that high school students like Ryan and Louis and their families are wrestling with now: Go to class or on a business trip? Do grades still matter? What do you do with $20,000 when you’re 15? And when the money rolls in, what happens to parental control?
‘Things used to be linear. You went to a good school and you got a good job, and that was the societally acceptable thing to do,’ said Ms. Stern, Ryan’s mother, who was a straight-A student and is a graduate of Duke University.
Now, she said, ‘there is no rule book.’” — The Youngest Technorati
“Louis is committed to college, a view that solidified in the fall, partly after bearing witness to the experience of friends in the working world. ‘Their Facebook posts are all about work,’ he said. ‘Their lives don’t seem that interesting.’”
“He applied to Carnegie Mellon. He also applied to Georgia Tech, without parental prompting. It wasn’t lost on his father that both schools were far from Silicon Valley.
Louis said he wants ‘the full college experience.’ It’s almost as if he’s been given the gift of seeing an alternate version of his life — that of a passionate developer who leaps into the tech fray — and realizes that the real world is a lot of work.
‘I want to have fun,’ he said. ‘I still feel like a kid — kind of.’”
Kane Sarhan…said that 20 percent of [teen] interns [in his program], making $25,000 a year, come directly from high school. But he also encourages college for many people, saying it’s the rare teenager who is ready for the “work, motivation and time” that it takes to go directly into the real world.
The longer it takes to get our footing in work, the more likely we are to become, as one journalist put it, “different and damaged.” Research on underemployed twentysomethings tells us that those who are underemployed for as little as nine months tend to be more depressed and less motivated than their peers — than even their unemployed peers. … Twentysomething underemployment is associated with heavy drinking and depression in middle age even after becoming regulrly employed.
Twentysomethings who think they have until later to leave unemployment or underemployment miss out on moving ahead while they are still traveling light. No matter how smoothly this goes, late bloomers will likely never close the gap between themselves and those who got started earlier. … Midlife is when we may realize that our twentysomething choices cannot be undone.
It is almost a relief to imagine that these years aren’t real, that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count. But a career spent studying adult development tells me this is far from true. And years of listening closely to clients and students tells me that, deep down, twentysomethings want to be taken seriously, and they want their lives to be taken seriously. They want to know what they do matters — and it does. — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter
I know you don’t need me to connect the dots for you, but let’s just say it out loud: As important as it is to not waste your twenties, it’s just as important to not waste your teen years.
This is a time when kids have the most freedom to learn and try and explore and do. And instead of encouraging them to make the absolute most of it — instead of filling that time with meaningful work and real experiences — we tell them to focus on getting good grades. Protect their GPA. Build a resume to get into the best possible college so they can enjoy a four- or five-year vacation before they have to face the real world and real work. If the economy’s down, that’s okay — throw a graduate degree on there as well. A few more years before reality has to set in.
If we really believe these incredibly negative things about life — that work is bad and fun is good and never the twain shall meet, that grades are more important than learning, that learning ends as soon as you get your diploma — then no wonder our kids are floundering.
There aren’t enough adults living lives that blend meaningful work and continuous learning. We somehow think our kids are going to spontaneously seek out something they’ve never experienced — a balanced life, challenging work, self-directed learning. But if they’ve never lived that way and they don’t know anyone who lives that way, how are they going to find that path and what is going to motivate them to walk it?
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass