Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Back then, I thought of myself as a leader. Since then, I have sometimes chosen to be a follower. Most of the time I just want to get out of the way. There are times when each of us will take these roles, depending on our situation, the people around us, and our choices.
I believe that sometimes a person has to decide to just Follow a Leader, within the bounds of morality, ethics, reason, and safety. You may pick your leader because of that person's knowledge, experience, and wisdom, or you may pick that person because you need a job. You shouldn't do anything that is not moral, etc., but sometimes you may have to do something that is tedious, silly, or a waste of time, because you have decided to follow the leader and you are working on the assumption the leader knows something you don't know. Even if it's where the payroll checks are.
I am not a great follower, which has made me a not so hot employee or student at times. I am hard working, skilled, knowledgeable; but sometimes I'm a pain in the patootie, bordering on insubordinate. I have learned that this is not only bad for me, it is bad for the job, the class or organization.
Being a not so hot follower has made it hard for me to be a great leader. It is hard for me to expect others to follow. I don't want to make decisions, I want to consult and communicate and carry one until everyone agrees or until Hell freezes over, which usually comes first.
Guess what? Sometimes a leader has to lead.
I learned this as a parent fairly early. Little kids need a parent to provide safe, orderly structure in order to feel safe exploring the world. They know you have their back. They know you won't let them go too far, so they can try to see what too far is. They know that if they fall, you will help them up. They don't want to discuss their options. They don't you to be more afraid than they are. They want you to lead.
Even adults want to feel safe so that they can explore and grow. I want to work in an office where the boss knows what the goals, standards of behavior, and expectations are, and expresses them clearly and consistently. I want to have some input in forming and freedom in how to meet these goals and expectations, but I want to know what's going on. I want to be safe so that I can do my job and not worry about whether the light bill will by paid.
A good leader leads, confidently setting up a framework in which each good follower can do his or her best work, so that the mutually defined goals of the organization can be met. How does that sound?
Friday, December 14, 2007
My son announced that the founder of Virginia was "G. Piper." Since that didn't sound right to me (I was thinking John somebody or Pocahontas), I asked where he found that. He pointed to the computer screen. When he typed "founder Virginia" into Google, I got the "Virginia G. Piper Foundation" with a lovely photograph of their founder, Virginia G. Piper. I helped him sort through the other foundations founded by people named Virginia, offers for visits to historic Jamestown (which is not a bad thing to do), and websites announcing that Virginia is for lovers. Once we found the historic sites, we had to sort through a variety of reading and accuracy levels to get to some basic information. Then he had at it and made a nice little project.
My father has always said that it's not as important to know things as it is to know where & how to find things.
Today, anything you want to find is on the World Wide Web, where information is available in mind boggling quantities at mind boggling speeds. It is chock full of information of varying quality, viewpoint, and purpose. In reading some websites' lists of facts, you might wonder if the author missed kindergarten on the day the teacher talked about "truth" and "make-believe." And while I don't necessarily believe that all I need to know I learned in kindergarten, I do think that's a pretty important life skill.
Not only do we need to know where to find things, we need to know how to evaluate and place all of these things we find. In order to do that, we need a knowledge base. We need to have some basic information stored in order to evaluate other things and place them in our mind maps.
But formal education can't teach us everything there is to know in the world, and it would be a disservice to all of us to try. Formal education should be used to teach us the basic skills we need to survive and thrive as citizens, humans, and active learners. Those skills include reading, writing, and arithmetic, but just as basic: investigating, evaluating, and formulating the knowledge in a useful way.
In addition, we need to be able to apply the knowledge and skills at the appropriate times. No, not every war is like Vietnam; not every conservative is a Nazi; not every nationalist is a Fascist. But who has learned to evaluate the differences and similarities and use the terms and concepts appropriately.
On a more basic level, can we do math in the kitchen? Can we use geometry to figure out how much mulch to get for the garden? Can we remember that if a closed can of Coca-cola is put in the freezer, it will explode, and why? Can we decide what brand of power drink to buy or who to vote for for president by evaluating more than 30 second commercials? Can we think?
Once we think we know, can we present our ideas in a reasonable, persuasive manner? Can we listen to others and continue the process of evaluation and adaptation?
Learning goes on long after the final bubble has been blackened. Are our schools helping us become learners for life?
And if that is the goal, how do we evaluate that is a way that is consistent and quantifiable, which is and should be required in public education?
But that is another question, and I really don't have the answer to that one. I'm open to suggestions.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
While there have always been parents who make other parents crazy --- the ones who really did give their kids a pony, the ones who made homemade cupcakes with each child's name on it for Valentine's day, the ones who dressed all of their children in coordinating outfits on picture day --- today's parents have taken things to new heights of irritating.
In the old days, people had lots of children and they didn't have time to think about how to maximize the self-actualization of each of their children. They just worked, raised children and pigs, and moved on. Life began when the last kid got married and the dog died.
I blame women's lib. Seriously. I'm a feminist. But when we asked men to take part in parenting, we should have known they would turn it into a competitive event.
First they made it a verb. "What cha doing this weekend, Bo?" "I'm Parenting." "Cool. Parent down!"
Then they made rules, with goals and objectives, and measurable standards of success.
It's not just the men, of course. Women who decided not to have children in their twenties also add to the problem.
If you have children in your twenties, you don't have a problem. You just don't have problems in your twenties. You are perfect and invincible. Things work out.
Women who didn't have children in their twenties went to work in places that had goals and objectives and measurable standards of success. They liked it. When they had children, they decided to keep control by using the skills and strategies that had made them successful at work.
Since children aren't that easy to control, these men and women became frustrated. They started worrying. They blamed other parents who didn't hold their children to their measurable standards. They took over the PTAs. They pushed for legislation so that all children would have goals and objectives and measurable standards of success. They got rid of recess. They started global warming. (OK, that's probably not fair.)
Since I am inherently lazy, I mean laid-back, I have resisted the parenting strategies that go beyond reading to my child and doing an occasional papier-mache project.
That doesn't mean the Competitive Parenting Team hasn't made it harder to be a parent. In the great "No child left behind" battle, my children were left behind. They didn't get on the SAT team. They didn't get training in test taking strategies. Although some of their teachers were exceptional, I think that was an oversight. Or maybe what I like in a teacher isn't what the CPT likes and my kids got lucky. Even though they are "gifted and talented," they graduated "Thank the Lawdie."
My children are bright, kind, creative, polite even when I'm not there, funny, and smart. I take very little credit for any of that. I take credit only for their good looks.
I am not a perfect parent, but I am a perfectly fine parent. And that's where it has to stay.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
The truth is, Bob and I are also about green, by which we mean "money." Our electric bill was 1/3 of what it usually is. When I got it, I told Bob to call and find out what was wrong. Then I realized that was really really stupid, so I paid it and shut up.
When the temperature went below 85º and the humidity went below 90%, we turned off the air conditioner and opened the windows. We liked the low bill. So now that it is getting chilly, we are setting the thermostat on 63º and passing out socks.
We have turned into our parents. And our grandparents.
We always called them cheap, when in fact, they were green.
My great aunt would run water into a pitcher while waiting for it to run hot. In her house, that meant a lot of water. She'd use the water in the pitcher to make lemonade or water her plants, whatever. My grandmother saved aluminum foil to reuse. She also rinsed plastic wrap and stuck in on the side of the fridge to reuse, which I still think is gross. My mom washed plastic disposable plates. Several times.
So now, in the name of green, we are recycling, reusing, reinventing the wheel. My youngest son yells at me if I run water while I brush my teeth. Everyone recycles. We are thinking of starting a compost pile. But most of all, we are walking around in cute little socks and sweaters and laughing at our electric bill.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
My parents would have liked the schools to teach about sex. My experience with sex education in school was particularly painful. I was listening to my fifth grade teacher explain genetic theory to us, when something came over me. An uncontrollable urge to ask a question. I hadn't had an uncontrollable urge to ask a question since third grade, when I asked on what day God made the dinosaurs. That experience taught me to control my questioning urges. But this day, I raised my hand and said, "I understand how babies get the mommy genes, but how do they get the daddy genes?"
There was complete silence. The teacher glared at me, then started sputtering. The kids begin to snicker. A friend later told me that her mother had given her THE TALK the weekend before. It would appear that many parents had given THE TALK already. My Mom didn't get the memo. Or she sent it back corrected, as she often did.
So, I went home and about a month later, asked Mom the same question. She sputtered a little and said she couldn't tell me then, because my brother & sister were in the room. Another week or so later, my parents gave me a book.
The book was published by the Catholic Church. It was called "Take the High Road." The cover had some sort of colorful seventies thing on it. I took the book and read it. Well, most of it. There was a chapter called "For Boys," which I didn't read since I'm not a boy. Duh. The chapter called "For Girls" had the other internal organs and the egg with big eyelashes. I learned you shouldn't go steady too early and that it's OK to have wet dreams. When Mom asked me what I learned, I said you shouldn't go steady too early. I didn't know what wet dreams were, but I had a feeling Mom wouldn't want to talk about them.
Years later, I discovered (or my brother & sister discovered) that all of my missing information was in the chapter called "For Boys." It had pictures of internal organs and sperm that looked like tadpoles. The tadpole and eye-lashed egg never met.
I learned about sex in the upstairs bathroom with a friend who my mother didn't really like. This friend, later voted "girl most likely to" at her high school, told me what men and women do, then primly informed me that she was going to make her husband do it to her when she was asleep. My reaction was, "Not MY parents." I think that's typical.
So I'm all for sex education in school. I think they do better now than "I am Joe's testicle" (remember those films?). Values related to sex should be taught at home, of course. But parents need to teach all kinds of things at home. The school is supplying knowledge, skills, and training. Families, churches, communities need to help kids decide what to do with all of that stuff.
Sex education in school and at home are not mutually exclusive. Schools don't let parents off the hook, but they can supply teachers who are better equipped to teach.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
(The Arizona Star http://www.blogger.com/www.azstarnet.com/news/140574)
First of all, all public schools are not alike. All private schools are not alike. The study presents an aggregate of test results for all schools all over the country. Private schools range from high class prep schools for the scions of the very wealthy to modern day segregation academies that meet in the basement of the Church of the Self-Righteous Holier Than Thou Better Looking Christians. Many charter schools and alternative public schools concentrate on troubled students. Public schools serve different student populations, even within the same city.
Second, all students are not alike. Race, socio-economics, and culture all play a roll in students' success. Ontop of that, each child has his or her own learning style. Across the board, students with parents or other adults who care about their education do better than those without the support and respect for education.
Third, even if private schools are better than public schools (which I'm not conceding), vouchers won't help.
Private schools don't have to serve all children, and they won't. If a kid doesn't behave or achieve in a private school, they can and will kick him out. Public schools can't do that without great cause. In the old days, most kids dropped out by 6th grade. Now we are trying to educate more kids for a longer time. Public schools don't give up on kids, and that's a good thing.
Private schools cost a lot more than $1000 a year. A tax credit, even a refundable one, isn't going to help a family that can't come up with the tuition up front.
Public schools need money to serve students well. As I've said before, throw money at the right places. Throw money at the faculty and staff of schools. Trust them to know their children and families and teach them well. Hold them to tough but reasonable standards. And remember that they are teaching everyone.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
But just because something CAN be done doesn't mean it SHOULD be done. What is the point? I'd rather spend time kissing and loving the babies rather than waiting for them to pee. That isn't potty training, of course, it's parent training, but I think maybe that's the point. Do they believe children should live in a world without conflict, discomfort or reality? That can't be a good thing. Think what a shock middle school will be.
I consider myself to be an expert on potty training. I have three sons, none of whom wear diapers.
With our oldest son, we read all of the literature on potty training. We listened to Bob's mother, who said all of her children were potty trained by 18 months. We listened to my mother who said they had a big stake in potty training in her day, because they had to wash diapers and she didn't have a washing machine.
We bought books with anatomically correct children using the potty and shared them with our son. We bought a cute, safe potty chair. We bought big boy pants with his favorite characters on them. Still, he refused to use the potty.
Finally, right before his 3rd birthday, on a rainy New Year's eve when I was pregnant with his brother, we ran out of diapers. I looked at my baby and said, "We are out of diapers. You have to use the potty." He said, "OK." And he used the potty from then on. He had no daytime accidents and very few night time accidents.
So, with sons two and three, we didn't worry. We ignored everyone who said they should be out of diapers by 18 months. We gave them books and potties and big boy pants. And they potty trained themselves when they were ready, around three.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Several people have commented on the wisdom of a computer geek lecturing America on education. Most involved ad hominem attacks on Microsoft (is that ad hominem or ad computeriem?). Since I'm pretty sure that if I insult Microsoft, my computer will crash, I won't go there. However, I will address the basic ideas he put forth.
Testing. Several years ago a SC House member whose name I forgot said that putting more and more tests in the school system without doing anything else is like taking a sick person's temperature every couple of hours without giving them any treatment. Testing, which should be called assessment, is used to find out what needs to be improved. If programs aren't put in place to implement improvement, the test scores aren't going to improve. Duh.
Phonics. Why do people love phonics? The word itself shows the deficiency of phonics. English isn't a phonetic-friendly language. Maybe we should change our official language to Spanish. At least the pronunciation is consistent.
I think people like phonics because it lends itself to games and worksheets and things any bozo can look at and say "cool, I can read." As my son's teacher Chris said, like spelling bees and geography bees, it's a microwave teaching method. Pop it in and 2 minutes later your kid can spell Azerbaijan and place it on the map. There is no logic, no investigation, no relevance.
Phonics is one tool in a teacher's bag of tricks. That bag is full of his or her knowledge, skills, and experiences as a professional teacher. And a good teacher knows when to use each tool, just as a mechanic knows which wrench to use and a doctor knows which medicine to use.
I really don't understand why people tend to disregard the professionalism of teachers. Sure, we are all experts on education, to the extent that we are all educated to some degree. But we all have bodies, yet we don't think we're experts on anatomy.
To improve education, we need to make some improvements that work. We need to throw money in the right direction instead of at consultants and sooth-sayers. We need to pay teachers what they are worth so we can expect excellent, caring, well-educated teachers. Sure, some people will decide to teach simply because of the big bucks, but they won't last. Why do we worry about that anyway? Have you ever heard anyone say, "We shouldn't pay doctors too much or people will go into the profession just for the money"? Do you want a doctor who is just in it for the money?
We need smaller classes so that these professional teachers can meet the needs of each child. People learn in different ways, but it is hard to teach to the individual in a class that is too large.
We need to encourage parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and next-door-neighbors to take part in children's learning. Some people have more time than others, but everyone can express concern and interest in their children's education. When families are welcomed and shown how to help their children, they become great assets to excellent education. The difference between CSI and other public schools is that every child has active family members, and everyone at CSI cares about everyone else. There is a support system that nurtures learning and growth.
Microwaves are wonderful things, but they don't make the best food. Quick fixes and cookie-cutter programs don't make for the best education either.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Charisma is one of those things that people want and fear. Charismatic leaders save our souls and encourage us to be greater than we think we can be; or they entice us to drink poisoned Kool-aid or kill millions innocent people. Definitions include the words "magic" and "charm." People who follow charismatic leaders feel powerless to do otherwise. There is something special, something extraordinary, something a little scary.
I am thinking about charisma because I have been affected by it, and I'd like to know why. Should I seek forgiveness for falling under the spell? Can I ward off charismatic influences in the future? What made me susceptible when others were not?
I am an intelligent, honest person. I don't claim to be a great judge of character because I tolerate most and enjoy being around quite of few people. I can take an irrational dislike to someone, but I often get over it. I can be mean and sarcastic, but I try not to be hurtful. (OK, that doesn't make sense.) I sometimes lead by accident, and I follow if I think the leader is reasonable, but mostly I like to stay out of the way and do what I need to do. So who cares, and what does this have to do with charisma?
I describe myself so you know I'm not a wide-eyed idiot, most of the time. But in this case, I met this person who immediately captured my loyalty and admiration. I became her biggest supporter, even when she crossed people I'd known longer and liked better. Friends told me that she did not have my best interest at heart, but I thought we had the same goal, so I didn't see why it mattered. "When it comes down to it, X will take care of X," a good friend said. I know, I know, but it doesn't matter because we all care about the children.
OK, so then she started spending organization money a little loosely (although never illegally) and I joked that she shouldn't be given a credit card. She laughed and said her husband wouldn't let her have one. And she kept buying stuff that was cool but not necessarily what we needed most. And I didn't go to other board members with my concern, because I thought she would be OK, and the board members were a little hard on her at times. I protected her. How could I expect such a brilliant, free-spirited innovator to worry about such mundane things as money?
I was wrong to let her get away with that. I should have gone to the board or the director, but I didn't. That is my fault. And, when a near crisis occurred, she told the board I was incompetent, among other things. I really can't tell you all she said because she never said them to me or in front of me. I'm not sure how I would defend myself, but I never got the chance. And as far as I am concerned, I am to blame. I am an intelligent adult. I cannot say that I was bewitched and my senses addled. I knew better.
So what have I learned? I don't know. I am still a rotten judge of character. I sometimes look at friends and allies and think, maybe she's lying like X did. Who would tell me? In future business endeavors with friends or strangers, I will insist on checks and balances, accountability.
But I will probably continue to be charmed, continue to drink the Kool-aid. I mean, who can fight the magic?
I am just grateful that the vast majority of people I call friends are honest, kind, caring people. Their strength, love, and faith will help me survive any unfortunate encounters in the future. And maybe, next time, I will listen when a True Friend warns me not to touch the Kool-aid.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Unlike that mother, I'm not really concerned about my compulsive reading. I'm a little concerned about my two older children not reading so much, but I try not to obsess on that either. I think reading is important for many reasons, and my sons do read when they need to, but they will probably not get the joy out of reading that I do. Of course, I won't get the joy they do out of video games or movies, either.
In the Minds of Boys, Michael Gurian & Kathy Stevens discuss how boys and girls deal with reading differently. Physiologically, girls are more tuned into words, tones, emotions. Boys focus on action and getting the information they need. This is not to say boys don't enjoy reading, it's just they come at it from a different place.
When I read, ideally and not upside down over someone's desk, I curl up on my bed, in the hammock, or in the bathtub (all no-no's according to the chiropractor) and lose myself in the story. Often, I "hear" the story as I read. It plays like a film in my head. Sometimes I'll start and realize that all of the commotion is only in my mind. I often get personally involved with characters, giving them advice and nagging them when they won't do what I expect. I imagine having coffee with them and talking about their lives. I know, I'm weird.
Gurian tells a story of a woman who started a family tradition of reading with her boys. She said they liked it, but when they got to be 2 or 3, they couldn't stay still. Using an observation by her father-in-law, she started letting the boys draw or play quietly while she read. She said they still got it, but they were able to concentrate on the story and not on concentrating.
I think I'll spend some time watching people read, to see what works for other people. What do you think?
Sunday, September 23, 2007
One of the founders of our charter school does a wonderful job of showing inquiry. She leads the audience in a mini-lesson which begins with people calling out names of animals and moves through many other steps to illustrate how exploration can be used in all aspects of education. There is the sorting, which can be scientific and mathematical; then the wondering why we picked these animals, which can bring in social studies and self-discovery; then of course, reading about the animals... language arts. My description is clear as mud, I realize. Hmm, maybe we should say, "you have to see it to believe it."
One of the most common misunderstandings of inquiry are that it is dippy "let children do what they want because they are so wonderful who needs manners?" type of method. Some people who believe this actually want this for their children. Fortunately, this isn't what inquiry is. I'm all for conversing with children, listening to their unique view points and watching their little brains work as they are exposed to new ideas. There is something magical about a child carefully explaining some important point to an adult, mimicking his parents' checking strategy: "Do you hear me? What did I say?" But I'm also a big fan of civility. I don't think that a child's creativity or inquisitiveness are stifled by being expected to follow rules, listen to others, not hit other children in the privates.
In fact, inquiry demands a child have self-control (which the teacher helps to develop), independence, and ownership of his/her education process. They have to be responsible. If they are struggling, they need to ask for help. If they are "bored" (a word my children are not allowed to say), they must reach into their inner resources and make their learning experience richer, deeper, and wider. The teachers are there to help, but it is ultimately the child who will be the life-long learner. There will be a learning hum in a classroom, and good noise that means children are interacting and learning. However, respect for self, others, and the world around us are essential elements of our school. Everyone is entitled to a safe place to learn the way he/she learns best. Parents who believe that their child should not be guided to civility, while believing other people's children should bow to their little darlings' needs, are very disappointed. I have two words for them: Home School.
Another misguided view, I believe, is that inquiry is an end all and be all. A teacher of inquiry draws on children's natural curiosity and guides him/her toward discovery. However, the most important thing is that children learn well, and to do that, teachers need to draw on many methods and techniques. As an example, many people are convinced "phonics" is the way to teach reading. At some point, whole word became the darling of educators. The thing is, people learn to read using different methods and strategies. Both phonics and whole word are tools, but not the only tool. Similarly, inquiry is a philosophy, a background for teaching, but the teacher will use many tools to facilitate it. Educators should use what works, not get hung up on labels and fads. Flexibility is expected of children and should be encouraged in teachers.
The third notion of inquiry, that makes me really angry, is that inquiry is only appropriate for upper middle class children (probably white, but the critics won't say that.) All children, no matter what their background, are curious explorers. Some have it beaten (figuratively if not literally) out of them earlier than others, but all have the spark. Children can learn when they are a part of their education, are taught the way they learn, have relevant curriculum, and are respected as learners. And even when the spark has been smothered by years of factory-based education, it can be reignited by caring, patient, and respectful teachers. We have seen it happen.
Our school emphasized a child's role in his/her education. The students see themselves as writers, scientists, readers, social scientists, and citizens of the world. They have the tools to learn no matter where they go. Their strength comes from their rediscovered inner resources and not outside props. We are young and still learners ourselves. There is far to go, and mistakes have been made. But like rational, civilized people, we have learned from our mistakes and seek to improve. And like rational, healthy people, we recognize the strengths and great things that have happened and are continuing to happen.
Public education is extremely important to the health and well-being of our society. I believe it's important to have educated, rational, civilized innovators as our current and future citizens. And I believe inquiry-based education is the way to get that.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
He said, "I understand what that song we are singing in Mr. Chris' class means now."
"What song?" I ask, turning the page of my book.
He went on to tell me that he watched the news and he could tell they weren't saying everything they knew. They were just telling us what they want us to hear.
I put my book down and looked at him. Wow.
I asked what he would do about this. He's thinking about it for now.
It's ok. He's nine and he's already figured out something many adults haven't gotten yet. He can have a little time to work on the solution.
One solution is the internet. It provides a forum for all sorts of ideas, factoids, rants and philosophical discussions. It's not perfect. Some believe that we tend to become more narrow minded when we are faced with too many options. We become confused and shut down, going for the familiar and safe. After all, who knows if what is on the internet is true? Any moron with a computer can have a blog (hence, the Matriarch's Corner).
How do we know what is accurate and what is fair? How do we know if something is an honest attempt to open a discussion or a come on for some nefarious purpose? Those of us who are honest and open tend to fall into traps because it doesn't occur to us that anyone would be dishonest. I have been hurt very badly recently by someone I believed was a good friend deserving of my loyalty, who turned out to be a pathological liar* who tried to ruin my reputation. I am more wary now, but still trusting, fool I am.
So what's the point?
This blog is an attempt to open discussion on all sorts of topics. I am most interested in education right now. I have helped to start a child-centered public charter school for K-5. The teaching method is inquiry-based, and as I said child-centered, which means, using children's natural curiosity, they are taught in the way they learn best, encouraged to explore, and given responsibility for themselves as readers, writers, scientists, mathematicians, and citizens of this state, country and world.
It is a wonderful school, diverse in the way Columbia, SC is diverse, with students from a broad range of economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. The difference between our children and the children in other public schools is that every single child has a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, guardian or whatever who decided to take the initiative and submit an application. At that point, the student body was chosen by lottery. These are some of the best kids (and families) I've ever met, which is not to say that kids in the other schools aren't great. One purpose of a charter school is to try innovative teaching methods to determine if they will succeed in a "regular" public school setting. We would like for more schools to use our methods, but we haven't proven ourselves yet. We will.
I will be writing more about this school, our trials and victories, as well as about other issues that are important to me. I would like a discussion, but I ask that it remain civilized and respectful of all people. That is what makes a democracy work.
*I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist and this is not a clinical opinion.