Tag Archives: learning

A Transformative Journey

I started 2016 thoroughly and utterly entrenched in a rut – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Life had kicked the shit out of me and here I sat battered and bruised, trying to catch my breath and make some sense of what was swirling around me. I was at (what I thought to be) the end of my Life’s Venture. Things had not turned out the way I thought they would, in fact, nowhere near it.

I had managed to battle my way through the ups and downs of starting my very own First Business and now, as I flew back to Seattle after spending a week with my family for the holidays in the Midwest, my mind was clear and calm for the first time in months. As we soared over clouds and blue sky, I pulled out a notebook and started writing. Writing about what to do next, who to be next, what got me to where I was, and what will get me to where I want to be – I asked myself, “Hey Claire, how’s it going? …So what do you want to do?”

I had come to realize that I had been naive, under-funded, and pretty much entirely on my own (for better or for worse) in the business venture – not the best situation to be in but I sure did learn a lot. And now I had to decide what my next steps were going to look like. I came to the answer as I wrote on; “Put your health and happiness first.” But what exactly did that mean?

“Put your health and happiness first.”

I threw out some suggestions like cooking school, travel, reading, art, knitting – finally opening up that Etsy shop with my mom that we’d been talking about for ages. I had watched some interesting TED Talks while I was home for the holidays, listlessly posted up on my parent’s couch. The playlist had been titled, “Talks to watch when you don’t know what to do with your life”. How appropriate.

The last video in the list was Stefan Sagmeister’s The Power of Time Off. In it, he talks about how he’s created a life in which he takes a few years off of his retirement years and intersperses them into his working years. Every 7 years or so, he says adios to work and takes a year off – a “sabbatical year.” He reads, writes, travels, and dreams. He gives himself mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual space to explore old and new ideas, thoughts, and emotions. Navel-gazing, as some would call it.

I told myself as I wrote, “You don’t need to do anything revolutionary.” Funny thing is, though, it wasn’t until recently did I realize that giving myself the gift of time, the gift of self-attention, and the gift of “navel-gazing” was actually a revolutionary act in itself.

“You don’t need to do anything revolutionary.”

We live in a culture in which it is expected that you embrace and fulfill the expectations of those around you. Especially for those who are coming from poorer backgrounds, we represent the culmination of our parents’ (and our parents’ parents’) hopes, dreams, and struggles. “We went through hell to give you this life of opportunity,” they say. “You better be glad that I’m not my mother,” they insist. “I’ve worked hard to give you this life, so you need to move away, go to a good school, and get a good job to show that all my effort has not been in vain.”

I had never taken a year off, hell, I had not even had a summer off since age 15. I started working that summer between 9th and 10th grade because that was, of course, what was expected of me. I once joked to a friend in college that my time during the school year was my “time off,” not my summers. My summers were when I worked my ass off. One summer in college, I remember working 3 different jobs while also going to German classes at the University of Cincinnati. So much for summer “breaks.”

The question on my mind as I sat writing was, “What do I have to prove?” Why couldn’t I put my health and happiness first? So that’s just what I did: I decided to cleanse and purify my life, reducing it down to the essentials. I needed to consolidate and de-clutter my life. I wanted to get rid of all of the physical, intangible, and emotional baggage that was weighing me down and getting in the way of me being the best version of me.

And so I set out on the journey of a lifetime; learning, reading, and absorbing everything on the way to becoming mindful, self-reliant, and self-sufficient. We are human becomings, not just human beings. I now see everything as a learning opportunity and I am constantly on the look out for new books, people, and ideas. And I would like to share what I’ve found out with you guys.

“We are human becomings, not just human beings.”

I’ve decided to start writing about my journey and the process of becoming self-aware. I’ve come across so many good books, articles, TED Talks, and the like that I can’t seem to stop talking about with everyone that I run into nowadays. I find myself continually recommending this book or that book, sharing articles on Facebook, or sending emails with links.

I will try to focus on one book (or topic) a month, so please stay tuned for some mind-blowing content. I sincerely hope you enjoy the ride as much as I have.

Love, Claire

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Filed under Bookmarks, Life Tips, Scribbles

Is a Hard Life Inherited?

Is a Hard Life Inherited?

AUG. 9, 2014

 

Nicholas Kristof

“YAMHILL, Ore. — ONE delusion common among America’s successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence.

In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with Little League sports, library cards and music lessons. They were programmed for success by the time they were zygotes.

Yet many are oblivious of their own advantages, and of other people’s disadvantages. The result is a meanspiritedness in the political world or, at best, a lack of empathy toward those struggling — partly explaining the hostility to state expansion of Medicaid, to long-term unemployment benefits, or to raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.

This has been on my mind because I’ve been visiting my hometown of Yamhill, Ore., a farming community that’s a window into the national crisis facing working-class men.

I love this little town, but the news is somber — and so different from the world I now inhabit in a middle-class suburb. A neighbor here just died of a heroin overdose; a friend was beaten up last night by her boyfriend; another friend got into a fistfight with his dad; a few more young men have disappeared into the maw of prison.

http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/08/10/sunday-review/0810KRISTOF/0810KRISTOF-articleLarge.jpg

Rick Goff, 64, of Yamhill, Ore., makes ends meet these days with odd jobs and his disability benefits. CreditSusan Seubert for The New York Times

One of my friends here, Rick Goff, 64, lean with a lined and weathered face and a short pigtail (maybe looking a bit like Willie Nelson), is representative of the travails of working-class America. Rick is immensely bright, and I suspect he could have been a lawyer, artist or university professor if his life had gotten off to a different start. But he grew up in a ramshackle home in a mire of disadvantage, and when he was 5 years old, his mom choked on a piece of bacon, staggered out to the yard and dropped dead.

“My dad just started walking down the driveway and kept walking,” Rick remembers.

His three siblings and he were raised by a grandmother, but money was tight. The children held jobs, churned the family cow’s milk into butter, and survived on what they could hunt and fish, without much regard for laws against poaching.

Despite having a first-class mind, Rick was fidgety and bored in school. “They said I was an overactive child,” he recalls. “Now they have name for it, A.D.H.D.”

A teacher or mentor could have made a positive difference with the right effort. Instead, when Rick was in the eighth grade, the principal decided to teach him that truancy was unacceptable — by suspending him from school for six months.

“I was thinking I get to go fishing, hang out in the woods,” he says. “That’s when I kind of figured out the system didn’t work.”

In the 10th grade, Rick dropped out of school and began working in lumber mills and auto shops to make ends meet. He said his girlfriend skipped town and left him with a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son to raise on his own.

Rick acknowledges his vices and accepts responsibility for plenty of mistakes: He smoked, drank too much for a time and abused drugs. He sometimes hung out with shady people, and he says he has been arrested about 30 times but never convicted of a felony. Some of his arrests were for trying to help other people, especially to protect women, by using his fists against bullies.

In that respect, Rick can actually be quite endearing. For instance, he vows that if anyone messes with my mother, he’ll kill that person.

A generation or two ago, Rick might have ended up with a stable family and in a well-paid union job, creating incentives for prudent behavior. Those jobs have evaporated, sometimes creating a vortex of hopelessness that leads to poor choices and becomes self-fulfilling.

There has been considerable progress in material standards over the decades. When I was a kid, there were still occasional neighbors living in shacks without electricity or plumbing, and that’s no longer the case. But the drug, incarceration, job and family instability problems seem worse.

Rick survives on disability (his hand was mashed in an accident) and odd jobs (some for my family). His health is frail, for he has had heart problems and kidney cancer that almost killed him two years ago.

Millions of poorly educated working-class men like him are today facing educational failure, difficulty finding good jobs, self-medication with meth or heroinprison records that make employment more difficult, hurdles forming stable families and, finally, early death.

Obviously, some people born into poverty manage to escape, and bravo to them. That tends to be easier when the constraint is just a low income, as opposed to other pathologies such as alcoholic, drug-addicted or indifferent parents or a neighborhood dominated by gangs (I would argue that the better index of disadvantage for a child is not family income, but how often the child is read to).

Too often wealthy people born on third base blithely criticize the poor for failing to hit home runs. The advantaged sometimes perceive empathy as a sign of muddle-headed weakness, rather than as a marker of civilization.

In effect, we have a class divide on top of a racial divide, creating a vastly uneven playing field, and one of its metrics is educational failure. High school dropouts are five times as likely as college graduates to earn the minimum wage or less, and 16.5 million workers would benefit directly from a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Yes, these men sometimes make bad choices. But just as wealthy Americans inherit opportunity, working-class men inherit adversity. As a result, they often miss out on three pillars of middle-class life: a job, marriage and a stable family, and seeing their children succeed.

ONE of Rick’s biggest regrets is that his son is in prison on drug-related offenses, while a daughter is in a halfway house recovering from heroin addiction.

The son just had a daughter who was born to a woman who has three other children, fathered by three other men. The odds are already stacked against that baby girl, just as they were against Rick himself.

This crisis in working-class America doesn’t get the attention it deserves, perhaps because most of us in the chattering class aren’t a part of it.

There are steps that could help, including a higher minimum wage, early childhood programs, and a focus on education as an escalator to opportunity. But the essential starting point is empathy.”

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So, hypothetica…

So, hypothetically… if I could take a bunch of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and read books at Barnes and Noble all day… and then be able to display my knowledge and understanding of the subject on an equal, if not higher, level than a college student… then, hypothetically… why is everyone paying for college again? (Answer: Because a college degree isn’t about education, it’s a class marker. If we cared about everyone being educated, we would accredit free online courses and allow people to achieve intellectual growth and success without going into debt. But that’s not what college is for. I mean, yeah in college you can travel and learn from amazing professors and start your own anything and have access to facilities and resources and money, yeah, college is all that. And I’m not discrediting anyone who loves college but… college, at the end of the day is a business. College is just one more big way to perpetuate the system. But I say f**k the system, man.) #FreeEducationForAll #LearnRadically

– Vanessa Newman (Washington, DC) – haikuology.tumblr.com

theblackcollegian.tumblr.com

(via theblackcollegian)

 

So true it hurts.

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June 26, 2014 · 12:08 am

A warning to college profs from a high school teacher

By Valerie Strauss, Published: February 9 at 12:00 pm

“For more than a decade now we have heard that the high-stakes testing obsession in K-12 education that began with the enactment of No Child Left Behind 11 years ago has resulted in high school graduates who don’t think as analytically or as broadly as they should because so much emphasis has been placed on passing standardized tests. Here, an award-winning high school teacher who just retired, Kenneth Bernstein, warns college professors what they are up against. Bernstein, who lives near Washington, D.C. serves as a peer reviewer for educational journals and publishers, and he is nationally known as the blogger “teacherken.” His e-mail address is kber@earthlink.net. This appeared inAcademe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors.

By Kenneth Bernstein

You are a college professor.

I have just retired as a high school teacher.

I have some bad news for you. In case you do not already see what is happening, I want to warn you of what to expect from the students who will be arriving in your classroom, even if you teach in a highly selective institution.

No Child Left Behind went into effect for the 2002–03 academic year, which means that America’s public schools have been operating under the pressures and constrictions imposed by that law for a decade. Since the testing requirements were imposed beginning in third grade, the students arriving in your institution have been subject to the full extent of the law’s requirements. While it is true that the U.S. Department of Education is now issuing waivers on some of the provisions of the law to certain states, those states must agree to other provisions that will have as deleterious an effect on real student learning as did No Child Left Behind—we have already seen that in public schools, most notably in high schools.

Troubling Assessments

My primary course as a teacher was government, and for the last seven years that included three or four (out of six) sections of Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics. My students, mostly tenth graders, were quite bright, but already I was seeing the impact of federal education policy on their learning and skills.

In many cases, students would arrive in our high school without having had meaningful social studies instruction, because even in states that tested social studies or science, the tests did not count for “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind. With test scores serving as the primary if not the sole measure of student performance and, increasingly, teacher evaluation, anything not being tested was given short shrift.

Further, most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays. Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure. Thus, students arriving in our high school lacked experience and knowledge about how to do the kinds of writing that are expected at higher levels of education.

Recognizing this, those of us in public schools do what we can to work on those higher-order skills, but we are limited. Remember, high schools also have tests—No Child Left Behind and its progeny (such as Race to the Top) require testing at least once in high school in reading and math. In Maryland, where I taught, those tests were the state’s High School Assessments in tenth-grade English and algebra (which some of our more gifted pupils had taken as early as eighth grade). High schools are also forced to focus on preparing students for tests, and that leads to a narrowing of what we can accomplish in our classrooms.

I mentioned that at least half my students were in AP classes. The explosive growth of these classes, driven in part by high school rankings like the yearly Challenge Indexcreated by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post, is also responsible for some of the problems you will encounter with students entering your institutions. The College Board did recognize that not everything being labeled as AP met the standards of a college-level course, so it required teachers to submit syllabi for approval to ensure a minimal degree of rigor, at least on paper. But many of the courses still focus on the AP exam, and that focus can be as detrimental to learning as the kinds of tests imposed under No Child Left Behind.

Let me use as an example my own AP course, U.S. Government and Politics. I served several times as a reader for the examination that follows the course. In that capacity, I read the constructed responses that make up half of the score of a student’s examination. I saw several problems.

First (and I acknowledge that I bear some culpability here), in the AP U.S. Government exam the constructed responses are called “free response questions” and are graded by a rubric that is concerned primarily with content and, to a lesser degree, argument. If a student hits the points on the rubric, he or she gets the points for that rubric. There is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words. Thus, a teacher might prepare the student to answer those questions in a format that is not good writing by any standard. If, as a teacher, you want your students to do their best, you have to have them practice what is effectively bad writing— no introduction, no conclusion, just hit the points of the rubric and provide the necessary factual support. Some critical thinkingmay be involved, at least, but the approach works against development of the kinds of writing that would be expected in a true college-level course in government and politics.

My students did well on those questions because we practiced bad writing. My teaching was not evaluated on the basis of how well my students did, but I felt I had a responsibility to prepare them for the examination in a way that could result in their obtaining college credit.

I would like to believe that I prepared them to think more critically and to present cogent arguments, but I could not simultaneously prepare them to do well on that portion of the test and teach them to write in a fashion that would properly serve them at higher levels of education.

Even during those times when I could assign work that required proper writing, I was limited in how much work I could do on their writing. I had too many students. In my final year, with four sections of Advanced Placement, I had 129 AP students (as well as an additional forty-six students in my other two classes). A teacher cannot possibly give that many students the individualized attention they need to improve their writing. Do the math. Imagine that I assign all my students a written exercise. Let’s assume that 160 actually turn it in. Let’s further assume that I am a fast reader, and I can read and correct papers at a rate of one every three minutes. That’s eight hours—for one assignment. If it takes a more realistic five minutes per paper, the total is more than thirteen hours.

Further, the AP course required that a huge amount of content be covered, meaning that too much effort is spent on learning information and perhaps insufficient time on wrestling with the material at a deeper level. I learned to balance these seemingly contradictory requirements. For much of the content I would give students summary information, sufficient to answer multiple-choice questions and to get some of the points on rubrics for the free response questions. That allowed me more time for class discussions and for relating events in the news to what we learned in class, making the class more engaging for the students and resulting in deeper learning because the discussions were relevant to their lives.

From what I saw from the free response questions I read, too many students in AP courses were not getting depth in their learning and lacked both the content knowledge and the ability to use what content knowledge they had.

The structure of testing has led to students arriving at our school without what previously would have been considered requisite background knowledge in social studies, but the problem is not limited to this field. Students often do not get exposure to art or music or other nontested subjects. In high-need schools, resources not directly related to testing are eliminated: at the time of the teachers’ strike last fall, 160 Chicago public schools had no libraries. Class sizes exceeded forty students—in elementary school.

A Teacher’s Plea

As a retired public school teacher, I believe I have a responsibility to offer a caution to college professors, or perhaps to make a plea.

Please do not blame those of us in public schools for how unprepared for higher education the students arriving at your institutions are. We have very little say in what is happening to public education. Even the most distinguished and honored among us have trouble getting our voices heard in the discussion about educational policy. The National Teacher of the Year is supposed to be the representative of America’s teachers—if he or she cannot get teachers’ voices included, imagine how difficult it is for the rest of us. That is why, if you have not seen it, I strongly urge you to read 2009 National Teacher of the Year Anthony Mullen’s famous blog post, “Teachers Should Be Seen and Not Heard.” After listening to noneducators bloviate about schools and teaching without once asking for his opinion, he was finally asked what he thought. He offered the following:

Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending noneducators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value. “I’m thinking about the current health-care debate,” I said. “And I am wondering if I will be asked to sit on a national committee charged with the task of creating a core curriculum of medical procedures to be used in hospital emergency rooms.”

The strange little man cocks his head and, suddenly, the fly on the wall has everyone’s attention.

“I realize that most people would think I am unqualified to sit on such a committee because I am not a doctor, I have never worked in an emergency room, and I have never treated a single patient. So what? Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.”

During my years in the classroom I tried to educate other adults about the realities of schools and students and teaching. I tried to help them understand the deleterious impact of policies that were being imposed on our public schools. I blogged, I wrote letters and op-eds for newspapers, and I spent a great deal of time speaking with and lobbying those in a position to influence policy, up to and including sitting members of the US House of Representatives and Senate and relevant members of their staffs. Ultimately, it was to little avail, because the drivers of the policies that are changing our schools—and thus increasingly presenting you with students ever less prepared for postsecondary academic work—are the wealthy corporations that profit from the policies they help define and the think tanks and activist organizations that have learned how to manipulate the levers of power, often to their own financial or ideological advantage.

If you, as a higher education professional, are concerned about the quality of students arriving at your institution, you have a responsibility to step up and speak out. You need to inform those creating the policies about the damage they are doing to our young people, and how they are undermining those institutions in which you labor to make a difference in the minds and the lives of the young people you teach as well as in the fields in which you do your research.

You should have a further selfish motivation. Those who have imposed the mindless and destructive patterns of misuse of tests to drive policy in K–12 education are already moving to impose it on higher education, at least in the case of the departments and schools of education that prepare teachers: they want to “rate” those departments by the test scores of the students taught by their graduates.

If you, as someone who teaches in the liberal arts or engineering or business, think that this development does not concern you, think again. It is not just that schools and colleges of education are major sources of revenue for colleges and universities—they are in fact often cash cows, which is why so many institutions lobby to be able initially to certify teachers and then to offer the courses (and degrees) required for continuing certification. If strictures like these can be imposed on schools and colleges of education, the time will be short before similar kinds of measure are imposed on other schools, including liberal arts, engineering, business, and conceivably even professional schools like medicine and law. If you teach either in a medical school or in programs that offer courses required as part of the pre-med curriculum, do you want the fatality rates of patients treated by the doctors whom you have taught to be used to judge your performance? If you think that won’t happen because you work at a private institution, remember that it is the rare private university that does not receive some form of funding from governments, local to national. Research grants are one example; the scholarships and loans used by students to attend your institution are another.

Let me end by offering my deepest apologies, not because I may have offended some of you by what I have written, but because even those of us who understood the problems that were being created were unable to do more to stop the damage to the education of our young people. Many of us tried. We entered teaching because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students who passed through our classrooms. Many of us are leaving sooner than we had planned because the policies already in effect and those now being implemented mean that we are increasingly restricted in how and what we teach.

Now you are seeing the results in the students arriving at your institutions. They may be very bright. But we have not been able to prepare them for the kind of intellectual work that you have every right to expect of them. It is for this that I apologize, even as I know in my heart that there was little more I could have done. Which is one reason I am no longer in the classroom.”

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August 8, 2013 · 7:15 pm

The Problem with ‘Boys Will Be Boys’

Posted: 05/06/2013 12:26 pm

 

“This post was originally published inRole/Reboot.

For months, every morning when my daughter was in preschool, I watched her construct an elaborate castle out of blocks, colorful plastic discs, bits of rope, ribbons and feathers, only to have the same little boy gleefully destroy it within seconds of its completion.

It was obvious that this little guy got massive joy out of doing this. The first time, my daughter just stared in amazement and I tried to help her rebuild. Second time: sadness. Third time: The Injustice! “Why did he do that again?” Fourth time: Royally Pissed Girl wanted to know why his parent didn’t stop him. And what about me? Fifth time: She was ready with some ideas about stopping him.

During the course of this socialization exercise, we tried several strategies and his parents engaged in conversation with us, but mostly me. One or the other of them would occasionally, always after the fact, smile and apologize as they whisked him away. Figuring out what they would say next became a fun game:

“You know! Boys will be boys!” 

“He’s just going through a phase!”

“He’s such a boy! He LOVES destroying things!”

“Oh my god! Girls and boys are SO different!”

“He. Just. Can’t. Help himself!”

No matter how many times he did it, they never swooped in BEFORE the morning’s live 3-D reenactment of “Invasion of AstroMonster.”

I tried to teach my daughter how to stop this from happening. She asked him politely not to do it. We talked about some things she might do. She moved where she built. She stood in his way. She built a stronger foundation to the castle, so that, if he did get to it, she wouldn’t have to rebuild the whole thing. In the meantime, I imagine his parents thinking, “What red-blooded boy wouldn’t knock it down?”

She built a beautiful, glittery castle in a public space.

It was so tempting.

He just couldn’t control himself and, being a boy, had violent inclinations.

She had to keep her building safe.

Her consent didn’t matter. Besides, it’s not like she made a big fuss when he knocked it down. It wasn’t a “legitimate” knocking over if she didn’t throw a tantrum.

His desire — for power, destruction, control, whatever- – was understandable.

Maybe she “shouldn’t have gone to preschool” at all. OR, better if she just kept her building activities to home.

I know it’s a lurid metaphor, but I taught my daughter the preschool block precursor of don’t “get raped” and this child, Boy #1, did not learn the preschool equivalent of “don’t rape.

Not once did his parents talk to him about invading another person’s space and claiming for his own purposes something that was not his to claim. Respect for my daughter and her work and words was not something he was learning. It was, to them, some kind of XY entitlement. How much of the boy’s behavior in coming years would be excused in these ways, be calibrated to meet these expectations and enforce the “rules” his parents kept repeating?

There was another boy who, similarly, decided to knock down her castle one day. When he did it his mother took him in hand, explained to him that it was not his to destroy, asked him how he thought my daughter felt after working so hard on her building and walked over with him so he could apologize. That probably wasn’t much fun for him, but he did not do it again.

There was a third child. He was really smart. He asked if he could knock her building down. She, beneficent ruler of all pre-circle-time castle construction, said yes… but only after she was done building it and said it was OK. They worked out a plan together and eventually he started building things with her and they would both knock the thing down with unadulterated joy. You can’t make this stuff up.

Take each of these three boys and consider what he might do when he’s older, say, at college, drunk at a party, mad at an ex-girlfriend who rebuffs him and uses words that she expects will be meaningful and respecte, “No, I don’t want to. Stop. Leave.”

Based on Boy #1’s parents blanket gender essentialisms and explanations, my daughter and the kids around her could easily have come to the conclusion that all boys went through this phase, are so different from girls, cannot control themselves, and love destroying things. But, that’s not the case. Some do. Some don’t. There are also lots of girls who are very interested in ripping things apart systematically.

I have one of those, too. “Destructo Girl” was our nickname for this daughter. Given the slightest opportunity,she would grab whatever toy either of her sisters was playing with and run, giddy with power, to the top of a landing only to dash whatever was in her hand down two flights of stairs. She beamed with joy as it clattered and shattered. But, we figured just because she could do it, didn’t mean she should and eventually she understood that, even if she wanted to and it was fun, she couldn’t continue to violate her sisters’ rights as citizens of our household.

“Girls will be girls?” I don’t think so. Nor do we say things like, “She just can’t help herself.” I have heard parents of daughters so inclined say things like, “She’s just so rambunctious!” But, in my experience, most people assume girls, as a class, can control themselves better, faster, more completely, and that boys have a harder time. There are many studies that indicate the reasons why this might be true, including the fact that we teach girls to delay gratification more and also to put their needs last. But, it does not appear to be innate.

Boy #1? Yes, maybe he had impulse control issues. Maybe it would take a lot of time to teach him about self-control, like Daughter #2. Maybe it would take even longer to teach him about personal boundaries and other people’s rights. Maybe he had genuine problems with all of those things that needed to be addressed in more thorough ways than morning time social interactions.

But that boy — and many others like him — never got the benefit of the doubt. This behavior gets rewarded or not, amplified or not, sanctioned tacitly or not. Both on individual and cultural levels. To be clear: I’m not saying that there is causality between knocking down blocks in preschool and assaulting people later. I am not saying that all boys with bad manners, poor impulse control, ADHD or other behavioral issues will be rapists or abuse spouses. I’m saying the world would be a different kind of place if children were taught to respect other children’s rights from the start. Rights to be, to do, to look certain ways and not others. And that teaching children these things has profound implications for society. Anyone who has studied or worked in the field of domestic violence can tell you that the “overarching attitudinal characteristic” of abusive men is entitlement and the belief that they have rights without responsibility to or respect for others. Similar attitudes feed our steady stream of sexual assault and rape.

In general, I’m a strict non-interventionist when it comes to other people’s children, unless I am explicitly responsible for them and their safety. But, one morning, when it really became clear that Boy #1’s parents were utterly useless as people who could teach their son to be aware of others, empathetic and yes, kinder, I picked him up and moved him away from my daughter. I asked him gently if he understood the word “forever.” He said yes. Putting him down, I added that he was to stay away from my daughter and her castles for that length of time. So far, so good.”

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June 14, 2013 · 4:11 pm

No Rich Child Left Behind

April 27, 2013, 6:15 pm
By SEAN F. REARDON
Javier Jaén
 

“Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.

The same pattern is evident in other, more tangible, measures of educational success, like college completion. In a study similar to mine, Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, economists at the University of Michigan, found that the proportion of students from upper-income families who earn a bachelor’s degree has increased by 18 percentage points over a 20-year period, while the completion rate of poor students has grown by only 4 points.

In a more recent study, my graduate students and I found that 15 percent of high-income students from the high school class of 2004 enrolled in a highly selective college or university, while fewer than 5 percent of middle-income and 2 percent of low-income students did.

These widening disparities are not confined to academic outcomes: new research by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam and his colleagues shows that the rich-poor gaps in student participation in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and church attendance have grown sharply as well.

In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of theAmerican Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?

We are still talking about this despite decades of clucking about the crisis in American education and wave after wave of school reform.Whatever we’ve been doing in our schools, it hasn’t reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families.

Part of knowing what we should do about this is understanding how and why these educational disparities are growing. For the past few years, alongside other scholars, I have been digging into historical data to understand just that. The results of this research don’t always match received wisdom or playground folklore.

The most potent development over the past three decades is that the test scores of children from high-income families have increased very rapidly. Before 1980, affluent students had little advantage over middle-class students in academic performance; most of the socioeconomic disparity in academics was between the middle class and the poor. But the rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor. Just as the incomes of the affluent have grown much more rapidly than those of the middle class over the last few decades, so, too, have most of the gains in educational success accrued to the children of the rich.

Before we can figure out what’s happening here, let’s dispel a few myths.

 

The income gap in academic achievement is not growing because the test scores of poor students are dropping or because our schools are in decline. In fact, average test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called Nation’s Report Card, have been rising — substantially in math and very slowly in reading — since the 1970s. The average 9-year-old today has math skills equal to those her parents had at age 11, a two-year improvement in a single generation. The gains are not as large in reading and they are not as large for older students, but there is no evidence that average test scores have declined over the last three decades for any age or economic group.

The widening income disparity in academic achievement is not a result of widening racial gaps in achievement, either. The achievement gaps between blacks and whites, and Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites have been narrowing slowly over the last two decades, trends that actually keep the yawning gap between higher- and lower-income students from getting even wider. If we look at the test scores of white students only, we find the same growing gap between high- and low-income children as we see in the population as a whole.

It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students. We know this because children from rich and poor families score very differently on school readiness tests when they enter kindergarten, and this gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school. There is some evidence that achievement gaps between high- and low-income students actually narrow during the nine-month school year, but they widen again in the summer months.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t important differences in quality between schools serving low- and high-income students — there certainly are — but they appear to do less to reinforce the trends than conventional wisdom would have us believe.

If not the usual suspects, what’s going on? It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.

My research suggests that one part of the explanation for this is rising income inequality. As you may have heard, the incomes of the rich have grown faster over the last 30 years than the incomes of the middle class and the poor. Money helps families provide cognitively stimulating experiences for their young children because it provides more stable home environments, more time for parents to read to their children, access to higher-quality child care and preschool and — in places like New York City, where 4-year-old children take tests to determine entry into gifted and talented programs — access to preschool test preparation tutors or the time to serve as tutors themselves.

But rising income inequality explains, at best, half of the increase in the rich-poor academic achievement gap. It’s not just that the rich have more money than they used to, it’s that they are using it differently. This is where things get really interesting.

High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.

With a college degree insufficient to ensure a high-income job, or even a job as a barista, parents are now investing more time and money in their children’s cognitive development from the earliest ages. It may seem self-evident that parents with more resources are able to invest more — more of both money and of what Mr. Putnam calls “‘Goodnight Moon’ time” — in their children’s development. But even though middle-class and poor families are also increasing the time and money they invest in their children, they are not doing so as quickly or as deeply as the rich.

The economists Richard J. Murnane and Greg J. Duncan report that from 1972 to 2006 high-income families increased the amount they spent on enrichment activities for their children by 150 percent, while the spending of low-income families grew by 57 percent over the same time period. Likewise, the amount of time parents spend with their children has grown twice as fast since 1975 among college-educated parents as it has among less-educated parents. The economists Garey Ramey and Valerie A. Ramey of the University of California, San Diego, call this escalation of early childhood investment “the rug rat race,” a phrase that nicely captures the growing perception that early childhood experiences are central to winning a lifelong educational and economic competition.

It’s not clear what we should do about all this. Partly that’s because much of our public conversation about education is focused on the wrong culprits: we blame failing schools and the behavior of the poor for trends that are really the result of deepening income inequality and the behavior of the rich.

We’re also slow to understand what’s happening, I think, because the nature of the problem — a growing educational gap between the rich and the middle class — is unfamiliar. After all, for much of the last 50 years our national conversation about educational inequality has focused almost exclusively on strategies for reducing inequalities between the educational successes of the poor and the middle class, and it has relied on programs aimed at the poor, like Head Start and Title I.

We’ve barely given a thought to what the rich were doing. With the exception of our continuing discussion about whether the rising costs of higher education are pricing the middle class out of college, we don’t have much practice talking about what economists call “upper-tail inequality” in education, much less success at reducing it.

Meanwhile, not only are the children of the rich doing better in school than even the children of the middle class, but the changing economy means that school success is increasingly necessary to future economic success, a worrisome mutual reinforcement of trends that is making our society more socially and economically immobile.

We need to start talking about this. Strangely, the rapid growth in the rich-poor educational gap provides a ray of hope: if the relationship between family income and educational success can change this rapidly, then it is not an immutable, inevitable pattern. What changed once can change again. Policy choices matter more than we have recently been taught to think.

So how can we move toward a society in which educational success is not so strongly linked to family background? Maybe we should take a lesson from the rich and invest much more heavily as a society in our children’s educational opportunities from the day they are born. Investments in early-childhood education pay very high societal dividends. That means investing in developing high-quality child care and preschool that is available to poor and middle-class children. It also means recruiting and training a cadre of skilled preschool teachers and child care providers. These are not new ideas, but we have to stop talking about how expensive and difficult they are to implement and just get on with it.

But we need to do much more than expand and improve preschool and child care. There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and “improving teacher quality,” but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children’s earliest environments may be even more important. Let’s invest in parents so they can better invest in their children.

This means finding ways of helping parents become better teachers themselves. This might include strategies to support working families so that they can read to their children more often.. It also means expanding programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership that have proved to be effective at helping single parents educate their children; but we also need to pay for research to develop new resources for single parents.

It might also mean greater business and government support for maternity and paternity leave and day care so that the middle class and the poor can get some of the educational benefits that the early academic intervention of the rich provides their children. Fundamentally, it means rethinking our still-persistent notion that educational problems should be solved by schools alone.

The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills — how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate — essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.


Sean F. Reardon is a professor of education and sociology at Stanford.

A version of this article appeared in print on 04/28/2013, on page SR1 of the NewYork edition with the headline: No Rich Child Left Behind.”

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May 2, 2013 · 5:37 pm

Helping Colleges Move Beyond the Credit Hour

By Marc Parry

Helping Colleges Move Beyond the Credit Hour 1

Amanda Voisard for The Chronicle

Amy Laitinen

“In the delicate process of reforming how colleges measure learning, Amy Laitinen’s job sometimes feels like marriage counseling.

One of her main issues these days: competency-based education. Proponents tout this model—which allows students to progress at their own pace by mastering measured “competencies” rather than spending a fixed amount of time in class—as a balm for the ills of academe. It will improve quality and expand access for working adults, they argue, while lowering costs for both colleges and students.

 

THE INNOVATOR: Amy Laitinen, New America Foundation

THE BIG IDEA: Higher education should measure learning, not seat time.

 

Yet such nontraditional approaches raise anxieties for all the key players who need to get on board to make them widely available. The federal government, which disbursed more than $187-billion in financial aid in 2012, worries about fraud. Colleges worry they can’t innovate because their efforts won’t jibe with the existing financial-aid system. And accreditors, recently chastised for failing to ensure quality, worry about any moves that might again provoke the feds’ wrath.

Enter Ms. Laitinen.

Until 2011, the 39-year-old wonk served as a higher-education policy adviser in the Department of Education and the White House. Now, as deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation, she has drawn on her administration connections and knowledge of government to become an important player in the burgeoning efforts to promote competency-based education and rethink the credit hour.

Much of her work at the Washington think tank is behind the scenes. She talks with the Education Department, accrediting agencies, and colleges to help each understand the others’ points of view. She has advised at least a dozen colleges considering competency-based programs, walking them through the financial-aid implications and connecting them with the right people at the Education Department. She has helped to knit all of these people into a community by planning gatherings and suggesting the creation of an e-mail list, where, among other things, folks coming back from a meeting with the Education Department will share information and questions.

Regulatory Washington is a tense world. Ms. Laitinen, a passionate salsa dancer who looks as un-Latin as you can imagine, is known for breaking the tension with humor. She mocks herself—”I get blonder as I get older,” she joked recently—and once suggested a thorny issue might be tackled through interpretive dance.

Ms. Laitinen’s efforts have serious implications for innovators hoping to use technology to create educational models that don’t hinge on time spent in class—and to tap aid dollars for those programs.

“I view her as an enabler of technological innovation,” says Michael J. Offerman, a competency-based-education consultant who was formerly president of Capella University.

At the heart of what Ms. Laitinen does is a crucial-yet-obscure issue: the credit hour. Last year she published a widely read policy report, “Cracking the Credit Hour,” which argued that the time-based units are “the root of many problems plaguing America’s higher-education system.”

The credit hour generally signifies one hour of faculty-student contact each week throughout a semester. It grew, in part, out of Andrew Carnegie’s early-1900s efforts to create a free pension system for professors. Over time it has evolved into the bedrock of higher education, the foundation that undergirds degrees, faculty workloads, and financial-aid eligibility.

Yet the credit hour “doesn’t actually represent learning in any kind of consistently meaningful or discernible way,” Ms. Laitinen argued in her report. And its basis in “seat time,” she wrote, is an “awkward fit” with online models that allow students to move at their own pace. Ms. Laitinen’s report charted a road map for the different ways policy makers could experiment with awarding financial aid “based on learning, rather than time,” within the boundaries of existing law.

Paul J. LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, which is developing a competency-based program, says Ms. Laitinen’s report “has become the thought-leading piece on moving away from the credit hour.”

Ms. Laitinen’s own higher education began at Miami Dade Community College, which she attended after finishing 113th out of 121 students in her high-school class. (“I was sort of a rebellious kid,” she says.) After earning an associate degree, she enrolled at the New College of Florida, a public liberal-arts institution that she describes as a “life-changing institution.” The former high-school underperformer became a hyper-engaged student-government leader.

After college, Ms. Laitinen served two years with Teach for America, which sent her to work at a poor school in a drug-infested Dominican neighborhood of New York City. She felt wholly inadequate.

“I would come home at night and just cry,” she says, “and just feel like I couldn’t do enough for my kids.”

Ms. Laitinen concluded that she wanted to work on poverty, so she enrolled in a public-policy master’s program at the University of California at Berkeley. At the time, San Francisco was weighing whether to become the first major city in the country to have its own minimum wage. Ms. Laitinen conducted a study of how that would affect the local economy, and she got the chance to help make the wage happen when Matt Gonzalez, then president of San Francisco’s board of supervisors, hired her out of school to be his chief of staff.

After volunteering on the Obama campaign, she landed a job at the Education Department. She led development of the American Graduation Initiative, a proposed $12-billion community-college effort. It was a major disappointment for her: The plan collapsed during negotiations to overhaul student aid and health care.

Things are looking sunnier for competency-based education, which has the backing of influential foundations and the secretary of education.

In researching the topic, one of Ms. Laitinen’s discoveries was an obscure provision of the Higher Education Act that allows for what she describes as “an entirely different way of awarding federal financial aid”—a system based not on seat time but on the “direct assessment” of student learning. Congress wrote it into law in 2006 to benefit Western Governors University, a politically plugged-in competency-based institution. But Western Governors chose to convert its competencies into credit hours, so the authority went unused.

Ms. Laitinen began to spread the word about this scarcely known and never-tried option. Her credit-hour report promoted it as a key tool at the Education Department’s disposal.

Now the department has decided to give it a try. In April, it approved Southern New Hampshire University as the first institution to be eligible for financial aid under this provision. The university is rolling out a self-paced online program that has no traditional courses or professors. Instead, students advance by demonstrating mastery of 120 competencies, such as “can use logic, reasoning, and analysis to address a business problem.”

The news prompted Ms. Laitinen to blog a headline that never would have gotten past the handlers who manage PR for her old department: “It’s Official!” she cheered. “US Department of Education Approves First College to Ditch the Credit Hour.””

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May 2, 2013 · 5:29 pm