Tag Archives: education

The Vital Importance of Diversity

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“The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by.”

What a Wonderful World – Thiele & Weiss

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If we care about mankind and its future, if we care that the most powerful nation on earth has a leader who does not believe in science and who puts immediate gratification above concern for future generations, then it is time that we make a radical shift in how we view education within a global society. The mill of school grinds along, and we are glad that it does, but changes in how we teach at the fundamental level have now become critically important.

“Most of what we teach children today is going to be completely irrelevant to the job market in 2040 or 2050.”

Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens

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 We cannot survive, much less thrive, if we build walls and keep people out. It is through the permeable sharing of ideas and cultural nuances that we build on our own reservoirs of knowledge, compassion, and the ability to live in harmony.

No one would dispute that teaching our children to share is a good thing, one of the basic elements of social-emotional relationships. When we share, we learn. We show others our good intentions, and they show us theirs. Bridges are built and alliances are formed.

The concept of respecting one another begins at the earliest levels of education. Even preschoolers can understand that their blue marble of a world spins in a beautifully complex solar system. They can grasp the idea that there are lands across the seas where people speak differently and go about their day in different ways, yet share the same joys and sorrows that we do.

We cannot coexist in any kind of peace if we fear each other, and we cannot imagine anything better if we don’t begin to encourage critical thinking skills and the uses of imagination in our schools.

Children feel a close affinity with the creatures of air, sea, mountains, and forests that share the world with us. Have you, lately, looked at a picture book of animals as closely as they do? They have an innate curiosity and empathy that, rather than dismissing as ingenuous, we need to recognize for the wisdom that it holds.

The question “Why?” is asked primarily by children less than seven years old and the greatest philosophers and scientists of all time. Think about that.

Yet we proceed, beginning in elementary school, to encourage students not to ask,  but to answer questions- to memorize facts, figures, and formulas. It is no wonder, then, that the trajectory of education becomes a long distance race to get into a good college, secure a high paying job, and then, finally, get down to the business of living.

The way our competitive education system works is that children learn early on that it is better not to think outside of the box. That imaginative thinking, flights of fancy, and creativity, at best lowers their grade point average and at worse, gets them labeled “weird.”

We are, grade by grade, inadvertently teaching our children not to think more deeply than a test requires.

Worldwide-scholars, tech companies, scientists, educators, politicians, medical researchers, and thousands of others share knowledge; effectively creating networks of ideas that often lead to radical breakthroughs in their fields. When we think and feel and work together at the global level, we nurture compassion for the hungry, the suffering, the refugees of war, all those in need, because the faces and the voices of humanity become real to us. We cannot understand others without interacting with them, any more than we can understand what water is just from knowing its chemical formula. When we  foster bonds with different nations we all benefit. Our minds expand in many different ways as we share thoughts and our hearts grow in equal measure as we become more viscerally aware of others.

Without making a definitive change in both our education system and our budding nationalistic and isolationist politics we are in serious danger of losing our ability to engage innovatively and diplomatically. It is unwise, if not foolish, to be unaware that our entire planet is an eco-system, not only from the standpoint of biology, but on deeper levels of cognitive connectivity. We need clean air and water and we need to believe in and take responsibility for climate change, but we must also believe in mutual respect and tolerance despite different skin colors, religions, or ideologies. It is vital that we begin to teach, starting at the earliest levels of education, that we are the caretakers of our world, not its rulers.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/09/epa-scott-pruitt-carbon-dioxide-global-warming-climate-change

Resist

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“A machine that, when you touch the button, it makes the ocean clean for the whales and dolphins and even the sharks.”  Ava – Age 6

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The Goal of True Education

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“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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From the time we first encourage a toddler to share his toys we begin the process of building social emotional skills. In truth, it begins before that-with the first touch, the first eye contact, the first whispered words…building intelligence and character begins at birth and follows us to our last day on earth.

Education is not just about schooling-but as children spend most of their time at school from an early age, school is a vital part of their foundation. The task is: How do we, as educators, create schools that teach children to think intensively and critically-schools that build character?

I believe it begins with respect. When we respect the child and, at the same time, model respect for others, including the immediate and extended environment, we create an atmosphere of love and trust. We must not forget to respect ourselves, as well-use our time wisely and live healthily, both in body and mind. It follows that if adults eat junk food and watch junk television children will see this as the ideal.

A focus on testing rather than true understanding of materials is detrimental to thinking critically as it programs a child to memorize, repeat, and forget. In order to foster an ability to think intensively, subjects cannot be taught superficially. Teachers would be better served to delve deeply into less subject matter, rather than race to complete an established and expected curriculum.

I know children who have gotten A+’s on their Native American unit in fourth grade without a clue as to what the Dakota Pipeline Access is all about. We must make our teaching relevant!

As a society, it is important that we place a high value on education and strive for an elevated quality at every grade level. Our modern schools have not changed much since the Industrial Revolution, although our society is changing more and more rapidly. Our children will inhabit a world that we cannot entirely imagine. It is, therefore, of extreme urgency that we nurture creativity and innovative thinking. But creativity without compassion is a hallow achievement.

Experts in the field of human development tell us that empathy is a wired emotion, part of our instinct for societal survival. Yet why is there such an arc of empathy in any one particular classroom? Although certain emotions are part of our DNA, these emotions have a plasticity that is subject to changes that are environmentally dependent – in the same way that a child with a high IQ is not necessarily going to do well in school or beyond. Compassion, like any instinct, such as the ability to walk and talk, must be practiced, refined, and nurtured.

I liken it to a seed with the potential of becoming a tree. The seed will not reach its limbs to the sky, its roots will not dig deep into the earth, branches and bark will not become home for hundreds of creatures, the tree will never bless us with its life giving oxygen, if the rain and the sun and the fertile ground are not present. We must be all of that for our children, not just as parents and professional educators, but as a society. We must embrace all children as our own.

Let’s go back to the teacher explaining to the toddler that she should share her toys. A situation faced millions of times a day in every school throughout the world. How does the teacher communicate to the child? Does she explain that the other child is sad? Does she use a gentle and caring manner that reflects compassion for both sides of the argument? A child cannot develop empathy if the child does not have an understanding of how others feel.

I have seen, in the classroom, how compassion fosters compassion. Yet, it is not enough to teach our children to feel. Just like the toddler unselfishly handing over her toy, we all need to take action on our feelings. By taking personal responsibility we show our children that it is possible to make changes, both small and large.

When we develop a caring attitude about each other we listen, and in this listening we begin to see the world through prisms other than our own. This is the key to true understanding-the kind of understanding that grows as the child grows, developing not only deeper cognitive abilities but the kind of benevolent character traits that will be essential for the survival of our planet.

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

ADD For ALL

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“She’s flighty.” “He’s a dreamer.”

Should these children be diagnosed, labeled and medicated to make them conform? Are they abnormal, or just marching to the beat of a different drummer? Perhaps she’s flying somewhere and he’s dreaming of something far more interesting than the worksheet of the day. Are we creating standardized children to excel on our standardized tests? Our culture values achievers. Does enduring the weariness night after night that many children feel at finishing their homework count as an accomplishment? How does a child who continually fails, who is labeled as a troublemaker, who never gets the shiny sticker awards, or the stellar grades, develop belief in himself?

When, in the United States, approximately six and a half million of all school age children, one in five of every high school boy, and over ten thousand toddlers are taking powerful medications after being diagnosed with ADHD, it’s time to change the system, not the children. How do we teach both the child and the teacher the difference between bouts of creative distraction, when one thought is allowed to pinwheel into a beautiful display of many thoughts, and distractions that are indications that the child is not connecting, for any number of reasons, to the subject being taught?

It is not likely that the educational system will soon change to accommodate different types of learners, but individual teachers can. It is a teacher who often is the one to bring up the possibility of ADHD to the unsuspecting parent at the first parent/teacher conference. Although the diagnosis is purely subjective, there being no definitive test, either psychological or physical, for this condition, parents assume that the teacher must be right. Of course there are teachers who may be right, who with much serious forethought have made the difficult decision to approach this sensitive issue. But, more often than not, the teacher is wrong and herself a victim of the aggressive pharmaceutical marketing campaigns that are truly shameful considering the grave side effects and the unknown impact on brain chemistry that can afflict a child taking Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, or any of the other potent psychotropic drugs. In the last 20 years the number of narcotized children skyrocketed from approximately six hundred thousand to over 3.5 million:

Psychologist Dr. Keith Conners, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, who was one of the first researches to bring ADHD to the public’s attention as a neurobiological disorder, states in a 2013 NY Times article, “The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.” In the same article Roger Griggs, the pharmaceutical executive and entrepreneur who coined the term “Adderall” after his Orwellian idea of combining “A.D.D.” and “for all”, calls these drugs, “nuclear bombs that should be prescribed only in extreme circumstances.”

Teachers, as first responders, must begin to see that celebrating diversity in the classroom means more than creating an environment that respects those of all cultures and colors.   It means creating an equal opportunity classroom in which differences of all kinds are not labeled as deficits. Mastery of a subject often requires perseverance and repetition, but must it appear to the child as boring and without purpose? Most children, even those with diagnoses of ADHD, are able to concentrate with surprising tenacity if a subject interests them. Watch a child build a tower over and over in order to get it to balance, or fathom out a complicated puzzle. What motivates a child to work at these high levels of concentration? This is the subject that we should be exploring, and that all teachers should be striving to understand. How can we spark curiosity and create stimulating lessons that inspire creative and attentive students? Has our society gone so far wrong as to believe that a child not sitting quietly over schoolwork is a deviant who must be drugged into submission? It is time to stop ostracizing the atypical and eradicate the illusion that our childrens’ learning problems can be alleviated with meds. Instead, let parents and teachers unite to do the hard work of examining our current educational system and find solutions that do not label our children as the problem.

Learning to Listen

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A child must learn to listen before he can listen to learn. Experts agree that the conditions which most affect  literacy take place in the home, long before a child enters school. Children listen, understand, and speak before they read, write, and spell. Without the former, the latter is impossible. It follows that the more developed a very young child’s language skills, the easier time he will have learning the academics of literacy. Reading to your child from the very beginning will help develop listening skills that are invaluable later in life. At first your active baby won’t have the attention span to allow you to read all the words of a book to her, but just sitting together enjoying books, talking about the illustrations, is enough to start. As time goes by, a young child who has access to a bookshelf will soon be seeking out books and sitting quietly pretending to read. This activity is not, simply, adorable. For a child, the act of pretending is a major step in learning a new skill.

In order to help a child learn to listen, keep the home environment as free of unnecessary distraction as possible. Turn off the background noise. This simple act will help to create a more peaceful atmosphere conducive to contemplation…and to reading. Music is not usually a distraction, but the news and commercials that accompany radio and television certainly are. Children are sensitive and their hearing is acute, try to shield them from the constant advertising and, more importantly, the disturbing violent events that are, sadly, so often in the news.

Another aspect in teaching children to learn to listen is to listen to them! The respect that you show when you pay careful attention to a child’s stories and questions teaches him the importance of listening. Ask interactive, open-ended questions that offer the child not only an opportunity to express himself but to develop cognitive skills. Avoid “baby talk” or talking down to a child. Children love “big” words; adults often underestimate their insatiable curiosity and innate ability to learn them. Books add a multitude of new words not used in daily life that enrich and enlarge your child’s vocabulary exponentially. The art of thoughtful listening is fast becoming obsolete. Help your child become attentive in a culture rife with sound bites, twitter, and the abbreviated language of texting. It is only in listening closely that we truly learn.

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To teach is to share knowledge joyfully; to learn is to listen with equal joy.  Teachers are all around us:

The Power of Poetry

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Poetry is often looked upon as irrelevant, a part of another era, when people had more leisure time, less distractions; when conversation was an art, and life wasn’t so frenetic. Yet, it is well documented by linguists that children who have early exposure to poetic verse and the phonemic and syllabic sensitivity it brings, have an easier time recognizing individual sounds and learning to read.

Poetry is the heartbeat of literature. Begin a rhyme in a room full of children and watch what happens…a sudden attentive stillness. Even babies, who can’t yet understand the meaning of the words, are entranced by the patterns, repetitions, and rhythms:

I am Sam

Sam I am

That Sam-I-am That Sam-I-am!

I do not like that Sam-I-am

Do you like 
green eggs and ham?

I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

I do not like 
green eggs and ham.

Dr. Seuss – Green Eggs and Ham

Rhyme draws attention to the ending sounds of individual words – alliteration to the beginning. The musical language of poetry rings and reverberates, creating in the child a fundamental joy in literature.

But should the reading of poetry end with nursery rhymes? The emotions that poetry evokes are universal. As children grow older, the reading and writing of poetry can help them to cope with vulnerable truths that are too fragile to share in other ways…love, pain, death, transcendence…feelings not likely to be discussed on Facebook:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wvnQcm3SZE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Reading aloud one’s own poetry creates a forum for individual expression that inspires confidence and pride. To communicate profound feelings and see that others share them is a transporting experience. In a school system that stresses the head – test taking, memorization, grades, and competition – poetry celebrates the heart. In this increasingly homogenized culture, poetry’s power lies in its originality-whether wild with rage as in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, or soft with the tenderness of e.e.cummings’ somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond, poetry connects us intimately and immediately to our deepest feelings.

The language of poetry encourages inventiveness with words. Hope is “the thing with feathers” (Emily Dickenson). Eyes are “the window to the soul”(Shakespeare). Poetry conjures images that broaden and enlighten the mind. Metaphor and simile invite the reader to look at life in different ways, using unexpected correlations that inspire creative thinking:

The fog comes

on little cat feet

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on

Carl Sandburg – Fog

From the rocking rhythm of early lullabies to the healing strength of dirges, the simple truths of poetry cross all cultures, all boundaries. Introduce poetry early to share the wonder of words with your child, but don’t lose track of how poetry’s elegant, eloquent elucidation can inspire us throughout our life

Literacy – How it Begins

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“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oral language is the foundation of literacy. Within a few short months an infant’s cries become babbles, then, suddenly, talking! Soon, the young child understands the meaning of thousands of words. The acquisition of language happens at a remarkable speed. Every time a child learns something new, it becomes a part of his knowledge base. Since words are simply articulations of concepts and feelings, it is evident that a child’s vocabulary should be measured not by how many words he knows, but by what he knows about each word.

The more ideas that the child is exposed to, the deeper her understanding of certain terms: A child whose favorite book is Goodnight Moon understands the conception of the moon in a more visceral way once she has seen a bright full moonrise, or watched the moon disappear behind a cloud lined with silver. Thereafter, whenever the book is read to her, these images flood her mind allowing a richer appreciation of both the word moon and the familiar bedtime story.

One of the most giving words in the English language is the word, “Look!” When you invite a child to look, you give him the gift of your time, attention, and awareness. You joyfully invite him to join in a shared experience and with this simple word illustrate how communication bonds us. “Look! A dragonfly!” Fills the child’s mind with dragons, butterflies, fairies… “Can it breathe fire?” I have been asked. These opportunities to enlarge your child’s perspective happen daily, and books are a wonderful way to extend this rapid accumulation of knowledge. While the opportunity to see a rainbow doesn’t happen everyday, books, both fiction and non-fiction, can share the beautiful imagery of a rainbow with your child, reinforcing such basics as color recognition, but more importantly, encouraging him to see the wonder and glory of the natural world…and to look for rainbows everywhere.

Children are born scientists – curious and eager to explore. Knowledge is not a mere collection of facts, it is alive, pulsing-a process of discovery. Books provide an access to worlds that we cannot, otherwise, enter. From the bioluminescent depths of the sea to the mystical outer edges of the known universe, books satisfy the need and the love for communication that begins with the infant’s first cries.