Tag: education

Restoring the childhood we stole from kids

As a society we are pontificating about how to stop school violence. The focus is on shootings at the moment, but there are other forms of harm that are rampant in our schools. In these ‘debates’ the question is often given, “What are your solutions?!” The reality is there is a cost of stealing the soul of childhood from our kids. Shootings, bullying, drug abuse, etc. are symptoms of soul robbery. I humbly recommend the following to help restore childhood. I admit this is very boy focus, as that is where the biggest issues exist.

More art. More play.
As both of these dropped over the course of the last 30 years, look at what also increased. True, this could be correlation not causation, but I doubt that. Art & play help kids process, socialize, and learn. It’s a big part in how they learn to interact with the world they live in. Maybe if we stopped robbing what is the soul of being kids, they may not be maladjusted adults. Over the last 27 years I’ve seen a massive drop in kids abilities for imaginative play and also a drop in their ability to get along with their peers. Art gets increasingly dropped as it’s viewed as non-essential, but it’s a huge part in how we process and communicate. Art is very essential to being human.

Change the narrative on marriages. Champion fatherhood.
The break down of family is a significant contributor to mental health and violence. We are reaping the costs of a coupe generations of broken families and fatherless homes. We need a fresh narrative on marriage that sees its joys and delights. That it can be done, healthy, and amazing. We need dads who are passionate about their families. And we need to view both of those things as good, ideal even. Children are a reflection of us. If they’re more violent, bullying, and destructive, we need to do a better job modeling.

End organized sports for kids. Allow sparing.
Back in the sandlot days kids had to figure out the rules and how to manage play. They created games and had to figure out how to play well together. Yes fights and arguments often happened. Failure is part of learning. What free play allowed was learning interpersonal dynamics. Sparing was a concept used in the summer camp world. It’s play where boys rough house. Dodge ball and other like games were part of this. Yes, it was a dominance and honor thing. Yes fights broke out and people got hurt. But we learned from failure and it helped teach how to manage anger, frustration, aggression, etc. Overly programmed overly protective aspects robbed kids of essential life lessons.

Allow danger. Build steps to manhood.
I remember reading an article that raised the question if we are protecting out kids too much. That they’re losing the ability to weigh the consequences of their actions by not engaging in dangerous endeavors. No one is arguing for negligence, but learning how to manage danger is important. Robbing people of failure can lead to robbing them of success. There was a time when kids could openly play with guns, like cops and robbers. In this kids are processing aspects of justice, human interaction, problem solving, etc. As danger and gun play has decreased, looked at what has also increased. Steps to manhood is another critical need. Many cultures have ceremony that signifies the end of childhood and start of adulthood. Part of this was the understanding that one must mature and become a man. (yes, we need this for women as well.) The cost of the egalitarianism movement is that we sacrificed manhood and have too many boys who can shave. Or worse, they’re aimless not knowing what to do.We are discovering that is dangerous for society.

Let kids be kids
All the above relate to things that have wrecked the soul of childhood. All the things above lead to discussions on how we can bring it back. They are not immediate solutions, but they will have immediate impact. If we followed through on them years ago they’d be in place now. We cannot be shocked by todays outcomes after we’ve essentially robbed kids of their childhood. Let them chase butterflies, get muddy. Let dads culturally be heroes again. Let romance be a husband and wife walking hand in hand in the sunset years of their life. Let kids be kids.

A big vocabulary is not a vice

Big vocabulary, complexity, and academia are not a vices. Too often I am seeing pushback when smart people use big words, many words, or complexity. We need to stop with the anti-intellectualism.

Trichotomy
The Bible takes three views on a person: wise, foolish, and naive. Only one is acceptable. In Proverbs to be truly wise is to be godly. In Ephesians to be truly godly is to be wise. Naive people are children. At a certain point you are no longer naive but a fool. Pursuit of wisdom is an essential spiritual practice. 

Passion is not enough
Jesus said we are to love God with all our mind. Paul said we are to renew our mind. Peter commends Paul for his wisdom. Theology & philosphy are immensely practical. Developing the mind is intensely spiritual. One doesn’t need degrees to be smart and have an impact. Like Peter, we should not denounce intellect either. Foolishness should not be acceptable. We should develop our mind to the best of our ability. 

Hey Siri…
In our age we can easily look things up. Rather than castigate someone for using big words, look it up. Learn. A person’s use of the mind is not a vice. Learn from them and be sharpened. What we should not be is comfortable in our ignorance. Degrees do not always equal intelligence or education, but lack of degrees is not an excuse. 

Humility
Paul did not apmilify foolishness at the cost of intellectualism. Paul upheld humility in the face of arrogance. Knowledge puffing up points to arrogance. Love edifying is using knowledge to build up a person. Knowledge was not the vice, arrogance was. Passion is not in opposition to intellect, it requires it!

The bottom line:
Developing the mind is an essential part to loving God. Anti-intellectualism is actually a vice, not those those who use big words. The smarter you are is the better that you can love. To be wise is to be godly and to be godly is to be wise.

You’re unique unless…

DSC_0057You are unique, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
We say people should be themselves, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
We say education should be equal, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
We say people should be well mannered, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
We say kids be free to play, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
They say people should show courage, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
So be unique, be yourself! Get well educated and fight for equality not wealth! Be gracious, be free, and live life with courage like we.
Just don’t be a boy.
And in halls all around, silent screams abound of mixed messages in ears that are quite unsound.
For a boy is a boy.

An uncommon defense of Common Core: Local Control of Curriculum

IMG_3143I support CCSS for three key reasons. First, I believe national standards are a prudent measure in an increasingly mobile society. Second, I believe that such standards should put local districts and teachers in control of curriculum decisions. Third, I believe that the main problem in education is a lack of parental engagement, understanding, and effective support. If opponents are successful in stopping CCSS, the three issues are still in play. I often ask my proverbial question: You get rid of CCSS, then what do you do? In this post I will be addressing how CCSS puts teachers in control of curriculum choices.

Education is locally controlled
CCSS is not a Federal curriculum being forced on educators. Reports against Common Core are often poor curriculum choices. While sitting on a schools Quality Assurance Review, the conversation on certain curriculums delighted me. The challenge they were working through was having curriculum options while having a consistent vocabulary & ‘language.’ The teachers understood they were different in their gifting, that various classes may learn differently, and they need to have consistent communication with each other and parents. This situation demonstrates this:

  1. CCSS is standards not curriculum. There were multiple curriculum options that support CCSS. Some curriculums were rejected, others were accepted. They investigated the curriculum choices based on data and performance. Much of this done over and above the teachers classroom work.
  2. CCSS did not Federally mandate how the teachers were to work. Through collaboration, understanding who they are as teachers, understanding their students via data, the teachers of my local school district made curriculum decisions that were best for the students. The curriculum choices were local, made by the school district in conjunction with teachers.
  3. As a parent, the district informed me of and sought input in the process. In this case through being on the Quality Assurance Review process. This review is part of a broader process to help the school district maintain system(district) wide accreditation via a third party. (They could just go through the state for accreditation, but the district chose a harder standard to achieve.)

Common Core arguments are red herrings
The biggest thrust I see against CCSS is Federal overreach. The issue of Federal and even state government intrusion is a vital one and one that educators often share. For example, Federal overreach in the school lunch program left a mess. There is concern that the same thing can happen with CCSS. The arguments against CCSS are a distraction from real issues related to but not a result of CCSS. We must deal with real issues and not be distracted by CCSS. Why?

News Flash: Congress tells Tiger Woods how to play Golf!
Education is becoming a field where people who are not trained in education are telling trained advanced degree educators how to do their job. Imagine congress or state legislators passing laws to instruct Tiger Woods how he should play golf? (His game lately needs some help!) We would think that is crazy: 1) They’re not PGA professionals 2) It’s not their role. 3) Just because you play gold doesn’t mean you know how to coach or play professionally. This is exactly what we as a society do with educators. Arguments against CCSS are a distraction from legitimate issues with education.

Data Mining
Another concern raised with CCSS is data mining. Again, this is a distraction. Everyone of my teachers data mined. It’s called a report card. As a society we want our schools to perform well, but how is that done without data? As a country we want our schools to be competitive with other countries. That requires data. I am at a lost on how to educate without collecting data while also determining performance and competitiveness. For example, the big issue with GM is a problem in how data was mined or not mined regarding an ignition switch. Not all data collection is inherently evil. We don’t seem to mind data mining of sports performance…

Guide posts
CCSS and data collection give local school districts guide posts on curriculum choices. CCSS is a collaborative effort to establish consistency between schools. CCSS at the same time allows the art of teaching to thrive and local control of curriculum choices to exist. Though I am fully in support of intuitive choices, collecting and wisely using data is essential to solid education. Analytical approaches to things are not in opposition to intuition. The fight against CCSS and data goes against helpful guideposts. It comes across to educators as “we want you to do your job but not have the needed guide posts to do it.” This sentiment is bad in parenting, leading and educating.

Education’s mission
Educator’s mission is to reach in retrospect the goal posts constantly change before them by the government. Being a part of my school districts review process, I learned of the infamous writing goal problem. As the state had set a standard that triggered the district’s response and everything was in place, the state moved the goal posts voiding the work. This left educators with a crazy time frame to deal with the new goal post. This was not a unique experience to educators. Being professionals, they got the job done. As a parent, I was and am very frustrated, but not at the teachers. We are making educators task impossible.

Many, not all, of my educators friends are for CCSS because it is helpful. There is work that needs to be done to improve upon CCSS and to communicate what CCSS is, especially in math. But the issue of Federal overreach (no child, race to the top, etc), States moving the goal posts (like previous example) and inconsistency between school districts existed long before Common Core. CCSS helps with consistency, but the issue of government overreach is solved by parents. Defeating CCSS doesn’t solve the real issues, and leaves unresolved an important issue.

The bottom line: Educators real mission is…
Teachers want to teach. Let us stop focussing on clearly bad examples of teachers or curriculum choices. Focus on the majority of teachers who want to help our kids think and achieve their dreams. The issues of standardized testing and government overreach are real, but CCSS is not the problem. Rather than chase after the red herring we made CCSS, listen to trained professionals who are also our neighbors.

CCSS are standards and not curriculum. Local school districts and teachers are fully in charge of curriculum decisions and CCSS keeps the art of teaching alive in the classroom. The viewpoint that CCSS is a Federal take over of education does not match the reality of how education works. Yes, Federal and even State overreach is an issue and a concern that educators share. Using CCSS as a figured head is in poor taste. I will discuss in the next post the essential thing needed : Engaged parents partnering with educators.

An uncommon defense of common core: We need a standard

IMG_1559The news and my social media feed, not to mention various conversations, filled up with discussion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Discussion, particularly from a ‘conservative’ perspective go against CCSS. The viewpoint declares CCSS is a Federal take over of education. Given our fractured society, CCSS became a figurehead for fear of Federal intrusion. Where do I stand?

I support CCSS for three key reasons. First, I believe national standards are a prudent measure in an increasingly mobile society. Second, I believe that such standards should put local districts and teachers in control of curriculum decisions. Third, I believe that the main problem in education is a lack of parental engagement, understanding, and effective support. If opponents are successful in stopping CCSS, the three issues are still in play. I often ask my proverbial question: You get rid of CCSS, then what do you do? This post will deal with the need to national standards.

I drive therefore I can build a car…
In researching this issue as well as becoming a cheerleader for my local school district, one thing became clear: As a society we are woefully uninformed about education. I hope in reading this more grace and understanding is offered to our educator neighbors. For those who are parents reading this: we hold the trump card to radically improving education. We must not consider ourselves consumers of schools, but rather as engaged participants. Too many think they understand how education should work by virtue of being a student. This would be like saying we know how to design and build a car after driving it and doing standard maintenance.

National Standards are prudent
The first question to think through is: should there be national standards? An entire discussion could start and end right there. Our society is increasingly mobile. People growing up and staying in a certain geographical region is dropping. Society is becoming increasingly more urban. A key demographic in mobility is our military community. Having a national set of standards for education makes sense. If I move from one part of the country to another, it would be nice to have consistency. Also, a national set of standards helps benchmark our educational system to that of other countries.

Who should make the decision in developing national standards is a difficult one. My preference would be for states to collaborate together as well as with private enterprise. CCSS fits this model. While there is concern with some involved, such as Bill Gates, I prefer a state & private enterprise approach than a Federally controlled or mandated one. If Federal government started CCSS, I would not favor CCSS even though I do favor national standards.

We’ve been here before
The discussion is not new. An educator friend handed me the report of the Council of Ten, dated July 9th, 1892. The report deals with the matter of uniformity in education. It details standards for certain areas, and delegates others, such as the arts. A criticism often leveled at educational standards is that it diminishes the arts. Given this, there has always been a tension in education over should and what should be uniformed in education. Page 48 under the heading “Explanation of the Sample Programmes” it states this:

“The omission of music, drawing, and elocution from the programmes offered by the committee was not intended to imply that these subjects ought to receive no systemic attention. It was merely thought best to leave it to local school authorities to determine, without suggestions from the committee, how these subjects should be introduced into the programmes in addition to the subjects reported on by the Conferences.”

Standards vs Standardization
Things such as the arts have often taken the back seat in education. The highly viewed TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson attest to this fact. The challenge with any semblance of uniforimity is standards vs. standardization. Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Mary E. Dietz discuss this danger of CCSS. They explicitly state that the standards are not the issue, but that “the initiative conflate standards with standardization.” (Educational Leadership Dec ’12/Jan ’13, p.65) Much criticism of CCSS seems more an issue of assumed standardization vs the standards themselves.

For example:
There are standards for english literature. News reports came out that “CCSS” are forcing students to read a book some disagreed with. While the book might be on a list of examples, we should note that “the only reading explicitly required in the CCSS is the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, a Shakespeare play and one play by an American dramatist.” (CCSS Introduction, Aspen Institute) Timothy Shanahan illustrates how people took recommendations as standardization in his article “The CC Ate My Baby. (Educational leadership, Dec’12/Jan’13)

Curriculum choice is the real issue
Common Core is to education what HTML5 is to Web browsers. HTML5 is a web standard. There are multiple web browsers that interface with HTML5. Some do not interact well with HTML5- Internet Explorer. Some do a suburb job, like Safari. (I’m a mac.) Some curriculum and districts will interact well with the CCSS and some will not. Many of the criticisms of CCSS seem to be curriculum decisions, not necessarily the standards themselves. CCSS is not a curriculum. It is a set of standards.

The bottom line:
I believe we need national standards. Such is helpful to educating our children. These standards should be established by states, educators and private enterprise- the world which most will work. Common Core does this. There are things that can and need to be improved upon, as the issue of standards vs standardization illustrates. However, media punditry is making that needed interaction difficult. Rather than attacking CCSS, partner with your educator neighbors to do what’s best for kids. Why? The standards are not as much an issue as the curriculum choices are. Part two will deal with curriculum.

Parents, Common Core and FoxNews, Oh, my!

IMG_1139Let me say this up front: The key and the missing link to vibrant education in our country is parents. As I’ve written before, education is profoundly a local issue. We, as parents and guardians, could do a better job building healthy relationships with our educators. When getting involved in my sons’ school district I felt ashamed of how little I knew about the world of educators. I am was profoundly impressed with the level of passion and professionalism. My boys have great teachers… and the curriculum is being conformed to common core!

For those who follow me of a conservative nature, you may want to sit down for this… Common Core is not some evil grand federal government conspiracy. It was started by states to create a consistent set minimum standards for our children. This concept existed for some time. In fact, how Common Core came about is much like any industry. Given our increasingly mobile society, Common Core is needed.

In getting to know my sons’ school district, I sat in meetings discussing curriculum options. The options upheld the Common Core standards, were tested and were examined in light of teachers using it. There was even recognition that different methods were ok given the differences of teachers, but the same standard was set as the goal. This is very much local control and the art of teaching being allowed to thrive. Also, as a parent, the district requested input from me as a parent. After all, we’re one community.

Why write all this? Two reasons: 1) I appreciate those called to education. It is not an easy field. Too often we polarize things instead of seeking first to understand. Before getting all worked up about Common Core or even teacher unions, get to actually know your educators. It’s easier to work through differences of your friends than your ‘enemies.’ Teachers are not your enemy, they are your neighbors. 2) Don’t get you news from only one news source! Read broadly! Personally, I think the articles posted by FoxNews on this matter mischaracterize Common Core and promotes an unhealthy environment between educators and parents.

My bottom line is this: Parents and guardians, our children are our most precious gift. To best show their value, get involved in their school district! Get to understand the world of educators, be informed. Many of us have plenty of critics, but seldom have enough cheerleaders. Partner with your teachers, don’t treat them like a vendor. Jesus did say we should love our neighbors, and that is who educators are… neighbors.

Thoughts on Public Schooling

I grew up through public schools. Over the last few months I’ve had the honor to help out a public school district. I’m seeing and sensing a greater antagonism towards public education that is unhelpful. Here is my bottom line: Public schooling is profoundly local, requires parental engagement and is not the enemy. I encourage you to consider these thoughts:

Educators are our neighbors
If you’re stressed from family life, the inner-workings of your job and wanting to make a difference, then you’re like many of our educators. Most educators are concerned with how to help kids learn how to read, write, etc., while also walking through life. They do have a life outside of school in the communities we reside in and the churches we attend. I’ve heard from many public educators that they sometimes feel like second class church members because they teach in a public school. This is a sin churches should repent of! Think of educators as your neighbors.

Parents are wanted
The number one issue I hear from my educator friends is this: There is often a lack of parent engagement. I’ll repeat that for those who may be shocked: Educators have as a primary concern the lack of parental involvement in their child’s education. Many schools are what’s known as Title 1. To be a Title 1 school, the school is required to support parental engagement. Parents and guardians, we’re the ones that need to step up and improve education. By just engaging with our children and partnering with our educator neighbors we can make a difference. Ok, I know we’re all busy, but family comes first. Our kids are worth it.

Apathy is the enemy
Too often people view public education through the lens of national news, especially if one comes form a politically conservative viewpoint. It is easy to attack public education through a national viewpoint because we don’t have to act. Public education is a profoundly local issue. Teachers are very open to parental involvement. They conduct themselves with class and professionalism. Are there things we disagree with? I’m sure if it. The issue is we’re often not willing to engage with our community and make it a better place. Rather than being apathetic, let us be the cheerleaders of great educators.

Trust is the issue
Many fear public education because trust and a sense of community has eroded in our culture. It is hard to trust someone you don’t know. It is hard to effect change through antagonism. We listen close to those we consider friends. We don’t presume to tell our doctors how to do their job, but we wisely partner with them for better heath. The same is true of education. Be patient, take time and be involved. Your community and your public schools will be better for it. Work on building trust, and remember they’re human just like you!

A huge thanks to my sons’ school district!
I’m fortunate that my boys are a part of an excellent school district that puts kids first. I am a better leader and parent because of my interaction with my district’s educators. I’m amazed by their passion, class and professionalism. My community is a much better place because of their efforts!

Are you special?

I soaked in two ‘articles’ about being a specialist. In the first article, the end of 60 Minutes raised the question about the lack of family doctors compared with specialists. In the second article, D.A. Carson wrote on the trials of biblical studies. He raised the issue of theological scholars being too specialized and neglecting their study of other fields. The problem is not specializing but the loss of understanding the whole.

Look beyond
Often the ideas and solutions needed for your field are not found in your field. My dad made sure that I did not get ‘stuck’ in one thing. He wanted me to have a very broad and vast array of experiences to pull and learn from. This developed into a strong desire for learning and the ability to look at a problem from a variety of vantage points.

Read elsewhere
When interviewing various leaders in children’s ministry I asked what books on children’s ministry they recommend. They had recommendations, but without fail they all said the best ideas and books were not children’s ministry books. Read widely and read broadly. One conference a speaker suggested not reading everything in your field. Few books pass the test of time. Read those kinds of books.

Life is complex
The problem is not people specializing. Our culture and the vast sharing of information pushes that to happen. There are advantages to being a specialist. But, with every advantage there is often a disadvantage. The culture turned into multiple fragments. Life is a complex whole. Just think of all the news stories about unintended consequences from a solution implemented. Are we lost in the details as a culture?

Jack of all trades
We need Jack! We need people who have a broad understanding across multiple fields. They may be masters of none, but they have an understanding of the bigger picture. In thinking through the two articles and other past experiences, I agree we need more generalists, more “family doctors.” They may not be the best at fixing a particular part, but they help us avoid negative and unintended consequences from being too focused. They help us appreciate the forest and the broader work of art known as life.