Tagged as: schools

Let’s Talk About Special Needs

Many thanks to Wendy Grinberg of URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) for contacting me after reading my article “10 Ways to Raise Resilient Kids in Turbulent Times” in The Huffington Post and inviting me to be interviewed for a series of podcasts on modern day parenting. Click here for the fourth and final segment in a series of four to be released over the coming weeks. This one is on raising a child with special needs. It was a very interesting thing to do and a lot of fun! Hope you enjoy it.

Bullying: Who’s to Blame?

Many thanks to Wendy Grinberg of URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) for contacting me after reading my article “10 Ways to Raise Resilient Kids in Turbulent Times” in The Huffington Post and inviting me to be interviewed for a series of podcasts on modern day parenting. Click here for the third segment in a series of four to be released over the coming weeks. It was a very interesting thing to do and a lot of fun! Hope you enjoy it.

A Middle School Survival Kit for Students, Parents and Educators, Part Two

When I was a 24-year-old graduate student, I had my first experience in a middle school classroom—as a young, inexperienced, vulnerable substitute teacher. On my first day filling in for a seventh-grade English teacher who was away on a brief medical leave, I arrived to my first period class a little bit nervous, but equally excited, and confident that all of my education in child development would serve me well. Plus, English was my best subject! When the first wave of giggles cascaded over my back as I wrote on the board, I was nonplussed. What could already be amiss at 8:02 a.m.?

Read the rest of this article on Funderstanding, a site providing tools for educators and parents to make learning fun.

Why Boys are Failing in an Educational System Stacked Against Them

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang that we should teach our children well and feed them of our dreams, but for millions of parents of sons, dreams are only that, and boys are falling behind educationally at an alarming rate in this country.  Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and in Life, and many other authors and educational experts proclaim that we have a crisis in the education of boys in this country. The media attention to this topic has been extensive in recent years, yet I do not see the systemic changes that are needed.

Gurian presents statistics that boys get the majority of D’s and F’s in most schools, create 90% of the discipline problems, are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and be medicated, account for three out of four children diagnosed learning disabilities, become 80% of the high school dropouts, and now make up less than 45% of the college population.  If you look in your newspaper right now, in June, you will see the photos and bios of valedictorians from many of your local high schools, and will notice that the majority of them these days are girls.

What Do the Experts Say?

According to Whitmire, children are forced to use literacy skills much earlier than in the past, and boys develop these skills later than girls. In the world of “Kindergarten is the new first grade,” boys are struggling mightily to keep up. When it comes to writing, the gender divide is even greater. NCLB and our hyper-focus on standardized test scores is worsening, not ameliorating, the academic struggles of boys, and subsequently increasing the numbers of boys who turn off to school and eventually drop out.

According to Gurian, boys learn by doing and by moving their bodies through space. The more emphasis is placed on the development of early reading skills, and the less emphasis is placed on a healthy amount of movement and experiential learning, the more disadvantageous our schools will be for males.

Our boys need our attention, and although some of what I’m about to write pertains to girls as well as boys, and although gender differences naturally fall across a continuum and no single description fits all boys or all girls, there are nonetheless a number of characteristics that differentiate the two genders generally speaking.

On Growing Up With Boys, Then Raising a Girl

As the mother of a female only child, my parenting experience, while not always idyllic, has been relatively peaceful.  As a toddler, my daughter was sedentary and cautious, and seemed to have nowhere she needed to go.  She would sit in one spot on the floor for hours with a pile of books, “reading” to herself.  I could shoot from room to room, accomplishing tasks, and she would smile up at me from her place on the living room rug as if wondering, what’s the hurry?

She was much like I was as a child, and nothing like the brothers I had grown up with who requisitioned large expanses of the floor plan of our house for their games, commandeering space like an army of two. The entire finished basement was needed for indoor hockey (and windows were expendable). Outdoors, acres of woods were barely enough for their imaginary villages and the conquering of foreign lands. Unwitting trees were the patient recipients of nails and ropes and bungee cords, bending uncomplainingly to the weight of whatever animate or inanimate objects were tied, strapped or hung from them.

One day my brother devised a pulley system to ferry a dangling ceramic soap dish full of birdseed back and forth between his bedroom window on the third floor and a distant pine tree in the back yard, only to have it immediately collapse under its own weight, sending the heavy chunk of porcelain careening downward in a 90-degree arc until it came into abrupt contact with a doomed sliding glass door. This was a terrific lesson in physics. It was also funny.

The Nature of Boys

As Gurian explains in his book, the primitive hunters men used to be were the product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Spatially developed male brains resulted from physical interaction with the environment that allowed sensory input to stimulate the right hemisphere and build white matter and synapses in ways that would be useful for survival.

Even though the concept of the square school with the square classroom with one teacher to 20 or more kids has been around for a few hundred years, our boys are still young hunters whose brains need the same types of stimulation to grow and be healthy as did their male ancestors millennia ago. Our schools are vastly different from the setting of family, tribe and natural environment that used to be the educational milieu for growing boys.

Why Our Educational System Does Not Support Male Learning Styles

Our modern educational system works for many children, particularly girls, but for some boys (and girls) it places constraints on a very normal and necessary experiential type of learning, not to mention the need of many children to move around rather than sit still. While it may be a cynical statement, I have often felt that co-ed schools are girls’ schools that boys go to.

I am not advocating for a return to life in caves and an educational system for boys involving the activities and rituals described in my college anthropology book.  What I do advocate for is a greater understanding and appreciation for who boys are and how they learn best, and the subtle pedagogical modifications that would benefit millions of children.

How Schools Could Honor Who Boys Are

Simple changes to the pace and tempo of the school day, such as incorporating several brief recesses throughout the day, devoting more time to physical education, and including more hands-on activities go a long way towards alleviating some of the natural restlessness of boys and harnessing male energy in positive ways. How much Ritalin could remain on the shelves if we created schools that are ready for boys rather than boys who are ready for schools?

Just as we collectively addressed the needs of girls over the past couple of decades and made great strides in closing their achievement gaps in math and science, let us now turn our attention to our nation’s boys and take equally deliberate steps to assure their success in school and in life. The revolution in brain science over the past fifteen years gives us the knowledge and the tools we need to do this, and we must, for as a society we are setting our boys up to fail in a system that is stacked against them, stacked against the very way they are neurologically wired.

This is not to say that social and cultural influences are not contributing factors to who boys are today, but we now have medical evidence, once elusive, that illuminates the very significant role biology plays in male/female brain development and learning. Parents and teachers need to become better educated about how boys and girls really are different, and how to best meet the needs of each. Particularly relevant to this discussion is the theory of “natural learning,” which takes for granted that a learner is a whole person – a living system – and that every aspect of a person, boy or girl, contributes to his or her learning.

What Does the Future Hold?

At some colleges today, boys are being given a boost in the admissions process because they have become a minority.  If we do not address boys’ educational needs earlier in life than this, the skewing of college enrollment, and thus opportunity in life, will only get worse.

Meeting the learning needs of all of our children is a lofty yet imperative goal. We must join together to nurture and celebrate what it is to be female and what it is to be male and the very essence and value of the difference. And after all, boys will be boys.

Reprinted with permission from The Huffington Post.


The Role of Parents in the Bullying Epidemic

I recently came upon a very short Boston Globe article—a paragraph, really—by a bullying expert in New Hampshire who stated, quite simply, that today’s school children are “the meanest ever” and that they have “more ways than ever to express that meanness.” The article could have been six pages long, rather than the six sentences that it was, and the end result would still be a depressing indictment of the lack of social learning, instilled values, and adequate adult supervision and guidance in the lives of kids.

I do not know a single educator who does not share this observation about the exponential growth in cruelty among students. In my opinion, the seminal article on bullying has yet to be written, likely never will be, and certainly not by me. It’s a monstrously unwieldy topic, and the best any of us can do is to try to get at it bit by bit. I can’t speak to the culture of bullying in any other era or any other county than my own, but I can articulate what is different today than when I first began my career in education 25 years ago.

At the risk of being accused of parent bashing, it begins with parents. I am one, and my analysis is derived equally from this role as from my professional perch. What I have seen in all of my work environments has been echoed in my social milieu of fellow parents.

One of the most striking descriptions about today’s shift in parenting approaches comes from world-renowned sociologist William Strauss. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a conference in New York several years ago. He was describing the defining characteristics of the various generations of parents over the past 100 years. When he got to the modern day, he described the difference between Baby Boomer parents, whose children are now in college or beyond, and Gen X parents, whose children predominantly make up the population of K-12 students today.

Strauss was describing the tendency of Boomer parents to hover over their children, hence the nickname “helicopter parents.” By sharp contrast, Gen X parents were becoming known in schools throughout the country as uniquely unsupportive of the home-school partnership. For example, when I was a child, if I got in trouble at school, I got in trouble a second time when I got home. Today, it is as likely as not that the parents of a child who has been disciplined at school for bullying will attack the school, modeling for their son or daughter the same type of bullying behavior for which the child has just been reprimanded. Strauss summed it up by stating to his large audience of teachers and school administrators from around the world: “Good luck to you all. The helicopter parents have flown out, and the stealth bomber parents have flown in.”

So is it really that bleak? Yes and no. Sweeping generalizations ignore the many wonderful Gen X parents who are teaching their children to take responsibility for their actions and who are supportive of the teachers and administrators who serve in loco parentis for their children all day long. That said, sweeping generalizations also work as important metaphors for large-scale social changes that are indeed at play in the real world, like that of the stealth bomber parent. Parents absolutely are different today than at the beginning of my career. On many occasions I have felt burned out by the parents of my students in ways that never happened when I first entered the profession.

Parents of bullies often accuse schools of overreacting to situations and falsely blaming their children. Parents of victims often accuse schools of not protecting their children adequately. Teachers and administrators are doing their darndest to teach their classes, run their schools and deal with a tidal wave of bullying issues that shows no sign of receding. When I was a Head of School, there were weeks that I literally spent 25% or more of my time dealing with bullying, pushing aside all of my other critical work. Therefore, I now ask the question: What about the parents?  This is not a problem exclusively involving kids and school personnel (read the recent article on the new laws that schools must follow to deal with bullying). Parents have a critical role to play in stemming the meanness.

While I could devote several more newspaper columns to exactly how parents can work at home and with schools to reduce bullying, I can also state it in one sentence: Parents, you must explicitly teach your children the Golden Rule when it comes to social interactions with peers. Children must learn from their parents that they should not treat other human beings in any way they themselves would not wish to be treated. The lesson is so simple it is often forgotten, but the consequences of neglecting to teach it can be scary. If parents don’t proactively raise their children, the media, pop culture, Hollywood, and social technology will gladly raise them by proxy.

Reposted with permission from the Concord Journal.