Race to Nowhere
My wife Dell and I attended a screening of the movie Race to Nowhere at University School here in Shaker Heights this week. The film is dedicated to a 13-year-old who ended her own life in the 8th grade, apparently because of failing grades in an otherwise perfect academic record. During the movie parents, students and professionals offer perspectives regarding a system of education that places undue emphasis on:
- high stakes tests
- excessive homework
I have referred to these as these the four ‘pillars of practice’ that hold up little in the way of real learning or problem solving for any student in any school at any level. They are misplaced measures of rigor that have entranced educators, hypnotized parents, and pilloried politicians to poor policy decisions to the detriment of or children’s learning, our schools’ effectiveness, and our nation’s competitiveness.
In particular, these ‘pillars of practice’ form a prison of sorts that can crush the spirits of otherwise engaging students with active intellects who struggle with learning differences, or focusing attention. That’s the group of students we serve at Lawrence School here in Northeast Ohio.
These carry disproportionate weight in terms of determining how we teach, how we assess, and what we ask students to do in classes.
Time to move beyond our reductionist tendencies and instead design more personal, collaborative, and authentic learning protocols. Time to move beyond the educational models popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Time to look at the time we’ve wasted and lost – not to mention the lives lost – in service to practices that look weighty and significant, are crowned with tradition and history, but serve little purpose in this century.
Parents are not off the hook here either: Time for all of us to stop pushing our needs and dreams onto our children. It ruins their days at school and disturbs their sleep at night. The rush to college acceptance ignores the realities of the experience most students have in college. Only about half the students who matriculate ever graduate even after 6 years. The attrition in the first year has been between 25-30 % for many years.
Education is supposed to promote thinking and discourse; inspire self-examination and action; all in an effort to ultimately advance the common good. If we are pushing our kids like derby racehorses but neglecting to prepare them for a life outside that circular track, how are we helping them… and how are we helping the society in which we live?
Bullying: Crime and Punishment
School bullies are in the news in the wake of recent bullying incidents at high school and college. In two of these cases, the victims committed suicide allegedly to escape their tormentors. Tragically, in all cases there appeared to be a fundamental intolerance of someone’s differences.
The natural response to such incidents is to punish the perpetrators, create programs to guide school administrators through their responsibilities in these types of situations, and make laws to deter this behavior. However, these responses miss perhaps the most effective method of deterrence and prevention: bullying prevention programs that are integrated into the weekly activities of a school and focus on the role of the bystander.
At Lawrence, we adopted such a program: the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program from Norway. It is a comprehensive, evidence-based program endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In their endorsement, the Academy pointed to the emphasis on developing campus-wide recognition of bullying behavior and empowering bystanders who stand up for the safety of classmates.
Hand-in-glove with the training comes the difficult requirement of surveying the students every year to collect data and measure the frequency of, opportunities for, and intensity of bullying incidents in every grade in the school. Such data serves to alert administrators and faculty to the reality that this behavior must be surfaced, made discussable, and deemed unacceptable in the learning communities where we support children in the schools.
More time and space will be devoted to this issue in a future blog, so stay tuned!
Breakdown of Civil Discourse
How much of the name-calling, intolerance and even bullying behavior we see now in schools trace their origins to the apparent breakdown of civil discourse in the country – particularly as we approach the midterm elections?
In a previous blog post, I talked about the importance of using a rubric to evaluate an individual’s or an organization’s ability to deal with differences on Stephen Covey’s ladder of developmental stages:
The news this week serves as a bleak reminder that in many places we are barely balancing on stage one.
The Supreme Court convened this week to hear a case that is essentially about the right of protestors to hold up signs at combat veterans funerals claiming to know what is in the mind of God. This is less a constitutional question of free speech than it is a question of how far and fast our society has lost standards of courtesy, consideration, respect, and civility in our communities.
We are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. It is sometimes difficult to determine how we feel about something within ourselves, and impossible to know what is in the mind of another human being – no matter how close the relationship. As for what God is thinking, let’s turn to Alexander Pope for some sage advice:
“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man.”
As always, your comments and thoughts are welcome.
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