Archive for January, 2010

“Pants on the Ground”- OR – Order in the Classroom

January 31, 2010 2 comments

I know I said I would write about infant brain development in this post but that will have to be the next post because I had a conversation in the gym with a member of our Power class that stunned my common sense thinking. She is retired from the US Treasury and is taking a class at the local community college. She described her disaffection with it while we were talking, but what caught my attention was her syllabus of rules handed out by the retired military officer, now teaching a class in Business and Entrepreneurship.

It read:
•    No hats or hoods worn in class
•    No feet on furniture
•    No clothing that has gratuitous violence, graphic sexual images, obvious religious or political images or wording worn in class.
•    No pajamas, bath robes, swim suits or other clothes normally associated with sleeping, bathing, or swimming worn in class.

Would any of you reading this post have shown up to your school classes in a bathrobe or bathing suit? It got me to thinking, who parented these students who wear “clothing of gratuitous violence, graphic sexual images”? What do they see when their children walk out the door? How did we get here from there?

Which brings me to the subject of school uniforms: This is a simple idea that is more cost effective than spending money on the latest clothing fads, which are apparently disruptive and the cause of teacher rules in order to conduct class. My sons attended a school that had uniforms as their dress code. Everyone looked the same; no one felt richer or poorer; no one was discriminated against for not having the latest fashion or shoes. It worked. There was order in the classes and serious teaching going on all day. Many Catholic schools have uniform codes. These schools are noted for the quality of their rigorous curriculum. It appears that uniforms positively influence teaching and classroom order.

We have a crisis in American education. Is it not reasonable to eliminate the distractions of “clothing” in order to bring order? We are graduating students who cannot read, who cannot write a coherent paragraph, or who cannot do simple mathematical skills. We have a serious dropout rate across the country. Is this not a grave concern? We have childhood obesity that is fatally impacting this next generation and our health care system. Those who do graduate cannot compete with the clamoring Asian and Indian markets. We are falling behind in every aspect of future challenges facing American education.

Why does clothing take precedence over order and learning in our educational system when the simple solution to the problem is to have a national dress code for public schools? It’s cost effective and simple. The Chinese do it.

Oh yes, I forgot, the lawyers would sue for an individual’s right to express themselves through their outer wear. So we sacrifice order in education and quality teaching time in our classrooms. Would someone help me out here? What is going on? Where did the responsible parents go? Why did they leave their children in this superficial, barren landscape where they value “pants on the ground” above education and enlightenment?

Parents Are to Blame

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I have been thinking of why so many children “drop out” of school. They are aware, through the deluge of information within their daily digital media, that the evidence points to a life of poverty with no educational credentials. Why do they not comprehend what they are committing their life to at such an early age? Do their parents bridge the gap or widen the gulf for their success? Do they even care what becomes of their children after they are born? Who do the parents believe is responsible for their children, their self esteem, and their education?

Then I began thinking of who we blame for the failure of children to complete their education. In my previous blog, Educational Catastrophe, I list where blame is usually placed. Why have we become a society where few accept responsibility for being responsible? Is it possible that our heroes left us a legacy of lies, cheating, kick backs, finger pointing, corruption, and denial?

Let’s look at just a few heroes and their examples; Senator John Edwards, Governor Mark Sanford, Mark McGuire, Congressman Thomas Jefferson of Louisiana, President Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Cardinal Law, Richard Fuld and Bernie Madoff to name just a few of the many. What extraordinary examples they set for our culture, for our children, for all of us! As an aside, I remember watching an elderly African American woman in a Detroit line to receive “free money”. She was asked who she thought the check was from and she responded, “Obama”. She was then asked where he got the money and she responded, “…from his stash…” This small example points to an ethic that pervades the entire culture. Is this ethic set into motion by those who are supposed to be our living examples?

Now, when we boil it down to the lowest common denominator, who really is responsible for the success of the children that are birthed in this country?

How about this novel idea, “The Parents”? Imagine that, we are responsible for our children and their path to success; not the teachers, not the politicians, not the clergy, not the neighbors, not the day care centers, not the community, not the country, not the world, and not God. Parents are responsible for the future success of their children.

Why do we have so many drop outs in a country that offers “free education”, not “free money”? They are there, I believe, because they were born to parents, who had parents, who had parents who did not care. They were not raised in an environment of respect, truth, or ambition.

To be candid, they were born and from that time forth fended for themselves. These drop outs have no emotional support, no direction, no goals, no self esteem, no strength, no pride. They live a life of fear; fear of peer rejection, fear of not fitting in, fear of not being acceptable; fear of standing out. They conform to the most undignified life style that is held up as “heroic” by their valueless peers. Their parents don’t notice because they live like those they birthed.

Until we change parenting in our country, no one will ever be able to stop the bleeding. We will continue to spend millions on children who do not value education, but who thirst for the material life that is a result of education. These dropouts will continue to be a wandering herd, all looking the same, doing the same things, in the same way – out of work with no future.

So much for the obvious; my next blog will concentrate on how the brain develops from birth and how parents who do care are able to propel their children into the most fantastic journey of discovery and self worth.

Educational Catastrophe

January 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Nationwide, nearly one in three U.S. high school students fails to graduate with a diploma. In total, approximately 1.2 million students drop out each year – averaging 7,000 every school day or one every 26 seconds. Among minority students, the problem is even more severe with nearly 50 percent of African-American and Hispanic students not completing high school on time.

Students blame teachers, teachers blame parents, parents blame politicians, politicians blame the “system”. The system blames programs that are boring, disengaged from reality, and irrelevant to student needs. We see classrooms in chaos, teachers with tenure who do not teach, students with no regard for authority, administrators who do not administrate, and parents who are uninvolved in the process of their children’s educational process, or maybe, completely disinterested in the success of their children.

When it comes down to the absolute level of drop out accountability, it begins with the parents who are not parenting their children from birth to young adulthood. It is the parents who set standards for their children to follow. It is the parents who prove to their children the importance of achieving an education. It is the parents who teach respect for authority and peers. The non-parenting culture has left us with a legacy of a huge wandering crowd of children with no purpose other than the moment, which usually leaves them feeling empty or abandoned.

Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap, is a publication by the EPE (Editorial Projects in Education). This study looked at the economic and employment landscape for those with varied educational levels. It revealed that those who drop out of high school are less likely to be steadily employed, and earn less income when they are employed, compared with those who graduate from high school. Approximately one-third (37 percent) of high school dropouts nationwide are steadily employed and are more than twice as likely to live in poverty.

The report revealed that high school dropouts account for 13 percent of the adult population, but earn less than six percent of all dollars earned in the U.S. In the 50 largest cities, the median income for high school dropouts is $14,000, significantly lower than the median income of $24,000 for high school graduates and $48,000 for college graduates. Nationally, high school dropouts were also the only group of workers who saw income levels decline over the last 30 years.

I was reading an article yesterday about school exit tests and how states are easing standards because the tests are proving to be tough for their students to pass. This New York Times article, written by Ian Urbina, states, “The real pattern in states has been that the standards are lowered so much that the exams end up not benefiting students who pass them while still hurting the students who fail them. The exams are just challenging enough to reduce the graduation rate, but not challenging enough to have measurable consequences for how much students learn or for how prepared they are for life after high school”, says John Robert Warren, an expert on exit exams and a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota.

I spoke to a woman in my gym who tutors students in math. She told me, “Why are we teaching algebra or geometry to students who will not be going to college? We should be teaching them math that meets their needs, “functional math”. We need to teach our children, who are not college bound, how to open a checking account, balance a check book, make change, develop budgets, and the many other things that are required for survival.” She is wasting her time tutoring high school students in a math they will never use in their real life.

We are dumbing down our children as China and India are gearing up their educational system and parenting their children to be the best. They will take over what we can no longer do. Our children will be the worker bees for those who will be the bosses. These carefully parented children in these emerging economies are succeeding because they have strong family relationships based in respect and honor.

I have added the links to the NY Times article and an editorial by Bob Herbert.

“Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods”

Neil Postman, Educator

Parent-Orphan Attachments; Part Two

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

My good friend Theresa adopted two Russian orphans. They have a chapter in Peek-A-Boo, I See You! called Theresa’s Orphans. I discuss her journey to Russia to adopt one and coming  back with two. One child was left with her sister in a cemetery by her mother, who never returned. The other child was an infant and left in a crib and received little attention due to the overcrowding. Consequently, the back of his head was flat. He was rarely picked up. Neither spoke English and Theresa did not speak their language. Her parenting is a book in itself. She has been a model mother for her children and they have accomplished as much as their level of intellect and security has allowed.

What makes their life different from children who are born into loving families is not their country of origin, their language skills, or their adapting to a new life in a foreign country. It is their level of ‘attachment’ in the infant years. Attachment is the connection between parents and child which creates the foundation for their growth as a family. Attachment creates trust and security within a baby or toddler. This emotional link between parents and infant shapes the child from infancy into adulthood. The parent-child attachment forms through touch, eye contact, and consistent care, causing a baby to feel loved, nurtured and safe. For adopted children, the attachment is broken or compromised by poor care giving, abuse, or neglect from their birth parents. Adoptive parents must nurture a new, strong attachment between themselves and their new child.

There are some basic steps adoptive parents can follow that are common sense responses to an adopted child’s needs:

  • Begin by making sure you are consistently meeting your baby’s needs. Respond quickly to their cries and their signals. This will not spoil your baby; instead, it helps them to know they can depend on you as they build trust.
  • Encourage closeness and bonding by holding, rocking, and cuddling the baby as much as possible. Some parents use a sling or other carrier to keep their baby close to them.
  • Consider co-sleeping with your baby, or at least having the crib near your bed at night. This allows you to meet the baby’s needs quickly during the night soothing them with the sound of your voice.
  • Do activities that encourage your baby to make eye contact. Games like peek-a-boo,or making silly faces, help the baby look into your eyes so they associate with you. You will find that you also benefit from this interaction.
  • Cuddle your baby while feeding them a bottle and make eye contact during this time. Hold the bottle while feeding so the baby can see and feel you taking care of them.
  • Try to avoid “passing around” the baby at family gatherings or when you have visitors. Only the primary caregivers (usually mom and dad) should hold and care for the baby for the first six weeks at home. Being passed around is alarming for a baby who has been through many changes in a short time.
  • As you move to a new schedule, be consistent and develop a predictable routine. Babies are happiest when they know what to expect. This is especially true when they have had the stress of being moved to a new adoptive home.

New adoptive parents who do not understand or start the process of attachment and bonding miss the golden opportunity of bringing their adopted children into a secure and harmonious family environment.

This web site may be helpful it is well worth your time to go there if you are adopting or have adopted.

Parent-Infant Attachments; Part One

January 6, 2010 16 comments

“What we do to our children they will do to society.”
Carl Menninger

My mother used to tell me in our quiet moments together, “It is the responsibility of each generation to improve the next.” I believed her because it made sense to me. I ask you, the reader of this post, do we want our children to be like us, or do we want them to go beyond where we are? How we parent in the early years of our children’s lives determines the quality of their attachments to us. Attachments are the critical bond children develop to their parents during their first years of life. These attachments influence their destiny.

Children learn from their parents long before they can talk and what they observe imprints upon their brains. They follow our lead for the rest of their lives. From the moment babies are born, they seek love and security from their parents. They look to their parents to respond to them consistently with sensitivity and warmth. When children find their parents to be responsive, they form secure attachments to them. Secure attachments give our children the confidence to explore their world, develop their intellect, creativity, and personality. These first attachments influence their world view, the quality of their future relationships, and how they parent their own children. Our children imitate us; we are their first example.

Andrew Meltzoff, a graduate of Harvard University, with a Ph.D. from Oxford University, co authored the book, The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind. He states, “Babies are very active learners, very busy interpreting the emotional and linguistic signals we give them. They are as carefully looking out and trying to make sense of us as we are of them.” University-based research has confirmed that secure children exhibit increased empathy, greater self esteem, better relationships with parents and peers, enhanced school readiness, and an increased capacity to handle emotions more effectively when compared with children who are not secure.

Parent-Infant attachment observations within the research environment have concluded that babies respond in consistent and identifiable ways to a secure or insecure attachment with their parents. Research has shown that when separated from a parent during a strange or unusual situation, a securely attached baby may cry at separation but then is quickly comforted by parental return. A baby with insecure parental attachments in the same situation behaves in one of the three following ways:

  1. Baby tries to avoid the returning parent.
  2. Baby cries at separation, but is not comforted by the parents return.
  3. Baby behaves in an odd and disoriented way.

Marc Hauser, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, is researching the interface between evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience. It is aimed at understanding the processes and consequences of cognitive evolution. In one experiment he took baby monkeys away from their natural mothers. He offered them 2 other mothers; one was a wire monkey that had a food feeder; the other was a cloth monkey with no food. The monkeys, when given a choice, curled up to the cloth monkey even though it did not provide food. No matter how hungry, they preferred the cloth monkey. How can I describe to you my emotions when I saw the infant monkey clinging to the cloth mother? The memories of my sons clinging to me and me clinging back washed over me and tears came to my eyes. I did not have the benefit of research and the many internet possibilities when my sons came into our lives. I had only my intuition and common sense. I knew children needed what they now define as ‘Attachment’. It makes sense.

I believe the nature of our moral judgments, our human relationships, and our capacity for language, mathematics, music, and morality are deeply rooted in attachments between the infant and his parents.

Sites that I believe you will find interesting:

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