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Parents, Education and Our Children; Who is to blame for our national student failures?

January 14, 2013 3 comments

We live in a culture where “Good” parenting, “Responsible” parenting is not a serious part of our national discussion. We do not make the connection between Parenting and Education. We think they are disconnected and we rarely discuss how they are intricately woven together and inseparable. When our school systems fail our children we blame the teachers, the teacher unions, the bureaucracy, the school districts, the lack of money, the political parties, anything that points the finger outside of parenting. Is this because we are a culture that is unable to accept responsibility for our decisions and actions, or the blame for our national failure as Parents?

We rarely look into the classroom to see what it is that brings disorder and distraction into the educational lives of our students. If we look inside these hallowed rooms we will see children who suffer from various, or all forms of the following: emotionally impoverished, intellectually neglected, physically undernourished, desperate for acceptance within their peer group, and because of  low self-esteem they follow; they do not lead.

Who has birthed and raised these children? What do they see when their children dress like vagabonds, speak illiterately, live slovenly lives, lack basic civilizing manners and respect for authority, their peers, and their parents? Or, are these children the mirror of their own lives? What is it about parenting that so many do it so badly?

It is done badly by so many because of repetitive life cycles preceding birthing that few transcend and break. My parents did, as so many of their generation. As a culture we have failed to address how we help those, who are trapped in these cycles, to understand the seriousness of birthing and parenting. When we abandon the real causes of dilapidated and non functioning educational systems, we abandon the children in them. There is a memorial to the Holocaust Jews in Boston. It reads something like this (paraphrasing)…“First they came for the Gypsies and I did nothing; then they came for the Jews and I did nothing, then they came for the Christians and I did nothing, then they came for me and there was no one to do something…” Who in our culture is serious about doing something?

We blame our failures in parenting on poverty; I say it is ignorance and the inability to transcend it. I was poor; we lived in poverty. The difference in my life were parents whose vision for their children was rooted in education. They knew then, as we know now, that you cannot succeed if you are undereducated or illiterate. We did not take food stamps, charity, or assistance of any kind. There was the fundamental definition between pride and shame. Shame was repugnant. Their pride eclipsed poverty. They knew it was their responsibility to improve the next generation, their children.

The usual cultural chorus I hear is, “Those times were different from these times”. That is correct; we now live in times where those in poverty are kept in poverty by what we now call ‘Social Services’. However, parenting hasn’t changed in a millennium. When Children reach up they still need the comfort of big arms, the comfort of soft voices when they cry, the comfort of community, and the stability and security of family, which means 2 parents – a Father and a Mother. These things never change, Never!

A generation has failed their children and in doing so have bound them to poverty and degradation. These children come to our schools and to our teachers unprepared in the most basic life skills; positive self esteem, good health, early cognitive skills, and intellectual and creative curiosity. BUT, more importantly, these hapless children are not provided a home, no matter how diminished in material things, that is stable, secure, with 2 parents working together to bring the generation they birthed into a greater vision from which they came. The educational statistics for minority communities are horrific. There will be no recovery in our life time if we fail to do something. The solutions are not about money or political programs.

Teachers are not baby sitters and they do not teach values. They teach Mathematics, English, Science. Teachers are not disciplinarians or policemen. Educational facilities should not be places where parentally abandoned children are dumped to cause chaos.

“If we don’t stand for something we are apt to fall for nothing.”

The Chicken or the Egg: Good Parenting or Good Teachers – What comes first?

“For more than forty years I’ve taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in major American and Asian universities, and in progressive preschools and schools. In part because of the subjects I teach, in part because of the ways in which we work together, students of all ages often confide in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught. In particular I’ve learned that for all human beings nothing in life is more important than our experience of parenting. How we’re parented determines almost everything about how we envision and respond to ourselves, other people, life, and the universe: how we exist, how we seek, and what we accomplish.” Peter Glassman

I too taught school and had students confide in me with ‘uncommon intimacy and trust”. There was Gloria, whose mother was having an affair with a student who was 20 years younger than her mom. The student came to Gloria’s house one afternoon and shot and killed the mother. Gloria escaped his rage by hiding under the bed. I saw Gloria once after that and then she went to live with a relative in some distant place. Then there was Zack, who sat beside my desk one day. He was a “hippie” at 15. He drew a flower on the floor with chalk and said to me, “It is not the place where you live that makes you happy; it’s where you live in your head that makes you happy.” Zack walked onto the interstate one night in a happy state of mind and was hit and killed by a truck. Billy came from a family of PhD’s. Expectations for his success were high. He had blazing red hair, a frail frame, artistic nature, and was gay. He could not bear to reveal this to his socially prominent parents. He confided some of his misery to me. He became an addict. Kathy was the only child of doting parents. She was a talented artist who loved my English class and its emphasis on the art in each child as we studied literature and composition. She came to me one day in tears describing her parent’s shame with her desire to be an artist. She ran away. I too learned more than I taught.

Despite the immense importance of parenting we do not require courses, instruction, direction, or mentoring before a man and a woman make this amazing decision to have a child. However, we do require instruction, licensing and permitting for driving a car, flying an airplane, operating heavy equipment, opening a business, or practicing a profession. But in parenting, the single most important responsibility we ever undertake as adults, we offer no preparation in what children need, how children develop, and how we best can fulfill our immense opportunities and responsibilities in guiding, guarding, and gracing our children’s lives. Faith traditions, schools, or workplaces do not and should not assume this vital work.

This is the sole responsibility of parents in the early years. They are the ones who build self-esteem, confidence, sensitivity, compassion, and intellectual curiosity in their offspring. Parents are the ones who instill manners, respect, vision, ambition, and a desire to learn and to know. Yet in every jurisdiction on earth anyone can become a parent. We can raise our children, shape their minds, or devastate their souls in almost any manner we choose. Step into your malls on any weekend to observe our nation’s parenting results.

We create voids in a child’s life with our unskilled parenting. Voids create vacuums which are opportunistically filled with one substance or another. “Children have but one work in life. They learn. Learning is all that children do. They do it full-time, and they do it with genius. They observe. They glean. From the foundation of their own experience, they employ their intellect. They interpret. They judge. They learn.” Peter Glassman

Children long to learn from their parents; they are their first example, their first love, their first hero’s. However, as we parent badly or ignorantly, the void in a child’s life slowly fills with powerful competitors, the fascinating and alluring electronic media and their peers, who are a major influence in their lives. Because they have no strength of family to sustain them, they succumb to these immensely empowered alternative forces: schools, friends, play environments, and most importantly the contemporary pop culture that form our children’s emotional civilization. Parents, who have many excuses for their haphazard parenting skills, surrender their responsibilities for their children’s soul life to televisions, computers, or iPhones. These artificial caregivers become our children’s primary companions.

In our own hurried, frantic lives we let go of the careful and necessary supervision of our schools. We let lapse the passion for our children and our basic and necessary expressions of love and care. Children will not accept this void. They need to be loved, guided, and parented. If we can’t be there for them they will do three things to compensate for their unfulfilled yearning: they will decide we do not love them; they will conclude they do not deserve to be loved; they will look for, discover, and become profoundly influenced by other persons or presences that will parent them in our place.

In the end, we send these hapless children off to our schools, where classrooms are chaotic, disruptive, and filled with children whose parents had little time for them in the early years. Teachers often teach in classrooms that are obsolete and filled with children who have no identity or purpose. We expect teachers to be surrogates when we should be expecting them to bring the intellectual curiosity of our children to life. Teachers should be setting children on fire with knowledge and exploration of their God-given abilities. This should be the most exciting adventure of each child’s life; learning and exploration. So who is to blame for the failure of our schools? For the failure of our children?

Is it the chicken or the egg?

America’s Educational Competitive Edge; Category 5

January 8, 2011 3 comments

Let’s talk about America’s mythological “Competitive Edge”.  Back in 2005 the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine wrote the influential 2005 report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future”. A new report was requested by the presidents of these distinguished academies in 2010, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Approaching Category 5”. The authors of the 2010 report concluded that the nation’s competitive outlook has worsened since the original Gathering Storm issued its call to strengthen K-12 education and double the federal basic-research budget.

The 2010 report notes indications where the United States’ competitive capacity is slipping, some of which includes the following:

•    In 2009, 51 percent of U.S. patents were awarded to non-U.S. companies.
•    China has replaced the U.S. as the world’s number one high-technology exporter and is now second in the world in publication of biomedical research articles.
•    Between 1996 and 1999, 157 new drugs were approved in the United States.  In a corresponding period 10 years later, the number dropped to 74.
•    Almost one-third of U.S. manufacturing companies responding to a recent survey say they are suffering from some level of skills shortage. (My emphasis)

In addition, the nation’s education system has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in math and science. According to the ACT College Readiness Report, 78 percent of U.S. high school graduates in 2008 did not meet readiness benchmark levels for one or more entry-level college courses in mathematics, science, reading, and English. The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 48th in the quality of its math and science education.  FORTY-EIGHTH! (Copies of Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited; Category 5 are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.)

The only way America will meet future challenges is to change the way we parent and educate our people. Charter Schools, which are publicly funded, are yet another popular way to change traditional education, which was originally designed to produce literate factory workers for the industrial age of Ford, Rockefeller, and the like. Up until this industrial push most immigrants in our country verged on being or were illiterate. The chalk board, 30 wooden desks, teacher lecturing, and students taking notes for tests hasn’t changed much since that mandate for public education for all children.

The Charter innovation is described in the documentary “Waiting for Superman” and focuses on the lottery that determines its students. The lottery is conducted in public, and the film illustrates the high drama of the proceedings: The families of the winners are euphoric, the losers despondent. It depicts how desperate parents are to find any alternative to the inner-city schools millions of minority children attend.

According to a 2006 article in U.S. News & World Report one-third of our schools are dysfunctional. They are located in drug-infested, crime-ridden urban neighborhoods to which whites rarely venture. Most of the brightest and most talented teachers are attracted elsewhere. Columnist George Will described the neighborhoods where millions of minority children live and attend schools as “concentrations of the poor, the poorly educated, the unemployed and unemployable.” They also have been portrayed as “prisons without walls.”

Far too many of these students and preschoolers are dealing with hunger, homelessness, abuse and/or neglect. More than 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock. Typically, an impoverished, overwhelmed mother or grandmother is the only adult at home. Students leave dysfunctional homes to attend dysfunctional schools. They’re learning, but the lessons are concentrated on how to survive.

Considering the above, are charter schools the answer? Or does meaningful improvement in education lie elsewhere?

Early childhood is where it is at; this is the decisive moment!

Schools inherit reading problems, which are actually language problems. Learning begins at birth, ideally with two parents providing loving care, cultivating curiosity and offering constant exposure to spoken and written language. These well loved children have been attending “school” since birth.

Schools should extend their expertise to parents of preschoolers and to future parents. They should elaborate on the universal message: Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and learning happens outside the classroom as well as in it. Incoming students who are better-prepared should result in better-performing schools. We need to develop parenting programs for those who are not yet parents as well as for those who are and we need to take these programs into the communities and schools. We need to begin at the beginning.

We’ve been looking in all the wrong places for far too long. We can’t solve a problem by avoiding the cause; it’s rooted in the home. Parents are the key. We need to convince them of their importance and provide ways for them to be effective teachers.

Watch what happens to education in America when we get Parents involved with parenting their sons and daughters for a future that leaves behind their dysfunctional history!

The Family; The Brain Boost!

November 16, 2010 2 comments

So far we have looked at The Family from several aspects; the Smallest School, the Beginning of the Beginning, a Serious Decision, the Uterine Environment and the Moment of Birth, and Postpartum Dads. In thinking about all of this I looked at my own story and how I came to understand the serious nature of birth and childhood. It is an important decision to bring another human life in the world. But the most important parental duty of all is to ensure that the new life in your family has a chance for reaching its full potential.

It doesn’t take a PhD to raise a child in a responsible, loving, family environment. It takes careful thought, selfless action, and parental bonding. Unfortunately for the newborn child, many parents have little understanding of the most crucial and yet often neglected aspect of a newborn life, Brain Development. It is not necessary to understand all of the intricate scientific brain stuff. It is only necessary to have an understanding of the family experiences parents can present which will boost brain growth. Then a common sense, practical approach to early childhood rearing provides the proficiencies that develop Brain Growth in a way that allows your infant to leap forward into their promise.

Let me explore with you some of the research and insights regarding newborn Brain Development, from the blog Early Childhood Brain Insights. These clearly illuminate the parental care and commitment each child must be given in order to reach their promise and full potential:

Did You Know This Mom & Dad?

• Most people do not yet know that 90% of children’s brains are developed in the first 5 years, and 85% in the first 3 years. The brain adapts and grows primarily based on the experiences a child has in     these years before they enter school!

• A developing brain will adapt to whatever happens repeatedly in the environment. For a brain to develop optimally, a child needs to have fun, interesting, loving experiences throughout the day.

• Environments that are chaotic, disorderly or have high levels of stress have a direct influence on how optimally a child’s emotional and thinking areas of the brain develops.

• The easiest time for the brain to learn a second language is during the pre-school years. Research indicates there may be additional benefits when learning multiple languages. Children can develop   better overall verbal skills, a better vocabulary, and sequencing abilities.

• The brain is ready to learn basic math skills in the pre-school years. It doesn’t occur from saying the numbers in order. It learns through doing comparisons of size and shape, and few and many. Connections will be made in the brain when this is done with real objects.

• Research demonstrates that nature helps the brain relax and restore itself after experiencing stress or negative emotions.

• The quality and quantity of exposure to nature directly affects the physical health of the brain.

• Even though the brain is making trillions of connections as an infant and toddler, it takes years throughout childhood and adolescence to organize it into a mature adult brain.

• The quality of the relationship an infant has with his or her parents has a direct impact on the physical development of the brain. This impacts the nature and extent of a child’s perceptions and capabilities.

• Loving interaction with people and exploration of objects is as necessary to a child’s brain development as food.

• By the time a baby is 6 months old the brain may have developed 1,000 trillion brain connections through experiences in their environment.

• A child has already developed a perception of self and their environment by 12 -18 months based on the relationship they have with their parents.

• Brain connections for language are developed through direct interaction with parents NOT through television and videos.

• Aggression, impulsiveness, and lack of empathy can result when a brain experiences repeated neglect, chaos, or violence.

• The brain does not like chaos. It feels more comfortable when it knows what to expect.

• The absence of consistent and quality experiences leads to a loss in brain potential.

• Physical play stimulates the emotion regulating areas in the brain.

• Once the brain is developed it takes much more repetition, time, and consistency to change what has already been hard wired.

• The brain is always changing and making new connections. However, it is more difficult to modify after it has been originally wired in the newborn.

None of the above is out of reach for any parent. Early Brain Development is NOT complicated and it makes an impact that affects every one of us, especially our children. It only takes time, love, and creative thought. Each child deserves a Brain Boost in their first years, without it they are destined for a life of mediocrity and boredom.

The Family; The Smallest School

September 7, 2010 1 comment

“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

I have talked about many things regarding children. I have discussed infant brain development, parents, teachers, curriculum, education, teacher unions, public schools, obesity, and nature, to name a few topics. All of this discourse has brought me back to “The Family; America’s Smallest School”. Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley wrote a report for the Educational Testing Service in 2007 on this topic. It is an interesting and informative read. They assert, as I have in my book, “Peek-a-Boo, I See You!”, that the family is the determining factor in a child’s success in school and beyond. Family means Two (2) Parents + Children.

At last, we are looking at and demanding change in the way we educate our nation’s children. Alarms have sounded and we now admit that our children do not read at grade level, cannot balance a checkbook, write a paragraph, or speak the English language articulately. The richest, most powerful country in the world is producing an illiterate generation compared to its European counterparts. We are depriving our American children of the freedom that comes only through education and literacy. Without these tools they will always be someone else’s slave, never free to create, invent, or fulfill their destiny and promise. It is the Family that ensures a child’s destiny and success, not anyone else, or any entity.

Let’s look at a few statistics:

•    Forty-four percent of births to women under age 30 are out-of-wedlock.
•    Sixty-eight percent of U.S. children live with two parents, a decline from 77% in 1980. Only 35% of Black children live with two parents. In selected international comparisons, the United States ranks the highest in the percentage of single parent households, and Japan ranks the lowest.
•    Nationally, 19% of children live in poverty. The percentages increase to nearly a third or more of Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Hispanic children.
•    Nationally, 11% of all households are “food insecure”. The rate for female-headed households is triple the rate for married-couple families, and the rate for Black households is triple the rate for White households.
•    Nationally, one-third of children live in families in which no parent has full-time, year-round employment. This is the case for half of Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native children.
•    There are substantial differences in children’s measured abilities as they start kindergarten. For example, average mathematics scores for Black and Hispanic children are 21% and 19% lower than the mathematics scores of White children.
•    By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than the average child in a working-class family, and about 35 million more words than children in welfare families.
•    About half of the nation’s 2-year-olds are in some kind of regular, nonparental day care, split among center-based care; home-based, nonrelative care; and home-based relative care. Black children are the most likely to be in day care.
•    Overall, 24 % of U.S. children were in center-based care that was rated as high quality, 66 % were in medium-quality center-based care, and 9 % were in low-quality center-based care. Of those in home-based care, 7 % were in high quality settings, 57 % were in medium-quality settings, and 36 % were in low-quality care. More than half of Black, Hispanic, and poor 2-year olds were in low-quality home-based care.
•    As of 2003, 76% of U.S. children had access to a home computer, and 42% used the Internet. Black and Hispanic children lag behind.
•    Eighty-six percent of U.S. eighth-graders reported having a desk or table where they could study, just above the international average but well below the averages of many countries.
•    Thirty-five percent of eighth-graders watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday. 24% of White eighth-graders spend at least four hours in front of
a television on a given day, while 59% of their Black peers do so.
•    One in five students misses three or more days of school a month. Asian-American students have the fewest absences. The United States ranked 25th of 45 countries in students’ school attendance.
•    Since 1996, parents have become increasingly involved in their child’s school. However, parent participation decreases as students progress through school, and parents of students earning “A” averages are more likely to be involved in school functions than the parents of students earning C’s and D’s.

A new report card by UNICEF on the state of childhood in the world’s economically advanced Nations paints a bleak picture for the future of education in the United States. In the report, UNICEF compared the United States with 20 other rich countries on their performance in six dimensions of child well-being. The United States ranks in the bottom third of these 21 countries for five of these six dimensions. It ranked 12th in educational well-being, 17th in material well-being, 20th in family and peer relationships, 20th in behaviors and risks, and 21st in health and safety.

We can make all the changes we want in our educational structure by implementing and funding Charter Schools, The Seed Schools, Teacher Operated Schools, Parent Operated Schools, Magnet Schools, Waldorf Schools, and Alternative Schools. These progressive and innovative ideas may work for a few, for a time. However, unless the Family, two parents, changes the nurturing of their children, the unattended masses will remain the slaves of those who were nurtured and loved from birth.

The freedom and success we wish for our children is birthed in the Family. Literacy development begins long before children enter formal education. It is critical to their success in school and in life!

Family is A Mother and A Father + Children

I will explore many of these issues in my next series of posts.

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