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Posts Tagged ‘Common Sense Parenting’

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!

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Apple Pie Parenting; A Dose of This and a Dash of That

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I have been asked by so many, “What is good parenting?” Even though I consider the answer to be a matter of common sense and honest, selfless decisions I have come to realize that common sense is not in abundance and selfless decisions are held hostage to ego needs and immediate gratification. So I have concluded that the best answer is another question.

How is good parenting like baking an apple pie?

Let’s take my simple apple crumble pie recipe that I bake for one son. Its ingredients are: a 9” deep dish pie crust, 5 cups apples – peeled, cored and thinly sliced, ½ cup white sugar, ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/3 white sugar again, ¾ cup all purpose flour, 6 tablespoons butter. The oven must be preheated to 400 degrees where I bake the assembled pie for 35 to 40 minutes. Of course all the ingredients must be assembled in just the right way to get tasty results AND the pie must be baked just right to get that crispy top with soft apples under it.

Now what if I left out, because I was busy or distracted with my own needs, one third of the sugar, or the butter. Maybe I only used half the apples. Maybe I forgot the cinnamon; after all it is only ¾ teaspoon and that shouldn’t matter. Maybe I only baked it for 25 minutes. Who would know?

These appear to be such small compromises for my pie that I am serving to my family. Granted, it won’t be the best pie I could bake for them and maybe it won’t taste just right but it will get us through dessert and I could probably camouflage it with a heavy dose of vanilla ice cream.

On the other hand this could have been a superior pie that I would be enthusiastic to serve if I took the time and care in the preparation. There would be no excuses to suffer through and no camouflage tactics to cover up my personal failure to take pride in my creation. Excuses are so complex. It’s so much simpler to do it the right way.

Now let’s take a simple recipe for parenting. Its ingredients are: thoughtful nutrition and healthy balance during the uterine environment, careful physical and emotional maintenance during infancy with many tablespoons of hugs, big arms, and soft talk, a huge bucket full of reading out loud and play time, hundreds of hours of decision making and direction pointing, large and small doses of discipline, many cups of creative thinking, a dash or two of self esteem building, gallons of intellectual curiosity, and a dash of this and a dash of that. Baking time is at least 18 years.

What if we left out some of the dashes, doses, gallons, or buckets? Who would know? The most sorrowful parent is the one who left out some ingredients only to find that 18 years later it was too late to add them back. Like the pie both were baked. You cannot unring a bell. It’s so much simpler to add all the ingredients and do it the right way.

I was reading the “Future Buzz” blog by Adam Singer today. Even though this is a blog about digital marketing he says it all, “Complexity is standard and expected, simplicity is elegant and surprising because it is daring. It requires confidence – you’re taking a chance that what you’re putting out there is good enough to stand on its own.”

Food preparation is an art. Child rearing is an art. It is simple and surprising but when done with confidence it is good enough to stand on its own, no excuses.

Apple Pie & ParentingAPPLE PIE & PARENTING – SAME THING

The Family; Ben Bernanke & Freeman Hrabowski

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I was reading an article this morning that reinforced what I have been writing about these many months. Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman, was asked about the rising financial inequality in the United States and he responded, “It’s a very bad development. It’s creating two societies. And it’s based very much, I think, on educational differences. The unemployment rate we’ve been talking about, if you’re a college graduate, unemployment is 5 percent. If you’re a high school graduate, it’s 10 percent or more. It’s a very big difference.”

Mr. Bernanke added: “It leads to an unequal society, and a society which doesn’t have the cohesion that we’d like to see.”

I found it enlightening that the Fed Chairman is aware of the huge disparity between the financial groups based upon educational achievements. The people at the bottom of the educational scale are usually minorities whose parents are uneducated and whose parents were uneducated. And so it goes, one generation of underachievers perpetuating the next generation of underachievers. This perpetual motion, an action that continues into infinity, enslaves a class of people who shroud themselves in ignorance as if it were a cloak of pride. What is it that makes people continue down the road of satisfied ignorance from generation to generation? How do we change this?

I read another story about Mr. Freeman Hrabowski, who is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Freeman (love his first name) lays awake at night worrying about the low number of college graduates in this country who have degrees in science and engineering.

Right now only about 6 percent of young college graduates in this country have degrees in science or engineering, as opposed to about 10 percent in many developed nations. He states the numbers are far worse for minorities: only 2.7% of young African-American college graduates and 2.2% of Latinos. The United States was once the world’s leader in science education but is now far behind the rest of the world. It ranks 21st out of 30 developed nations in terms of student performance on international science tests. It ranks 27th among developed nations in the percentage of students who graduate from college with degrees in the natural sciences and in engineering.

Freeman led the committee that produced “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation,” an eye-opening study issued by the National Academies, the country’s leading science advisory group.  The report sets the goal of nearly doubling the percentage of science graduates. To reach this goal, the country should at least triple the percentage of science and engineering degrees granted to underrepresented minority groups, who will represent nearly half the national population by the year 2050. Mr. Hrabowski leads by example at U.M.B.C., which now produces more minority scientists than any predominantly white institution in the country.

I then went on to read about 21-year-old Zakiya Qualls, a senior-year science research student at Howard University and her dream of finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Ms. Qualls was one of more than 150 students who received awards last month at the 10th Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, in Charlotte, N.C. It is sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and attracted about 2,000 mainly minority students, along with hundreds of research program recruiters and professors who led seminars and judged competitions.

Then there was James McCann, a quiet young man from St. Edward’s University in Texas, who wowed the conference with his work on a bacterium that preys on victims of cystic fibrosis. And how about Melissa Youssef, a 21-year-old senior and award winner from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. whose experience at the ceremony was life changing and who went home determined to pursue both an M.D. and a Ph.D., even though it will probably take eight years.

What do these wonderful young award winners have in common beside their race or ethnicity? I am willing to bet my lucky rabbit’s foot that it is their parents. They committed to raising their children from conception to a goal of elevation, above the normal. They, as my parents, improved the next generation. Even though Asians are considered a minority group their success is unrivaled in our educational institutions across our country. I’ll bet my lucky rabbit’s foot that this is largely due to their parents, who value family, education, discipline, and ambition.

We cannot continue to disregard the importance of parenting in hopes that we can change children, who are ignored from birth, into scholars and high achievers. We must begin at the beginning and help those who are having children to become loving, committed parents. It is the parents who first open and cultivate curious minds. It is only possible to educate and enlighten minds that are open.

If we can find a way to accomplish this then Mr. Ben Bernanke and Mr. Freeman Hrabowski may turn their attention to other matters of worldly concern.

Family & Parenting = Success

The Family; A Serious Decision

October 6, 2010 1 comment

I used to tell my sons, “The most serious decision you will ever make in your entire life is the woman you choose to be the mother of your children. Your children and your family will prosper if you make this decision carefully, thoughtfully, and with love.” It’s a simple concept and yet so many children are born haphazardly into relationships where their parents are children, and whose parents were children, and so it goes.

I don’t know how to change humanity. I don’t even know how to influence the children who are having children. Since they come from families where they were conceived with little thought, and raised with little guidance, how can we expect a generation of the thoughtlessly conceived to care about the uterine environment, birth, and childhood of their children? How can we expect them to care about raising their children with love, care, and discipline when they were not offered this opportunity in their own lives? It is a leap! I am asking for a leap into the unknown. How do parents become something that was not demonstrated to them as children? This is the dilemma.

In order to change a generation, the generation who produces it must change. Change is difficult but it is possible. I did it. If I did it, anyone can do it. I was raised by parents who were teenagers when I was born. Childhood for me was difficult at best. However, when I became an adult and had children I was determined they would not be raised as I was. I knew I had to accept the responsibility of changing myself so these small, innocent wonders would have a different life than mine.

It is the responsibility of each generation to improve the next. If this enlightenment does not occur then generation after generation languishes in an unending cycle of ignorance, poverty, and repetition. How undignified! How humiliating! What a curse to place upon an infant before they even have time to open their eyes and smile up at whoever it is that birthed them.

Now you might ask, “What does this have to do with education?” Everything!

If we are unable to reach and influence today’s parents about how they birth and raise their children in stable environments, and who are surrounded with care and love, then we will never have an opportunity to produce a generation that will be free of the repetitious past of the generations preceding them. We need to begin at the beginning. We need to find a way to reach into our culture and have parents realize that when they have children they are their guardians and teachers. They are their example.

This begins in the uterine environment where the child gets its nutrients through the mother’s placenta. She is the Beginner. How do we do this? How do we change those who are soaked in poverty and humiliation? How do we unhinge peer pressure that manipulates so many children into staying where they are, wearing their sloth like a badge of honor? Somewhere, someone has an answer and I am anxious to hear it. We are running out of time. We are falling behind and soon our nation’s children will become the slaves of those nations whose children are motivated by parents who are raising and improving the next generation.

We need to send our children to school with an attitude of self confidence, intellectual curiosity, and undaunted creativity. We need to unburden our educational system from the job of disciplining children and set them free to teach, educate, and enlighten. We need to return to discipline, structure, and compassion in the classroom. This can only be done when there is discipline, structure, and compassion in the home.

I know this sounds so old century to a generation that is hyped on technology. But you know, the truth is some things never change. Some things are absolutes. Parenting is one of those unchangeable, absolute laws of nature.

The Family; It Begins at the Beginning

October 4, 2010 2 comments

We blame our Public Educational System because we say they aren’t producing educated children. We pile on teachers because we say they are lazy, self serving, and cannot teach. We blame teacher unions for protecting incompetent teachers, who cannot be fired. We say these teachers and their unions are destroying the future of our children, the future of our country. Our politicians throw billions into this seemingly corrupt and incompetent system and we blame them for pandering to unions and teachers. When you think about it we have conjured up an amazing array of scapegoats for our failures as parents to birth and raise our children so they are able to be educated.

I am not excusing the system, its teachers, or their unions. I was a teacher once. I was compelled to join the union, whose dues were deducted from my check. I know the public educational system is crumbling, figuratively and literally and I don’t much care for politicians. All of this awareness and finger pointing does not solve the problem of educating our children. It only keeps the blame game going on endlessly with no hope in sight for resolution. However, it does make for empty cocktail conversation that resolves nothing.

Somehow we must lift unaware parents into an awareness of their parental responsibilities so they may send intellectually curious, alert, physically healthy, and disciplined children into our school systems. If we take away the excuses the educational system has for not doing their job, we then allow our many good teachers to actually educate. With properly parented children we take back the power to demand the best results for our children. As the Japanese say, “Forget about blame; solve the problem.”

Instead of beginning at the end; let’s begin at the beginning.

I read an article this morning, At Risk From the Womb, by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. He is a man who champions the rights of women from all over the world and has written a book with his wife called, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”. I admire his honest writing. His article points out that the uterine environment is a critical factor in determining the mental and physical success of the child. He says, “Researchers are finding indications that obesity, diabetes and mental illness among adults are all related in part to what happened in the womb decades earlier.” What struck me most about this article, which I highly recommend you reading, is that a stressful uterine environment may be the mechanism that allows poverty to replicate itself generation after generation. Women who come from poverty will absorb the stress of their environment into their uterine child and instead of one generation improving the next these offspring remain dormant, stuck in a cycle of deprivation based upon ignorance.

We will solve our educational problems by beginning with parenting, and we must begin during the uterine cycle. Mr. Kristof goes on to lament, “The result is children who start life at a disadvantage — for kids facing stresses before birth appear to have lower educational attainment, lower incomes and worse health throughout their lives. If that’s true, then even early childhood education may be a bit late as a way to break the cycles of poverty.”

We must begin at the beginning, the uterine environment. Then we must develop an awareness of infant needs and responses after birth. How can we really expect our teachers and schools to deliver a high standard of education and literacy to our children when we resist learning how to parent them with diligence? An article in my June 25th post by Dennis D. Muhumuza of Uganda, quoted Mr. Fagil Mandy:

What is the true measure of a parent?

First, one must be knowledgeable enough – one is not going to be a parent worth their soul when they are ignorant; a parent must know a bit of everything because they are the encyclopedia for their child. Secondly, parents must know how to do several things because a child must follow their example; you must be a good reader, be able to clean your own compound, fix a bulb and have a multi-skilled capacity for your child to emulate. Also, you must be healthy; no child likes to grow up with a dying parent; remember, a parent must help the child lead a healthy life and how can you do that if you are not healthy yourself? Then of course, a parent must be able to generate enough income to look after the family and be available to provide the time required for the child. If you are unavailable, don’t produce the child. (My emphasis)

Simple, straight forward, uncomplicated – Mr. Fagil Mandy is on to something in Uganda!

This is the beginning.

UTERINE CHILD

Children in Crisis; 4 Year Olds Competing on Tests

What are we doing to our children? Where is our common sense? Who are these parents? What are they thinking? Why are they stealing childhood from these beautiful 4 year old innocents?

Blowing Bubbles in the Wind

Parents used to comfort their children in their arms. They used to put “bambaids” on their “boo-boos” when they fell down. Children used to play in backyard kiddy pools or run through front yard sprinklers screaming with joy. Their laughter used to fill the streets of family neighborhoods. Ice cream trucks were the gathering place in the evening with shouts of flavors and a little pushing here and there. Sandlot games and neighborhood competition were places of healthy physical ventilation for childhood frustration. Children used to ride bikes to school; roller skate to the houses of their friends, fly kites on windy days, skip rope, play hide and seek or kick the can. They were not fat, or obese.

Italian families ate a lot of pasta, no one got fat. Slavic and Irish families ate a lot of potatoes, no one got fat. Dinner was a family affair and everyone showed up, or else! The father was the head of the household and the mother ruled the roost. The children were protected, loved, sheltered, and treasured. They knew their boundaries and when they stepped out of bounds they were hardily pushed back in. I traveled once with a friend whose out of control 2 year old child became a distraction at every meal. Finally, I leaned over to my friend one evening, looked directly at the child, and told the mother, “In our household the parents controlled the children; the children did not control the parents.” I lost a friend and the child grew up to become an obnoxious adult who needed obsessive attention. Undisciplined children become undisciplined adults.

Now we have an educational system that has something called “gifted kindergarten” testing for entrance. Parents in New York are sold this ridiculous bill of goods and spend thousands of dollars on books and prep classes for their 4 year old sons and daughters so they can be admitted into these kindergarten programs. Many do not make “the cut” leaving parents devastated and children feeling inadequate.

Can you imagine, $90 workbooks, $145 an hour tutoring, and weekend “boot camps” for 4 year olds? One tutoring company, who services this industry in New York, says that parents of the 120 children her staff tutored spent an average of $1,000 on test prep for their 4 YEAR OLD CHILDREN! THAT’S $120,000!

Have parents lost their minds?

The Public School Nightmare – John T. Gatto

July 22, 2010 1 comment

John Taylor Gatto is the author of Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. He was the 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year.

I just read his article, The Public School Nightmare: Why fix a system designed to destroy individual thought? Please click on the link and read what this man has to say.

If you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or thinking about having a child you MUST read this article. Even though I am unfamiliar with this man, he is stating the case for what I believed when I became a parent. I taught in the public school system after graduation from my university. I know what I experienced and I know how I felt about my students. I experienced the most amazing resistance from my principal and colleagues to innovation and creativity within the classroom. The rejection was discouraging. They did achieve their goals; I quit the system.

When I became pregnant I determined that our children would have a childhood filled with what Bertrand Russell describes below:

“Bertrand Russell once observed that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking. When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That’s if you want to teach them to think.”

Thinkers! I write about how we achieved this in my book , Peek-A-Boo, I See You.

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