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Children in Crisis; Drill & Kill

July 12, 2010 5 comments

When my children were very young I remember them asking a lot of questions. “Why?” After a while that word nearly drove me mad. Then one day I sat down and thought about “Why”.

Why can't I catch the water?

Guess what? They were curious about the things that surrounded them; the things they could not understand but saw or felt every day. Why does the wind blow? Why is the sky blue? Why don’t the stars fall down? Why do caterpillars become butterflies? Why is the snow white? Why is the rain wet? All children ask “Why”; it’s when they stop asking that they are in trouble. I still ask questions, having been allowed to do this most of my life. My sons still ask questions.

It seemed natural that children would be asking “Why” nearly every waking moment. Research indicates that pre-school children ask as many as 100 questions a day. It asserts that by the time they reach middle school they stop asking questions and this coincides with the time their motivation and interest plummet. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman state in their Newsweek article, The Creativity Crisis, “They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.”

We send our children off to school when they are 6 so they can get answers to their questions. Why are they coming back to us with the light of excitement gone from their eyes? I’ll tell you why (no pun intended), it’s called “Drill and Kill”.

What is “Drill and Kill” learning?

The “Drill” is learning designed for rote memorization and National test results based upon answering the multiple choice questions correctly. The Drill part is the insanely boring educational practices we have adopted in our American curriculum. Teachers are required to teach a standard curriculum from a textbook and chalkboard. The students are required to memorize the answers to questions that may be asked on the tests administered by the teachers or National Boards. If they pass the tests they are advanced to the next grade level and the school gets high marks for teaching to the test.

The “Kill” part is insidious. It quietly creeps into the psyche of the children and wraps itself around their boredom and they become disinterested. They quit asking questions because they realize their questions don’t matter; what matters is the right answer to the question on the test. They die inside accepting the process because they don’t know any better and there is no reward in asking questions.

What is Problem-Based learning?

This is a curriculum driven by real world inquiry. It’s about the “Why” they began asking when they were old enough to talk. It is about having children solve problems in their classroom courses that require them to develop solutions to dilemmas they confront in the real world. It is about improving life through creative thinking, not through memorization. For example, when our sons asked why the heart beats they went with our home school teacher to the local slaughter company and asked for a cow’s heart, which they gave them in a neat package. They brought it back and dissected it in order to discover the answers to their questions. This led them to an array of more questions and more discoveries; arteries, veins, pumps, blood, chambers, etc., and pretty soon we had an anatomy class going strong. This then led them into healthy hearts, nutrition, gardening, food preparation, herbs, and then into vitamins and minerals. I discuss this in Peek-A-Boo, I See You!

The problem was how does a heart beat? They solved the question by their investigation and creative thinking process. Creativity does not just exist in an art class. It is rampant throughout the educational process, but rarely used. Fact finding and research are vital stages in the creative process. Think about this. How do creative thinkers solve problems in any skill? They first have to ask the question; then they research what exists; they accumulate the facts; finally, after research and fact-finding, they create alternative solutions to problems they are trying to solve.

There is a public middle school in Akron, Ohio called the National Inventors Hall of Fame School. Like all states, Ohio has curriculum standards. Their fifth grade teachers came up with a project for the class. Read below an excerpt from the Newsweek article:

The key is in how kids work through the vast catalog of information. Consider the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, a new public middle school in Akron, Ohio. Mindful of Ohio’s curriculum requirements, the school’s teachers came up with a project for the fifth graders:

PROBLEM: Figure out how to reduce the noise in the library. Its windows faced a public space and, even when closed, let through too much noise. The students had four weeks to design proposals. (emphasis mine)

Working in small teams, the fifth graders first engaged in what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger describes as fact-finding. How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most? Then, problem-finding—anticipating all potential pitfalls so their designs are more likely to work. Next, idea-finding: generate as many ideas as possible. Drapes, plants, or large kites hung from the ceiling would all baffle sound. Or, instead of reducing the sound, maybe mask it by playing the sound of a gentle waterfall? A proposal for double-paned glass evolved into an idea to fill the space between panes with water. Next, solution-finding: which ideas were the most effective, cheapest, and aesthetically pleasing? Fiberglass absorbed sound the best but wouldn’t be safe. Would an aquarium with fish be easier than water-filled panes?

Then teams developed a plan of action. They built scale models and chose fabric samples. They realized they’d need to persuade a janitor to care for the plants and fish during vacation. Teams persuaded others to support them—sometimes so well, teams decided to combine projects. Finally, they presented designs to teachers, parents, and Jim West, inventor of the electric microphone.

Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, Principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty.

Creativity in children is about divergent thinking, generating many unique ideas, and convergent thinking, combining those ideas into the best result for the solution to the problem. Creativity is the production of original ideas that are useful. Children have the most amazing ability to craft the most creative ideas to any problem they encounter. They are fresh, innocent, and have no preconceptions. They are naturally enthusiastic and filled with excitement and energy.

Free our teachers from curriculum based standards that offer little room for creativity and turn them loose into standards that allow them to promote creativity in their students. I’ll bet teachers would become more enthusiastic and creative about their courses. Their students would become excited again about learning, working in groups, and competing.

Americans love competition!

Children in Crisis; 2/3rds Failing Fitness Tests!

What do you mean exercise? Where's the Food!

Two years ago Texas became the first state to mandate annual fitness testing. More than two-thirds of Texas school children flunked the state’s physical fitness test this year. A state analysis last year found that schools with better fitness results also had higher academic performance and fewer discipline problems.

Think about this! This is appalling! What is our nation doing to its children? When I was in school we had 1 hour of physical education every day, which we called “phys ed”. We, the girls, did not like it because it messed up our hair, we got sweaty, had to shower (which messed up our hair, again) and always wished for it to occur 6th period, the last period of the day. It was REQUIRED. It was not an elective. I had to take it from grade three through grade 12. My hair was always a mess by fourth period because I always seemed to have “phys ed” during one of the first 3 periods of the day.

I have already stated the case in a previous post about computers, TV, video games, cell phones, etc., and their dramatic impact on children and their physical experience with the outdoors, nature, and play. But, please forgive me; every time I read something like this I become angry at the lack of common sense and compassion regarding our nation’s children and their health. I read nearly every day about the amazing government waste of our monetary resources that go to politicians, their donors, defense contractors with their cost overruns, teacher unions who spend thousands on lobbying politicians for political favors, etc.

None of these people care about our children. They care about their bank accounts and power. It is all about Power and Money! (You see it really does raise the hackles within me!) By the way, many politicians, teachers, contractors, and those in government or corporate power send their children to private schools where they have the best education with the best physical plant facilities, and lots of private lessons, whose teachers are not tenured. The rest of the population send their children to dilapidated, deteriorating, school buildings, with cafeterias stocking coke and snack machines for money, using tattered books and sub standard classrooms, staffed with teachers protected by tenure even when they molest children.

I thought our high property taxes paid for the public school system? Who wants to bet that your taxes are used in other places and not your schools? Maybe some of your money funds the nearly bankrupted retirement accounts of public government employees? Even President Obama will not send his daughters to the public school system of Washington, DC, the nation’s capital! He wants them to get a good education so they can go to the top flight universities in our country. You know what, I wouldn’t send my sons to those schools either.

If any of these people of power really cared they would be pouring our resources (your property tax money) and their focus into our children and their future, who are the future of the United States of America. We have become a nation of greed and disregard. Our children are the victims. Just look around you in your malls, grocery stores, churches, and neighborhoods. The world is passing us by and we are sacrificing what many other countries will not sacrifice, the children.

Now read what it takes to pass a physical fitness test in Texas if your child is 12 years of age:

To be considered physically fit a 12-year-old boy is expected to:

• Complete one-mile run in no more than 10 minutes, 30 seconds
• Have a body fat percentage of 25 or less
• Perform 18 curl-ups (tests abdominal strength)
• Perform nine trunk lifts (tests trunk strength)
• Perform 10 push-ups (tests upper-body strength)
• Sit with one knee bent and one leg straightened against a box, then reach fingers within 8   inches of the box (tests flexibility)

A 12-year-old girl must:

• Complete a 1-mile run in no more than 12 minutes
• Have a body fat percentage of 32 or less
• Perform 18 curl-ups
• Perform nine trunk lifts
• Perform seven push-ups
• Sit with one knee bent and one leg straightened against a box, then reach fingers within 10 inches of the box

Can you imagine what children will look like in the next 5 years if we do not place an emphasis on nutrition in our school cafeterias, physical fitness in our school programs, and outdoor programs that take children back to nature and the woods? No skin off my nose. My sons were raised in the woods, ate from our garden, and are strong, healthy, educated, and successful. I appeal to the parents of the millions of small ones, who need their parents to speak for them, to rise up, and demand what is rightfully theirs. You do pay the property tax money which goes to all the governments, local, state and federal. Why are we quiet as they take our treasure and split it up amongst themselves? Why is there no public outcry in defense of our small children?

I cannot be the only one who thinks about this?

Children in Crisis; Taking on the Challenges of Parenting

It seems these days that all things begin simple and go to complex as the discussion moves up the chain of command. For example, what is complicated about parenting? It takes common sense, serious thought, dedicated action, and daily commitment. Instead of focusing on the simplicity of what should come naturally to parents in raising children, we build elaborate explanations for poor parenting. Instead of tackling the parenting issue in a straightforward manner as Bill Cosby does, we build an array of complex solutions that require funding, governmental intervention that support places to dump our children, and academic treatise that define a multitude of esoteric explanations devoted to “parenting problems”.

Having said this, I was ruffling about in the stacks of papers on my desk looking for my latest thoughts on parenting when I came across an article I read and printed on March 7, 2010. It was printed in “The Daily Monitor; Truth Everyday; Uganda News…” It came from the Sunday Life section of the paper. I have no recollection of the article and I was intrigued as to what it was that made me print this article by Dennis D. Muhumuza. He credited Fagil Mandy, an educational consultant in Uganda, who developed a series of trainings. Mandy says, “The rising cases of child sacrifice, street children, starvation of children and violence in homes has resulted in a parenting crisis.” The article is amazing in its simplicity of solutions. Follow below the thinking of Fagil Mandy as he is interviewed by Dennis Muhumuza on Uganda’s “parenting crisis”.

Why have you started the Good Parenting training?

Because there is a parenting crisis and we cannot afford to have our future generations going without proper tuning and direction. Parents or potential parents, young people and university students, policy implementers or leaders both in government and private sector or even those interested in learning more about good parenting need to know about addressing the challenges of parenting today; we are going to look at the world of work and education; how to train a child to be a worker, thinker, leader. The world is changing so fast that the demands on a child or the growing up generations are so intense and diversified and the parent must be brought along to understand the diversity in the world today.

You talked of a parenting crisis. What really is the problem?

I’ve run workshops for parents and young people and have made some discoveries: I’ve found out, particularly children from middle class parents have no capacities to deliver, to work, to produce or generate ideas. And, today, because most parents are working, the child is largely neglected so there is an increasing mystery or this huge gap between the parents and the children. Also, I’ve met a lot of parents who think parenting is simply producing a child; most of them think that a child of four or five years doesn’t need any particular guidance and counseling, or driving in a certain direction, so there’s a heavy dose of ignorance. Even more, our education system is not equipping our children with the right attitude, mindset and physical skills to succeed in this tough world.

What are the major concerns of young people in regard to the way they are brought up?

The last time I carried out a leadership training programme, I asked the children what they would have wished their parents to teach them. Many of them regretted that their parents had not talked to them enough about issues of love, relationships, sexuality and even politics and leadership. Also, most of them complained their fathers hardly featured in their lives and that they feel not protected or guided by their parents.

Did you also register any complaints by parents about their children?

Of course! Most parents cried out about the cartoons on TV; their children are becoming cartoons themselves; TV has become a preoccupation for young people. And most TV stations show pornographic material – it is killing their children.

But how can children keep themselves occupied meaningfully in a situation where parents are at work and cannot keep a close eye on them?

But you see, I don’t agree that every parent must work away from home. One of my sons works but his wife is a stay-at-home mother. But most mothers don’t want to first stay home and raise their children because of greed, it’s all primitive accumulations; we think that the wife must produce so much money and the husband so much money but I think someone intelligent enough must sacrifice; why can’t wife and husband organize their activities in such a way that, say, the husband works out and the wife stays at home or looks after a small family business that involves the children too? Parents must involve children in the family business.

In this age of emancipation, women cannot surely be expected to stay at home to look after children.

Why not? I think, again, it is greed; a lot of women are running around in this so called economic independence because they want to run wild programmes. I disagree with that sort of thing because every child needs a stay-at-home mother because there is no way you are going to compensate for the emotional dislocation of a child who has not had proper parentage.

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.

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

Are animals better parents than humans?

Families in Crisis; The Last Child in the Woods

“What is the extinction of a condor

to a child who has never seen a wren?”

Naturalist Robert Michael Pyle

We raised our sons in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. They went to bed with the sound of crickets and woke up with the songs of birds.  I describe their experiences of growing up with nature in “Peek-A-Boo, I See You!” I knew that nature and its quiet presence was essential for their mental and physical well being, because of what it did for me to walk in the woods, dig in a garden, and care for the many small animals that filtered into and out of our lives. Now they are grown men. The experiences of nature in their early childhood instilled an inner peace and serenity that strengthens with each challenge they must meet as men and the woods and its small creatures created a breadth of compassion within them that is touching and disarming.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth

find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Rachel Carson

Millions of our children only experience asphalt and concrete. They never dig in the dirt, plant a seed, or harvest a garden. They never walk in a stream, catch salamanders, or glimpse a fish. They live without ever seeing a cow in a field, smelling a green pasture after a rain, or rescue a wounded animal. My friend Warren, who is retired from the National Parks Service, gave me a book to read, “Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”, by Richard Louv. It is a wonderful book and should be read by every parent who loves their child. I began the book on an airplane and am almost finished.

Have you ever read a book where you keep nodding in agreement with many of the passages. Mr. Louv eloquently speaks to many of my intuitive thoughts and perspectives about children and their need for nature. He created the term “Nature – Deficit Disorder”. He has nailed it! What follows are a few of his observations and the pressing need for parents to bring their children back to the earth and into the woods.

  • Some of the human costs of alienation from nature are: a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. Long standing studies show a relationship between the absence of parks and open space with high crime rates, depression, and other urban maladies.
  • Biophilia, defined as the urge for humans to affiliate with other life forms, is the hypothesis of Edward O. Wilson, Harvard Scientist and Pulitzer Prize winner. His decade of research reveals how strongly and positively people respond to open, grassy landscapes, scattered stands of trees, meadows, water, winding trails, and elevated views.
  • Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the American Declaration of Independence, declared, “digging in the soil has curative effects on the mentally ill.” Carl Menninger led a horticultural therapy movement in the Veterans Administration Hospital system which demonstrated the therapeutic benefits of gardening for people with chronic illnesses. Research has shown that people experience a significant decrease in blood pressure simply by watching fish in an aquarium.
  • A 10 year study by Howard Frumkin at Emory University’s School of Public Health shows gall bladder patients leaving the hospital sooner when their rooms faced a grove of trees as opposed to patients whose rooms faced a brick wall.
  • The childhood link between outdoor activity and physical activity is clear according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Two out of ten children are clinically obese – four times the rate reported in the 1960’s. This obesity epidemic has coincided with the greatest increase in organized sports for children in our history. What are kids missing that soccer and Little League cannot provide? They miss the physical and emotional exercise that children enjoy when they play in nature. It is more varied and less time-bound than organized sports.
  • It is proven that “kids get depressed” when deprived of physical activity in nature. A 2003 survey in the journal of Psychiatric Services found the rate at which American children are prescribed antidepressants almost doubled in five years with the steepest increase – 66% – among preschool children. (my emphasis).
  • Cornell University Environmental Psychologists reported in 2003 that life’s stressful events appear not to cause as much psychological distress in children who live in high-nature conditions compared with children who live in low-nature conditions. The protective impact of nearby nature is strongest for the most vulnerable children – those experiencing high levels of stressful life events.
  • For a whole generation of children, direct experiences in the backyard, in the tool shed, in the fields and woods, has been replaced by indirect learning, through machines. Even though children are smart we know that something is missing as they sit in rooms and interact with machines instead of humans and the natural world.
  • Only seven states even require elementary schools to  hire certified physical education teachers. This has occurred in a country where 40% of 5 to 8 year olds suffer cardiac risk factors such as obesity.
  • Nearly 8 million children in the U.S. suffer from mental disorders, and ADHD is one of the most prevalent ones. Frances Kuo, Andrea Taylor and William Sullivan of the University of Illinois, have found green outdoor spaces foster creative play, improve children’s access to positive adult interaction and relieves the symptoms of ADD. To take nature and natural play away from children may be tantamount to withholding oxygen. (my emphasis)
  • Children’s Hospital in Seattle maintains that each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10% the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders by age 7.
  • Swedish researchers compared children within two daycare settings: one a quiet play area surrounded by tall buildings, with low plants and a brick path; the other a play area based on an outdoor all weather theme set in an orchard surrounded by pasture and woods, adjacent to an overgrown garden with tall trees and rocks. The ”green” day care children, who played outside every day, regardless of weather, had better motor coordination and more ability to concentrate.
  • According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, two-thirds of American children can’t pass a basic physical: 40% of boys and 70% of girls ages 6 to 17 can’t manage more than one pull-up; and 40% show early signs of heart and circulation problems.

”Teaching children about the natural world should be treated

as one of the most important events in their lives.”

Thomas Berry

“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?

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