Thursday, December 27, 2012

Musings


1)  The factory is EXACTLY what our high school experience is based on (this is not a new idea and many others have correctly pointed it out.  Our structure of 45 minute periods, of having bells signal the beginning and end of the period, the standardization of everyone learning the same things, is all directly off a factory model and is just incredibly out-dated.

Seriously now, why is everyone in high school learning about sine curves and how to balance chemical equations, but not how to recognize a scam or realize that Romney math does not add up?  There needs to be a massive new thinging about the content and structure of high school, and the standards movement is doing exactly the opposite.

About college, this is both a social and educational experience where you are learning that you are not the center of the universe.  This can happen intellectually on the internet, but not socially.

I do think almost everyone gains from college, but some for different reasons than others.

For bright, motivated, skilled kids: 

Academic preparation for graduate school
Learning that there are more questions than answers
Learning how to write a college level paper.
Learning how to research
Learning how much you don't know
Learnng how to create their own theories, how to test them and how to defend them.
In some cases, learning career skills

Average kids

Learning how to write more clearly
Learning how to find information you need to know
Learning how to read skeptically
Learning how to prepare for a career

Weak kids

Learning skills write a coherent sentence
Learning grammar and syntax rules
Learning how to understand what you read
Learning basic math skills and how to use them
Learning specific skills for a career

This is basically Grade 13

All kids (other options like Teach for America, the military, Peace Corps will also provide this)

All adolescents benefit from a Time Out, called a psycho-social moratorium in the literature.  It is a chance to try out different personalities, ways of coping, social groups etc. without great consequence.  You break up with your girlfriend, fail a test, let a friend down...so what.  You move on.  It is an opportunity to try out the things many parents have squashed through the previous 18 years:  taking risks, learning from mistakes, advocating for yourself, speaking your mind, behaving appropriately and learning the risks and consequences of not doing so. 

Unfortunately, the conditions for these are significantly reduced or eliminated for kids who commute or take on-line courses.  It is even worse for kids who live at home and directly enter the work force. 

2)  My highest area of interest is the developmental needs of adolescents and this goes back the to transition of childhood to adulthood.  No transition is instant.  There is always a time when you have left the previous stage behind yet have not entered the new stage.  It is highly useful to all adolescents to have this opportunity to have a supported transition.
  
For many, college is a pretty damn expensive way to accomplish this goal.  Can kids go through the transition to adulthood without it, sure.  Things like travelling, the military, living on a Kibbutz, etc. can do this as well.  And I am not saying that those who enter employment right from high school cannot go through a healthy transition to adulthood, but it is harder and it will not happen as long as parents don't let it occur by micromanaging their kids lives and misguidedly protecting their children by not allowing them to learn from their mistakes. 


3)  "They hold their subordinates responsible for accomplishing things without giving them the resources or authority to make decisions "  That's certainly familiar to me:  all the responsibility with none of the authority, which is exactly what they think they are doing to me at work.  But the jokes on them....I earn authority by respect and have no desire for the bullshit they think of as authority.  I just say "I don't have the authority to do that" whenever there is something I don't think is right to do, and take care of everything I find important.  I had this boss who had been through EST because he needed assertiveness.   So I would give him options, one almost obvious, one ridiculous, and he would "choose" the obvious one.  Little has changed for me.  I do the important work and they make the "decisions", ones that really only I can make because they are so dependent on my knowledge and skills.  So I really make the decisions, have the authority, and they are taking responsibility.  Its genius!


4)  The end of so much of this parenting, in the parents mind, is college.  That is when the kids leave the nest.  It is the end of micro-managing, except for a highly tenacious breed of helicopter parent.  
So, what is the metric for good parenting:  college admissions.  And who defines who gets admitted:  college admissions folk.  The higher they set the bar, the earlier kids get homework, the more summers are spent at academic camp.  My kids were doing homework for kindergarten!  You should see the homework my 6th grader gets.  He's taking algebra as a 6th grader so it is possible for him to progress to AP Calculus as a junior and Calc III as a senior. 

5)  We, and I do mean all of us, are conspiring to create a generation of stressed out, crippled children.  Yes, you the parents who expect so little of your children except for performance in school, yes you, secondary school people who brag to realtors and board members how many of our kids got into Ivies or the such.  There is one group, though, who can do the most to change this.  The raising of the bar in terms of expectations from students in college admissions is the most pernicious trend in all of child rearing.  Yes, more pernicious than the over-controlling and over-meddling parents who see their children as frail waifs with no resilience.  Yes, more than the Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, test prep, college admissions test community.  That line, that one line, is controlling so much of our children:  "the most important thing we look at is the rigor of the senior year schedule."  And why, pray tell, do the colleges do this?  Because they can, and it is an easy form of adolescent boot camp to separate the wheat from the chaff.  So my plea:  4 is enough.  The most selective colleges need to be loud and clear that 4 major courses at the terminal level is enough.  Let kids know that there will not be any advantage in terms of admissions beyond this and act on it.  I know it feels wrong.  I know that if you can mold children into little adults with your expectations, you will do so.  But, sadly, they are not little adults; they are children in the process to adulthood.  I think the college admissions community has to take a long hard look at what they are creating, or if not creating, contributing mightily to: a generation of kids so self-conscious and so stressed out that they are incapable of engaging in the growth needs of adolescence.  So write me off line, letting me know that you are at least talking about this at your colleges.  We have seen the growth of positive movements in our profession, from the actions people like Lloyd Thacker and organizations like FairTest.  Let's make this the next one.  Let's have a public site where colleges can pledge that "4 is enough."  Give our children back their childhood.

6)  I don't understand the joy in, most cases, moving money from one place to another, working your tail off to do so, and in the process making a lot of money for you and a huge amount of money for your employer.  I understand the need for capital and enterprise and investment, and I understand taking pride in what you do, no matter what your do.  But I can much more understand the pride in serving ice cream or picking up garbage or being a teller at a bank more than the pride in what so many in the financial services do.  I read Stockman's article and am disgusted(http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/10/14/david-stockman-mitt-romney-and-the-bain-drain.html).   Did he make money for his investors?  Yes. Did he violate your standards:  Don't do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. Don't do anything that is not in our customer's best interests. Don't do anything completely stupid. No.  

But these actions would fail a whole lot of other ethical tests...greatest good for the greatest number...well, no.  Going from Teach to America to working in business is a leap I am not ready to take.  We need businessmen, we need honest businessmen, ethical businessmen.  But this is almost an oxymoron to me, because the end of business is to make money and there is not a clear line what is "ethical" in meeting that goal, because ethics are not meaningful here.  In professions where dealing with other human beings is the end or healing is the end or helping is the end, there is an ethical component, because there is a mandate to make the lives of others richer.  In business, there is a mandate to make investors richer.  

I am not offended by business people.  I just had a friend's husband die.  In the one-page description of his life, it told how he was the old school type of investment banker, how when he was raising money for a company that make farm equipment, he would know the users of the equipment and the makers of the equipment and knew about their lives and their dreams and saw himself as part of the solution to make their dreams come true.  All well and good, and I truly believe he was an honorable and ethical fellow who cared about people.  But that's not what made him a good businessman; that was making money!  I could go on and on of the divorce of financial capital from human capital, and that is really the point...just the thing that makes it worse.  

7) There was this story from the book of this woman who was first going to counseling and described her closet.  There were the clothes for her husband, for her boss, for her friends.  As she went through the transition to a stage where she had relationships rather than being controlled by them, she entered a new reality where all the clothes were hers.  Sure there were ones her husband liked, but they were still hers.  No matter whether we are looking at an adult, or the role as a parent, or at a child, this is a pretty vital thing to understand...the transition from being to having.  Before, this woman was her relationships and she grew to owning and controlling them rather than the other way around.  A newborn infant is totally a product of their needs, and we see our first role as a parent to teach them how to control those needs so the needs do not control them.  Children grow older and they learn to not have their impulses control them.

So how does this affect how we act in the world?  As parents, we need to realize that these transitions take ever-increasing maturity and growth.  And children can only grow to the next stage if they are allowed to.  Much has been written about adolescence and the need for them to differentiate from their parents.  Storm and stress is the hallmark of this stage, and the portal to adulthood.  The obsessive desire to protect children from these, to reduce stress and conflict, leads to dependent and immature adults.  The flip side of this, these kids are not ready for many of the burdens we do place on them.  
I don't know where are when it started.  As clich√© as is now seems, mine was a pretty delightful childhood, basically with parents who were (and still are, at 86) there when I wanted and needed them and left me alone when I did not.  On weekends, I would disappear all day, in the woods building tree forts or the such, until my mom rang the bell for dinner.  She had no idea where I was or what I was doing.  

What caused the change, the fear of ever-present danger, the compulsion to control every aspect of a children's life, the view of children as fragile creatures? When did parents lose faith in the resilience of their children?  There was a hurricane last week that knocked out power to much of the town.  Our school, though, did have power and I made the decision, as test center supervisor, to hold the SAT testing at the school.  The parents freaked out.  "How can Johnny get in the right mind for such an important test when we don't have power in the house?"  Blogs were lighting up with comments and surveys, yes surveys, about whether this was the right decision.  Of course it was.  Those who needed to test could do so, those who were not ready could take the next test, one month away.   "The students were unable to advocate for themselves, so we needed to take matters into our own hands,"  was the implication.  And why can't the students not advocate for themselves?  Because they are crippled by parents who do not allow this.  They  called the superintendent, wrote to the town paper, created a movement.  Why, because their children were too frail, impaired in my view, to be able to wake up, get dressed and eat through the natural light of day, then be able to take a test?

And most upsetting, and this is relatively new, the children not only let them, but expected this of them.  I cannot in my wildest imagination see my parents doing anything like this nor would I do this for my children.  All the hallmarks of adulthood, taking on increased responsibility for yourself and your decisions, assuming greater risk, accepting consequences (and learning from them) are being robbed from our children.  We are raising a generation of children who are expected to get good grades and test scores, and little else.  And if they do not, there is a ready diagnosis and medication.  We have gone from an era of "yes we can" to "no he can't".  Chores are a term of a different era.  Children are allowed to talk to adults with a degree of condescension and dismissiveness that is not healthy for them.

Too much control and power is very scary (and very unhealthy for) any children.  As children age, they need boundaries more than protection.  What is the consequence of this?  Kids who cannot make decisions for themselves and fear the wrong things.  These kids fear what they cannot control because so much has been controlled for them.  They fear the strange, the unusual and the unpredictable.  What they should be fearing is that they do not have the tools to take risks and learn from mistakes in a way that will lead to a meaningful and fulfilling life.  The sad truth is that it is good for kids to experience failure sometimes,  to suffer sometimes, to not be happy sometimes.  
I was breaking up with this girl when I was in graduate school, after having been continuously in a relationship since early high school.  I was also going through this depression, something I had never been through before (or since).

I read this book and I realized he was right...I was transitioning from being my relationships, having them control me, to having relationships, where they are separate and apart from me.  I knew I needed to end this relationship but didn't get why until I got this...I was moving to a new place where my old way of being did not work anymore.  

And when you leave one stage before you leave the next, you actually mourn your former self...you have not move on to the new place but you have left the old place behind, sort of a psychic homelessness.

Anyway, the only relevant point for child rearing is this whole vicarious living thing is treating children as something they are not and expecting them to be what they cannot be.  The irony is that this over-protectiveness is preventing students from growing and taking away the tasks of adolescence.  You probably read in my book the need for students to go through a period of "storm and stress" and engage in a "psychosocial moratorium" where they define who they are. They will not just pass over this if it is not allowed to go on... it will just be foreclosed to the future, frequently with disastrous consequences.  Not letting kids be kids is one of the most horrible things we can do as parents....it is a really misguided approach to parenting that may have more devastating consequence than abuse or neglect...but the parents see it as protection.


8)  If I look at who I hire and am happiest with, I get people who share these traits:

See counseling as a mission, not a job.
Take great pride in what they do.
Thirst for learning.  Learn something one day and use it the next.
Are efficient and hard working.
Are decently smart, are not prideful or arrogant.
Are perfectionists.
Set extremely high standards for themselves.
Are empathetic and can place themselves in the place of their students or parents.

They do not have to be that smart, just smart enough to know what they do not know and to know what they need to know.
My best employees did not have off the chart SAT's, attend Ivy League or similar colleges or have ambition to keep on moving up in the world.  They are great counselors, and would love being counselors for the rest of their lives.  

That's what is successful in my world.  Whether that is transferrable, I do not know.


9)  We are constantly ascribing adult qualities and judgments on children, and my point was that children are just that, children.  I used to take my high school psychology class to meet with 2nd graders and give these second graders these seemingly easy situations involving variables (something almost no second graders are ready for).  One involved 2 dead plants and one live plant with each getting either water, plant food or sun and only the one getting sun was alive.  The high school students were amazed that the 2nd graders could not figure this out, no matter how obvious it seemed.  

It is a point of child rearing, i.e. that that are things that kids do when they are ready and they are not just little adults.  
This book will make you cringe as much as it will make you laugh.  You will squirm with discomfort at recognizing that you are not immune from a culture that is pushing kids too hard and too soon to achieve what they are not ready for.  You will also find relief and comfort in ways to finding a way to gain perspective and build tools to work with your child to really enjoy their childhood.  You cannot lose a game you do not play.  How do you and your children survive, even flourish, in an atmosphere of entitlement, advantage and instrumentalism?  Its not what you do that matters, its what you see, what you think and how you perceive.  

I went to a 4th grade parent-teacher conference, and was told by the teacher that Kira, my daughter, and this kid Michael were taking up too much of her time with they squabbles.  It turns out that this kid Michael was a serial bully who would find a victim and just hassle them mercilessly.  When I asked my daughter about it, she was in tears and I found out from some other parents that their kids had been victimized before he turned his attention to other kids.  I called the kids mom and said the boy is to have no contact with Kira at all and then informed the teacher.  I was so pissed that the teacher had no idea what was going on and just saw it as an intrusion of her orderly classroom.

Also, about kids making better decisions than parents...no, I do not think they can make better decisions without any assistance.  They have no life experience, no perspective and by definition, are narcissistic and omnipotent in their own minds.  But given the safety and security and, when requested, the information and perspective, they CAN make the best decision for THEM.  We rob 17- and 18-year olds of their dignity when we feel we can make important life decisions for them, and without them.


11)  10 things I’d tell parents:

1)    Your kids are a lot more resilient than you think they are.  Give them some faith and some credit.  They will always appreciate this.  The obsessive desire of many parents to protect their children from pain, hardship or unhappiness is making them less able to deal with setbacks that will inevitably come into their lives.  I watch parents of preschool children doing puzzles.  They cannot help themselves from giving hints to their kids to help them solve the puzzle:  "How about that piece?  Do you think that will work in that spot?"  In my environment, it takes more the form of an angry e-mail (complete with capitalized, bolded words and carbon copies) or phone calls about how "angry" they are about a situation that is "unacceptable" because their child "must" have a certain teacher, get a certain grade, or be allowed some privilege that is not available to others.  If something is important for your child, let them advocate for themselves.  You'd be surprised at how much more effective it is than for you to jump to aid and protect them when hardship comes.
2)    It is wrong to think that there is something wrong with your child whenever they do not perform up to your expectations.  Every child has strengths and weaknesses; value and nourish their strengths and challenge them to confront their weaknesses.  It seems to have become more fashionable to seek accommodations to account for every weakness a child has, to have the world change to accommodate what your child cannot do well.  There are no 504 plans or IEP's outside of a school setting.  It is tough to determine the difference between a disabling condition and a weakness.  Is this something your child cannot do, is not willing to do or does not like to do?  Unless there is overwhelming evidence that the first is true, act on the latter two.  We were told our youngest child showed signs of ADD and we should consider testing and medication.  Instead we drilled him on his multiplication tables, limited his computer time, had monitored reading time and forced him to re-write his essays from the first draft.  Would Atiral and a 504 plan with preferential seating and extended time have helped him?  Possibly.  But we considered this as a last resort, not the first.
3)    You cannot find a passion for your child; you can just nourish it.  Sometimes you set out conditions that your child takes to.  My oldest son took to athletics, something I could share with him.  I got to spend lots of time with him coaching him and ferrying him to practices and tournaments.  My youngest came to my first practice and let me know he would never return.  He has discovered that he loves singing and acting and now attends a school with a specialty in the arts, an area way out of my ken.  But I am learning about singing and acting from him, something that is as joyful as teaching him.
4)    15 years olds discover something that 14 year olds do not know:  that there is nothing you can do to make them do what you want them to do.   Once they make that discovery, everything changes.  They will do everything they can to show you the new found power they have.  You can take away everything, their phone, their computer, their games and they will stay in their room and count the dots in the ceiling tiles just to prove that you cannot make them do anything.  When they are out of your site, they will do everything you had told them presented a danger.  The lesson:  give your children the freedom to learn from their mistakes, be strict where it matters, and treat them with trust and respect before they turn from compliant to defiant.
5)    You’re children will find the right college for them....if you let them.  If you once say or even think that "we" are in the college process, you are doing it wrong.  You can only discover, not decide, that a small college is right for your child.  Take advantage of opportunities to expand knowledge and options.  Drive through different college campuses during vacations.  Ask questions when your child becomes a junior.  Do you think you'd be more comfortable with a larger college?  Do you think you want to be close to home?  If you find yourself about to say "I think you should go into engineering," get yourself a stiff drink or go work out.
6)    Your child’s counselor is your ally.  It is in no ones best interest to make this relationship adversarial.  Your child's counselor is like your lawyer or your financial advisor:  they are advocates.  You should use them for advice or perspective.  A good counselor will go to the mat to get what your child needs.  There can be a lot of confusion discerning what you want from what your child needs.  Have your child's counselor help bridge that gap.  If you remain stuck on what you want, you may move further and further from getting what your child needs.
7)    Whenever the “college talk” begins in your family, limit it to one night a week.    When the college process starts, it sometimes feels like a light switch goes on.  You now have a chance to take matters into your own hands to have one last opportunity to control their future and ensure their success.  Before the college process:  "How was school?"  "Fine."  After the college process begins:  "So when are you going to take your SAT's?"  "Did you begin those essays yet?"  What SAT prep course do you want to take?"  And on and on.  It becomes overwhelming and will distance you more from your child.  Let your child produce a time frame for completing what needs to done and use that one night a week to let them tell you of their progress. 
8)    Character matters.  Scruples matter.  Integrity matters.  You pass these on to your children and they will be ready for life.   In every situation with your children, you need to model these things.  In sports, don't question the decisions of the coach or the referee.  In school, let the teacher teach and become a partner with the teacher, not an adversary.  Be honorable, respectful and value any opportunity to demonstrate that you can be tough and resolute without being rude or disrespectful.
9)    It is not okay to apply different moral standards to actions that involve you protecting your family than you would apply in other situations.  Every day I encounter parents who use language with me or others in the school that they would never use in any other professional situation.  The reason they give is always the same:  they are protecting their children.  Sometimes it comes with different language, like they want to make sure that their child has every advantage.  The effect is the same, a level of aggressiveness that would be inappropriate in virtually any other situation but is considered okay in defense of their children.
10) Your child may not like school, but they may still love learning.  Foster this.  More schooling frequently comes with the advantage of more options in life.  A high school degree was, in the past, an entry credential for many jobs and, with more students in college and fewer jobs available, a college education is more frequently a credential for entry level positions.  But school is not an inherent good.  Many highly successful individuals never completed college, or even high school.   It is great when students love school and do well at it, but a child is not a failure if they do not.  Discover what makes them learn and explore and create conditions where they can practice this.  This frequently can lead to success in the future more than success in a school environment. 
11) The college admissions process is a good time to practice giving up control of your children.  Adult age is not just a number.  It is a time when children start learning to make decisions for themselves and learn how to protect and take care of themselves.  Every bone in your body may say that this is the last opportunity to protect and guide and share the pearls of wisdom that your child has ignored for the previous 17 years.  Fight it!  Step back and get out of the way.  Provide support and encouragement.  Be there when they need you.  Practice NOT saying anything when you see that things are not going as you think they should.  You will be surprised at what your children can accomplish with your confidence and support.
12) Stop worrying about the college your child is going to go to and start worrying about the world that they are entering.  To be successful in today's world, people need to be constantly learning, growing and adapting.  A single credential will not ensure success.  The ability to adapt and grow will.  Most people will change jobs eight or more times and careers 3 or more times.  Most spend only a couple of years in their first job out of college, with future jobs dependent on their skills rather than their credentials.  

What would you want to say to kids directly if you were sure their parents would never find out?

14) Kids, I have some messages to tell you.  I need you to promise me that this is just between us, okay?  You will find these things out eventually, but it is better to know about them now.  For most of you, your parents really worry about money.  They worry about how they are going to pay for college if you and your siblings choose to go to an expensive private college.  They wonder if their jobs are in jeopardy, how they will fix the car or the furnace or put a new roof on the house.  They will tell you that everything will be okay and that this is not something for you to worry about, and that is true.  But it is not something that you should ignore, either.  They also do not know the right thing to do.  They have the same doubts and worries that you have when you make a decision, but theirs frequently have greater costs when they make mistakes.  Your mistakes result in break-ups or an F on a test; theirs to divorce or losing their home.  Your parents frequently feel guilty for everything that went wrong in your life or theirs.  You know that time you got stitches from that fall when you were four.  Guilt.  They should have been watching you better.  Why it this important to know?  Because until you are living on your own and providing for yourself (and maybe not even then), they will still be trying to control and protect you not because you need it, but because THEY need to do it.  Be kind and patient yet firm.  Your independence comes with the cost of learning and sometimes suffering from your mistakes.  That's what life is all about.  There will come a time, many years in the future, where you be worrying about and taking care of your parents.  This is not that time.  But it is the beginning of the process of you taking care of yourself and you have as much control of this transition as your parents do

 There is a natural tendency to believe that there is nothing out of your control.  Your parents have been acting on this for most of your life.  They have tried to find the best pre-school for you, the best medical care, the best teachers, and the safest neighborhood.  They made sure you had clothes which were functional yet cool, that you were not bullied, and that you were given every possible advantage to be happy and successful.  This has its pinnacle in the college admissions process.  If you believe what your read in the media, admission into the "right" college will be the key that will open the door to your future success.  Finding the right college will have advantages in life, but this is not it.  You will make some friends that will last for the rest of your lives.  And you will learn what you are good at and enjoy doing.  But you will not have a ticket for life.  Often admission to graduate school or getting hired is more of a function of how you succeeded at a difficult situation, like dealing with the bureaucracy at a large state university, than succeeding in a pampered environment.  You will find and go to a college that is right for you, and if not, transferring is a perfectly viable option.  After your twenties, no one cares about what you got on your SAT's, what colleges you got into or even what college you attended.  What matters is what you have accomplished with you have had and what skills and characteristics you bring to the table
College will change your life.  It will teach you to learn how to learn, something you were not ready for up to this point.  You will learn that there are many more questions than answers and things you took for granted as facts are, in truth, just opinions.  You will learn how good you are at making your own intellectual decisions.  You will learn how to try out different lifestyles like never before and how to learn from your mistakes.  Can these things happen at any college?  Yes.  Will they?  Yes, if you go to the college that is right for you.  The college process seems to almost begin the same way, with this scanning of the horizon.  There is this natural desire to find out everything you can about the 3000+ colleges out there.  About rural and urban colleges, big and small colleges, liberal and conservative colleges, colleges that stress career training and those who don't.  The truth is that this is NOT the place to begin the college search.  The first thing to look at is at you.  If the college process is a camera, you should begin with taking a picture of yourself, with the camera pointing toward you, not away from you.  What style works best for you?  Do you like crowds or more intimate settings?  Do you like reading and writing?  Do you like to tinker with things?  My two older children had virtual identical upbringings with virtually identical credentials for college.  One went to our large state university and the other to a tiny, highly selective liberal arts college.  Both are extremely happy and successful where they are and both would probably not be happy at the other's college.  They found "best" colleges, that is, best colleges for them. 

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