Is this much Future Involvement a Problem?

It seems everything legislated about schools is about being career ready.  Let’s begin with how students are being pushed into honors programs or to an accelerated tracks who simply aren’t ready.  They either do not have the emotional or educational maturity (or both) to succeed by being pushed.  These sometimes are brilliant kids or kids with some amazing talents, coming from years of dedication to it. We need to find a way to meet these kids’ needs.  We are just wasting our resources by not doing so.  Pushing harder and more math and science requirements at them in order to even graduate, is putting up a barrier that makes no sense for many kids in society.  Why make every kid take Algebra II and Chemistry to graduate?  Really, how many high school graduates use either of these EVER after high school?  One per cent?  Maybe two per cent?  MD’s are not solving problems with multiple variables or balancing chemical equations, but they’re among the 2% who “need” to have this course work but, in reality, rarely use anything they learned in these subjects.  And let’s look at the other 98%, lawyers, psychologists, designers, painters, and on, and on, don’t even pretend to need anything as obscure as the skills needed to be successful in Algebra II or Chemistry.  But we push all these kids, the kids that really hate it, the kids with learning disabilities, the kids with no interest in it whatsoever.  And we start it earlier and earlier.  Competitive kindergartens?  Are you kidding me?  

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The Over-Involved Parent: Consequences

This article in The Atlantic, The Ethos of the Overly Involved Parent, misses the point of the problems associated with the new form of parental behavior.  My comment:

This article seems to be describing the relatively new term, “bulldozer parents”. In the past, parents hovered. Hence the helicopter. But now they clear the way, hence the bulldozer. It is a whole new level of engagement and much, much worse. Helicopter parents prevent a child from dealing with things like loneliness, self-sufficiency, taking risks, etc. Bulldozer parents prevent children with dealing with obstacles and set-backs. Helicopter parents prevent kids from growing up; bulldozer parents actually prevent them from developing character.

Blocking Bulldozers

Balance is tough, especially when it comes to boundaries with our children. As a college counselor, I tried hard to minimize my involvement in my own daughter’s college process. Yes, I supported her by taking her on multiple overnight college tours. But ultimately, it was her search, her choice.

One of my proudest moments as a parent was when she was being interviewed by our local paper about a scholarship she had won. She was asked, since her father was an experienced college counselor, whether I had helped her in the process. She remarked, “He left me alone.”

As college admission counseling professionals, we know the ways that parents handle their children’s challenges pervade the life of the child and have particular relevance in the college admission process.

Counselor Michael Thompson noted in Independent School that, for many parents, the college admission process “is the culmination of their child rearing, the end of the parental curriculum… the main testing ground of fears about incomplete or inadequate child rearing…”

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A Plea for Change in College Admissions

Who started it?:  “We expect applicants to take the most demanding schedule available to them?”  That is the source of the one of the most cruel, and truly unnecessary, abuses of our children .   These words send students, so many students, into depression and despair and hopelessness.  The words are meant for those elite students who can do it all.  The words have the greatest effect though, a truly pernicious one, on those who aspire to stay in the ball park for a ball that is likely to forever be out of reach.

 The biggest shame, and it should be embarrassment, is that so many colleges say this when meeting with students and it’s simply not true.  When I hear it, my ears perk up:  “NO YOU DON”T ,” I say to myself.  “I see who you admit and this is simply not true”.

 I’ve been in this business since 1981 and have seen a remarkable increase in the number of kids who are just falling apart, checking out, harming themselves and medicating themselves.  There are more suicide attempts, students cutting themselves, more hospitalizations, more cases of anorexia and bulimia, every year.  And there is every sign that this will continue to rise, unabated, into the foreseeable future.

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STEM Magic

Back in the 50’s, Eisenhower shed light on the dangers of the “military-industrial” complex which had a huge vested interest in influencing public policy. We now have the Testing and Admissions Complex (TAC), of testing agencies and college admissions offices, that is equally problematic.

For years, the federal and state government have tried to determine educational policy and change outcomes for students, and they have had little affect on what actually happens in the classroom. In response to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and the Education and Secondary Education Act, there were few changes in what has been taught to students and how it was taught. But the TAC, along with ancillary pressures by the NCAA and state governments, has had a much bigger impact on what is taught to students.

Ironically, it is the TAC which has really stifled education reform and action. Most schools teach students, both in content and structure, as they were taught a century ago, an era which was teaching skills to work in an industrial era. There are schools tha have developed unusual schedules, narrative grading, home grown options to AP courses, but they are teaching the same courses, math, science, English, history and world languages, in the same way they always have.

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The Integrity Conundrum

I have this list of aphorisms by my desk that I re-read regularly.  The first one is:

Never do more than you have to because you desire or expect recognition or praise.  For, more often than not, you will open yourself to increased criticism and risk. You do more than you have to because you have integrity.

A 2015 article in the NY Times, No Time to be Nice notes how incivility is increasing at the  workplace and the pernicious effect it has been having.  It highlights the long-term health consequences but also discussed the immediate impact.  The authors describe how it hijacks workplace focus and produces demoralized employees; employees contribute less and lose their conviction.  “Power can force compliance. But insensitivity or disrespect often sabotages support in crucial situations…..How we treat one another at work matters.  Insensitive interactions have a way of whittling away at people’s health, performance and souls.”

So, those are the two baselines:  integrity and civility/kindness. This includes really listening and paying attention and responding to concerns; it means doing the best that you can to act on every situation before you and it means giving the same level of concern and respect for every person you interact with.

A few years ago I got this letter from a former student.  This is why we do what we do- food for the soul, so to speak:

“Some day you’ll be applying to grad school.”

I remember you saying this to me shortly after meeting you, and hearing my expression of my absolute contempt for school. It seemed dismissive, but for some reason I wasn’t offended, while jokingly dismissing me you were acknowledging my criticisms more than most “adults.” I knew you had my best interest in mind, and you had a glow about you, you seemed more sincere than most of the staff at MHS. You proceeded to really contort and perform backflips in order to get me out of that school in 4 years with a 2.0 GPA, if it were not for you I would not have graduated High School. This semester is ending, and now at the age of 26 I am becoming a Junior in college, with a plan to eventually continue to attend grad school and become a History professor. I couldn’t help but think of you this semester, and acknowledge all that you did for me. 11 years later I am writing you to let you know you were right, some day I will be applying to grad school…… but you knew that all along.

Letter to the SOMSD Board

Over the past two years. I have observed a district that has accomplished some important goals but have fallen well short on others.  The district has stabilized much of the district administration, passed a bond issue to prevent aging buildings from leaking and collapsing and has met their required legal obligations. The district has met most if not all of its fiduciary responsibilities.

Unfortunately, the district has not fulfilled its most important and basic requirement:  caring for and protecting the most vulnerable of its citizens.  It is actually much stronger than this; let me rephrase this:  the district has abandoned the most vulnerable of its children.

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Race, Education and the Law of Intended Consequences

Since the publication in 1983 of A Nation At Risk, state and national governments and private interests have routinely put out plans to address performance, equity and access in K-12 and post-secondary education. On the federal level, the minds behind No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top imagined that setting up higher and higher standards in mathematics and verbal skills would result in higher performance.

State governments frequently embraced policies that were designed by corporate interests, funding for-profit, union free charter schools and supporting the Common Core’s test of success, Pearson’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Though there were some benefits to some, particularly to those who achieved PARCC testing standards or charter school acceptance, this movement abandoned those who did not. Newark’s North Star Academy, for instance, lauded as a shining model of charter school success, graduated only one in four black males who entered the school and serves few of the lowest income students or students with disabilities.

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First Step into the Pipeline to Prison: the Grand Jury

When I was in my 20’s, I was convicted of an offense based on the false testimony of a police officer. It was not a major crime. I had been riding my bicycle to work in New York City. Just as I finished walking my bike through a pedestrian crosswalk, I got back on my bike and an officer turned around, saw me.  riding my bike toward him with a red light behind me.  He issued me a ticket despite my explanation and said “tell it to the judge.”

In court, the officer said I raced through the red light, “pedestrians were fleeing” and he apprehended me as I fled.  I began my defense when the judge cut me off mid-sentence, hit his gavel and said “guilty”, $50. 

I was shocked.  All I could think about was if a police officer would lie so blatantly for a motor vehicle offense, what would they do in more serious cases?  

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The Ivy Myth

I don’t get the appeal of the Ivy League.  It’s a luxury brand, I get it.  But most luxury brands, like Rolex watches or Coach bags, have really incredible products.  The only distinctions about the Ivy League that I discern are an early founding year and a common football league.  Rutgers’ biggest branding error was leaving the Ivy League because the football competition wasn’t strong enough.  

This current crisis has brought to light the values of the Ivy League.  Before any other college presidents commented on the crisis, Brown University President Christina Paxon wrote in a NY Times editorial “College Campuses Must Open in the Fall: Here’s How We Do It” stated plans to reopen must accept “the reality that there will be upticks or resurgences in infection” but that the “vast majority of residential college students will experience only mild symptoms if they contract the coronavirus”.  Her recommendation to open was based on a very shaky assumption:

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