“On Your Marks”

I have railed against the content and structure of schools. I think there is a lot of room for improvement. But there is a place for them in our society. I think that the goal of any modern society is to increase the intelligence level of all their constituents. In America, many households have two parents who work, and you cant just leave your kids at home by themselves, at least not everyday.

I also have tried not to get political, as politics can be such a polarizing issue. I definitely think that I am leaning farther left than I used to be. Do I want to pay high taxes? No. Do I want big government telling me what I can and cannot do? No. If this was the only criteria for establishing political leanings, then I would be a staunch conservative. But, there are a few things to me that seem to be unalienable rights for all human beings. Included in these rights are health care and education. As I am not a doctor and am new to the USA, I do not feel qualified to speak to the healthcare issue. I am going to talk about education. Although I am not particularly qualified to talk about that either, it is more enjoyable.

America is full of social programs. Police, Fire, Schools, etc. I understand some people’s feelings when it comes to being taxed on their hard earned money, and having that redistributed to the less fortunate. Many people feel that some will take advantage of the systems in place. You know what, some will do that. It’s unfortunate, but almost unavoidable. The few people that do take advantage of the “freebies” hurt the credibility of those who need them and use them properly.

For people who are conservative leaning, America is the greatest country in the world to provide the opportunity to be successful. All you need to do is work hard, get an education or a trade and then get a job. Work hard at that job. If you don’t like it, get another job. If you are struggling to get by and living in poverty, it is due to your bad decisions and lack of work ethic. If you are struggling, work harder, go back to school, it’s all there in front of you. Simple.

I understand where people are coming from when they think this way. I used to think like that. Get your butt to school and work hard. I went to school, worked relatively hard, had some fun, dropped out of college, became a tradesman, quit that job, went back to school, finished my undergrad, then married a really smart and talented woman and the rest is history. We live in a decent house, have food on the table and are able to do a little bit of travel as well. Is this a product of hard work? Can anyone in America have the same life as me? I don’t think it is possible given the current systems in place.

Think of a running race. Many people think that when we are born, we all start at a starting line and when its time to “go” those who work hardest and get an education and/or a job or own a business are “successful”. Those who are struggling did not work hard, were lazy, couldn’t be bothered with school, made bad decisions, and now they want to be pulled across the finish line by everyone else. Sorry, you made your bed…….

I look at it differently now. Imagine the same race, but a significant portion of the people in the race start far behind others. When it is time to “go”, of course the ones with the head start win. I think it is incredibly insensitive to look back at those who did not get an equal start and say “HEY!! C’MON, WORK HARDER!!” The purpose of social programs (including education) is to lessen the gap between those with the head start and those starting farther back. That doesn’t mean we have to move the starting line back, but I think we owe it to others to bring the people at the back closer to the starting line.

There are many many Americans living in poverty. Some have addiction issues, some dropped out of school, some have lost hope in the system. Some of them have made bad decisions, no doubt. (who among us haven’t) We as a society need to help these people and help the children of these people. It is a cycle.

Many of these people do work extremely hard. I have no idea what it is like to work at a store such as Walmart for 8 hours, then work another 4 hours at a part time job after that just to put food on the table for their children.

It would be very hard for a child who is undernourished, and whose parents are absent for work reasons or addiction reasons to be exposed to some of the early childhood experiences that other children get. The first three years of your life are extremely vital to your future wellbeing. If they were largely spent in poverty, undernourished, without a stimulating environment, or having constantly high cortisol levels due to external stressors in the household, a baby can be “far behind in the race” before they even hit kindergarten. These kids need help. The best way to help them is to help the parents. That is why we have these programs. Yes they made some bad decisions, (the roots of those decisions probably came from similar impoverished situations) but let’s not doom their children. This is where extra maternity leave can help children, where food stamps can help nourish them, where schools can help educate them and get them closer to the starting line. We have to start somewhere.

For the conservatives among us, I’m not saying we need to raise taxes. Perhaps we could do a better job with the revenue stream we have. Alternatively, if we do raise our taxes a bit, say 1%, and it produces a 10% economic benefit, isn’t that a great investment in people? If we don’t do a better job of helping, we can pay in one of two ways. We can spend our tax dollars on a more educated, healthy society, or hire more police.

Introducing CRAP for Teachers

If I hear the 3R meme once again, I will snap. Arithmetic doesn’t start with an R. Writing doesn’t start with an R. How intelligent is that? Two thirds of the “back to the basics” theme is incorrect. It is a great statement to take advantage of people politically. If I want pander to the “kids these days” generation, that’s a great hook. “Kids these days need some discipline. They need drill. They need memorization. That’ll learn’em. That’s what education is. That was school for me, and I turned out Ok” Although there is still a generation that may believe in that, it is starting to shift. Common core and STEM learning are the newer buzzwords for a newer generation of parents. We teach them common core standards. STEM classes (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) are being pushed upon our children whether they like it or not.

Don’t get me wrong, STEM topics are very important in our changing world. The technological component itself is changing daily. What I think that politicians and some educators fail to understand is that art, music, storytelling, physical education, recess, play, and social interaction are hugely important parts of STEM. Especially in the K to 8 age range. “We need to spend more time in the classroom sitting down and learning math and science and technology.” Really?

Recess, art, music and physical education are slowly dwindling away in order to get more STEM time. I say that art, music and play will help students immensely with math, science and technology. I believe that before you can actually specialize in a subject you need creativity and problem solving skills ingrained in your soul. This will not come from more worksheets at a younger age. Art and music are related to math. Spatial relations, geometric shapes, reading music, all important to math and science. Many studies have shown that physical activity improves learning. Why would we start to take it away? Let’s open up our world to our children, not compress it.

I am going to introduce my own acronym that I think would be more beneficial to our younger children. CRAP (Creativity, Representation, Artistry, Problemsolving/Critical thinking/Logic)

Creativity is self-explanatory. We need to give our children and students the freedom to choose, to create, and to enjoy the activity they have chosen to engage in.

Representation is to foster an understanding that “not everything is what it seems” In the same way x represents a number in an algebraic formula, much of our world is not face value. Some ideas have more than one meaning. Books often have a hidden meaning to a simple story. A piece of art may represent something else other than what is shown. It may mean different things to different people. If you hear a song about Mary Jane, do you wonder who it is about? Or, what it is?

Artistry. Drawing, playing music, dancing, writing a story, building a lego castle, painting, designing, acting, dressing up, cooking, need I say more.

Problem solving/Critical Thinking/Logic. Our children need to solve problems. This is a part of math for sure. But a problem is a problem. How many problems do our children encounter climbing a tree, building a model, playing in a park, or even outside at recess? Many. Solving these problems on their own gives them the confidence to solve other, more larger problems. Critical Thinking/Logic, the ability to question, to look at something and wonder why it is the way it is. We don’t want to raise robots. When they hear someone say that they are “Going to build a wall” they have the ability to question the validity of said wall, not just go “Great Idea!!”

Critical thinking is such an important skill. Critical thinking creates problems to solve. “What happens if we do it this way?” That’s critical thinking.

These skills are all so extremely relevant in our world today. Top down, teacher led instruction on the “right way” to get to an answer can diminish the resolve of our kids to question. Standardized testing and being taught to the test is taking away our creativity. Yes we need technology, but what good is a code writer who can’t solve the problem of why his/her algorithm won’t work. Or one who can’t apply it to invent a new app. How important is problem solving and creativity to a surgeon when something goes wrong on a routine appendectomy?

I’m not sure CRAP will catch on right away. Perhaps, if I think about it critically, it may not have been the best acronym.