Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What does it mean to transform our schools?

Right at the top of my blog is the word "transformation". Today I want to spend a few minutes talking about what this means to the world of education.  I am not advocating for education reform or change. Those of us writing for Let Children Achieve believe in transformation. This means we believe that education needs a fundamental revolution in structure and condition.
There is no piece of the current school structure that is working to educate our children well. Dr. Brown's last post outlined in detail the framework of a basic restructuring in education. From teaching salaries down to school lunches and the amount of sleep children receive, how we fundamentally run schools, teach children and support parents and communities must change.
We are not living, working and educating in a world that is delineated by formal and traditional systems, but rather one that is defined by those who can survive and keep pace with the current of social media, marketing and innovation. Our rigid school structure does nothing to provide opportunity for that kind of "thinking outside the box." Test scores do not and will not ever determine innovation, creativity and social media skills.  Students must learn to be intrinsically motivated and be able to form relationships to build partnerships around the world.  The isolation our children receive sitting in front of computers, tests and televisions does not encourage self motivation or develop important social skills they will need in order to build businesses, solve problems, weave well rounded political decisions or make important contributions to the global community.
 A new advocacy must come forth that stands for the needs of the children.  It is an advocacy that takes into consideration that we have entered an era in which the United States must actively compete for business and innovative processes around the world. Unfortunately the answer isn't to compete on tests. The race isn't to the top of our educational system in the U.S.. The race is to the top of the world, where we will not be defined by test scores, but by innovation and business savvy.  Now more than ever our children must learn the power of their own intrinsic intelligence and ability to connect with others.
When this approach is applied to education we will see children who are fed well, educated well and given multiple avenues of ultimate success within our educational system because we will understand that all of us are tied to the success or failure of today's students.
Children will not be limited by language, by intelligence or by socioeconomic standing. Instead, we will provide a system that meets the student with the tools that student needs to be prepared for life.  This will undoubtedly vary from community to community, from culture to culture, but our choice to accommodate only one version of intelligence in our structure for success will ultimately lead to our own economic and global demise.  We cannot compete in a world as diverse, innovative and fast paced as ours using the archaic system of education we currently embrace.  It is time to for transformation.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Taking Education "Back"

Today, as the premier post of Let Children Achieve, I am joined by Child Development Specialist, Dr. Kwame Brown. Dr. Brown is the founder of Move Theory and is an Advisory Board Member at the International Youth Conditioning Association. Formerly, he worked as Director at the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play (Head Start Body Start) at AAHPERD.
Today Dr. Brown lends his extensive experience in child development and neuroscience towards outlining how parents, educators and advocates can  begin to take control of the educational process for the good of all children.

Megan, thank you for letting me talk to everyone today. 
The title: I chose the quotes around “Back”because quite frankly I don’t think we have ever truly had a handle on education in this country, not from the perspective of how brains develop. Nor have we ever truly understood it systemically from the perspective of including all members, beyond nurturing the elite. Sure, there have been “pockets of understanding”, but the design of the whole system has never worked. I think problems that we are talking about today have always been there, but are now coming to a head.

Why I am saying what I’m about to say:

I have been immersed in the world of education / child development all of my life. I have a father
who started as a high school teacher in the inner city and became eventually a college president. A mom with a degree in early childhood education who eventually taught Alternatives and was involved in urban education initiatives. Countless other family members involved in education as teachers and administrators. I got here on a roundabout – through my study of the central nervous system and motor learning /development and my own work with children in motor skill acquisition/play.  Additionally, I am a voracious reader – Crain, Hirsch, Hirsh-Pasek, Redfield-Jamison, Elkind, Frost, Ravitch, Dweck, Willingham, the list goes on. Finally, I have a bevy of friends and acquaintances acrossthe spectrum politically and professionally throughout the United States that are passionate about solving education.

My ten point plan to put the focus where it needs to be:

I have begun writing over the past couple of years to communicate what I have learned through this intensive lifetime of varied study. My main conclusion is this: As evidenced by the structure of our system and improvement measures, we routinely misunderstand how brain development works in education, and how brain development interacts with the surrounding environment. While the details of that are best saved for another day’s writings, I want to share some very specific things that I think must happen in education and child development.

1. We must nationalize the need for and commitment to education, and set certain standards for content.  We must, nationally, gain more and more information through careful research about what works and doesn’t work for developing young minds. And we must communicate this to everyone at multiple levels and in multiple ways. National problems must have, partly, national solutions. BUT…

2. We must leave the control of the delivery of that content to highly qualified educators, caring parents and students in local communities.  I have seen countless examples of initiatives that failed to work because those trying them failed to immerse themselves in the culture –especially the student culture. Parents know their kids. Educators know kids. People in the community know the community. This is potentially a wonderful continuum, without politicians stepping in with high-stakes accountability measure to screw it all up. But this will also depend on the below.

3. We must pay teachers more – not through merit pay, but their starting pay, in order to enable my next suggestion…

4. We must attract young, talented, vibrant beings that truly care for children and also have the academic underpinnings to understand complex concepts well enough to move concepts to practice – on their own.

5. We must provide for and follow through on intensive long term apprenticeship for  young teachers.  This apprenticeship must involve experiences working with parents and other community members. This apprenticeship must also have progressive levels of responsibility.  This way, by the time a young teacher has his/her own class, they have already formed lasting relationships with, if not this particular community, a community.

6. We must educate teachers and parents, albeit in different ways, about the general process of how a central nervous system and the body develop within the context of a societal and social structure. There are gross misunderstandings amongst both groups – in not all members,but many. Though, I will say, the level of misunderstandings present in these groups pale in comparison to the lack of grasp among politicians and pundits. To wit…

7. We must begin to understand children as sentient beings who think for themselves and simply need guidance – not “sponges” (a loathsome term) to be told things. It does NOT work like that in a developing brain. Learning must be a main entrĂ©e of experiential, with only a side dish of rote memorization, to taste right to a young mind.

8. Parents and teachers must partner to ensure that children have time to play, to be physically active through play. This isn’t just some frivolous thing we let children do – that’s OUR view of play for OURSELVES. For kids, this is essential to the development of a brain.

9. Parents and teachers must partner to ensure that our children have plenty of sleep – especially for very young children and teenagers. Kids don’t just “deal” when they are sleep deprived.  The effects on performance are quite profound, and the potential effects on development are unknown but could be disastrous.

10. Finally – we must all ensure that children have access to and are eating natural, healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. This, coupled with sleep and play – helps all our educational efforts aren’t for naught. It prevents us adults from spinning our wheels.

I am grateful that Megan Rosker allowed me this forum today to speak out. But I am more grateful for the lively discussion / debate that I hope will result from this. Let’s continue to look at solutions on their merit – with consistent perspective on the needs of our future leaders. Because, to play on a famous quote – It is those we educate this week that shall inherit the earth.

Friday, March 25, 2011


New posts about education reform will be coming soon to Let Children Achieve. Until then, please visit Our Inspiration page to learn more about the conception and vision of Let Children Achieve.