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Archive for June, 2012

What is Success? Not What We Measure Now….

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary, an article in today’s NYTimes, grapples with the question of how we define “success” in our country today. The second paragraph frames the question:

I wonder if there is any room for the ordinary any more, for the child or teenager — or adult — who enjoys a pickup basketball game but is far from Olympic material, who will be a good citizen but won’t set the world on fire.

The article is full of probing questions with no east answers, like:

How do we go back to the idea that ordinary can be extraordinary?

How do we teach our children — and remind ourselves — that life doesn’t have to be all about public recognition and prizes, but can be more about our relationships and special moments?

“You make a lot of money or have athletic success. That’s a very, very narrow definition. What about being compassionate or living a life of integrity?”

Inculcating values like accepting one’s limits, accepting a second place finish, and aspiring to the accumulation of positive relationships instead of the accumulation of things or status… well… they just don’t gibe with the competitive system in place in our social order… and especially with the competitive system in place in public education. If you think our schools do not reinforce competition, look at what gets recognized and reinforced.

The solution to this is NOT to give trophies for participation: the solution is offered by psychologist Madeline Levine who is quoted at length in the article:

Most people, she said, have talent in some areas, are average performers in many areas and are subpar in some areas.

The problem is that we have such a limited view of what we consider an accomplished life that we devalue many qualities that are critically important.

The solution, then, is twofold: make it clear to students that they aren’t all going to be soccer all-stars, honor roll students, and accepted to top tier colleges to help them make millions of dollars… but they must strive nonetheless and understand that they can possess critical qualities that schools don’t measure. Being kind or compassionate doesn’t lend itself to a mathematical metric that generates a means of sorting or ranking students… so it isn’t viewed as important from the child’s perspective…. But EVERY child can be kind and compassionate no matter how good they are in sports, how well they do in class, or how much money they make. THAT is a lesson schools should be teaching children.

Privatization in the Sunlight in FLA

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

the Miami Herald reports that Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, is taking steps to make sure that the $47 billion in private contracts issued by the State of Florida are thoroughly vetted… not by regulators or elected officials, but by the 19 million people who live in Florida.

This is an interesting twist to regulatory oversight… one that on first blush seems eminently reasonable but with some reflection raises a lot of questions. First, WHO in the public is equipped to review a bid for services like the provision of technology services to a large enterprise like, say, the State Board of Education?  And who in the public is capable of understanding some of the state of the art legal terminology included in contracts? Who in the public has the TIME to review all of these contracts? And last, but not least, who does the public report their concerns to and how can a member of the public be confident their concerns have been addressed? As state, local and federal governments eliminate regulators and replace them with “citizen auditors” these questions need to be asked and answered in advance.

Parenting for the Elite

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

The title of this post is that of a Forbes article by Helaine Olen, an article, a portion of which contrasted child rearing in the Amazon with that in the United States… and article that recalled the movie Babies and the first section of Herrnstein’s controversial article on intelligence that appeared decades ago.

I watched the movie Babies  a few weeks ago. It is an unscripted documentary that follows the live of four children in the first years of their life: a child in the African plains; a child in Mongolia; a child in Tokyo; and a child in San Francisco. The movie shows how these babies are nurtured by their parents, the food they eat, their daily routines, and their first steps in the world— literally and figuratively.

I read the Herrnstein article, that dealt with the role genetics plays in IQ, when it first came out and recall that one point Herrnstein made about intelligence at the outset of the article was completely lost in the ensuing debate. He noted that a Native American’s definition of “intelligence” would involve a completely different set of skills than OUR definition of intelligence. Visual acuity, tracking animals, and recalling lengthy stories passed on from generation to generation would be valued more highly than the manipulation of symbols that is our basis for measuring “intelligence”.

Olen’s article focuses on the issue of parental expectations. Is it more important to do chores around the house or to get high grades in school and build a resume that will get you into an elite college? The article implies that there are two tiers of parenting occurring in this country: the “elite” tier to prepare students for the meritocracy and the “survival” tier for those kids who are not guided at all by their parents.

(We are in) a world of parenting, if not for the one percent, maybe the five to ten percent. It is the world written about by Chris Hayes in Twilight of the Elites, where children are prepped to be members of the meritocracy, that benign sounding name for the ruling classes, which has gone from instrument of democratization to self-perpetuating mechanism within a generation. And the meritocracy, in this view, is no benevolent mechanism but, rather, a place where arrogance and belief in one’s own basic goodness allows people to indulge in all sorts of bad behavior, since, after all, they are an elite and whatever they do is right and correct. It’s all about me.

It’s clearly NOT the world of the Amazon, Africa, or Mongolia… nor is it a world that values the skills needed by the Native Americans.

Olen concludes her article with this paragraph:

Our parenting reflects both our society and what we want for our children. And in the world of upper class parenting, we’re looking to perpetuate the elite. Let the peons go pick up the socks – even if they are the parents… Whatever we are doing with our children, raising citizens who can participate in a democracy is not it.