Posts Tagged ‘aspirations’

Years ago, I remember hearing that economics and behavior should have no effect on educational success. Poor kids, I was told, were just as smart as rich ones. I could believe that, because we lived well below the poverty mark, and I still did well in school. Has something changed? Or was I just a fluke?

According to the report The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do, from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2007)  

“Research shows that poor children are less likely to succeed in school, more likely to have long-term health problems and more likely to rear their own children in poverty than their higher-income peers.”

” Recent scientific evidence further supports these findings by demonstrating that the detrimental effects of poverty are literally built into the architecture of children’s developing brains.”

Something has happened to our spirits, I suspect. I remember poor kids in the 60’s vowing that their children would never live as they had. We had spunk and hope and creativity! I cannot remember any gap or chasm between myself and the children of the scientists and engineers at the area university or government laboratories.

Nowadays, students of hardship enter my classroom with “hopeless” stamped across their foreheads at an alarming rate. When asked if she couldn’t take her studies more seriously, one student answered “I just want to get out of here so I can have some babies and “draw” (go on welfare.)

Nearly 25% of the students in our area live in poverty. I cannot fathom there being a silver bullet for this. Some days I feel as hopeless as they do. But I still believe that somewhere beneath the hurt and hopelessness is a student who wants to make something of themselves. I just hope I can find him or her before they leave my school.


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This post is primarily the result of my thinking out loud. I was listening recently to someone discussing various educational initiatives, and how some school systems actually believe that if they set the bar high enough, and task their teachers severely enough, 100% of their students will graduate on time and go on to college. While nothing would make a teacher happier, and while it may be a worthy (albeit unrealistic) goal, we all know that in the real world this will never actually happen.

No matter how we try to slow the instructional pace, and rein in the progress of our high achieving students (in order to allow the less intellectually aggressive students to catch up, or at least not be left behind) closing the achievement gap is still mostly an illusion. One student’s local grades and EOCs may be higher than another, but it is the ACT ans SAT scores that are a true measure of a graduate’s readiness to go on to college. And, I might add, not everyone wants or needs to go to college.

So, we are presented with this idea that no one should be left behind, or fall through the cracks, and this idea of Academic Darwinism rears its head. The truth is, no one gets left behind; they just get off the train at another stop. No one falls through the cracks; they simply sift out to another level. In this light the idea of Academic Darwinism seems a little less insidious.

This sifting has gone on throughout history. In the Middle Ages, not everyone could make it into a craftsman’s guild. Later, not everyone could read or write, or enter a college, or qualify for higher learning. Just because we have more colleges, better teaching tools, and huge systems of instruction does not mean that we have overcome the human instinct to either seek out or ignore higher levels of knowledge and skills.

Now, I’m not suggesting the use of this topic as an excuse for shoddy teaching. But I am saying that not every one of my students is college bound. AND, more importantly, I am not intimating that those who do not seek out higher education opportunities are failures. I am saying that reality cannot be ignored, rewritten, or used as a whip for educators. I may not produce a bevy of PhDs, but I will produce students who do what they do the best way they know how.

And I will be proud of each and every one of them.

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Years ago, a theory of human development evolved along side Piaget’s famous work, but without the fanfare so often afforded to Piaget. The work of Lawrence Kohlberg and its relationship to Piaget’s is  broader than I want to examine here, but his Six Stages of Moral Development is worth looking at, even at a cursory level.

In a nutshell, Kohlberg posited that our human morals develop in six stages as we grow up. My question is: Could we hasten/improve the development of these stages simply by making our students aware of their existence?

I like to couch the stages in words which complete the statement “I am moral because…”

stage 1: I want to avoid punishment

stage 2: I want to receive the benefits of obedience.

stage 3: I want to be “good.”

stage 4: I want to be law-abiding (legal.)

stage 5: I want to be a good citizen.

stage 6: I want to be a good human being.

Yes, this short article is just a scratch on the surface, but some thought given to it might yield and idea or two worth pursuing. I plan on talking with my students about Kohlberg’s work and see where it takes me.

If you do the same, let me know how it goes.

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Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning (TL) (1991) is based on the idea that real learning results in a change of perspective which then becomes transformative learning. It is not an exaggeration to call TL life changing learning. This learning changes the way the learner thinks, which changes the way the learner feels, and ultimately how the learner behaves. Now for you hardcore educators and therapists, I know this is an over simplification, but at its heart, the goal of TL is to effect lasting changes in the life of the learner.

Now here is the two-edged sword: on the one side is my contention that this should happen all the time in our class rooms. On the other side is the agreement with many articles on the subject that state that true transformative learning rarely takes place. It may be rare, but I can recall times when I came across an idea in class that felt like a slap in the face.

Just like the proverbial “salt of the Earth” which keeps things from going bad, I hope  every day to say even one thing that might at least change some student’s life and at least maybe keep them from going bad, and at best add a little flavor to their lives. But I still chase after that idea, or phrase, or something that might affect my students the same way some truth affected me.

Some days they look at me wich such bored expressions. Other days I know they will go home and if their parents ask “What did you learn today?” they will have an answer.

And it will be a good one.

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I know this is a repost, but I forget that many people will not read the very first article and understand the subtitle, so here is a repost of Always On.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned was on the deck of my lawn mower. It read “If motor is running, blade is turning.” As if I didn’t know that. Soon, however, it took on a deeper meaning for me. It now reminds me that we, as spiritual beings, are always on. We are always believing something, talking about some truth, sending out vibrations and signals about our true state of mind; not what we say we think or believe, but what we really think or believe.

If we doubt ourselves as educators, other’s spiritual antennae will pick up on it. If we harbor grudges, or suspicions about our students, we send that signal as well. Not only do we send out those negative signals, but we likewise attract more of the same negative feelings. We begin to see only the bad in everything and everyone. We no longer have joy in the classroom. We are easily irritated. We don’t enjoy our subject as we once did. It’s a vicious downward spiral.

But none of this matters if you don’t think of yourself as a spiritual being. And, nothing improves if you can’t see that you are always sending and receiving spiritual signals, either good ro bad (and the choice is yours.) And you can never reverse a negative trend without changing the inner dialogue which created it.

What you  must constantly consider is this: if you are thinking, breathing, and living, you’re communicating. Make sure the message is really what you want to say. Remember: you are always on.

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As I write this I am amazed at the outcry against GAP having traded in the old familiar blue GAP box we’ve all come to know and love for a more pristine, clean-looking logo. What amazes me even more is how that outcry fell on the ears of GAP officials who finally succumbed and changed back to the old blue box.

Now, short of a boycott, I can’t imagine what imaginary forces would cause a major company to abandon a new (and no doubt costly) image switch. Are their clothes not still some of the best? Are their stores not artsy, clean, and fun to shop in? So what gives?

No doubt someone at the top one day said “We need to update our image!” Ideas were proffered, studies were done, drawings were rendered, and bam! new image! Instead of a hearty embrace of the new,- or even more useful in some cases, a simple ignoring of it, – we see a vapid online outcry against it.

It points up a strange truth:

 We seem to be most vocal about the things that matter least.

I cannot count the number of  teacher’s meetings I’ve attended where the the real battle seemed to be who could toss about the hottest terms or engage in some quasi-politicoeducational banter that had no effect on my real concern: reaching and teaching my students.

Some students can’t think straight because their family situation is near intolerable. A few are technically homeless. Some are so far poverty level they’ve given up. Some don’t have adequate health care. Some try to balance home, school, AND work.

Classes rarely have what they need. Teachers battle against sometimes insurmountable odds and are rewarded with only criticism. Principals are no longer just the head teacher, but business manager, legal advisor, disciplinarian, PR representative, personnel director–just for starters. The entire system gets so bogged down in paper work it’s difficult to stay on schedule. Some schools do struggle with incompetent staff but it’s usually because they are surrounded by poverty and crime, and the really skilled teachers know they can work elsewhere.

If anyone wants to start an online campaign to change things,

let’s change something important.

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I’m glad in a way that texting while driving is illegal in my area. Personally I cannot do it. If I were to hold my cell phone out to my right and try to steer with my left hand I would quickly drift to the right and off the shoulder of the road. The reverse is also true. Either way, I’m in danger.

Why? Well, we tend to go where we’re looking. We tend to drift in the direction of our attention. We usually wind up arriving at whatever destination we give our attention to, and it’s not always what we really want. Most of the time it’s just “whatever” and “where ever.”

When one of my children was learning to ride a bike, she was concerned about a small sapling in our yard.

“Don’t let me hit that tree!” she said. “I won’t” I reassured her, “Just steer toward me.” 

“But what if I hit the tree?”

“You won’t! Just look at me.”

She began to peddle then coast across the yard. And yes, straight into the tree. I ran over to her and through the tears and snubbing she said:

“I TOLD you I was gonna hit that tree!”

When you set out on a journey toward educational or professional success, look at your goal and focus on it every day. Imagine how it will look and feel to be the person you desire to be. Learn to stay focused. And as you learn to be good at it, teach your students to do it.

It’s much more rewarding that driving and texting.

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