It’s been a big year for the future of education.
In one arena, public unions are battling with reform-minded governors about teacher pay and classroom standards.
In another, Amy Chua told us Chinese mothers are raising smarter children because they don’t let their kids enjoy themselves. David Brooks countered Ms. Chua by arguing Chinese mothers are actually doing their children a disservice.
Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” described her strict parenting and hard-line rules as the reason for more successful children, while Mr. Brooks attacked her reasoning in his column, “Amy Chua is a Wimp.”
Brooks thinks all of the things Chua doesn’t let her children do, such as sleepovers or being in a school play, are actually the most important and challenging parts of growing up.
More recent work from child development experts, as reported on by the New York Times, says our enhanced focus on academic performance “means that many children aren’t developing life skills like self-control, motivation, focus and resilience, which are far better predictors of long-term success than high grades.”
It’s not hard to see why the education system is less flexible than a retired NFL lineman. We don’t have a consensus on what we should actually be doing at home or in the classroom to raise smart, well-adjusted and successful children.
The governors are absolutely right that we need to evaluate teachers more harshly, determining their effectiveness is very different from deciding what they teach.
Should parents and teachers push the Chua model of grades, piano lessons and no fun, or should they focus more on the development of well-rounded and happy members of society?
That’s not an easy question to answer.
We consistently read reports of American students falling behind in math and science, and every day there seems to be more bad news about the intellectual skills of the American populace.
Yet growing a bunch of highly disciplined, musically gifted, intellectually superior but socially awkward super children doesn’t seem like a great solution,
even if it were universally possible.
Instead, we need to chart an entirely different course.
Set aside the discussion about teacher effectiveness and parental involvement for a moment to consider what we need to teach kids once we actually learn to teach it well.
We need to teach values: work ethic, determination, communication, humility, problem solving, dedication and class.
We can teach all seven of those values throughout the curriculum. Communication is a great example.
Students need to learn how to write and speak correctly, so we’ll teach that in English and social studies.
They need to learn how to communicate in a group setting, so we’ll give them lab partners in science.
They’ll need an understanding of logic, so we’ll impress that upon them in math.
Every jaded public school teacher will read that last paragraph and insist they are doing just that, but trust me, I went to a public school with an “excellent” rating — they’re not.
All of those apparatuses might be in place, but they aren’t being utilized to teach communication.
Communication is more than talking; it’s giving good instructions and asking the right questions. It’s about knowing how to tell someone they are wrong without creating tension and convincing people who disagree with you to be open to new ideas.
Communication is an art, but it’s lost on teachers and parents who are looking too closely at the exact mechanics of grammar instead of whether or not the students understand why those mechanics are actually important.
The ultimate lesson here comes from a fictional high-school football coach, Eric Taylor of “Friday Night Lights,” which is fitting given that he actually understood that almost anything can be used to teach someone how to be a successful person.
Taylor tells his team before an important practice: “Remember, success isn’t a goal, it’s a byproduct.”
That’s exactly how we need to look at it. If we teach our kids the right values,
they’ll succeed, but they won’t if all we are doing is emphasizing the results.
You can’t teach a kid math by insisting that he gets an A; you have to teach him math by impressing upon him the art of problem solving.
Maybe our teachers missed that lesson.
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