Telling the Truth is Tricky

by Rick on August 23, 2014

“Mark’s mother keeps harassing me about his academics,” said third-grade-teacher Dara. “I keep telling her that he is doing very well, but she doesn’t believe it. She thinks I don’t have high enough standards. Yesterday, she said, ‘I am so worried about how he will do in 7th grade.’ I gave her the rundown, yet again, of how well he is doing academically: two years above grade level in both reading and math—and so on, but she left the room saying, “That’s not good enough.”

Dara broke into tears. Read More…

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Our children are inundated with demands from the adults in their lives…. What an exhausting way to parent, especially when there are more effective ways to get the job done. –Maren Schmidt

On a recent trip from Chicago to Oakland I sat at gate B20 next to a mother with her three-year old son. In our collective boredom, the boy started fiddling with the handle of my brief case, which sat on the floor between us.

“Stop that!” his mother blurted out and launched into a long explanation as to why it was wrong to touch someone else’s stuff. His face went blank, and he didn’t look at her as she talked to him. At a couple of points in her diatribe, he looked up at me. Read More…

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Every night at dinner my three-year-old grandson launches into at least one oration. He holds both hands up with the palms up and out, gesticulating not just with his hands but with his whole face as words pour forth as from the mouth of Demosthenes. At this age he is better with his body than his words, so I have a hard time understanding what he is actually trying to tell me, but I can tell it’s about an important truth.

On September 12, 2001, I sat in on a discussion that the second grade class was having about the attack on the World Trade Center. One seven-year-old said, “One plane hit the tower thirteen times.” She had been watching the news, of course, and needed to talk about what she had seen. The teacher explained that she had seen the same video clip thirteen times, and that the plane had only hit the tower once.

building with blocks - Google SearchThis is how children inquire about the world. They don’t so much ask questions as make statements. They tell you what they experience, watch your reaction and listen to your response. In fact, recent research (Alison Gopnik, and others) confirms that children tend to be better scientists than adults. Every move they make tests some hypothesis that they created from previous experiences. Read More…

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We all want our children to “work up to their ability,” but how do we measure that? Traditionally, one starts by “evaluating” the child to determine a “baseline” of ability. The problem is that such results are artificial and distort reality. We never know what a person can do; we only know what a person did. Any measure of a person’s “ability” is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a baseline. Read More…

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Authority and Boundaries

by Rick on July 24, 2014

 It’s 5:15 pm. Mom is at the stove making dinner. Her six-year-old Brittany sees a bag of candy canes that her mother just brought home for Christmas decorations, and says, “Mommy, can I have a candy cane?”

“It’s close to dinnertime. Can you wait?”

“No. I’m hungry,” says Brittany with a bit of a whine in her voice.

“We’ll be eating soon. I don’t want you to spoil your dinner.”

“But, I’m hungry. I can’t wait,” Brittany complains.


The Secret of Joyful Education TED intro.pptx“Mommy. I want a candy cane. I’m hungry.” Brittany’s tone has changed to a wail. Read More…

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Michael was driving his father Josef crazy. Getting Michael to do his homework was always a bit of a challenge ever since he started getting homework in the third grade. But what was a challenge in the third grade became a hassle by fourth grade, a battle by 6th grade and now, in eighth grade, he had simply stopped turning it in.

This was the focal point of an October parent-teacher conference I attended. Read More…

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Father: “It is so hard to get the kids out of the house in the morning, Freda and Matt keep fighting. This sibling rivalry is driving me crazy, but I don’t want them to be late to school.”

Advice from the Principal: “Put a chair in front of the front door, sit in it with arms folded and consider saying something like this: ‘I will not take you to school until you can show me that you are ready to work out your differences and be supportive of each other. If you are this incompetent before you even get to school, how do you expect to be successful in school?’”

That this advice sounds laughably extreme and never practiced proves that our culture is unclear about what it means to be educated. Read More…

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a photoIn school, being a successful person and having good social skills are completely different categories. The former is what report cards report, and the latter may sometimes also be reported—in a comment, perhaps, or in a “Social-emotional” section at the end. In our culture high achievement/happiness/success are on one hand and being a good person are on the other—two separate strategies for living your life. Achievement is an individual enterprise; caring for others is a moral mandate. Montessori schools are different. Read More…

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Treat Kids As If Social Responsibility is a Natural Act

Most Americans would expect that if you put 200 children in one room for an hour near the end of the school year there would be some discipline problems. Last week I attended an hour-long assembly where 20 first, second and third graders, performed for 180 first-through-eighth graders. I detected no discipline problems. No. I guess I did see one teacher beckon for a child to come sit next to her, and he obeyed.

photo 3This was an end-of-the-year production at my new school, Golden Oak Montessori, a public charter school in Hayward, CA. Golden Oak demonstrates the validity of the dictum: treat children as if being socially responsible is something children would naturally want to be. (“Why wouldn’t I? I’m not saying it is always easy. I’m just sayin’ it’s the thing I care about most.”). Read More…

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Before the war (as my parents used to say) “character building” was a good thing. In the ‘50′s and ‘60′s when something was hard, educators could say to us students, “Just do it. It’s character building.” They must have used this expression once too often, or misused it, or something, because today, character building seems to have become a tribulation we might wish on our worst enemy.

These days the expression rears its ugly head in moments like:

Girl Friend: “How was your honeymoon?” New Bride: “Character building.” Read More…

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