What is the best education for our children?


V__20E9 I read this article recently and it raised again the question that has competing answers: What kind of education do our children need? The fact that our children are mainly educated in public schools in which parents have no input raises concerns as to how well they are being prepared for their futures.  If you do any research into educational theory, you find that there are two major streams of thought.  The first stream of thought is that our children are not spending enough time in class learning the sciences, math, and technology that they need in order to be successful in our brave, new world.  The second stream of thought recognizes that children are spending too much time being told to sit still in school and are becoming unhealthy, overweight, and over-medicated.

I think it is safe to say that all parents want their children to be well-educated, but we are not all in agreement about what that means.  There are some parents who are focused only on financial, career-oriented success, and then there are parents who want their children to be well-rounded, literate, artistic, mentally healthy children.  The problem we have is that as parents unless we can afford to send our children to a private school that meets our personal requirements, we have to send our children to a public school in which we have no voice in how our children are educated.  There is a push, yes another new push, to increase the amount of time our students spend in class.  We have already gone through a major transformation of the lower grades since the mid-20th century, getting rid of the long recesses and accelerating the introduction of complicated math and science classes.  But now education leaders are pushing for longer school days during the year or fewer summer vacation days in order to squeeze more learning into our children’s brains.

When I began school a very long time ago, I remember that we had a 30-minute recess in the morning, one in the afternoon, and an hour-long lunch during which we had another period of time to play.  We started school about 8:00 a.m. and finished about 3:30 p.m., but during that time we had an hour-and-a half to engage in simple, unstructured play.  Most experts will tell you that unstructured play and learning is essential to healthy brain growth.  See http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/1/e204.full.  Today, children are lucky to get one or two 15-minute periods of unstructured play time during the school day.  Sometimes, structured physical education is substituted for recess time.  Because of the push to increase the amount of learning achieved by young students, recess time is considered a waste of time.

I believe that a side effect of the push by education theorists to increase the amount of time spent focused on learning curriculum is the increase in the number of students medicated for ADHD.  As mentioned in the article by Valerie Strauss published in the Washington Post which is cited above, according to the CDC the percentage of students diagnosed with ADHD has increased from 7.8 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2011.  According to an article in The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, the number of students medicated for ADHD was negligible in the 1960’s, but that the numbers increased 600% between 1960 and 1975.  See http://www.srmhp.org/0201/adhd.html.  What is more concerning to the authors is that the numbers then increase an additional 700% in the 1990’s with the United States consuming nearly 90% of the world’s drugs, and that from 1960 to the year 2000, there is a 100-fold increase in the annual treatment of ADHD with medications.  Somebody should be concerned about this.  There is some concern amongst mental health professionals about why there is this increase in ADHD and there are studies trying to associate the increase of ADHD with foods, vaccinations, etc., but not a lot of talk about how unnatural it is to require our school-age and pre-school age children to sit still for 8 hours a day.  An article by Grant Wiggins reblogged by me talks about how difficult and unnatural it is for ANYONE to sit still for 8 hours a day in the classroom.   We as adults should be able to sit still longer and pay attention better than children, right?  But think back to the last time you had to sit still for longer than an hour-and-a half without a break.  Or how you felt after an 8-hour day of listening to speakers, even with the requisite 15-minute break morning and afternoon and an hour lunch.  Exhausted.  Then multiply that times the 185 school-days students have to endure, but subtract thirty minutes each day for lunch and add the stress of having to produce something for teachers in every class.  Sounds like torture.

Professional educators are trying to figure out how to get more out of our students by making education more entertaining, but I think we need to start by recognizing the natural process of learning by play and incorporate that into our students’ day.  Then we can start looking at how physical movement improves our ability to sit still for a period of time in order to learn.

A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned

Educators need to change the way they plan their classes by being realistic about the reality of being a student. This veteran teacher tells us why.

Granted, and...

The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys. 

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!

This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching…

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The Odd Life of Timothy Green

I recently watched “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” at home on video.  I had not watched it before, because I thought it was going to be a New Age-y celebration of a child coming from the earth.  It was actually a charming celebration of life.  Well, there were a couple of elements of earth-worshipping, but beyond that it was gorgeously visual — set in the glowing autumn colors of New England–and a recapture of the simplicity of childhood.

The premise of the movie is that when a young couple are disappointed again in their failure to be able to conceive, they imagine what their child would be like.  They came up with several elements and wrote them on pieces of paper and buried them in a box in the garden.  Magically, 10-year old Timothy appeared…apparently from the garden, from the box.  And throughout the movie, he displayed each of those qualities his ostensible parents had known their child would possess revealing to them that, yes, he was meant for them.

Other than being a delightful story for those who are tender-hearted, it is a story about the deep longing of a couple to have a child.  They have spent an enormous amount of money in order to try to conceive, to the point that they have gone into debt.  And that effort has been unsuccessful and heartbreaking.  When the husband convinces the wife to sit and pretend that they are parents, that they do have a child, they begin putting those qualities into words and onto pieces of paper. Qualities like having a good heart like his mom.  And being truthful to-a-fault.  And not being athletic, because the parents are not athletic, but being a child who makes the winning goal one time in his life.  All those little things that would make a child their own.  But because they have given up hope and decided to move on, they then bury the pieces of paper in a box in the ground. How lovely.  How heartbreaking!

And then I can’t help but segue in my thoughts to of all those people in our country who do not have a dream for a child, who are too busy or too young or too poor to appreciate that lovely combination of attributes that would make a child their own.  And so instead of burying their dreams for a child, they bury the child before it is even born.  What a tragedy!

I don’t understand it.  Why can these soon-to-be parents not see what a gift that unborn life is?  What makes them think that they have the right to tear that little life out of the womb of the mother and tear it into pieces and then throw it away?  The choice of death versus life.  I guess it is their own fear of being responsible, of being a parent.  The couple in this movie made lots of mistakes, and they said that if they could do it over again, they would make more mistakes or new mistakes, but parents make mistakes.  That is what they do, as the movie expresses.  But in this acceptance of responsibility of being a parent there is love and respect for the life we are given.  If only the fear-driven parents-to-be could understand that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who are desperate to be parents who are on waiting lists for adoption who are willing to take the responsibility and delight of raising this child.  If these parents would choose life, they would ultimately give love to their child and celebrate life, not death.


The Gangster Squad

I went to see The Gangster Squad tonight at the local movie theatre. It has Ryan Gosling in it, which is enough to draw me to the theatre, but I also like movies based on true stories.  Especially movies about the early part of the twentieth century. Fascinates me. The Gangster Squad is a really good movie. I have seen Argo and Les Miserables, and all three movies are up for various awards this year. I enjoyed all three, but I honestly believe The Gangster Squad was the best movie of all three — surprising even myself!

The movie has an R rating, which it deserves. It is incredibly violent, and the language is not for tender ears.  A couple of the scenes were so excruciatingly painful that I couldn’t watch or listen to them.  But in spite of this, the movie was incredibly well-done.  Sean Penn is a consummate actor.  He isn’t just playing the part of Mickey Cohen in this film, he IS Mickey Cohen in this film.  And of course, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin are great in their roles.  But what makes the film a winner is that it is the classic clash of good versus evil.  Set in the late 1940’s after World War II in Los Angeles, Mickey Cohen is taking over Los Angeles and wants to take over the entire west coast as mob boss. Nobody is stopping him, because of his extreme violence and because he has the police, a judge, and other leaders of the community in his back pocket. I won’t give away the plot, for those who haven’t seen it and who are not familiar with the true story, but the movie raises the question of how society stops a truly evil man if no one is willing to stand up to him? If it costs a good man something, maybe even his own life, to stand up to evil, does that excuse him?

Our society in movies, books, and music idealizes the man who does what is right.  He is a hero. It makes us feel good when we see a man risk his life to do the right thing, to protect someone or fight evil.  But reality is that most of us are cowards.  Most of us fail to do the simplest right thing, but merely do what is convenient…or self-serving. Think about the whistle-blowers of our society.  We as a society think people should do the right thing and stop corruption and self-dealing, but in reality, we wink at it.  We don’t want our friends to be “busted-out”. Whistle-blowers are often the ones punished, not the wrong-doers.  The whistle-blowers lose their jobs, their status, and their peace of mind.  That is why there has to be laws: to protect the whistle-blower.

It’s easier for the ordinary man to just close his eyes than to suffer pain in order to do the right thing — to do justice. It is common to just go along in order to get along.  But society doesn’t admire that.  We want to think we would be a hero and do the right thing, no matter what the personal cost.  But how many of us have been when given the chance? The Gangster Squad is a story that talks about that cost and lifts us up again to consider what it means to be a hero.



The Wheels of Injustice

Reveling in the truth about relationships, religion, politics and the basic necessities of life

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It occurred to me today that God did not send His Son into this world in order to bring justice.  Well, I knew that, but I don’t think the fullness of that thought really impacted me until today.  I know of a case where I believe an injustice has occurred. I have prayed for a miracle in this case.  The reason a miracle is necessary is because this young man has gotten caught up in the wheels of justice and they are grinding up his life.  Not that the circumstances and people in his life didn’t help get him there, but that the system of justice doesn’t seem to care what the truth is but is just grinding on.  As a prosecutor of CPS cases for 14 years, I have a lot of experience in analyzing the facts of cases in order to know whether or not abuse has actually occurred.  As an attorney representing parents, I use the same framework and analysis to examine the cases that come to me.  In this particular case, where the young man has been accused of sexually molesting a family member, I have looked very closely at the facts.  Although some may argue the point, I believe that as a prosecutor I would have hesitated to accept this case because there is evidence that the allegations made by the young child are fabricated. 

There are many studies that show that it is particularly easy to plant false memories in preschool children of the age of 4 and 5 simply by repeating questions or by asking leading questions.  These memories can be built upon and will appear to be true when espoused by the child, even when they are not factual.  After the child is grown, he or she may be able to discern that these were not real memories, but by then the damage to lives has been done. 

The McMartin Preschool case in the 1980′s highlighted the need for the use of non-leading questions in the examination of sexual abuse allegations in preschoolers.  CPS treats sexual abuse allegations differently in custody cases versus non-custody cases, because of the ability to coach children and the unfortunate use of sexual abuse allegations by parents to gain the upper hand.  Sexual abuse allegations are notoriously difficult to prove and have very little corroborating evidence, but are so heinous people do not want to take a chance with them.  CPS would rather destroy an innocent person’s life than take the risk of a guilty person being left to offend again.  In custody cases, however, CPS looks at the cases much more closely for signs of coaching.  That didn’t happen in this case, because the case did not involve a divorcing couple.

Regardless, my concern for the outcome of this case made me pray for a miracle.  In praying for a miracle, I had to freshly recognize that God did not send Christ to rectify all of the injustices of the world.  Of  course, that is true.  We see so many injustices around us.  Unfortunately it is the sad reason so many people use to discount the existence of God…or as being worthy to acknowledge and worship.  I know we can pray for miracles, and God, if it is His will, may provide that miracle.  But why is it that He sometimes chooses not to provide that miracle?  That’s when my faith really hit the wall. 

I have been dealing for some months now with my own disenchantment with the legal community.  I understand people who are not believers doing whatever benefits themselves and their friends, instead of doing what is just, but I have had a hard time understanding people who call themselves believers doing things which not only inure to their own benefit, but which actually violate the standards the legal community has set for itself.  This is a good standard, but by no means the one Christ would hold us to.  That a believer doesn’t even follow this worldly standard, but ignores it in order please themselves has left me jaded and somewhat cyncical.

Why, I ask myself, does God allow such injustice in the world?  I knew the world was unjust, but for so-called believers to also be unjust seemed to me too much.  That is when it hit me that God did not come to right all wrongs.  He came to free us from the law of sin so that we can do right.  We still have free will.  We can still choose to do wrong.  But God has freed us so that we can be His light in the world, we can be His justice in this world, and that we can show His mercy and compassion to the world.  If we fail in that…well, perhaps, we haven’t grown yet.  Perhaps we have a log in our eye, and we’re trying to nitpick the stick out of someone else’s.  Nevertheless, God calls us to this.  He calls us to be just and merciful and compassionate.

God is not a genie in a lamp.  We cannot simply rub the side of the lamp and make a wish, and He makes it all better.  We can’t simply wish away the injustice in the world.  God works through people and through the hearts of people.  If a heart is hardened, God will let the heart be all the more hardened.  As spoken of in Romans 9, what if God has endured “vessels of wrath” “in order to make known his riches of his glory for vessels of mercy”?  Romans 9:22-23.  God has allowed man the freedom of will to choose his free gift of grace or to reject Him.  God will be glorified.  Our part as His children is to submit to authority and show His love and his mercy.  Not to resist evil.  Injustice is  a part of this world, but God will be all the more glorified when His children are lights in this world.

So, what is the takeaway?  Perhaps God will see that justice is done in this one instance.  Or perhaps not.  God is the potter.  My part is not to question His hand in shaping the clay, but to be the vessel  He forms.  My part is to be a vessel which shines a light — His light — in this dark world and to make sure that I am just, compassionate, and merciful, as He is, so that the world might know Him through me and my life.  If his children are dark and not a light, how will the others see?

You know you’re a Texan when…

If you live in Texas, you probably have received one of those e-mails or Facebook posts that begins with, “You know you’re a Texan when….”  Well, I’ve got one.  You know you’re a Texan when you watch your feet when you walk.  If you’re raised in Texas, your mama teaches you to watch your feet when you walk, so you won’t accidentally walk up on a rattlesnake.  Of course, rattlesnakes don’t strike unless they are coiled up, and they generally are rattling when they are coiled up, so you can hear them; but nevertheless, when you are raised in Texas, you watch your feet when you walk.  (Unless you’re a city dweller, of course.)

That brings up an interesting incident.  This evening, my youngest son had come to visit me.  We were comfortably ensconced in the living room talking about some of our favorite subjects:  politics, religion, and what the future holds, when I heard a very strange hissing noise.  It was very loud.  It sounded like a hose on a hot car that had come undone and was hissing hot liquids.  I said, “Shhh…What is that?”  We listened for a moment.  I hadn’t heard a car drive up.  The outside water faucet wasn’t running, so a water hose hadn’t burst.  Could my son’s car suddenly develop a burst hose?  Well, honestly, my initial thought was, “Sounds like a rattlesnake.”  But that seemed so unlikely.  I hadn’t seen a live rattlesnake on the property since I bought it.  My son told me later that his first thought was the same, but he decided to ignore it.  I turned on the outside lights, grabbed my big flashlight, and then ran and opened the door.  There was no strange car in the driveway with hissing hoses.  Our car tires didn’t seem to be losing air, but lo-and-behold, there was a coiled-up rattlesnake under my truck.  Hissing at the cat.  The cat started heading for the snake, curiously, or is that stupidly.  My son grabbed her and put her inside.  We started debating what to do from a safe distance.  The rattlesnake appeared to be a medium-sized rattlesnake, probably around 2 1/2 to 3 feet long.  It seemed very frightened and was very loudly rattling from under the truck.  I was worried that if we left it there, it might crawl into the engine-space and I would find it again at a very inopportune moment.  So, it had to go.

I decided it was not safe for me to try to shoot the snake while it was under the truck.  I trusted neither my skill nor the gun.  A bullet would likely ricochet off the concrete or a part of the truck and cause damage to the truck, before it would ever hit the snake.  I suggested that my son try to throw a large rock at it to get it to go away.  So, he found a large rock and rolled it at the snake.  It was a good roll and went all the way to the other side of the truck, but totally missed the snake.  I suggested that my son take more bowling lessons.  Well, he got more rocks and kept throwing.  One was perfectly aimed, but bounced over the snake.  Then he got small pebbles and threw lots of them.  The snake would sometimes move, but then would re-coil and start hissing again.  Alex went to the other side of the truck.  The snake started hissing that direction.  Finally, I had the bright idea of spraying it out.  We got the water hose hooked up, turned it on high, then let the snake have it.  After a few seconds of that, the snake started uncoiling and booking it directly away from the water.  We kept watching it and spraying until it headed toward the woods.  It finally went out of sight.

Phew!  I was so relieved that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting in a truck that might have a snake under the hood.  Or that might find its way into the cab of the truck.  But then I thought about all the times I had walked out to my drive in the total dark wearing flip-flops.  And all the times I had walked in my pasture in the dark.  Hmm.  I don’t think THAT will happen again.  At least my mother taught me well, and I do watch my feet when I walk.  And I do know what a rattlesnake sounds like.  And now I know how to drive one away…at least if there is a water hose handy.

Quietness, stillness

Have you ever tried to imagine what the world sounded like before it got so modern?  That is before the combustion engine and electricity?  I am spending my second full day at the farm, and I realized that I can hear the highway here as well as I can at my mother’s house.  I have always felt my mother’s house is too close to I-35.  You can always hear it.  The difference between my house and hers is that I cannot see it.  There is an intervening greenbelt between my farm and the highway, so I can pretend it isn’t there.  Well, except for the noise.

So I was sitting in my house this morning, trying to blot out the modern sounds and trying to imagine how the world would sound without them.  No highway, no refrigerator running, no electric fan whirring.  Hard to imagine.  But then one has to add in the sounds that would have existed in their places:  horses neighing as they pulled the wagon down the road, gas lanterns hissing, ice melting in the box — well, no, I guess that would not have added any noise; but it seems so charming.  To think about the more natural noises, instead of the constant humming if not roaring of the  highway, the electrical noises cutting in and out.  Charming, but it probably smelled a little different also.  More animals, more food smells, more kerosene.  Hard to imagine.

I think that quietness is something we seek.  I read a post yesterday about negative ions, and how we get more of them around natural water and forests.  That may be part of why we seek out nature:  a natural high.  But the noise…or rather lack of it in the forests and woods seems to refresh the soul.  Sitting and listening to nothing…except the cracking of a twig, the wind in the leaves, a squirrel chattering from its perch, a hawk screeching and soaring, and then, of course, the water, running, rushing, twinkling.  Lovely, lovely.  Our hearts need that quietness, that stillness.

With the air conditioners off and the windows open, this day is full of that, except for the highway, of course.

Paul Ryan for Veep

I was delighted to see that Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan for his running mate for the 2012 campaign for the Presidency.  Paul Ryan has been a leader in Congress in ideas to turn our country away from bankruptcy.  He is an intellectually honest man who will be a strong ideas man for Romney if he wins the election.  I was a little surprised that Romney chose Ryan, because we now have two white men running together.  But you can’t call them WASPs.  Neither one of them are Protestant.  Romney is a Mormon, and Ryan is Catholic.  And there is where I think Romney made his choice.  Not only is Ryan a superior ideas-man, but he will pull not only the conservative-Republican vote, the Midwestern vote, but hopefully, he will pull the Catholic vote.  I had assumed Romney would choose a non-Anglo, but I think he decided choosing a Catholic would be his way of balancing the ticket.  Romney probably has most of the conservative Protestant vote, so this should widen his base.

Personally, I am pleased with his choice.  I like Paul Ryan.  As a member of Congress, he has had the courage to step forward with plans to pull the United States out of disaster with our growing debt.  He has also had the courage to stand up against the tirades of the left and not back down from his position.  I actually wanted him to run for President, but he declined to do so.  I have not been happy with the choice of Mitt Romney for President:  He just looks too presidential.  And I am not sure if everyone is going to think that his ticket is balanced, but if Romney is willing to listen to the ideas-man, the ticket may just pull our chestnuts out of the fire.