Monday, August 5, 2013

Well Rested and Well Read

I have been silent for sometime now and you, my loyal readers, may have been wondering where I went.  Well I have been reading.  I like to take the summer, the nice weather and the long days to stretch out with a good book.  I read voraciously during the summer.  Books, articles, magazines, anything I can get my hands on!  I recently read an article in the New York Times Educational section about educating the children of India.  The article talks about the shortage of affordable and qualified teachers for the Indian public schools.  It then describes a system of recruiting and training mostly uneducated, poor, women to be trained specifically to teach in these educational settings.  The idea of specific training programs, apprenticeships if you will, for teachers seemed so innovative—and yet we have been here before.

We hear so often of the children who failed in school who go on to be super successful.  Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, Todd Rose I could go on…
 leads me to another book I read this summer is called Square Peg, by Todd Rose.  In this autobiographical work, Rose speaks of his schooling growing up.  He recounts failure after failure in his school career until he ends up a drop out with a dead-end job.  Spoiler alert: (Eventually he realizes that he needs to advance his education in order to make a living for his growing family and he goes back to school.  After many years of hard work he is a successful Professor of Education at Harvard University, and an author of a very engaging book!) 

What do these women in India and Todd Rose have in common?  They each seemed to be on a fairly predictable path towards poverty and struggles but something helped to pull them from this trajectory and into a career of educating others.  Neither of them could have told you in their youth that they would be responsible teachers or professors, professionals or a role model to others.  They were, from an early age, on a trajectory towards failure until some large, unexpected, event threw them out of orbit.

How can we ensure that all children end up on a path like Dr. Rose?  How can we take these children at a young age and ensure success?  Do we risk pigeonholing children at a young age if we knock them off their orbits?  Can we see red flags or early predictors before these failures become reality?  Do we need to reevaluate our educational system to ensure more children end up on the successful path rather than the path of failure?  Should we revert back to an apprenticeship model?  Is there a way to identify children’s strengths earlier in life and allow them to focus on these areas?  Do we sell children short by only ‘generally’ educating them until they are 18 or would forcing them to focus earlier on make them miss out on the ability to flexibly shift later in life?  What is our goal of education?  What do we hope for children to accomplish at the end of middle school? High school? College?

As we start this year, like all years, with a clean slate, I think we need to take a lesson from ourselves in backwards design.  Let’s paint a picture of success and from there work backwards to make our portrait of success in an educated American child.   Let’s ask ourselves these questions about our schools, our classrooms, and our students.  Let’s make sure that Todd Rose or Bill Gates are not exceptions to the rule but true definitions of what it means to be educated in our classrooms.