Too young for Private Ryan?

“When exposing your kids to the deeper, harsher realities, how much is too much, and how young is too young?” asks Michael T. Hamilton on PJ Media’s new parenting blog.

Hamilton’s parents didn’t let him watch Saving Private Ryan till he was in high school. A classmate had watched it 10 years earlier.

That movie can mess you up–it’s supposed to mess you up, in its own constructive way–and it did mess up scores of American veterans who relived their honorable, heroic nightmares at a theater near them. Sure enough, the movie (and many other things absolutely fine for his parents) messed up this kid for a while, too.

“Your kids are going to encounter certain things before you want them to,” he writes. Bubbles always burst. “Converse as much as you can – at meals, in the car – to weave a web of principles, stories, anecdotes, and values” so they can cope when you’re not around.

I think that’s good advice.

To raise an adult, stop hovering

Helicopter parents are raising fragile children, writes Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean. Colleges are seeing a wave of depressed, apathetic students who can’t make their own decisions. In How To Raise an Adult, she tells parents that good parenting means preparing children to take responsibility for their own lives, learn from their mistakes and . . . grow up. 
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In a 2013 survey, 95 percent of college counseling center directors said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus, writes Lythcott-Haims. One fourth of students who visit counseling centers were taking psychotropic drugs.

It’s not just a problem for high achievers at elite colleges, she adds. In a survey of nearly 100,000 students at 153 colleges, 84.3 percent said they’d felt overwhelmed in the last year, 60.5 percent felt very sad and 51 percent felt overwhelming anxiety. Eight percent had considered suicide.

When seemingly perfectly healthy but overparented kids get to college and have trouble coping with the various new situations they might encounter—a roommate who has a different sense of “clean,” a professor who wants a revision to the paper but won’t say specifically what is “wrong,” a friend who isn’t being so friendly anymore, a choice between doing a summer seminar or service project but not both—they can have real difficulty knowing how to handle the disagreement, the uncertainty, the hurt feelings, or the decision-making process.

Overinvolved parents deliver a “soul-crushing” message to their children, writes Lythcott-Haims.  “Kid, you can’t actually do any of this without me.”

With her husband, she’s raising teen-age sons in Palo Alto, which may be the epicenter of involved and over-involved parenting. It’s where I raised my daughter, who grew up to be a literary agent for the book.

UW will ID schools with unprepared grads

The University of Wisconsin will report on high schools whose graduates require remedial courses, under a new state law, reports the Courier.

“I’ve heard from many parents who were stunned to learn that despite getting good enough grades to get into a UW system school, their kids aren’t prepared to start their college career,”said Rep. John Jagler, the bill’s author.

Remedial math classes are packed at University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

Remedial math classes are packed at UW-Lacrosse.

“My hope is that by shining a light on what schools these students attended, discussions can begin at the local and state level on finding solutions to better prepare students for higher education.”

Math is the largest barrier. Systemwide, one in five first-year UW students require remedial math, reported the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last year.

UW is trying to “boost the percentage of freshmen who complete remedial courses in their first year of college by changing the way those courses are taught, including providing more hands-on tutoring, doing more problem-solving in class and using special computer software.”

ACT is phasing out its college placement test, reports Inside Higher EdCompass and Accuplacer, a similar test from the College Board, place some students in remedial courses who might pass college-level courses, according to a 2012 study.

White blindness


Michael Jackson in Thriller

Why are white people in America so unaware of their white privilege? asks Quora.

Lacey Sheridan, a retired teacher and administrator, tells an anecdote about a substitute teaching a class of 10th graders, all of whom who were black. She showed them how to write a cinquain, a five-line poem, based on their names.  As an example, she used Michael Jackson, who’d just made Thriller.

 I began by writing “Michael” on the board, and then asked for two words describing him. There was a sharp division in the descriptors between the boys and the girls, with the boys opting for denigrating remarks about his sexuality. After a sidebar to discuss unacceptable language, I used “gloved, mega-star” from the girls and wrote them under “Michael.”  Line three became “singing, dancing, laughing” and line 4 was “curly-haired, light-skinned, graceful, lithe” and we ended on “Jackson.”

Then everyone had to write their own cinquain, including the teacher.

Without exception, every student had referenced being black in their self-descriptions. Terms such as “mocha-skinned,” “ebony,” “cafe-au-lait,” “coffee colored” and “sienna”  abounded.

When Sheridan read her poem, the class was stunned. “You didn’t say anything about being white,” a girl said. The teacher had described herself as being red-haired and slender, but had said nothing about her skin color. She told students that white people don’t describe themselves as “white.”

Grumbles, remarks and a “Yeah, right,” from my friend in the back of the room.  I tried to clarify by explaining that, if asked, I would describe myself as “Irish” or “Irish-American” or just plain “American,” depending on the context.  Complete disbelief. Further effort. “We don’t think about being white because we’re the majority. You focus on being black first because you’re in the minority.”

. . .  I asked them to read the poem about Michael Jackson that was on the board.  Then I said, “I’m not asking for a show of hands, but how many of you described yourselves as heterosexual?”

. . . After a few beats, my rear-room challenger looked at me and said, “It never entered my head.”  One of the girls asked, “Is that what it’s like, being white?  I figured white folks thought about being white all the time.”  Lots of nodding and verbal agreement from her classmates.  I said, “We don’t have to think about it; we just take it for granted.”

Students were amazed.

A state guardian for every Scottish child

Scotland’s government plans to appoint a “state guardian” for every child, reports The Telegraph.  A “health visitor,” head teacher or other government official will be expected to assess each child’s “wellbeing,” including safety, health and whether the child feels included and respected.

Teaching unions are concerned about taking on vaguely defined new responsibilities. Parents who phoned in to a radio program described the policy as “interfering madness,” a “big brother” approach and a “sinister” attempt to meddle in the lives of ordinary people, reports The Telegraph.

Critics said a leaflet suggested a guardian could “become involved in issues such as whether a child was happy with how his, or her, bedroom was decorated.”

It reminds me of a classic from The Onion: “An increasing number of American parents are choosing to have their children raised at school rather than at home.”

“Every year more parents are finding that their homes are not equipped to instill the right values in their children,” (Deputy Education Secretary Anthony W.) Miller said. “When it comes to important life skills such as proper nutrition, safe sex, and even basic socialization, a growing number of mothers and fathers think it’s better to rely on educators to guide and nurture their kids.”

“School-homing has become popular among mothers and fathers who just want to be less involved in the day-to-day lives of their children,” added The Onion.

Where the world’s children play 


Schoolchildren play in Bhutan and in Mombasa, Kenya. 

In a new book, Playground, James Mollison shows where children play around the world.


At play in Nairobi, Kenya.


Field exercises at a middle school in China

America the Beautiful


The Hillsdale College choir sings America the Beautiful.

We hold these truths . . .

From Mario Kart to the classroom

Video Games Like Mario Kart and World of Warcraft Could Be Making Their Way Into Classrooms, writes Georgia Perry in The Atlantic.

Some top game designers are high school or college dropouts, writes Perry. They were bored in school. They’re experts at engaging players. 

GlassLab, a joint effort by Electronic Arts and the Educational Testing Service (the SAT people) pairs commercial and educational game designers to create games kids will want to play. Use Your Brainz is based on the popular Plants vs. Zombies. It adds a tracker to assess players’ problem-solving skills.

Games are great at assessment, says Richard Culatta, the director of the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.

They assess their players constantly—that’s how they determine when a player is ready to move to the next level. Similarly, feedback is provided instantly in games; unlike having to wait a week for a grade on an assignment, students playing a game can, say, look at the top of the screen and see a bunch of cartoon hearts letting them know how many lives they have left.

Another major challenge facing American education, according to Culatta, involves “[holding] students—almost like a surfboard—right on the wave of their ability.” In other words, schools often struggle to give them tasks that they are capable of doing but for which they also need to work and stay vigilant.

Games do this expertly.

The DOE, the National Science Foundation and foundations such as Gates and MacArthur are spending “upwards of $100 million to promote educational gaming,” writes Greg Toppo in The Game Believes In You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter.

Nearly three-quarters of K-8 teachers use digital games as a teaching tool, according to a 2014 study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

How does a teacher figure out which education apps are worth trying? asks Kaycie Gillette-Mallard on EdCentral. Putting the Education in “Educational” Apps has advice on how to evaluate apps.

What proficiency education looks like

RPA students prep for a wilderness and first-aid elective.

RPA students prep for a wilderness  elective. Photo: Deborah Fallows

Deborah Fallows looks at an Oregon high school that lets students build their own education.

At Redmond Proficiency Academy (RPA), “students have great liberty to choose the classes they want, even to show up at class or not, to find a groove of learning they’re comfortable with, and to have their success be measured in terms of proficiency or mastery for the content and skills,” writes Fallows in The Atlantic.

Students who need to make up work can use January and June terms, while those who are on track can pursue electives such as wilderness preparedness and “remote first aid,” to the science of breadmaking.”

George Hegarty, who taught in high schools for 15 years before coming to RPA, explained how a student might reach proficiency.

Students who struggle with their ability to construct thesis-based arguments about a novel, poem, or play in an English class have taken walks with their teachers and shared their ideas and analyses of the texts while the teacher took notes. The teacher, then, sits down with the students and helps them see the structured nature of their thinking, and helps them convert the notes into an outline for a paper.

This process highlights that education follows a growth trajectory rather than a “one and done” pass or fail mentality, and we have found that it encourages … students to immerse themselves in particular subject areas rather than simply “survive” Humanities classes.

It takes “about 10,000 percent more individual attention” than in traditional schools,  says Hegarty.