Mississippi teachers could grade parents

Credit: Steve Wilson

Credit: Steve Wilson

If a bill passed by the Mississippi House becomes law, teachers would grade parents’ involvement with their children’s education.

A section would be added to each child’s report card for the teacher to evaluate parents on “their responsiveness to communication with teachers, the students’ completion of homework and readiness for tests, and the frequency of absences and tardiness.”

Is social media fueling teen suicide?


Credit: Victor Kerlow

Parents blame stress for the suicides of two 17-year-old girls in Plano, Texas. Two boys at New York City’s Fordham Prep jumped in front of trains a few weeks apart. The youth suicide rate has been rising since 2007, reports the Centers for Disease Control.

Social media may be fueling teen suicide by encouraging young people to become “disconnected from the reality of their own existences,” writes Dr. Keith Ablow.

Facebook, Twitter, Tinder and the like have made them think of themselves as mini-reality-TV versions of themselves. Too many of them see their lives as a series of flickering photos or quick videos. They need constant doses of admiration and constant confirmation of their tenuous existence, which come in the form of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “retweets.”

Heroin use is spreading, writes Ablow. “Heroin is just the powdered equivalent of text messaging, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the technology drugs Americans— especially American teen— are mainlining every single day.”

Young people are “increasingly fascinated with dramas about vampires and zombies,” he adds. “They know something about the walking dead.”

The horror of Valentine’s Day cards

Before she had kids, Mrs. Lipstick thought assigning kids to make Valentine’s Day cards was a great way to encourage handwriting, basic literacy, creativity and parent/child bonding. Now, after helping her preschooler make and sign 25 cards, she thinks it’s parent torture.

Her daughter “discovered you could make a butterfly if you put a popsicle stick on top of a heart with a pom pom for a head,” writes Mrs. Lipstick. “That was a great idea if she wanted to make ONE valentine. But we needed 25.”

Once finished, her preschooler had to write her name on each card. It took “three evenings after school encouraging, cajoling, begging, demanding that she write her name in a legible fashion,” writes Mrs. Lipstick. “She may never write her name again.”

Mrs. Lipstick has taken a vow never to sneer at store-bought cards.

Good schools matter 

Families matter a great deal and schools very little when it comes to education, concluded the famous Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, 50 years ago. Coleman mixed up cause and correlation, writes Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby as part of Education Next‘s look back on the influential report.

Coleman “did not consider the possibility that advantaged children might have had high achievement precisely because their parents could choose good schools and ditch bad schools,” she writes.

Coleman believed teacher quality didn’t matter because measurable teacher characteristics, such as experience, education and vocabulary score, explained little of the variation in students’ achievement.

Parents always knew some teachers were better than others, writes Hoxby. These days, “numerous rigorous analyses of value-added demonstrate that teachers matter a great deal.”

Coleman failed to see that “good” families might be those who could discern which teachers were effective and get their children into those teachers’ classes. Thus, part of the apparent family effect was really a choose-effective-teachers effect.

(Before my daughter started kindergarten, I visited the two teachers’ classrooms and requested the one I liked the most. In later years, I networked with other parents to determine which teachers had the best reputations.)
Looking back, it is obvious that this early and voluntary desegregation was dominated by selection, that is, families’ own choices.Coleman also concluded that minority children achieved more when they had white classmates, Hoxby writes. But his study didn’t look at students randomly assigned to an integrated or all-black classroom. The data, from an era before desegregation orders, reflected “the sort of black families who were motivated and able to live in integrated neighborhoods.”

Hoxby attended voluntarily integrated schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  “Often, the blacks were professionals who already spent most of their working lives among whites, had white friends, and participated in mixed-race church and social groups. ”

Her research has found that “when students are randomly assigned to schools, it is the achievement and not the race of their peers that matters.”

Taking the ‘self’ out of self-empowerment

We’ve Had 100 Years Of Progressive Education And The World’s Getting Worse, writes Jordan Shapiro, a fellow at Sesame Street Workshop’s Joan Ganz Clooney Center, in Forbes.  “A century of well-intentioned progressive trends in education may have cultivated a generation of entitled I-me-mine individualist ‘winners’,” he suggests.

Each wealthy kid who is taught to follow his/her passion, discover his/her true vocation, or find his/her authentic self, is also inadvertently learning that personal success is a kind of implicit manifest destiny.

Parenting norms differ by social class, writes Robert Putnam in Our Kids. “Well-educated parents aim to raise autonomous, independent, self-directed children with high self-esteem and the ability to make good choices, whereas less educated parents focus on discipline and obedience and conformity to pre-established rules.”

Reformers “try to spread the message of self-actualization more equitably,” writes Shapiro. They forget that “self-confidence and individual empowerment” aren’t neutral or equitable. “Winners necessarily require losers.”

Shapiro dreams of “new classroom rules, new district wide administrative systems, new school designs and new educational customs that will break the cycle of winners and losers, haves and have nots.”

We need to teach our children that the goal is not self-empowerment for the sake of the individual, but rather for the collective. They must learn not only how to identify and discover their unique gifts, but also how to offer them up in service to the rest of us.

Do winners require losers? If Johnny learns to read well, is that bad for Susie?

And teaching kids to serve the collective is . . . kind of creepy, right?

Raising a creative child — not a gifted sheep

To raise a creative child, parents need to back off, writes Adam Grant in the New York Times. A professor of management and psychology at Penn’s Wharton School, he’s the author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.

“Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new,” writes Grant. Tiger Moms and Lombardi Dads raise their prodigies to become “excellent sheep” who crave the approval of their parents and teachers.

“The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies, but rarely compose their own original scores. They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights.”

“Only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,” writes psychologist Ellen Winner.

Parents of highly creative children set few rules, instead stressing moral values, one study found.

When the psychologist Benjamin Bloom led a study of the early roots of world-class musicians, artists, athletes and scientists, he learned that their parents didn’t dream of raising superstar kids. . . . They responded to the intrinsic motivation of their children.

Nobel Prize-winning scientists aren’t single-minded, Grant writes. Compared to other scientists, they’re “22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.”

A perfect score


Cedrick Argueta, right, is congratulated by his calculus teacher, Anthony Yom, left. Photo: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times

Of 302,531 students who took the Advanced Placement Calculus exam last year, only twelve earned a perfect score, reports the Los Angeles Times. Cedrick Argueta, the son of a Salvadoran maintenance worker and a Filipina vocational nurse, was one of them.

At Lincoln High in a heavily Latino neighborhood of Los Angeles, students shouted, “Ced-rick! Ced-rick!” when Principal Jose Torres announced his score, reports the Times.

Math has always just made sense to him, he said. He appreciates the creativity of it, the different methods you can take to solve a problem.

“There’s also some beauty in it being absolute,” Cedrick said. “There’s always a right answer.”

He credits “everybody else that helped me along the way.”

Both parents are immigrants. His father, Marcos, never attended high school. His mother, Lilian, said that she told Cedrick and his younger sister to finish their homework and to “read, read, read.”

His math teacher, Anthony Yom, says all of his AP Calculus students have passed the exam for three years running. Last year, 17 of 21 earned a 5, the highest score.

Yom, 35, said he treats his students like a sports team. They’d stay after school, practicing problem solving for three or four extra hours, and they’d come on weekends. On test day, they wore matching blue T-shirts sporting their names, “like they’re wearing jerseys to the game,” Yom said.

Cedrick also earned perfect scores on the science and math sections of the ACT, he said. He’s taking four more AP exams this year, including Calculus BC.

He hopes to earn a scholarship to Cal Tech to study engineering.

When toys talk, Mom doesn’t

Talking toys may be bad for babies and toddlers, writes Cory Turner on NPR. Parents talk less when toys talk more, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. And young children need to interact with a human to learn language.

Children between 10 and 16 months old were fitted with microphones.

Books and traditional toys, such as blocks and a shape sorter, stimulated the most high-quality conversation, says Anna Sosa, a Northern Arizona University professor who ran the study.

When kids played with the electronic toys — a “talking farm,” a “baby cellphone” and a “baby laptop” — parents and children communicated less. “When there’s something else that’s doing some talking, the parents seem to be sitting on the sidelines and letting the toy talk for them and respond for them,” she says.

“Back-and-forth conversation” with a parent or caregiver is crucial to developing language, writes Aaron Loewenberg on Ed Central.

The parenting wisdom of Star Wars

“The Dark Side can be hard to resist,” writes my stepdaughter, Gina, in The Hidden Parenting Wisdom of Star Wars. There’s nothing like a fight between Her Highness and the Little Princess to make a mother long for her own personal Death Star.

The Force Awakens' Rey grew up without parents, supporting herself as a scavenger.

Star Wars new heroine, Rey, grew up without parents, supporting herself as a scavenger.

“We may not agree with our parents’ way of thinking, but there is always something to learn from the choices they made,” she writes. Even if Dad is Darth Vader.

The new Star Wars movie has more parenting lessons:

Don’t send your son to a boarding school run by Mark Hamill.

If your kid asks for your help, don’t say, “I’ll do anything.”

The best place to abandon a child is a desert planet.

The movie plot that was good for your parents will be good for you.

‘They knew I had a future … ‘


Education Secretary Arne Duncan mentored Lawanda Crayton 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, Arne Duncan was an “I Have a Dream” Foundation mentor at a Chicago elementary school. The outgoing education secretary reunited with Lawanda Crayton, when she was interviewed for NPR’s StoryCorps interview project.

The foundation helps low-income children with “tutoring in early elementary school all the way through help with college tuition,”  reports NPR.

Crayton’s  mother was “an abusive alcoholic,” she told Duncan in the intrerview. “I remember being put in the hospital, I had a broken bone in my leg, had cuts on my face — all from my mother.”

I was a very angry young woman . . . But you and I had a very dynamic relationship, because I spent a number of days being tutored by you in math, and it became one of my favorite subjects.

Crayton was motivated by the program’s rewards. “And for us it was like, hey, if we do well on this test we can go on a trip … anything that was going to get us out of the war zone that we were in. I wanted as much homework as I could get in order not to go home.”

Every year I embraced everybody a little bit more and I accepted that they wanted to be a part of my life. They knew I had a future, I had a life, and I had a purpose, because I never thought that I had that, and it took these blessings to put that in my life. If I didn’t have that support, I wouldn’t be here.

The foundation paid for Crayton to attend a Catholic school, then go on to college.

She had no family at her college graduation. But she’d called Duncan. “You were there. You came. You were just as proud of me as I was of myself.”

Crayton now works in information technology as a project manager and mentors children.