Anti-bully tweets praise of classmates

An Iowa City teenager and his friends are cyber-praising classmates in protest of cyberbullying, writes USA Today.

Jeremiah Anthony created a Twitter feed to compliment his fellow West High School classmates after reading about bullies who use social media to harass other students. Anthony and two friends send kind words to classmates and teachers under the Twitter handle @WestHighBros.

How to be an education parent

We want parents to support kids’ learning, but what do we want them to do specifically? asks Bill Jackson of Great Schools in an e-mail discussion. He envisions a campaign of public service announcements tied to a GreatKids mobile app:

1. Read to your child for 30 minutes a day.
2. Have conversations with your child every day. Use questions, not commands.
3. Teach your child the alphabet before kindergarten.
4. Teach your child to count to 20.
5. Limit TV time to 30 minutes a day.

An iPad app could let parents “give their kids a quick test to see how they are doing in acquiring vocabulary,” Jackson adds. “The idea here is to  . .  make it a ‘club’ of parents doing the right things and getting positive feedback.”

I think some parents need to be shown how to read a book with a child and how to have a conversation.

Guest-blogging for Rick Hess, Jackson asks parents to list their aspirations for their children at age 18. “When you launch them at age 18, what knowledge, skills, character traits, and other qualities do you want them to have?” His list for his daughters:

1. Be passionate about some activities or commitments
2. Love to read; read for pleasure
3. Know a lot about the world (for their age) and want to know more
4. Have strong analytical and mathematical skills
5. Know a lot (for their age) about at least one area of science (biology, physics, etc)
6. Write well
7. Have skills in at least one visual, fine or performing art discipline (piano, theater, etc.)
8. Have at least one manual skill (sewing, cooking, fixing car, etc.)
9. Have at least basic computer programming skills
10. Be able to draw reasonably well
11. Have friends (fewer closer or more less close both OK)
12. Be active in serving people in need and/or advocating for ideas larger than themselves
13. Be kind to everyone they interact with
14. Have demonstrated resiliency through failure
15. Be physically active
16. Be optimistic

Whether a particular school is good for a child depends on the parent’s aspirations, Jackson writes.

My expectations for my daughter’s schools were modest. I wanted school to teach her reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, history and science — especially math and science, which I wasn’t teaching at home. I didn’t expect her to be skilled in a performing art or in drawing — and I was right. (She took  a programming class in college, but I don’t think it’s a critical skill.) Kindness, friendliness, resiliency, problem solving, cooking . . . Kids learn that at home or not at all.

‘Kindness pledge’ divides Harvard

Harvard is asking first-year students to sign a pledge to uphold the college’s values:

. . . In the classroom, in extracurricular endeavors, and in the Yard and Houses, students are expected to act with integrity, respect, and industry, and to sustain a community characterized by inclusiveness and civility.

As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment.

Originally, signatures — and blank spaces by the names of non-signers — were to be displayed in entryways, but that idea was dropped.

Pressuring all students to sign the pledge sets a terrible precedent, writes Harry Lewis a computer science professor and former dean of Harvard College.

It is not a pledge to act in a certain way. It is a pledge to think about the world a certain way, to hold precious the exercise of kindness. It is a promise to control one’s thoughts. . . . A student would be breaking the pledge if she woke up one morning and decided it was more important to achieve intellectually than to be kind.

. . .  the right to be annoying is precious, as is the right to think unkind thoughts. Harvard should not condone the sacrifice of rights to speech and thought simply because they can be inconvenient in a residential college.

The kindness pledge — as it’s now known — is “hilariously inappropriate and offensively coercive” adds Charles Fried, who teaches First Amendment law at Harvard.

“Harvard needs bold, courageous, iconoclastic thinkers, but this pledge indicates that the dean would really prefer good little boys and girls who don’t make trouble,” writes Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, which defends free-speech rights.

It seems especially ironic that a fundamentally elitist institution like Harvard would claim that inclusiveness is one of its greatest values. Keep in mind, this is an institution that rejects the overwhelming majority of people who apply, then pits them against each other for grades, kicks out some for failing, heaps glory upon those who succeed with particular distinction, and takes credit for the earth-shattering accomplishments of its hyper-elite graduates.

The pledge is anti-intellectual, Virginia Postrel writes. Kindness seeks to avoid hurt.

 Criticism — even objective, impersonal, well- intended, constructive criticism — isn’t kind. Criticism hurts people’s feelings, and it hurts most when the recipient realizes it’s accurate. Treating “kindness” as the way to civil discourse doesn’t show students how to argue with accuracy and respect. It teaches them instead to neither give criticism nor tolerate it.

Lauding intellectual “attainment” rather than inquiry or excellence, is a “strange, and revealing, choice of words,” Postrel adds.

Last spring, then-freshmen were asked how they believed Harvard ranked various values and how they rated those values themselves. “Success” is Harvard’s highest value and “compassion” rates near the bottom, students said. On their personal lists, they listed compassion fourth after hard work, honesty, respect.

A Harvard Crimson editorial endorsed the kindness pledge, if voluntary, and called for the college to provide “stronger moral education.” “Students receive more reminders to turn in their study cards” for course registration “than they do to be nice,” the editorial lamented.

Something’s missing in these dichotomies — “course registration versus niceness; success versus compassion; ‘attainment’ versus kindness” — Postrel writes.

Where in the list of ranked values are curiosity, discovery, reason, inquiry, skepticism or truth? (Were these values even options?) Where is critical thinking? No wonder the pledge talks about “attainment.” Attainment equals study cards and good grades — a transcript to enable the student to move on to the next stage. Attainment isn’t learning, questioning or criticizing. It’s getting your ticket punched.

Harvard represents success, but also wants to represent “compassion,” Postrel writes. Both “depend on other people, either to validate success or serve as objects of compassion. And neither is intellectual.”

The kindness detectives

Miss Brave tried a lesson plan on collecting 100 acts of kindness in honor of the 100th day of school, turning her students into kindness detectives catching each other in the act of being nice. Normally a skeptical group, they loved it.

Anyone who is “caught being kind” gets to wear a smiley sticker that says, “I was caught being kind!”

. . . We are up to 82 acts of kindness and counting — everything from lending someone an eraser to sitting with someone who was alone. Jason — who says things like, “Move it, sissy” to other boys in the class — has been caught being kind multiple times and has been thrilled to pieces about it. Ariela, who is always kind to her classmates and who has already been Student of the Month, told me with a shy and proud smile that she had seen her name on the “kindness board.” During our science experiment, when I against my better judgement trusted my kids to be able to pour dirt/rock mixtures into containers, I witnessed Bryce (the king of personal space) and Felix working together: “You hold the cup still! I’ll pour!” When they were done, they said, “Yay, we did it!” and gave each other a high five.

“It was like an afterschool special,” Miss Brave writes.