Archive for the ‘Education/Schools’ Category

Bullying is big news. With kids cutting and killing themselves, the media, legislatures, and school systems are just now waking up to an epidemic that has been thriving under their noses for way too long.

We are searching for answers. Whose fault is it? The bully’s? The teacher? The Principal? The parent?

The truth is, we are missing the boat about what causes bullying and why it exists in the first place.

Bullying, at its core, is about relationships. The whole system promotes and allows bullying. Kids increasingly do not know how to be in relationship with each other so they resort to surviving the best they know how.

We don’t teach a “how to get along in the world” class. Kids must figure out the complexity of relationship on their own, making interpersonal interaction a Darwinian experience. Many think back to their childhood and view survival of the fittest as a positive way to learn about life. But the truth is, school is increasingly a Lord of the Flies existence, where teachers opt out of being in relationship with their students.

This leaves kids to flounder right before their eyes.

Bullying is the disintegration of intimate, caring relationships in a society gone digital. Bullying is not just a kid-on-kid phenomenon.

And here is the surprising part. IT EXISTS EVERYWHERE, especially in school between teacher and student.

Teresa is a 15-year-old who is chronically overwhelmed by the expectations of her teachers and her mother. An impatient mother demanding excellence coupled with teachers who never stop giving homework, grading and moving on to the next chapter has Teresa living in a constant state of anxiety and fear.

She has panic attacks at night thinking about her failure and inadequacy. Teresa attempted to talk to her teachers but mostly they ignore her, dismissing her as someone who has given up. Though clearly emotionally drowning in full view of everyone, no adult “bystanders” have stepped in to help Teresa.

Reaching her breaking point, she stabbed herself in the neck – all in an effort to stop the intense and unbearable feeling of rejection and inadequacy.

What makes this a case of bullying is how teachers caused Teresa’s fear and anxiety without attending to her obvious suffering. There is no relationship of caring between Teresa and her teachers. They were able to walk away (like any bully) and not take responsibility for their actions.

Too many teachers bully students to get their work done instead of being in relationship with them. Bullying bypasses the intimacy and work of real relationship. It is more than being rude or insensitive; it’s emotional harming of another in exchange for power, prestige, control, dominance or playing out unresolved issues on others.

Most kids, when asked about school, will answer that it is an impossible situation. They have no rights or privileges and absolutely no voice. Too often parents join with teachers to push, prod, threaten, humiliate, ridicule, judge, grade, embarrass, all in an effort to get kids to good student status, to get them to tow the line.

But in the end, what will work and what will always work is being in caring and respectful relationships. Everyone wins in a healthy relationship. It is harder and needs to be taught. But it is the only way to stop bullying.


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What do children need to achieve happiness and social and emotional health and well-being? This question is not being asked by educators vigorously enough, if at all. We want our children to compete, achieve and lead, whether they’re happy or not. Our children’s happiness is not the responsibility of schools. As one teacher said, “I’m here to teach them to read and write, not to take care of their feelings.” But if the mental health of today’s student’s is an indicator of tomorrows leadership and ability to compete, we are sadly going in the wrong direction.

• ADHD – at least 1 in 25 children in any given classroom
• Serious Emotional Disturbance – 1 of every 10 children and adolescents
• Conduct disorder – 1 to 4 percent of 9-17-year-olds.
• Oppositional Defiant Disorder – 1 to 6 percent of the school-age population
• Teen suicide – 6.9% of high school students had attempted suicide. For every teen suicide death, there are 10 other teen suicide attempts. (www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov)

The reorganization of education needs to be centered on questions that have to do with the well-being of the students they educate. What ignites learning? What excites imagination? What do kids care and think about? What makes kids feel good about themselves? How do students feel safe and cared for? How do kids learn? What’s happening developmentally?

Schools suffer the same injustices of homogenization as their students. Schools must follow strict guidelines limiting autonomy and creativity. Students suffer the same controls. It is a vicious cycle. Schools enforce strict learning parameters that limit student learning and individuation, just as schools are limited by external mandates.

We are a wealthy country but cannot figure out how to best educate our children. Why not? There are plenty of dynamic, caring teachers who don’t last long in a system that is autocratic and lifeless. Good teachers move on to careers where they can grow personally and professionally, which sadly is far from the narrowness and rigidity of schools. How long can one survive in a system that rejects individuality, a system that measures success through compliance and submissiveness and rejects creativity and independence, the very qualities that foster leadership.

Human beings are not machines and schools should not act as factories funneling children through as if on conveyor belts – impersonally and without feeling. Schools should not be in the business of producing a product. Education is not a business. Schools have lost their way. Parents and teachers have lost their way. Education has lost it’s meaning. And our children, our future problem-solvers, caretakers and leaders suffer because of it. We wear tinted glasses that see only what we choose to see. It’s time to take the glasses off and start asking new questions. Ask kids. They have a lot to say. They will tell you what they want.

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October 05, 2010|By Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune reporter

In Lauren Topazian’s fifth-grade classroom, the walls are covered with artifacts of ancient civilizations. But today she is asking her students to put themselves somewhere far less exotic: in their classmates’ shoes.

The youngsters are acting out scenarios that call for offering friends a little extra support — such as when a pal loses an art contest or is the target of a rumor. The role-playing speaks volumes about the culture at Cossitt School in La Grange, where thinking about how your behavior affects others is as much a part of the day as reading and math.

“You can’t just assume kids know how to show kindness or resolve conflict,” said Principal Mary Tavegia. “You’ve got to give them the tools as soon as they walk in the door.”

In 2004, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require all school districts to teach social and emotional skills as part of their curriculum and daily school life. That means students are expected to meet certain benchmarks, such as recognizing and managing feelings, building empathy and making responsible decisions.

The touchy-feely stuff doesn’t have to come at the expense of intellect. New evidence shows a strong link between interpersonal skills and academics, said Roger Weissberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who has studied social and emotional learning for more than 25 years.

Weissberg and his colleagues recently completed an analysis of 300 scientific studies and reached two important conclusions: Students enrolled in such programs scored at least 10 percentage points higher on achievement tests than peers who weren’t. At the same time, discipline problems were cut in half.

“Some teachers may be skeptical about (Social and Emotional Learning) at first, but they are won over when their students learn more, are more engaged and better problem solvers,” said Weissberg, president of CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, based at UIC. The nonprofit promotes the benefits of acquiring such abilities, from preschool to high school.

Few schools embrace the philosophy as robustly as Cossitt School, which Weissberg called “a national model.”

Tavegia’s passion for the subject started in the mid-1990s, following a survey that revealed students didn’t feel connected to the school, the staff or each other.

“It was a real eye-opener,” she admitted. “Here we thought we were living in Mayberry and discovered that we weren’t.”

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Our children are called to order by the insistent bells of Education. Each morning we watch them go and hope. We hope they are engaged and motivated, that their teachers are invested and caring, that they don’t become involved with the “wrong” crowd. We hope apathy and disconnection don’t creep in. We hope we don’t lose them.

We hope because what else can we do.

What we know of our child’s school life comes from dry report cards, the briefest of parent/teacher conferences and grades and test scores continuously charting academic standing. All false indicators of well-being. But what we really know is that school is filled with as much risk as luck and a good education is not guaranteed anywhere.

There is something wrong, something missing, in schools today. Parents know it. Teachers know it. Obama knows it. But most significantly, our children know it.

School is a full-time, no-option-to-leave job that lasts 12 years – at least. Still, up to one-third of disgruntled students end up dropping out to solve the problem of non-workable school (and life) conditions. As adults, working for any length of time in a job that does not validate or feed you intellectually, emotionally or socially would be misery – the kind of job too many Americans suffer through because of their own school experiences.

When rethinking our present day educational system, let’s once and for all integrate the social and emotional aspects of learning alongside the cognitive work of development. Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson (1902-1994), who coined the phrase “identity crisis,” offered that each developmental stage presents tasks that must be worked through before moving successfully on to the next stage of development. These tasks are social and emotional as well as cognitive.

The task of adolescence is identity formation, the often challenging, lifelong journey of crafting an identity.

What happens when the “who am I?” question of identity is neglected? Statistics tell us that one in five children suffer from mental, behavioral or emotional problems and that one in eight suffer from depression. Suicide is the third leading cause of death of people aged 15-24, and the fourth leading cause of death of children between the ages of 10-14.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) in school offers time, place and opportunity for students to do the work of identity formation. Students explore, discover and reflect on what it means to be them in relation to others. SEL builds interpersonal (awareness of other’s feelings) as well as intrapersonal (self-awareness) skills. SEL programs are springing up in limited ways in some schools around the country. These programs, mostly for grades K-6th, range from after-school social skills learning to morning circle to in-school curriculum-based learning.

Why are there little or no SEL programs in middle and high schools today when it clearly is instrumental to healthy, rounded development?

The impact of I.Q. testing on education, developed in the early 20th century is profound and reverberates through our entire educational system. We have designed a system of learning that is centered on the “logical/mathematical and linguistic” intelligences, a system that almost wholly disregards the social and emotional dimensions of creating a self. Measuring intelligence means schools teach to tests that measure measurable intelligence. It is a vicious cycle that excludes meeting and serving the “other” needs and intelligences of our students.

Scientifically measuring intelligence (I.Q. testing) was developed in response to managing and tracking a rapidly expanding nation. Intelligence testing became the standard way of managing and tracking our children, unfortunately at the exclusion of all else. It seems we no longer can see our children without it.

The goal of education should be to unlock potential, not to limit it. We have little choice but to trust our schools to care for our children. We hope good teachers will witness and cultivate their unique potential both academically and as developing human beings. But the sad reality is that schools are not set up to tend to the whole child and good attention to the social and emotional aspects of development is left to chance and luck.

As a result, the non-cognitive potential of our children, their feeling, creative, intuitive dimensions are rendered invisible in a system that sees them exclusively through the lens of quantitative assessments, tests and grades. Huge portions of our children’s selves are seemingly not worth validating because they are not measurable or track-able. Yet building a system that honors the whole thinking, feeling, and creative individuating person is the change we desperately need in American education.

When we honor and engage the whole child we promote real growth that leads to academic achievement and well-being. The most recent findings show that student attitudes, behaviors and performance are improved with SEL in the school setting because students who are connected to self and others are more engaged in their own learning.By neglecting the essential work children and adolescents are developmentally charged to do, we devalue their primal drive to know and make sense of themselves and their world. When we place SEL in equal partnership with cognitive learning, we can graduate creative, inspired individuals who reach beyond themselves into a world of their own possibility.

We need to help our children become – fully – themselves, not what we want them to be. To do that we need to integrate SEL into the daily life of Education so we no longer leave our children’s development to luck and chance but to careful, thoughtful attention.

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February 22, 2009 — Bill Gates hopes to solve some of the world’s biggest problems using a new kind of philanthropy. In a passionate 10 minute excerpt from his February 2009 presentation at TED, he asks us to consider how we create great teachers.

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Stuart Buck on “Acting White”.

In this post and the one following, I will describe the thesis of my book Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation, published by Yale University Press on May 25, 2010. Much thanks to Robert Pondiscio for allowing me to blog about it here.

“Go into any inner-city neighborhood,” Barack Obama said in his address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, “and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” A May 2009 report from Newsweek noted that Michelle Obama “described the ridicule she faced from neighborhood kids for ‘acting white’ when she got good grades” as a child.

The Obamas are far from alone in their observations. Many people in recent years–most famously, Bill Cosby–have pointed out that black children often seem to think of schoolwork as a “white” activity. Anecdotal evidence abounds in newspaper articles and on the Internet. One black valedictorian in Virginia, for example, told a newspaper that “as I’ve gone through my whole school career, people have called me white because I’ve made good grades and didn’t conform to the stereotype.”

As well, many academic studies have shown that some black children think of doing schoolwork as “acting white,” and a study by Roland Fryer–a black Harvard economist–shows that black children nationwide become less popular if their grade-point average rises above 3.5.  Continue…

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ScienceDaily (6/30/09) — When students are underachieving, school policymakers often examine class size, curriculum and funding, but University of Missouri researchers suggest establishing relationships may be a powerful and less expensive way to improve students’ success. In a review of the research they show that students with positive attachments to their teachers and schools have higher grades and higher standardized test scores.

“In this era of accountability, enhancing student-teacher relationships is not merely an add-on, but rather is fundamental to raising achievement,” said Christi Bergin, associate professor in the MU College of Education. “Secure student-teacher relationships predict greater knowledge, higher test scores, greater academic motivation and fewer retentions or special education referrals. Children who have conflicted relationships with teachers tend to like school less, are less self-directed and cooperate less in the classroom.”

The authors summarized a range of research on attachment-like relations with parents, teachers and schools. They found that student attachment influences school success through two routes: indirectly through attachment to parents which affects children’s behavior at school and directly through attachment to teachers and schools. Children with healthy attachment are able to control their emotions and are more socially competent and willing to take on challenging learning tasks in the classroom.

“To be effective, teachers must connect with and care for children with warmth, respect and trust,” said David Bergin, associate professor of educational psychology, and the other author of the article. “In addition, it is important for schools to make children feel secure and valued, which can liberate them to take on intellectual and social challenges and explore new ideas.”

To help enhance student relations, the authors offer research-based tips for teachers and schools:


* Increase warm, positive interactions with students
* Be well prepared for class and hold high expectations
* Be responsive to students’ agendas by providing choices
* Use reasoning rather than coercive discipline that damages relationships
* Help students be kind, helpful and accepting of one another
* Implement interventions for difficult relations with specific students


* Provide a variety of extracurricular activities for students to join
* Keep schools small
* Keep students with the same teachers and/or peers across years
* Decrease transitions in and out of the classroom
* Facilitate transitions to new schools or teachers

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