Brittle Skillet

Sparks of passion and items of interest.

Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Obama’s “Race to the Top”: Public School Improvement

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By Annaliece Balensiefen, 7 years old

What’s happening in our schools today? What’s happening to our schools today? As our economy continues to struggle, one of our hardest hit public programs is education.

If I understand the numbers correctly, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provided $117 billion for improvements in our education system. Add to that the launch on Friday, July 24, 2009 of the “Race to the Top” competition, the Obama administration seems to be doing a lot to make improvement to public education a real priority.

We can only hope that the incentives of “Race to the Top” will compellingly inspire real change in school districts across America. But how badly are states individually interested in gaining this funding opportunity? And what checks are in place to ensure that the achieved funds will be used effectively?

The four areas “Race to the Top” targets are:

  • The adoption of rigorous standards and assessments
  • The recruitment and retention of high quality teachers
  • A significant turnaround for low-performance schools
  • The establishment of data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness

School districts and states need to be creative, innovative, and very realistic when addressing these four areas. The idea behind “Race to the Top” is magnificent in its natural use of competition to create best, most effective practices. Competition works this way in the business world. Can the competitive arena do the same for our failing schools?

The national spotlight now shines on state districts, and winners win for the whole state. This is huge, and hugely important.

Extraordinary examples of how improvements are already being made do exist. Most of the time, these scarce examples fly under the radar, but in Soledad O’Brien’s series Black in America produced and run on CNN, an shining example of success stands out. Steve Perry of Hartford, Connecticut is having a significant influence on kids in his community with his Capital Preparatory Magnet School. His approach is all about the details. In his opinion, it is the details that result in a better, brighter big picture.

The success of Capital Prep is in stark contrast to what is happening at most of America’s schools. Many school districts are having to cutback on educational support, and even the kids are noticing. For example, at a school in San Jose, California a student is concerned about the number of students he’ll have in his classroom next year.

I am hopeful that all governors, school boards, principals and teachers, and anyone else who can constructively get involved with public school improvements will look at what Steve Perry and other’s successful models have achieved. If we have good ideas, let’s submit them to representatives on local school boards and our local government. Now is the time for brainstorming all the possibilities. Our kids, our economy, and our future as a global contributor and competitor demand it.

Investments by State – Click a state to see where funds are allocated and paid out.

Drawing by Annaliece Balensiefen, 7 years old

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 26, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Teaching Our Kids Respect

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By g-hat

We must teach our kids respect. The state of our society depends on it. I’m not sure how or why, but our culture, in the main, seems to have left this lesson by the roadside.

Respect for authority and our elders and choices about what language is okay are important aspects of the bigger picture. But what I’m specifically targeting here is respect for self and respect for others. I believe that if these foundational aspects of respect are instilled from the very start, the other types of respect will fall into place.

I realize that I am making broad generalizations here, but these generalizations seem perfectly appropriate to the prevalent lack of these two types of respect within our larger American society today. CNN’s series Black in America offers great examples of how this segment of our population is addressing the challenge of respect in their own ways within the scope of their larger challenges to give their kids a fighting chance toward future success. But on the whole and across our communities at large, the opportunity and need for these lessons is greater than the response to them.

There is a group of people for whom the natural biological drive is to conquer and control the world around them, abusing resources, including people, to achieve their own pleasure or success. The self-selecting members of this Group A are usually, but not always, boys.

By contrast and in compliment, there is a second group of people for whom the natural biological drive is to nurture and support, accommodate and supply. The self-selecting members of this Group B are usually, but not always, girls. By nature, A and B are a perfect fit.

Specifically, and here I continue the broad generalizations, the lesson of society for the Group A member child is that he should make the world his own. Group A member children are taught that complying with parents or other authority is often a good strategy to ultimately get what they want and keep the waters calm. But ultimately, it is for the selfish execution of his own gain, not the cooperative gain, and it leads to the neglect of this child’s own inner moral checkpoints.

In general, members of Group B are taught to gain the positive attention and approval of others, to please others frequently at the cost of their own inner motivations. At some point in childhood, this lesson translates itself into the Group B member child turning these external motivators into internal motivators. This practice leads to the neglect of this child’s own inner voice and her inner moral checkpoints.

I am not suggesting that we deny nature, but rather work with it. The strengths and natural leaning of Group A members and Group B members are useful and good for the cooperative progress of community. However, the natural biological drives, instead of being enhanced by what our culture is currently teaching, should be consciously recognized as such, and then monitored and modified, redirected with intentional choice and an awareness of consequences.

Respect for others builds a foundation for compassion and deters against harming and exploiting others. Respect for self keeps our ears open to our own inner motivations and enables us to exercise a balance between nurturing and supporting others while nurturing and supporting ourselves. Both kinds of respect provide a mechanism of guidance from moral checkpoints that we, presumably, also learn along the way to adulthood. The first place a child of either group learns both kinds of respect is by watching the adults around him model it. Let’s all practice respect.

Resources that suggest how to teach and model respect:

Photo by g-hat

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 24, 2009 at 6:52 pm