Category Archives: History

What Does “Education Spring” mean?

In 2002 the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed into law by President George W. Bush.  My colleagues in education despaired at the fact that (among other provisions) standardized testing would become a sole indicator of a student’s progress.

By then, I had been a school principal in two districts and knew that soon every dime, every school resource, every bit of professional development would be shaped by this narrow measure.  Teaching to the test became a fact of life. The urban schools I visited spent lots of  money and time on test preparation workbooks.  Some schools dedicated whole periods to “Test Prep”–considered a class in itself, alongside English, Calculus, Biology, Spanish and others.

Students in my university teacher preparation classes were affected, too.  This is not why they chose to be teachers! I stuck to my philosophy shaped through experience:  that when we teach for understanding and we use interdisciplinary, project-based learning, students learn well.

“Consider chemistry. It  should never be restricted to a textbook or the lab. What is  your plan for teaching students that chemistry is part of their daily lives?” I’d say. We examined examples like this often.

Another belief I stated. “You are preparing your students to be active and educated citizens in a democracy.  A democracy is messy, just like learning.”  This perspective usually resulted in a new view of education’s purpose.

By 2011, reports of the Arab Spring uprisings for democracy inspired the world.  It was astounding to learn that regular citizens banded together using social media to organize large protests and topple suppressive governments. This movement mirrored that change that I (and countless others) believed necessary in education–an Education Spring.

Immediately I began this blog for principals, teachers, student teachers, parents and grandparents, caregivers, and anyone else concerned about progress in education.  My readers now span five continents.

I’m glad you are one of them.

The “Sloppy Copy” That Changed History

School kids learn that the first draft of writing is considered the “sloppy copy.” Rereading and revision is the writing process they are taught to use and it’s a good one. This summer you may see it, especially if a piece of writing is due on the first day of school.

This Fourth of July, tell your child about how thirty-three year old Thomas Jefferson authored the “sloppy copy” of the Declaration of Independence.  It was only after John Adams and Benjamin Franklin suggested revisions that one of our founding documents was ready to change the course of history.

Here’s one view of the Declaration of Independence in it’s “sloppy” form.

DEC. OF INDEP. 1

DEC. OF INDEP. 1

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, loc.gov

Flag Day’s Star-Spangled Banner

What do you remember about Flag Day celebrations (June 14) when you were in school?  You probably participated in a ceremony at the school flagpole.  Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts wore their uniforms on that day, and the Boy Scouts usually performed the honor of raising the flag.  This ceremony often included singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

If Flag Day fell on a weekend one of my grandfathers, a WWI veteran, made a solemn ceremony of putting out his flag.  During this task his attitude receded into silence and duty, which impressed me. We’d climb the stairs to the landing just before the third floor, where he’d lean out the window to attach the flag to the pulley.  The sound of the metal flag grommets clanking against the pole made a memorable sound to me.

In addition to Flag Day ceremonies, we school kids were drilled in the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner.  I’m not an educator who favors drilling to learn, but memorization has its place.

When you and your child put out your flag on Flag Day, see if you both know the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, written in 1814 by Washington, D.C., attorney and poet Francis Scott Key.

Thanks to the Maryland Historical Society Collection, all four verses of our national anthem are here.

Living History

Today we’re living history.  We have the first woman with enough votes to become a nominee for president of the United States.

It doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is, or if you support Secretary Hillary Clinton or not.  What matters is that you talk with your children about the significance of this achievement, because they are living history, too.

wavy-american-flagWe stand on the shoulders of giants in this moment.  Sarah Grimké, Angelina Grimké,  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and many others who fought–and took plenty of abuse for it–so women could vote, get birth control, own property, and keep their last names.

Today these things might seem quaint, even distant or irrelevant.  But until we see 51% of top management jobs are held by women, that 51% of board positions are held by women, and that women earn equal pay for equal work, we need to recognize the huge achievement of Hillary Clinton. It’s another step forward.

And if she makes it to the White House, she’ll be making the same salary as the previous two men, $400,000 a year.

 

 

 

 

Who Was X in Your Family?

On the day I received my bachelor’s degree in music, my father told me that I was the first person in his family to graduate from college.  It was a fact I’d never known.

Years later, while digging into genealogy, I learned that my paternal grandparents–the generation that emigrated to Boston–received only a few years of schooling. Some of my great- and great-great grandparents had no education and used X to sign their names.

VG.PotatoDiggers.

This didn’t surprise me.  My family lived in western Ireland, the area hardest hit by potato famine. Somehow they suffered through severe poverty, cold, starvation, and disease.  Their lives were about survival, not adult and child literacy.  X spoke volumes to me.

My story is not unique. Most immigrants share a similar tale of escaping poverty and disease in search of a better life and education for their family.  Look back a few generations in your ancestry and you’ll discover where your X is.

 

Understanding “Politically Correct”

In our homes, what we say and how we say it matters. Children hear everything and understand more than we think they do. We’re the ones who help explain the world for them as they grow. And there is plenty to help them understand  during this election season.VG.Country.Rd.Prov

In school, your child learns to understand today’s politics by thinking, reading, writing, and discussion.  We teachers guide students toward carefully considered, informed opinions expressed with appropriate vocabulary.  Most teachers do this without inserting their opinions to sway a student’s mind.

This year, though, parents are needed more than ever.  The accepted–even admired–communication style consists of rudeness laced with vulgarity and crudeness, with the disclaimer, “This isn’t politically correct, but…”

Our language and its phrases change over time. Not long ago, being politically correct referred to the act of being sensitive to expressions that disparaged people or ridiculed groups.  But now, thanks to the media, we’re able to hear these vicious statements blared over and over and around the clock.

When you get your child thinking about politics, I urge you to teach him that being politically correct is not wrong. Teach him to understand that respectful disagreement is fine, healthy, and sheds better light on ideas.

Je Suis Bruxelles: How to Talk With Children About the News

je-suis-bruxellesHow do you talk to your child about the terrorist attacks in Belgium? It doesn’t have to be as tricky as it seems.

First, make sure your child feels safe and secure in your love as he grows up. Hugs, preparing a meal together, special time cuddling with a book—all of these routines help create the groundwork for a child to develop into a confident, resilient adult.

Second, limit exposure to the news, violent images, and sounds of explosions, screaming, and sirens. Far from being overly protective, this shows good sense and respect for your child.

Talk to your child about the news, find out what he knows, and then discuss it.  You don’t have to provide perfect answers, either. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know” and “You are safe here with me.”

Find positive images to show your child and talk about images of the slogan Je suis Bruxelles. Does he know what it means? Also show the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate lit up to show solidarity and support. Can your child find Brussels, Belgium; Paris, France; and Berlin, Germany on the map?   Use a globe and your finger to trace the distance from your home to each of these places.

When we talk to children about the news in honest and healthy ways, we help them understand possibilities, change, and that there is more good in the world than bad. Appropriate communication surrounded by love always works.

Democracy and Education, Kazoo-Style

Want a fun idea for teaching about democracy?

Hand out kazoos to your students and celebrate National Kazoo Day on January 28. Democracy—a system of the people, by the people, for the people—prevails because everyone can hum.

You can make kazoos out of recycled materials (toilet paper roll, wax paper, and a rubber band) or buy them at a dollar store. Hum a song into it that everyone knows in unison, harmony—it’s all up to you. Aren’t these kazoo choir students impressive?

Not everyone gets to play in a band. But with kazoos, everyone gets the thrill of being part of a large group. Whatever your contribution sounds like, it adds to the forward movement of music.

Here’s a group from 2008 trying to break a record for the world’s largest kazoo band. (There’s a long intro, so begin watching at 4:30.) 

 

Social Justice and Excellence in Learning

Today’s designation of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day reminds us to take his memory a step further.  It’s more of a call to action, for as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asks in this speech to junior high students at a Philadelphia school,  What is Your Life’s Blueprint?  As you’ll see, he believed there was a three-part structure to think about.

The themes of social justice for all and excellence in learning are as fresh today as ever. Watch this speech with students sometime this week.  Then ask them, “What is your life’s blueprint?”

 

 

 

 

Video from Beacon Press on YouTube.com

 

 

 

 

Military Family Stories

Veterans of World War II rarely speak of their service.  In the case of my father, humility is part of the reason.

SSgt Morgan P. Molloy, Sr., age 91. Tail gunner who flew on B25 "Rhode Island Red."

SSgt Morgan P. Molloy, Sr., age 91. Tail gunner on B25 “Rhode Island Red.”

 “Everybody did it,” he shrugged, referring to his peers in the 1940s.

He is one of a handful of remaining WWII veterans in his town. Read his story, published this week in the Metrowest Daily News.

 If you are a veteran, or have a family member or friend who served in the military, record the story.  Videotape it or take notes as you talk.  Ask to see what pictures or memorabilia they have from that time–that helps to prompt remembrances.

Get your children involved–sometimes they come up with the best questions–because this is how they learn about family history, world history, democracy, and making peace.