Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Visit to the 911 Memorial

Recently I visited the newly opened 911 Memorial in New York City. The only way to describe the experience is to say WOW, UNBELIEVABLE, and AWE-INSPIRING. Simply put, the memorial is a work of art that is breathtaking, dignified, and reverent. The facility is a fitting tribute to the memories of the people who lost their lives September 11, 2001 when a group of religious fanatic cowards murdered over three-thousand people in the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D. C., and on Flight 93. Through the memorial, the lives of the innocent people and courageous first responders who tried to save them outlives the hate that cost mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends their lives that morning.

The building and the surrounding buildings that have risen and continue to rise from the ashes are architectural wonders. The rebirth at Ground Zero in New York City is a testament to the resiliency of the American people, and every American should make every effort to visit it. The most striking thing about the memorial is that it is not about hate or terror, but rather it is about courage, family, and rebirth – it is a testament to all that is good with humanity. The courage of the countless heroes who sacrificed themselves that day so that others might live will forever live in our hearts; the faces of those enshrined in the Hall of Faces will forever remind us of our humanity and that even in our darkest hours family is what really matters; and most of all, the memorial is a reminder that rebirth is a prayer away when we trust and believe in God, America, and the American people.

September 11, 2001 the godless cowardly acts of a few tried to take America’s humanity, and they may have succeeded against a lesser country. However, they underestimated America’s resolve, and from the ashes and dust, the American Phoenix has proudly once again risen. The 911 Memorial is a wonder to behold, but most of all Americans should be proud of it as another symbol that America is the greatest country on earth, and with God at our side it will continue to be for many years to come.

911 Memorial – a job well done!

God bless America!

JL

 

Does Praise Fuel Complacency and Low Expectations

Proponents of privatizing public education or dismantling it completely and starting over generally claim the American education system is not adequately preparing children to be career ready nor is the current system preparing students to compete with students from other countries in the global market.  To support their claims they cite the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) reports that show dismal academic rankings especially in mathematics for American students as compared to other students around the world.  It is often hard to argue with them when the rankings year after year show a steady decline in where American students rank compared to the world.  As a result, everywhere we turn there is someone telling us that American education is broken, but is it really, or is it simply lagging due to certain practices that although well intentioned may be actually crippling American children?

I seriously doubt foreign students are any smarter than American students, and I seriously doubt teachers in other countries are working any harder than American teachers, so what is the difference?  Why is American education seemingly slipping further behind each year?  It would be hard to lay claim to any single factor, but in her book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley conducted a survey that may offer some clues.  The survey was designed to identify meaningful distinctions between the American educational experience and the educational experience of students in foreign countries such as South Korea, Finland, Poland, and Germany.

One distinction Ripley drew from her survey that might cause a stir among American educators and parents is how praise is used in American schools as compared to schools around the world.  According to Ripley’s survey American teachers, especially those in math, were much more likely to praise student work than teachers in the other countries.  Most people would probably say that is a good thing, and until recently I would have been one of them.  Of course, I still believe that using praise with children is important, but what I am beginning to realize is that praise can sometimes be counterproductive if not used properly.  As strange as it may sound, praise may actually fuel complacency and low expectations if teachers and parents are not careful.

The first time I witnessed the counterproductive aspects of praise occurred during my brief stint as an interim K-2 principal.  One day while visiting a first grade classroom, I observed a teacher praising a first grade child for improving his math work.  “Wow,” the teacher said, “you did a really super job on this assignment!  I am so proud of you.  You really know your math.”  The child beamed from ear to ear as the teacher praised him then moved on to the next student.  A couple of minutes later, the teacher assistant called the child to a work center table to work on math skills.  The child sat down politely at the table, but it was obvious that he was totally unimpressed with the work the assistant teacher put in front of him.  In fact, he refused to do it.  No matter what the assistant teacher tried, she could not get him to focus on the work.  Finally, the teacher made her way back to the little boy and knelt down next to him.  “I am so disappointed in how you are behaving,” the teacher said softly.  The little boy’s bottom lip began to quiver slightly as his eyes dropped to the table, “But you said you were proud of me,” he said.  The teacher laid her hand gently on his hand, and said, “I am, but . . . .”  “No,” the little boy said louder, “you said I did really super work.”  “You did,” the teacher acknowledged, “but . . . .”  “No,” the little fellow interrupted again a little louder, “You said I really know my math!”  “Yes,” the teacher said a little firmer, “I said both those things, but . . . .”  The little boy jerked his hand away from the teacher, a big tear rolling down his cheek, “You said you were proud of me, and that I really knew my math.”  “I am proud of you,” the teacher said trying to calm and reason with him, “and you do know your math.”  “Then why do I need to do more?” the little boy asked, and defiantly crossed his arms.  If you think about it for a moment, the little fellow had a valid point; his teacher had praised him for knowing his math, so in his mind there was no need to take it any further.  He was already good in math – his teacher had told him so.  End of story.

Of course, as adults we understand the teacher was using praise to motivate the child to continue to work hard; however, he interpreted what she said as meaning he was “good enough” in math, and therein is the problem with praise.  To work effectively praise must be used in moderation and be specific as well as accurate – anything less invites misinterpretation.  I observed another example of praise gone wrong one day when I tried to help my granddaughter with her 2nd grade math homework.  She had been struggling with math all school year, but finally she appeared to have turned the corner when she made a “C” on her report card for the nine weeks.  However, as I tried to work with her on her homework assignment, I could tell she was not interested in the least in focusing on the lesson.  Trying to motivate her, I mentioned the “C” she had made on her report card and how proud everyone was of her, but if she wanted to do even better and make a “B” the next nine weeks, she would have to work harder.  “Oh, no,” she said, “My mommy and daddy said they are so proud of me, and as long as I do my best and can make a “C” they are happy.”  “But wouldn’t you like to make a “B”?” I asked.  “No,” she said, “C’s are happy.”  That was the end of the math lesson, and an eye opening lesson for me.  Although it was certainly not her parents’ or my intent, our praise of average performance effectively helped lower expectations of the child for herself.  After all her struggles, we were so elated and relieved with a middle of the road “C” that we piled on the praise thinking it would motivate her to try harder in the future.  However, our praise resulted in hobbling the child, which was certainly not our intent.

Ripley says, “Excessive, vague, or empty praise has corrosive effects, as multiple studies have shown, incentivizing kids to take fewer risks and give up more easily.”  Could this be what is happening in America?  In a society where everything must be politically correct, everybody is considered equal regardless of talent or work ethic, and everybody is not just a winner but a champion with a trophy to prove it, building self-esteem has become such a dominating force in our lives that maybe the way in which we praise our children is actually encouraging them to be satisfied with mediocrity.   Praise is intended to motivate to a higher plane of achievement, but when used too liberally or if not specific enough, we may unintentionally be crippling our children in today’s competitive world.

What do you think?

JL

©Jack Linton, May 18, 2014

What Every School Leader Should Know (Especially New Ones)

Between now and August many new school administrators will take on the challenge of leadership in schools.  They may be a first year school administrator getting their first taste of what it means to be a leader, or they may be a veteran administrator taking on the challenge of a new school.  Either way, they will set out to conquer the world, and many will succeed, but even those who succeed will more than likely crash and burn many times along the way.  They will make mistakes that may crush their spirits and even break their hearts, but eventually they will realize that it is those mistakes and the lessons they learn from them that over time makes them a stronger leader.  The veterans will hit the ground running, relying on past experiences to guide them while the newbies will sputter and wobble their way through their first year.  The new guys will learn quickly they cannot be the guy who preceded them, and that they will make mistakes.  However, if they are lucky they will figure out very early in the game that there are no leaders without followers.  They will discover leading is about taking care of the needs of the followers within the organization, and that a leader leads people not organizations, programs, or things.  And, if they are really fortunate during their first year, they will learn they cannot lead alone; a machine with one cog does not run smoothly or efficiently for long.

Most of what school leaders learn, they learn on their own.  Of course there are many well written leadership books that can guide them, but the school of hard-knocks is often their ultimate training ground.  Through trial and error, they learn what works and what does not work, and in the end they are better leaders because of the knocks and bruises they receive along the journey.  As a former member of this unique group of individuals, I can argue their journey will probably be one of the most frustrating, time consuming, and loneliest endeavors of their lives, but with perseverance it may be one of the most rewarding endeavors as well.

Over the years, I compiled lessons I learned into lists for quick reference when needed.  Two of those administrative “need to know” lists appear at the end of this article.  My hope is that maybe something I learned along the way will help other school administrators avoid some of the mistakes I made.  When it comes to mistakes, there are few more qualified than I am to speak.  I seriously doubt there has ever been a person who made as many mistakes as I did as a school leader, but through the grace of God, a supporting family, a faculty and staff with a strong stomach and a sense of humor, and the willingness on my part to learn from my mistakes and try not repeat them, I not only made it through, but I was blessed with a productive career as a school administrator, and for that blessing, I would like to offer my unsolicited advice to those individuals who are courageous enough to stand alone and dare to lead.

What Every School Leader Should Know

Ten Things all good leaders need to know . . . .

  1. A supporting husband or wife at home is essential to a leader’s success;
  2. A great secretary or administrative assistant at work is crucial to a leader’s survival;
  3. A leader is not immune to mistakes;
  4. Courage to make mistakes separates poor leaders from good leaders;
  5. A leader’s most important textbook is filled with the mistakes he/she has made;
  6. Good leaders do not dwell on setbacks or mistakes; their detractors will remind them of those daily;
  7. Good leaders understand that hiring good people is the key to their success;
  8. Good leaders know when to build a fence, and when to tear it down;
  9. Good leaders understand that five years after they are gone no one will remember them, so they shouldn’t fret their legacy – unless a leader is someone like a Steve Job, they probably will not have one;
  10. Leadership is not about the organization, programs or the leader; It is about people.

Ten Rules of Leadership

  1. Leaders lead by permission not by position;
  2. It is okay to be friends with your staff, but not their buddy.  Remember, a leader can be the chief, or he can be one of the Indians, but he cannot be both;
  3. Learn to accept that everyone will not love you or even like you;
  4. Be a Tree!  Sometimes leaders stand alone;
  5. The role of a leader is the loneliest position in the organization, and it gets lonelier the higher you climb;
  6. As a leader it is okay to be wrong sometimes, but don’t make it a habit;
  7. As a leader, the two most important people in your life are your wife/husband and your secretary;
  8. A good leader stands in the line of fire if things do not go well;
  9. A good leader stands to the side when things do go well;
  10. A good leader has an inner circle or mentor who will listen, and listen, and listen some more.

One final piece of advice I would give a new school administrator is to NEVER forget the most important people in your job are the kids.  With everything you do and every decision you make, the first question you must always ask is “What is best for kids?”  A good school leader takes care of the kids first and the adults second.  This does not mean the adults are not important – they are, but remember, without the children, no one in a school has a job.  School is about kids, and the good leader never loses sight of that.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 11, 2014

Common Core Standards:  We should be Ashamed

Telling children what they need to know, how they should react to the knowledge, and what they should think about the knowledge is the formula that has been used for decades in schools across America.  It is also the formula embraced by every propaganda driven government that has ever existed.  Yet, there are some politicians, parents, and even teachers upset over the new common core standards that promote children being self-thinkers rather than the puppets people have traditionally been taught to be. However, opponents of common core standards seem to be more concerned about the possibility of big government meddling in their affairs than they are about what and how children are being taught.  They are okay with the old sub-standard status quo as long as the government stays out of the picture, but ironically many of these same individuals are pro charter schools and vouchers, which are directly tied to government at both the state and federal levels.  What is the deal?  Mark Twain said people get upset with things they know nothing about, and that appears to be the case for opposition to common core standards.

It is hard to believe there are people in a country built on freedom of speech and independent thinking who would choose a teacher centered system where a child is told what he or she needs to know, believe, and think over education standards that advocate teachers as facilitators of learning who encourage children to explore and think for themselves rather than be told how to think.  It is clear parents who fear the new standards do not understand them; therefore, they try desperately to hold on to what they do understand, which is the way they were taught when they were in school.  For them, a teacher feeding students information to be regurgitated back to the teacher verbatim with little if any thinking required is their norm for education.  That is the way they were taught, so they reason, it should be good enough for their children as well.  They fail to understand that in a society where knowledge is doubling every twelve months, their children will not be able to get by as passive learners depending on rote memory as past generations have done.

Political opposition is not much different.  Could it be that the politicians opposing common core standards simply do not understand the standards, or could it be they oppose the standards for fear future generations will actually be able to think critically about issues and make educated decisions as to what is best for themselves and their families.  Throughout history the political machine has sought to crush independent thought and reasoning that clashed with its ideas and agendas; could that be the case with political opposition to the common core standards?  It is difficult to fool a man or tell him how to think or believe if he has been taught to be a critical thinker with the tools to formulate his own opinions and beliefs.

When it comes to the common core standards, one of the biggest parental concerns stems from misinformation (another word for propaganda) about government involvement in implementation of the standards.  Across Mississippi, there is a well fed phobia that through common core standards, the government will steal the identity of children and brainwash them into obedient robots programmed to serve the government.  Of course, many of the people who are promoting this nonsense are the same folks who are arming themselves and hungrily waiting for the collapse of civilization as we know it.  For them, common core standards are just another indication that the end is coming soon.   While the conspiracy/end of the world theorists prepare for the apocalypse, some local and state politicians further muddy the waters with claims that big government is bankrolling the standards in an attempt to wrestle control of education from the local and state governments.  To be honest, concern over the federal government bankrolling the common core standards is not even a valid issue, especially in Mississippi.  So what if common core is connected to federal dollar incentives!  Mississippi has taken federal money for education as well as for numerous other state programs for years.  Many of our state agencies including education would not survive without supplemental federal funding.  However, there are politicians who would have people believe Mississippi education can function fine without federal dollars. Can it really?  Year after year, Mississippi state legislators have voted not to adequately fund MAEP, Mississippi Adequate Education Program; they say Mississippi does not have the revenue to fully fund education.  Does that sound like a state that can function adequately without some federal assistance?  Not likely, but if so, have they found a pot of gold in Jackson, or have they been lying to us all these years about not being able to fully fund education?

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that the Creator grants all men “certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  In today’s world there can be no expectation of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” without an education.  Therefore, even though the Constitution of the United States of America grants no authority over education to the federal government, it can be clearly argued that when at such time the local government demonstrates it cannot adequately fund education for its citizens, citizens do not relinquish their expectation of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” but rather they have the right and an obligation to the future of their children to transfer that expectation to the federal government to assist their local government with education funding.  Such an expectation is not foreign or contradictory to the rights of a citizen of the United States of America, but rather it is every citizen’s “unalienable” right and the right of their children to a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which cannot be obtained in this country or in any other country without an education.  Therefore, why shouldn’t people living in a poor state such as Mississippi that has proven over and over again that it cannot financially fully support education for its citizens have an expectation of assistance from the federal government to whom they pay the greater part of their annual taxes?  As citizens of the United States, Mississippians have the right to expect the best education possible for their children regardless of who is paying or supplementing the bill.

The federal government is involved in every facet of our lives from the food we eat, to the safety regulations for our vehicles and the air in which we fly.   Without federal regulations in these areas and many other areas, the safety risks to the lives of unsuspecting citizens would be multiplied exponentially, yet there are radicals screaming that any government is too much government.  When will common sense prevail?  Although there are times when people may wish for less government, they must be careful to use some common sense when touting its deregulation or even demise.  In spite of what some people are currently yelling from the rooftops, government is not all bad.  This is the greatest nation on earth, and there is a reason for its greatness.  The resiliency of the American people and a government that strives to take care of its people make this the greatest nation in the history of the world.  In spite of America’s problems, the vast majority of the world’s population would gladly trade places with Americans.

However, there are people both locally and nationally who perceive any government as totalitarian.  They fear anything that is even remotely connected to government such as the common core standards.  They carry a deep seated paranoia that the government is out to brainwash their children through common core even though it is doubtful a government with a brainwashing agenda would support standards that advocate teaching children how to be free critical thinkers.  That would go against every totalitarian idea.  Totalitarian governments do not want their citizens to be critical thinkers; they prefer to keep their citizens daydreaming about the past rather than looking to the future.

The politicians opposing common core standards should be ashamed of themselves.  They are not opposing the standards based on hard evidence that the standards are not the right thing to do or will damage children.  They are opportunists riding on the coattails of big government phobia, doomsday preppers, and ignorance that are currently strangling this nation, and they are doing it for personal and political gain not for the good of the state of Mississippi or the nation as they would have people believe.  To garner votes they depend on finger pointing, fear mongering, and chest beating rather than producing an actual plan of action with substance.  Parents opposing the standards should be ashamed for listening to political doublespeak from politicians who prey on the fears of the misinformed.  These politicians look at people as being gullible, and they oppose changes such as common core standards since they want to keep people gullible.  As for the teachers, former teachers, and teacher unions who oppose common core standards, they should also be ashamed.  They should know better than to get into bed with politicians who have at best only marginally supported them over the years.  Finally, as a state ranked number 51 out of 51 in education performance, the people of Mississippi should be ashamed for even being enmeshed in a fight to implement common core standards for the good of the state’s children.  Mississippi has experienced fully the impact of the alternative choice, and it has taken the state straight to the bottom, so why not embrace common core standards and give Mississippi children a fair chance to rise to the top where they belong?

JL

©Jack Linton, May 2, 2014