Are we heading toward an even more segregated society through our schools?


There is something that I’ve been turning around in my head. I want to throw it out there and let you maybe turn it around in your head. Let me be perfectly clear here, this post doesn’t include any acquisitions and it may not even contain any facts. Its just thoughts that have been rolling around in my and I’d like to bring them out for you to consider.

We’ll start off with a bunch of under performing schools. Schools say that are in the lower 5% of all schools. Everybody knows something has to be done. The state is supposed to do what the local municipalities can not, so its the perfect opportunity to encourage the state to take action. The state in turn creates a special school district, you can call it the Recovery district but Achievement district sounds much better. This achievement district doesn’t want to depend on the same folks that have been “failing”, they call in the Charter Schools.

Now Charter Schools know you can’t do the same old same old and expect to get different results. They implement stricter disciplinary codes. Teachers implement eye tracking policies. Kids stand in line going from room to room. Parents sign contracts that they will adhere to certain guidelines and meet certain obligations. Longer school days are instituted and increased pressure on teachers. Its also known that nothing good happens unless people know about it. The PR machine is engaged.

Let’s now add another wrinkle to the process. People argue all the time about the role of poverty in education, but I think its safe to say that these lower performing schools are made up of lower income and minority students. Charter school advocates have gone on record as saying Charter Schools shouldn’t be responsible for creating diverse populations. They are after all just reflections of society. So, I think it probably a safe assumption that the demographics of these schools stay primarily minority and lower income students.

There are some very good educators involved in the Charter school movement and some excellent PR people. That means that some of these students will thrive and the schools will be portrayed as successes. Those that don’t, well they can always be advised that they would probably be better served in another school. After all, every school is not for every kid and by not encouraging a child to pursue other opportunities better suited for them would be detrimental to the child.

Meanwhile, the parents at the schools in the higher income primarily white districts are scratching their heads. Why do their children have to go to either private school or crappy public schools when all this special focus is being placed on lower income and minority students. That doesn’t sound fair at all.Their children deserve the same amount of attention as the at risk kids.

Luckily there are some charter schools that are willing to take these students. Now since creating a diverse population is not the obligation of  charter schools, most of these schools are made up of white and upper income students. It’s not their fault that our neighborhoods are already segregated. Schools should be able to draw from their neighborhood.

However, higher income parents as a rule don’t go in for all that rigid discipline. No eye tracking for their offspring and if you expect them to sign a contract, well they may sign it but odds are, they are already involved enough with their child. Their children have different needs. They need to be challenged and develop problem solving skills, not develop discipline and learn to close read so they can better follow instructions.

The public schools that are left behind become more and more devoted to special education and English learners. The rest of the population further splinters off into other segregated avenues. The charters on both sides of the gap keep an eye open to recruit any children that might fit their prescribed demographic. The teachers are either forced out or gravitate to one or the other of the charter groups, further limiting the traditional schools.

So the questions I have are how does this scenario differ from our situation pre-Brown vs the Board of Education? Another question would be the implications for our society as a whole. It seems we are creating two trajectories. One group will go on to become the workers utilizing the discipline and ability to follow orders to better serve the creative management types who have the ability to think outside of the box.

Another question I have would be is this a intentional widening of the opportunity gap or is it a by product of thinking solely as education being about the child? Should we not recognize the important role that education plays in the foundation of our society? Are there more important things then being college and career ready? What obligations do we have to be good stewards of both our children and our democratic institutions?

Again this is just me thinking aloud and applying the things I hear people say. It could be that if we take care of the child they will take care of the society. It could be that some have decided that if you rig the game you can control the winners. It could be either, neither or a combination of both.

I do know that the supporters of segregation never accepted the rulings of Brown vs Board of Education. I do know that they initially attempted to create separate “splinter” districts to circumvent the courts ruling until that too was deemed illegal. (Wright v. Council of the City of Emporia; United States v. Scotland Neck City Board of Education) I do know that Virginia closed its public schools in the aftermath of the ruling. White students went to private academies while black students didn’t return to schools until 1963. 

Truth is our society has become more segregated over the years. Therefore our schools themselves have become more segregated. Segregation hasn’t just grown by color of skin but also by wealth. There is more income disparity now then at any time in our history.  I don’t believe that this is something we should just accept. Perhaps now is the time to be more diligent instead of more laissez faire. After all, are schools not  but a microcosm of our society? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. That’s the question we have to ask ourselves.


Raising a Reader


Dr. Suess picMy parents were not college graduates. My mother grew up in Germany as a WWII refugee, while my father was the son of a Pennsylvania bootlegger and jack of all trades. He graduated from high school and went immediately to the military. She went to school in a reconstructed Germany. Thats where they met and he brought her back to the states as his wife. They were not academics but had a deep understanding of the power of education and the desire to instill that in their children.

I began reading at an early age, 3 if I’m telling the story but actually probably 4 and a half. There wasn’t a super high tech well researched plan to get me reading. It was simple actually. Surround me with lots of books, read to me and encourage me to start on these adventures myself. They also led by example. While my father was never much of a reader, it was not uncommon to see my mother curled up with book. I remember books laying around that she would pick up whenever she got the rare extra minute.

It was my father though who not only created one of my fondest childhood memories but also set the hook for reading. I must have been about 5 or 6 and like probably most little boys waited excitedly for my Dad to arrive home from work. Often when he came through the door he brought a surprise with him. He would bring me one of those paperback Dennis the Menace books or occasionally a Peanuts book. In a lot peoples eyes those books would be considered junk, but in my eyes they were pure gold. They set the root for reading.

You see my parents didn’t hold a lot of concern into what you were reading, as long as you were reading. (Now I should put a disclaimer her, I wasn’t allowed to read chapter 7 of Jaws until I was 18 but thats another story.) They just tried to make books intricately part of our lives. So I would take those books and excitedly scamper off to my room to read and chortle for hours. I didn’t get all the jokes but the ones I did were hilarious. Written on those pages were the passageways to another world and nobody was a bigger hero in my eyes then my father for bringing me the keys to unlock them.

As I got older I discovered comic books. Keep in mind, this was not a time like today where there was a superhero on every corner. Comics were subversive. Only juvenile delinquents read comic books. They would put bad ideas in an impressionable mind. My parents paid no heed and I read everything from Ghost Rider to SGT Rock, Xmen to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Through those books my vocabulary grew as well as my ability to recognize a good narrative. The themes in those books sent me searching for information elsewhere. I can still remember the day I discovered that the Morlocks from the Xmen were all named for characters from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Made me want to read Shakespeare all the more.

These books set a foundation for reading that’s lasted a life time. From the funny books and comic books I progressed into the Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the 3 Investigators, Young American books, and upward into basically anything I could get my hands on. I even went through a phase of reading teen romances. Along the way I discovered the classics as well. Catcher in Rye and The Last of the Mohicans rank among my favorites of all time. I’ve read non-fiction as well, The Blank Slate and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee changed the way I viewed the world. Its safe to say a book is never far from my reach.

To get me to fall in love with reading my parents attended no educational focus groups. They consulted no data wall in a school. There were no rigorous reading assignments in the house. Reading was not done with purpose. The only purpose for reading was the act of reading itself. We often went to the library and the only expectation was that you were to check out books. Now my memories not the greatest, but I don’t remember my parents ever steering us toward a certain book. Just as long as we were choosing books. (Probably why I don’t like suggestions from well meaning reading friends today.) The goal was never how good you were at reading but rather how much you participated.

My nose wasn’t always buried in a book either.  I played all kinds of sports and probably watched way too much TV but books were always an unescapable presence. It’s safe to say that I’ve had a life long love affair with them. Disclaimer here, I’m not one of those people who discount electronic reading devices. They are one more opportunity to steal away into a narrative. Anything that makes people explore the written word is all right by me.

My wife is a literacy coach, and knows far more about teaching reading then I ever will, so I’m slow to offer advice about creating life line readers. However, if my experiences tell me anything, its that if you want better readers have them read more. Surround them with books and make time for them to discover the beauty. Read to them and listen to them read to you. Discuss what they read. Its why the Dolly Parton initiative is so important. It gets books in the hands of children who might not have access. There should be a monument to Dolly for starting this program.

In my opinion, testing kids on reading to see what level they are at doesn’t make better readers. Deciding some books are good and others are not, doesn’t make better readers. Arguing over phonetics vs whole word does not make better readers. Reading makes better readers. Now granted, tests can be a measure of what children are struggling with, but they should be used as a diagnostic tool and not a destination. I always chuckle when I hear someone proudly say, “My 4th grader is reading on an 8th Grade level.” I guess as a 48 year old man I should be reading on a 60 year old man level.

I hope that at some point the din involving excessive testing and unrealistic benchmarks calms down and we can get back to teaching kids why reading is important. Its enjoyable. It increases your vocabulary. It exposes you to different ways of thinking. It allows you to travel the world while never leaving your chair. Its not about scoring in the upper percentile. Its not about being college and career ready. Its about growing and unlocking all ones potential. I’m still trying to unlock a few doors but I do want to pause and say, Thank you Mom and Dad. Of all the great things you gave me, the greatest was the love of reading. I can’t imagine how black and white my world would be without that gift. I wonder if they still carry those Dennis the Menace books at the drug store.

I know some Jr high kids that could bring some excitement to J Crew


brother sisterThe other day I was in J Crew buying my Teach For America T-shirt. As the sales rep was going through the motions of ringing me up I detected a lack of enthusiasm. Being someone that always has a better idea, I said to him, “You don’t seem very enthusiastic about your job today.”

He replied, “oh you know, its the holidays. Been working 12 hour days and its all just non-stop.”

“Well”, I said, “If you were a little bit more enthusiastic I bet you could sell a lot more of these t-shirts and then a lot more children could be guaranteed a quality teacher in every room.”

“Yea, well I’ve got more to sell then just those shirts. A lot of people come here with a lot of different needs. Taking care of them is a full time job. People trying to fit into styles that don’t fit them. People trying to get quality clothes without paying what their worth. Trying to keep my teammates engaged. There’s a lot going on around here.”

“You know what?”, I told him, “I’ve got a great idea. I’ve got some Jr High students that would be perfect for here. They’re super smart and they’d be so excited to help out.  They’d have everybody so pepped up around here, these shirts would be flying off the shelves.”

“I don’t think thats such a great idea. I already told you there’s more to this this job then just those shirts. I mean these kids wouldn’t be trained or anything. They don’t know our customers. We’ve already got sales people fighting for hours.”

Pointing at a tired looking fellow stocking shelves I incredulously replied, “Who him? He’s like 35. Not smiling. I don’t think he’s sold a shirt since I been here.My kids would run circles around that stick in the mud. He’s hurting your customers you know. They deserve a high quality experience every time they walk in this store.”

“Sam’s one of our best salesman. He’s won national sales awards. Been with us for 10 years. He’s a little extra tired today because he was up last night with a sick child, but he’s J Crew to the core. We’re not replacing him with some kids.” he replied starting to get irritated.

“Pshaw. He’s cheating your customers by not bringing his A game every time he walks through the door. Just think about how many people are walking away not getting the full J Crew treatment because he’s a little distracted.” My voice rising as I warmed to the subject. “Best part of the whole deal? You only have to pay me $20 a year to hirer my Junior High kids.”

With that he completed my sale, handed me my receipt and with an insincere smile said, “Thank you sir. Here’s your shirt. Have a wonderful day.”

Conversation sounds a little ridiculous doesn’t it? However, that is the conversation that is going on all over America today. In fact just today, Metro Nashville Public School District chose to renew their contract with Teach For America for the next three years. A school district that has been sounding the alarm on a 23 million dollar budget deficit next year has agreed to spent 750K a year to utilize a temp agency. The head of Human Capital says that TFA recruits and trains new teachers at a level that the district can’t match and nobody says why? The mayor says they’re better then the teachers that our three local teacher colleges put out and the local union heads say ok. I’d bet they’d have an issue if the mayor was out waiving apprentice requirements for out of town pipefitters to come take local jobs though.

I come at this subject with a little skin in the game. My wife is from a family of teachers. She is a teacher. She arrived at the decision to pursue teaching as a profession after graduating from Vanderbilt University. That’s right, one of those exclusive schools that TFA recruits from. After deciding to become a teacher she enrolled at TSU. Probably should have just called the TFA recruiter.

At the time she decided to pursue a degree in education, we’d just gotten married. I was managing a bar while she worked at Chili’s. The next 3 years were spent by her scraping money together for tuition and her taking classes and working 40 hour weeks. It wasn’t easy but she had to much respect for the proffession to try and take shortcuts. My wife understands and has made me understand that teaching is not just something you do for a couple years and then move on to your real life’s work. To truly be a profession, those who wish to practice must be willing to dedicate and sacrifice.

We made it through those years but it often wasn’t easy. There were times when we argued over money or we wanted to do something that we couldn’t because of lack of time and money. My wife has been teaching now for 6 years and I couldn’t be prouder. I’m probably a bit of a groupie to be honest. The journey to this degree also made my wife a better teacher. The year of student teaching helped make her an exceptional teacher.

What I’ve come to learn is that her story is not unique. All across this state, and country are individuals who found a way to dedicate the prescribed amount of years to do what is required to enter the profession. They realized the dedication and sacrifice that was needed and made it. These are people that felt a real calling to educate our children and realized that it takes some prep work to do it right. Being smart and enthusiastic isn’t enough.

TFA and policy makers apparently don’t think thats necessary. By their actions they suggest that the job be left to the smart and enthusiastic. Now they do make one concession to corp members. The state kicks in 9k while the district ponies up 5k so that they can use our kids to learn the profession that others have used their time and resources to master. My wife and her peers, they get nothing but a salary. What about if that 14K was used to hire the interested as teacher’s aides with that first year countable towards student teaching credits for a degree if they decided teaching was for them.

What we are subtly doing now is changing the face of the teaching profession. By trumpeting the perceived value of TFA we are turning teaching into something you do for a couple years and then you get on with your life. At a time when we are telling children how important education is we are sending a message that you can get what you want without putting the time in. Kids aren’t stupid. They are very capable of reading between the lines. Anybody who has worked with them knows that its when you think they are not watching that they pick up the most on what you do.

So as I read about another contract being renewed or about what a great job recruiting and training TFA does, all I can think about is the clerk at the J Crew store. I think about how you would react at your job if I showed up and proceeded to claim that I could do it as well as you, without any of your training. I think about all the teachers that have amassed degrees and experiences only to be told, you’re kind of a stick in the mud. The only thing I can do is smile and say, “Here’s your shirt. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Festival time in Flatrock

fest-12One of the reason’s we purchased our house in the Flatrock area of Nashville was because it was important to us that our children were raised in a diverse environment. I’m not talking about “its a small world” diversity here either. I wanted them to be exposed to all aspects of different cultures. AA has a saying, “If you like every alcoholic you’ve met then you haven’t met enough alcoholics.” I think that holds true with people in general.

We’ve been here eight years now and this neighborhood has been everything we desired and more. We have met so many people from so many different backgrounds that its mind boggling. Everybody from the neighbor next door who’s been here since birth to the guys that run the corner market who hail from Yemen. Everyone of them with a unique experience to share. Experiences that I think some where missing out on. We’ve watched the neighborhood grow. Initially when we moved here there seemed to be more division.

Going back 8 years ago, I was at a community meeting and people were discussing things we could do to bring the community more together. Mary Lou Reynolds leaned over and quietly said to me, “We should do a festival.” I replied, “I’d be up for it. I got a history in event planning. You write the grant, get us some money and I’ll organize it.” I thought nothing more about it. Little did I know, Mary Lou was one of those quiet but deadly ones.

Two months later she called and told me that she’d submitted a grant to Metro Arts and would I mind accompanying her to the interview portion. Still skeptical I said sure. I’d like to say we slayed it but that wouldn’t be true. Fact is, we had an inside source that believed in us. He saw the potential and for that i’ll always be grateful to Jonathan Saad. We recieved a grant for $500.

I’ve always maintained that they gave us that grant as much to re-prove their theory that neighborhood groups don’t complete things as it was to host a festival. Whatever the reason, we now had to put on a festival and we needed more then $500. At that time, we had no idea where we would get money from or how much the local business community would support us. Luckily we live in the same neighborhood as Rick Harris and Walker Lumber.

They were the first we approached and we explained that we wanted to host a festival that used art and music to celebrate the history of the neighborhood and welcome the new residents. That was enough for them, they became our first official sponsor. It was now time to get the community involved.fest-24

We scheduled our first meeting not knowing if anybody would show up. If I remember right, we ended up with about 20 people. One of them was a long term resident who wasn’t so enamored with me but was extremely enamored with the neighborhood and doing things for the hood always came before personal feelings. Little did either of us realize that this was the beginning of a life long friendship that has enriched my life beyond description. I will always be grateful to Debbie Young for her support.

Another person at this meeting was someone I can’t remember a time of not knowing. Irene Kelley is an established artist and real estate agent who has continued to share her talents both on stage and in securing our performing artists. A tireless supporter of this neighborhood no matter how daunting it can be. The level of talent we’ve enjoyed would never have been possible without her. Few community festivals can boast of a member with the kind of ties she has, but then again you never know until you start talking.

After the meeting I remember thinking, I think we have a festival. Debbie and Irene teamed up to beat the bushes and start bringing money in. The Council Lady at the time, Anna Page, brought Vanderbilt Hospital at 100 Oaks into the fold and we started building a festival from scratch. The congregation from New Song church became an integral part. The folks at Our Lady of Guadalupe gave us a place to meet and helped us reach out to the Latino community. People joined in from all over the area. The whole idea was to build something that truly represented the neighborhood.

The meetings that year were among some of the best I’ve ever been at. We had people from the Latino community, the Kurdish community, new residents and long time residents all throwing out ideas and trying to make them happen. I tried to run these meetings as organized chaos. No ideas were outright rejected. If neighbors wanted this, we’d find a way to make it happen. I used to tell them don’t let the thought of success or failure concern you. If things all fall apart, we’ll just fix it next year.

That first year we had 6 bands and 15 artists. We had about 4 food vendors and about 700 people showed up. One of the people that showed up that year was Bill Pratt, the owner of Southeast Automotive. He enjoyed himself and his contributions over the years are too many to mention. I’ll never forget successfully walking the fire inspector through his inspection and then turning around and seeing some Mexican neighbors cooking  over an open fire under a tree or the Somalian band waylaying me about not being able to go on even though they weren’t scheduled to play.

People often say they want diversity but let me tell you diversity is hard. Language is not the only barrier. Each culture has a different way of approaching things. Time means different things to every culture. In order to really bring diversity together you have to be willing to be both flexible and patient. I think the reward is worth it though.

fest-21That day I watched diverse neighbors work together to celebrate their similarities. People showed up in the morning and just started setting up. I remember standing on the hill overlooking the grounds and just being amazed at how people just assumed tasks with no one barking orders. Through the meetings they’d gotten a sense of each person worked and communicated. At the end of the day, graduates from Glencliff in the 60’s and 70’s policed the grounds like they hadn’t been out in the hot sun all day. It was inspiring.

Equally inspiring, was the reaction in the community. Everywhere I went for the next couple of weeks people were discussing the festival. How much fun it was. How great it was to see neighbors. How much they were looking forward to next year. I got a lesson in just how much an event could mean to a community and how the simplest actions could touch peoples lives.

Every year since, about this time of year, we start to make the calls. To send the the emails. To make the face book posts. We’ve added things every year. A car show. A pet portion was added last year. We’ve built out the children’s portion. The last couple of years attendance has averaged about 3000 people. In the past we’ve just done the invocation in Spanish and English but after realizing that our neighborhood is more diverse then that, we’ve added Arabic. We’ve grown to host 50 artists. Last year we had 15 food vendors.  Our budget has grown to 9k and every year we start not sure of where its going to come from. It does though and all of this is possible through the hard work of committed community members.

Who know’s what ideas will manifest themselves this year. I look forward to the planning meetings as much as I do the festival itself. There’s always a mixture of old and new. Some have been with us since the start, some just a couple years and some just come to the meetings for fellowship. If you live in the area, I encourage you to join us. If not, think about starting your own event. You won’t be sorry. you never know what gems your neighborhood holds until you start working together.fest-3

What kind of foundation are we laying?


photo (80)The other day my daughter and I were at the park. We were chatting while her brother was running around being the crazed superhero that he can be.

“Daddy”, she said, ” I don’t want to grow up.”

“Well, 4 and a half is a pretty good age.” I replied.

“Can I tell you something Daddy?”


“I’m a little scared about kindergarden.”

“That’s understandable. It can be a little scary.”

“I like pre-school. I don’t think I’ll like kindergarten.”

“I think you’ll end up liking it a whole lot. What’s daddy tell you when you are scared about something?”

“Stay calm and work through it.”

Even though our conversation ended there, my thoughts didn’t. In another 6 months my daughter was about to embark on a very exciting chapter of her life, she was about to become a public school student. In our family this is big cause for celebration. My wife, a public school teacher, and I are huge supporters of public schools. No offense to anyone, but I believe it plays an integral part in shaping who we become as adults. This is something we try our best to convey to our children.

I’m also not one of those people that think schools exist just to fill children with knowledge they can use to secure future employment. To me it goes much deeper. School is where we learn to navigate the corridors of society. We learn how to deal with people of different beliefs and agendas. A place to learn the rules of society and what it means to be a participatory citizen. Its a safe haven to potentially discover our passions, where we can risk failure and learn how to deal with its ramifications. School is a place to discover the joys of learning and the practices we can use to apply that curiosity to create a fuller existence  as life long learners.

Its safe to say that I’m very excited for her to begin this adventure. However, I have some trepidation about where she is going to kick off this journey. We have become a nation obsessed with testing, measuring and ranking. Everything is a competition. Within two weeks of admission to kindergarten children are facing their first standardized tests. They are facing the pressure of measuring up to some arbitrary standards while trying to establish their touchstones. Measurements are being taken while they are still taking the measure of their new surroundings.  We are applying pressure before trust is even earned. Is this really the foundation we want to be laying?

Any builder will tell you that in order to have a strong structure you have to have a strong foundation. So shouldn’t we be laying a foundation of joy, curiosity, amazement and anticipation? I’ll be honest, if had my druthers, my children would be greeted by marching bands, circus artists, and magicians everyday for the first couple of years. It would be impressed upon them that school is a place of everyday amazement and wonder inhabited by wonderful people that would guide you on amazing discoveries. You don’t want to miss a day because you might miss a miracle.

Now I know that’s not realistic. School is a place where you have to also learn the hard lessons. Lessons like hard work, diligence, attentiveness and sometimes doing things you don’t want to do, but do we have to jump right into the hard stuff? Can we not ease into those lessons after we’ve built a level of trust and buy in? Small children develop at such a rapid rate, do we really need to test them and risk categorizing them at an age when everything may change in a month? Do we really want to build a foundation on the impression that learning is a competition or something you do just so you can pass a test?

I watched as my daughter ran across the playground to join her brother. The joy she emanated was palpable. I want her to always embrace life with that joy. So as I watched them play I silently prayed. Hold on to that joy. Hold on to that courage. Hold on to that curiosity. Don’t ever let them tell you that you are not good enough or that you are just the sum of your data points. You are so much more then just the measurable. Fall in love with learning because it will serve you well for the rest of your life. I say that prayer not just for my children, but all children.

Lessons from my 3 year old


It’s amazing what we can learn if we just stop listen and observe, if we don’t rush to fill a self perceived void. I’ve got a three-year old son who i480s an amazing skateboarder. I’d go as far to say that he’s a prodigy. We go to the skate park on a regular basis and he handles all the ramps, and even does a number of other tricks. He’s come by these skills pretty much on his own. In fact, I’ve tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. See, the thing is, I want it to be “his thing”, something that always gives him pride and joy. I want him to have ownership.

Now, just because I say that doesn’t mean I’ve always adhered to it. Truth is, I take a great deal of pride in his skills and at times I find myself pushing him to places he’s not ready to go. After all I say, everybody needs to be pushed to reach their potential. I’m just trying to be a good parent by helping him excel, not to mention that if he’s successful then somehow it’s a reflection on me as a parent. Fortunately, my son is stubborn and not afraid to show me the error of my ways.

Case in point: he actually started skating when he was two. He would hop up on the board and was quickly able to go down the sidewalk. Soon he was contemplating hills. He conquered a couple small ones. So, I started taking him to the skate park. There he would eye the big ones, but wouldn’t go down them. Of course I started pushing. “Come on”, I’d say, “You can do this no problem. You do the small ones all the time.” Still he would resist. This would cause me to get frustrated and aggravated. He had a talent. He needed to use it. The more I pushed, the more he resisted.

In fact, not only would he resist but he’d start to goof off. He’d sit at the top of the hill and just let the skateboard roll down the hill. Of course this would just set me off. “Quit fooling around.” I’d say. ‘If you’re just going to goof off we’re going home.” Still he went about things at his own pace. Then one day I stopped looking at things through my eyes.

I realized that what I thought was goofing off was actually careful calculation on his part. He was sending the board down the hill to get an idea of what would happen. He was testing things and processing them. About a week later, he went down the big hill by himself. We danced and celebrated like he’d won the Olympics. Inspired by this success, he tackled several other hills. Again we danced and celebrated. None of this would have happened without his “goof off” times. Low and behold, I’d also learned something.

These days he’s at a bit of a plateau. He’s mastered all the hills, but he’s a little scared of the super steep ones. There are also tricks he’d like to attempt, but physically he’s not ready yet. Truth is, he’s a little bored with it all. This time though I’m not interjecting myself into the conversation. I’m just going to be supportive and put him in an environment that is conducive to progression. I’ll give him the tools he needs and then I’m going to have faith and trust him to find his way to the next level.

My role as parent and mentor is to provide him with tools and situations where he can develop his talents. My role is to celebrate his success and help him develop the tools to deal with his shortcomings. If I want this to be a life long endeavor for him, I have to let him own it. Owning it means not enforcing my learning styles on him. Truth is, since I don’t live in his head I don’t know when he’s learning or not learning. I need to recognize that there will be times that he seems to be making great progress and times when it seems he’s making none. Neither is probably a true reflection.

Will he be a gold medalist at the X-games someday? Is he the next Tony Hawk? Who knows and does it truly matter? Isn’t it more important that he develop a life long passion? Something that he’ll find joy and solace in for the rest of his life? Something that he actively pursues throughout life? Who would have ever thought I was learning something about education while taking my three-year old to the skatepark.

Adults are always trying to develop methods for children to learn while forgetting that they are not just vessels to be filled with knowledge we deem important. We hear children are bored and suddenly feel the need to create new programs to engage them, never stopping for a moment to consider that these times of boredom could be as educational as our rigorous classroom exercises. We try to use our measurements on when children are learning without ever listening to the people who spend the majority of the day with them or recognizing that there will be times in their lives were circumstances will supersede what we deem a priority.

Perhaps we need to focus just as much on the environment we are creating for children as we do on the test scores they are creating. Maybe we need to recognize that the immeasurable is just as important as the measurable. Instead of creating undue pressure on children through increased testing we should create opportunities to risk failure without censure. Our goal should be to create life long learners who understand that learning isn’t just about passing a test but a means to enhance quality of life.

Unstructured play provides a means for children to develop into those life long learners. It is through play that children learn those valuable soft skills – leadership, collaboration, compromise, – that lead to greater success in life. I’m not alone in recognizing the value of play in children’s development.

In the 1980’s in the wake of No Child Left behind schools started to decrease the amount of play in children’s school day. Has that lack of play resulted in increased test scores? Absolutely not.

Children need to be given time to explore and find their own solutions. They need to have time to explore and develop their own interests. Play is essential to both of those needs. I’m slowly recognizing this fact and how it relates to my children.

Too often we impose our own timelines and deadlines on children. We impose benchmarks and learning strategies on our children because it makes us less worried, but is it good for them? Are we allowing them to develop in a manner that is natural for them or are we just trying to make carbon copies of ourselves?

It’s all very difficult and some days I thing I have all the patience in the world. Other days, I feel patience slipping away as I wonder why can’t he just do it this way? I know he feels it too and at times will push back at me, “Dad why are you yelling at me! You are taking all the fun out of it.”

That’s when I have to step back and realize that it’s not all about my expectations. He brings his own set of expectations, fears, and goals to the process. Sometimes I need to just sit back and let them develop. It is not easy, but it is essential.

I’m going to continue to watch my sons development on the skateboard. It’s one of the most fascinating endeavors I’ve ever been involved with. Today he attempted to “drop in”. It’s an advanced trick and one that he’s been afraid to try. He pushed the skateboard into place on his own and looked at me and said, “Should I try?” “Sure”, I replied “If you think you’re ready.” He did and he wasn’t. We celebrated the effort like it was a success. I’m pretty sure the success is in the future.

Climbing on board

Well it’s about time for me to climb into the pool. I’ve toyed with the idea of blogging before but never felt I had that much to say. Well, actually I did, I was just to lazy to write it down. However, with the ongoing battles in Public Education I can no longer stand silent on the sideline. I’ve used my twitter account as effectively as I can, so lets see where this can take us. Should be an interesting ride. Oh yea, if you’re a grammar Nazi you’re probably going to find plenty of fault with me, but thats how it goes.