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Schools need freedom to make our kids intelligent

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

In the late 1990s Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist working at Harvard University, broke intelligence into eight areas: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Even though many psychologists disagree with Gardner’s views on intelligence, the categories he created provide a good base for the abilities people need in the modern workplace.

It is nearly impossible for someone to succeed if he/she is only intelligent in one area. Artistic products require technical and financial support and the most technical products require beauty and a strong user interface. It is pointless for a scientist to conduct amazing research unless he/she can effectively communicate his/her findings to his/her colleagues; and it makes no sense for a musician to create beautiful songs, unless he/she can execute successful contracts so the songs make him/her money.

In short, all kids need strong visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal abilities. Sadly, few children graduate from high school with strong abilities in all these areas. Perhaps it is because we have tasked our K-12 schools with so many things (teaching, coaching, parenting, counseling, etc.) that it is impossible for them to succeed.

Maybe we should encourage schools to return to their primary mission. Then they can focus all their energies on maximizing visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, and logical-mathematical intelligence.

This limited focus would give schools time to rethink their approach to building intelligence and encourage them to find ways of identifying learning gaps early. They would have time to implement third party curriculum based testing (teachers have not seen the test ahead of time) at least once a quarter. Then teachers could identify deficiencies within a few weeks of when a student has missed a concept and could take corrective action quickly,

Some people worry that returning the focus of K-12 schools to academic areas would impact students’ interpersonal and intrapersonal development. In fact, the opposite might be true. Instead of relying on schools to offer sports, leadership, and other pursuits, schools could contract with community organizations to handle these activities. These organizations have lower overhead, so they could offer these activities at a fraction of the cost. Best of all, the students would have a wider range of options available to them.

Technology has changed the world. Now it is time for us to set aside preconceived ideas and think about how we can change education to prepare children for this new world.

Common sense a prerequisite for brilliance

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

Do high standardized test scores assure success?

Many highly-accomplished people had far from perfect scores on the SAT test. Some struggled to get through college and others dropped out. With these results, there must be more to success than academic brilliance.

Granted, technological advances have made academic knowledge, especially in math and the sciences, more important. However, common sense is just as vital as it was fifty years ago. Sadly, many parents have become so focused on academic knowledge and fame that common sense has fallen by the wayside.

Common sense is something most of us understand intuitively, but is difficult to define. It is a combination of wisdom and self-discipline.

According to Wordnik wisdom is, “The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.” Wisdom is not something that can be found in a textbook, taught in a classroom, or downloaded from the Internet. It is not tested through standardized tests like the SAT, MCAT, or GRE. Instead it is something that comes with exposure and experience.

The same dictionary defines self-discipline as, “Training and control of one’s conduct.” Self-discipline is generally modeled and taught at home through structure, responsibility, consequences, and praise.

Before the age of helicopter parents, most kids developed common sense as part of everyday life. Children were given considerable responsibility. Parents set expectations and there were consequences for poor choices. Only the winners received trophies. Through the school of hard knocks kids gradually learned how to present ideas, communicate with others, and alert people of delays. They came to understand the importance of punctuality and how to diplomatically address problems.

Now many parents are so worried about the “perfect” D1 sports program, landing a lead movie role, etc. that they do too much of their kids. It is often better to set general extra-curricular involvement requirements and establish minimum effort expectations rather than micromanage.

Finally, it is important for children to take responsibility for their actions. If a child is going to be late, he/she should notify the adult in charge. When a child damages property, he/she needs to earn money for the repair. And when a child performs poorly on a test, he/she needs to get a poor grade rather than have his/her parent negotiate with the principal.

Stepping out of the micromanagement role is challenging. However, it is easier once we realize our children need an environment that fosters common sense to become truly brilliant.

Love and communication important during teen years

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

Parents and teenagers live in different worlds with different pressures and perspectives, so communication between adolescents and parents can be strained. Here are a few strategies you can use to minimize conflicts during this challenging time.

Use humor.
Humor is an effective communication tool, because it breaks down barriers and commands attention. Disguised as fun, humor can be used to teach, introduce new ideas, share beliefs, and implant knowledge.

Listen.
Perspective and practice make a big difference. The way an adult perceives a problem is often very different from the way a teen views the same issue. What seems like a life catastrophe to 16-year-old may seem insignificant to a 40-year-old.

As a result, teenagers often have things to say to adults, but get frustrated because they do not feel like they can express their concerns and feelings. Epictetus, a Greek philosopher who was born in the 1st Century, might well have been instructing 21st Century parents when he said, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Keep it short.
Teens are perceptive and smart, so a few words go a long way. No one wants to feel like they are being lectured, so it is best to say it once.

Compliment.
The way we speak can often result in the outcomes we are trying to avoid. Comments and instructions couched in negative language, with excessive use of words like “don’t”, “never”, and “no” may lead to poor behavior. Instead try to focus on the positive things your teen does.

Prepare and Allow.
It is easy to view your kids as younger than they are. As teens age, they need more responsibility. Adults who continually enforce rules that do not acknowledge demonstrated capacity for independent and responsible behavior, can alienate teens.

Wait.
If it isn’t an immediate health or safety issue, it is sometimes better to wait for the right moment to discuss a problem rather than force a discussion at a poor time.

Connect.
Your kids internalize and interpret everything you do. They read your face, posture, voice, and stance. They subconsciously search for physical cues to what you really feel about them. Make sure they know they are loved, respected, and appreciated.

Even though the transition from child to adult can be challenging, love and open communication can make the journey easier for everyone.

Well-adjusted or only peer socialized?

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

Over the past fifty years what Americans believe makes a child well-adjusted has changed. Today many parents think a youngster is well-balanced if he/she interacts easily with his/her peers. Even though this type of social interaction is important, it is only part of what is necessary for a child to be happy, secure, and successful.

Children need to know they are loved and must have daily attention and socialization. Even though our society prioritizes peer socialization, it is equally important for kids to learn how to interact with people who are older and younger, of different socio-economic backgrounds, and from other cultures. It is also important that our children have open dialog with people who have different political viewpoints, interests, and careers.

Providing broad socialization does not have to be an expensive or time consuming process. Every community has people with diverse talents, passions, and interests and almost all areas have people from different cultures and of different ages. Rather than seeking safety in people who are similar, parents can reach out to those who are distinctive and include them in family events and social gatherings. This step allows their children to experience uncommon worldviews and cultural perspectives and have exposure to new career options, hobbies, and sports.

Sometimes we forget that emotional development is tied to physical well-being. To make matters more challenging, our lives are so busy that we overlook these physical necessities. Well-adjusted children need adequate sleep and exercise and need to eat well-balanced diets that include ample unrefined and minimally processed fruits, vegetables, meats, legumes, and grains. There are many websites that include recipes for quick, healthy options and fast food restaurants that provide fresh, wholesome choices.

We have less experience monitoring how our children are progressing beyond peer to peer socialization. As a result, it will likely take a conscious effort to make sure development is on schedule. Observation is often an effective tool. Do our kids actively engage adults in meaningful dialog in a broad range of subjects? How do they respond when someone broaches a topic which is new to them? Are they able to diplomatically disagree? Do they take the opinions of adults at face value or are they able to listen and form their own opinions? Have they developed new sports, art, or community interests?

Once a parent starts monitoring a broader range of emotional and physical components, they will have a good idea if their child is well-adjusted.

College reality

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

In a few weeks tens of thousands of young Americans will leave home and begin the “college experience”. As they descend on campuses across the country, they will be greeted by impressive buildings, acclaimed alumni, elaborate social functions, and luxury hotel-like accommodations. In addition to getting used to their new “homes”, these newly minted adults will be asked to select majors that prepare them for post college employment.

Interestingly, the university structure and incentives may not always be aligned with what is best for students.

Universities are broken into departments. Each department is responsible for running a profitable business or demonstrating that there is enough demand for its offerings that it would be foolish for the university to close the department. Departments like engineering generally have large research budgets, so they are less concerned about student enrollment than departments like the humanities and social sciences that have fewer research dollars.

As might be expected, the departments with fewest research dollars generally work hardest to convince students to select majors within their purview. Until 15-20 years ago, this model worked well, because it was possible to obtain high quality employment with a wide variety of university degrees.

Technology has improved access to information so much that many jobs related to compiling, organizing, and disseminating information have already been or are being eliminated. Careers that have been hardest hit are law, social sciences, and the humanities.

Since there are fewer job opportunities for people with these degrees, many college graduates find it difficult to procure jobs that pay a premium over what was available to them before they attended college.

This shift creates a dilemma for the parents of a child who did not develop a proclivity for math in high school. Does the parent have the resources to send the child to college so he/she can graduate without debt and go on to a job that he/she most likely could have obtained without attending college? Is it better to consider a high paying trade like plumbing or electricity, rather than expending money on college? Or is it wiser to encourage the child to go to a community college and learn math, so he/she has the skills to obtain a college degree with higher earning potential?

It is a tough decision, but is something that should be discussed before a family blindly spends large sums of money on a college education that does little to improve a child’s long term earning potential.

Preparing kids to change the rules

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

U.S. children are less creative than they were 30 years ago. Many people attribute this decline in inventiveness to over-scheduling of organized activities and emphasis on high-stakes testing and rote learning. These factors may be part of the reason children are unimaginative, but minimal exposure to “failure” and limited life experiences also keep U.S. kids from reaching their full creative potential.

To create, a person must be comfortable “failing” because “trial and error” is part of the innovative process. Many U.S. children are uncomfortable with “failure” because they have little exposure to it. In many cases, well-intentioned parents shield their kids from life’s tough lessons, because it is easier to solve problems for their children than to spend the time and energy necessary to help their children learn how to solve problems on their own.

Among other things, parents negotiate with coaches to get their children places on the best teams rather than encouraging their kids to work hard and talk with the coaches themselves. Parents talk with principals to negotiate grades rather than forcing their children to take responsibility for their performance. Too frequently, parents complain about “bullying” when another kid says something unkind on the playground rather than teaching their children how to overcome negativity.

As a result, the first thing parents need to do is set expectations and let their children learn by doing. This requires letting go and being available to coach as their children work to recover from life’s setbacks. Through this process children learn that there are consequences to actions, “failure” is a part of life, and success requires perseverance. Specifically, when things don’t work perfectly the first time, one can make adjustments until “failure” becomes “success”.

Another problem is parents are so worried about safety, that kids are isolated. This means children often lack the exposure required to come up with innovative solutions to a problem. Parents can easily address this issue by encouraging their children to take on activities outside of their peer group. Simple undertakings like participating in discussions with adults, welcoming a foreign exchange student, attending a history lecture, teaching a class, volunteering at the hospital, or working on a special project for a politician, all help broaden exposure.

Once children know how to recover from “failure” and have a broad understanding of how the world works, they should have the skills and the self-confidence to innovate.