Traditional but Good?

I finished reading “Whatever it Takes” and I found it truly fascinating because it challenged a lot of my thoughts on the education system. It’s hard to argue that the Promise Academy isn’t a wonderful thing: it’s educating children in poverty and helping them get into college by staying on grade level. However, Canada’s primary measurement of success is entirely based on standardized testing. Kids are drilled for the test. There are early morning classes and afterschool classes and even Saturday classes all aimed at further test prep. The book talks about how test prep during the school day started to squeeze out time meant for things like the arts and projects and physical activities and the biggest supporter of these programs, the first middle school principal, Terri Grey, was eventually fired because her priorities didn’t align with preparing students for the test. 

This method of schooling goes against pretty much everything I’ve come to believe about education. I think assessment is important – this is how we get feedback and measure progress – but, the traditional methods of school assessment, such as grades and standardized tests, are no longer measuring the right outcomes of schooling. To truly be prepared for college and beyond in today’s world, a student needs more than the ability to memorize information and control anxiety and focus long enough to take a four-hour long test. Students need to be critical and creative thinkers that know how to solve complex problems on diverse teams. They need to know how to network, present, research, listen, empathize, and take agency just as a start. These skills are not measured on standardized tests, so if you only teach to the test, how do you develop all of these other skills? I don’t think it’s possible. As Grey hinted at, these are two very different education paradigms that would be paradoxical to co-exist. 

Sure, soft skills were mentioned from time to time in “Whatever it Takes.” It seemed certain teachers tried to incorporate soft skills in their classroom, but these were often minor lessons about being polite and talking and listening in a professional manner, and these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of important soft skills to know. There was no mention of collaboration or giving presentations or complex problem-solving or anything to that caliber. 

Now I understand that, as a new charter school, Promise Academy had a duty to perform. They had to do well on standardized tests in order for the city to let them continue with their charter. Furthermore, while I don’t think standardized tests should be the ultimate measurement of success, I can’t deny that they do help measure basic knowledge (ignoring the elements of test anxiety and being distracted, etc). For the students in Harlem attending Promise Academy’s Middle School, the vast majority were below grade level. I can understand how it might be hard to think beyond, “We need these kids at grade level on these tests,” and going into testing bootcamp mode is one solution to this problem. It’s hard to spend time on projects and developing soft skills when there is the hugely apparent obstacle of kids lacking basic math and reading skills. I can empathize with this train of thinking, but I can’t accept that teaching to the test is the best method for preparing students for college and beyond even for kids who have “fallen behind.” But I also can’t deny that Canada was successful. His methods got underperforming kids up to standard and even off to college. 

That in itself is still pretty remarkable and that’s exactly why this book has been challenging for me to read. It’s made me wonder: how can a school that to me is focusing on all the wrong things, also be doing so much good? And while struggling with this question for past few days, I think I’ve finally come to an answer: it’s because traditional schooling is not inherently bad. Traditional schools can still help kids learn, be a safe environment, be supportive, help kids get to college and be a place alum are proud to come home to. Traditional schooling isn’t all bad, it’s just that it needs an update – the core principals of our education system haven’t changed in the past century since it’s founding, but we live in a very different world now. 

Our world requires more of employees now, like the soft skills previously mentioned. We’ve learned that our students can do more now, like contribute on community projects no matter how young they are. Our colleges expect more now, like participation in the arts, extra projects, and sports. “Whatever it takes” has made me realize that most of the time when I’ve thought about learner-centered education, I’ve a – mostly been discussing high school students, and b – not given a lot of thought to educating underperforming students. But most of all, this book has reminded me why it can be so hard to convince skeptics of learner-centered education; it’s because some traditional schools are in fact doing good for society, but the thing is, now it’s time to be doing even more.

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New Read, New Perspective

I’m only two chapters into Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough, and I’m already so intrigued by this story on education, poverty, and trying to change the life of kids living in Harlem.

Geoffrey Canada grew up in poverty in Harlem and successfully climbed to middle-class status and feels utterly grateful for how he got to where he is today. Thus, Canada began working to help other Harlem kids catch up on their academics, but after spending years working in an after-school program he started to become frustrated with just how many kids were still slipping through the cracks. Whatever it Takes details the journey Canada took to start the Harlem Children’s Zone with the goal being, “to transform every aspect of the environment that poor children were growing up in; to change the way their families raised them and the way their schools taught them as well as the character of the neighborhood that surrounded them” (Tough 19). This new approach Canada believed had the potential to change the way Americans viewed poverty and change the lives of poor children by the masses so they could “grow into fully functioning participants in mainstream American middle-class life” (Tough 4).

So why are poor people poor? Chapter two of Whatever it Takes presents a lot of research from different perspectives that attempt to answer this question. Honestly, it was fascinating to read about completely conflicting ideas society has concluded about poverty. Is it all about money, or what else might be a part of this story? Does government aid help or hinder? What resources are most key to success? How do parenting styles affect child development?

These various researchers did seem to agree on a few things: intelligence is highly valued in today’s society, intelligence and socioeconomic status are correlated, children intelligence is correlated with the intelligence levels of their parents, there are distinct parenting style differences between the middle class and poor.

The most interesting area of consideration to me was the concept of different parenting styles and the developmental effects they have on kids.

In particular, I enjoyed reading about Annette Lareau, sociologist and author of Unequal Childhoods, who was discussed as an example of someone focusing on the assets of all types of parenting; rather than looking at parenting styles with a conclusion of “this way is better.” Lareau’s theory is that middle-class parents treat kids like, “apprentice adult,” meaning that they are invited into conversations almost as equals and are encouraged to “ask questions and challenge assumptions and negotiate rules” (Tough 49). Additionally, middle-class children have very busy schedules with activities that the entire family will get involved in. Meanwhile, poor families had very different parenting styles. Children in poor families learn to entertain themselves in creative ways due to participating in far fewer extracurriculars, and kids learn to treat adults with respect; in Lareau’s study, she observed “much less freedom to talk back, question authority, or haggle over rules and consequences” in poor households (Tough 49).

Lareau concludes that the middle-class parenting style emphasis individualism at the expense of developing the family group which is developed more so in a poor family.

I fear my summarizing is far oversimplifying all of this information, but what really interested me in all of this is how recently I have observed the notion and stigma of “entitlement” becoming more common. Yet, Lareau seems to believe the middle-class parenting style is both creating this sense of entitlement while also developing the individual and skills that are currently preferred by modern American culture in the workplace: learning how to question, challenge, negotiate, multitask, and represent ones’ self.

So I guess my question is: Have we gone too far?

In my head I visualize the idea of skills gained from parenting styles as a parabola; for so long we have valued in the workplace the skills associated with middle-class parenting styles, thus my theory is, these parental tendencies were enhanced in an attempt to enhance the skills being developed by new generations of kids entering the workforce. However, like all things, you can almost always have too much. Have we too strongly favored the middle-class parenting values and now one of the outcomes – entitlement – has reached a tipping point where the parenting style is, in fact, creating undesirable outcomes?

Do we perhaps need to put a greater emphasis on fostering good family relations and respect as is found to be more commonly fostered in poor families? How do we do this? How is this cultural norm that is so deeply in rooted in our modern American culture shifted to be better balanced?

I don’t even know the true magnitude of this supposed entitlement problem I am proposing, but from my experience working with children in gymnastics, I know children behavior and belief of being “deserving” has seemed to have grown significantly in the past few years even. Meanwhile, families seem to almost always be “unique” or “broken” or “untraditional” or whatever you want to call it that boils down to the idea that families spend less time together. Seems like there could be a greater correlation there and that was just really fascinating to me.

I truly appreciate when required learning is fascinating enough to feel like you’re just learning because you want to be, and that’s so far what the entire summer program I’m on has felt like, so I am especially grateful and excited for the future learning to come in the next 6 weeks.

Changing the Prompt

I’ve been working today on writing an article for an organization about,“Why/how I continue to be involved with the learner-centered movement despite no longer going to a learner-centered school/being in college not k-12.”

I’ll end up posting the article here once I get some feedback and finish editing it, but for now, I’ll just say that I rather enjoyed writing it. Writing the article made me realize that I’ve managed to do a good bit this past year in terms of transformative education stuff even despite not being in a k-12 or learner-centered environment.

It’s been more challenging to stay involved in the movement, but it’s also meant that I’ve been growing more independent and learning to find opportunities on my own and make them happen.

I’ve often been very negative about the fact that I’m in such a traditional environment now, but perhaps in a weird way, it’s been helpful to others at least in the big picture of things. Now I just have another perspective to add to the table as somewhat of an “outsider” in the movement and yet still very much involved.

Sometimes it takes changing the prompt to realize the good in a not ideal situation.

 

Family Reunion

After a few delays, I finally made it to the Dulles airport! From there, I rode with the dad of another Capon family down to their lake house for the traditional “weekend before” where a bunch of Capon families get together at the lake and then all drive to Capon Sunday afternoon.
We had the often discussed conversation today about “How do you describe Capon to other people?” My family always says it’s our family reunion place that’s something like Dirty Dancing meets Never-Neverland. Others said similar about just calling it a family reunion place that’s old fashion so we don’t have internet or phone access for the week.
Upon having this conversation I realized that despite always calling it our family reunion place, recently less and less of my actual blood-related family has been going. This year is the smallest it’s been ever with only the four members of my immediate family attending (due to various reasons others were unable to come this year). Once upon a time our family use to have one of the longest tables at Capon and were one of the biggest families in attendance (that would actually be written in the Capon weekly newspaper even); thus, it’s weird to now have one of the smallest tables.
Yet I believe it is still a family reunion of sorts. I believe this because we have all sorts of different kinds of families and really all of the people at Capon are like family. The same way I have my Mount Vernon family, my AllStars family, my DramaTech family, my nerd camp family, etc, I have a Capon family. It’s all the same people every year from a bunch of different families and we all enjoy spending time together and sharing about life in the past year from all over the country and we have our reunion once a year to do this.
I’m weirdly a big fan of traditions considering how much I dislike the traditional school system. I honestly wish more of my family’s had reunions because I think it’s important to stay connected with people you care about, and sometimes life will bring your family in different directions and you need a sacred time where everyone knows to save the date to get together and spend time re-connecting.

New Team, New Training

Today was the first day of summer team practice at the gym, which also means that all of the new kids invited to team started coming today.

The first day with a new team is always interesting. Everyone’s trying to learn names and find their place, plus newbies have a lot of changes to try and get used to. The girls who have been on team for a year or so now are just excited about getting to be leaders though they don’t quite know how to be just yet. On top of it all, coaches are trying to gauge ability as we start to think about who will be what level come the fall.

Needless to say, today was a bit slower than a normal team practice and we tried to not get too intense on day one, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the girls grow over the summer. Gymnastics is truly a year-round sport. If you try to take off for the summer, girls often come back pretty behind due to lack of training and potentially growing over the break which changes timing for skills. Since there isn’t school, summer is also the time where a lot of girls get to train more often and really get a lot of new skills that help them advance more than any other time in the year.

I don’t know many activities that are quite as big of a time commitment as gymnastics can be. It’s always crazy to me how many hours such young girls end up training if they’re really committed to reaching their full potential. The maturity of some of our kids always makes me wonder about the way school is divided by age because it doesn’t seem to make sense developmentally to me. Some of our most advanced girls who come close to 12 hours a week just turned seven this past spring, meanwhile, some of our nine-year-olds are the most likely to slack off during practice and can barely handle 6-9 hours a week.

I wonder when grade will stop being determined by age.

Familiar Faces

I use to go to some sort of sleep away summer camp every year since I was about seven. There were some that I went to them every summer for a given amount of time, and other that I just tried randomly, like this one YMCA camp in Ohio.

I always loved summer camp because of all of the activities and weird traditions and games and meeting new people that you somehow become so close to in as little as a week at times. I’m still in touch to this day with some of my friends from mime camp and nerd camp and it’s been years since I attended either of those camps.

It’s been weird not going to sleep away camp anymore the past few years; however, this week is the second year now that I’ve helped work at a speciality camp. Today was the first day of Olympic Gymnastics Camp run by former Olympian ​Svetlana Boguinskaia who my mom has been friends with for a few years now which is how we learned of the camp. My sister used to be a camper when she still competed, and then last year was the first year we both started working there. 

It’s funny to now have a camp I’m at again but now as a coach. There are so many kids I at least vaguely remember but the passage of time seems so much more significant as a coach rather than a camper; especially since some kids jumped a ton of gym levels since I saw them last. It’s nice to have a new place with familiar faces from over the years though.

Weirdly Great Traditions

One of my favorite traditions of the year is going to the Renaissance Festival with my family. Turns out this was actually our 13th year of this tradition which was crazy to think.

I love this tradition because it’s always a fun day of hanging with family in a somewhat ridiculous fashion, dressing up, eating deliciously bad for you food, watching hilarious shows, looking at cool crafts, and more!

I love having weird family traditions.

Happy Mothers Day!

Full Experience

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Just about every winter break I’ve gone to New York to see my family and I just love the culture of the city. There are so many different types of people that people watching is fun anywhere you go, plus there are so many different art installations, and amazing restaurants!

One of my favorite parts is having the ability to walk outside and get places so easily. When I’m there I’m given a key and a metro card and the freedom to explore the city. However, growing up in Atlanta without good public transportation, I’m still not really use to this freedom, so I don’t go far yet.

IMG_6390.JPGThis trip was full of adventures because I got the joy of having my best friend come to the city with us for her first time ever, so we had to give her the full experience.

We ate my favorite egg bagels fresh in the morning and pizza the size of your face for second dinner almost daily. We saw amazing shows such as Black Angels Over Tuskegee, The Color Purple, Chicago, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and Avenue Q. We went to the botanical garden and saw a train exhibit made entirely of natural material. We heard my mom yelling at stupid cab drivers in Time Square. We sprinted down street blocks to img_6427catch subways on time for events. We went to my favorite museum: an interactive math museum. We played Disney Cranium with the conductor for the Book of Mormon. We rushed between shows to see the Statue of Liberty from a distance. And we finished the trip by spending New Year’s Eve on the roof of my aunt’s best friend.  

It was a great and non stop adventure, and I think we really captured the full New York experience.

IMG_4793.JPGIt’s amazing what you can accomplish in just a few days when you have the ability to travel so accessible. Whether it’s a bus, subway, train, ferry, or feet, New York has so many ways to get around and it’s the biggest thing I always miss about the city.

 

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And Break Begins!

Now finals are done

The torture has ended 

But teachers must grade

So students and parents don’t complain 

So long, au revoir 

And so let me conclude: 

A merry finals to all 

And to all 

A good night! 

 

I kind of love the idea of traditions. Every year I start and end finals with a poem, and it’s fun to look back now at blog posts from exactly a year ago when I was finishing finals to see what I was thinking about then. Now break has begun and I’m so excited to get work done other than just homework. (And to rest a little.)

Tradition vs. Change

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Today was pretty great. It all started when I walked down stairs and saw egg bagels and apple cinnamon cream creese that my mom brought back for me from New York. When you have a fantastic breakfast, it really gets the day started right!

From then on the day just ran really smoothly. It was the first day of the newest schedule, and while it is hard to tell until the first full week, it seems that it went pretty well; at least as well as the closest to a normal day while in high school can be.

Christmas music started today in band, and while I wasn’t there, I got the pieces. For the past at least 10 years the high school band has played the same Christmas songs at the Christmas Arts Showcase, but now we have a “new” conductor (he use to just be the lower school conductor, so most of us already new him), so no one knew what to expect. It’s a weird thing, some people hate that we always do the same songs, but most of the people in band have come accustomed to the songs and there have been really fond memories formed with them, so we want those same songs really badly.

Some people may say that we need to change songs because how can things get better if they always stay the same; innovation kind of has to have change, so being in ID why am I advocating for the same songs?

Well, I’ve grown attached to these songs. There is a certain comfort with coming back each year to play them and it makes you remember past years and experiences; the songs inspire reflections on how you’ve grown. Every year you find something that you play better than the year before and it is a nice reminder on your progress as a musician. Also, one of them involves the praise band and another in a sing-a-long, so there is the community side to the songs where everyone joins together for this concert. (Fittingly so since it is the Christmas concert.) Even the 8th graders, who have only played the song once themselves, want to join the high school band to play the tradition ones that they have been hearing since they were younger. It is a right of passage almost; a prerogative for staying in band for so long.

My friend who is now in college is still playing in band and she sent me a text when they started Christmas music about how sad it was to not be playing those songs with us. At the end of last year we made a “contract” on the back of all of her Christmas music sheets so she could formally pass them down to me and my best friend to carry on through our high school years.

No one in band is against playing other songs, but we want these 3 traditional ones. (By the way, the songs are African Bell Carol, Sleigh Ride, and Christmas Sing-A-Long.) It could be nice to have one or two new songs, and we usually do have at least one song each year that is different.

Change in necessary, but it has its time and place. Some times you need traditions to remain traditions so you can reflect on the past, admire how far you have come since then, and ponder about how far you will go.