Tag Archives: Race to Nowhere

The Race to Nowhere: University Years Parte Deux

Now that I have two children accepted into colleges of their choice, I, like many of you, have rehearsed over and over again, “Remember, you’re not trying to get into the BEST school, but instead, you want to apply to schools that are the BEST fit! I’m grateful both my children are mature enough to understand that they will have to imagesfigure out whether their choice of university is the “best fit” for them personally throughout their entire college experience. Even with such a vague definition of “best fit” for them to perform well enough in high school to be accepted into college and even with “sage” parents in the Education field, the Race to Nowhere continues the longstanding tradition all the way through college. My daughter, now a senior at Duke, writes a terrific blog (wordsofhope.com), a small part of which exposes the harsh, psychological realities of living in an environment that has no clue it is even on the treadmill, selling the treadmill, recruiting students who only know how to run the treadmill. We were talking about my former blog post about frogs (please read if you haven’t), and she dropped a bombshell… well, actually, Unknown-1it was just a pithy statement I wanted to use as inspiration for this post. She simply said, “Dad, college success is 80% documenting your past, present and future and 20% learning.” I asked her what she meant, and here are the nuggets of our conversation.

Documenting Your Past?

I didn’t understand what she meant to “document your past,” but I wanted to see into the psyche of a rising college senior who purports, like most students her age, to know it all. Hope (that’s my daughter), told me that since she’s arrived on campus, she has had to make sure she can personally document what others consider necessary for success or inclusion. She’s had to go back and get her former recommendation writers to fill out even more paper work guaranteeing that her resumé is “legit for when [she applies] to all the clubs, programs majors, etc.” She’s had to prove her interest to be included in student organizations and living situations by handing over archives and artifacts and documents and assessments of her opinions and lifestyle. She’s had to show professors and administrators her transcript containing very high grades in two UPPER-LEVEL Spanish classes from another quite prestigious and very competitive university. This was for not for admissions but for professors and administrators in order to be eligible for classes and study-abroad opportunities. Thank goodness she just happened to order several copies of the two-course transcript “just in case” or she would have missed deadlines to go to Spain. Of course, she is my first-born, and, even better, imagesan amazing progeny of my wife. She possesses everything and anything necessary to organize, locate and/or “document” important events. If she needs it, she has it… stored or saved somewhere!

Documenting Your Present?

What? At college, aren’t we by default documenting everything we do? According to my daughter…. NO! In order to be “successful” in today’s “competitive” academic institutions, it is no longer enough to be there “just to learn.” Everything one does on the campus must have a tie to some future payoff, some trajectory, some nebulous trail of completing two majors, two minors, a certificate, graduating with honors, making the Dean’s list and much, much, more. Hope provided me with amazing examples. Students document the worst professors, the hardest classes, the easiest A on campus, and much more, thanks to social media. This, in turn, informs students to take classes in strategic ways so that they can get the easiest A on campus and, hence, the highest GPA. With proper documentation, students strategically delay taking the “harder course that makes one work for an A” and purposely matriculate in an “easier university” during the summer. Unknown-2Many universities allow such “transfer” simply because they do not offer (those strategically avoided) required core courses in the summer. “Who cares about learning and joy, I must get the highest GPA!” Scurrying for a 4.0 is like running a sprint with “record time” but with no finish line in front.

In the present, students must be savvy to organize and document any, 9b8678591b7c4a4a8de63549ef39ab33--reward-charts-for-toddlers-reward-charts-for-kidsand I mean any interaction or accomplishment or achievement they have done or are in the process of doing, in real time, because the race to nowhere throws students off the treadmill if they have not proven themselves or they cannot prove themselves in an instant. The only defense that one measures up is to have documentation of one’s personal value… and to present it to someone who values those documented credentials. So much for the joy of learning!

Documenting Your Future?

Quite similar to any institution of higher learning, the moment students secure some reputable internship or learning opportunity, they immediately push the “accelerate” button on the treadmill. They consider their achievement as helping them “stand apart”Unknown-3from other students, inflating their own egos and resumés, reinforcing the desire to keep running the Nowhere Race. Running faster means you document your future internship and then run even faster to the scholarship application process to make sure you get a reputably named scholarship to fund your travel, expenses, and in some cases, even the internship itself. You see, the scholarship is not just a way to help students financially, but it is another notch in the CV, another resumé-building activity that has no planned end to the construction. In my own sardonic perspective, students won’t wipe a dog’s nose if it doesn’t have a slot on their resumé! For AMAZING ideas to help students think about learning and their own interests, I recommend Katharine Brook’s book You Majored in What?

20% Learning?

Ultimately, Hope concluded that 20% of her time is devoted to studying, applying what she has learned, learning above and beyond what is being delivered in the classroom. Unknown-4Her study and organizational skills make her successful in that area, but, since so many are on the race to nowhere, she feels inferior with an A-! She feels helpless when she compares herself with other “runners” in the race. She loses focus and sight of what brings her joy and what she is designed to do and be! What charges her? Knowing she has something more to contribute to the world to make it a better place, to share with others and grow from a community of other altruistic heroes! What charges most Nowhere racers? Getting the prize before someone else! I can’t help but picture them running and narcissistically hogging the treadmill rails, making it harder for others to run ahead, blocking access for others to “succeed.” I really like this metaphor stuff!

Am I Whining? Isn’t This Just Competitive Academia?

Unknown-5In short, YES! I’m whining! Yes, this is the norm for anyone who needs to or wants to “get ahead.” And, yes, in many or most cases, “ahead” is enough to become another one-percenter! But, remember my son? He, too, has been accepted into an amazing institution of higher learning. And I fear for him! I truly believe it is THE BEST FIT for him! But, the apple does not fall far from the tree! My son LOVES being! Not doing…! He is present in the moments he deems important or meaningful… which are many but not necessarily traditionally academic! He applied to this university bravely revealing his true self in the application process:  academic prowess, stellar community-building skills, intellectual curiosity, independent thinking and… yes… overcoming learning differences that make it difficult to “run their (traditional) race their (traditional) way.” They graciously accepted him. He loves learning and soaks up more than the average information dump…  But, he does not document his life…! Comically, he DOES document his experiences and relationships with Snap-whatever, or Insta-thingy! But he does not behave like he is on a treadmill winning the race to nowhere! He would images-1rather make sure his friends are accompanying him, pulling them up to the front, where he will probably dwell most often merely due to his natural intellect without even knowing or caring that he is “winning.” Is this success? In the world of Race to Nowhere, turning around to help others succeed is a death sentence, a guarantee you will “get behind” or “get left behind.” Will my son have to metamorphose into something he is not merely to “succeed” at his university? He is mature enough to stay true to himself, but is he willing to document his whole life, taking him away from the things he loves and turning him into a competitive, arrogant, scheming, superficial monster? Will this university pose the same challenge/definition of success, upholding standards that don’t allow him and many others to demonstrate their learning? I’m afraid I’m the one worrying about this… which may be evidence that I am part of the problem and not part of the solution, that I want my son to “fit in” and “be successful” like everyone else. It may even mean I do not have faith that he will succeed if he doesn’t continue to go against his nature and run this pathetically exhausting and counterproductive race.

So, yes, I’m whining because I, like every parent, think my son is special. parent-clipart-proud-parents-hiHe may surprise me and jump again into Nowhere Race Training with gusto, just as he had to do for 12 years to get into a school that might bring him joy and meaning. Eighteen years old is too late to change a child or an entire system of Education. I am hoping he will rise above the dehumanizing manner in which academic environments “compete.” I am praying he will remember how to take the knowledge he learns and turn it into wisdom, compassion and servant leadership. I so want him to succeed and be self-sufficient and happy. Perhaps going to college, whether the institution espouses the Race to Nowhere or not, really is about growing up, maturing and becoming comfortable with oneself in an ever-changing society while also learning a “cultured,” predetermined curriculum prepared by an institution of higher learning.

images-2Do any of you have advice for me? Insight into how to guard ourselves and our children from losing their humanity in this crazy treadmill Race to Nowhere? I welcome your comments? I also offer you my own counsel if you so need. Together, we can learn!

Teaching Vocabulary: A Word to the Wise

Vocabulary instruction! That tedious, necessary classroom evil that “promises” to increase SAT scores, create Pulitzer prize-winning writers and equip the best of lawyers and debaters! In teacher certification programs at the elementary level, methods students can learn fun, creative, contextual, meaningful, content/curriculum-related, research-based methods to teach vocabulary words for reading and speaking. And, as you well know, there are many different curricula that purport to teach vocabulary, well packaged into a workbook delivery system, with testing materials and answers to the workbook exercise questions to facilitate grading. One of the most popular of these curricula in independent as well as public schools is Wordly Wise. Now, before I continue, please take a moment, in the spirit of Wordly Wise, and fill in the blank (the cloze item) with the first word that comes to your mind.  Be honest and be prompt; do NOT overthink it.  Ready?  OK….

Fill in the blank with the “correct word”:

How many of you are __________________ enough to admit you love Wordly Wise?

I, for one, can think of nothing more entertaining than doing an entire chapter of such exercises before going to bed!  (I promise there’s no sarcasm here!) What did you answer, however? Here’s a possible word bank!

Brave              Stupid             Unabashed            Enthusiastic            Lazy

Resourceful   Practical         Creative                   Busy                       Honest

Go ahead!  Substitute your word or one of these and read the sentence aloud!

Personally, I get wonderfully charged when I teach or observe others teach elementary grade children vocabulary! What better privilege than to orchestrate amazingly meaningful opportunities, activities, lessons etc. for kids to expand their speaking vocabularies AND their reading vocabularies both independently and jointly! In the context of learning to read and write, students can experience joyful encounters with understanding and communicating more and more sophisticated meaning. Throughout my graduate school education, supervising teachers and consulting with schools and teachers, I have seen teachers truly make literature and content/subject matter alike “come alive” in a way that students embrace new words, express them, ask for them, celebrate them! Whether the elementary “lessons” were from teacher-created materials or from packaged materials like Wordly Wise, I have helped many a teacher transform a scripted curriculum into vibrant, meaningful lessons that promote developmentally appropriate literacy in the context of vocabulary acquisition. And, yes, the lessons complemented professional, “best” practices from the field of Elementary Education! (For amazing research and support, I must shout out to Dr. Dixie L. Spiegel and Dr. Jill Fitzgerald,  both at UNC-Chapel Hill, who taught me more about teaching reading than they could EVER know!)


But, I have also experienced teachers and entire lower schools who embrace the “workbook curriculum” as merely one more thing to cover in a typical elementary school classroom… Accelerated Reader, cursive, Math facts, and Wordly Wise, for example. Moving through the material is the goal, nothing else, nothing more. Teachers, departments and even schools assume that if students have made it through 2nd grade Wordly Wise, then they will be ready for 3rd grade Wordly Wise, and, whenever the sequence finishes, they will be linguists and scholars and spelling bee winners and writers and orators, and more.  These educators assume that students can use these words in everyday and academic writing and speech without having practiced it in a relevant manner or context.


Case in Point:  Another Personal Story!

My son and a friend were in an elementary class where the entire school praised Wordly Wise. As the entire class went through Chapter 1, my son and his friend quickly stood out as already knowing the majority of the words in that chapter, and the next, and the next. In September, I discovered that the two boys were told to stop raising their hands to answer the questions from the exercises that the whole class was doing at the same pace at the same time:  section A on Monday, Section B on Tuesday, Section C on Wednesday, Section D on Thursday and the Chapter multiple choice test on Friday.  I suggested that my son already knew the words and that the two boys could help do supplemental videos and presentations for the class, presentations that put the words into relevant, age-appropriate contexts for all. With the amazing technology the school boasts, the boys would get to write and “speak” the words in an enjoyable way with skits, news broadcasts, interviews, etc.. The teacher did not respond, offended that a parent would tell her how to teach. The Division Head said she liked the idea, but she needed to know that the boys “already knew the words” before they could be allowed to do “NON-workbook exercises.”

I recommended designing an entire Wordly Wise curriculum and instruction “packet,” divided by thematic unit/chapter with lessons in the form of a “template” of how this might be done. I would offer my services for free! The Division Head asked me to put it in writing for her. I did. She received it and did not address me or the issue again until JANUARY!!! 

Here is what I suggested could be done FOUR months prior to this response. My son’s teacher would give the entire class the Wordly Wise PRE-test- really just the chapter test as a diagnostic to see which students knew most of which words. Then, for day 2, she could let the small group of students (those missing 3 or less from the 25 words for the week) work on learning the ones they “missed” on the pre-test. Then, during days 3 and 4, that group could work on a skit or a video or whatever else would communicate the 10 most frequently missed words out of the rest of the class as assessed by the Monday diagnostic. In the meantime, the rest of the class did the doldrums of discreet point workbook exercises C and D. Friday, the small group could present its work to the rest of the students to “prime” them for the “post-test,” ensuring one last time that the weaker students would see and/or hear a meaningful use of the most unknown words. I designed the “packet” for the Division Head, as the teacher was getting a bit annoyed at the fact that I was calling attention to the travesty that my son and his friend were told to read or sit in their seat and NOT volunteer to answer question from September until January every time the whole class did Wordly Wise exercises! (Which was every day!)


The Division head responded to my curriculum proposal in two ways.  YOU can determine the appropriateness of her responses. First she told me she was going to “deliver” the curriculum packet to Matthew’s teacher as if she, herself, had thought of the idea. She wanted me to delete all reference to me, my son, etc. and make it “generic” since it would not be well-received coming from a parent. I obliged the next day. Second, after another 6 weeks not responding, she called me and told me that my ideas were not working because everyone was studying the vocabulary on the weekend so they could get a good grade on the pre-test and not have to do anything else with Wordly Wise for the rest of the week! (overt versus covert curriculum?!?!) The teacher had not even tried to implement the application activities of writing and presenting original works with the words. She merely told the students if they scored well, they would get to read or sit quietly like Matthew and his friend! The Division Head told me she had a terrific solution for the teacher and was merely calling me to tell me she had “solved” the issue! When I asked what that solution was, the Division Head proudly stated, “I just told the teacher the kids can’t take their Wordly Wise workbooks home with them on Fridays. That way they can’t study and they won’t know all the words!!!!!”


I was at CVS at that moment, and I cried publicly as I hung up the phone. The next day, I arranged for alternative instruction in Language Arts for my son during the regularly scheduled time. It was April by then, and my son had done literally nothing in Language Arts class but sit quietly, and, “read” for 7 months! If you follow this blog, he is twice exceptional. Does he migrate to “reading” anything on his own? NO! He is dyslexic. Was he given enjoyable things to do with his “reading?” NO! His reading vocabulary almost matches his above average speaking vocabulary if/when the words are pronounced to him once. Could he, along with the classmates who had already “mastered” a chapter’s thematic set of vocabulary, have presented their classmates with enjoyable, meaningful ways to acquire new vocabulary? Absolutely!

The Issues

Yes, this one is personal! After all, this blog is called MY education education. The issues have had 8 years to settle. So, in honor of Wordly Wise and all those teachers I know who use curriculum materials as TOOLS and not the curriculum itself, and to those teachers who may not be at a place to see the issues surrounding the use of such an AMAZING curriculum as Wordly Wise, here are some of the main issues I see in this “story.”

NOTE:  I can discuss many issues related to this story. Therefore, in honor of my trying to learn to be briefer in this blog medium, I will not elaborate much. Hopefully, this will encourage you to ask questions and/or reply to the blog!

  1. Over-Reliance on Curriculum Materials

Curriculum packages always reflect pedagogical, philosophy and psychoeducational assumptions that may or may not be accurate or appropriate. They are, in short, convenient! Using these packages as they are scripted without allowing students the dignity to see their relevance or to help transfer the knowledge and skills to real-life contexts is a crime against the students and their families.

Related issues:

Parent or supervisor fear or inability to challenge a teacher mid-year

-Over-commitment to an approach and long-term plans (unwillingness

to change)

-School’s unspoken “rule” that parents may not interfere with a teacher

  1. Supervisory Weakness and Insecurity

When parents complain to a teacher’s supervisor after they have gone civilly and pleasantly to the teacher first, and when the complaint is as egregiously in conflict with the entire school’s mission as this one, a supervisor must take the strong stand and go to the teacher with support. If the supervisor does not have anything to offer the teacher to resolve the situation and feels insecure or threatened (which is very often the case), is it the student who must suffer almost 8 months of zero growth? Where is the humility to admit the need for a solution and perhaps ask for help? Or, does the supervisor actually believe her “solution” of keeping students from “learning” a system to get out of busy work is quality instructional advice? IDK. YOU be the judge!

Related issue:

Teacher’s/Administrator’s/School’s fear, embarrassment or intimidation (or anger?) that a parent (albeit, a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction) might know more than they

-As a corollary, is this not just an example of educator arrogance?

  1. Differentiated, CREATIVE instruction is not that hard for small classes!

Is it that hard to manage a few kids in a class of 18 and who happen to have an already strong background knowledge of the vocabulary (or any curriculum for that matter) in a way that challenges that few to grow and integrates their work into the life of the whole class and in a way that helps ALL students? Isn’t that differentiated instruction? Isn’t that the essence of designing creative lessons for an individual class? The research is there! The training is there! ONLY IF THE HUMILITY, ENTHUSIASM AND PROFESSIONAL INTEGRITY ARE THERE, TOO!

  1. False Advertising

This is just a pet peeve of mine! If a school, such as a “grammar school” or a very traditional boarding/prep school, proudly advertises the kind of instruction that is merely to beat discreet point information into the heads of kids and then testing and micromanaging students to “succeed,” then I have absolutely no grounds to complain here! As it goes, however, my son’s school boasted instruction and resources such as state-of-the-art technology that would help teach the “whole child” 21st Century skills in a “hands-on” environment with small classes and personalized attention and a commitment to let the students express their creativity in plastic and performing arts. Blah, blah, blah, blah! This is, indeed, why my wife and I chose the school! I, as a professional educator, believed this to be the best environment for my children. So, are prescribed curricula even to be a part of such an advertised “promise?” I could hire a college freshman to “homeschool” my children with such materials for a much lower cost.

  1. Overt Versus Covert Curriculum

When supervising a student teacher, I love to challenge her to ponder the difference between what SHE THINKS her goals and objectives are (overt curriculum) versus what her STUDENTS THINK her goals and objectives are (covert curriculum). There is a delicate, negotiated blending of overt versus covert curricula. Students are notorious for practicing what I call LAW (Least Amount of Work)! A teacher may BELIEVE she is teaching vocabulary and inspiring erudite dialogues, sophisticated, academic conversation! But students’ LAW practices reduce the teacher’s efforts to the bare minimum. In this case, the students just wanted out of tedious, boring, routine exercises, so they memorized the definitions of the word. In addition, they wanted “free time,” which is “leave-me-alone” time.

  1. Misrepresentation of Learning Differences

Matthew knew the words, but needed ways to “read” and “speak” them that would solidify his giftedness in the right way. Many dyslexics are labelled as “lazy” because they do not choose academic work for pleasure and, at times, find it hard to follow the directions and sequences of traditional methods, seemingly distracted and wandering lazily. Matthew’s teacher’s solution to “let him read” left him to his own devices with no accountability. His only directive was NOT to bother the others in the class. So… he learned laziness… a laziness that says “If I do not bother you, I deserve to do nothing. I don’t need to develop any more academically since I already get it.” Nothing could be farther from the truth! But even today, we battle with our son’s initiative to “make his thinking visible.” (See Ron Richhart, Mark Church and Karen Morrison). Teaching to learning differences should synergize into instruction that encourages all students to achieve, not encourage poor or even stereotyped habits in those who may struggle or who may be academically gifted!


-I was able to teach my son academic reading comprehension strategies using a college remedial reading textbook! (Yes, I’m bragging!)

-I was available to step in where he was slipping and where he was being neglected! Not all dads have that luxury or that ability.

-I kept my cool from September to April! For those of you who choose to intervene with your child’s education/educators when it is necessary, you know it is difficult to exercise patience. For me, I credit my amazing wife to helping me be calm and collected.

-I wrote a really great curriculum guide to use the already awesome Wordly Wise curriculum! So much work and attention had gone into the final draft of that specific personal curriculum guide, and, in the hands of a competent teacher (or a dorky, overzealous word snob and curriculum specialist such as myself), the curriculum plan includes an abundance of creativity that can draw on all the students’ strengths while energizing them to work on understanding vocabulary in context. The strategies suggested for each of the thematic units I designed are based on sound pedagogical principles and adaptable to any schools’ overall curriculum. If you’d like to hire me to consult on how, give me a message.


-You can’t get those 7.5 months back at a crucial time in habit and intellect development.


-Why do parents have to take extreme measures in order to help their child in a school?

-What would have happened to my son if his entire 4th grade Language Arts was a vacuum? A student can go 7.5 months doing nothing in class, his parents can approach the teacher, the Division Head and the Principal about it and it raises no red flags nor changes? And, think about it! If Matthew had been in a public school, he would have been delinquent from school while I taught him myself; there would have been no option to pull him out for better instruction. He would have been condemned to the same professional negligence for rest of the academic year.

-Why don’t (can’t?) teachers ask for help?  

-Why don’t (can’t?) administrators listen to parents (especially those in the business)?

-Why don’t (can’t?) administrators help teachers who are experiencing a glitch in what they’ve laid out for the academic year? We all know things don’t always go swimmingly as planned from the beginning to the end of the school year?

-Why are teachers and administrators so committed to “academic freedom” that they protect, promote and even perpetuate practices (and even support teachers) that are not educationally sound?

-MOST IMPORTANTLY, we may only fight this battle in the elementary grades. After that, the practice of, not the research on, mindful vocabulary teaching in the middle and high school level is almost inexistent. Teachers in the middle grades and above rely solely on the vocabulary list at the end of each chapter of their textbook to “teach their students what they need to know.” The enhancement of literacy skills in a respective discipline never appears in the lesson plan. Content Area Reading Comprehension Instruction is absent completely.


I so enjoy helping teachers design creative, meaningful and “literacy-oriented” vocabulary instruction, in English as a first language or in any second language! With the proper context, students naturally fall in love with words, including understanding and expressing clear, sophisticated ideas and meaning. A small percentage of the population (Suzy and Sam Suckups, see prior blog post) will easily apply the most boring of instruction in vocabulary to their own verbal inclination. But, almost all students will benefit from vocabulary instruction that is based on a broad and deep application of pedagogy! And from Kindergarten through College! Someone, whether teacher, supervisor or other administrator ought to have the courage to challenge the blanket and uninspiring/uninspired delivery of a scripted vocabulary curriculum, or any curriculum for that matter! Be brave! Reach out! To me or any other capable professional who can put you on the right path. Let me hear from you!


Frogs on a Treadmill? The Race to Nowhere or Does Perspective Really Help Us Live Full Lives?

Imagine a sac of frog eggs in a pond, the kind of frogs that lives their “adult lives” on land. Toads? frogeggsI forget the difference. tadpoles-in-eggsAnyway, the tadpoles in the eggs grow, they develop, they hatch… into the water. Again, they grow, they develop, they absorb their tails and climb OUT of the water. They know the water! They jump into it. They play in it! They procreate in it! They know how to USE the water for their own good, but, their expertise of water comes from having lived IN it and having looked AT it from dry land. tadpole-with-tailTheir perspective from the water is just as valuable as their perspective from dry land. frogjumpingTheir goal in life is NOT to stay in the water thinking that the water brought them out of the eggs and gave them a pretty good life with a tail. Their goal is not to look incessantly for more water, better water, or the water most popular with all the other frogs! In fact, without the perspective of stepping out on dry land, the frogs would never know how to distinguish better water. They would not be able to respect those who have come from different waters. They would not even know that more water existed, and they certainly wouldn’t see that, in general, they are responsible to live their own life “happy,” not the life of other frogs. The distracting search for bluer water limits our capacity to grow into the frogs (or toads) we were meant to be. After all, a frog’s goal is “relationship” with other frogs in an exciting world into which we frogs may bravely step (or swim).

unknown-1Now, what does this have to do with My Education Education? Everything! Allow me to analogize. We Americans are born into a pond of free and democratic education. Like for tadpoles, our “eggs” are short-lived. They are called Kindergarten. Now, I wanted to say “the Elementary Grades Years,” but, truthfully, the innocent shell that protects young lives with humanitarian, humanistic “play” and natural, meaningful and authentic learning dissolves and breaks even EARLIER than Kindergarten. That is, the “baby tadpoles” have very little time to “develop” their “tadpoleness” in the egg before the egg is shattered for more “water”- the water of Outcomes Based Education, or “academic readiness,” or “customized curriculum” or higher ERB scores. Our tadpoles stay too briefly in the haven of “play is our work.” In the short-lived life in their shell, our children must learn what it means to play TOGETHER, to play SAFELY, to play ALONE, to SHARE, and many more things that seem like natural human behaviors for which any curriculum of their interest is a secondary excuse. Teachers and “better waters” will not ever be able to “dump” these kinds of lessons into children in such a short time!frogs-playing

Would we ever think of ejecting the poor tadpoles from their shells before they were ready to take on the “water” of education all by themselves? Certainly not! But we DO push elementary school children to read by grade 1, to write and spell with little meaning or purpose. We push them to get into the highest level of classes for which the school system has a label: AG, HAG, Explorers, Robins, etc. Parents begin to push their children to accomplish MORE Accelerated Reader stories. Instead of wondering why Johnnie can’t pay attention along with his advanced Math peers, his parents get him a prescription for ADD/ADHD medicine. Could it be Johnnie’s brain is fried? Could it be Johnnie’s teacher is not allowing him to process the Math in a developmentally appropriate way? unknownSo human tadpoles are pushed into the water (and out of their shells) way too soon and are literally and figuratively flooded with more and different and “better” water:  the next trend in Education promising the get the youngster “ahead.” Parents are told this new water is better. Their children will swim to the front of the pack if they just drink from the chalice of this next curricular or extracurricular panacea! chaliceAnd only the tadpoles at the front of the pack get to jump into the next best body of water, where the population of tadpoles is smaller and more “competitive.” This poses a threat to parents, as the tadpoles in this new body of water can all swim as fast as or faster than their own children. And so, parents help the tadpoles find more water to jump into, to “distinguish” their children from the others at the front of that pack. Some push the tadpoles to do sports, music, online classes, tutoring, “enrichment,” and more. So, our tadpoles never learn the world of any body of water because we parents are trying to push them through and out of one body into the “next best.” And then, by the time parents figure out their tadpoles are just like the other tadpoles even though their children had worked so hard at standing out, the tadpoles begin to lose their tails!

NOW, the parents must push their adolescent tadpoles even harder since the “teens” are now more interested in the tails of other tadpoles and even their own, again, literally and figuratively! parentpunishingchildIf you know anything about these creatures-adolescent tadpoles, that is- they stop eating and literally digest their own tails while they “go through the changes.” frogwithtailSo, in reality, adolescent tadpoles actually ignore the water in which they live and focus on “more important” issues. (Wouldn’t it be nice to navigate through FAMILIAR waters during this period instead of hopping into new waters every 3 to 6 months? In Middle School, we may as well say the same thing. Middle Schoolers stop feeding on the “water” of Education and focus on what they were put on this planet to do:  you fill in the blank here… individuate, move into Formal Operations Thinking, pick at their acne, develop a secure identity, etc.  Whatever it is, adolescent tadpoles need time to grow into their own bodies, lose their tails and connect with fellow tadpoles to muster the strength for their upcoming leap OUT of the water, physiologically able now to manage a bigger world with legs, breaking apparatus, new and stronger muscles, etc. Biologists say that it is usually hunger that drives a tadpole adolescent out of the water. Think about the “water” we humans dump on our adolescents, like drinking fire-hydrantfrom a fire hydrant! More classes, more tutors, more “extra-curriculars,” camps, etc. How often do we even know if our children are “hungry” for the water we pour down their throats? And, by this time, some of our adolescents have become quite skilled at a few things- through practice, drill, opportunity, privilege, self-motivation, parental threat, etc. frogsplaying-out-of-the-waterThere may or may not be the joy of jumping into the water like a young adult frog experiences or even the sense that frogs can and should hang and swing with other frogs with joy and by nature, but at least our children can jump into some of the “better waters” better than other frogs. Suzuki violin, the School of Science and Math, UNC School for the Arts, Governor’s school, “gifted” programs, rounding out our resumé to be eligible for the “best” schools and scholarships! Some of our young adult frogs can play in some really awesome water where others can’t. imagesAnd this pushes the parents and now the frog itself to seek out newer… but related… waters, a process which has now formed into such a rigid formula, neither froglings nor parents can see any other approach to going through life’s waters. You see, now, we don’t want to push the frog too much into new waters where she might get caught up in a relationship with the other frogs at that level, or, heaven forbid, she might disregard jumping into the other waters that now define her as “distinguished.” Pushing the young frog even harder distracts him until he can be pushed into the next best body of water. Ultimately, these frogs only know the waters because they have merely lived IN them. Without the perspective of living OUT of the waters, the only path of “life” for these frogs is to paddle in the water with a “select” group of other frogs who believe they are just as superior. Even though the analytic capacity is limited for the frogs who only live in/on the water, their own community of “fast paced” frogs considers them to be “the best.” At the very least, having a perspective outside the waters gives a frog a broader and more accurate assessment frogwithfingerand analysis of self and the world. Remaining on the treadmill for so long sometimes makes the frog lift that special middle finger in rebellion to the very academics that the community believes will bring him the best success and say “that’s enough” or even worse!

I’m sure you can finish the analogy all the way up to Post Graduate University level waters or Education. I’d like to, but my blogging coach tells me my posts are too long. The fascinating thing?  When during any of this process do we humans get out of the water with the goal of evaluating whether it is the right LIFE to live: constantly in the water with nothing to define us but the water itself and in constant, insecure comparison with others. We are not the water into which we were born, but this process, what educators so beautifully call “The Race to Nowhere,” ends up stripping us of our humanity while at the same time breeding a cruel arrogance, jadedness, blindness and even an obsessive/compulsive sense of entitlement in student, parent and academic/educational institutions. In short, we confuse the “best education” as that one and only tool that defines us rather than seeing an unknowneducation as ONE of many tools our children may use to live the happy and upright life they are uniquely equipped to live.unknown

I’d love to read your comments, reactions, and stories. I not only need to learn how to step out of the water (or off the treadmill) for my own children and the children and parents I serve, but I believe we can reconnect with our humanity by sharing our own stories. In my consulting work, I see administrators, teachers, parents and students alike who perpetuate… no, depend on… the race to nowhere totally blinded by the fact that they are even running! I, too, have found moments in my parenting when I realized I was on the treadmill and merely justifying my own circumstances and imposing an impersonal value set onto my child. This, like



any parenting commentary or recommendation, provokes resentment and defensive behaviors. Humility and transparency are in short supply in most of my educational consulting experiences. But, in an anecdotal contrast,



I had clients whose son would have been Valedictorian of his class if he had NOT taken band. He had played the game well and “won the race.” But, the parents and the boy battled whether it was worth it! He LOVED playing his instrument, but Band was not an honors class in this county. He truly wanted to take Band, not just because his best friends were there, too. His band director was an amazing role model for the boy. He and his parents chose to take band, and he was Salutatorian. What say you, readers? brokentreadmillDare we drop our guard, our pretense… and share? From pre-school to the finest of Ivy Leagues, we educators are ALL guilty of tuning the treadmill for the next wave of tadpoles! Which of we educators will be the first one to pull the plug!