This book is an invitation to teachers and parents to embrace the notion of regenerating the entrepreneurial spirit in our children. By “entrepreneurial spirit” I mean having that willingness and perseverance to embrace challenges, the interest in solving problems, and the confidence to take risks. Simply stated, we need to expect more. In my work with teachers, and occasionally parents, it has become increasingly clear to me that we do not have consistently high academic expectations for all children. We expect more from some than others and all too frequently the challenge level of what we expect does not increase with nearly enough complexity as students move through the grades. Our children are continually programmed to move from one after school activity to the next with little time for cognitive rest. Children have little time for the kind of unstructured play that allows imagination and creativity to flourish. In Last Child In the Woods, author Richard Louv eloquently discusses the fact that our children have moved indoors and video games have become their imagination. Children are in dire need of challenging curriculum that allows them to explore complex ideas and opportunities to apply those ideas in new situations. They need opportunities to create and to imagine new ways of doing things. The US Department of Education reported that in 2007-2008 approximately a third of first year college students were in need of at least one remedial course.
I am concerned that somewhere along the way we stopped challenging children and started enabling them instead. Perhaps this is through no fault of our own? As teachers and parents we genuinely care about children. We feel for them when they are sick, when they are bullied or when they are struggling. Quite simply it is our nature to protect. With the best of intentions we tend to try and eliminate the struggle. But the struggle is essential to growth and a personal sense of accomplishment. As children work their way through challenges they build the confidence and habits of mind needed to embrace the next challenge that comes along.
I agree full heartedly with those who suggest that we need to increase the academic challenge for all students. New Common Core Standards recommend the promotion of critical thinking, problem solving, and the development of clear communication skills across the disciplines. The Common Core standards recommend that students spend more time reading challenging informational text and more time supporting their “claims” with “evidence”. The new Common Core Standards demand that we raise the bar and expect continuous growth from all students. To demand anything less will surely lead to our demise in a highly innovative competitive global market.
The skills that will be required of our children include “systems-thinking”, the ability to support “claims” with “evidence”, the ability to communicate to argue, inform and narrate, and the ability to make informed decisions based upon a strong foundational understanding of both science and social studies. Unfortunately science and social studies have barely simmered on the back burner and still remain the stepchildren of many elementary curricula.
My goal, in writing this book, is to develop something useful to both teachers and parents in their work with children. My work promotes increasing the complexity of what we challenge children to do while promoting clarity in the expectations we set forth. The ultimate goal is to nurture a generation that can make informed decisions based upon a strong foundational understanding of science and social studies.
The work of educating children who can innovate and compete in an increasingly competitive global environment cannot be placed solely in the hand of the school. Responsibility for educating children must also rest with the parents, grandparents, volunteers who work with children, neighbors and friends. Yes, it will take a village! I am hopeful that you will read on and embrace the challenge.
All too often, I find myself alarmed by the evidence I gather of the exponential rate at which we choose to “dumb down” America. Once a previous neighbor apologized for referring to my home as the “library”. I told her there was no need to apologize and that actually I was quite flattered by her reference to my home. That resulted in a look of sheer puzzlement. Somewhere along the way the prevailing American theme became one of referring to those who read as “bookish,” those who tinkered as “geeks,” and those who grew passionate about a subject as “unusual”.
The example above was not in isolation. Over and over, when I have had the opportunity to end up at the health club for my swim when young mothers are in the locker room I have heard the complaining about crayons and other enemies that invade homes when children are on vacation. I’ve heard young mothers discuss their concerns about the child who would rather spend the day reading or refer to their child who would rather solve math problems or dig under a rock as the “unusual one” in the family. My advice is really quite simple, embrace the crayons, embrace the questions, embrace the digging under rocks and please take time to put down the cell phone and converse with the kid who chooses to solve math problems or reads lots of books. These are the kids who might lead us if we stop making them feel “unusual” because they are passionate about learning or simply curious. We keep “dumbing down” the thinkers, explorers, and readers because over and over – even without meaning to do so, they hear us say they are “unusual”. They learn that to “fit in” they should be less passionate about learning. Please do not simply celebrate their passion for inquiry, they already know they are passionate. Nurture their passion by asking questions, providing resources and genuinely taking time to learn along with them. As children read and problem solve they build the skills that are ultimately performed in the disciplines of science and social studies.