Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mary, Mary, quite contrary. How does your brain grow?

Well it ain't with silver bells and cockel shells.

Guess what? Kids these days probably don't have a clue as to what I'm talking about, nursery rhyme or otherwise. They have no more of an idea as to how their brain grows than who Mary, Mary is. They've got their heads down and their brains on autopilot, navigating through a sea of computer commands and text lingo. Basically, all their thinking is being done for them.

This came across my desk today, and I'm constantly amazed at how these things "appear" just when I've been thinking/talking about them.

The Talent Code: Brainology for All! talks about how these days, kids are learning the basic material - math, English, science, but are lacking the information and skills necessary to make themselves smarter. Like repetition. Like memory work. Like practice.

I have often wondered what makes some people - or more specifically - some kids, more ambitious, or driven, or "accomplished" than others. Yes, I know that everyone is different, and you can't pigeon hole people into successes or failures based on some sort of universal benchmark. But I've always wondered if there was some key ingredient, some parenting method or style, that propagated a type of behavior in a child.

Last year, I was alerted to (and subsequently became involved in) the Brainology Program, instituted by Stanford University professor Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. Read about it HERE so I don't have to repeat myself and you don't have to read a really, really long blog post.

As I was reading Daniel Coyle's blog, it reminded me of the Brainology program before he even mentioned it, but he had a little bit of a twist on it. He assembled a
New Bill of Kid Rights. No, it doesn't list out that every kid should have an iPad in order to succeed in school (no matter what my son says to try to convince me). It's more basic than that. Old-school if you will. And definitely something that's missing in today's youth:

The New Bill of Kid Rights:

1. Every child has the right to know how their brain grows.
2. Every child has the right to a teacher who understands how skill develops.
3. Every child has the right to an environment that’s aligned with the way skills grow in the brain.

I got wind that my child maybe wasn't executing his Bill of Rights during middle school. He was doing poorly on tests and I would ask him, "Didn't you study?" To which he would reply, "Yeah, uh, I studied," Then one night I went into his room and asked him to show me how he studied. Turns out, he didn't have a clue. He never really knew what it meant. I suppose he maybe should have figured it out, but it's like anything else. If no one's ever showed you or you've never seen it for yourself, how do you really know?

Now that I have discovered this blog, I'm very interested to read Daniel Coyle's book, "The Talent Code". I think he may have some of the answers to my questions. And while he seems to identify "talent" as the characteristic, I think skills, ambition and drive can also be classified with talent as well. Because it's all cultivated. It's all nurtured. You can't really have one without the other and succeed.

What Coyle basically says in the book is that the key to success includes certain methods of training, motivation and coaching - to teach kids how to acquire skill. No, we're not putting it all on the teachers or leaving it all up to the parents - it should be joint effort by every parent, teacher, coach, guidance counselor, and any other adult mentor in your child's life. Kids have to somehow learn the fundamentals to success - work hard, practice, improve, put forth the effort. THIS is what kids are missing. And it's up to parents and teachers and every other adult they come in contact with to teach it to them, and show them through example. Which means, maybe we have to get our heads out of our a......pple iPods and Pads and Phones and start doing things old school.

It blows my mind that kids today don't know how to look up a word in a dictionary - a real, tangible dictionary. Or hand-write a thank-you letter (let alone address an envelope). Or sit in a library studying for a test using written notes and perhaps flash cards with their friends instead of Googling and Skyping. Or that they ask you to play tennis on the Wii, but have no intention or desire of actually grabbing a racquet and going outside.

Do I need to go on? We wonder why kids are lazy. We wonder why they just skate by and when they're pushed to go the extra mile, ask if there's an "app" for that. They have no idea how their own brains even work, and what they're capable of.

Case in point: The New York Times reported back in September that The College Board said that average SAT scores across the country were down last year, with average marks – all scored out of 800 – of 514 for math, 489 for writing and 497 for reading, a record low. This year’s average composite score was 1,500, down by six points from last year.

I'm not sure what the answer is, because doing what I really want to do - and that's get rid of all electronic devices in the house and forcing my kids to read a book and write out flash cards and go to the library and THINK WITH THEIR OWN BRAINS for a change is going to make me a pretty unpopular parent (but isn't that an oxymoron?) and I don't even know if that would be the wake-up call we all need. I do worry that if they don't learn soon how their brains work and what makes them tick, we're going to be raising a society that is going to be so dependent on having things done for them that talent, drive and ambition will become the exception instead of the norm.

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