Saturday, January 23, 2010

Grab A Book!

I truly value the time that I have when I can read a good book, or catch up on some professional reading, whether it be from journals or other sources. I am particularly a sucker for mystery novels, especially those written by James Lee Burke, Walter Mosley, Andrew Vachss, Robert B. Parker, and yes, Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich! I also cannot wait for the new works from John Grisham, James Patterson, and David Baldacci. I remember when I was teaching at Galva-Holstein a number of years back that I set a goal of reading 50 books in a year. I felt that I wasn’t taking advantage of all the worlds that I could go to through a book and simply was not taking the time to enjoy reading. I far surpassed that goal that year and set one even higher the next. Today, I do not set goals any more as I make time to read for my personal enjoyment and to advance my knowledge. I only wish that I could do that more!

When I was at Creston, we set aside time every day and “required” students to read. I struggled with the required part of all of that, but the philosophy was that if students had the time to read something they wanted to read, then they would develop a desire to do so on their own time as well. In some cases that held true and I do believe that programs like “Silent Sustained Reading” and “Drop Everything and Read” have value. I do know that some kids completed the first book they had ever read cover to cover. It was a struggle to get others to turn a page, so you can’t make everyone enjoy reading. It does give me concern that people do not take the time to read and I fear the consequences of this because our nation is dependent on a literate society. It is surprising to learn how many adults do not read on a regular basis!

In our busy lives it seems to me that we need to set aside the time to read. It is not uncommon for my family to sit in front of the television set watching American Idol or a movie, yet we could just as easily be together reading. It is actually kind of funny because when I jotted down a few notes for this article, it was because I noticed one evening over winter break that the four of us were sitting in our front room, each of us with a book open and all of us fully engaged in the story in front of us. I am so happy that both my kids have a book in their bags each day, one of them reading on the bus to and from school and the other in the evenings before bedtime. It also causes me to remember back to those nights when they were small, sitting in my lap or their mothers, turning the pages of their favorite book as the story was read to them. I am so happy we set that time aside for them because I have to believe that contributed to their love of reading today.

I don’t have to “schedule” reading time anymore for myself because I do it when I have a chance. And, I am lucky in that my kids read without coercion. For those of you out there who do not take the time, I strongly encourage you to start like I did about twenty years ago by setting goals and blocking out time. Get that library card and use it! I also believe that the best gift you can give to your child is to require that they do the same. You can’t “make” them enjoy it. But, you can ensure that they at least open the book and then turn the pages. Without that, they probably never will!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is Pink Right?

In a previous article I'm A Wee Bit Confused! I wrote about what is happening on the front line in the field of education regarding science, math, and technology. There is no question that steps have been taken not only at North Fayette, but other high schools throughout the country to “beef up” our programs in those areas. And, there is no question in most educators’ minds that we need to continue to grow. Now with all of that said, I want to add to that perspective, so consider this a follow up to my being confused. But, hold on to you hats because you may be surprised at some of the things you read!

I want to introduce you to Daniel Pink, a former speech writer for Vice President Al Gore, author of the current bestseller Drive, and the book I will reference a few times in this article A Whole New Mind. He also worked as an aide to U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich and has held other positions in politics and government. Pink received a BA with honors from Northwestern University and a JD from Yale Law School, though “to his lasting joy, he has never practiced law!”

Promotion material for A Whole New Mind includes: “Lawyers. Accountants. Computer programmers. That’s what our parents encouraged us to become when we grew up. But Mom and Dad were wrong. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate. That’s the argument at the center of this provocative and original book, which uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for understanding the contours of our times.”

On CBS Sunday Morning, January 10, 2011, the question was posed, “Will innovation ever be in short supply?” Daniel Pink’s answer was, “No, it is part of what makes us human.” Pink believes that all of us have at least some potential of being creative. He defines creativity as “the ability to give the world something it didn’t know it was missing” and uses the iPod as an example. We have tens of millions of people carrying around iPods today and eight years ago none of them knew that they were missing one! According to Pink, we all have a level of creativity because we are human beings, though not everyone is destined to be the next Einstein, Dylan, or Chihuly.

This country nurtures and encourages creativity and that has been the reason that we have maintained the economic advantages we have had throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st. So why are we trying so hard to emulate the educational programs of other countries, many of them developing nations? Why is so much of a focus being placed on test scores, in some places at the expense of the arts? Why do some of the finest engineering and medical colleges give preference to students with music in their background? What will happen to American ingenuity? All of these are questions that we should be asking!

While our political and business leaders are challenging schools to become more like other countries of the world where students score better on tests than ours, some of those same countries, such as India, China, and Russia are taking a close look at how they may change their schools to look more like ours. Why? Because they know they can produce cheaper and more efficiently than we can, but they do not have the ability to create and invent at the level we do. The United States still leads the world in knowledge capital. Doesn’t it make sense to work to maintain that advantage?

By the way, for the past twenty years the business world has been telling education how it should educate. Do you suppose if the education world had been telling business how to do their jobs our nation would be where we are at right now? Something to consider!