Friday, May 13, 2011

'Old Coots' + Dumb Kids

From Sir Ken Robinson's The Element:

The other institution is the Grace Living Center, a retirement home.

Over the next few months, the district established a preschool and kindergarten classroom in the heart of Grace Living Center. Surrounded by clear glass walls (with a gap at the top to allow the sounds of the children to filter out), the classroom sits in the foyer of the main building. The children and their teachers go to school there every day as though it were any other classroom. Because it's in the foyer, the residents walk past it at least three times per day to get to their meals.

As soon as the class opened, many of the residents stopped to look through the glass walls at what was going on. The teachers told them that the children were learning to read. One by one, several residents asked if they could help. The teachers were glad to have the assistance, and they quickly set up a program called Book Buddies. The program pairs a member of the retirement home with one of the children. The adults listen to the children read, and they read to them.

The program has had some remarkable results. One is that the majority of the children at the Grace Living Center are outperforming other children in the district on the state's standardized reading tests. More than 70 percent are leaving the program at age five reading at third-grade level or higher. But the children are learning much more than how to read. As they sit with their book buddies, the kids have rich conversations with the adults about a wide variety of subjects, and especially about the elders' memories of their childhoods growing up in Oklahoma. The children ask about how big iPods were when the adults were growing up, and the adults explain that their lives really weren't like the lives that kids have now. This leads to stories about how they lived and played seventy, eighty, or even ninety years ago. The children are getting a wonderfully textured social history of their hometowns from people who have seen the town evolve over the decades. Parents are so pleased with this extracurricular benefit that a lottery is now required because the demand for the sixty available desks is so strong.

Something else has been going on at the Grace Living Center, though: medication levels there are plummeting. Many of the residents on the program have stopped or cut back on their drugs.

Why is this happening? Because the adult participants in the program have come back to life. Instead of whiling away their days waiting on the inevitable, they have a reason to get up in the morning and a renewed excitement about what the day might bring. Because they are reconnecting with their creative energies, they are literally living longer.

There's something else the children learn. Every now and then, the teachers have to tell them that one of their book buddies won't be coming any more; that this person has passed. So the children come to appreciate at a tender age that life has its rhythms and cycles, and that even the people they become close to are part of that cycle.

In a way, the Grace Living Center has restored an ancient, traditional relationship between the generations...

Wow, right?

Now I don't know that 'old coots', e.g. grandparents, reading to youngsters and spending time with them constitutes the restoration of an ANCIENT TRADITION. After all, it's only been a few decades since the welfare state and entitlements severed the generations.

And imagine that - one-on-one reading promotes literacy! Who knew?

The reduction in drug demand/supply however was a little more astonishing. But seriously, today kids need drugs (ADHD, etc.) in order to suffer through government it shouldn't be a shock that 'old coots' and 'old bags' sheltered from life (family, familiar places, youngsters, etc.) need medication to make it through their dreary days as well.

I enjoyed reading The Element because it was full of various interesting success stories: Paul McCartney, Julia Child, Ridley Scott, Vidal Sassoon, etc.

Although overall the book was a failure, tantamount to a long fly ball caught in centerfield.

Robinson is, at his core, a government education guy. While he nails a ton of arguments against today's school systems....he botches the prescription big time. In fact he doesn't prescribe much at all other than the *idea* that kids need to devote time and energy to their personal passions. But how are they possibly going to do that when burdened with 8 hours of school (including commute) and a few more hours of homework (THE proof that time in school is wasted!)?

He asserts that *the arts* should be promoted back to parity with math and verbal subjects. SNOOZzzzze.

Let me put it this way - in a 200+ page book on *education*....Ken Robinson didn't mention or even indirectly allude to *parents* or *family* A SINGLE TIME. Like I said, he's an institutional guy all the way. He actually makes his living advising governments on matters of education so don't expect him to stand up anytime soon and start singing the virtues of NON-GOVERNMENT schooling.

But a book doesn't have to be perfect, nor an author pure to be worth your time. If your library has it...

And give credit where it's due, his video was absolutely terrific.

Robinson DID NOT homeschool his kids. And this may sound chauvinistic but I just don't know that ANYONE, certainly I couldn't, can appreciate the full bounty of a parentally-directed education unless they themselves have walked down that path, and nurtured the minds of their own little ones. To this sub-population, homeschooling will forever remain at best a mere theory, a hypothesis even - and at worst it's a personal attack on their low, school-certified self-esteem.

1 comment:

Anne Galivan said...

One of many things that frustrate me about our society is the idea that the worst thing (or actually the two worst things) in the world are as follows:

1) Your kids move home back home with you after college.

2) You end up having to live with your grown children.

One of the reasons I stopped getting "Money" magazine was because of their constant harping on how you should plan for your retirement so that you don't have to *gasp* move in with your children.

As for kids moving back in after college - my kids never leave! You can save a ton of money by having your child get their college education while living at home, not to mention they aren't wasting money on the usual dissapations of college life.

My daughter didn't move out until she was 26 and that was under protest! I really hated her moving out but the drive to work every day was getting to be too much. She is renting a house and it's a great experience for her (and her values system is top-notch so I don't worry about that). Still I miss her. And so do her brothers who are very close to her because of home-schooling! It is so wonderful to see how close my kids are when kids who go to school seem to want to hang out with anyone but their siblings.

Multi-generational households used to be the norm. We have definitely lost a lot by segregating the various age groups. It really isn't surprising that it would result in various neuroses.