Thursday, April 26, 2012

If it's harmful, get rid of it

Here is a guest post that was written by Lisa Cooley. She blogs here.

by Lisa Cooley

Let's think about those school practices that have actually been proven to be harmful to kids. Not big-picture issues this time; let's think of the littler stuff that is very big in the eyes of the kids who are subjected to it.

1. Homework. Get rid of it. Elementary grades: we should be giving none at all. Middle and high grades: only stuff that is supported by research. Don't make kids work a second shift. Do we really have any idea the happiness this would bring to so many kids? Instant good will on the part of children, with accompanying positive impact on learning.

2. Extrinsic motivation. Snuff it out. No more lollipops for "good behavior," no more rewards for conforming to adults' expectations. Again, check out the research. All negative. Dump it.

3. Early start times for adolescents. Do you need to see any more research? Our high schools are full of zombies half asleep, half awake, all miserable. Let them sleep. It won't kill us.

4. Ban on cell phones. If you can't hold their attention in competition with a cell, that's not their problem.

5. Ban on social media. Kids have the world at their fingertips...except in school. Figure out how to connect your classes to the world. Better still, let kids do it.

6. Stop making them wait to go to the bathroom when they have to go.

7. Stop the ban on food in the classroom. When kids are hungry, they should eat.

8. Let them play. Let them hang out. Let them socialize.

9. Better lunch food, with kids playing a role in researching and deciding on menus.

Easy peasy, right? Send me your ideas on ways to make kids happier in school, starting right now.


  1. The combination of #2 and #6 bothers me the most -- I've seen kids nearly trample each other trying to get to the bathroom when they return from school. They tell me they get 'bonus' points for never 'disrupting' class time to take bathroom breaks.

    1. Yes, that is a double-whammy. I'd like a minute alone with that teacher....

  2. This is wonderful.

    I am thinking about how we live in a frog in the pot culture. If a frog jumps in a pot of water and it is hot, he will jump out right away to avoid the pain. If the water is cool, he will stay inside. If the water then heats slowly over time, he will slowly boil to death without realizing it.

    The frog in the pot culture responds to emergencies in the present, without considering the larger context. Letting go of control now, is very hard for many people in this culture (especially large institutions like public schools) because the bigger picture is very hard for them to see.

    For example, if a student is allowed to have a cell phone-- a short sighted, frog in the pot culture will only be able to look a few feet in front of itself. It will only be able to see how this new freedom disrupts the current system... not how the whole system needs to be thrown out and recreated.

  3. Brazen Teacher, it's so funny you put it that way...I recently used the Frog in the Pot story with my school board, and successfully advocated for not cutting a music teacher. The argument was that they could rearrange schedules and make do and no actual music program time would be cut. I used the analogy to talk about how you can strain and strain the abilities of teachers until before you know it you have a dead frog.

    Joe, thanks so much for cross-posting this!

  4. I agree with you totally about homework. The research does not support it. Since I don't think it will ever get banned, I have another suggestion: make it policy that parents are in charge of their homes, teachers in charge of the classroom. With this policy, it will be understood that homework is given only with the approval of the parent. Parents have the final say about what will take place in their homes. I don't think it is the assigning that is as much of the problem as the excessive power to enforce that it gets done.

    1. No. That is a problem because if the teacher is doing something in his/her classroom that the parent does not approve of, the parent should not lose their right to determine what is best for their child. Parental rights must outweigh the rest.

      For instance...
      Some teachers harm children by not letting them use the restroom.
      Some children are harmed by standardized tests.

  5. Banning is one solution addressing the teacher's concern about the inappropriate use for eg of cell phones, eating in class, leaving the class etc. Ignoring teacher concerns and allowing kids to do what they want addresses only kids' concerns. Problems don't go away by banning them or ignoring them . Kids and teachers need to engage in collaborative problem solving and address both concerns. The post seem not to have any expectations of kids to be respectful and not use the phone inappropriately in class or eat during class, or the need to try and be mindful and attentive

    1. The system seems to expect kids to be respectful of adults without any regard for how adults should be respectful of kids.

      You're right, there has to be a dialogue between adults and kids in schools; right now it's a 1-way monologue. Even adults who support such a dialogue have the expectation that at the end of it, they will get what they want and kids won't.

      My ideas begin with respect for kids. That's the only place from which you can begin to talk about courtesy and mutual consideration.

      As for being mindful and attentive, I left out the biggest problem, only wanting to include those you could "change tomorrow." Kids will be mindful and attentive when they are doing work that matters to them.

  6. I have no idea what schools you are looking at in which kids are not respected. But respect does not mean letting them do whatever they want and some of your suggestions could very well create a less-than-respectful environment for all people - kids and adults.

    1. I have been in schools that incorporate Lisa Cooley's suggestions and it is an extremely respectful environment. I have been in those that do not and the opposite is true. In the schools that follow Lisa's suggestions the students feel highly respected. In the one's that don't, they do not.

      If you want to see what respect looks like in such an environment, perhaps you should start looking at schools that operate in such ways. Here is one that I recently visited. You should arrange a visit. You'll get a great sense of what it is Lisa Cooley is talking about here.

    2. Well, I have a feeling Joe Bower's classroom would be a good place to start, if you're looking for respect.

      We do have to broaden our definitions, because adults don't generally look at kids as people who deserve the same respect as they do.

      How do WE feel when we are disrespected? When we have our needs and wishes bulldozed by those more powerful than we are? Well, that's exactly how kids feel.

      It's important to try and look beyond the constraints of school, because the biggest necessity in the classroom is to have your teacher discover and honor your interests, expertise and passions, and you rarely find that in most public schools. You occasionally do find teachers who are able to engage kids; I'm saying kids'd be even happier if their work came from inside them.

      It's not a job kids are doing for pay; it's school, which is devoted to learning. It just doesn't make sense to create an atmosphere where kids' love of learning is subjugated to that which a teacher or school system regards as important.

  7. I have one you can add...
    Let students have a hand in choosing what they will learn. Students care more about things that they own. If we want students to truly buy into their education, they need to feel ownership over what they are learning.

    1. Well, that's actually #1 on my list, but I wanted to make a list of stuff we could conceivably change TOMORROW.

      I actually think we COULD make this change tomorrow. I'd like teachers to go to school as usual, kids get on their buses and go to their classrooms, and just learn what they want to, tomorrow.

      I doubt I'd get many school districts to implement that. Can you imagine the panic among administrators?

  8. I am very concerned about 2 above. I am also concerned about the fact that administrators (and soon teachers) will be partially evaluated on how students perform on these tests (After all, real-life application has to do with solving 60 math problems in 60 minutes). I try to appeal to intrinsic motivation by using technology and getting students to apply "standards" to real life. You can see the framework that I use at this blog- its awesome.

    1. I like the direction you're going, thanks for the link!

      I had a discussion about intrinsic v. extrinsic motivation with a friend just recently and I realize we define them very differently. I've also heard from adults that say they like to work for rewards (even other than a paycheck. An ice-cream-cone can cure a multitude of motivation problems I'm told).

      I've been pretty militant about getting rid of the lollipop for "good work" (at least let's give 'em something that doesn't rot kids' teeth, eh?) but I realize even those who generally agree with me part company somewhat on the issue, so I've been more open to considering SOME extrinsic motivation.

  9. Amen, and AMEN. Thank you so much for reaffirming my thoughts. As a parent, you sometimes wonder if your observations are biased because you love your kids so much and can be hyper-sensitive to the things they're experiencing. I've got 5 kids ranging from grade 4 through 11, and we just recently moved to Alberta from Saskatchewan, and the difference in philosophies and objectives has been staggering. The SK system is far from perfect, but my kids used to really enjoy going to school. Since coming here, everything seems to be geared toward testing (and who knows what else???). School has gone from an interesting, fun learning environment to something that is dreaded and draining.

    My youngest has really bad anxiety and stresses about homework and grades to the point that he gets sick - and he's only 9. He's a bright little boy, but even after speaking with his teacher several times, the homework still gets piled on. He's at a great neighbourhood school, but he shouldn't have to worry himself sick about his work - especially when he GETS it, you know?

    My oldest (gr.11) skipped 9th grade and has always been one of the top students, but since moving here, the focus and expectations are quite different and she's barely pulling a 75 in Social Studies even though she already covered half the course last year! She loves to learn, and especially enjoys history, but for the first time in her life she's incredibly discouraged and not enjoying being in class - and this kid is a teacher's dream come true! There is no way that her marks reflect her level of understanding, but there seems to be some unspoken expectation that she is not meeting. We have yet to determine what that might be, and the teacher has not been willing to share.

    I have to admit that I have to hide my disgust with the way things are here because my children have a long way to go in this school system and I don't want them to develop a bad attitude. It's hard enough keeping their spirits up when the system is slowly sucking the life out of them. I happen to have some great kids (I promise that I'm not just saying that because they're mine...) and it kills me to see what is happening, but as a parent, I feel very helpless. (Mind you, I am refusing the PATs for my 6th and 9th graders this year - it's the least I can do.)

    Anyways, sorry for the rant and thank you for your blog!


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