Childhood Is

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Childhood is fleeting.

The days rush by like subway trains as I stand at the station feeling the rush of air as another one departs.

The hundreds of thousands of inhales and exhales propel me through this life powerless as they grow up before my eyes.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhaleexhaleinhaleexhale…

Sometimes I have the wisdom to slow my breath and take in the moment that I have right now.

Right now with them as they are.

Not the babies they were and not the grown ups I hope they grow to be.

Who they are right now. Where we are right now. Feet in the sand, head turned to the blue expanse of sky.

I inhale their laughter, their sobs, their smell, their bodies in perpetual motion.

I exhale my worry, my doubt, my rush to think about what’s next.

For childhood is precious and meant to be savored one moment at a time.

 

 

Never Grow Up

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As they  wheeled my grandmother into surgery, over 15 years ago, she held my hand and squeezed it hard. She, an impossibly strong woman seeming impossibly small, looked up at me and said quite frankly, “Don’t get old. Do you hear me? Just don’t do it.”  There was no sadness to it or rationality even. There was nothing to do but nod and watch her disappear behind the enormous, cold metal doors.

There is nothing more human than mortality. We will die. Those we love will die. It is a knowledge that resides in our bones as we move through our days. Growing up is progress, but it is also a reminder that our days here are numbered. Yet, somehow there is comfort in knowing that all us humans are in it together, riding the ups and downs of life until the ride jerks to an end and we have to get off.

I hear the words of the older and wiser in my life.

” Time flies.”

Yes I know.

“Before you know it they will be in college.”

Yes I know.

“How did I get this old?”

I don’t know.  (Will I blink and be that old too?)

But no matter how hard it is to deal with the reality of today, there is no use holding on to the past with white-knuckled passion.

Might as well open my hands to receive all that these precious moments of childhood have to give.

 

 

 

Children Will Learn What We Teach Them

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“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

-Albert Einstein

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-Maya Angelou

I know, without a doubt, that years after being in my class that my students don’t remember the themes of the novels I so diligently taught. They don’t remember the exact words of the comments I wrote obsessively in purple pen all over their essays. But I know they remember feeling like my class was more than just reading and writing some words.

Standards.

Objectives.

Assessments

Data.

Evaluations.

Education in this country has become obsessed with trying to quantify learning. But learning is not an a+b=c kind of endeavor. The answer is not a formula to be derived.

The PARCC test has been heralded as being able to determine if a child is on the track to career and college readiness in as early as the third grade. This test, though abandoned by many states, is driving education in the state of NJ and a few other states late to the discovery that it is actually a poorly designed assessment.

Elementary curriculum continues to be narrowed (since NCLB) to focus solely on reading and math. Math is being narrowed to focus on one methodology of teaching (whether it is right or wrong is not the point). Reading is being narrowed by a focus on informational texts (despite cuts to time spent on history and science) and by an obsession with technology (to simulate the test, students are assigned keyboarding practice and shown video clips daily in lieu of being read to by their teachers).

These shifts may seem minor to the untrained eye, or even a sign of the times where the digital age now rules. But, this cannot be further from the truth.

If all we teach our children in school is to do math a specific way, read certain types of texts and answer certain types of questions, and a handful of technology “skills” like drag and drop, scroll and how to type quickly, then that is what our children will learn. If we drill these things hard enough and long enough, then test them on it….they will pass with flying colors. The problem is that we will be patting ourselves on the back with the same hand that has robbed a generation of a true education.

Training is not education.

Education is imitation borne of admiration.

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Education is exploration.

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Kids doing archaeology in the backyard to find buried objects.

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Kids exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art after learning about Ancient Egypt.

Education is experience and explanation.

Kids learning about irrigation from a friend who is a farmer.

Kids learning about irrigation from a friend who is a farmer.

Learning about evolution from his Daddy.

Learning about evolution from his Daddy, who is a physician.

Education is hands-on and often messy.

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Education is best shared with a smile.

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When we teach children, we are teaching much more than how to read or write or compute.

We are teaching them how to think, to live, and to love…

Or else we are teaching them not to.

The Magic of Childhood

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Discovery

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Cooperation

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Safety

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Wonder

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Adventure

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Imagination

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Love

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Sadness

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These are just some of the ingredients that make up the incredible magic of childhood. This magic is something to be revered and respected, like the power of an ancient sorcerer. It is a recipe that mere mortals cannot follow like a recipe from Pinterest. It is more than measurements and arithmetic. It has a life of its own.

When this magic is free, it is like nothing else on earth, boundless in what it can give. Far too much time is spent trying to contain it, train it, and mold it into what we adults want it to be, or think it should be.

But no, childhood is not a composite of please and thank yous and inside voices and pushed in chairs and sharing and good report cards and goals scored and homework completed and vegetables eaten before dessert is even considered.

Childhood is not a series of milestones completed and tracked on some sort of unwritten scorecard judging parents and teachers alike.

No, childhood is magic.

Period.

And we should learn to let it be and watch it color our world with joy.

The Importance of Being “SOOPR MOM”

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The more involved I get in education reform, the deeper I get into politics and the further I see schools getting away from the best interests of children.

My son, who is in kindergarten, made this for me the other day in school. In fact nearly everyday, he comes home and pulls out a small squarish folded up piece of paper with a picture for me. It usually says, “SIMONMOM,” but he is coming along with his writing abilities. It shows how even at school, in the middle of all of the hustle and bustle, he is thinking about me.

I guess this is a perfect metaphor for why I have been relentless in fighting back against the PARCC and against people in positions of power that have clearly forgotten what it is like to be a parent of a young child. Truly education reform and the people driving it have lost touch with the wonder of childhood.

The children, for the most part, have no idea that the adults are fighting around them (except maybe those fortunate few whose parents have turned this fight into a civics lesson for them). They have no idea that when they enter their name into a computer that some company is collecting data about them that one day will turn into a profit.They have no idea that the test their teachers are proctoring was not made by those teachers, will not be graded by those teachers, and are in many cases not supported by those teachers. The very same teachers who are with them day in and day out taking care of them academically, socially, emotionally and more. They have no idea that their parents and grandparents did not have the pressures in school that are now the norm today. They have no idea that there may very well be a better way to learn.

Why?

Because they trust us.

The other day I watched my 5 year-old son run ahead of me and into the street. Thankfully no cars were coming, but I still pulled him aside and explained how dangerous it was to run out like that without looking both ways at least. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Well I knew you were watching, so I didn’t have to look.”  But what if I wasn’t watching and luck wasn’t in our favor?

The state of education today is a direct result of parents not watching. The more I watch the more I notice how so many others are not. It is not that parents don’t care, because I believe that the vast majority of parents want nothing but the best for their children. Yet, caring is not the same as watching and holding administrators, board members, city council members, local, state, and national politicians accountable. The Open Public Records Act is a powerful law, but only if people use it. Public hearings are pointless if the public is not informed. Politicians and other leaders will not listen if they know that no one is watching.

Every time I read an article about the PARCC test failing I think about how it NEVER should have been implemented across the entire state in the first year. The amount of money spent on this test is truly revolting as a recent article estimated that NJ will spend 22.1 million dollars on the PARCC test just this year. This doesn’t count the technology and training expenses that happened prior to the start of this test.

There will be no winners. Even if the anti-PARCC movement succeeds (as I believe that it will), there are still many people who will walk away from it with fatter pockets. Though in my heart of hearts I want to demand that the companies hand as much of that money as possible back to our schools and for those politicians who refused to listen to the criticisms of the public who elects them to lose their jobs, I will be satisfied if parents learn one lesson.

We need to be the superheroes our children trust us to be. We must constantly remain vigilant about what we allow to occur in education. For when we do not watch for villains, our children suffer. The PARCC is just one episode of an ongoing saga of good against evil playing out in our public schools.