Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I recently finished reading an interesting book titled “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” by Paul Tough.  The author claims that US society tends to focus on the cognitive preparation of children and their academic success in school.  He attributes this focus to a 1994 Carnegie Report which asserts that children of single parents and working mothers do not receive enough cognitive stimulation between the ages of 1-3.  However, Tough then cites different experts in economics, education, and psychology who believe that other factors are more important.  These factors include grit, curiosity, persistence, self-control, conscientiousness, and self-confidence.  To demonstrate the importance of these factors, Tough discusses a study of baby rats by the neuroscientist Michael Meaney (baby rats share similarities with humans).  In this study, baby rats experienced trauma just by being handled by humans.  However, mother rats (biological or not), subsequently provided comfort by licking them. The baby rats who received the most licking coped better than the other baby rats over the trauma of the human touch.  Research on humans found that children who received the most attention and responsiveness from their mothers dealt better with the stress of living in a difficult physical environment and family situation.  Tough then shares the story of a female high school student named “Kewauna” who was living a dangerous life.  Her mother and grandmother intervened.  Her mother said that she did not want Kewauna to become like her (no career, teenage mother, no college). Somehow, this talk reached Kewauna and she’s now on track to attend college.  Though Tough cannot explain why some kids make it while others living in similar circumstances do not (why Kewauna and yet not others), he does provide valuable suggestions backed by research for helping students shift from a negative to a positive path in both school and their lives.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Periodically I have the opportunity to watch the WYCC Chicago TV show “The Professors”.  As suggested by the title, this show has a panel of professors, led by a moderator, who discuss a different educational topic for each episode.  Recently, they debated whether cursive writing should still be taught in schools.  I learned cursive writing in 2nd grade and still use it to this day but I also use a computer a fair amount of the time, both personally and professionally.  Since I use both, where do I stand?  My answer lies in the action I took in preparing this blog entry:  I immediately reached for a pen and paper instead of my laptop.  I use pen and paper when I am just beginning to think about a topic; when I am stuck in my thinking; when I want to slow down my thinking; and when I am writing personal reflections.  Even for academic writing, if a thought flashes across my mind I do not want to wait till my laptop boots up or type a note in my Evernote app but rather just grab pen and paper because it’s always close by.  There is nothing like using a pen (or pencil) to write out your own words and seeing the ink form your words on the paper right in front of you.  To me, it feels more personal than using your fingers to strike keys on a keyboard so that characters appear on the screen in front of you.  I recognize that computers save a tremendous amount of time (both for the writer and reader) and admit that they have helped me better organize my writing.  In the end, I view computers and pen / paper as writing tools and which one to use depends on the type of writing undertaken by the writer.