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View Diary: My Experience with an Alternative Charter School (137 comments)

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  •  Test scores (0+ / 0-)

    A lot of people hate test scores.  I just look at the test scores as challenges which are not much different from the work milestones that we have to do as adults.

    What do those strict public school style program teach ?

    1) Discipline : Number one criteria for success in life:  "Do your homework, damn it.".  Whether you're about to make a presentation at a corporate board room or participate in a raid to kill Bin Laden, just do the freaking homework.  Stumbling around and expecting that somebody can do something to make you better prepared won't work.

    Unless your kid is a child prodigy and can figure out what he/she needs to learn at the age of 8, it's better just to have some educator-generated targets for learning and teach them the discipline needed to achieving those targets.  I don't believe those targets are too hard,

    2) Problem solving: Those tasks and homework represent problems.   The right approach when facing problem is "OK.  How am I going to solve this ?  What's the best way ?".  The wrong approach is "I don't like this.  I only work on the ones I like."
    In fact, this represents real life better than the "I only do what I'm interested in".  In real life, problems are tossed into your laps, no matter whether you like them or not and it's up to you to resolve them to succeed.  It's not like watching TV when you can just pick the channel you like.

    Regardless of the teaching curriculum (unless its' too obnoxious and borderline on brainwashing like some religious teaching), just learning discipline and developing a problem-solving attitude is worth it already.  Schools cannot prepare you for everything.  Whatever else you need to know about later in life, just grab a book and read about it.

    There was an article from the San Jose Mercury News yesterday about a push to have more charter schools in San Jose.  One of the advocates of the "alternative" teaching blamed the public school system for the fact that she only had a 7th grade reading level when she graduated from high school.   Reading ?   I might have some sympathy if she complained about harder subjects like Math or Science but reading ?   For Christ's sake, anybody can grab a book and read, even if he/she needs a dictionary next to them.   I read the "Lord of the tings" trilogy in one day while lying in bed next to a dictionary.

    She doesn't like reading ?  That's the problem.  It's an attitude problem, not an educational problem.

    •  So the question is what motivates humans to grow? (1+ / 0-)
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      External mandates or internal drives?  There are certainly people out there motivated by more of one than the other.

      My son has always been completely internally motivated.  One traditional approach would be to try and "break him" and "teach him to respect authority".  To a degree we tried that for a while.  I left him crying on the curb every morning in front of his middle school.  But finally his mom and I finally learned enough to understand that he was a classic "auto-didact" and needed to chart his own course.  We let him, and he has developed into a very successful, well-spoken, and well thought of 25 year old person, who continues to be completely self-motivated and has developed the self-discipline to go with it.

      Our daughter started out exhibiting much more of of the characteristics of a "trained seal", eager to please her teachers and the other adults in her life and be acknowledged with grades and other external accolades.  She threw herself into her first year of conventional high school (with 4000 other kids) and was turned off by the whole experience and decided to join her brother in directing her own education.  She, now 21, is successful as well, poised and well-spoken, with a "day job" managing a small restaurant and pursuing being a science-fiction writer in her own time.

      Your points are good ones to be made and need a much more involved discussion.  Would love to have a few beers with you and hash it through!

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 11:21:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  External vs Internal (0+ / 0-)

        When I said Discipline I really meant Self Discipline.  It's the realization that when you have a task that has to be done you will drive yourself to do it well.  It's the basis for hard work since nobody likes to work hard, some just have more discipline to work harder than others.

        So, homework is an external factor but unless you live in total isolation, everything else you face in life is external factor and you handle that challenge with your internal attitude.

        I have always liked this quote from Charles Swindoll:

        The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

        Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.

        The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

        And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.

        So what I mentioned was not about external discipline or punishment/reward system but a development of a hard-working, problem-solving, can-do attitude.  

        My oldest daughter will be attending UCI this fall.  She's also accepted at the more prestigious NYU but we can't afford the 60+K/year tuition and boarding.  We can hardly afford UCI already.  She still wants to go to NYU to study law later.
        That's another thing about cultures and HS graduation rates which are used as a measurement of success for schools and, from that flimsy association, the hypothesis that charter schools will make it better.
        About culture and environment, among my immediate family (4 brothers), all the kids take college graduation as a sure thing and all those who are old enough have graduated.  Dropping out of HS is just unthinkable, the kids probably never think about that.
        But then you are just as happy your kids decided to drop out and go in to a work life early instead.  If you consider graduation rate as a measurement of success for schools, does it mean you wish the schools could have made your kids stay in schools ?  If not, and you really think that your kids are doing fine, then the success of your kids should not be considered a failure of the school system, right ?  Your kids could make the decision very early and they even made the right decisions also, so somewhere along the way they did learn the art of decision making, right ?
        My brother was a teacher for almost 40years until he retired last year.  He told me about one student who got an F grade from him.  His mother came to contest the grade and demanded a D grade so he could move on to the next grade level.  He told her would give that student a D grade on two conditions: 1) He must come to class on time for the remainder of the year and 2) If he did not understand anything just asked and my brother would stay after class to explain it to him.  He was on time after that for about 3 days.   His mother did not contest about the F grade any more afterwards.
        So , how can you teach those students, especially when there are 30+ students per class these days ?  You mentioned punishment from the school.  AFAIK, there's nothing a teacher can do to a student who doesn't care about studying in the first place to get him/her to study.  There is detention for unruly behaviors so OTHER students might have a chance to study in peace but that's about it.  Studying is entirely self-driven.  The teachers set the curriculum and help in explaining the concept to a roomful of kids.   Some people expect teachers to be entertainers as well.  It's probably better if they are entertaining and teaching at the same time but entertainment shouldn't be the requirement for teaching.
        Anyway, it would be nice to have a beer with you.  I'm not really a talkative person though.

        •  Thanks for the stories... real world anecdotes... (0+ / 0-)

          always bring the ideas home more!

          Interesting that you would say "attitude is more important than knowledge" and I might say "imagination is more important than knowledge".  Don't know how far apart that really sets us.  

          But your anecdote about getting the kid (or basically the kid's mother) to get their F upgraded to a D sounds like an exercise in control and coercion from my paradigm.  

          Candidly, I don't believe in grades myself, I see them as undue ranking of human beings.  Education should not be about comparing yourself to others but instead your own unique development.  Evaluation in that paradigm could be a checklist of skills you have either mastered, still working on, or not started with.

          But like you I come from a culture of highly educated people where everyone was expected to go to college.  My mom had a BS sociology and my dad a PHD in English.  I have two college degrees myself and my partner Sally has four!  So it was a very difficult and uncomfortable decision to let our kids stop going to school, we got a lot of flak from family and friends. See my pieces on my kids "unschooling" @

          Looking back, their mom and I and both of them think it was the right road for them.  Not the right road for everyone, but it was for them.  As my mom always said, her parenting mantra was, "Bright kids will tell you what they need!"

          My anecdote about my son being "punished" by homework goes like this.  Middle school science class. Eric listens and participates in class, though he refuses to do any of the homework (since he considers that his own time) but gets As on the weekly quizzes and monthly tests.  Most kids in the class fail the tests.  Teacher is concerned that majority of class will fail, so he re-jiggers the grading so that homework is 50% of the grade, so that the failing kids can bump up there grades to passing by diligently doing their homework.  Eric still refuses to do homework, says he knows the material from participating in class.  Goes from an A to barely passing the class.

          Lastly, want you to know that I appreciate the dialog with you!  I feel like somewhere in all this there is some significant common ground, but these dueling comments are probably not the venue to find it!

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 03:49:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Punishment (0+ / 0-)

            I see what you meant by punishment now.  Well, it sounds like you have a very bright kid who was stuck in a poorly-performing neighborhood (and public schools) and suffered the unchallenging curriculum.  Homework isn't that punishing if you know how to do it though, maybe it takes about half and hour a day, four days a week ?  

            But, in your case, if the whole study plan was too easy for your son in the first place then maybe it's a waste of time.  But extending that to everything else is like applying a Willie Horton logic.  In general, those with college degrees tend to do better than those without and those with HS diplomas do better then those who drop out.  The formula might not work for everybody (nothing does) but in generally it's still a statistically correct formula.

            I don't think my idea on attitude and your idea on innovation is not that much different.  Before you can have innovation, it's better to have some knowledge (without knowledge, innovation might just be a kind of "fools rush in where angels fear to tread") and a can-do attitude to think of solving problems in ways nobody else had thought of before.  I hold two US patents myself.  When I was in post graduate school in Math, the professor told us about a problem in the text book he didn't find any students in his teaching career who could solve it.  I took his story as a personal challenge (it was not homework since he didn't believe anybody could solve that problem), and found a way to solve it in a week.  I was picked as the department's outstanding graduate student and had my photo on the wall while the rest of the class jokingly blamed me afterwards since that same problem was in the final exam and none of them could repeat what I had already explained.

            I believe public schools were changed this year to tailor the homework/study plans to fit the individual students rather than having a single course.  That's why my daughter could learn Algebra, Statistics, Geometry, etc, while in fourth grade.   When I told my brother that my daughter had a GE of 9.4 he was surprised and thought it would be impossible since that would mean she had already learned Algebra.  I told him my daughter had already learned Algebra.   He still doesn't know she has GE of 12.9 now.  I will tell him tomorrow :).  When he was still teaching, it was one lesson plan for the whole class.

            Anyway, if this change had come sooner, your son would  probably have been happier with the school work since it would be challenging enough and not just a pure waste of time.  The GATE program had always been available, right ?

            I appreciate your time.  I also think we have more in common than the conversation sounds like.  However, it would be no fun to talk about the points we agree already :).

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