The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Truth) about American Schools.

And why aren’t we listening to one of the smartest men in history?

Einstein and Education.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

That’s what he said, this Albert Einstein. And he said it a long time ago. So if our obsession as parents is to make our kids smarter, why aren’t we listening to this sage? This beacon of mathematical and scientific innovation? Why are we still languishing in this bell-ridden desk line up that favors tests and homework over creative thought?

Administrators and political leaders (?) fear only one thing more than sexting scandals and that is the loud, tenacious roar of parental intervention. But we parents are busy. We’ve got meals. And that mortgage. And the Halloween costume and that argument with our spouse and…

And how about we hate our job and we don’t feel good about ourselves and man, we can’t take on one more fight. Also, school is school we say. And we survived.

Did we survive? We’re more depressed, angry and stressed than any generation in history. And while researchers can pin these attributes on a lot of things, there is still a pretty good way to combat them: a love of learning.

Let’s fill our arsenals. Let’s give ourselves tools. Let’s make this easy. Because when all we have to do is communicate these 5 points listed below, I think we have a pretty good shot. Try approaching your next school board even though you’re dead tired from working all day and let them try to argue with the following (tip: they can’t):

#1. Tests Kill Learning.

If Einstein knew this, we sure as hell should. What happens when you are tested for something? You sweat it. You don’t enjoy it. You aren’t glad you learned it. You are just trying to get through it.

And how about that fact that children don’t even use memorization as a tool until they’re 10 years old? They use a whole bunch of other skills that have long since been beaten out of us: like muscle memory, sensory firing, gut reaction, recognition and sheer interest. And after 10 by the way, only 14% of older kids and adults actually learn effectively through memorizing. Testing is controlled by a company called Pearson. Look them up. They are the Monsanto seeds of the business of education. And there is no need for them to be in our lives or in our schools.

Testing is also completely irrelevant unless it is sporadically used as a wide measuring device. Taste-makers, scientists, most of our innovative business community today will tell you that knowledge is something you can acquire in a library or on a device. Creativity and imagination, however, are always in short supply. And both those things are what will always separate any doctor, lawyer, writer, heck, janitor, from the pack.

#2. The More Time our Kids Spend Inside, the Worse it is For Them.

This is an easy one. Suppose you wanted your child to learn these fundamental things: math, disappointment, weather, patience, measuring, determination and biology.

How long would it take a teacher to plan and execute a lesson on all of these things. Weeks? Months? You could go years and never get through to a child on the topic of patience.

Dr. Maria Montessori — the true birth mother (Italy’s first female physician and PhD in Education) of all our advances in how a human learns — figured this out about 100 years ago.

You plant a garden.

A garden teaches all the above in the span of a season. And it also provides invaluable information on food sources as well as a food supply. How many hours would a teacher spend explaining the roots of a plant, drawing them out, having children memorize them when in a fifth of day you could see it all live in a small patch of earth.

A garden also contributes one of the most fundamental things American children lack: time outside. Moving and learning are the same thing in children! This is not conjecture. This is science. And if you don’t believe me, why don’t your children ever sit still?

This is why Dr. Montessori always had children going back and forth in classrooms to shelves, why she used a movable alphabet to teach letters and words, why she used bead chains to teach math. Their fingers, their feet, their senses all need to be moving to learn.

It’s why in Reggio Emilia, long considered the best school district in the world, children spend 3 out of every 6 hours of their school day OUTSIDE. In all kinds of weather. They count outside, they read outside, they discover outside. And guess what? When they get inside, they are calm, collected, refreshed.

#3. Homework is Unnecessary at Best.

How many hours a day do we get to spend with our children? If both parents work, it’s not enough. We are their role models. Their base. The people they care most about in world.

Montessori believed that any time taken away from the home life of children was a disturbing loss of vital parental bonding. And she is right.

There isn’t one study. Zero. Zilch. I mean, not one, that points to homework having value. It is an old, outdated mechanism for cramming more knowledge (and it doesn’t work) and less imagination into the brains of our kids. Children never say, “Awesome. Homework!” But they do say “Awesome, look at that spider outside, can we catch him and look up what he is and what he eats?”

We act as if the pencil and the slice of paper is the crown jewel of learning, when really it’s a bird dropping on the windshield of learning. A nuisance. Kids are fascinated by bird droppings on glass for about one day and then it’s all down hill from there.

Homework is another chore. It has nothing to do with learning. And certainly has nothing to do with imagination. One teacher I know did give homework and here it was: Go for a walk with your parents. Come back tomorrow and tell me what you saw and what you talked about. Bravo.

#4. Kids are Smarter than Us. By a Mile. But Much More Fragile.

We may be more cerebral, but that doesn’t mean we’re smarter. And here’s the ugly part about American schools. We talk down to kids. We shame them. We disregard them. And we ignore them. How long of that kind of treatment would it take for you to feel really bad about yourself? And times that by a 100 because the sensitivity of children is 10 fold.

Why do they have to announce that they are going to the bathroom in front of the class? Why are toilet seats and soap too high to reach? Why do we correct children in front of the class instead of privately? Why do we give them bad toilet paper, bad food and shove them into lines all day? Why do we tell them to be quiet (shout it hypocritically) instead of explaining why quiet is important? Why do we punish instead of instruct? What are we so angry about?!?

A little boy (5) came over for a playdate and the hosting mother was making brown rice, shaved brussels sprouts and peas as a side dish. The boy’s mother remarked that her son would not eat the side, so he was given just a little. The hosting mom, while sitting at the dinner table asked the little boy to feel his muscles. “Now eat that (the rice mix) and feel them after… you won’t believe it!” she said. And sure enough, he ate everything on his plate.

We don’t talk and explain to children, we bark. How long would you listen to a barker?

And finally…

#5. Back to the Imagination.

Children have in abundance what we lose over time. Energy, silliness, enthusiasm and yes, imagination. Imagination is everything.

Ask any person of note, not just Einstein. But Einstein is an interesting case, because for years we’ve wanted our kids to become him. And we’ve done everything but give them that opportunity. For the rest of our lives, we will hold a pencil or pen in our hands (we get more cerebral with age), but how long do we have to dance without care, revel in hose water for hours, dig, explore, reason, discover without baggage, create.

The great people of the world, say “I can do that better” not “Do I have to do that?” School is half of every child’s waking day. Should we be squandering it? Or should we be seeking out innovative public schools, legitimate Montessori schools or school boards that need to be reformed and presenting them with this very short (reasonable) list of requests.

The above is scientifically sound and you’ll find supporting data with even a cursory search on Google. But more than that, it’s profoundly logical.

“Make learning interesting and you’ve solved the problem of education” Dr. Montessori said in her famous 1913 speech at Carnegie Hall. Now after 100 years of scientific proof that her methods work (and those of countless others who foster creativity and imagination) are we (parents) finally ready to do something?

Author’s Note: If you’re searching for the “Good” about American schools referenced in the title, it’s the quality teachers that are in abundance, who understand the above and who wish you’d speak up.

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