What to Teach Kids

It’s no secret that education in America is in a precarious place.  If you haven’t seen one of the schlew of documentaries that hit the big screens this year, perhaps you have a friend that’s done Teach for America, or another friend who is a teacher, and comes home absolutely perplexed every day. It’s no secret.  Things are not right.

When I left the public school classroom in 2012, I left still holding onto a host of unanswered questions. And they are questions that still haunt me today:

What should we really be teaching students so that they can be successful?  Why are kids in poverty so hard to teach?  What can be done for kids in the midst of traumatic situations at home?

Is real change even possible?

This weekend, Patrick and I listened to an episode of This American Life while on the way to Sparta, Tennessee to go camping.  The episode entitled “Back to School,” addressed so many of these questions — it actually brought me to tears.

The part that stood out to me the most was a segment that discussed why so many kids in poverty display symptoms of ADD or ADHD.  
Imagine if you suddenly came upon a bear in the woods. Your body would release hormones to combat that highly stressful situation, and to prepare you to fight or run for your life. The hormones will also  impair some of your logical functioning. I mean, to fight a bear, you can’t exactly be thinking straight.
And that’s the state of so many kids in public school, who experience highly traumatic events at home on a regular basis—maybe it’s violence, hunger, divorce, homelessness, or something else altogether.  The symptoms kids display when they are in the midst of this high stress often look similar to ADD or ADHD— an inability to sit still, clammy hands, or the loss of appetite. And all too often, doctors prescribe Ritalin rather than diagnosing the true problem.
If you are a teacher; if you are engaged in the education policy debate in any way; if you have kids that may go to public school someday; if you are an American concerned about the direction of our nation… You need to listen to this. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Author: Claire

Hi I'm Claire. I am a freelance writer, Vizlsa lover, and avid runner who lives in Nashville, TN. Nice to meet you.

6 thoughts

  1. Leigh – i think you're right on there being physical needs that need to be met before others can be. That's what made this podcast so interesting — because they talk about programs that are actually teaching parents how to connect with their kids. It's really cool! Listen when you're cooking dinner sometime.

  2. I am no expert. But I know that children, especially in the early ed years, have hearts that feed on physical touch, and a sense of importance and security. In plain words, they need to be LOVED. If the emotional needs of any human are not being met, or if they are being eroded day after day after day, they can not be expected to have a clear mind to learn. American Parents, for whatever reason, seem to be emotionally incapacitated to care for their growing babies. Tough teaching is not going to do anything for this situation. I am thinking that if these emotionally disabled children are not loved unconditionally, (the way they are supposed to be at HOME) then, they can not be expected to respond to a teacher. Maybe we need some emotional-providers in the classroom, to hug them, kiss them, tell them they are important. My heart breaks for the BABIES who are put into the system after 4-5 years at home and expected to have some teacher take care of all their needs. This is wrong, and I think the homeschooling movement is gaining ground because of this reason.

  3. Love this, Mr. Sherman. You are so right with #1, and I agree that all need to adopt a love of learning. It's a hard obstacle for teachers to instill that in students – while begin required to get students to master other "memorization" and prove proficiency on high-stakes tests. That's why I thought this radio show was so good. Talks about teaching kids "non-cognitive" skills– skills like hard work, go-get-it-ness, and self control.

  4. You ask, "What should we really be teaching students so that they can be successful? Why are kids in poverty so hard to teach?"1. Let's teach kids basics at an early age, and make sure they master those "basics." Basics include reading, writing, times tables. notetaking skills, listening, and a whole bunch more.2. Let's encourage all ethnic groups to adopt the love of learning and the demand for learning that was prevalent among early immigrants to this country. There is no secret that Jewish and Asian students succeed because they are instilled early with the notion that education is the pathway to success. This was also true for Italian and Irish immigrants early in this past century. 3. Let's stop the nonsense of feel good education, and begin with holding students back who have not mastered the basics. 4. Read Diana Ravitch's most recent book.5. Ain't nothin wrong with tough love and tough teaching. (Teachers are artists and performers. They need to capture student attention with creative and challenging lessons

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