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From Barnes & NobleTake Charge of Your Child's Education
When you think back to high school, is your most salient memory the physics teacher who spent entire class periods humiliating students? Or maybe that history teacher who droned on and on about the feudal system in medieval Europe? If that sounds familiar, then you're probably already concerned about the effects of uninspired, misguided, or just plain lazy teaching on your own children. Could they be turned off from learning?
They could if you do not become your child's best teacher now, says Roger Schank, a computer scientist and founder of Northwestern University's Institute for the Learning Sciences. In his new book, Coloring Outside the Lines, Schank asserts that by emphasizing memorization and group learning, schools teach in the least effective way possible. Getting the best grades should not be the goal, he argues, as grades do not reflect innovation, drive, or even intelligence. "When the principal informs you that your bright child (who tested so well) isn't performing up to his capacity, you need to fight against everything you've been taught about underachievers and accept underperformance as the best reaction your child can have to boring, irrelevant classes," Schank writes.
With their arbitrary rules, he says, school officials "would say to the Wright Brothers, 'You can't leave the school grounds and find a cliff to fly off.' [They] would say to Edison, 'We have only two hours to spend on filaments; it's time to move on.' "
There are simple steps you can take to help your child develop intellectually outside of school, however. One of Schank's favorites is the one-parent-one-child excursion. Whether that means a week of camping a couple of hours from home or a longer journey to a foreign country, such a trip is invaluable -- both for the new experiences it brings and for the one-on-one communication it fosters.
Exposing your child to novel experiences in general -- an exotic cuisine, a search for information on the Internet, or an untested sport -- is one of the most important things parents can do for their children. Such experiences open up the possibility for what Schank calls "expectation failure," the occurrence of an unexpected outcome when trying something new. The child's struggle to understand that outcome helps build his verbal, inquisitive, and analytical skills -- among Schank's "six traits of smarter kids."
Parents can also have an enormous emotional impact on their children's approach to learning, Schank points out. By showing an interest in their unusual ideas and confidence in their ability to realize them, parents nourish creativity, gumption, and ambition -- the other three traits -- says Schank.
Schank criticizes the educational system on so many levels -- and without offering any solutions -- that it's hard to believe he could want to dedicate his life to improving the schools; there doesn't seem to be anything left to work with. But he does make some solid points. Professionals are increasingly rewarded for their communication skills, creativity, and innovation, for example. Schools should therefore shape their pedagogy into a more experimental and experiential model, Schank says, instead of constantly trying to boost standardized testing scores.
One of the most heartening aspects of Coloring Outside the Lines is its premise that parents can compensate for the shortcomings of our schools. What may be difficult for many is the amount of time this kind of interaction requires. To this lament, Schank's response is characteristically blunt: "As a parent, you have a unique relationship to your child, a bond of trust and intimacy that's difficult for others to duplicate. So if you really want to raise a smarter kid, make the time."