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Pinky Promises

by Paolo Martin 

When I was at the natural history museum in Washington D.C. a few years ago, I saw a man who was transfixed by the preserved remains of the largest invertebrate in the world--the giant squid--wondering about the specimen's authenticity.  Really, it was humongous -- over twenty feet long.  His son kicked the bubble gum wrapper next to his shoes and wrung his baseball cap with both hands, muttering, "Uh, Dad, it's only a giant squid...."

As I read news in education today, I come across many stories about what our kids can't do, or how our kids aren't measuring up to our expectations.  Take these headlines for example: "Johns Hopkins study says Evergreen High School is 'dropout factory'"; "Grad standards could be made stricter in future"; "Four low scorers still at bottom"; and "Provincial government fails learning-disabled kids."  As a teacher, I understand the need to make sure that kids learn about and experience the world and the people around them so that they can really make it on their own one day.  On the other hand, I wonder how much of what we want them to know and be interested in is more of a reflection of what we're interested in.  In the process of trying to get kids to learn about, let alone like what we're interested in, I wonder how much we miss out on the things which really catch their attention and the insights they might have to offer the people around them, including their teachers and parents! 

A recent study by researchers at Vanderbilt University and Harvard University showed that adults gloss over details that babies notice - that humans start off thinking about the world around them before they can speak.  The article, entitled "Adults Can Learn from Children:  They Think Before Speaking Scientists Find," gives me food for thought about the place children have in my life, especially as Thanksgiving approaches and I think about the blessings of life and the many things that children can offer adults.  One parent I talked to said, "My five-year-old daughter absolutely keeps me honest.  She remembers things I say and throws them back at me."  My friend's daughter took my hand the other week, pulled me down to look me in the eye, and said, "I'm going to play with Emily [a 10-year-old friend] right now, but I'll play with you later," after which she proceeded to put her pinky around my little finger and say, "Pinky promise. O.K?"  I don't think I'm as intuitive about other people's needs as she is, but I promise, pinky style, to work at it!  How about you?  In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, forget for a moment about tests, NCLB, and what our kids can't do; instead, think about what your kids are capable of doing, what they're really thinking about the things we throw at them, and the various blessings they offer you.  Then, make a promise, pinky style, to do something about it!  O.K.?

Tags: instruction attitudes, teaching strategies, student attitude, education attitudes

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