Archive for January, 2010
My sweet friend Vanessa sent me this trailer — for a movie following babies’ first year of life in different countries across the globe — looks fabulous! Can you imagine the perspective American parents (me included!) could get from seeing these differences? And the similarities as well. What a fabulous concept. I’m already in love with the babies, and especially love the last scene where the goat drinks the baby’s bath water.
This is also in honor of my baby, who turns one year old tomorrow!! Happy birthday, little dude.
We’re all concerned about Haiti right now, rallying to send what we can to help them recover from the natural disaster that has befallen them. As I listen to all the news talk of the intense poverty there, though, I must ask the question — why wasn’t this poverty on our national priority list before this disaster? I keep thinking about how the media works, and how our country’s popular agenda has not included this nation’s need for assistance and infrastructure before it became an apocalyptic situation there. And this goes for so many countries in the world. We live most days without any thought to the fact that the state of so many of the world’s citizens is grossly impoverished compared to that of most Americans.
In thinking about schooling my children, one of my goals is to be sure that they are educated as global citizens — aware of other cultures, of inequities, of differences and similarities of their lives and the lives of other children around the world — and to not keep them in the bubble of our suburban existence. We are pretty sure we are going to homeschool for the early years, for medical reasons but also for the great opportunity we have as teachers to educate our own children with the values and critical thinking we believe it will take to make a difference in this world of the future we are all facing. Assuming we jump with this plan next year, we are planning to use The Global Village School as our curriculum, consultants and school of record, and we are thrilled at the idea of working with an organization with similar goals as ours in educating the new generation of world citizens.
I’ve been doing some reading to prepare for all of this, and I came across a quote, quoted in the book Growing up Global: Raising Children To Be At Home in the World by Homa Sabet Tavangar that speaks to all of this, and stopped me in my tracks:
But as we wonder why the Iraqis react this way, and the French that way, and the Russians help the Iranians, and the Germans blithely lecture the United States on moral points only decades after incinerating millions, a common explanation coalesces. We don’t know enough about other countries. We don’t follow the rest of the world enough. Our newspapers and TV stations don’t tell us enough. And we don’t care enough.
What will it take to help the next generation become better global citizens than most of us are now? I’m trying to learn the answer to this question. I’m seeking resources, like the aforementioned book and the Global Village School, that can help me and my kids dig for information that will help us understand and constantly consider other cultures, other faiths, other realities, and not just our own. And, while traveling abroad would of course be one great way to learn about the world, if that is not an option there are so many other ways to think globally from wherever we live. Success for me as a homeschooling parent must include children who think with a global perspective, and who think beyond the surface of what flashes on the nightly news.
Each image of Haiti serves for me not just as a reminder of how precious each moment is, and how things beyond our control can occur in an instant to change everything — but also as a reminder that there are things we can control before a disaster strikes, and that we have much to learn about how others live so we can even out the scales on our globe a bit more in years to come. The disaster in Haiti is more than the earthquakes. It’s a disaster of global inequality. And we have the power to make a difference beyond earthquake relief, before earthquake relief, too. Let’s think about it.
Our Parenting on Track teacher Vicki Hoefle recently used the term “praise junkies” in one of our DVD classes. I keep thinking about this concept, not just in terms of parenting but in terms of we grown-ups and our culture at large.
How would I define a “praise junkie”? A child who needs to be constantly told she is doing a good job, or who needs continual feedback and acknowledgment on every thing he is doing, yes. But also an adult who needs constant validation, be it verbal stroking or grades or awards or media attention or promotions or titles or what have you.
For me, I think I grew up as a “grades junkie” — I’ve blogged about this before, how I remember as early as first grade crying when I did not get 100% on a worksheet. Somehow I equated good grades with validation of my worth (though my parents did not push this, that I recall). This continued all the way through graduate school, and the desire to get a doctorate, in some respects (I can admit now) to prove to myself and others that I was actually smart and capable. Thankfully I realized that no external validation, even “the highest degree” in academia, would give me that — that belief had to come from within myself — and I consider myself much happier and more confident now that I am out of that never-ending cycle.
The classic overachiever is often defined as a student with stellar grades, lots of leadership activities, but average standardized test scores. In other words, someone working very hard to show her talents though not necessarily inherently brilliant. I’d say that was me. In fact, when I was conjuring this blog I almost called it “Overachievers Anonymous” and had crafted a kind of 12-step recovery program for the likes of me and all those grad student/overachiever-types I knew and knew existed out there.
I ended up with the broader “Having Enough” theme, but the gist of this blog is still about striving to find ways to be motivated from within — deep within — and satisfied with things with true meaning, the internals rather than the externals. And praise, in all of its forms, is intimately linked to these ideas I’ve been playing with here for two years now.
Early in parenthood, I read Alfie Kohn’s comprehensive study of and argument against praise (including rewards & punishment), and Po Bronson’s article on “the inverse power of praise,” as well as the intro to Elisa Medhus’ book, Raising Children Who Think For Themselves (all of these are listed in my Resources section). I saw the light. I understood that it is so much more valuable for a child’s self-esteem to learn to be internally motivated rather than externally motivated. And, I’d argue, that goes for us grown-ups, too. I vowed to work toward this internal motivation for my kids and myself, and I am still trying each day.
As I am poised to embark on homeschooling, one of the parts that excites me most is the opportunity to help our children discover the joy of learning for learning’s sake — not just to score an “A.” Along the way, I am hoping to re-learn all kinds of content I have forgotten from school, because I was cramming it in to ace a test rather than really diving into it for the joy of learning it. I see now how my cycle that began in first grade and began to end when I left grad school actually perpetuated itself — I learned less by focusing on external validation, and then I felt less smart so I craved more external validation.
Taking this down to the level of parenting small children, in practicing for our class we are seeing how easily the praise comes, and comes to be relied upon, even when we think we are aware. “Good job!” turns into, “What do you think of this, Mommy? Do you like my drawing, Daddy?” As Vicki would say, who cares what we think, what does the child think?! Her recommendation is to question rather than comment on our kids’ work and efforts — instead of telling them our opinion of what they are doing, ask them what they are thinking about, learning, how they would do it differently, how they chose to do it as they did, etc. In our program it is called replacing praise with encouragement, a much more effective way to truly connect with our kids and build their self-esteem.
We are working on this in our house, and it’s not always so easy. We’re cracking ourselves up as we say to our daughter, “Love that painting, honey! Er…. How did you choose those colors?” Even after all my reading, the praise junkie in me was quietly reproducing itself in her. It’s an insidious habit. Our goal is to get to the point where it feels totally natural to question first, to listen to our kids first, rather than to tell, tell, tell. We’re getting there.
Admitting I am a “praise junkie” is embarrassing, but worse would be to not admit it and to repeat the cycle with my children. So much of the entitlement and lack of self-sufficiency often complained about with today’s teens and undergrads (which I saw every day when working at the university career center) stems from a broad, well-meaning but misguided cultural belief that constant praise would raise children’s self-esteem and send them into the world more capable and confident in their abilities. In fact, it is looking like perhaps the opposite may be true.
I am hoping my children’s confidence will come from knowing themselves, doing for themselves, and being encouraged to take ownership in their lives. Ultimately, my praise will not boost their confidence, not in any deep way, and it will simply be demanded over and over — just like all those A’s just seemed to make me think I needed to get more of them to be satisfied with myself . My encouragement is what is needed, for them and for myself, as we succeed and fail and learn and grow. It’s telling the difference between praise and encouragement that is the mission and the challenge.
So, we are learning together how to break the “praise junkie” cycle and try out something different for a new generation. I think it just might work wonders.