Monday, December 31, 2012

French Parenting Style

This is a very interesting article on how French parents raise their children.  I especially like the section about having a framework of expectations/limits.  There are consequences for straying outside of that framework, but within it- no worries. 

It reminded me of the concept of "Loose-Tight" principles that author Jim Collins uses to discuss successful companies.  These companies strictly adhere to a few key principles, but have a high degree of autonomy as to how the principles are carried out and achieved.

Hope you enjoy the article.  (By the way- I got if off of the "Most read articles of 2012" via @WSJ [the Wall Street Journal] on twitter.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

American Exceptionalism and Reasonable Limits

I love America.  I love being an American.  I love Americans.  I believe in American exceptionalism.
America is an exceptional country.  Exceptional does not mean perfect.  We can be exceptional overall, and still acknowledge that we don't have the best approach to every single issue.

Allow me to use sports to make a brief analogy:

Every year, the NFL awards the Lombardi Trophy to the Super Bowl Champion.  (One of these years- my beloved Minnesota Vikings will be that team)  The winning team is widely regarded as the best team in the league.  Sometimes, a team gets on a roll and achieves an even more enduring legacy as the best team of an era.  An exceptional team.

Even exceptional teams, great as they may be, aren't the leader in every statistical category.  The Pittsburgh Steelers of the early 70's were a dominant team.  It pains me to say this, but so were the Green Bay Packers of the 60's, and, even more painful, the Cowboys of the 80's.  These teams were exceptional and loaded with Hall of Fame players, but even these teams didn't have the best player of the era at every single position, or the highest rated unit in every category.

We are a great country, but we simply must find a way to engage in a meaningful discussion about guns, mental health, and a culture that celebrates violence.  We must be able to talk with each other, as Americans, about making some reasonable changes.

I don't have a specific plan.  Quite frankly, I'd be OK if every American had a gun- if it had the same characteristics as a Revolutionary Era weapon.  Need a few good weapons to use for hunting?  Cool.  Some kind of smaller caliber handgun for personal protection?  Fine.  But, come on already, there has to be a line in the sand.

What about "gun enthusiasts?" What about them?  I like to drive fast, I'm a "speed enthusiast," but there are limits on how fast I can go.  I'm a free speech enthusiast.  There are limits to what I can say.  Why can't I be a nuclear warhead enthusiast?  People can have all kinds of passions and interests- it doesn't mean there can't be some limits on their ability to exercise those passions and interests.

We outlaw drugs, people still get them.  We have speed limits, people still drive too fast.  We have DUI laws, people still drive while intoxicated.  The notion that we shouldn't even try to place some kind of reasonable limit on guns and ammunition because "people will still get them" is a classic red herring argument.  If that's the best you've got- I assume your argument extends to a whole host of laws, limits, and regulations that might as well just be repealed.  Right- I mean, why even bother?

I've worked in schools with armed police liaison officers.  No problem with that.

I've heard some proposals calling for school personnel to carry guns.  Please- no.  There is no correlation between a trained professional and a guy like me.

It's not a matter of doing some target practice- I can go to a range and hit a target.  Big deal.  I haven't hunted very much, and the last time I did I shot a squirrel.  So what?  I haven't undergone first responder training involving weapons.  I haven't pointed a gun at a human being.  On and on it goes.  It is simply not sound thinking to believe that giving me a handgun and some target practice training will make a school safer.

Monday, December 17, 2012



Dear Parents,

I have no words to adequately express my emotions over what happened in Connecticut last week.  I know I join all of you in extending the thoughts and prayers of the entire Friess Lake Community to those impacted by that tragedy.

Friess Lake School is a safe place, and it has a great learning environment.  Staff, students, parents, and the surrounding community all contribute to our warm and welcoming culture.

We have a School Safety Plan.  We will deliberately and carefully review that plan and our existing procedures and communication strategies.  To the extent we can make improvements, we will make them.

The School Board will begin having a discussion regarding school safety at their regular monthly meeting tonight.  I have also scheduled two meetings this week with law enforcement representatives- just to have them review our policies and procedures and offer their recommendations.

Starting after the break, all visitors will be required to wear a 'Visitor Badge,' which will be distributed upon signing in at the office. 

As I'm sure you can understand, some of the changes we might make are internal policies that are not designed to be shared.  Any changes that impact daily operations will be communicated to all parents and visitors.

Thank you,


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wisdom of a Founding Father

"Can one generation bind another and all others in succession forever?  I think not.  The creator has made the earth for the living, not the dead."  Thomas Jefferson

"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes on laws and constitutions, I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them and find practical means of correcting their ill effects.  But I know, also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.  As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times." Thomas Jefferson

We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."  Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was in Paris when he read the first draft of the Constitution- and he had some concerns.  "There are indeed some faults which revolted me a good deal in the first moment: but we must be contented to travel on towards perfection, step by step."  Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham

We all want schools to be safe, and those of us who work in schools do our best to keep them safe.  Schools can't own the problem of senseless violence, often exacerbated in this country by the easy access to weapons.

Read the Jefferson quotes again.  And again.

Can we talk?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Smart Enough

In Outliers The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that IQ is important, but
that once "...someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn't seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage."

Note: This is a short blog post, it can't possibly address all of the subtleties of a topic this complex.  Please accept these inherent limitations.  I'm going to try to make a few basic points, but freely acknowledge that many questions will be raised and left answered.  This post will deal with the discrepancy in "success levels" amongst people with IQ scores at or above 115-120.

In essence, Gladwell makes a compelling case that an IQ of at least 115-120 puts one in the 'Smart Enough' category to venture into any kind of advanced studies and career paths.  It's not that there aren't some intellectual horsepower distinctions between someone scoring 120 and 150, or 150 and 180, but they "...are generally of lesser importance for success in the popular sense than are certain traits of personality and character."

Gladwell cites an example of the colleges and universities that have produced the last 25 American Nobel laureates in Medicine and Chemistry.  Some of the schools are no surprise- Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Notre Dame, and other elite names are represented.  So are the Universities of Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, Nebraska, and Florida.  All good schools, to be sure, but not necessarily elite.  And that's the point.

Gladwell argues that to be a potential Nobel Prize winner, you need to be smart enough to get into a school like the University of Florida.  That's good enough.  He goes into much more detail and makes a strong case for a radical change to the college admissions process.  It is a fascinating read.  (Buy the book- or at least check it out from your local library)

So, if IQ isn't the predictor it has been made out to be, what else matters?  Gladwell gives an example of a "divergence test," which is a measure of creativity and imagination. 

Sample question:  Write down as many different uses that you can think of for the following objects:

     1.  a brick
     2.  a blanket  

He then shares examples of various answers, all given by people above the 115-120 IQ threshold.  The differences are stunning.  Some responded by simply identifying a few common functions, while others provided vivid imagery, humor, and- let's just say- free thinking.  (pp.86-89)

Which students have the best chance of winning a Nobel Prize, or making a breakthrough medical discovery, or winning a court case, or landing a plane in an emergency, or (insert a critical issue facing you right now). 

Are the most effective people in our organization the "smartest" ones?  Probably not.  They are 'smart enough' in terms of IQ, but I'd be willing to bet that the things that truly set them apart are imagination, creativity, relationships, and overall character.  In fact, highly intelligent people without much imagination or relationship skills can be, um, 'challenging.'

Are the people you most enjoy spending time with the "smartest" people you know?  Again, probably not.  We may admire someones intellect but, if we truly enjoy being around them, it's likely because of various personality traits- the so called 'soft skills.'

I'd love to go on and on, but will close with a few quick points:

1.  Schools must provide opportunities to students that allow them to develop their imaginations and their character.  Their "divergent thinking," if you will.  An IQ score pretty much is what it is, and certain threshold scores may open some doors and close some others, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.  There are lots of other things that are extremely important and deserve the time and attention of educators.
2.  We need to stop saying someone who is currently struggling "will be fine" just because we know they have a reasonably high IQ.  That attitude inflates the importance of intellectual horsepower beyond its' actual value.
3.  This is more evidence of the flaws with the current Wisconsin Report Card system that is used to rank schools, and the entire line of thinking that goes along with it.    

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The World Turned Upside Down

At the conclusion of the US Revolutionary War, the British Military Band played "The World Turned Upside Down."  A ragged band of colonies had kind or sort of banded together, just enough, to defeat the most powerful nation on the planet.  Inconceivable.

Last night, my beloved Minnesota Gopher Hockey Team, the Pride on Ice, winners of multiple Conference and National Titles, lost to Nebraska-Omaha.  Minnesota, the State of Hockey, lost a hockey game to a team from Nebraska.  Inconceivable. 

The World Turned Upside Down.

Next you're going to tell me that students don't have to go to the public schools in their own neighborhoods, or don't have to be in school to learn- that they can access information anywhere and anytime.  You're going to try to tell me that teachers are no longer charged with telling students things they can't find through any other means, but are instead supposed to function more like "guides."  Inconceivable.

Logically, I get it.  Nebraska-Omaha has been quietly building a powerful hockey program for years, and they are actually one of the better teams in the country.  But still.  Really?  For a guy who came of age when Minnesota was a perennial power and there wasn't a hockey rink within 100 miles of Nebraska- it's tough to take.  Occasional losses to the hated team that shall not be named, from the barren wasteland of a state to the north and west that shall not be named, while painful, can at least be understood.  They love hockey, the entire state is basically a rink anyway, and they import 24 year old Canadians to wear their hideous green uniforms and masquerade as a college team.

But, there are more powerful forces than logic.

Logically, I get it.  Schools need to change.  The instructional delivery model needs to be tansformed 

A recent post included a clip of John Cleese talking about Creativity.  Have you ever watched a comedy show or movie and wondered how much fun it must be to be a writer on the set?  Oh, it would be work- but there have to be times where they just laugh themselves silly.  I don't mean a quick smile or giggle, I mean side splitting, milk out the nose, 'till it hurts kind of laughing.

I've seen some clips from the d school at Stanford- where students are charged with designing and making stuff.  Lots of collaboration, lots of short term failures, lots of 'pondering.'

Neither of those situations looks anything like a traditional classroom, anything like 'school.'  At yet, there is learning, there is innovation, there is creativity. 

The (Educational) World Turned Upside Down.