Debate Magazine

Nine Lies

By Stevemiranda

It’s always nice when someone with 44 years of experience in your profession shares the same views as you.

I just came across the blog of Rick Ackerly, who wrote a book called The Genius of Children. Ackerly studied education at Harvard and spent 44 years as a teacher, head of school, and consultant. In a recent post, he outlined “Nine Lies about Academic Achievement that Parents and Teachers often Seem to Believe—but Don’t Really.”

Here they are:

  1. Life is a race to the top.
  2. Academic achievement (test scores/brand name colleges) is the ticket to the top.
  3. It is all about ability, and there are three kinds of kids: gifted, normal and those who learn differently.
  4. The race starts in kindergarten with kids at ZERO (even though by the time they walk into their first kindergarten classroom and are asked to sit in a circle, they have already been researchers, scientists, detectives and problem-solvers for over 43,000 hours.)
  5. You can get a head start by starting the race early: preschool, birth, pre-natal.
  6. The sooner you get started in the race, the greater the likelihood you will end up high on the pyramid—and be happy.
  7. Parents have the power to get their kids to turn out the way they want them to.
  8. Education is about shaping your child or a bit like getting your child through the eye of the needle.
  9. Worst of all, academics is something you wouldn’t naturally like, and therefore you have to sacrifice your imagination, your inquisitiveness and your self to get through the eye of the needle to the next level of academic achievement.

For me, lie No. 9 is the one that seems to be the hardest to communicate. When explaining one of the primary reasons why PSCS is successful—and so groundbreaking—I can often feel the energy drained from the room. “The first focus on PSCS is not an academic program,” I say. “Our first focus is on creating and maintaining an environment in which kids feel safe, secure, and part of a caring community.”

Then I talk about how the environment is what makes high academic achievement possible, and how the point of school is to help kids transition from childhood to adulthood. When you require kids to take specific classes, it disrespects the academic discipline because it implies that kids wouldn’t want to learn that stuff and you must force them to do it. Delivering academic content to kids in an environment that is not conducive to growth is like planting a seed in a bed of concrete; before you plant the seed, you have to make sure the soil is rich. All of this is backed by mountains of research in the behavioral sciences.

But, for many folks, I lost them at “The first focus on PSCS is not an academic program.” They look at me like I just told them that the sun rises in west and sets in the east.

As a society, we’ve internalized the belief that school is about transferring academic content from teacher to student, and that teenagers are lazy, sullen, disaffected, and won’t learn anything unless we coerce them with punishments and rewards. It’s not true, but that’s what we believe.

* * *

In his concluding paragraph, Ackerly has a great line: “All those hopes and dreams we have for our children? Children are already on it—from birth.” Human beings are born curious. Our job as educators is to allow that curiosity to flourish.

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