Educational Inspiration

This page is devoted to identifying and sharing educational news that matches, inspires, or helps inform the school's philosophy. The Case for Teaching Ignorance (NYT op-ed): Not knowing isn't a bad thing, so why do so many educators insist on presenting information in black-and-white-facts? Encouraging students to ask questions, even when the answers can't be easily resolved, is very, very good for a developing mind.

To Learn More, This High-Schooler Left the Classroom (NPR): Love of learning is intrinsic; without letter grades, students tend to work harder.

Why Teachers, Parents, and Society at Large Have Destroyed Kids' Love of Learning (The Atlantic): This is a must-read. One excerpt: "Is that what we want? Kids who get straight As but hate learning?"

Everything you think you know about disciplining kids is wrong (Mother Jones): Negative consequences, timeouts, and punishment just make bad behavior worse. But a new approach (one very similar to the Conscious Discipline model used at The Magnolia School) really works.

The Case Against Grades (Slate): They lower self-esteem, discourage creativity, and reinforce the class divide.

26 Amazing Facts About Finland's Unorthodox Education System (Business Insider): A full hour of recess: Check. Rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens: Check. All children are taught in the same classrooms: Check. Sounds like a recipe for success, and it is.

Director's Corner: On Learning Outside the Lines

“Learning Outside the Lines” is a book by Jonathan Mooney and David Cole, and the title of a two-hour presentation that Mr. Mooney is enthusiastically giving all over the country. One of us was able to seize the opportunity to listen to him when he presented in Tallahassee on June 1, 2013. Mr. Mooney was diagnosed with dyslexia in 4th grade and with ADHD in 5th grade. He did not learn to read until he was 12 years old, but nevertheless graduated from Brown University with an honors degree in English. He describes himself as one of "those" kids who couldn't sit still, spent a lot of time in in-school suspension, and was told his future would involve either flipping burgers or going to jail. By age 12, he was suicidal.

Mr. Mooney had an extremely painful educational experience overall. He attributes his eventual success to the facts that his mother was a fighter, and that he met just enough understanding and supporting teachers, especially at the high school level.

When asked about the type of support he received, Mr. Money explained that he was not retained for not reading but allowed to progress on parallel tracks, using books on tape and being read to, so as to allow the development of his thinking despite him not reading, all the while receiving sustained remedial reading instruction.

Also, some (but not all) of his teachers chose to grade his creative ideas without grading his spelling. When asked about medication, he said that he was not philosophically opposed to their use and stressed that no shame should ever be attached to using medication, but he personally opted against medication and worries that it may be an over-used tool.

Mr. Mooney's talk, however, was not about the role of services or medication in "fixing" skills set. It was about the emotional side of his journey, about being understood for who he was.

To be successful, he adamantly explained, he needed positive self-concept, resiliency, and “getting good at something.”

  • Positive self-concept: he needed the image of a positive future; he needed to unlearn that he was the "bad kid," the "dumb kid," and thankfully, he met people who understood those needs.
  • Resiliency: to him, character traits such as resiliency, grit, and tenacity are predictive of future successes, not cognitive skills; again, he met people outside his family who helped him acquire these traits.
  • Getting good at something: in his case, soccer ("Soccer gave me the feeling of what it must have been like to be a smart kid at school").

Mr. Mooney left his audience with several powerful quotes:

"You have to know that difficult children make interesting adults."
"Difference is the norm."
"Don't be mean to kids."

Take-home messages for our school

We like to think that Mr. Mooney would have done well in our school setting. He says he was good at doing things and thrived when he met a teacher whose classroom was project-oriented, so he would probably have done well in our theme-driven approach. He would not have been put in reading groups clearly distinguishing the good from the bad readers but would have been encouraged to read at his own pace whatever interested him.

He would have received instruction in reading and spelling but not been penalized by bad grades. He would have been lovingly encouraged to do his best instead of being compared to his peers. He would have been taught to accept his mistakes as learning opportunities instead of flaws. He would have been accepted and respected for who he was and cheered for what he could do. And, maybe most importantly, he would have been in an accepting supportive environment consistently from Kindergarten through 8th grade, not once in a while depending on the teacher.

Jonathan Mooney is not alone in thinking that resiliency, grit and tenacity are predictive of future success. Read February’s Director’s Corner for more on the subject.

Slate writer makes the 'case against grades'

New York-based writer Michael Thompson has written a thought-provoking piece in the online magazine Slate. There's no shortage of things to blame for America's educational doldrums, from so-called "bad teachers" to standardized testing, lack of funding, and too much bureaucracy, he writes. But what does Thompson blame? Grades. 

Grading students, from A to F, has become synonymous with education itself, he writes.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that the rigid and judgmental foundation of modern education is the origin point for many of our worst qualities, making it harder for many to learn because of its negative reinforcement, encouraging those who do well to gradually favor the reward of an A over the discovery of new ways of thinking, and reinforcing harsh class divides that are only getting worse as the economy idles."

The Magnolia School shares this philosophy (see, Directors Corner: On Assessments, for example). Read the article on Slate, and share it in your social media circles.