A love of books is a gift of many lifetimesOctober 19, 2018“I cannot live without books.” Thomas Jefferson Perhaps one of my favorite sites at morning drop off is when children are st ...
“I cannot live without books.”
Perhaps one of my favorite sites at morning drop off is when children are still reading as parents pull up to the curb. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing adults and children engaged in a conversation or jamming to music; however, I am sucker for the boy who gets out of the car still reading his book and barely looking at where he’s going or the girl who’s so much in the world of her novel that she doesn’t realize that it’s time to open the door and get out. I am genuinely curious when I ask them what they’re reading, and I love hearing their excitement as they explain the plot. Last week a third grader informed me that her goal is to read seventy books this year, and I congratulated her on this lofty aspiration. Beyond being a self-proclaimed bibliophile, why does observing children read warm my heart so much? Perhaps I am reliving the excitement of when I was young and I realized that reading opens one to a unlimited number of new places to go and people to meet. Game of Thrones author George RR Martin once had one of his characters say, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.The man who never reads lives only one.”
As study after study has shown, reading can improve one’s attention span, patience, and vocabulary; other research demonstrates that reading literary fiction can even increase a person’s empathy. This should come as no surprise; when we’ve lived in the worlds of Jane Austen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Vikram Seth, we come to know their characters as people in our own lives, and we live out their dilemmas as if they were our own. Reading helps children grow cognitively and affectively, and as the adults in their lives, we should support it in whatever way we can.
When I was a child, my father made me a deal. As long as I was reading instead of watching television, he would buy me my books. Although I continued to go to the library, I knew I could always purchase the latest thriller or nonfiction bestseller; I held my dad to his promise until I was in my twenties. Consequently, I always had a healthy library of books I had finished and those still waiting to be read.
I thought about this bargain I had with my father who’s been dead for seventeen years now as I read a recent essay in the New York Times by Linda Huang called “All Those Books You’ve Bought but Haven’t Read: There’s a Word for That.” As Huang explains, in some ways keeping books on the shelves that we have yet to read reflects an understanding that we still have a great deal to learn. Rather than our libraries being a trophy case of those stories we completed and things we already know, our unopened books demonstrate an intellectual humility and an insatiable curiosity.
Huang points out that there’s a Japanese word-tsundoku that translates as a stack of books that one has purchased but not yet read. Maybe it’s self-rationalization, but knowing that there’s a word for this provides some relief. As my wife and I downsized in our move to San Antonio, we donated somewhere close to eight hundred books, but we still have many more on the shelves of our much smaller house, and most of those I have yet to open. In our short time here already, I have become a big fan of the San Antonio Public Library system and the Libby app for e-books and audio books. Nevertheless, there’s still something exciting about buying a new book or pulling something off one’s shelf and discovering a great piece of literature that has been just waiting for someone to open its pages.
So, if your child approaches you her arms laden with Young Adult novels and historical tales, or he says that he simply must have this new mystery or science fiction story, you might avoid the perfectly understandable response, “You still have so many books at home you haven’t read!” Just be happy that your child has an open mind and realizes that there’s an infinite amount of things to learn and know.
With teens, it's not just what you say but how you say itOctober 11, 2018“She may not have raised her voice, but her tone yelled at me!” I recalled these words from a former student in a conversatio ...
“She may not have raised her voice, but her tone yelled at me!”
I recalled these words from a former student in a conversation with fellow parents and Keystone’s two counselors, Allison Raymer and Dr. Erica Shapiro during a book talk last week. We gathered in the Lower School Library to discuss Dr. Wendy Mogel’s newest book, Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen. I should say that I have been a fan of Dr. Mogel for a long time, and I have recommended her two previous books, The Blessings of a Skinned Knee and The Blessings of B- to many, many people. Based in Los Angeles, Dr. Mogel is a practicing social-clinical psychologist who has an excellent handle on how to help children develop resilience and independence in today’s world. With humor, she offers sage and practical advice for parents and educators.
In her newest book Mogel explains how the way in which we speak to children at all stages of their lives can be so formative in their upbringing. We know this intuitively, but all too often, and in the heat of the moment, we may forget. There’s a wonderfully, cringe-worthy scene in last year’s hit movie, Ladybird, where the mother and her senior daughter are shopping for prom dresses. The mom does not intend to be condescending and patronizing, but her comments made many of us in the audience both laugh and squirm as her daughter experienced a combination of pain and frustration.
Mogel shows in chapter after chapter how from early on, we talk to our children in ways that can be either uplifting or overly critical, without even thinking about it. Mogel recalls anecdotes from her practice while offering concrete tips that can help us all improve. There’s so much to learn from this book, and Mogel teaches in a way that is both helpful and easy to access.
Perhaps one of my favorite sections is called “What Teenagers Wish Their Parents Knew.” She categorizes these comments from adolescents into three subsections called “What do your parents worry about that they don’t need to?”, “What’s one piece of advice you would like to give your parents?”, and “What are the sweetest things your parents do that they may not realize you appreciate?” Each of these units contain food for thought as we help our teens navigate these turbulent times.
For example, teens offered several comments regarding what they see as unnecessary worrying by their parents. Among them are:
- “They expect me to be as smart as my brother.”
- “They ask too many questions.”
- “They think you have to save the entire country of Darfur to get into Yale.”
We may think that we’re showing our teens how much we care by posing many queries when they get home, but they may wish to relax and not feel like they’re being grilled. Similarly, we’re just trying to be helpful by letting them know what they’re facing in the college process, but they may be stressed out already and not want to discuss it yet again at the dinner table.
All too often, we may think we know what our kids are thinking, but we can be way off base. That’s why it’s helpful to hear the advice they offer to all parents. For example,
- “There’s a difference between pressure and motivation.”
- “Please listen instead of thinking up the next thing you’re going to say,”
- “Ask about my life, not just my grades. Say, ‘How are you?’”
It can be extremely difficult having a teen in the house. (That may be one of my greatest understatements ever.) Their moodiness and seemingly ever-changing personalities can test the patience of a saint, and in our desire to keep open every door open for them or respond after they have said something particularly cutting, we can misstep. We’re constantly walking on eggshells, and sometimes a seemingly innocuous comment can catalyze an eruption. That’s why it’s crucial that we constantly show them we care even when we’re frustrated.
The final question in this section may be the most positively practical. Just as a seemingly innocent remark can cause a shockingly negative response, a small kind gesture can go a long way. Among the things parents do that may go a long way with our children are the following:
- “When my favorite kind of ice cream just appears in the freezer.”
- “My dad watches The Walking Dead AND Family Guy with me.
- “She texts me before a test, Good luck, I love you, instead of texting after How did you do?
Sometimes, it really is the little things that can go a long way, and we may not even realize their import until later.
In our conversation at Keystone last week, we shared things that have worked in our own parenting and some things that we would not recommend. Dr. Mogel’s book provided a great jumping off point for our discussion, and I want to thank Ms. Raymer and Dr. Shapiro for convening the group and choosing the book. If we can all bear in mind what we so often say to our own children, “it’s not always what you say, but how you say it,” we may find navigating the years of adolescence a little easier and more pleasant.
Ninth-grade trip brings perspective and optimismOctober 5, 2018This might sound like a scene from a movie, but I promise you, it really happened. Fifteen Keystone 9th graders, an educator from the Nature ...
This might sound like a scene from a movie, but I promise you, it really happened. Fifteen Keystone 9th graders, an educator from the Nature Bridge program in Washington’s Olympic National Park, another Keystone chaperone, and I were perched on a boulder looking down on the roaring rapids of the Elwah River. Our educator had asked us to close our eyes and imagine all of the people who had been in this beautiful place before us, and right as we were about to do so, a bald eagle slowly soared above us before heading on its way. We all sat in reverence and silence as the magnificent symbol of our country glided over us. It was one of those moments when you feel lucky to be alive and in the company of others who you both like and respect.
This reverential moment was one of many emotional events I was fortunate to experience during last week’s freshmen Outdoor Education trip. This annual excursion offers Keystone students and teachers a chance to study the Elwah and Solduc River watersheds, observe the beauty of this national forest, and bond as a class. Mr. Spedding, Keystone’s Upper School Head, called me during the summer and invited me to come along as a way to become more acquainted with the newest high school students; I eagerly accepted his invitation. I had high expectations going into last week’s trip, and I was not disappointed.
Whether we were hiking in what had been a lake until the Elwah River dams were demolished in a successful attempt to restore the river, canoeing across Lake Crescent, climbing to see a waterfall, or doing a night hike through the forest, the students were game to try new things and deeply appreciative of the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. In addition to the reverence they felt about the world around them, they expressed a variety of other emotions.
Perhaps one of the most touching to witness was their awe. Every night, they asked us chaperones to take them down to the dock so we could lie on our backs and stare at the stars. They would point out constellations, compare the night sky of their native Texas to that of Washington, and sometimes just sit in silence and soak it all in. It was during one of these quiet times that several students suddenly squealed with glee and amazement as they observed a shooting star. For some, it was the first time they had watched a star make its way across the sky, and their excitement was still palpable the next morning when they described it for others. For me, it was pure joy to see their enthusiasm, and I counted my lucky stars to be with them.
On our final night at Nature Bridge, we had a campfire down by the lake, and as one would expect, we sang songs, told silly stories, and reminisced about the previous five days. While all of this was heartwarming, it was fairly standard for a closing activity.
The unusual part occured next. Our educators passed out sprigs of cedar and asked anyone who wished to share something for which they were appreciative to come in front of the group, speak, and drop the cedar in the fire. I followed Mr. Spedding and thanked him for inviting me on the trip, Mr. Jim Lindsey, former Keystone Director of Finance and Interim Head for helping develop the school’s Outdoor Ed program, and the 9th graders for being so kind and welcoming to me as I endeavored to get to know them.
After I spoke, student after student came up to the fire and expressed gratitude to the school, their teachers, and their friends. They pointed out how much they appreciated the welcoming nature of the Keystone community and how grateful they were to the classmates for their support and care. Their awareness was sincere and heartfelt, and it was beautiful to behold.
What I found as impressive as their gratitude was their courage. Students discussed how alone they may have felt at other schools and how welcoming their fellow Cobras were. They shared their initial trepidation in coming to Keystone as a new 9th grader and how kind everyone was in making them feel right at home. Perhaps most touching was the student who had left Keystone for a couple of years to attend another independent school in San Antonio only to return this year. With a wisdom far beyond her years, she said, “sometimes the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else.” I told her afterward that I was moved by her bravery in acknowledging the lesson she had learned.
Reverence, awe, gratitude, and courage-four emotions that many grownups may not associate with today’s teens. All too often, we hear that adolescents are addicted to their phones, they are self-centered, and they demonstrate little appreciation for what they have. Yes, they may spend too much time looking down at a small screen, OK, their world views can be circumscribed, and sure, they sometimes forget to appreciate the wonders around them. (As if all of these same things cannot also be said about adults.) However, after this last week, I would sing a different tune. While I cannot pretend to speak for all adults about every teenager, I can tell you that if the thirty-seven young women and men I spent time with are any indication of today’s youth, we are in good hands indeed. As we landed at the San Antonio airport at 2:15 in the morning, I felt grateful for the previous seven days and optimistic for what lies ahead.
Wise words to follow, even if they're from a Spurs rivalSeptember 27, 2018“Be yourself. Be good, and try to be great-but always be yourself.” - Ariel Johnson Lin, paraphrased by Stephen Curry Ok, I ...
“Be yourself. Be good, and try to be great-but always be yourself.”
- Ariel Johnson Lin, paraphrased by Stephen Curry
Ok, I am going out on a limb here with this week’s blog, and it’s not because the topic is particularly controversial. (At least, I hope it won’t be.) I know that I’m now a proud Spurs fan and join my fellow San Antonians in cheering for the Silver and Black, but I read a piece by Stephen Curry last week and I wanted to share it with you. That’s right- Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. We admire his skill in raining down threes and take some pride that his coach, Steve Kerr, is a former Spur, even though we want his team to lose.
Curry’s essay has nothing to do with basketball, so please follow the link and read it:
In this piece, Curry reflects on parenthood, and in particularly bringing up girls in a world where a pay gap still exists between men and women doing the same job. Curry begins by revelling in the fact that his daughter still looks up to her parents and wants to be like them. His words had me remembering when our children wanted to be like us before they began to individuate and figure out that there may be other things they wish to do and be. Like her dad, Curry’s daughter plays basketball and like her mom, she loves to cook. He knows that she will change as she grows older, but he’s going to enjoy this fleeting moment in time.
Nevertheless, Curry also realizes that in today’s world, no matter what his daughter does, she will make less than her male counterparts doing similar work. Curry declares this type of pay structure is not only wrong, but it’s also wrong-headed. As Curry says so eloquently, “You’re not world class, if you’re not actively about inclusion.” His words can also describe Keystone’s commitment to creating an inclusive community. When we don’t maximize the gifts of each personally individually, we lose out as a society collectively.
Curry goes on to describe the basketball camp he started this past summer for girls. The young women worked not only on their dribbling, passing, and shooting skills, but they also learned from successful women in sports and business. It was during one of these sessions that Ariel Johnson Lin, a VP at JP Morgan Chase and Co answered a girl’s query on how she operates in a male-dominated world by advising the girls to “Be yourself. Be good, and try to be great-but always be yourself.”
Later in the essay, Curry discusses the birth of his first son. He wrestles with how to bring up a boy in a world where he will have advantages merely by his gender, and how he can teach his son to leverage that power to help women achieve equality-not out of a sense of noblesse oblige or paternalism, but because that is what is right and what is good. He will encourage his son to not only learn about equality but actually do the heavy lifting to realize it for others. As with his daughters, he wants his son to “Be yourself. Be good and try to be great-but always be yourself.”
So, as we endeavor to teach our children Keystone’s core values of academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership, let’s make sure they learn to treat everyone equitably so we can all grow and develop together.
Spanning the SpectrumSeptember 21, 2018There’s something wonderful about being in a PK-12 school, and a couple of days last week strongly reaffirmed this. Over the cou ...
There’s something wonderful about being in a PK-12 school, and a couple of days last week strongly reaffirmed this. Over the course of a day, a week, a month, and a year, we have the opportunity to see children in every step of their pre-collegiate educational journey. No matter the division, the children and young adults come to Keystone with purpose and passion, and although this manifests itself differently depending on the age, their devotion to doing their best work and being their best selves is ever present. It’s also a delight to see how Keystone’s commitment to academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership are borne out in developmentally appropriate ways for children from three years old to young adulthood.
Last Tuesday morning, as I made my way through the Little School, I observed youngsters fully engaged in a variety of learning activities. Some were creating a story with felt characters, others were learning how the number five can show itself in a variety of ways, some children were creating structures with blocks, and a few were constructing American flags in recognition of September 11th. Whatever the task in front of them, they were absorbed in joyful learning guided by caring and compassionate teachers.
Later in the week, I had the good fortune to discuss a book with a particular 7th grader whose love for the novel was quickly apparent. After I finished the young adult book The Hate You Give (THUG), by Angie Thomas, I returned it to English teacher Ms. Tyroff, who had so kindly lent it to me. I had seen the previews for the movie version of the book about an African-American teenage girl who lives in an urban area, attends a private suburban school, and loses her friend to a police shooting. Our family’s connections to the St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri and the impact of the events there made me want to read this popular YA novel before the movie came out. As Ms. Tyroff and I discussed the characters and the plot, a 7th grader enthusiastically asked me, “Oh, did you read that! I loved that book!” The three of us discussed THUG for a bit, and she then headed to her next class. Witnessing her joy for reading in general, and that book in particular, reminded me of the thrill of discovering a book that speaks to one’s adolescent self.
After school that day as I made my through the children in aftercare in the cafeteria, a kindergartner ran up to me and yelled, “Mr. Handmaker, look what I made!” He proceeded to show me the finer points of his Lego mobile missile launcher and explained each part. Now, truth be told, I love Legos, and I have spent many an hour on the floor building structures or vehicles with our sons and their friends. (I don’t love them quite so much when I step barefoot on a brick in the middle of the night.) We engaged in an animated conversation on his contraption, and eventually, the student, his friends, and I sat on the floor and dug through the tub of Legos to find the pieces that would make his missile launcher “even cooler!” Perhaps even more impressive than his new and improved military vehicle was the children’s joy, curiosity, and creativity.
At the other end of the spectrum that comprises the Keystone student body are the seniors who registered to vote last Friday. There are few, if any, signs that give one more hope in these fractious times than watching young women and men sign up to vote for the first time. They are eager to play a role in the political process, and they are prepared to assume the responsibility of citizenship. As they waited their turn, some of the students and I debated whether the U.S. should have a parliamentary system of voting rather than the one-party-take-all process we have now. It was a pleasure to hear their arguments, and the knowledge with which they supported their points. At a time when cynicism runs rampant, their optimism both heartened and inspired me.
So, beyond the joy of spending time with children ranging in age from three years old to those who are less than a year away from graduating, why am I mentioning this? Because part of Keystone’s magic is the way that our teachers and staff members meet children where they are and take them to the next step. They challenge and support them; consequently, youngsters grow up into admirable young women and men who are ready to take on whatever comes their way.
In addition, in a PK-12 school, younger students have the opportunity to learn from older students who can be their role models. Children can see high school students excel in Science Fair, perform on stage, compete in athletics, and demonstrate good sportsmanship and citizenship. As a result, they understand that ethical behaviour is not just something that adults say you need to do; rather it is a trait that they will work on and hone as they go through lower, middle and high school. For the older students, the younger children provide a sense of perspective and remind them of where they were at one point in their lives. In some ways, having younger children around keeps everyone spry and energized.
However, there are also personal reasons I wanted to share these experiences with you. It was not that long ago that my wife and I were dropping our children off at preschool, that our sons discovered the joy of reading and being read to in bed, and it seems like only yesterday that we spent hours on the floor building Lego towers. Registering to vote and applying to colleges came faster than we ever imagined, and lo and behold, they’re gone and it’s just us at home now.
I will leave it to the physicists to explain how the passage of time shortens as our children, and we, get older, and what seemed at one point like something far off in the future is suddenly here. As a brand new empty-nester, I urge you to soak up as much of this time with your children as you can, for like other pleasures in life, the time before they leave us is fleeting and short. As Harry Chapin sang,
Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?
From the Lower School to the Board, we're always working to improveSeptember 14, 2018“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” --Stephen Hawking One morning last week, I had the pleasure of listening t ...
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
One morning last week, I had the pleasure of listening to several Lower School students advise parents on how to help their children navigate the world of Kindergarten through 4th grade. As one would expect, these exceptional bright and motivated children gave thoughtful tips for how to be a better student and things to avoid in order to be successful. As I heard their wise counsel, my thoughts ranged from Stephen Hawking to Psalm 8.2, “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength,” to Art Linkletter’s old show and book, “Kids say the darndest things.” Perhaps the most humorous comment was “aftercare is where your kids go when you don’t want to pick them up.”
However, I also considered their wise counsel as the Keystone Board of Trustees engaged in a day-long retreat this past Saturday, September 8th. Exceptionally dedicated and devoted trustees were joined by members of the Administrative Council to consider what we do well and where we could improve. In the spirit of continuous improvement that will characterize our Independent Schools of the Southwest (ISAS) self-study this year, we started by acknowledging that Keystone is an amazing school. There is an energy and dynamism in our student body and in our faculty/staff that produces something extraordinary. Having visited many schools over the past thirty years, I can tell you that what occurs at Keystone is exceptional and admirable and understandably inspires the passion that members of the community feel toward our school..
In the same way that our students and our teaching can always get better, so can Keystone, and we are continually looking for ways to improve. For example, we’re looking at substantive changes to our Keystone Summer Scholars program to make it even more invigorating. In addition, at a time when harassment is so prominent in the news, we integrated the latest thinking into our new policies, because it is the right thing to do. Similarly, although we had an extremely positive financial audit for the past year, we are still making changes to our fiscal policies to help Keystone not only be more efficient but also more effective. It was heartening to hear how well we’re doing in general and in comparison to other schools and non profit organizations; nevertheless, we can always do better. An example in the area of Development is our alteration of Keystone’s gift acceptance policies to be in closer accordance with what is considered best practice.
As we hope you’ve noticed, we are making changes in the way we tell the Keystone story. For 70 years, Keystone students, and subsequently alumni, have done amazing work and literally changed the world. While we don’t want to brag, we don’t want to hide our light under a bushel; we want to share the stories of our students and alumni. During our retreat, we discussed the school’s admissions philosophies, and how we’ve remained selective in an era of increasing competition and refused to compromise our standards. At the other end of our student spectrum, we also learned how well Keystone seniors perform in the college admissions process in the face or more and more students domestically and internationally applying for the same number of slots.
Over the course of seven decades, Keystone has challenged and supported children and adolescents in an inclusive community to perform at a high level. After all this time, it is woven into our DNA. While the challenges our school and students face may change over the years and we continually work to improve, we remain rooted in our core values of academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership. As we move forward toward our next 70 years and beyond, we can best honor our history by continuing to produce outstanding alumni who will make us all proud.
Internet brings the best and worst to usSeptember 6, 2018“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” I thoug ...
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
I thought about this line by Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) in the original “Jurassic Park” movie as I toured an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art this past Sunday. The exhibition, “I Was Raised on the Internet,” encourages viewers through installations, videos, and more traditional visual art media to consider how our lives have changed over the past few decades as we’ve lived with the internet.
To say that that the internet has an omnipresent role in our world today would be stating the obvious. People seem to be always staring into their phones, retail establishments are falling by the wayside as more and more shopping is done online, and seemingly anything we wish is at our fingertips.
Much of my family’s trip to drop our younger son off at college last week was shaped by the easy access of the web. We made all of our reservations online and we bought him the necessities for his dorm room via Bed, Bath, and Beyond’s ever-so-helpful website. We used the Happy Cow app to find the best vegan restaurants in the Windy City, and we avoided the line at the Art Institute of Chicago by procuring our tickets with our phones. We used the handy CTA app to figure out which train to take to our other son’s apartment in Wrigleyville, and we caught an early morning Uber for the ride to Midway Airport. As we waited for a train in Chicago, I read a recommendation for a book on Bookbub (a site for ebooks), went to the San Antonio Public Library website, ordered the book via Libby; just like that, the book was on hold to arrive on my Kindle in the next week. To borrow from A Tale of Two Cities, we live in the best of times.
However, we cannot ignore the paradoxical nature of this moment in history. The same internet that catalyzes movements for civil rights and social justice in the United States or revolutions like the Arab Spring overseas also allows tyrannical governments to oppress their citizens. Some forms of social media offer people the opportunity to grieve with others who have experienced similar tragedies while other networking sites perpetuate falsehoods that have led to violence. At the risk of stretching the Dickens reference, while the internet can make the best of times possible, it also can bring on the worst of times.
Since DARPA begin researching the concept of an interweb in the 1960’s, we have lived with the promise and the threat of the internet. If, like me, you’re a fan of Black Mirror on Netflix, you have seen how television portrays this dual-edged sword. Some episodes have literally brought me to tears as they portray the positive power of technology to connect people in a variety of places and from different times; other shows have haunted me with their dystopian visions long after that particular installment ended.
As adults, we can remember, if vaguely, what life was like before the internet. There once was a time when we had to wait a week for the next episode of St. Elsewhere or Hill Street Blues, or if I really want to date myself The Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. If we wanted the newest Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Beatles, or Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young recording, we went to a record store and bought an album or an eight track tape because that was what available (as opposed to today’s twenty-something hipsters who have gone retro and believe that they discovered vinyl.) Remember travel agents and bank tellers, or when people in restaurants actually talked to each other?
Things are different for our children. Their entire lives have co-existed with the internet, and explaining their world without it is tantamount to the old David Foster Wallace story where one young fish says to the other “What’s water?” They literally don’t know of life before the web. We have given our children tools with great power, but they are still too young to have developed the wisdom necessary to use them responsibility. (Of course, the same could be said of many adults.)
The historian in me wonders if this was how our predecessors felt after Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, Samuel Morse’s telegraph, or Edison’s light bulb. Did the printed book spell the downfall of oral storytelling cultures? Certainly the telegram killed the Pony Express and light at night altered how we lived our days. Similarly, the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford gave us greater mobility than ever before, but did their creations also exacerbate the atomization of our society?
Spoiler alert! One of my favorite, albeit very sad, final movie scenes is from Barry Levinson’s Avalon (the conclusion of his Baltimore Trilogy including Diner and Tin Men.) The immediate family is having Thanksgiving dinner alone in their suburban living room eating on TV tables and mutely watching a show; their isolation stands in contrast to the boisterous, crowded and multi-generational family feasts that formed the foundation of the family earlier in the film.
As an optimist, I hope and believe that we will learn to live with our new forms of technology as other generations before us figured out how to balance the blessings and the curses. Long ago, Plato said we are social animals, and I think that holds true today. There are still some experiences that the best forms of technology cannot replicate. Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant in teaching our children how to unplug, enjoy the moment, and seek out the actual and tangible experiences that will shape them. We have to guide them in developing a positive social media brand that reflects their best selves rather than succumbing to the temptations of the mob. We should remind them again and again that once something is posted, it can be seen by everyone today, tomorrow, and years in the future. They can learn from peers and adults whose lives have been irrevocably ruined by irresponsible uses of technology that hoping for the traditional definition of privacy online may be a fool’s errand, and that yes, bad things can happen to them.
Over a hundred years ago, Mary Shelley warned us in Frankenstein of what can happen when our ethics fail to keep pace with our technology. If we want our children to have lives that are productive and happy, we are duty-bound as parents and educators to help them navigate a world so potentially rich and so possibly terrifying.
To help kids develop, give them choresAugust 31, 2018“The parenting style that is good for grit is also the parenting style good for most other things: Be really, really demanding, and be ...
“The parenting style that is good for grit is also the parenting style good for most other things: Be really, really demanding, and be very, very supportive.” Angela Duckworth
Although the joys of parenting are endless, there are moments when we have to grit our teeth, fight the same battle as yesterday, and stick to our guns. Outside, we may be calmly stressing that “yes, we are serious, the dishes need to be washed, the laundry needs to be folded”, while inside we may be thinking, “seriously, this discussion again?!” I say this as a parent preparing to send our youngest child to college and wondering how many things we could have done differently along the way.
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Happy Children Do Chores, KJ Dell’Antonia points to research as well as common knowledge to explain the benefits of children doing household tasks. As Dell’Antonia points out, this is true even when our children are very busy with school work and extracurricular activities. Don’t get me wrong-homework, sports practice, dance rehearsal, music lessons, etc. are crucial and instrumental in our children’s growth and development as students and as well-rounded, interesting and interested people.
Nevertheless, doing chores also teaches them that they are part of something greater than solely themselves. Performing jobs around the house on a regular basis helps them learn that the functioning of a family unit depends on them doing their part. They learn that teams can only function when everyone fulfills her role, and that they have duties on which others rely. As Dell’Antonia says, “Being a part of the routine work of running a household helps children develop an awareness of the needs of others, while at the same time contributing to their emotional well-being. Children who consider themselves necessary to the family are less likely to feel adrift in a world where everyone wants to feel needed.”
There are a number of reasons for us to require our children to do chores. One is that it makes them feel better to accomplish something and realize that they do make a difference. They understand that what they do matters and they contribute to the well-being of the family. In a world where it is easy to feel anonymous, we want our children to understand their importance for their own self-esteem. One could argue that one of the best reasons for children to play team sports is to learn that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The pleasure of making an assist in basketball or soccer, a bunt in baseball to advance a runner, or a perfect set up in volleyball can as good as scoring the goal or point itself.
Another benefit of their doing chores is that they comprehend the interdependent nature of organizations and social structures. As the Harvard professor Robert Putnam described so eloquently in his 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, a fundamental shift occurred in American society in the half-century after WWII as we became more isolated from one another and we invested less of ourselves in communal organizations. Whether it was the disintegration of bowling leagues, lower attendance at houses of worship, or decreasing attendance in neighborhood organizations, the institutions in American society that built and perpetuated social capital deteriorated. Consequently, more Americans felt alone and cut off from one another than ever before.
Perhaps I am overreaching here to say that if we want our children to feel they are part of a larger social fabric, they need to learn at home how successful institutions depend on people fulfilling their various roles. Maybe our houses function as microcosms of our larger society and the lessons we teach them at home they can then apply to our society as a whole. If we want to them to learn responsibility, we need to have them actually be responsible for something around the house.
As parents, we know this intuitively. In her article, Kell D’Antonio points to data supporting this point, “In a survey of 1,001 American adults, 75 percent said they believed regular chores made kids “more responsible” and 63 percent said chores teach kids “important life lessons.” However, as Kell D’Antonio also explains, only 56% of parents actually have their children doing chores. Why this discrepancy? Because haranguing our children to do their chores gets old. It’s tiresome having the same discussion around taking the garbage out or cleaning up the kitty litter. It’s all too easy to just say, “fine, I’ll do it.”
Nevertheless, as Dell’Antonio reminds us we need to “insist and persist.” We have to steel ourselves and just suck it up. It’s not fun, but we’re doing an essential duty for our children and our society in teaching them to be contributing citizens in their homes and that good things don’t just magically occur; they require hard work and people joining together in a common endeavor.
We should look at it this way. In requiring them to do chores, we’re teaching them three of Keystone’s core values-ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership. We’re investing in the well-being of our children and our country, and that’s an investment that will repay itself many times over!
Be PreparedAugust 24, 2018“So prepare for a chance of a lifetime Be prepared for sensational news A shining new era Is tiptoeing nearer” If you&rsqu ...
“So prepare for a chance of a lifetime
Be prepared for sensational news
A shining new era
Is tiptoeing nearer”
If you’re a fellow fan of The Lion King, you may recognize these lyrics from the song “Be Prepared.” Although this catchy tune may refer to regicide and succession, it does have applicability to other areas of life.
I thought of these words this past Monday at morning drop-off as I greeted members of the Class of 2018, who had just returned from the Annual Senior Trip. From all reports, it was a great excursion.
According to Director of College Counseling Sara Christiansen, “Seniors spent the weekend camping and exploring in the mountains of West Texas. We toured the Caves of Sonora, a two-mile walk about 155 feet underground to view stalactites and stalagmites, and attended a star party at the McDonald Observatory, operated by the University of Texas at Austin, under the perfect West Texas night. Seniors enjoyed a sky constellation tour and viewed Saturn, Venus, the moon and more by telescope. We attempted to view the mysterious Marfa Lights; seniors are still deciding if they believe the lights to be real or not. We even made a stop at Prada Marfa, a famous art installation on the side of a desolate West Texas road. As part of a college counseling exercise, seniors read, discussed, and made admission decisions on actual applications to Harvard. We enjoyed meals together, hiked, went swimming in Balmorhea Lake, and had plenty of downtime for students to connect with one another before senior year begins.”
Like so much else in education and life, a large part of success in college stems from good preparation. However, many students wait until the summer before senior year to get serious about what they’re going to do and that may be too late. All too often, students go to college and fall apart or drop out because they’re unable to handle the responsibility of taking care of themselves.
According to the New York Times article, “How to Help A Teenager Be College-Ready,” by Mark McConville, preparing for college needs to begin in junior year, if not before. McConville states, “The most reliable signal that the transition to emerging adulthood has begun is evidence that the child has begun taking sole ownership of these responsibilities-independent of parental involvement-via personal initiative and follow through.”
McConville looks for signs of emerging adulthood in three specific areas: medical and behavioral health, academics, and administrative tasks. Are children taking their health and well-being into their own hands? Are they setting their own bedtimes and their personal wake-up times? Are they ready to be on their own without a parent to regulate their schedule?
Similarly, students by junior year should own their academic success. They need to manage their academic calendar, and they should be proactive in seeking help if they’re struggling. If the parents of juniors or seniors are still overseeing their children’s academic performance, the odds are high that students will struggle with their newfound independence, even if they are extremely bright.
The third area McConville proposes that may indicate whether children are ready for college is how they handle administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments, meeting a deadline, or taking care of paperwork. While these chores may not be exciting, they are necessary to success, and adolescents must learn how to do them to be successful. Parents are not going to be there to do them in college, and it’s these little things that may determine whether a child turns in a paper on time, makes it to a lab, shows up for an interview, or gets a job.
Whenever high school alumni regale me with stories about their college roommates, I tell them a little about what I experienced my freshman year. I was in a three-person room, and both of my roommates, who were extremely capable, flunked out. It wasn’t that they weren’t intellectually able to do the work--they were. However, neither one handled the freedom of college life well, and too many nights of partying and too many skipped classes led to bad grades and loss of scholarships. I had two new roommates second semester, and only one survived to move on to sophomore year. All of these people could do the work, but their inability to manage their academics, personal lives, and administrative tasks prevented them from meeting their potential.
So, as parents and as educators, let’s teach our children the wisdom in the words of General Colin Powell, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure,” and let’s start this process early so they can be well-positioned to be the best that they can be.
Good beginnings start with a growth mindsetAugust 17, 2018“Good seasons start with good beginnings.” --Sparky Anderson I thought about these words from the legenda ...
“Good seasons start with good beginnings.”
I thought about these words from the legendary baseball manager as the Keystone faculty and staff spent the last week and a half preparing for the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Whether it was the maintenance crew beautifying the campus, the administration creating rosters and finalizing class lists, or teachers decorating their rooms or planning units with colleagues, there was a buzz of anticipation around the school. Together, we engaged in thought-provoking discussions as we considered how we wish the upcoming year to proceed.
Peering into upper school lockers filled with books or strolling through the Little School and enjoying the colorful and dynamic rooms gave me an anticipatory thrill for the promise of a new school year. While there can be some anxiety around the beginning of the year, this is natural as all of us--teachers, staff members, parents, and students -- enter a new phase that holds many unknowns. If we were not a little anxious, we would be ignoring the positive kind of stress that new beginnings inevitably bring. Being nervous and excited simultaneously is a good thing, and we should let our children know that this is not only OK, it is healthy. We can heed the words of the author John Galsworthy who once said, “Beginnings are always messy.”
So how do we as parents and as educators help our children navigate this potential messiness? Author and educator Dr. Amy Eva offers suggestions in a blog post in Greater Good magazine, “Tips for Helping Kids Develop a Growth Mindset.” While Eva focuses on the social benefits of a growth mindset, versus a fixed mindset, this approach to living and learning for children and teens is just as applicable to their academic and extracurricular experiences.
Eva explains some of the advantages of a growth mindset are improved peer relationships, empathy, and cooperation. Believing that our brains are malleable and our abilities are not set also enables our children to take on greater challenges in their academic classes, the arts, and in athletics. This kind of approach empowers our children to respond well to setbacks and to look at them as an inevitable component of the learning process. As a colleague once said, “A failure is an event not a person.”
As the adults in our children’s lives, we have a crucial role to play in helping them see obstacles as opportunities. If we share with them new tasks we have taken on that were outside of our comfort zone, they will understand that this is natural and even exciting. If we explain to them that, at times, we experience difficulties but we persevere and grow, they will see that their current stress is an inevitable part of changing and growing.
Instead of saying when they get a low grade on a quiz, “I was bad in that subject also,” we should explain that “I struggled in this area, but after a lot of hard work, I really improved.” When they earn a good grade on a paper, rather than applauding their success by stating “You’re really smart,” we should commend their hard work as the reason they prevailed. While these may seem like small differences, the impact can be large as our children learn that their effort, instead of their innate ability, may be a deciding, or even the determining, factor in their doing well.
I also recommend watching the video below with your child to explain a growth versus a fixed mindset. It may help clarify the concept and show them the benefits of this approach to life and learning. This may also allow your child to understand that learning is a journey rather than an arrival at a finite point and that, like any good trip, there will be ups and downs along the way. The ballerina and author Missy Copeland said it well, “Decide what you want. Declare it to the world. See yourself winning. And remember that if you are persistent as well as patient, you can get whatever you seek… I may not be there yet, but I am closer than I was yesterday.”
The Power of HabitsAugust 7, 2018“Sorry, it’s a habit.” “Creature of habit.” “Force of habit.” How many times in our li ...
“Sorry, it’s a habit.” “Creature of habit.” “Force of habit.” How many times in our lives as parents do we attribute something that either we or our children do to habit? We act or say something with such ease, and with so little thought, that we may not even realize until later that it happened.
As we know, habits by themselves can be value neutral. Some are good; we want our children to say “‘please” and “thank you” automatically or to do their homework or chores without our having to remind them. However, we are equally aware that some habits are not beneficial; “please stop biting your nails,” or “please stop using the word ‘like’ in every sentence!”
As a bibliophile, I consider reading to be one of the most beneficial habits we can develop. Obviously, it expands our vocabulary, allows us to learn something new, or escape to another world, but some studies have shown that reading literary fiction can also make us more empathic human beings. A rationale for summer reading in particular is to ensure that students continue immersing themselves in good books when school is out of session so they don’t have to revive the habit of reading in mid-August when summer ends and the academic year begins.
To help us begin the year with a shared mindset at Keystone, every member of the Keystone faculty and staff read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit this summer. This highly readable study of habits, how they develop, and how they can be changed has applicability for all of us, no matter what role we play in the school. As part of our week of professional development this year, we gathered together on Monday evening, August 6., to discuss our habits at Keystone-both the ones we like and maybe some we wish we had. Just as we ask our students to reflect on themselves and continually seek to improve, we’re all looking at what we do well and what could be even better.
This habit of reflecting on one’s self and always striving to improve characterizes excellent school like Keystone and will inform the work we will do this year in our Independent Schools of the Southwest (ISAS) Accreditation Self-Study. In a spirit of what I call “healthy dissatisfaction,” we will analyze how and what we do, commend what we do well, and recommend how we could be even more effective. Every self-study committee will have what we’re calling an “outsider,” someone from outside the usual group who asks the hard questions that force us to look deep and hard at why we do what we do and either reaffirm our rationale or seek to make change. This is exciting and invigorating work that will make Keystone an even stronger school than we are now, and we look forward to the work ahead of us.
For parents and students, one of the beautiful things about school is that every August, we have a chance to reinvent ourselves. We can shed or change bad habits and create new ones that will help us. I have linked below an article that may be beneficial as you ponder how to begin the year on the right foot. In “15 Steps on How To Get Ready for School Quickly,” Laura Richards offers tips on the little things we can do the night before so the mornings aren’t quite as rushed. Perhaps we should set that dreaded alarm fifteen minutes earlier to give ourselves a little more time in the morning or maybe students should set out their clothes the night before so they’re not panicking because they “have nothing to wear” while their ride is outside waiting. While each of these habits in isolation may seem small, taken together they can determine whether our day starts out well or we’re leaving the house already on edge and anxious. I hope you find it helpful.
I’ve enjoyed seeing so many of you around campus as we approach the beginning of school, and I look forward to connecting with even more of you in the days ahead. We will have a great year as we celebrate Keystone’s 70th birthday and join together in the meaningful work of helping bright and motivated children pursue academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership.