Should Kids Learn Civics?

A couple of days ago, I had a little rant on Facebook about the time that middle school teachers spend teaching the proper technique for footnotes. Even in high school, a large portion of Jonah’s history grade is based on his footnoting technique. I wrote that since time is finite, social studies had to prioritize their efforts. It seemed like knowing facts, ie the date of the civil war, the location of Iraq, and the difference between a senator and a governor, was more important than knowing the proper methods of citations. After all, footnotes aren’t exactly necessary in real life.

This led to a big debate, with comments not just from my history and political science professor friends, but from everyone. It was surpring to me how many of my non-teacher-type friends had strong feelings about this, too.

I also complained that I’ve been to too many education presentations where the experts said that students didn’t really need to know these facts, since they could look it up on wikipedia. Skills was more important than knowledge of information.

Well, it seems like kids aren’t learning skills OR facts in their social studies class, according to the latest results of NAEP testing.

In 2014, eighteen percent of eighth-graders performed at or above the Proficient level in U.S. history, 27 percent performed at or above the Proficient level in geography, and 23 percent performed at or above the Proficient level in civics.

Check out the test on their website. It seems like a fair test.

Texas is the only state that mandates civics education. Should other states follow their lead?


Stomping and the Vast Unfairness of the Universe

10981681_10152905905453106_8663690419172642380_n Parenting has been a full-time job these past few weeks. I’ve been working on getting the summer planned out. Jonah needs a job for six weeks. The rest of the time, he’ll be training for the cross-country team and taking an SAT prep class. His schedule is pretty easy. He has to figure out the job stuff, and I’m doing the class research.

Ian is always more tricky. He needs a summer program that keeps him from losing social and language skills over the ten weeks. The district will pay for it (I think), but I had to do the research to find the program, go on tours, have him interviewed, fill out paperwork, and negotiate with the district. It’s a pain in the ass. I would be perfectly happy if he could go to a town recreation program like other kids, but he can’t. Schools don’t think that summers should be their job, so they drag their feet.

It’s very easy to get bitter during these periods of time. Why do I have to do this stuff, when other parents don’t? All that time is taking me away from my work. This year, I’m trying very hard to not go to that bitter place. Ranting does no good, and angry thoughts give me wrinkles.

One of the ways that I keep from getting bitter is by focusing on my kid. My kid is awesome. He’s making marvelous progress. I have him in all sorts of after-school activities that work on his strengths — technology and music. Today, he’s doing a Minecraft hour at the town library. He has drum and keyboard lessons. He’s going to a robotics camp for one week this summer.

He loves music performances. So, we went to see Blue Man Group last month. This weekend, we saw Stomp. He’ll be in the 6th grade band concert on Thursday.

During these shows, he’s so full of joy and wonder that I find myself staring at him during the show and not the stage. He’s radiant.

I used to write a lot about autism, using Ian as a case study, but I stopped. He just doesn’t seem like other kids on the spectrum. I’ve never met another kid with his level of disparity between his verbal and spacial IQ. He’s unique. He keeps getting better, too, which makes all this work worth while.

In addition to focusing on my kid, instead of the vast unfairness of the universe, I’ve also been trying to give back.

I’m on a committee with other parents, who create after school trips and activities for kids with high functioning autism. One month, the kids will have a swim party. Another month, they’ll see a movie. I’m arranging for Ian’s drum teacher to give a demonstration for the kids. Another parent is in charge of bringing in high school students to act as mentors for the kids during the activities.

While Ian probably doesn’t need these activities anymore, he still enjoys them. I like being around other parents, with similar perspectives on life. They’ve got their priorities in order. And we’re giving back. We’re creating something where there is nothing.

In the back of my mind, I know that the Vast Unfairness still exists. Ian’s doppelgänger in a more needy community isn’t getting what he needs. Ian’s doppelgänger haunts me sometimes. My annoyances are nothing compared to others. I think once I get things set up for my kid and my community, I’m going to have to deal with that big problem.

Friday Afternoons

I have a couple of work things I should do, but I’m knocking it off. It’s Friday afternoon, and we’re gearing up for fun.

We’ve got a new Friday routine. On Friday nights, Jonah and his gang of friends roam around town for a few hours. They end up at somebody’s house, where a mom will feed them. Meanwhile, I take Ian to his drum lessons. His long haired, hipster teacher shows him some new drumming tricks for 30 minutes. Then we collect Steve and head out to dinner. I’ve given up cooking on Friday nights.

The neighbors are pulling into their driveways early from work. They are cleaning their grills and putting out the lawn chairs. I’m going to put on my gardening gloves and spread mulch.

We are looking forward to a happy weekend full of activities. There’s a bbq at my brother’s house on Saturday night. We’re taking the boys to see Stomp on Sunday. We gave Ian tickets to the show for his birthday. He’s wicked good on the drums and keyboard.

In between the fun stuff, Jonah will do mountains of homework and we’ll have the usual house chores, but it’s all good.

My baby turned 13 earlier this month. He still looks like he is eight, but that’s okay with me.



I’ve been watching events unfold in Baltimore and reading lots of commentary. I’ve learned some new phrases, like “rough ride.” This topic is really not for a white, suburban mom. I do think it’s best for  people who know this turf to do the talking. But if I say nothing, tweet nothing, people might think I don’t care. So, at least on Twitter, I’ll just RT things that broaden my understanding of the topic.

I can offer one little tidbit for those should do the talking. Wilbur Rich wrote a book back in the 90s, Black Mayors and School Politics: The Failure of Reform in Detroit, Gary, and Newark (Garland Reference Library of Social Science), exploring the question of why urban schools didn’t improve when black leaders gained power. His conclusion was that black leaders repeated the power dynamics of the previous white leaders. To gain election, they made alliances with the teachers’ unions who frustrated reform efforts. Not sure if his analysis applies to Baltimore, but it’s relevant.

I’ve read about ten completed different accounts about how his spine was broken. Did it happen during the arrest, the previous week, during the rough ride? Was it self inflicted? If it happened during the ride, why wasn’t the other guy banged up? If it happened during the ride, wouldn’t there have been more bruises?

I owning my ignorance here, but is it standard practice to chase and arrest someone who flees when he sees police? I’m sure it is. OK, how is that legal?

I’ve been chatting with Steve this morning about these issues. His point is that the particulars don’t matter. We all know that there are problems with policing in this country, and that dealing with the hows and the when of this particular arrest sends people down the rabbit hole. I think that the particulars matter, because lots of people don’t accept that the broad statement that we have a problem with the criminal justice system. In order to change minds, you have to present the facts.

SL 658

This morning, I watching a pot, waiting for boiling. I should just go to the gym, but I’m too neurotic this morning. Ah, let’s blog for a bit…

What have I been reading?

The NSF has a really interesting report on the state of STEM education. One of their conclusions is that more than half of STEM grads work in fields unrelated to their major. Also a lot of kids who graduate with a degree in the social sciences end up in a STEM field. It’s a reminder that a “degree is not destiny.”

I stole these graphs from p. 13 of the report.

Stem 2 STEM 1

I’m a HUGE fan of April Bloomfield. If you are in New York City, please visit the Spotted Pig for nice beer and amazing food. The New York Times has an article about her book, A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Gardenand a recipe for potatoes.

Fantastic article by David Leonhardt about the latest research on at-risk students in college. Some points that he makes: 1) The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else is near a record high. 2) The unemployment rate among college graduates ages 25 to 34 is just 2 percent. 3) Students do better when they attend the most selective college that admits them, rather than “undermatching.”

One Mom’s Reaction to Finding Her Son at a Protest

This morning, I posted a link to a video on Facebook of a woman pulling her kid out of violent protest in Baltimore. Here’s commentary on ABC.  

My first reaction? Damn, that woman is cool. She is fearlessly protecting her son by hitting him upside the head and embarrassing him. While my son is unlikely to be beaten by cops or to be a victim of systemic racism, he is plenty capable of putting himself in dangerous situations. That frontal lobe problem.

The video is going viral. Two different reactions — Motherlode and the Wash Post.

The Key to Success

A friend sent me a link to a post on Quora from Elon Musk’s ex-wife, Justine Musk.

Musk answers a question on Quora “How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson?” Her advice is interesting:

Don’t follow a pre-existing path, and don’t look to imitate your role models. There is no “next step”. Extreme success is not like other kinds of success; what has worked for someone else, probably won’t work for you. They are individuals with bold points of view who exploit their very particular set of unique and particular strengths. They are unconventional, and one reason they become the entrepreneurs they become is because they can’t or don’t or won’t fit into the structures and routines of corporate life. They are dyslexic, they are autistic, they have ADD, they are square pegs in round holes, they piss people off, get into arguments, rock the boat, laugh in the face of paperwork. But they transform weaknesses in ways that create added advantage — the strategies I mentioned earlier — and seek partnerships with people who excel in the areas where they have no talent whatsoever.

Extreme success is out of my reach. I’m too old, and I have to balance personal ambitions with family responsibilities. Even in my 20s, I was never willing to do what was necessary for extreme success. Extreme success is a horcrux that tears the soul.

I am, however, in the process of reassessing my time usage and long-term goals, so elements of her post were useful for me. And as a parent of a kid who is neurologically different, her comments about square pegs were especially interesting.

How Parents Make A Difference — Both the Good and the Bad

Megan and I are totally on the same wave length right now. She has a column on parenting in Bloomberg. There’s a lot in there, so I’m going to decline to sum it up. Let me just jot down my own thoughts.

Parents, especially in wealthy communities, are raising children in an entirely different way than parents in other communities. Kids are groomed, supervised, tutored, medicated, and honed. Their time is micro-managed by parents. The free-range kids are news only because they are the freaks.

These momagers mean well. Their motives are good. They want to care for their children. They keep an eye on education bureaucrats and local government officials. The schools and town politics work well for a reason — people are keeping an eye on them.

However, it also creates inequities. The intensive efforts of these well-meaning parents have intensified that gap between managed kids and kids without the new momagers. The wealthy parents who opted out their children out of the standardized tests may have harmed the accountability of schools in poorer areas.

Megan writes, “Still, the net effect is a system in which affluent parents nominally support equality of opportunity while practically doing much to make it less likely. And because they are rarely personally acquainted with many children outside of their socioeconomic group, their views on what would benefit those kids are bound to be impoverished.”


Related: How the rich get their kids into the ivies.

Two Different Childhoods

Frank Bruni has a column in the Times this week about kids in well-heeled community, who are plain miserable. Some are so miserable that they commit suicide.

The stress level in our own community is no secret. The PTA has a health and wellness committee, which is specificially aimed at keeping kids from mental health disasters. Friends send me newspaper links to a local girl who jumped off a building during her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. Kids do have a lot of pressure.

I go to bed every night before my son finishes his homework. Now, my son is a world class procrastinator, but his late nights can’t be blamed on poor work habits. It’s pretty common around here. The kids go to school for seven hours, then they have two to three hours of sports or theater, and then they have four to five hours of homework. It’s a lot.

They are keeping track of their activities for college applications. They are taking the SATs and the ACTs. They have parents who making sure that they do all those things. (I still haven’t figured out the ACTs yet.)

A certain amount of the backlash to standardized testing comes from the fact that the kids simply can’t take one more stress event in their lives.

Kids in these communities are having an entirely different life experience than kids in inner city or even in middle class suburbs outside the coastal communities. It makes it really hard to make education policy for schools or any social policies, when these populations are so different. Some kids need a break. Others need a shove. My kid probably needs a little of both.


Alright, I’m goofing off today. So, let me give you another anecdote about stress on kids around here.

At this week’s PTA meeting, the school guidance counselor told us that the latest trend in college admissions was long waiting lists. Kids are applying to 15 to 20 colleges. Colleges are receiving way more applications than spots, but they don’t actually know which kids are really interested. So, colleges have super long waiting lists. Some kids don’t know which school they’ll go to until a few months before September.

To get off the waiting list, the guidance officer said that it was very important to demonstrate interest in the school by asking for information and going on the tours. You want to get on the school’s radar. One parent said that you should make a reference to the school in the essay. At my niece’s high school, her guidance office provided her with a list of “tips and tricks” for attending college fairs. One tip was to bring ready-made labels with her name, address, and e-mail address, so she could quickly stick it on information cards at the college tables. This way the school could document that she “showed interest” in the school.



Family and Food

Extended family gatherings mean excessive amounts of food. That’s the way we roll. In the past three weeks, we’ve had a birthday party, a cousins’ dinner for the New York City gang, Palm Sunday dinner, a cousins’ outing in West Palm Beach, and Easter dinner. Some events were photographed for posterity. Other events will be remembered only by the fat on my ass that must be worked off at the next spin class.