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When I was a kid in middle school, I got some of my first experiences with the monsters Anxiety and Depression—and I got them close-up and personal, as my younger brother began showing symptoms of the latter. Anxiety and depression can often be difficult things to recognize (many kids go without necessary medications because of lack of medical care/diagnosis while others become over-medicated and over-diagnosed), as they are often disguised by or confused for things like anger, defiance, lack of confidence, mischief, and shyness. As Holly Robinson explains for Parents Magazine,
Unfortunately, many parents and teachers perceive symptoms of anxiety—like refusing to go to school or use a public restroom—as defiance. Anxiety may also be mistaken for (or even mask) other developmental disorders, such as ADHD, depression, or learning disabilities, so it’s important to identify anxiety early and help your child learn to manage it.
I know that, for my brother, his depression often reared its head in anger, in bursts of fathomless aggravation, temper, and self-loathing. —Things his teachers often misunderstood, things that often left him feeling isolated from others kids at school, things that I rarely understood myself as a kid; and all of these only worked to exacerbate his fears and symptoms. Fortunately for us, our mother was proactive, able to do her research, get us out of schools with willfully ignorant teachers, and get us all the help we needed.
In Jane E. Brody’s “Helping Children Gain Control Over an Anxiety Disorder” (New York Times), she references Dr. Golda S. Ginsburg, a Johns Hopkins University expert in childhood anxiety, saying, “childhood anxiety disorders typically result from an interaction between biology and environment. For some … there is [also] a strong hereditary component” (qtd. in Brody). What’s more, parenting styles and behavior can also have an impact, perhaps especially in cases of “parents who are overprotective or overly controlling, who constantly identify dangers in the child’s world” (Ginsburg in Brody).
Similarly, psychotherapist Tamar E. Chansky suggests that, for parents trying to help their children deal with anxiety issues, the goal should not be “to put down children’s fears but to help them see that their fears are unwarranted and that they can overcome them” (qtd. in Brody). Brody outlines some of Chanksy’s “‘master plan’” for helping kids deal with anxiety:
The key takeaway? Don’t blame your child or yourself for their anxiety and/or depression. These are boogeymen that feed on things like blame, stress, and insecurities. Be sure to talk with your children openly, your doctor, as well as your partner and friends—you can’t help your children handle their anxieties, depression, and so forth if you aren’t getting the help you need to handle it all as well.
Recently, The Atlantic published Derek Newton’s “Higher Education Is Not a Mixtape,” in which he argues that – contrary to many popular arguments and articles – higher education is not going the way of the music industry (i.e. people won’t begin shopping for individual professors instead of for universities the way they now shop for individual songs instead of for entire albums). Along the way, Newton makes some compelling points:
Though many universities have not done a great job of keeping up with technological advancements or at keeping costs down, many of the people making arguments for the tech future of higher ed are also personally and financially invested in the companies and technologies necessary to make this future possible. Moreover, the arguments for increased technology and the “unbundling” of higher ed also seem to be missing a basic truth: Unlike music – which listeners buy because of the artist, not the artist’s record label – students “shop for schools, not professors” knowing that their future career success is often tied, at least initially and in part, to the reputation of their university.
However, a simple (and obvious) response to many of Newton’s arguments is: Yes…for now.
As a more recent graduate of an MA program, I well remember just what “distance learning” and “online learning” courses can look like – and it wasn’t pretty. This gets back to Newton’s concession that many schools and degree programs haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the technological times, so that if they do offer online courses and learning opportunities, many of them aren’t yet all that they could be (which means that many students either elect not to use them or view them as a last resort). But this isn’t something that’s likely to last for much longer, and improved distance learning tech could very well lead to an “unbundling” of universities, to a marketplace for professors and courses over entire schools.
Given the constraints of rising tuition rates coupled with the increased number of non-traditional students (e.g. middle-aged and older adults coming back to school for degrees, training, certifications, and so forth), online learning opportunities and distance courses are likely to only increase in number and quality over the next few years. These increases will undoubtedly change the way people view online opportunities and, in turn, how they shop within the industry of higher education generally.
What’s more, many institutions, like Ft. Worth’s TCU for example, now offer comparatively cheap, non-degree opportunities (both online and in-person) to students (traditional and non-traditional alike) who are interested in auditing particular courses rather than in pursuing a full degree. This trend may be evidence that certain demographics are in fact interested in shopping for higher ed opportunities on a professor or course-basis rather than on a university-basis, similar to the trend of buying a $0.99 song rather than a full album.
In my opinion, Newton throws his best possible argument for the traditional college experience under the bus by only barely mentioning it in his final paragraph:
In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them. It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.
As a liberal arts student myself with three degrees, including English and American Studies, I appreciate better than most the difficulties and benefits of pursuing an education that doesn’t directly lead to an obvious, lucrative career path. And there certainly are difficulties – jokes bashing the putative usefulness or wisdom of liberal arts degrees are classic and many professors within these fields do an amazingly poor job of discussing with students just how many career opportunities are (or will be, could be) available to them. Thus, many students either prematurely cross liberal arts programs off their list or graduate from them without a full appreciation of just how flexible and useful they can truly be.
To me, the bashing or general rejection of liberal arts degrees only shows a lack of creativity on part of all involved. A degree in English, after all, doesn’t limit a person to Writer, Teacher, or Unemployed. As Walt Whitman once wrote, “I am Large. I contain Multitudes.” There is more to a student than their degree just as there is more to a degree than its acronym. Education, like life, will – in large part – be what you make of it. Similarly, there are more jobs out there, more possibilities and opportunities than you can ever account for, because they – like the higher ed industry itself – are always changing. And that’s part of what a liberal arts degree is great for: teaching students how to think (for more on this particular point, see David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech) and how to grow with changing times.
Ultimately, I think the future of higher ed falls somewhere in the middle here, in a combination of distance/online and in-person learning, of professor-shopping and university-shopping. As our student bodies change and grow more diverse, so must our learning opportunities. This isn’t a time to throw away all we’ve built in higher ed, but neither is it a time to try stalling change and growth.
*For those who’re interested, here’s the audio of Wallace’s speech:
Further & Related Readings:
- Marisa & John Bowe (editors), Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs (2009) – ***This book is an amazing resource for getting started thinking about all the different kinds of jobs, careers, and work opportunities out there today
- Derek Newton, “Higher Ed is Not a Mixtape,” The Atlantic (January 2015)
- The Project on Student Debt, “Student Debt and the Class of 2012” (December 2013)
- Martin Smith, “What universities have in common with record labels,” Quartz (July 2014)
- Errol Craig Sull, “Student Engagement in the Online Classroom,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 2013)
- Kelly Field, “Obama Presses for Free Community College and Tax Reform,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 2015)
Our Nation’s Report Card for 2013 has been available online for months now, but many Americans don’t even know it exists. Here are the basics:
“The Nation’s Report CardTM informs the public about the academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the United States. Report cards communicate the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a continuing and nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects over time.”
If you haven’t already checked out our report card for 2013, go ahead and give it a whirl. This is a terrific tool for learning more about the U.S.’s complicated education system and all the ways it’s bettering and neglecting us. You can check out everything from achievement gaps to report cards specific to certain school subjects to report cards specific to your state (and a ton more!).
For an example, consider their “Results for 2013 NAEP Mathematics and Reading Assessments Are In”:
“Nationally representative samples of more than 376,000 fourth-graders and 341,000 eighth-graders were assessed in either mathematics or reading in 2013. Results are reported for public and private school students in the nation, and for public school students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools.”
On top of this assessment, they provide both graphs and written explanation of the data to make the results as clear and understandable as possible.
Example graph (the images are much sharper on the official website):
(2013 NAEP assessments)
This data is useful not only for teachers, policymakers, and administrators, but can be useful for students and parents as well. Try using this as a tool to not only engage with your students/children about their personal education (strengths and weaknesses, concerns and goals, etc.), but about what they (your students/kids) might like to see change or improved in their own schools.
Have you or your kids or your teacher friends/colleagues been complaining about certain parts of their education or school system for a while now? Well, there might be some credence to the complaints—and educating yourself with data from the Nation’s Report Card can be a great way to begin making (or learning how to make) substantive change happen at the local level.
If you want to arm your kids with the best knowledge out there, then you ought to do the same for yourself.
A few of the highlights:
- Blending on-site (classroom) learning with distance (technology-based) learning.
- Greater scrutiny of and concern related to student data.
- The renewal of or substantive departure from No Child Left Behind.
- More online and game-based teaching practices.
- The introduction of Kindergarten Entry Assessments (KEAs).
“In 2015, education systems will cut through the clutter and invest the needed resources to develop and administer developmentally appropriate KEAs and thus improve instruction for young children.”
— Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director, National Association for the Education of Young Children
Further/Related Reading Suggestions
- Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, The Washington Post, “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up”
- Maanvi Singh, NPR, “Why Emotional Learning May Be As Important As The ABCs”
- Anya Kamenetz, NPR, “What Schools Could Use Instead Of Standardized Tests”
- Claudio Sanchez, NPR, “Six Education Stories To Watch in 2015”
- Education Week, “The National K-12 Testing Landscape”
- Council of Chief State School Officers, “Chief State School Officers and Urban School Leaders Announce Joint Effort to Improve Student Testing”
“Close your eyes for a minute and daydream about a world without bubble tests. Education Week recently reported that some Republican Senate aides are doing more than dreaming — they’re drafting a bill that would eliminate the federal mandate on standardized testing.”
– Anya Kamenetz, NPR
(To read the full Education Week article by Alyson Klein, please see: “GOP Senate Aides Working on Draft ESEA Bill That Could Ditch Annual Testing”)
Ever since the passing of No Child Left Behind, teachers, administrators, parents, students, and policy experts have been working to understand—to definitively know—whether or not it’s done more harm than good (or vice versa). Well, when the issue recently came back before Congress for renewal, Senate Republicans released their new vision for U.S. public education in 2015: Instead of renewing the federal mandate for annual, standardized testing, they “would leave decisions about testing schedules up to states.”
And while The Council of Chief State School Officers, national teachers unions, many traditionally Democratic groups, and many of the country’s largest school districts have come out in favor of reducing or doing away with standardized tests—as NPR’s Anya Kamenetz explains in “What Schools Could Use Instead of Standardized Tests”—what’s still missing from this conversation is what might replace annual standardized tests. To this end, Kamenetz suggests four possible options:
- Sampling: Keep standardized tests, but just reduce the number of them.
- Stealth Assessment: Use software provided by major textbook publishers in order to invisibly monitor and assess children’s learning.
- Multiple Measures: Rather than just test scores, data on everything from graduation rates to demographics to workforce outcomes ought to be collected and considered. Schools could even begin issuing surveys to consider elements like “grit” and “optimism,” or games to help assess a student’s creativity and other higher-order skills.
- Inspections: Perhaps in addition to some or all of the above measures, the government could also create a team of inspectors who function for schools almost the same way that health inspectors function for restaurants. These officials might observe classrooms, examine syllabi, evaluate student projects, and interview students, staff members, and faculty.
(To read Anya Kamenetz’s full article, visit: “What Schools Could Use Instead of Standardized Tests”)
What are your opinions on standardized testing? Do you think we should keep annual exams? If not, what might you suggest in substitute?
As a former tutor and college admission office assistant, I am well acquainted with just how crazed and stressful college application days can be. However, it wasn’t until this past summer when I was helping some prospective students think through the brambles of college application questions that I realized just how milky and obfuscating these prompts and questions can be.
Here’s just one of the many tangled questions my poor students faced:
“Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
While on the face of it this prompt may seem simple enough, upon closer examination, it can quickly become clear just how unclear and muddled things truly are. First, there is the “Some students” comment, which suggests that there are students out there so water-thin as to have identities capable of complete capture within the confines of a college application. Insulting, confusing, and arrogant, yes, but above all this phrasing is simply confusing. So then, for those few special students with some deeper, more complex identity, what question exactly are they answering – or, more precisely, what question is this prompt actually asking? What are the readers of such a prompt looking for?
First, they’re looking to see that you take enough confidence in yourself to read such a prompt and agree: Why yes, I am an individual with a complex identity that’s yet to be captured by this standard application.
Second, they’re looking for a story. Note the wording, “please share your story”—this implies not only that the reader wants something personal and engaging (i.e. not academic or even overly formal), but also something that is uniquely and entirely you.
And that’s the tricky part. While the you in this prompt about identity and stories may seem like the most obvious element, it’s also the element that most student writers seem quickest to neglect. Oftentimes this prompt is answered with a story regarding some learning experience or “life altering” event—and while these would certainly be acceptable starting places for an answer to such a prompt, it’s in the description of the experience or the event that students often lose the “them-ness” of their story, burying their own specialness and unique identity in the details of a mission trip, life lesson, or mentor. Don’t let the you be lost from these stories—the reader, after all, isn’t interested in reading about a mission trip to aid impoverished children or about the awesomeness of your eighth grade basketball coach; they’re interested in you. So, when you find yourself faced with something like this prompt, a question that wants you to at once agree that your identity is too big for a college essay and then challenges you to still try and cram it into one, don’t let yourself be distracted by the trappings—touch quickly on the setting and circumstance of your story and then get to the protagonist, our hero: YOU.
And then there are the chestnuts like:
“Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”
Sigh! It’s prompts like this one that make me roll my eyes and respond, Please briefly elaborate on at least one of your motives or goals for making this ridiculous request of exhausted college applicants. My recommendation for any poor students faced with such a question? Get straight to the point.
First, pick only your most interesting and unique activity or work experience. Again, this may seem to go without saying, but oftentimes students will reach out for some less-intriguing office job experience because it seems more “adult” or “professional” somehow. But really, I think we can all agree that we’d much rather read that crazy story about you being the Cow for your local Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. This story would do much more than simply highlight something you learned about conflict management (those people who “save spots” in line for friends? yeah, those people should know that that is NOT cool!); this story would also better entertain your readers while showcasing just how brave and fun you can be. Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of an entertaining story. If you can entertain your readers while sharing something sincere about yourself, it’ll stick in their memory better, give them a better overall experience of reviewing your application, and leave them with a much more impressive show of your writing ability.
Second (and again), get straight to the point. A lot of students end up wasting time and words on describing the job or extracurricular activity itself when, really, this is yet another question about you and your experiences. No one wants to read about the job qualifications or responsibilities of Whatever Office or about the meeting notes of Yeah-Yeah-Yeah Club. These readers want to know A) What Job/Activity, B) Why You Chose It For Elaboration, and C) YOU. And, if you hadn’t already guessed, B and C are definitely the most important elements of this equation. Jump off of A as soon as you can in order to get to the meat of the story (that’s you!).
Remember, they wouldn’t be asking about this if they weren’t hoping to learn yet more about how you react to different situations, what you’ve learned, what challenges you’ve undertaken, and/or what experiences have inspired you.
Then there are gems like this:
“XXXX University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to XXXX.”
The truth is, these questions are never as simple as they seem on first read. So, take your time. Consider them from all angles and all word choices. And then get straight to your point—don’t make anyone wait around to find out how fascinating you are or what goals you plan to achieve.
And here are a few extra tips and readings to help you along your way:
- College Board’s “8 Tips for Crafting Your Best College Essay”
- Especially, brainstorm and be specific! First do the work of reflecting on what your strongest traits and most unique experiences are, and then pick out one to three (depending on the prompt) to start getting specific about – bring out the sensory details, the reflective details, the details that give it all meaning particular to you
- US News’ “10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay”
- The highlights: be concise, honest, and coherent. Don’t let your rush to share your accomplishments and experiences muddle the storyline or embellish the facts. Be genuine and strive for clarity.
- MIT Admissions, Chris Peterson’s “How To Write A College Essay”
Book bannings are as old as books themselves, but the fact that they persist into today’s America—an America packed with screens of every kind, screens allowing for easy internet access and thus access to any number of challenging, unusual, and even obscene materials—is simply mystifying to me. Yet still books are banned from schools and formally challenged by parents on a shockingly regular basis. Only this past September, Highland Park ISD (Dallas, TX) Superintendent Dawson Orr approved the suspension of seven books: The Art of Racing in the Rain; The Glass Castle; The Working Poor: Invisible in America; Siddhartha; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; An Abundance of Katherines; and Song of Solomon.
To Orr’s credit, however (and after some impressive backlash from alumni, students, national media, and other parents), he canceled the suspension.
“I made the decision in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict, and I readily admit that it had the opposite effect,” he said in an email to parents. “I take full responsibility for the decision, and I apologize for the disruption it has caused.
(qtd. from Melissa Repko’s “Highland Park ISD reverses book suspensions at high school“)
And while it’s upsetting, baffling, and ludicrous to ban books from students (at least in my humble opinion) in any circumstance (after all, if a book is really that troubling to a student, then let the student decide for themselves and ask for a substitute—not the parents), it is still impressive to see a leader not only take responsibility for a poor decision, but also take swift action to correct the mistake. According to Orr, he originally agreed to suspend the books after receiving feedback from hundreds of parents. But why did these parents feel a need to object so powerfully to these texts? Considering that kids can now get their fill of violence, abuse, sexual content, and hard language from not only the internet but basic cable as well, why would parents take such issue with their children encountering these kinds of materials in the thoughtful, more personal world of a book—especially when it’s to be an experience shepherded by a teacher, an experience intended to provoke deeper thought and consideration of such issues rather than simple titillation?
By now, most of us have read and come to love certain books that were once banned or challenged in the States for their content, books like Mark Twain’s (1884) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (first banned in Concord, MA in 1885 for being “trash and suitable only for the slums”); Toni Morrison’s (1987) Beloved; Ray Bradbury’s (1954) Fahrenheit 451; Ernest Hemingway’s (1940) For Whom the Bell Tolls; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (1925) The Great Gatsby; Maurice Sendak’s (1963) Where the Wild Things Are; J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series; and even Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series.(qtd. from Banned Books Week)
Dee Brown’s (1970) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, was also “banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 because the book might be polemical and they wanted to avoid controversy at all costs. ‘If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?’ the official stated.” (qtd. from Banned Books Week) This reasoning is, to me, one of the most disturbing of all. Not only is this thought process counter to all things educational, but it’s also one of the most despicable examples of “the easy way out” that I can think of, one of the most un-American, thoughtless, and cowardly.
And perhaps that’s the heart of the problem: cowardice. For what other reason could there be to attempt to ban information from kids? If material is truly that worrisome or potentially disturbing for particular children—perhaps kids who themselves have suffered abuses or traumas that would be too painful to relive through a book—then certainly there is cause to provide them with substitute options. But why should this mean banning certain books from all students of a certain school district? It’s fear—it’s the attempt to forcibly impose one’s beliefs and feelings upon others.
So, thank you to Superintendent Orr for taking responsibility and action to reverse a poor decision—thank you for agreeing to not impose the beliefs of some parents upon the children of all in your community. And thank you to all those school officials and parents who stand up regularly for their children and their children’s friends’ right to learn and explore without prejudice or fear. When we begin to fear information, education, and exploration, we become obstacles to progress—both our own and our society’s. We don’t have to like or approve of every book or be glad every book was written. But none of these feelings should give anyone the right to make such determinations for others.
Further Reading Suggestions:
- See Melissa Repko’s “Highland Park ISD reverses book suspensions at high school” with Dallas News for a breakdown of why each novel in particular was suspended
- “Banned Books That Shaped America”
- “Harry Potter Series – Selected Challenges”
- ACLU & Banned Books Week (2011): “Free People Read Freely”
- Lynn Neary, WYPR, “Too Graphic? 2014 Banned Books Week Celebrates Challenged Comics”