How and Why Standardized Tests Hurt Our Children

Sometimes, the howling frustration that we feel can only be expressed in comedy. I don’t know if you ever watch John Oliver, but he seems to be a person who feels very similar frustrations to mine, and rather than curl up in the fetal position with his thumb in his mouth (as I sometimes am super attempted to do), John Oliver makes great points with great comedy.

This 18–ish minute clip is a classic example. There are so many things that drive me bananas about standardized tests, like:

  • how many of them children take by the time they graduate high school
  • how preparing for them makes it so that kids don’t have much time for anything else in school
  • how they can make or break the rest of a kid’s life depending on what kind of test-takers kids are – what happens if you’re smart, but not a good test-taker?
  • increasingly, well-educated adults attempt to pass these tests, and cannot
  • sometimes the questions make no sense to anyone, but yet they’re included and have an impact on the rest of a kid’s life
  • test-takers and administrators must sign a contract saying they will not speak about any of the questions or answers, no matter how absurd they are…

John Oliver addresses all these wrongs, and so many more. Best of all, I don’t end up wanting to hit the liquor cabinet by the end. Instead, I want to share and be a part of the conversation about how to fix this huge mess. Standardized tests, while perhaps conceived to help Leave No Child Behind, have gotten us stuck in a huge quagmire. It is up to us – regular people, parents, grown-ups – to pull our children out.

005: Four Risks To Our Kids’ Well-Being That We Take Far Too Often

Sometimes as parents, we think we are limiting the risks to our kids by taking an action – or backing away from an action – when instead, their well-being and happiness would be better insured by doing something completely different. In this episode, I highlight four common things parents do (I know this, because I did them too!) where it would be better to go in the exact opposite direction.

Listen for:

  • the dangers of sticking close by your child’s side at all times; when we do this, we take away his or her chance to develop independence, creativity, and problem-solving capabilities
  • the risks of using antibacterial soap; this one keeps me up at night, and it’s pretty clear that it also keeps scientists and other super-smart people up at night too
  • how we fail our children when we don’t question a teacher or other authority figure who insists that our child has ADHD or ADD; while there is some risk that our son or daughter may have these or other learning disabilities, I share that during my years of teaching young children – and earning my Masters in Early Childhood Education – these diagnoses are given out far more often than they should be; increasingly, kids are put in an environment that is far too restrictive… In short, it is my opinion that schools, and not children, are often the problem when it comes to kids’ misbehavior
  • the importance of comics – yes, cartoons, graphic novels – in a kid’s journey towards becoming a reader; when adults ban comics, or even disrespect them, we run the risk of limiting our kids’ ability to thrive as readers

Whether you agree or disagree, I encourage you to really give some thought to the above Four Risks. Reasonable and intelligent adults can disagree, but the biggest risk of all that we can take is not giving consideration to any big issue that affects our children while they’re young, because the effects of our choices compound when they are grown up.

004: Bonus Episode – My Mother, My Hero

Picture - My Mom, my brother Rob, and me
My Mom, my brother Rob, and me – I’m the one in the middle with the sweet she-mullet.

Imagine parenting before the era of Google and social media, before there was 24/7 support – or at least entertainment in the form of middle-of-the-night lurking. Books are great, but difficult to hold while comforting a colicky baby at 3 AM. Now, imagine leaving your beloved home city of Montréal, Canada and relocating to a quiet suburb with nothing but houses in every direction. During the day, your husband takes the family car into work, so now you have a three-year-old and a three-month-old, no wheels, and a super expensive long-distance phone bill. A totally different world, right? My mother, Diane Lock, found herself in that situation (I was the three-year-old :-), jumped in with both feet – and thrived.

From that shaky start, my Mom went on not only to raise, along with my Dad, three children who turned out pretty well, in my completely unbiased opinion. She also has written books, started and run a catering service, and sung a solo for Pope John Paul II (we don’t talk about this at all in this episode, but it is still pretty cool.)

Listen for:

  • The Stuffed Zucchini Theory of Parenting – how to recognize it, and how to alleviate it
  • An unconventional book-writing method
  • Successful parenting amid pretty major culture shock

This bonus episode is my chance to speak with a truly remarkable woman, my Mom. If you take just one thing away in listening today, let it be this: when our children are small, it is easy to forget that we are so much more than the arms that comfort them and clean up after them, the legs that walk them around in an endless, bouncing dance when they cry. In those times, let my mother be an example to you of how much more you are than mere arms and legs in service to your child. Remember the little grey cells between your ears – and smile.

Why We Must Let Our Kids Do Dangerous Things

As parents, we all have our comfort levels about risk. Where do you draw the line? Does your one-year-old navigate stairs by herself? Is your six-year-old ever out of your sight at the playground? Does anyone drink from the hose at your house?

If you had asked me those questions when my boys were younger, the answer to each would’ve been “no!”… with a hint of “are you INSANE?” I really felt that the best way to keep them from harm was to simply prevent them from doing things I thought were risky, but looking back, I wish I had encouraged a little more risk. While I thought I was keeping them safe, mostly what I was doing was communicating to them my anxieties about the world, while simultaneously giving them the message that their abilities weren’t enough, that they had to rely on me at all times for everything.

This happened especially with my oldest; by the time his little brother came along, I had eased up a little and realized the harm in preventing them from trying their own strength. Once I realized that I was doing such harm, I made some conscious changes; we have all felt the benefits, believe me.

Fast-forwarding to today, the boys have done some amazing things! They’ve used power tools to help build both a gaga pit and a tree fort, they safely use large knives as they help with cooking, they walk home from a friend’s alone.

And they are always finding new ways to test themselves! When my Jay saw this TED talk, he immediately began a subtle but determined campaign to get behind the wheel of a car… At age 10. And you know what’s crazy? I just might say yes.

003: Michael O’Neal of The Solopreneur Hour Talks About Confronting Fears and Goal-Setting

When Michael O’Neal was growing up, his teachers repeatedly said that he: a) didn’t live up to his potential, and b) talked too much. In our lively conversation today, these two ideas come up again and again, because Michael is doing much more than merely “living up to his potential,” using his propensity to talk too much by helping people like me every day and making a great living at it too.

Listen for:

  • great stories all throughout the episode, including the one about Michael hitchhiking at nine years old, and the time he rode a bike down a mountainside
  • the similarities of raising kids and raising dogs
  • confronting and transcending our fears
  • why setting goals for ourselves is so important, and how to do it right

If you take only one thing away from this episode, let it be this: anxiety and enjoyment are two sides of the same coin. The more anxious you are, the less you are able to enjoy your life, and vice versa; this is especially important because anxious parents – as I was – pass on anxiety to their kids. We need to learn to limit our anxiety to heighten everybody’s enjoyment.

Launched!

“Perfectionism is destructive… Beating the sh*t out of yourself is a killer.” – Henry Winkler, a.k.a. the Fonz

That quote has been on our fridge since I heard Henry Winkler interviewed by Marc Maron a few weeks ago. Really, I don’t think it could’ve come along at a better time!

I had no idea how much launching a podcast would be akin to having a new baby in the house; sleepless nights, missed meals, that kind of thing. But when it all comes together – when you go out to your website, click a link, and hear it sounding so great, out for real on the web – well, that is like baby’s first grin.

And then, you are able to download it in iTunes, see the cover art, read your words in the description – for me, that is akin to baby’s first real giggle.

And then – you don’t even know how this could’ve happened, with the show out there less than 24 hours and the world almost completely unaware of it – more than 20 people have downloaded it! That is like your baby, born yesterday, now taking his first steps.

But, back to the Fonzie quote… There are mistakes here, that’s for sure. I can’t for instance figure out how to get the contact page up and running. Sometimes comments are working, sometimes not… Sometimes I end up on a page of my website called Podcast, and I cannot figure out why it is there, how to change it/get rid of it, very weird. Sometimes clicking on the words Leave A Comment brings me to the Podcast page! Riddle me that, Batman.

But this baby is laughing and walking, and that is what is important.

I’m not beating the sh*t out of myself, quite the opposite – we did it! The goal was to launch by May 1, and we did.

I call that a good day 🙂

002: Foster True Grit

Have you ever taken a look at your young child and wondered, how is this kid going to get along in the real world? The expectations we place on our kids, starting from when they are born, influence them all through their lives. In this episode, I take you into the future, linking what you do right now with your future child.

Listen for:

  • tips on figuring out what motivates a child to work hard at something – or give up
  • how to tell if the motivation is intrinsic, coming from within your child, or extrinsic, an expectation placed on that child by somebody else; which situation will your child work harder in?
  • me, dissing my Dad! (Sorry Dad…) I think my father assumed that I needed extrinsic motivation at all times, or maybe he was more concerned with his own expectations for me… But he has really reformed, and as a grandparent he’s really crushing this, giving incredible love and support to his grandson and helping them achieve their dreams, and I can’t wait to have him on the show to talk about this

If you take one idea away from this episode, I hope it is this: from the very start, we parents have huge power over our children in the form of expectations… And we need to use that power for good.

001: Michelle Sharpe on Starting Her Charity, diapercircle.org

 

If you (like me) have never had to worry about where your child’s next diaper, of all things, is going to come from, I think you will be surprised to know how many people face this problem every day. Michelle Sharpe, a music and early childhood intervention therapist with a background in opera, is doing something about this need, through her charity diapercircle.org. Our conversation ranges from how Michelle got into the charity biz in the first place to practical stuff every parent needs to know. Take a listen, you’ll be glad you did!

Key Links:

 diapercircle.org

cradlestocrayons.org

000: Life Lessons From The Unplanned Adventures of Five Best Friends

What curveballs has life thrown you?

In this episode, the traditional Episode 000: All About The Podcaster gets turned sideways, as I sit down with the four people outside my birth family who have known me the longest and best. We share a lot of wine and Sortilege (delicious Canadian maple whiskey) many laughs, and our unplanned adventures.

  • Debbie tells about being in a house fire, how the random conversation she had a week previously with a firefighter – and the good catch her now-husband made that night – helped her survive
  • Bridgitte shares about the challenges she has faced and lessons she’s learned in dealing with fibromyalgia, a very real condition that Bridgitte’s doctors sometimes doubted
  • Dede talks about the key role she played in the final years of her father’s life, and the sorrows – and joys – she experienced during that tumultuous time
  • Shannon describes breaking from tradition to homeschool her three children, talking about their journey in the seven years since as “a true adventure”
  • I discuss the mysterious illness I’ve been living with for 3 1/2 years, tendinosis (chronic tendinitis, or inflammation of the tendons), and share about the scary lows and unpredicted highs I’ve experienced while living with this condition

This episode might be my favorite, because in it, five real women talk about the setbacks that have come into our lives, and the good that has come out of those setbacks. Unplanned adventures happen for every one of us, and I’m including you, listener, in that. Our discussion highlights the true power of looking at a setback not as a dealbreaker, but instead as a learning experience. I hope you enjoy listening to it just as much as we enjoyed creating it!

The Single Most Important Factor In Any Kind of Recovery

We’ve all had setbacks. Thwarted dreams, mistakes we’ve made, doors closed in our faces. They happen every day. Luckily, we humans are given a healthy dose of ingenuity at the beginning of our lives, so we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

But sometimes, things can interfere with that creativity, break our mental link to our own ingenuity. If we’re told “no” often enough by the people in our lives who really matter – “no, you’re just not a very good reader,” “you’re probably better off giving up baseball – you’re much better at swimming,” – we start to believe it. That’s why, as parents, we have to work so hard not to be balloon poppers… Popping the balloon that is our children’s dreams might be the single most damaging mistake we can make, and will be the subject of a whole future blog post.

It’s tempting to look at something really major, really bad, and believe it is an ending, just one great big “no.” But I think if you talk to someone who’s been through a rough patch and come out okay, you’ll notice a key trait that many of these people have: gratitude.

That’s right! Gratitude for what they have, rather than an emphasis on what’s missing, what door was slammed. Instead of complaining about the door, they find the window.

And when I say “they,” I really mean “we.”

For 3 1/2 years, I’ve had a mystery illness, something that has affected every single area of my life and world. I have experienced pain and fear, over extended periods of time – and I banished them with gratitude.

It might sound crazy, but it’s true, and today I’m excited to share my article in baystateparent, Gratitude Lessons. I hope it makes you smile. Smile, in gratitude – and then go out and support the people in your life, especially the children, as they work toward their dreams.