My wife Judy and I generally don’t cotton to winter in Massachusetts, but this year we were actually looking forward to the first significant snowfall. We were eager to see how Albie, the half golden retriever, half yellow Lab we adopted in July, was going to react, seeing as how he came to us from Louisiana where snow is as rare as bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.
He didn’t disappoint. There’s nothing quite as amusing as watching an 80-pound dog bounce straight up in the air, all four feet well off the ground, rotate 180 degrees before landing, repeat the maneuver a half dozen times in rapid succession then plow his snout into a snow pile, roll over on his back, writhe around like Elvis for 60 seconds, pop up and then tear off like Secretariat across the nearby golf course. Yes, that first day or so was magic in a bottle. It was even about 30 degrees – not beach weather, but not “we need to go south now” weather, either. Tolerable, even pleasant, if you had a direct bead on the sun.
Now the reality of winter with a dog as energetic outside the house as he is mellow inside it is settling in. On a recent day, at about 8 a.m., when I wasn't feeling well, it was time to take Albie out for his morning constitutional. A year ago I’d have pulled the covers tight and closed my eyes for, say, another two days. Not an option anymore.
Before the snow came, Albie and I would cover five or six holes out on the golf course, explore three sand traps and two water hazards before heading home, but it was about 12 degrees when we went out that morning. We’d barely "played" one hole when I lost feeling in the tips of my fingers despite wearing the new gloves I got for my birthday. It didn’t help that the snow had covered the ground to a depth of about 8-10 inches because Albie, who prefers to poop in leaves or pine needles or on a downed branch, no longer had the cues, visual or olfactory, to guide him. Consequently, he seemed at a loss and it took him an awfully long time to decide on the perfect spot for a deposit. I used to think time stood still while waiting for my kids to fall asleep when they were little, but at least I could wait where it was warm. When it’s 12 degrees and there’s a stiff wind blowing from the north, time and water both freeze.
When we’d finally concluded the morning’s business, we started trudging back up the hill toward home and for a brief moment I considered the perplexing impulses of Admiral Byrd and other polar explorers, wondering how they endured week after week of numbing cold when they obviously had the leisure to be exploring, say, Polynesia. Eyes fixed straight ahead, with Albie on his leash a few strides behind, I sensed something odd was happening. I turned and saw Albie on an ice patch walking normally but losing a little bit of ground with each step. I can’t imagine what he makes of ice and how it undermines his sure-footedness.
Albie has his winter coat now, a much plusher, thicker version of the one he arrived with in July. Apparently, changes in the coat are triggered by hours of daylight, ensuring a light coat in summer and the rich, satiny soft one in winter. My question is whether he’s going to be too hot when we drive somewhere south of the 28th parallel to spend next winter chasing sandpipers instead of snowflakes.
This time of year a lot of lists are written. Unfortunately, many of the same goals keep appearing on these lists year after year. They often include things that need to be done around the house, home improvement or organization projects. In conducting stress-reduction workshops, I noticed how frequently people mentioned the perennial unfinished project list as a source of stress.
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Part of the problem in accomplishing the goal is that it appears at the top of the page. We often don't think about the fact that the item needs to be at the bottom of the page with dozens of steps preceding it. It's clearly not as simple as placing the item at the bottom of the page, but that act realizes the truth that the lack of accomplishment is not a character flaw, but a lack of planning. We are not just being lazy or procrastinating - more often we're missing a clear path to the goal.
This faulty thinking reminded me of a sampler I embroidered with the phrase, "Plan your work, then work your plan." Most people in the workshops had not really planned their work, even though they were making stabs at it.
From that observation I began including an activity in the stress-management workshops that focused on the process of planning one's work. It also recognized the importance of giving a name to all the little obstacles that are between the goal and its accomplishment. I titled the activity the yeah-but List and invited participants to work in pairs, but it is not a complicated exercise and can easily be done alone.
The directions are simple. First, write the goal at the bottom of a page, then start a series of yeah-but, all reasons that the specific task can't be done. Write each yeah-but down, working your way up to the top of the page by answering each yeah-but with another.
One participant shared her reappearing goal of getting the bathroom remodeled. It started with: "Get the bathroom redone." The first yabut: "Yeah-but I can't do that until I get the name of a good contractor." So, her partner wrote, "Get the name of a good contractor."
The next yabut: "Yeah-but I can't do that until I call my cousin's neighbor, she had a great outcome." And her partner wrote down, "Call my cousin's neighbor."
"Yeah-but I can't call her until I find the gardening book she loaned me." And her partner wrote down, "Find the gardening book."
The process continued with each yeah-but translated into a step. "Yeah-but I can't do that until I can get into the garage, where we stored all the books when we repainted the office. Yeah-but I can't do that until I get my son's car out of the way. Yeah-but I can't do that until I get the garage door fixed. Yeah-but I can't do that until I get the number of the garage-door installer."
The final step was, "Yeah-but I can't do that until I get online and find his number." The partner wrote down, "Get online and get the number!"
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When the exercise was done, the woman had a list of steps to get her started. Little did she realize when she began the exercise that her bathroom remodel hinged on the phone number of the garage-door installer.
I don't know if the woman ever got her bathroom remodeled. I do hope that she and the other participants gained a new strategy for chipping away at the annual list by understanding that most accomplishments happen through dozens of baby steps, formerly viewed as obstacles.
It’s the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee some form of paid leave to new moms, they say, and it’s one of only a very few even when you include impoverished and developing countries. One recent report, for instance, identified only four nations – the US, Swaziland, Liberia, and Papua New Guinea – that do not guarantee a new mom income while she stays home with her baby.
This is the sort of tidbit that makes the rounds via Facebook. (One recent meme “mapped” paid maternity leave, showing how many more weeks of paid leave Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico, and Venezuela give to new moms, compared with zero from the US.) It gets repeated as a given in debates and on social action websites such as Change.org.
So we wanted to find out – is it true? Is the US, globally, really all that bad when it comes to family leave policies?
It’s an important question. The lack of paid leave has major ripple effects. Although the US Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks off after the birth of the child, it only covers a fraction of the US workforce, and does not require employers to pay the parent's salary. This means that many moms (and some dads) face the financial lose-lose of either giving up large amounts of income while they stay home with baby, or spending lots of money on high-priced infant day care.
Researchers have found that a new baby in the house is one of the top reasons for a “poverty spell,” when a family’s income dips below what is needed to pay for basic expenses. Some studies have also connected bankruptcy filings and foreclosures to moms or dads who take leave without pay after the birth of a child.
But does the US actually “lag behind,” as a number of advocates say?
If you have read Modern Parenthood before you know that we try to bring a critical eye to the oft-repeated conventional wisdom about families and parenting. We have questioned the massive anti-bullying trend sweeping the country’s schools, for instance. We raised some questions about the anti-sex trafficking movement. So we were certainly willing to debunk a myth here.
Except ... this one seems to be pretty right on. According to a number of reports, the US does seem to be out of step with other countries when it comes to maternity leave policy. (It also is one of the few countries that has not signed two international conventions on women’s rights that outline the importance of paid leave for new moms.)
The Project on Global Working Families, a joint venture by Harvard and McGill Universities, developed with the support of the Ford Foundation a “Work, Family, and Equity Index,” in which it evaluates policies such as parental leave, paid sick leave, work hours, and support for breastfeeding. Researchers scoured national labor codes and other laws, dug into the International Labour Organization’s database of global labor, social security and human-rights legislation, and reviewed dozens of secondary sources – all to try to piece together what can sometimes seem like an apple-orange comparison of different countries’ labor policies.
Of the 173 countries the researchers evaluated for policies around childbearing, they found that 169 offered moms guaranteed leave with income. (This is either because the government provides it, or because the government mandates employers to provide it.) Ninety-eight of those countries offer 14 or more weeks paid leave.
And dads aren’t left out. (At least not totally.) Sixty-six countries ensure that fathers receive or have a right to paid parental leave.
So what’s up with the US?
As anyone who followed this last presidential election knows all too well, we are a country resistant to “government meddling” – especially in areas that we have traditionally thought of as private. This gets even more virulent if you start messing around with business bottom lines, which would clearly be affected if the government required employers to pay women during maternity leave. (Not to mention the following complaints of non-parents who might wonder why they don’t get paid leave for some other sort of family obligation.)
Supporters of paid leave have counter arguments. They say that paid leave would result in improved employee retention, health and quality, and would more than offset the financial hit to the employer, or to the taxpayers.
But at this point, it’s not something the US federal government has been willing to legislate.
And if you look closer, the US might not be as bad, comparatively, as it seems. In many countries that seem to have cushy maternity leave, a huge percentage of women work in the informal sector. That means they don’t benefit from the policies. And in other countries – Somalia, for instance, which guarantees 14 to 25 weeks paid leave for new moms – the ability of government to enforce policies is sketchy, at best.
Still, there is growing pressure from US mom groups to revisit the issue of paid parental leave.
In the meantime, we'll envy Sweden.
There is a mafia in Oslo.
Members of the clan are fearless and prefer to do their work in broad daylight. They’re easy to spot, often travel in packs and can be aggressive when on the streets, yet no one dare respond to an “inadvertent” bump with anything but an apology. These mafia operatives don’t use traditional weapons but are harshly trained through methods of sleep deprivation and are not to be crossed.
They’re called the barnevognmafia.
Translated literally: child wagon mafia. The “operatives” I’m referring to are parents, mostly mothers enjoying their nearly year-long, fully paid maternity leave. I am a proud member of this clan.
Barnevogn is Norwegian for stroller and the ones here need a big name like that because they are enormous. Hefty tires for the snow, big seats with bulky canopies to keep kids warm in sub-zero temperatures, and they morph into mini-beds for their sleeping cargo. Mothers walk with an assumed ownership of the footpaths in Oslo because it’s the only way anyone will let you through with a hulking stroller that takes up half the sidewalk.
And yes, these super-colossal kid carriers work as weapons too – one quick turn and we’ll skin your shins with the front spoke of the stroller.
Our fashion of organized crime is to clog cafes with our baby bags and “child wagons.” Our kids whimper, whine and scream while we gab on with our fellow operatives because, like Sicilian mafiosi desensitized to violence, we can tune out our crying children. There’s always something wrong and we might as well talk a little louder and find out who is up to what.
We also part-take in another activity that makes onlookers, particularly of the male variety, uncomfortable. But hey, when a baby is hungry he’s hungry so nursing while sipping a latte at United Bakeries is part of the deal. It’s a useful method of (comical) intimidation that comes in handy if someone rolls their eyes when they see a mother stroll into a public space with a noise-polluting baby.
The barnevognmafia isn’t a real organization in Oslo but the existence of the term in the zeitgeist reflects the camaraderie that forms among parents. There is an inherent understanding of the trials of early parenthood: sleepless nights, tantrums, potty training…
The power parents have in Norway is what makes this place perfect for me at this time in my life. The amount of help the government provides young families has effectively set high social expectations for the community to do their part.
If a driver sees someone with a pram about to cross the street they come to a halting stop as if royalty is being carried through. Public transportation was built with oversized strollers in mind and locals are always on standby to help, whether it’s lifting it onto the tram or holding open a door. I’ve never been able to thank anyone because they run off before you even realize that you’ve been helped.
You can take your kids anywhere here and not only are they welcomed, but restaurants and museums have thought about how best to adapt to what kids need. I think this star treatment of young families is well deserved. Parenthood, while rewarding, is challenging and if society can do anything to help, it should.
And if you don’t agree: watch out. The barnevognmafia is everywhere and a clan member could unleash a screaming toddler during your romantic dinner just for the fun of it.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Saleha Mohsin blogs at Edge of the Arctic.
As a school principal, I’ve wrestled for years to find a satisfying expression of seasonal joy and inspiration while working in a diverse religious or irreligious community. What tradition can we all embrace at this time of year without making the moment fraught with conflict or overlap or over-sensitivity regarding individual religious tradition?
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The school concert last week was “the winter concert,” not even the holiday concert. Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years all blend as “winter vacation.” We balance the songs and music originating in different traditions in order to be inclusive — all good. The words of well wishing often catch in the utterance. “Merry Christmas,” said a fourth grader to her Jewish teacher. Ooops! “It’s OK to wish me Merry Christmas,” said her teacher! Language and religious traditions collide; graciousness and understanding trump the inadvertent over-sensitivities. We deal.
But I still seek the language we can all embrace, the words that staunch the hindrance we feel to reach beyond the murky clouds of unshared doctrine, liturgy, or tradition that inhibit our celebration. Where is an ecumenical, civil, secular liturgy and ritual we can all join? How do we unite in something soulful, beyond the commercialism that also permeates the season?
This is a precious moment in the calendar of the world’s religious traditions, as people and their villages have known and celebrated since the very beginning of settlement and stories. The oldest observance must be the death and birth of the year, the Winter solstice, the celebration of new life. Eventually the imagery came to convey the break through of inspiration and spirituality — as exemplified by light.
The season embraces our deepest inclination to cherish light and push back darkness; to celebrate family and friends around table and hearth; to make room for all things new and anticipate the longest day toward which we wend, the summer solstice at the opposite end of the celestial year.
For this season, in our family and in my schools, we have always shared Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day.” It alludes to the revels of this solstice and the global traditions we hail from, and also helps with the anticipation of the next solstice. The possibilities expand for each of us, as we allow them to adhere.
So the shortest day came,
and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries
of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us — listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land;
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
and hope for peace.
Can we all find ourselves in these lines?
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May your family’s holidays and vacation days be filled with this same delight, followed by New Year’s sunshine and revelry. And may we all experience the promise of peace and love and gratitude that the season is bound to awaken in us — regardless of where we as individuals think it comes from.
Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, PA.
The assignment for my seventh and eighth graders was to select one of Dylan Thomas’s topic sentences, each borrowed from a paragraph of his famous “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and use it to begin their own recollection of their local or familial holidays. We had read Thomas’s wonderful story, watched an excellent film version of it, and looked outside as the snow hushed Castine on Wednesday morning – inspiring writing weather, to be sure, for kids in a harbor town in the northern latitudes.
You could begin, “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years....” Or perhaps you preferred, “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea....” I am fond of this one: “There are always Uncles at Christmas.” With such prompts, it was important to review two crucial writing rules: "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." And "It’s all true, even if it never happened." It was time to stretch out and inhabit the feeling of the season in words, to don the mantle of Thomas and Wales and merge wolves in Wales with Castine with cherished candy, mittens, firemen and tipsy aunts.
“Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire,” wrote Thomas. And so we plunged our hands in and brought out the memory of the year Olivia and Jacey made the snow dog, instead of snowman, and named him Veggie Bob Dog, due to his broccoli eyes, cauliflower nose, and carrot mouth. On the same day they invented jelly snowballs. “You have to pack the snow together, and dig a little hole in it,” said Jacey – which tasted pretty disgusting, according to Olivia.
Christmas means movies: "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "White Christmas," "The Nutcracker," or the ubiquitous "Grinch." Surely he is one of the salty, bitter tongues of the see of Christmas – the spoiler, the gift thief, and the humbug.
What about the uncles, or aunts, or visiting cousins; nonnies and nannies and oomas? One uncle lived in a tipi, with the ornaments and decorations hung from the poles inside. For one student, Christmas in California has a way of becoming cultural adventures for travelers from the East.
Any Maine forest-dweller knows that choosing exactly the right tree is “a very annoying, yet rewarding job.” With hundreds to choose from, it’s hard to detect “the perfect one for you, your family, and of course, your house.” Alex defined the rubric for choice: not “too tall, or too short; too narrow, or too wide; too wet, or too dry; too brown, or too green; too small, or too big; too many branches or too few; too saggy, or too lopsided.”
And once the tree is correctly placed, bringing the outside in, and turning the house inside out with the aroma of spruce or fir, the decorating begins. “I get the white, wooden snowflake,” writes Meredith, “and Sawyer gets the wooden moose that has a string attached to make its leg move when you pull it. We hang them on a different branch and go back to get the next ornaments. We hang up angels with newspaper for wings, Pillsbury dough men, cupcakes with shiny pink and green frosting and Minnie and Mickey Mouse bobble heads. Then, we grab our mugs and Dad puts another log in the fire and we sit back to play a few card games and enjoy our work.”
Who wants a useful present, “such as warm, fluffy hats, and soft, handmade scarves; socks and white T-shirts?” You can’t play with T-shirts, thought Gabriel. Uncle Ely to the rescue: “There appeared a blue Yamaha RC snowmobile, with batteries.” Think of all the mystery, majesty, and quasi-ecclesiastical authority in the phrase, “There appeared.” Game Boys we have heard on high, sweetly beeping all o’er Maine. What would Dylan Thomas say? “Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were remote-controlled, battery-operated Big Wheels in Wales….” It’s hard to hear the absence of the sound of snow filling the fir boughs above the mechanical whine and torque of the latest radio toy vehicle.
There are essential letters. “I was worried whether I had been clear enough in my letter to Santa,” wrote Madison. “I had asked for a Barbie Car. There was a lot at stake this Christmas, and it was my first letter to Santa. I was four.”
There are snow days, gifts of leisure time packaged and delivered with the actual raw materials of fantastic winter play. Not too many snow days, please, lest we find ourselves paying for them with school days in July – a high interest rate, to be sure. Just enough. “The huge snowdrifts from the plow make excellent forts,” wrote Meredith, “and the pile of snow at the bottom of the slide is soft and powdery from the dry wind and freezing air.” After a full day of such cold-pile jumping, “a hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and a peppermint stick” await inside.
And finally we all close our eyes with something like this favorite Christmas poem by Bill Watterson: “Tomorrow’s what I’m waiting for, but I can wait a little more.” We can all feel what it’s like to think, just before slumber, as Thomas did, “I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”
And we can all hear the other tongue of the sea, lapping at the silken shore of memory and care. And there appeared peace.
‘Tis the season to hear of wise men following a star, and it got me to thinking about how to raise children to be wise and to reach for the stars. A recent weekend visit with a young chess player from Brooklyn and his Nigerian-born mother brought home the reality that in life, as in chess, you need both a strategic plan and someone to have your back.
After interviewing 16-year-old Oghenakpobo Efekoro (known as Pobo), the young star of the chess documentary "Brooklyn Castle," for this blog, I realized how much families here in Norfolk, Virginia would gain by meeting him and his mother, Christina Inuware. (I’m the founder of a little volunteer group that provides free chess learn & play sessions in our community called The Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence.) His story as a first-generation American with Nigerian parents, losing his father at age four and going down a dark road that only a board game and parental support could remove him from, is powerful.
The hitch was that we had to pay the plane fares, room and board for Pobo and his mom. We don’t have grants. We have chess sets, kids and free bagels from Yorgos Bageldashery. Airlines have yet to adopt the bagel currency system, so we had a problem.
Armed with video clips of our local children at community centers, libraries and schools trying to better themselves through chess, I sent emails out and asked for sponsors to give this holiday gift to our city.
And we received – big time. The Sheraton Waterside Hotel pledged full accommodations, two Board of Education members generated every kind of educational backup we could imagine, including a whole school for a learn and play event after the film screening and Q&A with Pobo at the theater. And Will Smith, a devoted chess player, paid the air fare for both Pobo and his mother Christiana from the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation after I sent videos of our city’s children playing chess and made the case for how much more powerful the learning experience would be if Pobo were here to keep it real.
The Norfolk city manager funded movie tickets to all our Lambert's Point chess kids, while local businesses and residents chipped in to buy tickets for kids and their parents/guardians, teachers and mentors to see the film.
On Dec. 8, Pobo arrived at the Naro Cinema, where nearly all 500 seats were filled, and then went to Campostella Elementary School, a Title 1 school in a struggling section of the city, where he taught chess for hours. He gave them a role model of a sort they had never known – a young man, well over six feet one inch and built like a linebacker for the Giants, who speaks softly, laughs easily and can devastate a man of 40 in blitz chess on the clock that had them gasping and cheering like they were in the stands of the NFL on playoff day.
Seeing him and his mother together, the respectful give-and-take and how she, too, smiled easily and advised well showed where his strength came from.
We’re trying to renovate the old trolley train station in a very under-served section of town called Villa Heights to make a free chess and STEM center for kids, and the neighbors there decided to throw a farewell for Pobo and his mother. The head of the Civic League there presented Christina with a bouquet of flowers, saying, “We wanted to honor you for the way you have raised your son, because we all know how hard that is for a single parent and how much you had to do with his success.”
As I drove them to the airport for the flight home, Pobo said, “I’ve been to a lot of cities for this movie, but this was the first place where we saw an entire community just come together from all walks of life. This is what’s amazing and important. It’s about everyone coming together and when someone like Will and Jada Smith can reach out like that and just make it real for people... it’s something I’ll never forget in my lifetime.”
For a new report, the Pew Internet Project surveyed and held focus groups with more than 2,000 middle and high school teachers in the Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) communities and found that 77 percent feel “the Internet and digital search tools have had a ‘mostly positive’ impact on their students’ research habits, but 87 percent say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’.”
Almost two-thirds of the teachers (64 percent) said today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically’.”
Many of the teachers surveyed are probably amazing educators – like the ones Matt Richtel of the New York Times interviewed for his coverage of the study: Hope Molina-Porter, who has taught for 14 years and cares enough about her students to adjust to changing conditions, and 4th-grade teacher Dave Mendell, who said “it was tougher to engage students, but that once they were engaged, they were just as able to solve problems and be creative as they had been in the past.”
But do stop and think about this data. Thankfully, Mr. Richtel did. High up in the article, he wrote that researchers pointed out their findings represent subjective views and that “scholars who study the role of media in society say no long-term studies have been done that adequately show how and if student attention span has changed because of the use of digital technology.”
But there’s so much more to think about, and I hope that, out of respect for our children, parents and educators will give this even more thought. Here are a few more things I think we need to think about, whether or not you agree with me….
So students are changing. Is this a bad thing? We’re all changing, and a lot of things around us are changing too, not just technology.
As for technology, it’s apparently rewiring our brain. The thing is, it always has – since the beginning of time, at least since Socrates, who “started what may have been the first technology scare,” author Jonah Lehrer wrote in the New York Times, referring to the invention of the book.
And our brains are constantly being rewired by all kinds of things, not just technology. “Being online does change your brain, but so does making a cup of tea,” wrote University of Sheffield researcher Tom Stafford at BBC.com.
What hasn’t changed as much as us and our technology is school. So here’s a thought: How about adjusting teaching and school to our changing students, culture, workplace, and society instead of somehow dialing students back to the way our generation learned (in school)?
Do we really want to make our children conform to the way students used to be – to the way we used to be? I imagine a lot of adults do want that. But we adults were information consumers and memorizers. They are information hunter-gatherers (as media professor Henry Jenkins put it years ago) who don’t need to memorize anything (it’s all at their fingertips 24/7).
What they need more than anything is to learn how to filter that information, to glean what’s of value. Thankfully, the Pew study indicates teachers really get that part: “Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to ‘judge the quality of online information’,” but I hope not just online information!
What students will tell you is that a lot of the information presented at school doesn’t interest them.
Students may have been saying this for generations, but what’s different now is that they are awash in information that is of great interest to them outside of school, and it’s instantly accessible (except at school, if they haven’t gotten around the filtering with their cellphones).
We didn’t have that choice. We could dream about what we’d do in our futures, but today’s students can write code, publish an e-book, produce videos, develop a following, get professional coaching, teach guitar on YouTube, take a Web-based MIT class, collaborate on projects, join fellow activists, etc. – whenever they want. That has to make it even harder for them than it was for us to sit through Algebra 2.
Possible conflict of interest? Many teachers – particularly those focused on long-standing measures of academic performance (e.g., AP teachers) – are invested in the education status quo.
So I wonder about the value of polling people about something that threatens the status quo. To her credit, referring to the teachers surveyed, the Pew report’s lead author, Kristen Purcell, said “the label of distraction is a judgment of this generation,” Richtel reported, and “acknowledged that the findings could be viewed from another perspective: that the education system must adjust to better accommodate the way students learn,” which was brought up by some teachers in focus groups.
And media use is just “entertainment”?! I find this really disturbing and disrespectful of students. One teacher asks in the Times piece, “What’s going to happen when they don’t have constant entertainment?” That’s a question a lot of adults have, I know, but it’s based on the mistaken assumption that what media was to us when we were young is what today’s media is to our children. That’s simply not the case.
And yet a whole study – a second survey of educators the Times covers, by Common Sense Media, uses the term “entertainment media” throughout, and respondents were asked questions using that term rather than the more neutral term “media” or “digital media,” prejudicing responses.
For Finding No. 1, Common Sense reports, “When asked about a range of specific academic skills, teachers are much more likely to say entertainment media have hurt rather than helped those skills.”
Virtually all media were included in the study’s definition of the term – including apps, computer programs, social network sites, videos, and texting. Like you, probably, I use all of those in my work. Certainly sometimes for entertainment too, but how is it respectful to assume the same media that is a blend of work and play for adults is just entertainment for youth? A past much-publicized study of theirs represented children largely as media "consumers."
Some improvements actually cited. And credit goes to teachers who saw positive signs amid the “entertainment media” use.
The Times reported that “the surveys include some findings that appear contradictory. In the Common Sense report, for instance, some teachers said that even as they saw attention spans wane, students were improving in subjects like math, science and reading,” the Times reported.
So there we have plenty on teachers’ views. Clearly we need more research on students.’ I hope that’s in the works.
- Another expert calling on schools to change: In PsychologyToday.com, California State University psychology professor Larry Rosen wrote that “the new, realistic technologies and how they lead to a strong sense of ‘presence’ which can be used to engage young learners. It is not a coincidence that most children’s movies are being shown in 3-D. iGeners are the most technologically immersed generation and just watching the intense look on their faces as they play video games, text all day long, Skype, Facebook, watch YouTube videos, and juggle a dozen websites at a time, it is clear that they are engaged. Now, we need to rewire education to take the home iGen lifestyle and transfer it into the classroom.”
- And in this blog post, teacher Ben Grey asks, “Why does there remain such a fascination with teaching kids very specific technology skills in our schools today?” That would be the new “shop class,” right, Ben?
- “An open letter to tech-fearing teachers everywhere” indicates that some teachers have the misconception that they’re under pressure to teach students technology. That’s not it at all. Students use technology to discuss, present, collaborate on, summarize, do research for, get quizzed on what they’re learning, and that’s only a small sampler of tech’s uses in classrooms.
- “WoWing Language Arts” in The Journal about the breadth of learning students are experiencing in World of Warcraft in school – learning folklore through literature (e.g., Beowulf), vocabulary, socialization, time management, leadership and digital literacy – facilitated by teacher Peggy Sheehy at Suffern Middle School in New York (she elaborates in a video on page 26 of the article).
- The Australia-based Massively Minecraft Guild: “a learning community for kids and their parents [that's] exploring how to live, work and play in Minecraft,” a digital environment game where people individually or collaboratively use LEGO-like virtual blocks to build just about anything they can imagine. It can be either a creative or a survival game with monsters that come out at night. As of this writing, its makers say that “so far 42,098,3157 people have registered and 7,531,314 people bought the game,” with someone new registering about every second, apparently.
- A collective of educators – “GAME” (for Gamers Advancing Meaningful Education) – talk about their work in a new series of Webinars on YouTube, “It Takes a Guild,” starting here. Part two of the series, with teacher Marianne Malmstrom in New Jersey, is here.
- How BYOT (or BYOD), as in technology in the service of learning, works in a Georgia school district.
- Minecraft in School – a video of students’ work from a class developed by instructional technology coordinator Lucas Gillispie and teacher Craig Lawson in North Carolina, who have been collaborating with teacher Peggy Sheehy in New York on creating spaces in Minecraft and World of Warcraft for students to experience both so-called formal learning and informal learning (including social literacy).
- About a highly publicized 2010 study of children’s media use.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org, a blog, RSS feed, and e-mail newsletter that focuses on "kid-tech news for parents.”
“It’s Jesus' birthday, not yours.”
That statement was once said gently by my Grandfather Ralph Kochenderfer and repeated for years by other family members. Ralph was a reserved and kind man, but he had his priorities straight. He never missed an event his four children took part in. And he would even let them play hooky on good fishing days: With a lunch of oatmeal cookies and cheese they would spend the day by the creek.
But Christmas traditions were different.
Grandfather was Pennsylvania Dutch with what seemed like a significant Amish streak. A dignified and honorable man he kept all the secrets of his little town in South Dakota. As the railroad depot agent he was the telegrapher in town in the 1920s and '30s, so he knew the contents of every message sent and received.
While he did not believe in the frenzy over gifts he enjoyed the celebration.
The depot waiting room was the largest site in town and every year was the location for wonderful holiday parties – food, music, and spirit provided by everyone in town.
I’m grateful that this simple statement became part of the family culture. While others scurry around purchasing for people close and not so close to them, most of us are decorating our homes or arranging little (or sometimes big) parties. There’s a lot of empty space under our tree, but our homes are filled with friends and festivities.
My husband and I started early with our own children not to expect volume. Our family event on Christmas Eve takes very little time for package opening with only a few small thoughtful gifts.
Now that our children are grown, we give them a little money to add to their savings for a special purchase. And there is sometimes a handmade gift card for a special activity for the family.
One year when they were younger we took them for dinner at a nice French restaurant. That experience was so special and memorable it has become a point of reference for them.
I just made reservations at the same restaurant and am certain the memory of the upcoming dinner will stay with them longer than anything they could unwrap from under the tree.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.
The US Federal Trade Commission’s revisions to the COPPA Rule announced Dec. 19 are aimed at syncing up a rule mandated by a 1998 law with today’s technology and with “the way children use the Internet, mobile devices and social networking,” the FTC says in its press release.
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For example, the personal information that services cannot collect from children under 13 without parental consent now includes photos, videos and geolocation information; the FTC will have a “streamlined, voluntary and transparent” process for approval of new ways children’s sites can obtain parental consent; and the COPPA Rule now rules out the use of “persistent identifiers” like cookies that would allow businesses to send kids behavioral ads based on their online activities.
In addition to “personal information,” the FTC also updated a number of other terms. For example, “operator” now means a kids’ site or service that integrates third-party services “such as plug-ins or advertising networks” that collect personal information from its visitors – not app stores like Apple’s or Google Play that just offer children’s apps. So an “operator” like Facebook or Apple’s App Store “will only be responsible if they have ‘actual knowledge’ that an … app is not complying,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Also, “collection of personal information” no longer includes information children themselves post as a form of participation in “interactive communities” (e.g. online games) – sites and services don’t have to obtain parental consent as long as they “take reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all children’s personal information before it is made public.”
Collaborative regulatory power needed
From that last point, you can see that sites and services will be struggling for some time to understand the exact meaning of some of these revisions and how they apply to the user-driven content on their services. Both the confusion and some of the updates could either chill innovation (by increasing startup costs) or help shutter small businesses serving children.
For example, in its coverage of the revisions, the Washington Post cited the view of a developer of children’s book apps. The developer “fears heavy legal costs that she estimates could be as high as $10,000 [because] she would like to collect information about children to personalize her app so that users can create logs and reading goals.”
This indicates confusion because the FTC states that “no parental notice and consent is required when an operator collects a persistent identifier for the sole purpose of supporting … internal operations.” Collecting information for the sole purpose of enhancing a user’s experience – by allowing them to create “reading goals” in a book app – would probably be seen by the FTC as perfectly compliant, as an “internal operation.”
So as I watched the new rule’s unveiling live-streamed from Capitol Hill, I noted two things:
- The pressure on regulators to keep up with new media and technologies and…
- A lack of understanding of how the “user-driven” aspect of new media and technologies changes the regulatory equation.
The former aggravates the latter. Until governments stop trying to apply regulation to the conditions of the former (mass) media environment, in which professionally produced media was published or broadcast to people who merely consumed it, they will not fully protect “consumers,” who are now producers and participants every bit as much as consumers and whose media is the content of their lives.
Under these conditions, self-regulation (personal as well as corporate) becomes as essential to “consumer” protection as the government kind, and regulatory power is increasingly distributed and shared among users, media companies, and government (see this in my post about the unintended consequences of COPPA last summer).
Regulation in today’s media environment is necessarily a collaboration, and effective consumer protection under these new conditions requires a lot more consumer education not only about the importance of self-regulation but also about not having a false sense of security about regulation!
Obtaining your consent
The new COPPA Rule will also change the ways you can give your consent to children’s sites and services. New methods include “electronic scans of signed parental consent forms; video-conferencing [sounds like you could have a Skype chat with a kids' Web site or app company]; use of government-issued identification [a scan of your driver's license, perhaps]; and alternative payment systems, such as debit cards and electronic payment systems, provided they meet certain criteria,” according to the FTC.
How do you feel about giving consent in these ways?
The new rule goes into effect next July 1, CNN reports.
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- A study released late November from New York University found that COPPA has likely increased minors’ risk online – see this.
- A study released last year about how, despite COPPA, a large proportion of US parents of children under 13 help their kids set up accounts in social network sites
- ConnectSafely.org submitted a comment to the FTC about the proposed revisions this past September.
- In 2010, a task force I co-chaired sent Congress our report “Youth Safety on a Living Internet” – here’s a post about why we chose that title.
- A year before that, my ConnectSafely.org co-director and I published a document entitled “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth,” explaining why youth agency (and not treating youth or adult users only as potential victims) is essential to their protection.
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org, a blog, RSS feed, and e-mail newsletter that focuses on "kid-tech news for parents.”
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs.