Friday, December 7, 2012

Deborah Meier on ' How children succeed ' - character education

In my blog post on Paul Tough's ' How children succeed'  I said that trying to promote the 'non-cognitive ' skills such self control, grit and self discipline not in the context of community and cooperative learning,, addressing needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness , using intrinsic motivation and passion to drive learning and solve problems in a collaborative way taking into account kids concerns as well , all we end up is promoting docility and compliance.
I came across Deborah Meier's response on the Dianne Ravitch's blog post on the book.  
The blog post and comments focused mainly on Paul Tough's important contribution on the education and poverty debate and ignored the issue of character education as reflected in KIPP schools. Deborah Meier's insightful comment is on character education.
'Good points re Tough. Diane. But I worry that so many, Tough too, miss the special character strengths that the poor (and stressed) often bring with them to school. Their very strengths (especially if they are males) are seen as weaknesses, including their indomitable feistiness, their independence, their networking, etc. They are seen as traits to be “broken”, and then remade in another image. Kids fight back. And in doing so they are seen as incorrigible! I saw it all the time in 4 and 5 year olds–and, of course, 14-18 year olds. . But instead of encouraging them to hold onto their self-respect, we put it down as a sign of lack of character.
It’s a big subject, and I think you are on the same trail–as has become usual for us–as I am–to see what this “grit” term means when it comes to schooling, and then–who needs to change? The kids or the way the schools (and the larger society and media) respond to them?
I learned a lot just from sitting in the park and watching kids in the sand box–of a most diverse type–and how the adults responded to them and their behavior. Ah well, more another time.'

Sunday, December 2, 2012

How Children succeed - Paul Tough

     In   How children succeed - Paul Tough   argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control and grit. Instead of focusing on cognitive academic skills , schools should focus on character.

I have just read about the book, listened to a few podcats and my first reaction was to think of Alfie Kohn. Besides the importance of attachment parenting and the negative impact of poverty on kids brains , I think Paul Tough gets it wrong on a few accounts.

He talks about self control and grit in an econtalks podcast –' And so grit was this idea that Angela Ducksworth came up with; it certainly involved a lot of self-discipline but also involved a large degree of passion. She defined it as perseverance in pursuit of a passion. So, it's somebody who has a very strong goal and does not let obstacles get in the way; does not give up; does not get distracted. And so she now feels like grit is the more important and more predictive of these non-cognitive skills.'

In the podcast the discussion ignores the crucial element of passion , a possibility of intrinsic motivation fuelling the self discipline and focuses on motivating kids on achievement and the long term pay offs of working hard and having self discipline. In a note - article ' why is self discipline over-rated ' AK says the  limitations of grit itself, as  a concept is  that it ' ignores motivational factors (that is, why people persevere), thus conflating genuine passion for a task with a desperate need to prove one’s competence, an inability to change course when appropriate, and so on. '

What comes across from what I have heard and read is that kids do not see the ' learning in itself ' as something meaningful and worthwhile , they are just focused on achievement and being successful.

So as Ak says , talk about grit, self control and self discipline is more about getting kids to meet adult expectations and be compliant. Character education is less about meeting kids needs for autonomy , competence and relatedness but about meeting adult expectations and getting kids to listen and do what they are told.

Character education has to given in the context of cooperative learning, community and a place where problems are solved in a collaborative way taking into account both adult and kids concerns. Kids should be helped to reflect on how they impact on others and at the same time get their needs met and support others.

This cannot take place in a competitive environment and where a discipline code uses rewards and consequences and ignores kids' concerns.

Paul Tough says schooling focuses on cognitive skills, whereas kids need qualities that  have more to do with character which he calls non-cognitive skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control and grit.

He fails to understand that we use cognition all the time. Just like in academic learning kids need to be active in constructing meaning , kids need to be pro-active and make meaning of their socio-moral learning.

The self -control displayed by kids in the marsh mellow test was more about thinking, problem solving and finding ways to distract oneself from eating the marsh mellow than from good -old fashioned self control.

We would go along way in helping kids acquire grit etc by trying to help them develop a passion for learning and make meaning of what they are doing. Life is a process , not just achieving goals and then moving onto the next goal.

One of the reasons that Paul Tough thinks that cognitive skills are not worth much is that he and kids don't see any value in the learning itself. If there is value in the learning itself then both the cognitive and non-cognitive skills come together.

I recommend Paul Tough and all to read the following articles