December 18, 2012
By Ellen Galinsky
The front pages of newspapers show hearses lined up and the headlines talk of the mournful task of saying goodbye. An eight-year-old child is quoted in a New York Times article, speaking of his six-year-old friend, Jack Pinto:
I used to do everything with him. We liked to wrestle. We played Wii We just played all the time. I can’t believe I’m never going to see him again.
America has had a collective experience of death over the past days. Amid the December skies and the festively lit Christmas trees in Newtown, Connecticut are the votive candles, the shrines, the stuffed animals, and the loving notes to the children and adults who tragically lost their lives on December 14th.
This shared and heartbreaking loss has spilled into all of our lives, whether near or far, whether old or young, whether we knew those who lost their lives or not.
For many of us, this collective loss has raised questions of how we talk about this the loss with children—from safety in schools, to killings, to death.
For some of us, this collective loss reminds us of the loss of our own children—as it does for me—soon after his birth years ago on a December day, not unlike today. And I, like many parents in Newtown, faced the task of telling my five-year-old son about the death of his brother.
November 15, 2012
Julie A. Riess, Ph.D., is a consultant on Child Development and Education at Families and Work Institute. She is a developmental psychologist and the director of the Wimpfheimer Nursery School at Vassar College.
This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal by Gannett Publications on November 19, 2000.
As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, we may find ourselves reflecting more often on how to raise a thankful child. At first glance, parents might think about how to teach the social scripts of thank you. Should a two-year-old be forced to say “thank you” to Grandma for a gift? Should a four-year-old sign a thank you note for a birthday present? Should a six-year-old show appreciation for a large helping of spinach and cranberry sauce on his or her Thanksgiving plate?
Parents often have the best intentions of raising a thankful child as part of their parental job descriptions. We tend to use the social graces of “please” and “thank you” as one index of raising “a good kid.” Indeed, manners such as these are important tools for getting along and working together with others in our society.
November 02, 2012
Julie A. Riess, Ph.D., is a consultant for Child Development and Education at Families and Work Institute. She is a developmental psychologist and the director of the Wimpfheimer Nursery School at Vassar College.
This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal by Gannett Publications on October 26, 2008.
I have a campaign message for parents: Vote early and vote often.
Although this may sound like a suggestion to become parents who are role models in corruption of the political system, it is actually a message about the important role parents play in the political socialization of their children.
October 15, 2012
By Ellen Galinsky
When I left the Education Summit
everyone seemed to be talking about developing life skills, not just basic academics, in children as a way to ready the workforce of the future. That's a good thing. What's not so good is the perception that such skills, including self-control and taking on challenges, are soft, or non-cognitive skills.
These skills require intellect and are indeed cognitive skills as much as they're social and emotional skills.
If we don't get the language right we risk seeing the focus on skills end up as an education flavor of the month.
Part of the problem may be all the recent hype around the premise of Paul Tough, author of a new book titled "How Children Succeed
." Tough, who has been showing up everywhere lately, including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and at last week's Summit, is promulgating the idea that skills, including self-control and persistence, are non-cognitive.
He argues against what he calls the "cognitive hypothesis" where what matters most is stuffing information into children's brains. Instead (the operant word), he calls for developing different qualities:
..a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as non-cognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.
I, too, have been investigating these issues for the past eleven years by reviewing longitudinal studies from numerous academic disciplines. I have found that, in fact, there are a group of skills that predict school and life success, and many are similar to Tough's. These include focus and self control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and being a self directed learner. This is the list of skills I would argue are most important because they are based on numerous studies that follow children as they grow up.
Using the list of skills I identify, it is clear that they are indeed cognitive. They are also social and emotional. All of these skills are based on executive functions of the brain. These are the brain functions we use to manage our attention, our emotions, and our behavior in pursuit of our goals. Adele Diamond
, one of the foremost researchers on executive functions, finds that they predict children's success as well as--if not better than--IQ tests, as she explains:
Typical traditional IQ tests measure what's called crystallized intelligence, which is mostly your recall of what you've already learned--like what's the meaning of this word, or what's the capital of that country? What executive functions tap is your ability to use what you already know--to be creative with it, to problem-solve with it--so it's very related to fluid intelligence, because that requires reasoning and using information.
The skills I think we should promote are not only cognitive-social-and emotional, they reap cognitive results. As just one example, a new study by Megan McClelland of Oregon State
University and her colleagues found that one aspect of executive function skills in four-year-olds--what the researchers call "attention-span persistence"--is strongly predictive of whether or not these same children graduated from college when they were 25-years-old. The researchers define attention span-persistence as "the ability to focus, attend to relevant information, and persist on a task."
All this dovetails nicely into the key theme from last week's Summit. Amid the familiar educational rhetoric, it became clear that the concept of an achievement gap has evolved into the notion of a workforce readiness or skills gap. Three prominent CEOs--Ellen Kullman
of DuPont, John Noseworthy
of the Mayo Clinic, and Eric Spiegel
of Siemens made this point loud and clear at the Summit, reinforced by many prominent educators, the current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and several of his predecessors, researchers and case studies.
There was the predictable search for a magic bullet to move the United States ahead from its slipping international standing in educational attainment and in workforce readiness. Is parent choice the answer, Common Core State Standards, higher expectations, teacher quality, or parent engagement? These debates were often tied to current events (the Chicago teacher strike, family poverty, etc.) and just as often turned into posturing blame games about who's really for kids--teachers (as represented by unions) versus parents versus school boards versus business. To use a tag line from the 90s: "who's for kids and who's just kidding?"
By rallying around the importance of teaching life skills to our youth we can all say we're for kids. But we're all just kidding ourselves yet again if we end up putting key intellectual qualities in a "soft skills" education bucket.
We need to take the essential life skills I've identified seriously and realize children need both content and skills. Content is the "what" of learning, content is also the "how."