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I am Ending the Race

I am ending the Race to Nowhere. I can make a difference in the lives of my children by modeling a new paradigm of success. The way I live my life, and the things I put first in my life will define success for my children.

When I step back and look around, it is not too difficult to understand why children are in the race to nowhere. Because, most parents are running the race to nowhere. If we want our children to own their own life, don’t we first need to own our own life?

“It doesn’t much matter how you get there if you don’t know where you are going.” ~ Alice in Wonderland

I had the privilege to preview the documentary film, “Race to Nowhere.”  I am even more convicted to model my life in such a way that my children know there are multiple intelligences and multiple ways to success.  Their worthiness can not be graded nor their learning standardized.

As a conscious parent, here’s what I can do to end the race for myself and my children.

  • Make health our priority (sleep, exercise, & healthy eating).
  • Make homework about home – cooking together, eating together, caring for our environment, maintaining our blessings, and being what is pleasurable and enjoyable.

The better way to prepare for school ( and life) is not to study more. The better way includes more sleep, more exercise, and healthy eating. Less time producing and performing (ie., worksheets and tests) equals more time to process.

Unfortunately, the unintended consequences are now rising to the surface and becoming evident in even the youngest children. Headaches, stomaches, sleep issues, depression. These may be symptoms of stress and over-scheduling. As our child’s advocate, we must look for the cause, not just treat the symptoms.

For my family, I cannot imagine a home life with traditional homework. We ave a plenty full agenda without it. We have chosen Montessori elementary for our children in part because of the philosophy that home is for family, not second shift.

My children are able to pursue hobbies and interests. Even without homework, our evenings are limited to approximately 4 hours. That includes extracurriculars and free time, dinner, baths, and bed. Homework can only put the other things at risk of loss. For many children, free time, dinner and sleep are the first things to sacrifice.

When I look at my family, I see many different intelligences at play.  My husband and I are completely different thinkers and learners.  There is no one test that could capture the essence of our understanding.  He would like to draw a graph and put it on a spreadsheet;  I would like to write an essay or act it on stage.  The same can be said of my children too.

What about reading?  We read for different purposes.  He may scan instruction manuals and speed read legal agreements and financial papers with great ease, and never read a novel.  Unfortunately, writing essays and reading novels gave him great stress in school.   Studying for the CPA exam, his professor gave him this advice:  don’t worry about your essay making any logical sense, just use every possible accounting term in the space and time allotted.  I am not sure what the test proved, but he aced it.  Why would I want my children to experience this?

Having grown up in the Achievement Culture, I believe my joy of learning was sacrificed for my need to perform and produce. As a freshman in college, I enrolled in American Literature. Coming from a rural non-preparatory high school, I was a fish out of water. By all accounts, I was smart, I was extremely interested in the subject, and it was all new to me. I was in awe of the new world of literature I was discovering. The reading load was nearly insurmountable, and I enjoyed reading every page of it. To my demise, I received a D on my first test (the first and last of my life). When I went to see my counselor, she encouraged me to drop the class immediately so it wouldn’t count against me. She recommended if I wanted to graduate with honors to stay away from the writing intensive curriculums. What a blow – I love to write, I wanted to write, I wanted to get better.  I would never want to sacrifice my child’s interests for a grade.

My concern is that does straight A’s, AP classes, best colleges, and the size of a paycheck do not correlate to health and happiness. Yet, this seems to be the objective of the education system and many parents. My question is, “What would an education system look like that focused on the joy of learning and discovery?”

As parents and as a society, we have created the race to nowhere, and it is now time to end the race. One thing is certain, the same thinking that has created the problem can not solve the problem. It is time for a shift in consciousness and a new way of thinking about education and the embedded health and happiness of our children.

Ending the race to nowhere is about redefining success and achievement for our children, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to education, creating life-long learners, and making student’s physical, social, and emotional health a national priority.

There are simple things that we can all do as individuals to achieve some balance, redefine success, and advocate for change.  Discuss what success means to your family.   Do your family’s actions reflect your values?

Here are a few suggestions for parents:

  • Reduce performance pressure.
  • Avoid over-scheduling.
  • Make sleep a priority for your children.
  • Allow time for play, family, friends, downtime, reflection and sleep.
  • Ask your children how they are feeling. Know the signs of depression and stress-related symptoms.
  • Allow your children to manage homework independently. This means let them be responsible for the assignments, the work and the outcome.
  • Don’t let homework interfere with dinner, sleep, reading, chores and physical activities.
  • Have conversations with your children about their experiences in school.
  • Know the signs of childhood depression.
  • Attend school meetings and other venues where education is discussed and policies are established and reinforced.
  • Organize other parents to join you. As a group, talk to your children’s teachers and school administrators and attend school board meetings.
  • Discuss with your child what path he/she may want to pursue after high school. Support “multiple pathways.”
  • Make the college search about finding the “right fit” rather than finding the “best” college. Finding the “right fit” will ensure college success and retention.
  • Allow your children to make independent choices on course selection.
  • Follow your instincts.

Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists, including memory and executive function, motor skills, immunce system and ability to sleep. Sleep deprivation impacts cognitive functioning and increasess the risk of depression, obesity, and even suicide.

There a number of factors that promote healthy development in our children. There are simple things that we can incorporate into our home life and increase our awareness to a level that we are not sending contradictory messages through school and extracurricular activities.

Care and Support

Be available and responsive
Actively listen and show interest
Create one-on-one time
Accept your child for who s/he is – not who you want him/her to be
Communicate unconditional love
Know your child’s hopes and dreams
Laugh, play, smile and use humor
Show respect for and acknowledge your child’s feelings
Encourage connections to other caring adults

High Expectations

Model and teach that mistakes and setbacks are opportunities for growth
Help your child understand what s/he can and cannot control
Help reframe problems into opportunities
Encourage self-awareness of moods and thinking
Recognize strengths and specail interests
Use strengths and interest to address concerns/problems
Focus on meeting the needs of whole child (social, emotional, cognitive, physical, spiritual)
Convey optimism and hope
Understand the needs motivating your child’s behavior
Advocate for your child at school and elsewhere

Participation and Contribution

Give your child a voice
Give your child an opportunity to make amends for mistakes and misbehavior
Model and provide opportunities for planning
Model and provide opportunities for problem-solving
Model and provide opportunities for decision-making
Make time for personal relfection and dialogue
Create opportunities for creative expression
Aim to meet developmental needs for power/autonomy and meaning
Provide opportunities for your child to help others in home, school, and community
Provice opportunities for your child to develop, use and contribute his or her strengths and interests

Whatever experience you had and wherever your children are in school, you can create something more for them.  This is your opportunity to gain a new awareness, discuss the topic with other concerned parents and school leaders, and go home with new tools for building a healthy childhood for your children.

Join us at the movies .  This is the only public screening in the Metro area.  This is a grassroots effort to raise awareness and empower you to take action wherever you are.  You will be inspired.  You will be empowered.  You will learn what small steps you can take to bring change in your school.  You can make a difference in the health and education of your children.

WHAT:  Race to Nowhere – film and discussion

WHEN:  Sunday, January 8, 2012 @ 2:00 p.m.

WHERE:  St. Charles Community College Fine Arts Building Theatre

Please spread the word and invite your friends and family to the moveis.  Thank you in advance for your support.  Let’s reclaim childhood and put hope in the future.

Buy your tickets online now.

P.S.  Send this epostcard to your friends and family who are concerned about the health and well-being of our children.

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