Sunday, September 6, 2009

The President's address to schoolchildren

I think it's great that tomorrow the president is going to encourage kids to work hard at school, to persevere, to take responsibility for their learning. It's always good for children to hear things like that from someone who's not Mom!


To further encourage student engagement, the U.S. Department of Education is launching the "I Am What I Learn" video contest. On September 8, we will ask students to respond to the President's challenge by creating videos, up to two minutes in length, describing the steps they will take to improve their education and the role education will play in fulfilling their dreams...

Stop. "I Am What I Learn"?

What Little Guy learned last year was to count to 100, which sound each letter makes, that it's wrong to run in the hall, that (some) little girls tattle a lot, and "it's bad to be sad in school".

What Big Guy learned last year was that you can get beaten up on the Special Ed bus if the matron steps out for even a second. He was taught a wider range of curse words, figured out that adults don't always bother to listen to two sides of a story, and discovered that intellectual curiosity isn't always valued.

Eldest learned piles of European history, that physics teachers don't necessarily know calculus, and that having even one good math friend is a very nice thing.

"I am What I Learn" is an incredibly lousy slogan. At best it means nothing; at worst it's misleading. Education can dramatically change lives, and it can open long-shut doors, but it's not a panacea. It's an ingredient that goes into who each child grows up to be. Hopefully education is a quality ingredient that gets mixed with emotional health, a modicum of social skills, a smattering of initiative, a teaspoon of ingenuity, an honest understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses, some genuine depth in the soul, the ability to appreciate beauty, a dab of common sense, a lot of patience, and plenty of resilience.

No child should ever be limited to thinking he is what he learns. Human beings are much more complex and valuable than that!

I'm not even going to touch the YouTube aspect of this, except to say that next time perhaps the U.S. Dept of Education could come up with something as interesting as the Wired Science Video contest.

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