Self-Directed Life Newsletter: Failure rate not as expected
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Hey guys,

Some stats for you:
      70% of U.S. 8th graders are not proficient readers.

      80% of students are not proficient writers.

      20% of students can’t even meet basic standards.

I’m not sharing these statistics to bash school or even as an introduction to discussing how to get kids to write better — I just want us to think for a moment about the fact that THIS is what we are achieving at our public schools in the U.S.

The money, the buildings, the teachers with degrees and advanced degrees, the school boards, the administrators, the amount of time kids spend in school + getting to and from school + doing homework in the evenings and on weekends, and this is how we’re doing.

According to the most recent National Assessment for Education Progress Report Card, just about [33%] of American fourth- and eighth-graders were reading at or above a proficient level last year. — America’s reading gap

So, one-third of our students are at “proficient” (defined as “competent”) or above.

Two-thirds are not.

There’s a lot of back and forth about how screens keep kids from reading more (ping!) and yet screens encourage some kids to read and write (pong!) but overall, we do know that kids ENJOY reading less:

The number of American children who say they love reading books for fun has dropped almost 10% in the last four years…

The survey of 2,558 US parents and children, carried out for children’s publisher Scholastic…found that only 51% of children said they love or like reading books for fun, compared to 58% in 2012, and 60% in 2010. According to the report, in 2014 37% of children said they like reading a little, and 12% said they did not like it at all.

Researchers have found a sharp decline in reading enjoyment after the age of eight.Sharp decline in children reading for pleasure

After age EIGHT. Yet another example of fourth-grade slump.

There are suggestions in the article as to why this is happening, and I have my own ideas to add…

The real problem isn’t that reading suffers in comparison to TV and movies and video games — it’s that kids have such a pitiful amount of free time that they have to choose among reading Treasure Island, watching Animal Planet, playing Xbox, and playing outside. — In defense of reading, which should need no defense

But I said this wasn’t really about reading, didn’t I?

What I’m wondering is, with stats like these, why we put so much faith in other people to meet our important goals.

That is, if we think reading and writing are important skills — certainly employers think so — how is it we so blithely hand over responsibility to other people?

You already know I think self-directed learning is a completely ignored yet crucial part of every child’s education. I think reading and writing are really important, too. They’re a huge part of how we learn and communicate.

If you’re bad at reading OR if you don’t enjoy it (ability doesn’t matter if we don’t choose to use it), you’re going to cut yourself off from a huge resource of collected knowledge.

If you’re bad at writing OR you don’t enjoy it, you’re limited not only career-wise but connection-wise — you’re limited in how much you can contact people who aren’t in your immediate vicinity, how much you can teach them, how much you can learn from them. You’re limited in your ability to participate in communities that aren’t dictated by where you live.

You’re limited in how much you can learn and how much you can do.

Literacy risks being seen both as the only pathway to success and at the same time a punitive boogeyman that scares away children’s joy.

Generally, teachers are as much in agreement about the importance of literacy as we are about the importance of play, but sometimes we think they are mutually exclusive — that time devoted to one takes away from the other.

Literacy and play, indeed all learning and play, can go together. They really must go together; together they can and should be pleasurable and rewarding experiences for children, and for teachers and parents as well, who clearly want the best possible for their children now and for the future. — Lella Gandini, Play and the Hundred Languages of Children

Why do we have so much trust in institutions to secure our most important goals?

If we think something is important, we need to build it into our daily lives at home — that’s the only way we know it’s going to be given the priority it deserves.

It’s the only way we can tell whether we’re succeeding or not, because we can judge for ourselves — it’s happening right in front of us.

You might look at those stats above and think — how on earth are we not raising a mighty fuss about this? How is this not a big, big deal? But it’s obviously not. And we obviously don’t.

What other balls are being dropped?

Almost 100% of colleges think they’re doing a great job of preparing students for work and only 11% of business leaders agree:

96 percent of college provosts say students are prepared, compared to 14 percent of the public, and 11 percent of business leaders.

It could be that higher education is really not preparing people at all and we have a broken system, or just a fundamental misunderstanding. Either way it’s a tragedy… — Survey: Businesses don’t care if their employees went to Yale

As sobering as these statistics are, you can pile on top the fact that kids are reading less and less complex works in school — so it’s actually even worse than you think!

The complexity of texts [high school] students are being assigned to read…has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level.

Reading leads to reading… It’s when kids stop reading, or never get started in the first place, that there's no chance of ever getting them hooked on more complex books. — What kids are reading, in school and out

When we abdicate our responsibilities in education to other people — whether they’re teachers at the local school, homeschool gurus, co-ops, or curriculum sellers — we aren’t being self-directed learners ourselves.

When we assume everything’s probably okay since it’s the same system everyone else is using, we might be caught flat-footed.

(Would it really make you feel any better to know that your kid was in a very big group of kids who didn’t like to read and couldn’t write well?)

When we assume the U.S. is probably at least in the top three of everything, we easily overlook that we’re not even in the top 20 when it comes to countries where 15-year-olds like to read.

When we assume someone with a degree in education must know what they’re doing — much more than we would! — we overlook the complexity of what teachers must accomplish to meet the mandate of public education. They have to get a whole lot of kids to score well enough on standardized tests … a goal that is not aligned with helping YOUR particular child discover his own interests, talents, strengths, weaknesses, enjoyment in reading, or facility in writing. It may happen but it isn’t on the program.

Making self-directed learning a primary goal in your parenting folds in all of the important skills children need to master in order to keep learning and eventually do well at something they care about in life. Because everything you do requires knowledge and skills. If you help your kids focus on their interests, if you help them do things they want to do, you’ll automatically help them learn how to find and use knowledge and skills.

Focusing on the über-skill of self-directed learning, you fold in a bunch of big useful skills, because you can’t DO anything without them. Without that focus, you must individually target those individual key skills that simply aren’t being acquired by the majority of students. First you have to figure out what they are, then how you can help your child WANT and NEED to, e.g., read and write.

Or you can just help them do what they already want to do — it’s a heck of a lot easier.

And helping them do what they want to do is important … because the missing element in reading, in writing, in learning in general seems to be enjoyment.

When students don’t enjoy writing, they’re not going to seek it out. A paper published at PSU in 2008 explored some of the reasons students hate writing. Among the top three: students believe they don’t know how to write, students aren’t sure what the teacher wants, and (contrary to the critics) students feel disconnected from their own writing by constrictive writing assignments.

It’s difficult to enjoy work that you didn’t choose and don’t see a useful purpose for — something you wouldn’t do if someone gave you the option to stop.

It’s difficult to enjoy work you’re doing that’s meant to be measured and judged by someone else — our opinion about how we did doesn’t matter, so we’re left to guess at what they want and try to aim for that. Fun? Not really. Some kids get addicted to rewards, especially if they come easily, but many (most, if we look at these statistics) just stop playing the game.

Work we choose is work we enjoy … reading and writing and creating for a real purpose. We’re naturally motivated to do it well — to please ourselves. We know why we’re doing it, and we know why it’s important to have knowledge and skills — because they help us do things we want to do.

That particular curriculum isn’t on anyone else’s schedule, so you have to put it on yours.

The importance of a child’s authentic interest cannot be overemphasized. Without it, learning is like pushing a boulder uphill.

With it, we’re pushing the boulder downhill. Learning occurs in both directions. So why do we usually go with the uphill option? — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

“Computer programming gets great press. … [Y]oung people have long been counseled on the advantages of learning how to program. … [Y]et, when I visit software companies, I often notice that the most successful employees aren’t necessarily the best coders. Instead, leaders in the software business are usually pretty good coders who also happen to be fantastic communicators. …

Whatever you do in the new economy, wherever you go, you’re going to be called upon to write. And the better you write — the more succinctly and confidently you wield language on the page — the more you’ll stand out. If you want to succeed, then, write. Learn to write, and practice every single day. …

Writing is really just a formalized way of thinking. Writing turns all those ideas that are flitting about your brain into a coherent picture of the world. That’s why you can’t ignore writing; in the modern economy, how well you write will often be taken as a proxy for how well you think.”Class of 2013: Learn to write code. Sure. But really, learn to write.


“Ask just about any teacher if kids today are struggling with writing and you’ll get a resounding ‘yes.’

Research shows that students, from grade school to college, aren’t learning essential writing skills, with a saddening majority unable to write at a proficient level.

Even worse, many schools haven’t figured out a way to solve the problem, with many getting poor scores in writing year after year.”12 data points detailing the crisis of poor writing in America


More on fourth-grade slump (and even more at the site):

“Go to virtually any preschool or elementary classroom, and you’ll witness something rare: excitement.

Whether it’s engagement in painting, make-believe games, or learning why the moon disappears, there appear to be very few young children with deficits in motivation. Children love learning. They want to figure out what this new, shiny world of theirs is all about.

Contrast this with a typical middle school or high school classroom. They can’t wait to get done with school and go on to ‘after-school’ activities. You ask them what they think of school, and many will say it’s dull, boring, and dry. Systematic studies show that intrinsic motivation decreases steadily starting from about third grade. — Ungifted


Perfectionism isn’t necessary or helpful…

“Children [would] much rather be in a relationship with a parent who makes mistakes and is open to working on where they struggle vs. a parent who is doing everything possible to never make a mistake.” — Revolutionary parenting insight


You don’t have to “do to” kids; you can work with them…

“No child is too young to be treated with respect. A child’s point of view should be taken seriously and his or her choices honored when possible. Sure, the immaturity of young children may require more patience from us. Yes, they may need more protection and monitoring, more structure and instruction. But none of this justifies a reliance on control and a predominant focus on eliciting mindless obedience.”

“A pair of studies by researchers at the University of Texas and New York University confirmed that parents who ‘attribute greater competence and responsibility to misbehaving children’ are more likely to get upset with them, to condemn and punish them. Such parents become frustrated by what they see as inappropriate behavior, and they respond, in effect, by cracking down on little kids for being little kids — something that can be heartbreaking to watch. By contrast, parents who understand children’s developmental limitations tend to prefer ‘calm explanation and reasoning’ in response to the same actions.” — Do our expectations of kids aim too high or too low?


Weird that we don’t raise a fuss about education, and yet…

“When apples were sprayed with a chemical at my local supermarket, middle-aged moms turned out, picket signs and all, to protest the possible risk to their children’s health. Yet I’ve seen no similar demonstrations about an educational system that has far more research documenting its toxicity.” — Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well

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