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Monday, September 30, 2013

Being A Victor

From Toc-Talk
The Blog of Thinking Outside the Classroom

By Michael Delman
September 18, 2013

"The vicious cycle that so many of us get into – I screwed up, therefore I’m a screw-up, therefore I give up, and, see, I screwed up again – is not at all necessary."

I recently had the thrill of a lifetime. By something of a fluke, I had a chance to play in the Grandmasters’ National Ultimate Tournament in Denver. (“Grandmasters” is a euphemism for “over 40.”) Discs floated and curved through the thin Colorado air along the sixteen perfect fields, and our humble team fought hard to try to “exceed the seed” of 16th place – another euphemism to say that we didn’t want to finish last.

In our sixth and final game, one of our players had the disc and was closely guarded. In Ultimate, you don’t move with the disc; you must throw the disc before the other player counts to 10 to pass it. Our guy, Victor, must have been at about “7” in the count when he apparently found his man.

He reached back, turned his head backward as well, and then unleashed the disc full force – past his defender and over the heads of everyone on the field and, quite possibly, over any low-flying planes. The disc sailed over the entire end zone and on to places never before visited by a sports object.

The audience was stunned. Our team was stunned but recovered quickly, remembering that Victor himself had told us only moments before that we needed to “step it up” and “heckle anyone who doesn’t.” The heckling began in earnest – “What are you thinking?” “How much did the other team pay you?” and so forth – until Victor turned to face our entire team.

He lifted his arms above his head and roared, “I BELIEVE IN MYSELF!!!”

Everyone stopped! And then, as if a fuse was lit, everybody cracked up. Victor’s rapid and unflinching defense of himself was so unexpected that we could only laugh in disbelief and admiration.

It could have been the agony of defeat, but by deciding to be completely positive even in the face of undeniably screwing up, he focused on his overall self-regard and did not worry about a lapse in judgment. He did many other things that were important – playing tough defense, receiving and throwing short passes, and cheering for the rest of us.

But the most important thing was showing us what it means to have attitude, and how to talk yourself positive before you have the chance to turn an error into a defeat.

The vicious cycle that so many of us get into – I screwed up, therefore I’m a screw-up, therefore I give up, and, see, I screwed up again – is not at all necessary. Let it go with abandon – the way Vic did when he threw the disc and, more importantly, the way he did immediately after.

Alternative Treatments for Developmental Differences: A Chance to Hear From and Ask Questions of Three Top-Notch Practitioners

Presented by

Would you like to know more about alternative and complementary treatments some people and patients may be using?

The Boston Institute for the Development of Infants and Parents' board is hosting a half-day, afternoon "salon" for professionals, featuring a panel discussion  with a special group of practitioners working with children with developmental differences.

Dr. Nancy O’Hara, Dr. Lydia H. Knutson, and Dr. Laurence M. Hirshberg will each present their work, and there will be ample opportunity for questions and discussion.

When:   12:30 – 4:00pm Saturday, October 19, 2013

Where:  MSPP
                   (Massachusetts School for Professional Psychology)
                   One Wells Avenue, Newton, MA

This is by invitation only, and space is limited.

RSVP by October 5th to reserve a seat, by email to Lizzie McEnany at lmcenany@jfcsboston.org.

The three panelists are:

Dr. Nancy O’Hara, M.D.

Biomedical Interventions: From A to Zinc: Dr. O’Hara is a board-certified pediatrician. Prior to her medical career, she taught children with autism. Dr. O’Hara graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and earned a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh. She entered general private practice in 1993, and in 1998 began her consultative, integrative practice solely for children with special needs. She is a leader in the training of clinicians, in the U.S. and abroad. Her practice is in Wilton, CT.

Dr. Lydia H. Knutson

A Hop, Skip and a Jump - Why Biomechanical Injury Matters: Dr. Knutson received her Doctor of Chiropractic degree summa cum laude from the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic. After graduating, she trained with David Newton, D.C. in Wellesley, Massachusetts. His groundbreaking work with the Axial Stability Method is her greatest influence. She continues to expand this chiropractic method with specialized techniques developed by American, European and Australian energy kinesiologists.

Her collaboration with energy kinesiologists Charles Krebs, Ph.D., and Joy DelGiudice has opened remarkable doors for the advancement of chiropractic and Axial Stability Method. She is licensed in the states of Massachusetts and California, and is a member of the American Chiropractic Association, the Massachusetts Chiropractic Society, and the Educational Kinesiology Foundation.

She has attended many postgraduate seminars in Sacro-Occipital Technique, Activator Methods, Nutritional Response Technique, Educational Kinesiology, and the infant reflex work of Dr. Svetalana Masgutova. She sits on the Board of Directors for The Educational Kinesiology Foundation.

Laurence M. Hirshberg, Ph.D.

EEG Biofeedback: Promising Treatment Option for Brain Based Troubles: Dr. Hirshberg is a licensed clinical psychologist. He founded and directs The NeuroDevelopment Center and serves on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior of the Brown University Medical School as Clinical Assistant Professor. Specializing in work with neurodevelopmental disorders for over 20 years, he consults and trains educators and clinicians across New England. Dr. Hirshberg has published and presented in many areas of clinical psychology and child development.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Messy Backpack? How to Help Your Child Get Organized

From NCLD.org - The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Bob Cunningham
September 24, 2013

For most students, the backpack is the key to getting things home from school. Eventually, everything needs to get to the backpack, or it’s not likely to make it home. For some children, what they want to and think they should take home doesn’t always match what the teacher needs them to take home. And for you, the parent, it’s frustrating.

There are, however, some simple and effective strategies you can use to help your kids get the “right stuff” into the backpack and home from school where it belongs.

Let Kids Organize Their Home Life

Believe it or not, the first step is to set the stage at home. Many parents make a tremendous leap of faith by assuming their children will organize themselves differently at school than they do at home. This is simply not the case, and if your kids are particularly disorganized, it’s likely that you’re taking dramatic steps to help them get things together at home.

If this is the case (be honest), you need to be willing to allow things to run less smoothly at home for a while in order to help kids develop the organizational independence they’ll need to organize their school materials. Try the following four tips:
  1. Give kids the responsibility for laying out their clothes for school at night.
  2. Insist that they gather items for after-school activities on their own.
  3. Have them set the table for dinner, organize toys, sort clothes from the laundry, sort coins or perform other tasks involving organization.
  4. Request that they repeat tasks until they’re done correctly, and stick with them for at least three weeks before you provide assistance other than encouragements and rewards (if necessary).

From Organization at Home to Organization at School

As you increase your expectations for better and more independent organization at home, you can introduce a strategy for helping kids get the right things home from school. There are four important guidelines you should understand first:
  1. When you try a strategy, pick one and stick with it for at least a week and a half—this gives the strategy a chance to take hold. Many parents don’t stick with a strategy long enough for it to actually work.
  2. Communicate with your child’s teachers. It’s important for educators to realize this is a problem for you and your child at home. Let them know what you’re doing so they can give you feedback and support your child at school. Check in after a week and a half of implementing a strategy so they know if it’s working or not.
  3. Work with the system the teacher has established for the class first. Assignment books, mailboxes and cubbies are common tools used for organization at school. If there’s an assignment book, check it each night. If there are mailboxes or cubbies, go over how to use these with your child through role play or saying to kids directly, “At the end of each day, check your mailbox (or cubby) and put any papers you find there into your backpack. It’s not a choice.”
  4. Most importantly, remember that improving organization takes both time and practice. Poor habits are very difficult to break.
Tips to Help Your Child Bring Home the “Right Stuff”

Now that you have those guidelines in mind, here are four things you can try to help your child bring the right things home from school.
  1. Give children a folder and tell them to put any paper the teacher gives out but does not collect into the folder. Remind them to put the folder in the backpack at the end of each day, and make them responsible for putting the folder in their backpack each morning so it gets to school. (Remember that the first priority is to get the necessary things home, not to eliminate the other things. You can work on what to leave at school once you’re consistently getting the necessary papers home.)
  2. Give kids a small sheet of non-descript circle or star stickers (the plainer and less distracting the better). Tell them to put a sticker on any paper the teacher says needs to go home right when the teacher says it. Remind them to look carefully for things with stars when it’s time to clean up at the end of the day and to put those papers in the backpack.
  3. Create a small checklist with a picture associated with each subject or activity that’s typically part of their school day. Tape the checklist to their folder, and tell them to put a check next to the picture when the teacher says there’s something to bring home and to look at the checklist when they’re packing up at the end of the day.
  4. Help them identify a well-organized student who sits nearby at school. (Ask the teacher to pick the student, if possible.) Let them know that it’s OK to check in with that student each day during cleanup time to see what he or she is taking home.
As you work on these strategies, make a day-by-day list of the things your child forgets for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, look at the list to see if there are any patterns. Does your child always forget the same thing? Does your child forget things more frequently on a particular day? If you notice a pattern, think through what makes that particular thing or that particular day different from the others.

Perhaps an adjustment to your child’s afterschool schedule, reminders about the particular thing or a change in other routines could also help your child get the right things home.
Bob Cunningham, the former Head of School for The Gateway Schools in New York City, has been an educational evaluator and a teacher in general education and special education at both the elementary and secondary levels in several school districts. He was also an instructor in the Learning Disabilities program at Columbia Univerity's Teachers College. Follow him on Twitter at @tfcminds.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

RNG's Top Three Parenting Books

From RNG International Educational Consultants

By Michelle Grappo, Ed.M., NCSP
September 26, 2013

Recently a dear friend who is about to give birth messaged me: “What are some good parenting books?”

“I can send you a list but I don’t think you need them, you are going to be a fabulous mother!” I responded. She replied back: “Oh, I know. They are for my husband.”

Knowing her husband, I had to chuckle. In any event, I thought about my three favorite books and present to you my list! Each is a part of a larger series or “franchise,” so to speak, so if the title doesn’t appeal to you, there may be a sequel that does.

These books have all withstood the test of time. I recommend them, and so do my fellow school psychologists. In fact, these are all such giants in the parenting-book world, I feel somewhat unoriginal in recommending them… nevertheless, they all remain in my top selections and are worth mentioning.

I have a variety of books I reference and love– so just stay tuned for follow up with additional favorites!

You want: Nuts and bolts for parents: understanding kids, what to say, how to say it? I recommend: How to Talk So Kids will Listen & Listen So Kids will Talk (Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. New York: Scribner Classics, 2012)

This has been in print for over 30 years, and is widely considered a solid classic. It was required reading in graduate school, and later, when I worked in a charter school with a generous budget, I ended up ordering enough copies such that I could give (like, permanently loan) out copies to struggling teachers and parents.

I think this book has withstood the test of time for multiple reasons. First, it is practical and accessible. Any book that features cartoons on what to say and not to say is a winner. It features exercises, summaries, and Q & A sections.

For example, one of one of my favorites: Q. (paraphrased) how do I praise my son for “finally acting like a human being” on a long car trip? A. “You’re always on safe ground when you make a descriptive statement to a child about your own feelings. Tell him ‘I especially enjoyed our trip today.’ He’ll know why.”

Secondly, like any classic, this book is substantive. How to Talk features a philosophy that is more relevant to parents now than ever. Like Dr. Mogel’s book (see below), this text understands that parents are stressed and trying to raise children in a culture that seems to challenge them at every turn.

I highly recommend the 30th Anniversary Edition, because it includes a “bonus” chapter which includes a section, “Yes, but… What if… How about…?”

Here the authors get even deeper into different real-life situations so that the reader can more fully understand the mechanisms of their advice. The one caveat about this book is that some of the advice should be adapted for children with developmental and/or language delays.

This bears repeating for all my recommendations: always keep in mind your child’s developmental stage and needs when implementing parenting advice!

You want: Timeless parenting wisdom? I recommend: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee (Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., New York: Scribner, 2001)

I once had a professor who told me, “I’ve found that the older I get, the more old fashioned I become.” As I read Dr. Mogel’s book, I too found this to be true about myself. I realized many “old-fashioned” ideas with regard to child-rearing are especially pertinent in our modern culture.

Dr. Mogel posits a philosophy for raising self-reliant, resilient and ethical children in the context of her expertise and years of experience as a clinical psychologist, and through Jewish teachings (more on this aspect below).

Dr. Mogel is warm and sensitive as she discusses her philosophy in the context of multiple parenting situations– everything from the sanctity of the dinner table to honoring your mother and father. “Honoring,” I said to myself– that sounds so… stiff and fussy! Well, I discovered there is nothing wrong with being old-fashioned.

Perhaps the most radical idea that Dr. Mogel’s posits is that of allowing your child get a skinned knee. In my practice as a school psychologist, I worried a lot about “my kids.” Some worry was warranted. It is our job, as caretakers of children at school or at home, to guard the best interests of children. But this anxiety can be crippling to both caretakers and children.

Reading this book actually had me breathing a sigh of relief. It gave me a completely new perspective on the importance of letting children struggle in order to build resilience. In order to weather life’s inevitable storms (sometimes hurricanes and tornados!), we must foster confidence and poise in our children by using the little storms throughout childhood as teachable moments.

It is worth noting that Dr. Mogel has drawn many of her lessons from Jewish teachings, and I found (like most reviewers) that this book transcends religion (while also bringing up important general discussions of religion and spirituality in the home) and is accessible to all. As I mentioned, Dr. Mogel is also a clinical psychologist, which lends yet another layer and, frankly, credibility, to her work. Dr. Mogel has other books that I have on my “to-read” list, including The Blessing of a B-.

You want: Cracking the whip… a book for discipline (just kidding– never use a whip!)? I recommend: 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. Glen Ellyn, IL: ParentMagic, Inc., 3rd Edition)

This is another total classic and was required reading in graduate school. 1-2-3 has also successfully franchised their philosophy into half a dozen spin-off products including such compelling titles as, “Surviving your Adoloscents: How to Manage – and Let Go Of– Your 13-18 Year Olds” and “I Never Get ANYTHING! How to Keep Your Kids from Running your Life.” They also have products for educators. Check out their website for details.

This book– like any good parenting book– is infused with humor (because parenting is full of absurd moments) and practical advice. Dr. Phelan describes the book as divided into three separate and important steps: 1) Controlling obnoxious behavior 2) Encouraging Good Behavior 3) Strengthening Your Relationship.

I have long recommended this book for “unruly” children and parents who struggle to manage their behavior at home. As Dr. Phelan points out, “parenting is not for the faint of heart,” and certainly his methods require commitment on the part of the parent. However, he encourages immediate implementation of his straight forward strategies — don’t overthink it! This simple approach is wonderful for the stressed parent (is there any other kind?).

The reward, I believe, extends far beyond a more peaceful home. Children who understand boundaries and limits, and who feel safe in their parents’ enforcing of these boundaries and limits, are going to have a much easier time in life. Children who are in predictable, emotionally safe environments can grow and flourish and– very importantly– develop deeper bonds with parents.

I recommend this book for the discipline advice (and this is what compels desperate parents to run to Amazon.com), but what I like about this book is that it is really about developing a healthier relationship between parent and child.

Check out their website (and new app!) at http://www.123magic.com.

And finally…

I would be remiss not to note that sometimes parenting books are not enough.

If parenting were as easy as reading a book or a Wikipedia entry, or even earning a graduate degree– the world of learning specialists, child psychologists, and educational consultants would not exist! At times, it takes a team of experts to support a child and a family. If you have struggled with a certain parenting issue for more than six months, we would encourage you to reach out to professionals (yes, like RNG) for help.

Friday, September 27, 2013

10/7/13: Transition Assessment and Planning for Adolescents with Special Needs

Presented by Margolis & Bloom's
Monday Lunch Series for Professionals

Generally speaking, transition is defined as the movement from one set of activities to another, but for the families of adolescents and young adults with special needs, it has a more specific meaning. In this context, "transition" refers to the complex process of moving from one life stage to another: from adolescence to adulthood.

Kelley Challen is Director of Transition Services at NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents) in Newton, Massachusetts.

Shee will provide a brief overview of transition terminology, highlight best practices for transition planning and assessment, discuss the genesis of NESCA's innovative transition model, and provides practical advice for families and professionals navigating the process.

Lunch will be provided. Registration is required. Register Now!

When:   12:00 noon - 1:00pm Monday, October 7

Where: Margolis & Bloom (Driving Directions)
                   535 Boylston Street, 8th Floor
                   Boston, MA 02116

If you have any questions, please contact Rachel Sandler by email to rs@margolis.com, or by calling 617-267-9700.

Brunch with Shonda Schilling Sunday, October 27, 2013

Presented by Temple Israel of Natick
and Perfection Lodge AF & AM

New York Times Best Selling Author Shonda Schilling is the mother of a child with Asperger's Syndrome and wife of retired Boston Red Sox All-Star Curt Schilling. Her book, The Best Kind of Different, describes her son Grant’s struggles and the heartbreaking and ultimately blissful journey she and Curt took to understanding this often misunderstood syndrome.

Shonda spends much time and energy speaking publicly about Asperger Syndrome and generating awareness for children with autism spectrum disorders. She works closely with the Asperger’s Association of New England and the YouthCare (now called ASPIRE) organization, and has been a comfort to other families with children on the autism spectrum, letting them know they are not alone.

When:    9:45am, Sunday, October 27, 2013

Where: Temple Israel of Natick
                 145 Hartford Street, Natick, MA

Cost:     Admission and deluxe brunch: $18.00 per person

Please make reservations by October 21, 2013.

Schilling is also a cancer survivor. Her public battle with malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, has been featured in publications and on television.

Shonda invited Good Morning America and the nation into the operating room to witness her fifth and final surgery, hoping her sun-safety message might inspire others to alter their sun habits.

In 2002, Shonda created The Shade Foundation of America, dedicated to eradicating melanoma through education regarding the detection of skin cancer and the promotion of sun safety. The foundation partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency to create SunWise, a program that helps teachers teach sun safety awareness to children in grades Kindergarten through eight.

Shonda grew up in Maryland and graduated from Towson State College. She worked in television production for Home Team Sports in Baltimore until marrying Curt Schilling in 1992. They have four children and reside in Medfield.


Silent Auction to benefit Temple Israel of Natick, Perfection Lodge and the Masonic Angel Fund. For additional information, please contact Stew Brandt by email to perflodge@gmail.com or by calling 508-561-9852.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Netflix Academy: A Magical Introduction to Core Knowledge

From the Core Knowledge Blog

By Lisa Hansel
September 16, 2013

You might know the Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli as a thought-provoking policy wonk and influential writer, but that’s not what makes him stand out. Above all else, Mike’s a great dad—one who struggles with making the best decisions for his kids and with helping all kids have similar educational opportunities.

Now, he needs your help.

Using the Core Knowledge Sequence as a guide to essential content, Petrilli has started a yearlong project to identify the best scientific, historical, and literary videos for kids. Set aside your favorite expensive or hard-to-find videos; Petrilli’s “Netflix Academy” is all about widely accessible works—those that, as he writes, “anyone with an $8/month Netflix subscription, or a $79/year Amazon Prime subscription, could instantly stream.”

Petrilli got the idea over the summer while watching the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs with his sons (ages five and three). He explains:

"As E. D. Hirsch, Jr., has argued for a quarter-century, the early elementary years are the ideal time to introduce children to the wonders of history (natural and otherwise), geography, literature, art, music, and more.

By providing a solid grounding in the core domains of human civilization, we are providing two wonderful gifts for our children: A store of knowledge that will help them better understand the complexities of our universe as they grow older; and a rich vocabulary that will make them strong, confident readers in these early, formative years. This is why the Common Core State Standards call for a rigorous, coherent curriculum that offers a healthy diet of content knowledge—that’s the key to becoming a great reader, and an enthusiastic learner.

Via Walking with Dinosaurs, for instance, my five-year-old already has a rudimentary understanding of evolution (paving the way for many scientific and theological conversations in the years ahead) and has absorbed key vocabulary to boot (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, Cretaceous, Jurassic, etc.)….

Of course, five-year-olds have loved dinosaurs for decades, Netflix or not, but the power of cinematography to bring the subject alive is just this side of magic."

Watching with dad is magic too. But far too many dads (and moms and teachers) don’t have time to research how to make the best use of their kids’ screen time. We can all help.

Take a look at Petrilli’s posts thus far, and please use the comments section (here and/or on Petrilli’s site) to add your favorite videos:

Introduction and Selected Topics

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jessica Minahan Speaking at NESCA from 7:00 - 9:00pm Tuesday November 12th!

A Special FREE Evening Presentation

Effective Interventions:
Students with Sexualized Behavior

While relatively uncommon in school-aged children, sexualized behavior can be very upsetting to parents and professionals. It sometimes even results in students being removed involuntarily from the public schools.

Students display sexualized behavior for a host of reasons, and there is not a single common profile. For most students, pointing out that the behavior is inappropriate and it needs to stop is all that is needed, but for some, the behavior will persist and require specific interventions.

Jessica Minahan will tackle myths about sexualized behavior, and teach practical and effective interventions. Her talk will be of benefit to parents and professionals alike.

When:    7:00 – 9:00pm Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Where:  NESCA, 55 Chapel Street Lower Lobby, Newton, MA

This talk is FREE and open to the public. Seating is limited. To reserve seats, please call Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800, or email arenzi@nesca-newton.com.

About Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA

Jessica Minahan is Director of Behavioral Services at NESCA.

She is co-author, with Psychiatrist Nancy Rappaport, of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, published by Harvard Education Press. Copies may be purchased at the event.

Minahan holds a B.S. in Intensive Special Education from Boston University, and a dual master’s degree in Special Education and Elementary Education from Wheelock College. She has a certificate of graduate study (CGS) in teaching children with Autism from University of Albany, and received her BCBA training from Northeastern University.

Her additional Massachusetts and other professional certifications include Teacher of Students with Special Needs (Pre-K through 9), Intensive Special Needs (All Levels), Professional Early Childhood (Pre-K through 3), Special Education Administration (All Levels, Initial), Crisis Prevention Intervention Trainer and Wilson Reading Level 1.

Since 2000, she has worked with students who exhibit highly challenging behavior in both their homes and schools. She specializes in creating behavioral intervention plans for students who demonstrate explosive and unsafe behavior. She also works with students with emotional and behavioral disturbances, anxiety disorders, high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me

From The Atlantic

By Karl Taro Greenfeld
September 18, 2013

What happens when a father, alarmed by his 13-year-old daughter's nightly workload, tries to do her homework for a week.

Memorization, not rationalization.

That is the advice of my 13-year-old daughter, Esmee, as I struggle to make sense of a paragraph of notes for an upcoming Earth Science test on minerals. “Minerals have crystal systems which are defined by the # of axis and the length of the axis that intersect the crystal faces.” That’s how the notes start, and they only get murkier after that. When I ask Esmee what this actually means, she gives me her homework credo.

Esmee is in the eighth grade at the NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies, a selective public school in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. My wife and I have noticed since she started there in February of last year that she has a lot of homework. We moved from Pacific Palisades, California, where Esmee also had a great deal of homework at Paul Revere Charter Middle School in Brentwood.

I have found, at both schools, that whenever I bring up the homework issue with teachers or administrators, their response is that they are required by the state to cover a certain amount of material. There are standardized tests, and everyone—students, teachers, schools—is being evaluated on those tests.

I’m not interested in the debates over teaching to the test or No Child Left Behind. What I am interested in is what my daughter is doing during those nightly hours between 8 o’clock and midnight, when she finally gets to bed. During the school week, she averages 3 - 4 hours of homework a night and 6 1/2 a half hours of sleep.

The Homework Wars: How Much is Too Much? Read more.


Some evenings, when we force her to go to bed, she will pretend to go to sleep and then get back up and continue to do homework for another hour. The following mornings are awful, my daughter teary-eyed and exhausted but still trudging to school.

I wonder: What is the exact nature of the work that is turning her into a sleep-deprived teen zombie so many mornings?

I decide to do my daughter’s homework for one typical week.


By late afternoon, I am tired after filing a magazine article on deadline. I’m not looking forward to homework. When I arrive home, a few minutes ahead of Esmee, I consider delaying my week of homework, but then I realize that Esmee can never put off her week of homework.

So I am relieved when she tells me she doesn’t have much tonight. We have 11 algebra equations. (Esmee’s algebra class is doing a section on polynomials, a word I haven’t heard in decades.) We also have to read 79 pages of Angela’s Ashes and find “three important and powerful quotes from the section with 1–2 sentence analyses of its [sic] significance.” There is also the Earth Science test tomorrow on minerals.

I am surprised by the amount of reading. Reading and writing is what I do for a living, but in my middle age, I’ve slowed down. So a good day of reading for me, assuming I like the book and I’m not looking for quotable passages, is between 50 and 100 pages. Seventy-nine pages while scanning for usable material—for an essay or for homework—seems like at least two hours of reading.

But the math is easier than I thought. We are simplifying equations, which involves reducing (–18m2n)2 (–1/6mn2) to –54m5n4, which I get the hang of again after Esmee’s good instructions. I breeze through those 11 equations in about 40 minutes and even correct Esmee when she gets one wrong. (I think. I may be overconfident.)

I then start reading Angela’s Ashes while Esmee studies for Earth Science. We have only one copy of the book, so we decide it will be more efficient to stagger our work. I’ve never read Angela’s Ashes, and it’s easy to see the appeal. Frank McCourt, whom I once saw give a beautiful tribute to Peter Matthiessen at a Paris Review Revel, is engaging and funny. But after 30 minutes I am only about 16 pages in, and Esmee has finished studying for Earth Science and needs the book.

So we switch. It is now time for me to struggle with Earth Science. The textbook Esmee’s class is using is simply called Earth Science and was written by Edward J. Tarbuck and Frederick K. Lutgens. “The term synergistic applies to the combined efforts of Tarbuck and Lutgens,” says the biographical note at the beginning. “Early in their careers, they shared frustrations with the limited availability of textbooks designed for non-majors.”

So they rolled up their sleeves and wrote their own textbook, which reads exactly like every other textbook. “If you look again at Table 1,” begins the section on silicates, “you can see that the two most abundant elements in Earth’s crust are silicon and oxygen.” I spend the next five minutes looking for Table 1, which is 12 pages earlier in the book.

Then come carbonates, oxides, the sulfates and sulfides, halides, and—I am asleep after about 20 minutes.

When I wake up, I go out to find Esmee in the living room, where she is buried in Angela’s Ashes. I struggle with Earth Science for another half hour, attempting to memorize rather than understand, before I give up and decide I have to get my reading done. Since Esmee is using our copy of Angela’s Ashes, I figure I will just read another 63 pages of the novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which I started yesterday. I don’t make it. I’m asleep for good after about 15 pages.

Esmee stays up until a little after midnight to finish her reading.

Total time: 3–5 hours

I don’t remember how much homework was assigned to me in eighth grade. I do know that I didn’t do very much of it and that what little I did, I did badly. My study habits were atrocious. After school I often went to friends’ houses, where I sometimes smoked marijuana, and then I returned home for dinner; after lying to my parents about not having homework that night, I might have caught an hour or two of television. In Southern California in the late ’70s, it was totally plausible that an eighth grader would have no homework at all.

If my daughter came home and said she had no homework, I would know she was lying. It is inconceivable that her teachers wouldn’t assign any.

What has changed? It seems that while there has been widespread panic about American students’ falling behind their peers in Singapore, Shanghai, Helsinki, and everywhere else in science and mathematics, the length of the school day is about the same. The school year hasn’t been extended. Student-teacher ratios don’t seem to have changed much. No, our children are going to catch up with those East Asian kids on their own damn time.

Every parent I know in New York City comments on how much homework their children have. These lamentations are a ritual whenever we are gathered around kitchen islands talking about our kids’ schools.

Is it too much?

Well, imagine if after putting in a full day at the office—and school is pretty much what our children do for a job—you had to come home and do another four or so hours of office work. Monday through Friday. Plus Esmee gets homework every weekend. If your job required that kind of work after work, how long would you last?


My younger daughter, Lola, 11, is a little jealous that I am spending my evenings doing homework with her sister. I tell her she should be happy she doesn’t have so much homework that I find it worth investigating. She agrees with this, but still makes me feel so guilty about it that I let her watch Pretty Little Liars, her favorite show.

The co-op board meets—and over my objections makes me secretary—before I can start on Esmee’s homework.

Tonight we have 12 more algebra equations, 45 more pages of Angela’s Ashes, and a Humanities project for which we have to write one to two pages in the style of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the young-adult novel by Sherman Alexie. There is also a Spanish test tomorrow on irregular verbs.

The algebra is fast becoming my favorite part of this project. I may have picked an easy week, but something about combining like terms, inverting negative exponents, and then simplifying equations causes a tingle in a part of my brain that is usually dormant. Also, the work is finite: just 12 equations.

The Spanish, however, presents a completely different challenge. Here, Esmee shows me that we have to memorize the conjugations of the future tense of regular and irregular verbs, and she slides me a sheet with tener, tendré,tendrás, tendrá, tendremos, etc., multiplied by dozens of verbs. My daughter has done a commendable job memorizing the conjugations. But when I ask her what the verb tener means (“to have,” if I recall), she repeats, “Memorization, not rationalization.”

She doesn’t know what the words mean.

I spend a few minutes looking over the material, attempting to memorize the list of verbs and conjugations. Then it takes me about half an hour to memorize the three most common conjugation patterns. I decide to skip the irregular verbs.

Esmee already worked on her Spanish this afternoon, so she goes right to the Humanities project, which she has been looking forward to. She calls her project “The Ten Secrets to Being the Only Sane Person in Your Family.”

No. 6: Don’t Listen to Anything Your Father Says.

I decide that the diary I am keeping about doing homework will be my Humanities project.

Soon it’s 11 p.m., and I start bugging Esmee to go to bed. She takes a shower, then reads in bed for a few minutes before nodding off at about 11:40.

I sneak in and grab her copy of Angela’s Ashes and catch up on my reading, getting all the way to page 120. The hardship of too much homework pales in comparison with the McCourt family’s travails. Still, because we are sharing our copy of Angela’s Ashes, I end up going to bed an hour after Esmee.

Total time: 3 hours

One evening when Esmee was in sixth grade, I walked into her room at 1:30 a.m. to find her red-eyed, exhausted, and starting on her third hour of math. This was partially her fault, as she had let a couple of days’ worth of worksheets pile up, but it was also the nature of the work itself. One assignment had her calculating the area and perimeter of a series of shapes so complex that my wife, who trained as an architect in the Netherlands, spent half an hour on it before coming up with the right answers.

The problem was not the complexity of the work, it was the amount of calculating required. The measurements included numbers like 78 13/64, and all this multiplying and dividing was to be done without a calculator. Another exercise required Esmee to find the distance from Sacramento—we were living in California—to every other state capital in America, in miles and kilometers. This last one caused me to question the value of the homework.

What possible purpose could this serve?, I asked her teacher in a meeting.

She explained that this sort of cross-disciplinary learning—state capitals in a math class—was now popular. She added that by now, Esmee should know all her state capitals. She went on to say that in class, when the students had been asked to name the capital of Texas, Esmee answered Texas City.

But this is a math class, I said. I don’t even know the state capitals.

The teacher was unmoved, saying that she felt the homework load was reasonable. If Esmee was struggling with the work, then perhaps she should be moved to a remedial class.

That night, in an e-mail chain started by the class parent to seek chaperones for a field trip, I removed the teacher’s name, changed the subject line, and then asked the other parents in the class whether their children found the homework load onerous.

After a few minutes, replies started coming in from parents along the lines of “Thank God, we thought we were the only ones,” “Our son has been up until 2 a.m. crying,” and so forth. Half the class’s parents responded that they thought too much homework was an issue.

Since then, I’ve been wary of Esmee’s workload, and I’ve often suspected that teachers don’t have any idea about the cumulative amount of homework the kids are assigned when they are taking five classes. There is little to no coordination among teachers in most schools when it comes to assignments and test dates.


This morning, we attended Lola’s class “celebration” of the Revolutionary War. The class had prepared dioramas of the role women played in the Revolution, the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Yorktown, and other signal events of the period. In hand-drawn murals explaining the causes of the conflict, the main theme was that excessive and unfair taxation had caused the colonies to rebel. The British had run up massive debts in the French and Indian War and wanted the colonists to repay them.

The colonies also wanted, several children added, freedom. When pressed as to what that meant, they seemed unsure, until one boy came up with “Freedom to do what they want!”

I came home and took a nap.

My older daughter’s homework load this evening is just seven algebra equations, studying for a Humanities test on industrialization, and more Earth Science.

This algebra unit, on polynomials, seems to be a matter of remembering a few tricks. Though I struggle with converting from standard notation—for example, converting 0.00009621 to scientific notation is tricky (it’s 9.621 x 10¯5, which makes no intuitive sense to me)—it is pleasing that at some point I arrive at an answer, right or wrong, and my work is done and the teacher will give me credit for doing my homework.

"My daughter has the misfortune of living through a period of peak homework. But it turns out that there is no correlation between homework and achievement."

Earth Science is something else. I’ve been dreading returning to Tarbuck and Lutgens since our first meeting. And tonight, the chapter starts in the familiar dispiriting monotone. “Rocks are any solid mass of mineral or mineral-like matter occurring naturally as part of our planet.” But I am pleasantly surprised when T&L take a turn into the rock cycle, laying out the differences between igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock in terms that are easy to understand and visualize. The accompanying charts are helpful, and as I keep reading into the chapter on igneous rocks, the differences between intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks make clear sense.

The upcoming test in Humanities will focus on John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, monopolies and trusts, laissez-faire capitalism, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the foundation of labor unions, the imposition of factory safety standards, and the populist response to the grim conditions of the working man during the Industrial Revolution. My daughter has a study guide she is ready to print out. But our printer has just broken.

We end up borrowing our neighbor’s printer. The logistics of picking up the printer, bringing it over to our apartment, downloading the software, and then printing take about half an hour.

The study guide covers a wide range of topics, from how Rockefeller gained control of the oil industry, to the rise of monopolies and trusts, to the Sherman Antitrust Act, to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Esmee and I have a pretty long talk about the causes of the tragedy—the locked doors that prevented the young girls from taking breaks, stealing merchandise, or escaping the flames; the flammable waste material that had been allowed to accumulate—that leads to a discussion about trade unionism and then about capitalism in general.

This is, I realize, a logical continuation of the conversation in my younger daughter’s class this morning, which started with unwieldy dioramas and implausible impersonations of King George. Freedom, in the form of unfettered capitalism, also has its downside. I tell her my view: laborers have to organize into unions, because otherwise those who control the capital have all the power.

“That’s why it’s called capitalism,” Esmee says, “not laborism.”

She falls asleep reading Angela’s Ashes.

Total time: 3 hours

My daughter has the misfortune of living through a period of peak homework.

It turns out that there is no correlation between homework and achievement. According to a 2005 study by the Penn State professors Gerald K. LeTendre and David P. Baker, some of the countries that score higher than the U.S. on testing in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study—Japan and Denmark, for example—give less homework, while some of those scoring lower, including Thailand and Greece, assign more. Why pile on the homework if it doesn’t make even a testable difference, and in fact may be harmful?

“It’s a response to this whole globalized, competitive process,” says Richard Walker, a co-author of the book Reforming Homework. “You get parents demanding their children get more homework because their children are competing against the whole world.”

The irony is that some countries where the school systems are held up as models for our schools have been going in the opposite direction of the U.S., giving less homework and implementing narrower curricula built to encourage deeper understanding rather than broader coverage.

In the U.S., or at least in the schools my daughters have attended, there has been no sign of teachers’ letting up on homework. According to a University of Michigan study, the average time spent weekly on homework increased from two hours and 38 minutes in 1981 to three hours and 58 minutes in 2004.

Data from a 2007 National Center for Education Statistics survey showed American students between grades nine and 12 doing an average of 6.8 hours of homework a week—which sounds pretty reasonable compared with what my daughter is assigned—and 42 percent of students saying they have homework five or more days a week. Esmee has hours of homework every night. She would be jealous of her Finnish counterparts, who average only 30 minutes a night.

I’m not interested in No Child Left Behind. What I am interested in is what my daughter is doing between 8 o’clock and midnight, when she finally gets to bed.

Attitudes toward homework swing in cycles of roughly 30 years, according to Harris Cooper, a professor of education at Duke University and the author of The Battle Over Homework. We went from piling on the homework because of fears of a science gap brought on by Sputnik in the late 1950s, to backing off in the Woodstock generation of the ’70s amid worries about overstressing kids, to the ’90s fears of falling behind East Asian students.

The current backlash against homework has been under way so long—expressed in books like 2006’s The Case Against Homework, by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, and in the 2009 documentary film Race to Nowhere—that we may now be living through a backlash against the backlash, at least in elite schools. “We’re in a heavy-homework part of the cycle,” Cooper says. “The increasing competition for elite high schools and colleges has parents demanding more homework.”

Back in California, when I raised the issue of too much homework on that e‑mail chain, about half the parents were pleased that someone had brought this up, and many had already spoken to the math teacher about it. Others were eager to approach school officials. But at least one parent didn’t agree, and forwarded the whole exchange to the teacher in question.

As the person who instigated the conversation, I was called in to the vice principal’s office and accused of cyber-bullying. I suggested that parents’ meeting to discuss their children’s education was generally a positive thing; we merely chose to have our meeting in cyberspace instead of the school cafeteria.

He disagreed, saying the teacher felt threatened. And he added that students weren’t allowed to cyber bully, so parents should be held to the same standard.

I explained that we never intended for the teacher to read those notes. This was a forum where we were airing our concerns.

What was frustrating me was that the underlying issue of ridiculous amounts of busywork was getting buried beneath the supposed method we had used to discuss the issue.

Even when I showed the vice principal examples of the homework assignments, he didn’t see them as outside the usual in terms of content or time commitment.

I left believing I hadn’t solved the problem.

Yet something did change. Over the next few months, the math teacher assigned a more manageable workload. My daughter now went to bed before 10 o’clock most nights.


Parent-teacher conferences at the Lab School are similar to what I imagine speed dating to be like. Each conference is three minutes, and parents can attend an afternoon or evening session. My wife and I choose the afternoon. The conferences are strictly first come, first served. At noon, my wife and I sit in chairs outside each classroom waiting our turn, sometimes for as long as 45 minutes. A student is supposed to be timing each conference, but the students often wander off, and the teachers ignore the parents’ knocking after three minutes.

In each conference, I urge the teachers to give less homework. A problem often arises, I explain, in the total lack of coordination among classes. A Humanities assignment requiring the kids to render in words, pictures, or both a scene from Angela’s Ashes, say, can take an hour or two, yet most teachers don’t seem to consider anything creative to be homework. The creative stuff, like drawing or writing a short story or preparing a scene from a play, is all extra, to be completed in addition to the hours of humanities, math, science, and Spanish.

The teachers usually respond in one of two ways. They nod sympathetically and agree that the kids do have a lot of work, as if they have nothing to do with the assigning of it. Or they say that time management is one of the skills that a successful high-school student will need, and if my daughter wants to perform in an elite high school, she had better learn that in middle school. Both answers amount to essentially the same argument: the vast amounts of homework are somehow handed down from on high, and mere teachers can do nothing to tamper with the ordained quantities.

Because I happen to be in the middle of my week of homework when this year’s parent-teacher conferences take place, I am uniquely equipped to discuss the work Esmee is doing. And over the years, I have noticed that the amount of homework does let up, slightly, after the conferences—if enough parents complain. However, there is always a clique of parents who are happy with the amount of homework. In fact, they would prefer more. I tend not to get along with that type of parent.

At a meeting with Esmee’s Earth Science teacher, I find out that my daughter has in fact not been giving me all the work. There is a worksheet, for example, requiring a reinterpretation and annotation of the rock cycle that Esmee never handed over. The teacher finds an extra copy for me. So I have another date with Tarbuck and Lutgens.

When I get home, Esmee tells me she got a C on her math homework from the night before because she hadn’t made an answer column. Her correct answers were there, at the end of each neatly written-out equation, yet they weren’t segregated into a separate column on the right side of each page. I’m amazed that the pettiness of this doesn’t seem to bother her. School is training her well for the inanities of adult life.

Our math homework this evening is practicing multiplying a polynomial by a monomial, and we breeze through it in about half an hour.

Then we have to translate some song lyrics from Spanish to English. Esmee’s Spanish teacher already told my wife and me in our conference this afternoon that she can tell when the kids use Google Translate—which is all the time. It’s a wonder: simply type in the lyrics, copy down the translation, and then, in an attempt to throw off the teacher, add a few mistakes. So Si te quedas a mi lado, si te subes en el tren, which Google renders as “If you stay by my side, if you get on the train,” becomes “If you stay by my side, if you go up on the train.”


And, at last, more Angela’s Ashes.

Total time: 1.5 hours

The more immersed I become in Esmee’s homework, the more reassured I am that the teachers, principals, and school-board members who are coming up with this curriculum are earnest about their work. They are making difficult decisions about what to teach or not teach in the limited class time they have. The overall education being imparted is secular, humanistic, multicultural, and intensely quantitative. The math Esmee is doing at 13, for example, is beyond what I was doing at that age.

Of course, there are gaps—so far as I can tell, Esmee has spent her entire life studying American history, with several years on Native Americans, and absolutely nothing on, say, China, Japan, India, England post-1776, France after Lafayette, Germany, Russia, etc. Like many parents, I wish there was more emphasis on creative work, on writing assignments that didn’t require Esmee to use eight “transition words” and seven metaphors.

This school has clearly made choices—these kids are going to get very good at algebra and maybe a little less good at creative writing. I can’t say I fault them in this, though I know what I would prefer to spend my days doing.

If Esmee masters the material covered in her classes, she will emerge as a well-rounded, socially aware citizen, a serious reader with good reasoning capabilities and a decent knowledge of the universe she lives in. What more can I ask of her school?

But are these many hours of homework the only way to achieve this metamorphosis of child into virtuous citizen? According to my daughter’s teachers, principals, and administrators, the answer is an emphatic yes. Certainly, they have told me, all the homework does no harm. As I watch my daughter struggle through school days on too little sleep and feel almost guilty if she wants to watch an hour of television instead of advancing a few yards in the trench warfare of her weekly homework routine, I have my doubts.

When would she ever have time to, say, read a book for pleasure? Or write a story or paint a picture or play the guitar?

I can’t imagine there will be a magical reduction in homework assignments anytime soon. But what I will continue to do at every opportunity is remind teachers that if each is assigning an hour of homework a night, and the average kid is taking four or five academic classes, then that is simply an unrealistic cumulative workload. Give the kids a break. Once in a while.

I don’t expect teachers to drastically curtail their assignments, just to occasionally lighten the load. Of course, I may just be balancing the scales against those parents asking for extra assignments for their child.

Has this worked? Well, it did in Brentwood, even if it took parental pressure. And though I can’t draw a causal line between my day of speed dating—I mean, going to parent-teacher conferences—at the Lab School and a reduction in homework assignments, it did seem to me that in the months afterward, Esmee was able to get more sleep. At least a couple of minutes’ worth.

Esmee just started high school. She has told me she feels that the many hours of homework in middle school have prepared her well. “There is no way they can give me more homework,” she reasons.

I have my doubts.

As for Lola: When it came time to select a middle school, she took the admissions test for Lab and listed it as her first choice, despite my telling her that in my view, the school is too rigidly focused on academics and assigns too much homework. Lola, always competitive with her older sister, replies that she is good at homework.

She’s going to need to be. She was accepted at Lab.


Lola is sleeping over at a friend’s house. Esmee hasn’t started her weekend homework yet. Instead, she’s watching episodes of Portlandia on her computer. The weekend homework includes another 15 algebra equations, studying for a Spanish test on Monday, and, of course, more Angela’s Ashes. She also has an algebra midterm on Tuesday. I tell Esmee that this seems strange—didn’t she just have an algebra midterm? She says that in her class, they have more than one midterm every term.

My wife and I decide to go out to dinner, and on our way up Hudson Street, we run into another couple we are close friends with. This couple’s oldest daughter also goes to Lab. She’s at home doing homework.

We stand on the sidewalk for a few minutes, chatting. The husband is smoking a joint, and he hands it over. I haven’t smoked in a few months, but it’s Friday night and I’ve been doing homework all week. I take a few tokes. We part ways, and my wife and I go to a Japanese restaurant, where, as soon as I am seated, I regret smoking. It’s going to be hell trying to do algebra tonight with the head I have on right now.

Nonetheless, when I’m home, I sit at the dining table and attempt to work my way through the polynomial worksheet. I am immediately lost in all the 2x(–3y5+ 3x2)6s. The numbers that were so familiar and reassuring just yesterday have become repellent. I realize, sitting there, failing to solve my algebra homework, that I have inadvertently yet perfectly re-created my own eighth-grade homework conditions: getting stoned, attempting math, and failing at it.

I consider my daughter, who to my knowledge has never smoked marijuana. That’s a good thing, I think in my hazy state. I wouldn’t wish this condition—attempting algebra when high—on anyone.

One of the reasons I believe my daughter hasn’t yet tried marijuana is because she simply doesn’t have the time.

I decide to give up on algebra for the night. It’s only Friday, and I have until Monday to finish my homework.

Karl Taro Greenfeld’s most recent book is the novel Triburbia.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Catherine Steiner-Adair: "The Big Disconnect" - The Diane Rehm Show

From NPR's WAMU 88.5 FM Washington

August 14, 2013

New technology has radically changed the way we communicate with each other. Young people especially are relying on texting and social media for advice and friendship. A recent study found that children between the ages 8 and 18 are spending more than seven hours with electronic devices every day. Parents working from home also spend more time on smartphones and tablets.

Amanda Cunningham watches as her daughter, Madeline
Cunningham, 4, uses the computer in her apartment
in N.Y's Upper West Side neighborhood. Although Amanda
sees certains benefits of exposing technology to children at a
young age, she has recently become much more cautious about
introducing technology to her youngest child, Liam, now one.

In a new book, clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair argues that widespread use of electronic devices exposes kids to unhealthy values and puts children at risk at every developmental stage. She says technology has negative effects on empathy, attention and family relationships.

Diane and her guest discuss the effects of technology on children and their families and what parents can do about it.


Listen HERE to Diane Rehm's August 14th interview with Catherine Steiner-Adair



Catherine Steiner-Adair, clinical psychologist and instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Read an Excerpt from The Big Disconnect

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Boredom in Class

From the Core Knowledge Blog

By Mark Bauerlein
September 19, 2013

Last month in Education Week, I penned a commentary on relevance in the curriculum with survey data on high school dropouts. The trend is clear: ask recent dropouts why they left school and they set boredom at the top of the list.

One 2006 study found that 47 percent of them claimed that school was boring and 69 percent said that school didn’t motivate or excite them. For those students, it wasn’t the difficulty of the work that drove them away. It was the tediousness.

A standard answer to the disengagement problem is that we need a more relevant curriculum. After all, people note, how can an African American junior in Chicago relate to a poem about an 18th-century English country churchyard at night?

Added to that, the surveys show that teachers all too often stick to the most uninspiring teaching method, the lecture format, which the students find deadening (so they say). Let’s have more contemporary novels and fewer classics; more topical themes and fewer historical contexts; let’s incorporate more collaborative and self-direct learning, fewer podium presentations.

It sounds commonsensical, to be sure. Boredom can ruin academic achievement, even for bright students. Materials closer to their actual lives will surely raise their interest, we assume, and consequently their scores, too. Besides, if we wish to train students for the real world in 2013, why force-feed them texts and facts from long ago and far away?

Sixteen-year-olds wonder how studying a group of hard-core Christians who landed on Cape Cod 400 years ago will help them get a job, understand the health care debate, become adept with digital tools, and win friends and influence people. And, in fact, lots of 40-year-olds ask that question as well.

Before joining the call for relevance in the curriculum, let’s put boredom and relevance in the light of what is, perhaps, the overriding factor in secondary curricular reform today: college readiness. College readiness has become the standard by which a high school education is measured, the foundation, for instance, of Common Core standards in math and English (as well as literacy in science, technical subjects, and social studies).

Formerly, educators aimed to ensure access to college for all high school graduates, setting college admission at the end of the secondary school mission. But having witnessed hundreds of thousands of high school graduates enter college, be forced to take remedial classes, and drop out before they finish their first year, educators have shifted their focus to college retention. Now, they believe, it isn’t enough to get students into college—we have to keep them there until they earn a degree.

"...curriculum and standards experts work backwards, determining what students learn in high school by that which will serve them well in college, what they will learn in middle school by that they will need in high school, and so on."

So, curriculum and standards experts work backwards, determining what students learn in high school by that which will serve them well in college, what they will learn in middle school by that they will need in high school, and so on. The Common Core initiative followed this pattern, and so the standards and accompanying materials rightly called for a curriculum rich in the content presumed in the next grade levels, including exemplary informational texts that will accumulate year-to-year in the mind of a student and prepare him or her for college history, science, English and civics.

Increasingly, however, people are realizing that college retention depends not only on cognitive skills and academic knowledge, but also on a set of “soft skills.” They include persistence, time management, self-motivation, and other attributes of independence and organization.

Now that they have left home and high school, first-year college students no longer have parents to monitor their hours and teachers who see them every weekday and check their homework. The guidance and command of the home have ended, and the teachers they have in college see them only a few hours a week and often never connect names with faces.

Here is where the boredom factor enters and can prove damaging. In high school, when students get bored, parents and teachers notice and urge, push, motivate, and assist them past it so that the work gets done. They seek out relevance-inducing adjustments to let students know, “Listen, this material is important to you, and we can make it interesting,” and far too often they proceed to drop that nineteenth-century novel and choose a popular contemporary one, hoping to plant a novel-reading habit that someday will extend to finer and older works.

But when students get bored in college, professors aren’t so reactive and flexible. If a student tunes out in class and submits C-level, work, the teacher may invite the student to office hours for a chat about the next paper or test, but that’s about it. If the student never shows up, well, life goes on. Parents aren’t around, either, so what is a student accustomed to being coddled and entertained to do?

"Another soft skill becomes crucial: working through boredom on your own. It’s a disposition that has little to do with intelligence or knowledge, more a matter of stamina than intellect."

Another soft skill becomes crucial: working through boredom on your own. It’s a disposition that has little to do with intelligence or knowledge, more a matter of stamina than intellect. If the U.S. history textbook bores you to death, it says, you still must get through 20 pages in the next hour. Biology 101 may have no relevance to your career plans or personal tastes, but you still have to complete it to fulfill a General Education requirement.

Many first-year students don’t easily absorb such blank and impersonal facts of college—especially when their home and high school environments catered more to their personal interests than their actual needs—but they are binding and they call for a different attitude. The more you can ignore your ennui, the easier it will be to pass the course. The less you judge the course on personal grounds, the less likely will you recoil from it and consider dropping out of college. (You might even learn something that sparks genuine curiosity.)

Perhaps we should add “coping-with-boredom” to the list of college-readiness indicators, and K – 12 pedagogy should temper the quick and easy tactic of relevance. Yes, teachers should select materials true to the learning goals of the subject and also likely to interest the students. But they should also recognize that some materials that students must learn can’t be avoided or compromised, even though students will find them oh-so-dull.

Boredom is bound to happen, and instead of trying to escape it by changing course contents, teachers should try to neutralize it by changing student expectations. It is possible that teachers may go too far in presenting an exciting, relevant curriculum, unintentionally giving students the message that their boredom is a justifiable condition that somebody else must remedy. Better for them to absorb a different lesson: boredom, in itself, is no reason to stop working.