A Story of a Special Man!

If you wonder how much of a difference one individual can make, consider this story about a man named Charlie. His life offered a wonderful example of the power of relationships. He passed away ten years ago but he lives on in the hearts of many of the people he touched, both students and teachers.  Every few years, I like to pull the story out, dust if off, and delight in the memory of this special man with whom I spent only a few moments of my life.

Charlie made an enormous difference in the lives of literally thousands of young people and hundreds of adults in the high school all three of my children attended.  One of the teachers who worked with him shared Charlie’s story in a letter to the editor of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, a few weeks after his death. Otherwise, few outside of the Wayne High School community would have known about this special man, and the quiet but enormous impact he made.

Charlie was a black man working in a high school that was somewhere between ten to fifteen percent black. He did not have an impressive title, did not make a great deal of money, had no formal authority, there were no letters after his name, and he was neither a star athlete nor a celebrity.  Charlie’s stature as a powerful positive leader came only from the force of his personality, his dedication to his job, his love of people, and his God-given ability to make people feel important. He was a human being who, out of the pure generosity of a loving heart, accepted responsibility for making his corner of the world a better place.

I first heard about Charlie years ago when my kids were in high school, but it did not make a great impression on me.  I just assumed Charlie was one of the kids at school.  The first time, and one of the few times I met Charlie, I was working as a substitute teacher in this high school I thought I knew so well.  Like other teachers, I was monitoring the hallways during the passing period, standing by the door to my classroom. It had been a rough day and I was reeling from difficult period of a math lab class when this man came up to me. 

He was dressed in a suit and tie and it never would have occurred to me he was a custodian until he grabbed a broom from a cart he had left a few feet away and swept up some debris from the floor.

“How is it going, today? Is there anything I can do for you?” He asked.  “You just call me if you need something,” he continued and then proceeded to rattle off his name and extension number.  He shook my hand and smiled before continuing down the corridor and I watched him, trying to figure out who in the heck he was. 

My eyes followed him as he spoke to a couple students he passed. From the smiles on their faces I can only assume he was smiling, also.  Moving on, he gave another student a high five, and then stopped to pick up a couple of broken pencils that lay on the floor. 

A dozen yards farther down the hallway a young girl had been leaning against the wall, alone.  I had noticed her earlier as she had a lonely and forlorn look about her and I suspected she had been crying.  As this custodian drew closer, he drifted over to her and then stopped and smiled at her and put his hand on her shoulder. 

 This made me immediately suspicious because we are told, frequently and pointedly, not to touch the students, especially members of the opposite gender.  I could not hear the words that were spoken, but after a few seconds the girl offered up an embarrassed smile, followed seconds later by a laugh.  Charlie lingered a moment, in quiet conversation, and then sauntered off, dishing out more high fives to students as he passed.  When I looked back the girl was still there, standing in the same spot but she stood a little taller and had a smile on her face.  Whatever this janitor had said to her must have been something she had needed to hear.

 Later in the day, in the faculty lounge, I asked a teacher about the custodian in the suit and tie.  He laughed, and said, “well, that would have been Charlie.”  He went on to say, “he’s a very special guy around here and both the kids and staff love him.” 

 I asked others about him, including my youngest daughter, now a teacher herself.  Whoever I asked, just the mention of his name would evoke a smile, and everyone proceeded to tell me pretty much the same story. “He is everybody’s friend and always has a kind word for you,” my daughter explained.

Charlie, God rest his charitable soul, was a beautiful human being and positive leader.  He took his job seriously and took pride in keeping things clean for the students and teachers.  Even more importantly, he reached out to people to share his positive attitude.  He accepted responsibility for making this high school a better place and for making its people feel special and important. 

He had a special ability to sense when someone—teacher, student, or substitute —needed a kind word, a high five, or a warm smile and I am certain Charlie never wasted an opportunity to share his gifts.  None of these activities could be found in the job description of a school custodian but Charlie made them a part of his daily routine. They were a part of who he was.

This man demonstrated it was not necessary to have a title, formal authority, or even someone’s permission to be a leader and to make a positive difference to the world and its people.  All one needs is a belief that people—all people—deserve our best effort and that we can make a difference. While doing what most people would consider an unimportant and mundane job, this man changed the world around him. He did it by reaching out to people with a generous heart, simple acts of kindness, reassuring words, and a genuine desire to make each of them feel special.

Gifts such as this may brighten only a moment in an otherwise stressful day, but we never know how much of a difference we make when we give the best of ourselves with joy and affirmation.  It is a lesson from which all can all learn when we wonder if what we do matters. We can choose to believe every job, well done, adds a little beauty to the world and every smile or act of affirmation can make a difference in the life of another human being.

No doubt Charlie believed he had the most important job in the world. By having a relationship with each of them, Charlie made a difference in the lives of twelve hundred students and a hundred members of a school’s faculty and staff, while keeping their school clean for them.

It was the relationships that mattered. Given what we can learn from Charlie, imagine what a teacher can do in his or her classroom by doing the best job of which they are capable and by making every student feel special and important.

Relationships are everything in life and they are everything in teaching.

God bless you, Charlie.

Why #SchoolChoice is an Unfortunate Distraction rather than a Solution for the Challenges Facing Education in America.

So much of the energy devoted to education reform and improvement, in recent years, has been focused on charter schools and the “school choice” movement. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a charter school, what was once an intriguing idea has become an unfortunate distraction to our efforts to transform education in America. 

In one respect, charter schools are just like so many of our nation’s public schools in that some are more successful than others and others are not successful at all. The value of charters, if they were utilized as initially conceived, is they provide an opportunity to create a laboratory, if you will, to experiment with new and innovative methodologies, outside the framework of the traditional public school system. The charter concept is now used for a totally different purpose. Advocates have concluded that letting parents choose the best school for their children is the solution for education in America.  

On the surface, the logic seems to resonate and the need for lotteries provides evidence of demand for some charters. The other side of that coin is an inability to meet demand in a local community begs the question of how “school choice” can serve the needs of fifty million American children.  This is one of the fundamental flaws in the argument that “school choice” is the solution for the U.S.  If creating charter schools for every child is impractical, what is the purpose of “school choice?”

Are “school choice” leaders content to offer a way for some families to escape what are perceived to be bad schools, assuming they win the lottery. Are they okay with letting the rest fend for themselves? What are the consequences for public schools who must operate with fewer resources and, possibly, a more challenging student population?

Another flaw is the pervasive belief that low academic achievement is the result of bad schools and bad  teachers.  Parochial schools and charters can also be found on both ends of the performance continuum. That aggregate academic performance has not responded to a bevy of innovative methodologies and initiatives, introduced over a period of decades, ought to give reformers pause.

If the problem is not who teaches and where but a consequence of what they teach and how, we are on a path to inevitable failure. We must be willing to open our minds to the obvious and address the dysfunctionality of the education process at work in schools throughout the U.S.  Ignoring the true cause is comparable to treating Covid 19 with a litany of antibiotics that cannot, now, and will never kill the coronavirus. Incorrect diagnoses rarely produce favorable prognoses.

If we want better outcomes for our students, we must do more than change school buildings and teachers. We must change what we ask teachers and students to do and what we expect them to accomplish. To paraphrase motivational icon, Zig Ziglar, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the same disappointing outcomes.

It is not that advocates of “school choice” are bad people rather they are misguided. The only future the “school choice” movement can offer America is an education system that will become increasingly more bifurcated. It is a future with many winners, to be sure, but with far more losers because the push toward privatization siphons the lifeblood from public school districts, whatever their track record. We must reduce the number of Americans who could be counted among the “have nots,” not widen the chasm that separates us.

Now, looking back, we can tabulate the opportunity cost from years of disappointing academic achievement because we chose the wrong path to meaningful education reform. The other portion  of that opportunity cost would be benefits forgone; benefits that would have accrued for the millions of our sons and daughters whose academic distress could have been replaced by successful achievement.  

Click on this link to examine The Hawkins Model© and you will learn more about the dysfunctionality of the existing education process and how we can change the future for every girl and boy in America. You are also asked to believe it is not too late to act; in fact, this may be the perfect time to make a change.

Kids Learn from Experience to Acquire Pre-requisite knowledge: A Lesson on Dysfunctionality

Even though we do not think about it, how we learn in the classroom is just a variation of learning from experience. Lesson presentations, practice assignments, review sessions, quizzes, and tests are all experiences gained in the classroom.

In education, we place too much focus on mistakes and failure.  Of course, we learn from mistakes; in fact, that is where much learning begins.  We try something we want to learn but rarely do we accomplish it, to our satisfaction, after the first attempt. We must strive with determination.  With each unsuccessful attempt, we gain more experience which, in turn, allows us to make adjustments that produce better outcomes.  For most of us, it may take multiple attempts before we are fully satisfied with the outcomes we experience, whatever the endeavor.

Often, we refer to our unsuccessful attempts as mistakes, but in the minds of many people, educators included, the word mistake is often mistaken for a form of failure, if you will forgive the pun. We would be better off to use the term “disappointing outcomes.” Whatever we choose to call them, however, what they represent are “learning opportunities.”

 Mistakes/disappointing outcomes do not rise to the level of failure unless we give up and stop trying; until we settle for less than a full understanding of something, or less than subject mastery.  In our classrooms, students do not choose to stop trying or settle for less than their best and, it is not their teachers who make that choice for them. The decision to abandon one lesson and begin another before students are ready to move on, is what the current education process requires of teachers. Giving up is what the education process has been teaching  many children to do from their first day of school. We have not been prompted to think about it that way.

Teachers are unknowing facilitators in this process because it is what the education process demands of them. Every time teachers must record  a C, D, or F in their gradebooks, that grade becomes a specific, documented example of a student who has been required, by the education process,  to give up and stop  trying before they have gained comprehension;  before attaining subject mastery. Once that window closes on a given lesson, rarely do kids get another chance.  

This is only half of what we must come to understand as one of the most dysfunctional components of the education process on which teachers and students must rely. The other half of the dysfunction has an equally devastating impact on our most vulnerable students.

What we learn from our successes is no less important than what we learn from our unsuccessful outcomes. Every time teachers are required to move students on, ready or not, the education process deprives a child of an opportunity to experience success.  If there is no success there can be no opportunity to celebrate success, to relish in it, take pride in it. These students are deprived of  essential  building blocks of confidence and self- esteem; and  it happens to millions of children, hundreds of times, every school year.

Each of our experiences whether good or bad, positive or negative, successful or unsuccessful, acceptable or unacceptable, expected or disappointing, satisfactory or unsatisfactory are learning opportunities.  We learn from experience, not just mistakes, each  one of us, both learners and teachers. Think about what this means to our students and it becomes apparent why this discussion is so important.

Success in learning leads to proficiency. We become proficient when we have acquired the ability to utilize what we have learned in real life situations, whether they be subsequent lessons, state-competency examinations, college-entry applications and exams;  job applications, qualification for military enlistment; and, solving problems on the job and in our everyday lives. We need to think of each lesson  we ask our students to learn as an opportunity for them to acquire the pre-requisite knowledge and skills they will need to achieve success on future endeavors, whatever the venue or level.

Once we grasp the magnitude of the devastation wreaked by the existing  education process we have been utilizing in our schools for generations, we must feel compelled to change the way we think about what we do and why. How can we rely on an education process that deprives millions of children of opportunities to acquire the prerequisite knowledge and skills they will need for the rest of their lives?

Our existing education process is dysfunctional to the point of obsolescence. Is it any wonder there are so many American men and women who seem unable to make informed decisions about the cogent issues of this 21st Century, and who rely on the leadership of demagogs and conspiracy theorists to tell them what is true and what is not?

The good news, as overwhelming as this may seem, is that a solution is relatively easy to implement. Reimagining the education process is what The Hawkins Model© has been designed to do. One of the things it requires is that we utilize time as an independent variable in the education equation, rather than a constant or fixed asset.  You are invited to check it out at www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

For as long as any of us can remember

For as long as I can remember we have talked about reforming, changing, re-inventing and re-imagining education and yet the outcomes our schools produce, today, are not much different than they were last year, 10 years ago, or even 20 or more years ago.

We have implemented countless ideas and innovations; we have initiated long lists of new  programs; and, we have introduced a profusion of digital technologies, teaching methodologies, and learning materials. Each of these  efforts have had an impact on some children; but rarely beyond a local level and, rarer still, has the impact penetrated the boundaries of our segregated neighborhoods and communities. The problem is neither a lack of ideas nor a prevalence of bad intentions; and, neither is it a lack of good teachers. The problem is our intransigence.

What we have never done is examine the logic behind everything we do, systemically. Notwithstanding a few experiments, we have never changed the way we structure the education process and the way we guide students along the path dictated by academic standards, from Kindergarten to twelfth grade. We have never overhauled a scoring system that is misdirected and misguided. It is as if we do not know that how we keep score drives how we play the game?

We have gone overboard with standardized testing that measures student achievement and retention as inadequately as it measures teacher effectiveness.  The one thing high-stakes, standardized testing has achieved is to distract us from our essential purpose and immerse us in the blame game.  

When will we acknowledge a body of compelling evidence, gathered over the decades, suggesting what we have been asking our teachers to do has not worked for tens of millions of American students?  We waste millions of dollars on testing, along with the precious time of our teachers and students, because we think it will hold teachers accountable, never stopping to consider the people who should be held accountable are the politicians, policy makers, and our education leaders. These are the people responsible for determining what we teach and how.

Think about this for a moment.   

Which is  more likely, that  our nation’s finest colleges and universities, and the millions of teachers they educate, are ineffectual or, that the education process is flawed?

Children whom we consider to be our nation’s most precious assets, and the very people on whom the future of our society  will depend, are languishing. When will we learn disappointing outcomes cannot be explained by superficial analyses and shallow thinking?  The longer we put off facing the truth, the greater the harm to millions of young lives.

It seems to be the perception that those millions of young lives include mostly blacks and other minorities, but white students are well-represented in the population of American students who are victimized by our obsolete education process. 

Let us be clear about this. The obsolescence of the American education process is doing harm to a far broader population of children than we have imagined. The damage to these children is pervasive as is the damage it does to our society. Nothing will alter this reality until we rethink all we ask teachers to do to prepare kids for a meaningful future.

There are many success stories of young men and women of color who go on to non-stereotypical careers, but they remain the exceptions.  We have been talking about and protesting inequality in education since the 1950s and the only thing we have accomplished with certainty is breaking down the barriers to entry to public schools.

Despite our efforts, over a span of decades, we keep the schoolhouse to jailhouse express filled beyond capacity.  We have over-filled poor urban and rural communities with streams of young men and women who completed twelve to thirteen years of schooling that fails to give them choices. With but a few exceptions, these young people continue to live and raise their families in segregated pockets of poverty. As mothers and fathers, they send their own children off to school with little hope the cycle of poverty, powerlessness, and hopelessness will be broken.

We know this is the reality for black kids, but how can we not know of the impact on millions of white students. If we look at the first two decades of this 21st Century, we see evidence of large numbers of Americans from all demographic groups, who are insufficiently literate and numerate to:

  • Participate in their own governance and be motivated to exercise their right to vote;
  • Understand the science behind the challenges we face in our natural world;
  • Shed the satchel full of prejudices with which so many Americans have been raised; and,
  • Understand how their own decisions and actions contribute to the very problems about which they complain so loudly.  

We have become adept at blaming everyone but ourselves for our problems and we shirk responsibility. We, all of us, are the problem.

Is it not time to stop blaming our teachers for problems over which they have little or no control? Is it not time to radically alter the way we teach our nation’s children to provide true equality for all Americans? It is not all that difficult if only we would step away from our classrooms and look at the whole picture.

Follow this link and let me show you one way this can be accomplished

https://bit.ly/2ZqGWxR

A question for teachers and, also, an opportunity

Notwithstanding the innovations, methodologies, resources, technologies, or other initiatives you have endured over the last 5, 10, or 20 years, has anything of significance really changed in your classrooms with respect to student achievement?

If you teach in what we refer to as one of our nation’s “under-performing” schools, do your students continue to struggle no matter how much of yourself you give or how diligently you strive. There is no reason to think this will change, anytime soon.

It is not your fault and do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

Do not give up on your students, your school, or public education. Your students, your schools and your communities need you more than ever. Whatever happens, do not give up on yourselves.

When you return to school things will be different but you will still be unable to give every student the time and attention they need; you will still be asked to try new approaches and methodologies and train for new software applications that will be frustrating, will complicate your professional lives, while engendering few  meaningful outcomes.

You must, still, brace yourselves for another round of standardized tests on which the same students will do just as poorly as they did the years before, and you will still be blamed for their disappointing outcomes.

You will still be denied the pay raises and the respect you know you deserve and this demoralizing pattern will repeat itself year after year, leaving you to fantasize about what it will be like when you can retire.

Think about your return to school. Has there ever been a more opportune time to do something new and different? Not a little different but “life-changing” different?

Whether it is teachers who will drive the changes that are coming or will be driven by them, remains to be see. Have no doubt, however, significant changes are coming whether we like it or not.

The danger for public school educators is that you will squander this opportunity by devoting your time, resources, and energy to get back to what we have always done. If this is the choice you make, you can be sure someone else will seize the opportunity and teachers will be fortunate to be taken along for the ride.

Teachers need to answer a question, for themselves, if for no one else. Do you want to return to the same classrooms and with the same constraints and limitations? Or, do you want something better?

We have all witnessed new ideas, products, or services that have captured the imagination of the American consumer. This is how markets are transformed, by the relentless advocacy of people who are excited by an idea and are determined to share it.

With respect to education, there is an idea afloat that is said to have the potential to transform education in America. Understand, if we transform education, we will transform America because people are who they were educated to be.

This new idea is an education model that exists to serve its teachers and students rather than one in which educators and their students exist to serve the model. It is an education model that is waiting for the relentless advocacy of teachers who want to believe there must be a better way to educate our children.

Why not take an hour or less of your time to examine this new way to educate our children; a new education model designed to support you and your students in doing the things your students need from you and that you need for your soul and sanity. You have little to lose and almost everything to gain.

The Hawkins Model©

An Open Letter To: Van Jones re: his 3-Step Pathway

I was fortunate to hear your interview with Brooke Baldwin on CNN, earlier today (6/3), and was encouraged by your suggestion that a there is a 3-step pathway to a better future in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy.

The reader can find a link to this interview at the end of the post.  

Yes, we must stop the bleeding and we must help those who suffered injury and, of course, we must have justice. It is vital that we  restore some level of trust in our public safety and criminal justice systems,  in the minds of black citizens and other minorities. These three steps are essential to moving us closer to a world approaching true equality for all, but they will not take us as far as we need to go.

Please consider adding a fourth step on your pathway:  “reimagining education in America.”

Equal opportunity has been the law of the land since 1964, but it is not the reality in which most blacks and other minorities have lived for the intervening 56 years. The reason is that our education system has not provided a quality education, equally distributed to all children. The education process at work in our schools  has grown obsolete. The process impedes the vital work of our teachers and their students. This education process  is perfectly structured to produce the unacceptable outcomes we have seen for generations.

Americans must understand there will be no equality of opportunity and justice until there is equality in education. It is a quality education that gives young men and women meaningful choices about what do in life to provide for themselves and their families and empowers them to participate in their own governance.

Unless we act to reimagine education in America, the next fifty years will be little better for black men and women and other people of color than the last fifty years.

As tragic as they have been, the time-out provided by the Covid-19 pandemic and the momentum the tragic death of George Floyd has generated, together, have opened an unprecedented window of opportunity. Now is the perfect time for people of principle to unite and follow the, now, “four-step pathway” to a new reality.

To facilitate the fourth step, I offer an education model designed to transform education in America by helping every child learn as much as they are able, at their own best speed. I invite you to examine this model at: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, MSEd, MPA

Link to Van Jones interview with Brooke Baldwin on CNN https://www.mediaite.com/tv/cnns-van-jones-calls-police-brutality-an-atomic-bomb-were-one-videotape-away-from-five-or-10-american-cities-on-fire/

Teachers: have you considered creating do-over opportunities?

So many teachers are expressing frustration with their limitations in this interlude of distance learning. Possibly the most important thing principals can do for their teachers and students is to stress the fact that this is not business as usual. When it is not business as usual,  we cannot have the usual expectations for our students and teachers.

Expect them to strive to tackle less, but to do it better. Sometimes less truly is best.

Essentially, this pandemic experience has placed us in “time-out” mode. In sports, which sometimes does provide lessons for academic instruction, a “time out” is when we strive to fix what is not working; remind our players to focus on doing their jobs: or, maybe draw up a new play. What is unique about “time outs” is that the clock is stopped, and in this instance, think of it as an extended time out.

Teachers: consider how many occasions there were when you and/or your students  were unable to learn or accomplish something because of insufficient time. Figuratively speaking, we now find ourselves in a  situation where we have a virtually unlimited, if unknown, amount of time.

Maybe educators should view this unique time as an opportunity to do somethings differently or, better yet, do something over.

We are far enough into the semester  that most students have had lessons with which they struggled. Why not give your students an opportunity to have a “do-over” with a lesson on which they struggled or where they never really got the point of the lesson or acquire a skill that was being taught.

Possibly teachers could go back to their gradebooks and identify a few of the lessons on which individual students received their lowest grades. Or, give them this opportunity to go back and review the lessons with which they would have loved to have had more time. Give them an opportunity to convert a grade of C, D, or F to an A or B grade.

Challenge them to go back and review the lesson, re-do the practice assignments, make certain they are given enough time to discuss the mistakes they make or the things they do not understand, and then re-take a quiz or test. Let them then earn the credits, grades, or points they would have liked to have earned the first time around.

Then, when their work is done and you are satisfied that they made the kind of effort you were hoping for, make it a big deal—a celebration event—to go back and change that C or D grade to an A or B.

If there is still time, let them select another lesson.

For students who did well on all their lessons, let them pick one on which they would have liked to have had more time. Let them dig deeper and report back on what they learned or discovered,

There must be worse ways to use the time we have been given by this extraordinary event.

As Simple as 1-2-3-4-5-6

Let us make the solution to the challenges facing public education in America as simple as possible.

Providing a quality education to every child who arrives at our door is as simple as 1-2-3-4-5-6.

  1. Children need to feel special and experience what it is like to have one or more favorite teachers on whom they can depend for the long term;
  2. Students must start at whatever point on the academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door;
  3. Boys and girls must be able to depend on us to give them however much time and attention they need to learn from the mistakes they make, every step along the way;
  4. Kids must understand they are being asked to both learn and employ the lessons, principles, and discipline with which each of them can create success for themselves, throughout their whole lives; it is a process of success;
  5. Our children must be taught to celebrate their successes and the successes of the people in their lives, always; as success is an experience best shared; and,
  6. Educators must learn that it is the success of our students, not the promises we make, that will draw parents and guardians in as partners.

We must understand there is no one, perfect solution to the challenges of public education. Technology is but one example. Digital technology is  not the solution to the problems in education rather it is a tool, the value of which is measured by its utility to teachers and students.

We must reimagine how to ensure that everything teachers and schools are asked to do will support our mission.  The mission is to send every young adult out into the world with the knowledge, skills, and wisdom they need to find joy for themselves and their families; in pursuit of whatever meaningful goals they set for themselves.

To carry out this mission superintendents, administrators, teachers and policy makers must be willing to break from the traditions of the past. The Hawkins Model© is one example of how that might be done.

The logic behind these six objectives might be simple, but the work they will require of educators will be hard. These goals require that we embrace the notion that education is an uncertain science. It requires that we all work, relentlessly, to develop our craft.

What does a craftsperson do? They must apply all their knowledge, skills, and collective wisdom to discern the unique needs of individual children and then utilize an eclectic portfolio of tools and methodologies to instill success in the hearts and minds of those children. Not everything they do will work so they must keep striving until they find something that does. They must never stop learning and they must never give up. Teachers must never permit their students to give up and stop learning.

Our teachers must be free and willing to give fully of themselves, without fear of recrimination. Creating a quality education for all will require a level of effort, dedication, courage, and camaraderie comparable to that which our medical professionals, first-responders, and so many other men and women are demonstrating in response to Covid-19.

These men and women are heroes and the work they do saves lives and a nation. Teachers are also heroes and the work they do will save lives and, also a nation.

More Than One Kind of Hunger!

Our society is learning much from its experience with this pandemic, but as the Novel Coronavirus saga plays out, it is revealing so much more. The most obvious lesson to be learned is with respect to our level of preparation for a phenomenon that is proving to have an adverse effect on, not only our health, but almost everything people do. For educators, our concern is with the impact on our nation’s students when our schools are shut down.

In schools, whether public, private, or parochial, we are learning just how vulnerable our nation’s children are in times of distress. One of the first revelations, beyond “how do we deliver subject matter, remotely,” is learning how much our students depend on us. Not only are many students hungry when they cannot attend school, they are enduring more than just a lack of food. We are seeing families unable to insure their children are being cared for when they must go to work. Given the low wages on which many American families must live, many mothers and/or fathers must work forty or more hours per week to provide a decent living for their families. Some must work more than one job, which only exacerbates the hardship s with which their children must deal.

For many kids, when there is no school there may be few, if any,  breakfasts, lunches, or snacks. One would think any doubts people might have had about the prudence of providing meals for hungry kids should be resolved, What is more central to caring for our children than making sure they have the healthy nutrition they need to learn and grow?

The suspension of so many schools will bring many other issues into sharper focus. It is not just how much our kids depend on school for healthy nutrition but also for safety, for social/emotional support, and for physical exercise, in addition to their intellectual and academic needs. We must keep kids safe from Covid-19, but when they return to school, we need to acknowledge that those schools are more than just places of learning.

As I said, in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream[1], “schools  have become the social milieu in which young people live and endure.” Teachers must realize that they are more than just educators. Whether we like it or not teachers and schools are a support system for the whole child, and we must structure the education process to serve all these needs.

Some teachers have expressed reservations about the level of responsibility they would be asked to bear, under such an education process. They are encouraged to think about how much they enjoy working with their favorite students from over the years. Educators are invited to examine The Hawkins Model© that is designed to increase, for both teachers and students,  the number and duration of these special relationships. Might this not enhance the satisfaction of teachers?

We must embrace the coronavirus as the learning opportunity it has the potential to be. It is unlikely this will be the last crisis of such magnitude we will face in the span of most of our lifetimes.


[1] Hawkins, Mel, Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, (2013), CreateSpace.

A Child’s Brain is Programmed to Learn, with a Little Help from Us!

A healthy human brain begins its life from a starting point on an individual human being’s genetic map and is influenced by the unique, multi-layered environment into which it is born. It is programmed to learn; to soak up the world around it; to make sense of it all; and, to find its own place and personality. As it drives the physical growth of the body, it is reaching further out into the world, giving it access to more sensory treasures. It is a relentless effort to learn about the world and gain influence over it.

The human brain learns through a remarkable process of gathering information from an environment that includes the body in which it resides;  the support it receives from the people who provide care and nourishment; and from the infinite but unique physical universe around it.

No two brains are the same and each is born at a unique juncture of the dimensions of space, time, and energy. How it functions, physiologically is a process of collecting data from the stimuli in the universe, through all its sensory apparatus, and forming connections and pathways along its neural network. While science has learned much about how a brain forms those connections and pathways along its neural network, there is much more to learn. The brain remains one of the great mysteries of the universe.

The world’s scientists seem to agree about how we describe this process, based upon their collective observations, and have identified key developmental milestones that are common to every brain, whatever the time frame in which the milestones are reached—a lesson the drafters of academic standards would do well to learn. We must remember, however, that the observations of these scientists only describe the brain’s function, they do not define it. The brain, we might, say is its own architect.  The brain functions at its own pace and rhythm within a world of incessant change.

Educators who assume responsibility for teaching the child in whom the brain resides must remind themselves they have no control over what the brain may have experienced before we became involved. We must begin our work at the unique point where we find it on its developmental path. It is not ours to command.

Whatever he or she has endured, the brain’s motivation to learn is intrinsic. If environmental factors impede the brain’s growth and development, at any point along the way, there is a price to be paid but the brain is, also, a remarkably resilient entity that can learn almost anything. We have seen how people, even at an advanced age, can recover from debilitating strokes and some injuries. The brain is, at once, fragile and virile. It helps if we remember the brain does not unlearn things rather it keeps making new connections, gradually building on and/or replacing what was known before. Thus it is never too late to start anew.

The more stress and trauma a young brain may have endured, however, the more it needs our patient time, love, attention, and protection. Any challenges the child presents to his or her teachers reflect life experiences over which that child has had no control. Our purpose is to neither label nor pass judgment; neither should we keep score or assign grades.  Our mission is to help the brain move down its development path and help the child become the best version of him or herself. Even after periods of deprivation the brain is ready to learn, again. As it learns, the pace of learning accelerates.

We must never give up on a child’s potential to learn, to catch up when they are behind, or to create something of value to the world; with a little help from us.