Thursday, February 19, 2009

Allowance and Responsibility

I'm letting my 9.5 year old and 6.5 year old make cookies right now. I am in the bedroom. They are in the kitchen working together. I rewrote the directions (simplifying a little) from the bag, and I softened the butter in the microwave first, but otherwise, they are going to do it all by themselves. I can hear them cooperating on it right now. Warms the cockles of my heart. :)

I was cooking french toast by myself when I was 5 or 6. I'd stand on an upside down can that had once held blocks. I can't believe it's taken this long for me to relinquish cooking to the kids.

Anyway, the WSJ Juggle blog had an entry on kids' allowances, headlined by the "shocking" news that Sasha and Malia Obama each get $1/week allowance. One more thing the Obamas and we have in common! Our kids also get $1/week allowance. They have minimal chores and seem disinclined to take on more. So, no larger amount of allowance. *shrug* So far, no complaints. They use the money to save to buy Webkinz. Works for me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I hate outcomes assessment, really I do. In my first year at Utopia U. we were asked if we wanted to join the Outcomes Assessment committee, and I ran ran RAN away. I had been introduced to OA as an academic administrator, and the topic is filled with the kind of specifics and details I do not handle very well.

But I do appreciate the concept of OA, which is that it's better to hold students/faculty accountable for what they learn/teach rather than simply to mark time. The focus on grades and "Carnegie Units" teaches children to prioritize performance over actual learning.

Making a change from having students bide their time to focusing on how much they learn is a paradigm shift I don't think the schools are capable of. Not only that, but age/size/maturity levels are also key. But much as I was underwhelmed by Outliers, some parts still stick, and one of them is Gladwell's analysis of hockey players. The system's artificial imposition of cutoff dates means that the older/larger/more mature kids get the attention that contributes to their later success. Perhaps the same holds true for K-12 education.

Jay Mathews of WaPo thinks that maybe we can focus more on outcomes rather than time spent by doing away with social promotion. I don't know. I can see how lack of social promotion stigmatizes some kids. But focusing on individual learning is different. Maybe having classes and having the students move around those classes, from teacher to teacher, would be a good idea. When they're ready to learn about electricity, they go to Mrs. K. When they're ready to learn 5 paragraph essays, they go to Mrs. M. But until they're ready, they stay with Ms. S.

But then I think about teacher burnout. And the need of younger children for consistency in teachers.

Still, it would be exciting to see more learning-focused instruction happen in K-12, which would then mean I could start expecting more of my college students. :)

Monday, February 02, 2009


On Friday my daughter had a dance performance. At intermission, the senior company held a 50-50 raffle, and we bought tickets. When they announced the raffle prize was $90, I turned to my daughter and joked "that would buy a lot of socks!" (Long story) I was so ready to take that money if we won.

Then one of Sophie's classmates had the winning ticket. She went up to the front and donated her winnings back to the senior company.

Wow. I was shamed.

Thing is, I didn't need that money. Yet I was so ready to take it.

Somehow I can't help thinking about this situation. Here you have a couple who saw a family in need, then bid on their belongings, then donated the belongings back to the family. And now the family is angry!

After the performance, I was reading my daughter a bedtime story when the phone rang. I had been avoiding the call, knowing it was a charity appeal of some kind. I picked up this time. It was Doctors Without Borders telling me about the humanitarian crisis in the Congo. I donated $50.

I didn't tell my daughter it was because I was embarrassed when her classmate donated back her winnings. I told her it was because I wanted to protect Gorilla's homeland. (Gorilla is her/our beloved toy, and he was sitting between us as we sat there.)

I'm not sure what which would have been the better lesson.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Start School Later

I'm a big fan of the idea of starting school later for high school students.

As studies show, teenagers' sleep schedules change. They tend to go to sleep later and wake up later. Yet high schools tend to begin classes earlier than elementary schools and middle schools.

Here in CorruptSmallTown, the high schoolers and middle schoolers are at the bus stop in front of my house at 7:30 am. My kids go to the elementary school across the street for a 9 am start. I think we should switch the schedules around.

High school should start at 10 and end at 4 or start at 11 and end at 5. They will get home roughly when their parents do. They won't be getting home at 3 and spending 3 hours alone until their parents get home. They will be spending that 3 hours in the morning home alone. But doing what?


Staying out of trouble.

Extracurricular activities could be rescheduled for mornings. If you want to be involved in Model UN or Glee Club or Football, you do it in the morning.

I think it's worth a try.