Friday, February 29, 2008

"Will you help Sam go to school?"

Please visit this website, With a simply click and a little information you can let the presidential candidates know that pre-K should be a priority, not just for some, but for all children.

"All children deserve pre-K. Only some get to go."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pre-K and the Election

One of my friends recently asked me if I might write a piece on education and the elections. As much as I follow the relationship between education policy and the elections the truth is, I'm still confused. Is Obama for or against vouchers? How do you actually plan to change NCLB? Mike Huckabee for education secretary? McCain are you ever planning to really talk about education? I still have a lot of questions to be answered. Yes, I visit the blogs and I try to understand as much as I can but a new blog I have found has started to answer some of my questions, well, at least about early education.

Sara Mead, a former Education Sector staffer, has been blogging on The Early Ed Watch about well, early education policy. She is a former blogger for The Quick and The Ed and I believe a strong voice when it comes to education. Obviously I am new to the game, but I look forward to taking in more of her opinion.

Okay, so back to the elections and my favorite, pre-K. Obama and Clinton have both made huge promises when it comes to pre-K education, with billions of dollars and even trying to maintain a balance for parents to spend more time with their young children. The hanging question, how will this line up with elementary and high school education. My opinion is, if you build from the bottom up the rest will follow. Obviously changes need to be made in education policy for K-12, but I truly believe that by funding a foundation these children will have a marked change in their trajectory. Mead talks about the PK-3 alignment that must be made for the candidates, and I can see why. Most people would tend to vote for later educational achievements, the links must be shown.

As for the Republicans...Let's be honest, McCain is the voice that matters at this point, even with rumors of Huckabee for education secretary. McCain needs to speak up a little more about education. I have little to say because as confused as I am I feel like I have never really heard him talk about education at all let alone pre-K.

So I guess for now I'm less confused. Well, on at least one issue.

Mini Mohawks

A kindergarten student in Ohio was suspended from school this week. For what might you ask? Not the typical biting or hitting but for his hairstyle, a mohawk. My personal belief is that if the child wants a mohawk for a hairstyle then that's okay, but suspend the child? The school claims that their dress code forbids anything that "interferes with the conduct of education." I question whether it was the kids who were distracted or the teachers. Looking at the picture of the mohawk it really is not very distracting, no more than any bow or headband a girl would wear. I think as times change, and inevitably hairstyles, the definition of 'distracting' will have to change as well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sesame Street and Sex Talks

How young should children be taught about sex? How young should children be taught about AIDS? And most importantly, how would you answer these questions from a four year old who is holding a microphone? In a new documentary "Please Talk to Kids About AIDS" a four year old and six year older ask adults at the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto some of these important questions. While I'm still not sure that a four year old or six year old in America need to know about those questions I do believe that teaching AIDS education in countries where the epidemic is more present. In a social work course in South Africa at University of Cape Town I learned about the varied type of AIDS education programs in the country, still widely focused on middle school and older children. Obviously the problem needs to be addressed differently in different places. Hopefully this documentary can shed some light on just how these subjects can be taught to young children because as times change and children ask questions younger and younger the answers should be ready.

The documentary is available on EZtakes. Let's see just how prepared adults are with answers.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Book of the Week

When I picked up There Are Monsters Everywhere by Mercer Mayer at a book store this weekend I thought to myself, why do these illustrations look so familiar. The book, displayed as a choice selection often reserved for new books, had an older feeling to the illustrations. The colors had a slight murky feeling, like there was something lurking. The attention to detail stuck me as impressive, whether it was the boy's untied shoes or the clutter of his room it all felt real. Mercer Mayer, as it turns out, is the authors of the 'Little Critter' series and while this book was published in 2005 he does come from that older generation of authors and illustrators where the psychological messages are embedded in the story and the images.

The boy is afraid of monsters and through out the book takes it upon himself to study karate and become so empowered that he is no longer afraid. The monsters go from crowding he space with glaring eyes to sucking their thumbs and running away.

Mercer Mayer's first book was published in 1967 and now 2005 he has published over 300 books. Like Sendak or Emberly he shows no sign of stopping. While some have argued that creating children's books is a hard business to get into I am starting to realize that once you get in you also never leave.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Holocaust Education

How much is too much when it comes to Holocaust education? The two school systems I went through had a strong focus on Holocaust education. I am aware that this is due to the communities I grew up in and I consider myself very lucky for having this background. I don't think that this is how all Holocaust education runs through out the country and certainly not all over the world.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced a new school curriculum for next fall where all fifth graders will have, "to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust." Psychologists and educators did not have the best reaction and neither did secularists. Is this too much for children to learn? Is it too scary?

I don't know the details of Sarkozy's plan, and unfortunately thus I can not truly side with anyone in this argument. I think there is a benefit to children reading accounts from the perspectives of children, whether real or not. The point is not to simply scare the children, but lead them on a path for the future. Holocaust education needs to be more about what children can do in the present than simply mourning the past.

As for Holocaust education in America I think the jury is still out. I wonder how much children learn about Japanese internment camps. This becomes an important counter to the Holocaust but America might be tentative about teaching youth about their own missteps. Reading childhood accounts of the Holocaust and such disasters sounds like a good direction. Whether it is a real diary account or a fictional story children need to be aware and looking towards the future.

Monday, February 18, 2008

C is for Cookie and other Classics

Almost all children watch television. It is an inevitable part of American culture. But if a parent had the choice I bet they would want their child to be watching educational television instead of non-educational television. My two favorite education shows are Between the Lions and Sesame Street. One of my favorite authors and bloggers, Mo Willems, used to do animation for sesame street and led me to this great page where you can see clips from the show online. Sesame Street Videos is in it's beta form, which as far as my technology knowledge goes tells me it is still being developed. I think it is an excellent resource for parents to use to choose certain videos for their child too watch, or just for children too explore.

50,000 babies and counting

Many people in the field of children's services dedicate their lives to helping families. I don't know how many people are still conducting seminars though at the age of 89. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a pediatrician best known for his parenting books and his research in joining the fields of pediatrics and psychology, is still conducting seminars to parents of all different walks of life. He talks, he answers questions, and he holds babies, hearing aid and all. He says to the crowd, "I've held around 50,000 babies and I haven't dropped one yet." Still helpful and positive Brazelton shows no signs of stopping as he nears 90.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Book of the Week

Learning how to make new colors out of primary colors is a skill every child needs to learn. I personally enjoy working with books when creating curriculum and faced with the task of creating a short curriculum for Pre-K I heard two words in my head, 'Mouse Paint'.

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh is one of those books I think every Pre-K teacher should have. I can't possibly think that I'm unique in creating curriculum on colors off this book, in fact I know from discussion that others have done it, but I wanted to emphasize how much I love this book. It now comes in an over sized board book format which is perfect for the classroom. The repetition of style, the clean illustrations, and obviously the use of color is what makes this book so excellent. In a book about color Walsh does an excellent job of choosing the most pure shades of the primary colors with little distractions. This book probably does not need an endorsement as it is already widely read and used but I feel compelled to share my love for this classic educational book.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I will hopefully be entering the ranks of public school teachers next year. I will be fresh out of an expensive liberal arts school education and expecting little to no pay and a lot of difficulties. I read a lot of blogs and newspaper articles about education theory and policy. I feel like I have a realistic view of what to expect, but the truth is, who knows what kind of curve balls will be thrown at me.

In a recent Newsweek article titled 'How to Make Great Teachers' multiple perspectives are discussed about how to make teachers the best they can be. From merit pay, to training programs, to complicated bonuses there are a million and one ideas about how to make teachers stronger. There is not one reason though about why teachers aren't performing at their best and in my opinion there will not be one solution to improving the quality of teachers.

I don't know if my opinion can really hold any weight on this issue yet. As much as I want to believe that I have solid ideas on what to do and how to make change the truth is that when I become a teacher, everything will be different. The most I can think to do for now is ponder these issues and hopefully, when I have not just my toes in the water but am swimming neck high, I will be able to take my experience and my ideas and really make a difference.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Multiple Choice Diagnosis

I think a lot about how the media and internet culture influences diagnosis. With information at our fingertips people scramble about on WebMd and filling out online quizzes to see what kind of disease or disorder they have this week. I think Asperger syndrome has been hit by this media frenzy, suddenly any adult who is socially awkward is well, put in a box with a label and tag. America's Next Top Model on its last season included a model with Asperger's and talked about her difficulties on the show because of the disorder, even giving her extra help for memorization challenges. In the end she got booted off, but I wonder if the introduction of the label in a prime time reality show really helps.

In class earlier today I learned about the AQ Test, or the 'Autism Quotient Test' developed by Simon-Baron Cohen. All issues with online diagnosis aside, I can't lie, I took the test. Now, I know as well as all my family and friends that I do not have Autism, but my curiosity was at an all time high wondering, what will my score be? The test itself says that scores are not "definitive and do not diagnose the presence of autism. If you're concerned about your score, you should see a doctor." I start to think that maybe this could help and that the age of technology with all its faults in aiding and abetting hypochondriacs could really help some people.

Newsweek has an easy online version of the 'Autism Spectrum Quotient' test for any who are interested.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Playing for the Future

Play is an essential part of childhood. In a recent Early Childhood Today article authors Deborah J. Leong, Ph.D. and Elena Bodrova Ph.D. discuss 'Why Children Need Play' and as I begin to skim the article my eyes bug out and my mouth is nearly to the floor, don't all teachers understand that children need play? I know that modern day parents need a wake up call often when it comes to over scheduling their children but it concerned me at first glance that a teacher, an early childhood teacher, would question a four year old child's need to play house.

The article is simple, straight to the point, play is important for reasons A, B, and C. The idea is obviously not new and where the authors hint at Piaget and Vygotsky I want to chime in with Erikson, Axline, and a few other theorists. Parents probably don't need a dissertation on the major psychologists that have advocated play, as much as I want to give them one, but simply watering down terminology is not enough. Parents need straight forward reasons, those As, Bs, and Cs of why play is important. Parents need to understand that tv and even educational games are not enough. I don't know the statistics for who reads Early Childhood Education but I gander there are some parents out there looking to see what teachers are reading, most likely the same parents so concerned about their child's future that play has taken a back seat to learning as early as two. These parents, who thirst for educating their children so young, might now understand, that play is important in the future of their child and maybe more important than all those educational toys for tots. Bring back out the old kitchen set, the doctor bag, and the dress up clothes because the future of your child depends on it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Support Pre-K Legislation!

Believe in Pre-K for all children? Pre[k]now has an easy way to let your congressperson and your senators know that you support federal pre-k legislation in 2008. Take just a few minutes to fill out the information and start getting all of our children an early start.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Book of the Week

I have decided to start a book of the week, because, well, I like children's literature. Books have a lot of power as emotional aids and in developing social norms and learning about a new book can mean your child learning about a part of themselves.

For my first book of the week I'm going to start with a classic author and one of his less famous books, Maurice Sendak's Kenny's Window. Published in 1956 it was the first book Sendak authored and illustrated. Influenced by Dorothy Baruch's case study One Little Boy and Baruch's advocacy of fantasy in children Kenny's Window is a touching story. The rich prose is accompanied by simple yet elegant illustration. Any child, and adult, reading the book will find themselves at ease with their mind and all of their fantasies.

Check out Kenny's Window on google books and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Psychology Major

I don't really know how to prepare for interviews except by thinking to myself about what I do and who I am. I like to label myself a 'psychology major', unfortunately I don't think we have the best reputation. Psychology majors are labeled as textbook kids who act as lab rats. They often plan to go into business or law school, psychology is just a stepping stone.

So I try to explain what I do, but it becomes even more difficult to explain when I add that my college does not have majors. I have gotten labeled as education, child development, and social work. I have never taken psych 101 and my work as a lab rat has been limited but there is still one phrase that I find describes me, psychology major. I am the oldest kind of psychology major out there, I love Freud (both Sigmund and Anna) and all forms of psychoanalysis. I do study social work, education, public policy, and child development but there is an element of being a psychology major that I truly love. This is not a stepping stone for me, psychology is the end point. So I throw caution, stereotypes, and my progressive education to the wind and proclaim I am a psychology major, forever and right now. In theory, this will come up in my interview.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Education and the Ever Impending Election

As super Tuesday approached I was nervous about both Clinton and Obama's non-discussion of education. They both have fairly similar education platforms that read to me as generic and my fear was that they would fall apart without a real plan, or motivation, on their part. I was delighted to read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle where Obama answers questions from readers. I was wrong, Obama has a plan for education.

To start, he puts a lot of focus on early childhood education. I have always thought that starting young was one of the key issues in the achievement gap and his funding and planning for children birth through five could be truly helpful. As for NCLB, an inevitable point of discussion, he looks to change the assessment process and to put stronger teachers in the classroom.

Okay, so maybe Obama doesn't speak education policy on end, because there are only so many of us who would want to hear that. But in the end he has a plan, and who is to say that his economic policy and health care views will not create a change in the realm of education. He states in the article,

Millions of children across this country lack health insurance; are living in poverty; and attending crumbling schools. In this country - of all countries - no child's destiny should be determined before he takes his first step. As president, I am firmly committed to tackling these great challenges so that all of our children can live healthy and productive lives and reach their potential.

Health care and economic policy will surely play into the future of each child. As super Tuesday continues I find myself believing more in Obama and waiting more nervous for the results.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Diagnosing on Prime Time

Autism has been at the forefront of media attention for some time now taking the place of ADHD in pop-culture diagnosis. A while back I saw Jenny McArthy on Oprah discussing her then new book about her autistic son. I applauded her then, as I still do, for letting the public into such a personal and real situation. The media and information age fueled by the internet provide both help in raising children as well as providing an over abundance of information. Information is good, it creates an informative parent, but when does it cross the line to harmful?

ABC released a new television show this week, Eli Stone. The commercials for the show were entertaining. A lawyer suddenly starts seeing visions in his daily life due to a medical condition. No where in the shows concept does it claim to be medically correct. In fact, the premise involves vivid hallucinations involving such pop icons as George Michael. Yet many people seem to have expressed concern about the show and the information it provides for parents. In the first episode he tries a case in which a family sues a pharmaceutical company claiming the mercury in vaccinations made their child autistic. The family comes out on top. Parents of children with autism and such groups as American Academy of Pediatrics have expressed concerned about the show and asked ABC to cancel their premire. I didn't realize that ABC was a medical expert.

The truth is, no one really knows what causes autism, but there has certianly been no proof that it is because of mercury in vaccinations. The fear of an autistic child still creates situations where parents refuse vaccinations. But I sincerely hope that parents aren't getting their medical advice from prime time television. Next thing you know people will be scared of bringing the dead back to life, as on Pushing Daisies, or believe that if they find the island on LOST they will be cured of all ailments. Yes, this new show is more realistic but I would hope that parents have enough sense not to jump from a television show to canceling their child's next doctors appointment.

ABC agreed to a disclaimer on the subject. But if these parents and pediatricians are so concerned about the issue at hand I think there are other issues they should be focusing on. On watching a local news show about a year ago their was a segment on the under diagnosis of ADHD, I was appalled. Before I went to prime time television I would go to news shows and parent magazines, or even straight to the schools.

I think my disclaimer would read as follows, "Please avoid getting all medical advice from prime time television. Consult a real doctor or newspaper and have a nice day.