By Jason Flom, 5th Grade Teacher
In a faculty meeting this week, Patty Backes shared the following Holocaust survivor letter with us:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp.
My eyes saw what no man should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers.
Children poisoned by educated physicians.
Infants killed by trained nurses.
Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education.
My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.
It is a powerful reminder that real learning is more than the sum of its parts. We can teach reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but without the larger context of humanity we fall short of our responsibility and Cornerstone’s mission to cultivate life long learners who are reflective humans. So how do we create learning environments that not only teach basic skills but lead to transformative learning experiences that stand the test of time?
In a New York Times article this week titled, “School Curriculum Falls Short on Bigger Lessons,” Tara Parker-Hope quotes Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:
“What are we really trying to do when we think about raising kids? . . . We’re trying to put in place the ingredients so the child is going to be a successful 35-year-old. It’s not really about getting an A in algebra.”
Ms. Parker-Hope goes on to write:
In one set of studies, children who solved math puzzles were praised [either] for their intelligence or for their hard work. The first group actually did worse on subsequent tests, or took an easy way out, shunning difficult problems. The research suggests that praise for a good effort encourages harder work, while children who are consistently told they are smart do not know what to do when confronted with a difficult problem or reading assignment.
Such research has broad and far-reaching ramifications when it comes to how we challenge, encourage and respond to our students and children. Inadvertently or not, we play an important role in how they see themselves, the world and their place in it. As a community dedicated to the best interests of students, we wonder, how do we best praise our students and children? What language do we use that students then use with each other? And what subtle (or not so subtle) messages are we sending them when we say something as seemingly complimentary and innocuous as “You’re so smart”?
These sort of reflections are why students at CLC, from preschool through 8th grade, find themselves engaged in experiences that not only build their basic skills, but purposefully help them understand that intelligence is not fixed. It can be shaped, molded, built and grown through effort and reflection. It can also be applied to make the world a better place. Perhaps when we focus on the small moments with our students and children, we find the levers that will help ensure they graduate as learned individuals as well as compassionate humans.