Ten Things You Missed at the Harvard Forum on Bullying

On Monday evening Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, spoke to a packed auditorium at the Harvard School of Education. Here’s what you missed:

1. Bullying, defined: According to Bazelon, bullying is harassment that repeats over time and involves a power imbalance. It’s not garden-variety “kids-will-be-kids” roughhousing. It is not teasing. And it’s not normal.

2. Bullying, in context: Bullying isn’t necessarily more widespread than it was in the past. But we are more aware of it now, in part because modern-day bullying spills from the playground onto the computer screen, smartphone, and Facebook page, allowing more people, including parents, to witness the cruelty. Cultural awareness of bullying has experienced two recent waves: the first around 2001, shortly after the Columbine massacre, and the second, after the suicide of Phoebe Prince in 2010, which inspired state legislatures to get more serious about preventing bullying. [Read more…]

Wellesley Schools Want Every Fifth-Grader to Have an iPad

Tomorrow night Wellesley schools will host a parent forum to discuss a proposal requiring every fifth grader to bring his or her own iPad to school for use in the classroom. Aside from the obvious question of affordability (the school says it will find a way to get an iPad into the hands of students who can’t afford to buy one), the real concern should be what the iPads will add to the educational experience in the first place. While tech-happy schools around the country take to so-called 1:1 technology programs, where every kid has his or her own iPad or laptop, school districts should be asking if the technology truly adds anything to the learning experience—or even, if it’s taking something away. [Read more…]

More To Wellesley Commencement Speech Than ‘You Are Not Special’

David McCullough Jr. isn’t sure why the commencement speech in which he told the Wellesley High School class of 2012, “You’re not special” went viral. In an interview with CBS “This Morning,” the bright, likable English teacher said he’s been “floored” by all the attention he’s gotten since delivering the speech. And he’s upset that that main message of his speech — that the real goal of life should be to transcend selfish desires — has been lost in the tsunami of press after he told some of the most privileged students in the nation:

Each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma … but for your name, exactly the same. All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special. You are not special. You are not exceptional. [Read more…]

Bake Sale Ban Misses the Point

The elementary school bake sale: Is there anything more wholesome, more well-meaning, more blameless? I mean, raising money for underfunded school programs by selling cookies and brownies — doesn’t that make bake sales something like the Switzerland of annual events?

And yet, here we stand a day after the news hit that Massachusetts education and health officials are banning bake sales, which they say endanger children’s health by encouraging poor eating habits. Starting August 1, bake sales will be prohibited during school hours, and the plan is to expand the law beyond the school day to include the sale of pizza, hot dogs, and candy at games and other after-school events. All of which means the bake sale is starting to look less like neutral territory and more like North Korea. How did this happen? [Read more…]

Harvard Posts Record Low Acceptance Rate

Last week, Harvard sent emails to 1,260 high school seniors, offering them coveted spots in the Crimson Class of 2016. You can still hear the peals of joy — and cries of pain. This year’s college application process has come to its bitter or sweet end, depending. For most parents and kids, Harvard applicants or not, it was a tough year.

“It gets more difficult every year,” says Bev Taylor, founder of The Ivy Coach, a college consulting firm based in New York. “That’s only because every year we see, not so much more students applying to colleges, but these kids are applying to 20 schools. Twelve schools was the norm about five years ago. Then it came to fifteen schools. Now the norm is outrageous.” [Read more…]

Boston Public Schools Shelves Pink Slime

In case you haven’t heard of it, “pink slime” is the pulverized and ammonia-hydroxide-treated slaughterhouse scraps mixed into regular beef. It’s a food product that most of us have been ingesting without realizing it — and that lunch ladies have been lovingly piling onto cafeteria trays across the nation for years.

Last week, Boston Public Schools joined other public school districts across the country when it decided to ban the unappetizing mixture from its school lunch program after Houston resident Bettina Siegel, who blogs about kids and food at The Lunch Tray, started an online petition, which went viral. This is good news for parents who aren’t comfortable having their kids eat a food product that is more product than food. But it also got me wondering what other misbegotten concoctions have we been ladling onto kids’ lunch trays all these years? I decided to ask a few experts what they would ban, in school or out, from kids’ diets. Here’s what they said: [Read more…]

Back to School: Then and Now

Lenore Skenazy made a name for herself when she let her nine-year-old son ride a Manhattan subway, then wrote about it for the newspaper. Some readers thought she was nuts, but many praised her. She subsequently penned a book called Free Range Kids, and has just posted on her blog a republished list of the skills six-year-olds were expected to execute before entering first grade in 1979. The list of 12 items is pretty eye-opening.

In terms of academic skills, kids of the 70s had nothing on today’s students. In 1979, a rising first-grader was expected to be able to “color within the lines” and count to 10 — accomplishments more akin to a preschooler in our era of Head Start and Baby Einstein. [Read more…]

What My Son Learned Over Summer Vacation

With summer coming to an end, I have to wonder: Did my kids spend their three months away from school wisely? In one regard, I’m not so sure.

Back in June, as the school year wound down, my husband, an economist, alerted me to a study on the summer slide, in which kids lose approximately a month of learning over summer vacation. That amount goes up for kids of low-income families and accumulates year after year, widening the achievement gap. According to a New York Times article:

“The American ideal of lazy summers filled with fun has an unintended consequence: If students are not engaged in learning over the summer, they lose skills in math and reading. Summers off are one of the most important, yet least acknowledged, causes of underachievement in our schools.” [Read more…]

Do Five Year Olds Really Need Graduation Ceremonies?

Each year, our kids’ elementary school pulls out all the stops for the end-of-the-year celebration. The kids sing songs, the teachers stand up for well-deserved applause, and we all down donuts and apple juice afterward. It’s very nice.

And this year, with our two kids, it took half the day. Mind you, our kids are five and eight. Technically, this means they were graduating from preschool and second grade.

I know, it’s not unusual. As the school year winds down, parents are donning their Sunday best and fanning themselves with paper programs in school gyms across the nation. They’re not just sending off high school seniors, but also fifth graders, kindergartners, even preschoolers. We now commemorate moments I’m pretty sure our parents didn’t even notice. When did this happen? [Read more…]

The Goodbye Boy

Three weeks into Kindergarten and William has been coming home with all sorts of new skills. The other day, for instance, he said, “Mama, do you want to hear me burp the alphabet?”

We’re so proud.

In truth, he has already learned many things in Kindergarten, including how to maneuver the morning drop-off line at school. Each day we pull up to the curb, he opens his door, grabs his backpack, and hops out of the car. [Read more…]