Books: Readings

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In MegaSkills: How Families Can Help Children Succeed in School and Beyond, Dorothy Rich calls on parents to help their children develop "the values, the attitudes, and the behaviors that determine success in and out of school."

Focusing on everyday activities in the home, she suggests strategies for teaching 10 basic skills: confidence, motivation, effort, responsibility, initiative, perseverance, caring, teamwork, common sense, and problem solving.

In the following excerpts, Ms. Rich--president of the Home and School Institute in Washington--describes approaches to fostering creativity in children:

Toy and equipment companies today trade on parental concerns about giftedness, advertising "creative" products that "can make children gifted." Buy this or that computer or this or that toy, and your child will be gifted. Oh, that it would work that easily.

Even if you give children everything money can buy, you still can't buy an ideal learning environment. The ingredients required to enrich a child's life aren't found in expensive toys and educational hardware. The recipe is made up instead of the inventiveness and the responsivensess of human beings. Much of it is free, but it takes some time and planning.

Special gifts or not, all children need to be able to explore their environment without a constant no, no, no. They need a house that is as safe as it can be and things that they can experiment with. For young children, these can be pots and pans. Older children may be "toying'' with ideas.

All children need a home environment that shows a love of learning and respect for achievement; they need lots of language experience, answers to their questions, serious and intelligent talk, explo4rations into the world, time with friends, and toys and materials to use freely and imaginatively.

Children need a high frequency of contact with adults. They don't need many adults--only a few who particularly value achievement and who can articulate these hopes for children. ...

Children need time to play in the way that scientists play, looking behind the ordinary to figure out for themselves how things work. The unique contribution of the home, when compared with the school, is the capacity to give these children the playing time they need.

In school, children usually have to prove themselves anew each day with prescribed tasks. At home, they can think, dream, contemplate, invent, ... in short, do the exercises needed to realize their gifts.

Houghton Mifflin Company, 2 Park St., Boston, Mass. 02108; 351 pp., $17.95 cloth, $8.95 paper.

Locked into an "instrumental system geared to turning out products,'' teachers and administrators do little to help young people cultivate the capacity to think and act freely--"to surpass the given and look at things as if they could be otherwise," argues Maxine Greene in The Dialectic of Freedom.

Educating for freedom requires an emphasis on multiple perspectives in curricula and classroom activities as a means of "defamiliarizing experience," writes Ms. Greene, professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

In the passages that follow, she identifies sources and effects of contemporary education's stress "on skills, on proficiencies, on achievements, on techniques":

Rather than being challenged to attend to the actualities of their lived lives, students are urged to attend to what is "given" in the outside world--whether in the form of "high technology" or the information presumably required for what is called "cultural literacy."

There is, in consequence, an implicit encouragement of the tendency to accede to the given, to view what exists around us as an objective ''reality," impervious to individual interpretation. ...

For many, this means an unreflective consumerism; for others, it means a preoccupation with having more rather than being more.

If freedom comes to mind, it is ordinarily associated with an individualist stance:

It signifies a self-dependence rather than relationship; self-regarding and self-regulated behavior rather than involvement with others.

Above all, it means an absence of interference or (to use the idiom of the federal government) a deregulation.

People consider themselves free if the road is opened before them--to pursue success or security or status, to "get ahead."

Others are more likly to think in terms of expressivism, of satisfying desire, of giving impulse free play. On occasion, the two notions are linked: One pursues success; one achieves so that one can indulge oneself. ...

All this holds relevance for a conception of education in what is described as our free society. It is through and by means of education, many of us believe, that individuals can be provoked to reach beyond themselves. ...

I do not need to say again how seldom this occurs today in our technicized, privatized, consumerist time. The dominant watchwords remain "effectiveness," "proficiency," "efficiency," and an ill-defined, one-dimensional "excellence." Reforms or no, teachers are asked to teach to the end of "economic competitiveness" for the nation.

They are expected to process the young (seen as "human resources") to perform acceptably on some level of an increasingly systematized world. ... Whether the students are rich or poor, privileged or deprived, the orientation has been to accommodation, to fitting into existing social and economic structures, to what is given, to what is inescapably there.

Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Ave., New York, N.Y. 10027; 152 pp., $17.95 cloth, $9.95 paper.

Vol. 08, Issue 12

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