PDF: Playtime, Downtime, and Family Time

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, a few colleagues and I were at an incredibly inspiring panel discussion about education which featured a diverse group of speakers from the Reverend Al Sharpton, Denise Pope, Chester Finn, Kati Haycock, Nick Hanauer, to Tyrone Howard. One thing that struck me was how each said very similar things, but each clearly had their own focus. This post focuses on Denise Pope’s angle.

Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford University’s School of Education,  stuck to her main issue that schools today do not foster healthy children – both physically and mentally. She is featured in the movie “Race to Nowhere”  and has written the book, Doing School: How We Are Cheating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic and Miseducated Students.

I’ve only read parts of it, but here are a few things mentioned in the book:

  • homework has no correlation to success at the lower elementary levels
  • kids today don’t get enough sleep
  • they are more concerned about how to get an “A” than what they are learning
  • they are becoming more disengaged
  • they are more stressed and as a result, she concludes, have a higher rate of weight loss due to not eating, drug abuse (usually the use of stimulants), low self-esteem, and so on.

Denise Pope (image from Seattle U's website)

Pope co-founded Challenge Success to redefine what ‘success’ means. She asked us to imagine if our bosses would suddenly give us a test about something school related, had it timed, and then told us the stakes were high. Is that really what happens in our life? Tasks and learning for students should be authentic and relevant. She remains adamant that standards should be high for all students, but that the way we are going about it is unhealthy for all.

She gave us an acronym to remember: P.D.F. (and it’s not a document)
P = Playtime – kids need unstructured play (well-meaning adults structure their lives too much)
D = Downtime – just chilling
F = Family time
Our school has one half-day inservice devoted to community building. Today we enjoyed playtime, downtime and family time. I say family, because my colleagues are indeed like family to me. It was time well-spent.
Here’s an article Pope wrote that’s worth reading.

Meaningful Conversations

I am still digesting an incredible evening of ideas thoughtful discourse on public education from a diverse panel of advocates for public school and change at Seattle University (Part of their Conversations in Education series). Each made one articulate point after the other. While their views all differed slightly, they were all passionate, and there were clear common themes that came through. The panel included the following people: Chester Finn, Kati Haycock, Tyrone Howard, Reverend Al Sharpton, Denise Pope, and Nicholas Hanauer.

The discussion was moderated by Joseph W. Scott (professor of Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Washington – and husband of one of my favorite profs at Seattle U.) He first asked each member to answer this question: Name the top two things on your list that you think is preventing achievement in public education.

Kati Haycock began and mentioned that we do not demand enough of our students. She also said we need to act on what we know. We know early childhood education makes a difference. Chester Finn mentioned that the state standards are too low, at least the Common Core curriculum seems to be better, he suggested, but warned that it only exists in math and reading and then reminded us again that the curricula is week. Tyrone Howard and Al Sharpton talked about the “New Racisim” which is saying to a child of color or poverty, “I understand your situation, so you don’t need to care as much, nor do I.” We need to become more comfortable talking about race and how education is not serving a significant part of the population. Denise Pope also agreed that our standards were too low, but particularly on authentic real-life skills. She mentioned that now we have doctors, who have aced every standardized test imaginable who cannot diagnose something because it doesn’t look “exactly like it does in the textbook!” She said there’s serious disengagement in school and kids are not healthy (both mentally and physically) – basically, she said (and I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t record it), “The curriculum is extremely broad, but about an inch deep and kids cannot think for themselves, collaborate in healthy ways.” Nick Hanauer (whose children I have taught), talked about bureaucracy, politics, and the need to distribute money equitably.

They were then asked to name one remedy they thought would work. It basically came down to proper distribution of funds, and shave away layers of bureaucracy.

Kati said, you cannot teach from a textbook – you need people who know HOW to teach, and you need to talk honestly and act.

Chester said we need to look at governance and strip away layers and have more leadership at all levels – not something that is hierarchical.

Tyrone said, use data and get effective teachers on board, incentivize them to go out to needy areas, include parents in the discussion, identify teachers that aren’t doing their jobs, try to remediate, if that fails – they should choose another profession.

Denise really spoke to the need for a strong Social / Emotional curriculum, and that the work kids need to do should be authentic, like the work we do. How many timed tests have you done lately? It’s like if my boss gathered all of us and gave us a timed test and those who didn’t score above a certain amount were fired. Many kids face high stakes testing daily, and we’re sending the wrong message to them. She said, kids need to know the value of being wrong, receiving redemption and leraning from it.

Nick spoke about allocating funds strategically and equitably and supporting legislators that support education. He gave concrete examples, like supporting arts programs in schools, and subject specialists. He also talked about the need to support early childhood education and all day kindergarten programs in public education.

Rev Al said, to change the culture, we have to create the culture, and to do that we have to have active engagement.

Active community engagement was on everybody’s list.

That was just the first part of the evening. There were three, but I couldn’t possibly try to summarize it all in one post, so I’m going to leave it there for tonight. I went with four colleagues, and I know one more who went separately. I just wish we could have had more people there , parents, board members, other leaders. It was an incredible and inspiring evening full of people modeling what they believe, taking action, and engaging in meaningful conversation.