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48 Hours

In the spring of 1997, I stood outside my old M.S. adviser’s door in the College of Business at the University of Colorado, waiting to ask him, in person, if he’d write me a letter of recommendation for a second master’s degree. When the door opened, he was delighted to see me, and we sat and talked for a while about what I’d been up to (starting a company) and what I hoped to do in the future (start another one). But the long hand on the clock got to doing what it does best, and after a while, he asked what he could do for me. I told him, and he began guessing all kinds of programs in a wait-wait-don’t-tell-me mode. Computer science? Statistics? Mathematics, for sure.

Anthropology, I told him, and the long hand worked away for a while before he spoke again.

In the end, he did write it, and the anthropology department got a stack of some truly strange-looking recommendations, from their perspective, and I got in. I wasn’t one of the department’s Chosen Ones. Those came with the right degrees in hand, degrees in sociology and biology and forensics, from the right universities, with the right recommendations. We all knew who they were from the first minute of the first colloquium. I was supposed to be an afterthought, one of the students that pads the department’s coffers and scrapes out a degree while so doing. I wasn’t supposed to make the graduate Dean’s List in six consecutive semesters, or wrest the Quiatt Award for Excellence in Anthropological Writing away from one of the Chosen, or get one of the first teaching job offers out of the program. But I did.

After the graduation festivities had died down, I met my M.A. adviser for a beer at a favorite British pub here in Denver, and over one too many Boddington’s, she told me something remarkable.

She said, “everything about who you were and what you did surprised us.”

That probably wouldn’t be the case today. We’re in a transition from a society focused on credentials to a society focused on outcomes. I see it every day in the work I do, side by side on teams built out of a graying Cornell grad at one end of the table, and, at the other, a Colorado College dropout who MOOCed his way to analytics competency and then blogged about sabermetrics until he got noticed. (True story.) What’s the difference between the two? Nothing. They’re both respected project team members. One’s just from the generation prior, when we obsessed over potential instead of product.

So why do I bring this up? In part, because I’m rising to the defense of one of my own. Music instructor-turned-credential ghoul Mark O’Connor has been kicking around the gravesite of venerated violin method creator Shinichi Suzuki for a few years now, turning over rocks in search of wiggly things, and he’s surged to the forefront of pedagogy again this week with more questions. Did Suzuki really study with Klingler? What was his relationship with Einstein? Was he really a doctor? 

I couldn’t care less. In 1977, my parents pushed me – reluctantly – into the Suzuki violin program, and I stood in a gym with what seemed like a billion other kids and crawled my fingers from one end of the bow to the other. It was stupid and pointless, and I would have told you at the time that there was no way this would possibly lead to me being able to play anything in Book One, except it did, and those exercises were equally stupid and pointless; I bitched a high holy storm about those, too, how they couldn’t possibly lead me on to any real songs, except they did, and then I was playing Humoresque, and then I was second-chair viola in an orchestra, and then I was picking up the guitar and the mandolin and the cello and then I was 45 and seven years into performing live in a band as a principal songwriter and lead guitarist.

Stupid bow exercises.

Shinichi Suzuki could have claimed anything, as far as I’m concerned. He could have claimed to have invented the rotary engine, or that he cured Legionnaire’s Disease, or that he designed the bidets on the International Space Station. I couldn’t care less. His method worked, and continues to work to this day. It’s fantastic.

What makes me sad about the entirety of this conversation is not whether or not Suzuki falsified aspects of his background or experience in order to seem like a more traditional, more ‘qualified’ instructor for children. He might have, or he might not have, and the people that could corroborate or disprove his story are all dead. No, what makes me sad is the fact that Suzuki lived during a time when he clearly felt pressure to do so. Today, his experience would be very different. He was an outcome man living out his days in the credential era, and I’m appalled that his accomplishments can’t simply stand on their own, the way the accomplishments of so many others can in the 21st century.

By the way, it’s turned out that O’Connor’s accusations have been largely discredited. It’s quite likely that the word ‘guardian’ was mistranslated from the original text in describing Einstein’s relationship with Suzuki. It’s also quite likely that Suzuki spun Klingler’s noted dislike of teaching to turn a reluctant pedagogy into a unique teaching arrangement. Fine. And enough universities handed Suzuki honorary doctorates as to make the question of his academic authority irrelevant.

But wait.

Before we leave that last concept, let’s spend a moment on it.

Because we have a new arrival on the pedagogical scene, one equally unqualified to be teaching, and he’s making a difference in the academic lives of millions of kids every day, too. And we don’t say boo about his quals and certs, because we’ve jumped that line, that demarcation O’Connor’s pushing into our faces and asking, isn’t this relevant? Isn’t this important?

Sal Khan isn’t technically an educator by training. He’s a mathematician, engineer, former hedge fund analyst, and entrepreneur. But go check out the Wikipedia entry for Sal Khan. I’ll wait. Read the very top line. The first thing on the page.

Back?

That’s what Shinichi Suzuki was: an educator. Not by training; not by credentials. Almost certainly not by association with top-flight conservatories (although maybe he was, and maybe he wasn’t). He wasn’t the concertmaster for the right orchestra and he didn’t have the right tutelage and he didn’t possess the right insider relationships to merit being considered an educator in his day. He just became one in part because he simply didn’t give a shit about anyone’s need for credentials. He was too busy with outcomes, with the task of educating millions upon millions of kids in the joys of playing music. He was, essentially, the Sal Khan of his day.

How have things changed since then? Well, Consumer Reports recently reviewed a car and found it to be the best car they’d ever seen. It wasn’t conceived of by a car guy, a Detroit insider; it wasn’t brought to the world by anyone with a finger’s width of degrees. In fact, its designer holds a degree from the not-so-snazzy-sounding University of Pennsylvania. A B.S., by the way.

Oh, he did attend Stanford. For forty-eight hours.

And quit.

Elon Musk had bigger things in mind than credentials. He was already working on the outcomes.

Making the Choice to Manage Intensity

Fall color

Our family climbs a steep trail up to the top of a ridge every year to look at the fall color in Colorado. Dave and I have been taking the exact same hike, every year, since before the kids were born. We have gorgeous pictures – courtesy of my husband – of golden hued aspen in the background, followed by babies in the backpack, ruddy-faced toddlers with bright eyes, and smiling kids (missing many teeth!) in the foreground. It is one of those wonderful yearly rituals that reminds both Dave and I of the swift passage of time.

This year, as we were hiking a midst picking up interesting leaves and rocks, E wanted to talk about intensities. She, like all of us, struggles with managing her intensities at times, and she wanted to know how we navigated this as adults. Specifically, she wanted to know why she had to learn to manage her intensities at all. It was, and remains, a difficult question for me to answer.

Like most intense adults, I grew up not knowing why I felt things so intensely. Over the course of my lifetime, I have learned to manage my intensities mostly by observing others – seeing their expression change perceptibly when I have gone too far, overwhelmed them with too much information, too much excitement, or too many details. I have watched my message get lost in the delivery – being so enthusiastic about a problem I had finally solved, yet unable to explain it to others in a way that was meaningful to them. I have learned to temper the delivery, keeping the intensity under wraps, so that I can be more effective with the message.

Because of this, being around my family is both wonderful and exhausting. I love being around four other people for whom I do not have to temper the delivery. I can be as intense as I want, and they will volley that intensity right back to me, in a crazy ping-pong of words, movements, emotions, and energy. The flipside is that being around four other intense individuals is mentally exhausting. Our kids’ intensity seems to be a well that never runs dry. It also seems to defy mathematical rules, in that three intense kids together seems to equal more than 3, or 9. The end result is some sort of multiplier that I haven’t quite figured out.

In the end, as we hiked down the mountain, I’m not sure I was able to adequately explain to our daughter why she should learn to manage her intensities. Intensities are such an integral part of my being that I can’t imaging living without them, even if it would make my life easier as a result. I suspect that she will choose, over time, to temper the delivery of her intensities, if only out of sheer necessity. In the end, though, it is our choice, as intense individuals, whether to respond to the widened eyes and sideways glances with anything but a shrug. Thankfully, our family will embrace us – intensities included – at the end of the day, no matter which choice we made.

giftedgrownups

This post is part of a Blog Hop for Gifted Homeschoolers Forum on Gifted Grownups. Check out the other blog posts here!

Why Identifying High Intelligence Might Change Everything

Flowers in Front Yard

A bit of background to start. Early in September of 2008, our twin girls were five, and had just started kindergarten. What we had imagined for years would be a time of great joy in our house – a leap forward with two kids now in full-day school – was a time of immense anxiety and stress. Based on recommendations from the school (the principal called me on day three), we were scrambling to get paperwork done for the GT testing deadline for our school district, which was due the third week in September for the next fall. We had essentially already written off the kindergarten year, since our neighborhood school did not have any space to move them up to first grade. We got the testing completed, applied them to the full-time GT program, and they were accepted a few months later.

The girls started the GT program in the fall of 2009, and our son enrolled early access in the fall of 2010. The next few years were a blur of grade-skipping, teacher meetings, more testing, and part-time homeschooling. By the fall of 2013, we were full-time homeschooling all three kids.

Why does high intelligence – and the intensities that come with it – matter? What would we have done differently had we known more in 2008?

For starters, we would not have automatically enrolled our kids in school. The enormous amount of energy we spent trying to get them in the right spot in school, the right “fit” for them, we would have channeled instead into teaching them at home, at their own pace. Identifying their high intelligence and intensities earlier would have led us down a different path from the start. Part of that energy was spent shifting expectations – from the infant, toddler, and preschool years where we had every expectation that they would be with us full-time during the day – to the “school” years, during which we thought they would be gone for most of the day. Redirection takes more energy.

Second, we would have focused more on learning about intensities, and teaching our kids about their own intensities, from a young age. Understanding why we, as a family and individuals, act the way we do has been invaluable in navigating the world around us, and accepting ourselves for who we are, and who we are not. Once we started homeschooling, we found our acquired knowledge extremely helpful in navigating the teaching experience. Facilitating learning for intense individuals is different, and we have approached it in a way that allows them to utilize their intellect, emotions, energy, senses and imagination as they see fit.

Third, we would have sought out meaningful connections with other high intelligence families sooner. Whether through social media, internet sites, organizations, or conferences, we have gained significant insight, compassion, and direction from the connections and information available. As parents, we have enjoyed meeting those whose experiences are similar to our own. The shared experiences help us sort out what might be innate, developmental, or truly unusual, and we can address issues in the context of a true peer group, instead of comparing our kids to an ill-defined norm.

What would we have done differently in 2008, given the knowledge we have gained today? Likely, we would have made different decisions. Or – perhaps – we would have made the same decisions, and ended up in the same place. Those decisions, however, would have been made with better information, and in a more thoughtful, proactive way, instead of reacting to each situation. Here’s hoping that we can pay it forward to another family – the knowledge that identifying high intelligence and intensities does matter. It might just change everything for you, too.

This post is part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum September 15th, 2014 Blog Hop: “Giftedness: Why Does It Matter?

Check out the other posts here! http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/blog-hops/giftedness-why-matters/

GHF Blog Hop Sept 2014

The Weapons of Goodbye

670px-Shoot-a-Nerf-Gun-Accurately-Step-1

The last week of August is the week we transition between summer – strictly unschooling – into a slightly more structured version of homeschooling. I usually take the week off from work so we can devote attention to getting the kids set up on the math and science websites/apps they would like to use for this semester, start social studies with a leisurely morning of reading and historically appropriate baking, and ensure the books they will be reading are downloaded onto their Kindles. It’s a week of excitement – looking forward to the new year ahead. 

In the midst of the excitement, A came home yesterday to let us know his friend was moving away at the end of the month. Luckily, his friend is not moving far away, but this has been the older friend who A loves to play with outside, or at each other’s house, since his friend’s family moved in down the street a few years ago. This is the first friend A made on his own, and he has managed the relationship by himself. While we have met the family several times, the relationship is primarily the boys’ own. Although he understood the reasons they were moving, A was devastated by the news.

A and his friend played together for one last time yesterday afternoon, down in our basement playroom. While they will still likely see each other, they won’t be down the street from each other anymore, able to pick up and play at a moment’s notice. The two boys yelled and ran around as they always do, but with a little more vigor – and anger. I heard the usual Nerf guns firing, sword fighting, and noodle wars. After a few hours, the two boys then said goodbye as most boys do, with a simple “see ya” as they went to their respective houses. I’m not sure if they will see each other again for a while. 

This morning, I went down to vacuum the basement, and picked up the carnage from yesterday’s play session. Normally, I’d have A pick it up, but this time, I’m glad I didn’t. As I picked through the blue and orange Nerf darts (I’ll never get them all!), the foam and wooden swords, and spent Nerf guns of various types, I realized this is how they said goodbye to each other. While they played and fought pretend wars, they connected one last time, and let go of this phase of their friendship. 

I came up from vacuuming crying, and at that exact moment, A came down from his room to get some help with a math problem. I hugged him, and he stared back at me bewildered and confused. He’s already started to move on a little bit – fall soccer started last night, and flag football starts later this week. This fall, I’ll know what to do when he gets lonely for his friend who moved away – we’ll have a Nerf gun fight in the basement. 

Killer Bs

I forget, every year, that we’re going to have to go over the concept of grades. A was no different this year; he’s often brought me work with the same eager question that H and E had for the first few months of their own homeschooling: “what do I get?”

I’ve answered him, honestly, as I’ve answered all of them so far: I have no idea. It’s not done yet.

I don’t exist in a world of grades. Most professionals I work with don’t, either. There is one grade – suitable – and the potential for compliments that live above the line of pure actionability. Solutions can be elegant, or quick to the point, or cleverly designed to perform under budget, but those are frosting terms, sprinkle terms, atop the concept of suitable.  The hurdle for workability varies by functional area and by project; some work most definitely needs to correspond to an academic A-plus, and other work simply needs doing at a C level. (No pun intended.) Moreover, picking the wrong execution level is a sin in its own right, so taking an extra week or ten days to do something at an A level that needed C work isn’t just a quality surplus; it’s a different kind of mistake. It’s not only important to be able to trade quality for speed of execution, it’s important to be able to correctly read the circumstances that demand each.

What A provided me wasn’t workable – not yet, anyway (he was close) – so off he went to make it workable. I also informed him that he was on the hook for the work he would have started if what he’d turned in had been workable the first time through. That’s life’s C-minus: you get to do it again, while you’re taking care of everything else that needs doing. The machine neither grinds to a stop while you rework your mistakes, nor does it shrug and move along the next task with this one still undone to spec. But that’s the school system, in which the most dangerous grade possible – a B – somehow lets students move along without ever mastering the concept. (No wonder school districts are slowly beginning to insist on mastery.)

It’s new to him, just as it was new to E and H prior, and there have been teary moments when work piled up, but they slowly, gradually, came to understand how it worked. Then the other questions started coming. What kind of evaluation spec will this assignment be on? What are the evaluation criteria going to be? How long do I have to do it? How long before deadline will you look at work in progress?

Grades, as they are currently constituted, are bullshit, and don’t do a thing to prepare kids for the life that exists for them beyond the walls of academia. Even venerated institutions like our college testing system can’t actually tell a kid whether he or she can write anything meaningful or compelling.  Even graduating from college doesn’t necessarily mean anything anymore, as employers both here and abroad complain that staggering numbers of graduates – half, by consensus – aren’t ready for real-world work. How bad is it? We’re now seriously talking about having a post-graduation test to determine if graduates learned anything.

So we’re starting over with the concept. In here, tests and essays and projects aren’t due by the calendar; they’re due by when our kids feel they’re ready to tackle work at that level with the confidence of skill mastery in hand. They’ve got responsibilities to get that mastery done on a reasonably timely basis, and we’re happy to excuse them from secondary responsibilities that are less important. (I’d rather have my kids spend twice as long on the reasons for the rise of the Maurya Empire than the dates it fell between.) But ultimately, we’re moving in a direction that’s more goal-oriented than grade-oriented, and that goal is ability (as we’ve discussed previously).

We’re also increasingly aware that there’s just more to education than can really be measured by a single number or letter at a single point in time.  As such, we’re much more about concepts like cross-disciplinary application and skill re-acquisition, so we carefully watch their ability to apply what they’ve learned creatively in a variety of learning settings than simply cramming and dumping knowledge sequentially (kind of what this kid is doing). We’re looking, long-term, to see if concepts like the rise of the state show up in critical reading, or whether knowledge of geometry shows up in entrepreneurial work. We’re also watching to see how quickly they can re-learn lost skills; that’s going to be important over time, too.

In the end, I hope I’m readying them for the world they’re going to live in, one in which a series of unsuitable work deliveries (that came oh-so-close) are just greasing the skids toward the inevitable exit interview, and blowing the quality peak off of a midweight project is just costing everyone time for other work. Bs and Cs where As are needed, and As where Bs and Cs will do, are among the many and complex forms of error their world will challenge them with. They’ll need to be ready for both.

The Course

Impression from a running man

Too large for smaller toes to fill

Therein the risk that footsteps pose

Creating lines of human will

That outline choices in one life –

One forking path of joy and strife

And so I pull them with both hands

To run beside, and not behind

For theirs is each their own to run

Joy and sorrow, pride and pain

Days in sunshine, days in rain

But theirs will be their own – so why

Should I expect their steps to try

To mimic mine? In craft or trade,

Relationships, or schoolbook grades,

No tick of my life’s clock is theirs,

No breath of my days their affair,

Nor would I ask that they should run

In footsteps never meant for them

So pull again I do; resistance

From these hands, who know not how

I plan for distance, every day

In every hour and endeavor

They will know these days themselves

But not today, and not tomorrow

Should their hours be so spent; so

Childhood, its own defense

Against such works, and breaths, and days

This the reason that I stay

Resolutely to one side; I gently

Pull them into stride

Upon their own path, footsteps theirs

To treasure when they flew in grace

Or mourn when, stumbling, red in face

They found themselves in moments dire

Balanced there upon the wire

Of their making; this will be

I know it, for I’ve lived this too

But I wish for them these moments new

Spent on the run, on paths they flew

Along in sunshine.

The Habanero Cycle

Capture2

COME ON BACK TO AUNT CHILADA’S! the email blared. WE MISS YOU!

Ah, Aunt Chilada’s. I’d completely forgotten about you and your weapons-grade muy caliente fajitas – so hot that the cooks have to wear gas masks to cook and serve them, lest the pepper gas render them unconscious. Did I order the muy caliente fajitas one day last year at Auntie’s? Perhaps fueled by one pitcher too many of Pacifico on a hot Phoenix night, did I have delusions of youth, believing myself to be capable of handling the same multi-million Scoville food I ate in my 20s? I did. I could scarcely eat them, and Kathy got a good laugh as my head flushed pink, then raspberry red, then deep purple as I tried and tried to get through the platter. I paid dearly for it, in ways I will not subject you to.

I know this happened, but I have no experiential memory of it. We move through these moments and they are left to anecdotal, but not experiential, memory. Do I remember this happening? I do. Can I summon up what it was like to pile into that first overstuffed, billion-Scoville Tortilla-O-Death? I can’t.

Auntie C’s email came at just the same time that I was reviewing my notes from the last homeschooling year, in which – at least once a month or so – I wrote, somewhere, ‘this feels like too much.’ I can go back and look at my project bookings for work at the time, and see what horrific home improvement projects were going on, and sure enough, the correlation is clear: there were moments it was all too much. Too much algebra. Too much PBL management. Too many contractors at the door, and too many sheaves of paper to proof and spreadsheets to check, and too much too much. 

It was too much, in the same way that so many other things are too much:  roller coasters, breaking a limb, ice-cream headaches, the vengeance of last night’s good bottle(s) of red wine. They leave a trace of excess with us afterwards, but then it’s gone. Quick, summon up a summer-BBQ hangover, right now. Pull up your mouth memory of that crazy-ass ghost-pepper sauce at Tango Red’s, or the sensation after getting off Space Mountain. Bring that experience back, just for a second.

You can’t, can you?

Homeschooling is the same way. I know it was too much, then; it’s right there, on a journal page, that I thought it was. But it’s not now, and it doesn’t really matter that it was: I remember that I felt this way, but I can’t summon up the sensation – and I’ll be there again at some point this fall, and then I won’t, and life will go on. Hot sauce and roller coasters and red wine will make their repeated appearances in my life, too, and I’ll swear them off at different points, and forget I did.

Too much is all right, so long as it’s not too much all the time. And it’s not. It wasn’t today, the first day of summer vacation for us. I tackled a competitive analysis this morning while they labored away in Minecraft, taming ocelots and poking zombie villagers in their snouts and giggling the whole time. When my lumbar region gave out, I stretched and we took off on a bike ride and picnic, E comparing cloud shapes with me while H climbed a tree and A assembled an Iron Man suit out of bark. Home we came, and the girls tackled summer reading books while A and I played Monopoly for an hour. Back to work for a bit, and then it’s off to light the grill for dinner.

Not too much at all. Highly doable. And isn’t that really what’s necessary? The days that make it all seem possible?