Old Dog, New Tricks


So this is Macy. She’s sixteen years old, which according to our calculations makes her roughly 112 in doggy years. If there were an AARP for dogs, she’d be card-carrying member. I’ve always heard you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I can assure you this isn’t true.

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Recently Macy figured out how to have a warm snuggly night at my expense. She grabs the corner of my down comforter with her mouth and pulls it on the floor in the middle of the night and she even takes a pillow if there is one close enough to the edge of the bed. For a while I thought the kids were tucking her in, but one night I woke up and there she was- dragging the blanket right off my feet.

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She got my blanket and a wig, not sure how that happened!

It makes me wonder, if she can learn something new in her golden years, why do the rest of us stay stuck in the same old patterns?

If we know there are better ways, why don’t we use them? I’m reminded of a story my government professor once told about the State of Texas. He said we spent $4 million dollars on a study that would show us where tax dollars were being wasted. This independent firm found thousands of places where efforts were duplicated. Now forgive me if I embellish the numbers here, but it was something to the effect of $15 million dollars a year that were being eaten up by bureaucracy- two departments doing the same thing or two forms that could be replaced by just one, that kind of stuff. In the end, making the changes would have cut some jobs, so the state did nothing and we wasted our money on the study. That doesn’t make much sense to me.

Public schools are another place where I feel like we know there are better ways, and yet we refuse to make changes. For example, for years and years research has proven that children acquire a second language much easier at younger ages. So why don’t we offer languages until Junior High and High School? Why not have 30 minutes of Rosetta Stone for everyone starting in kindergarten or first grade? Americans are so limited by our “press 1 for English” attitudes. In other countries children are bilingual, even trilingual at very early ages. I read the more you challenge yourself mentally, the less likely you are to end up with Alzheimer’s, so why not learn “I love you” in three different languages?

Then there are STAAR tests. I absolutely detest standardized testing. I was the kind of kid who never studied, made straight A’s, and aced those tests. I didn’t realize how detrimental they were until I had children on every end of that spectrum. I have one child who never does his school work until the last minute, barely passes, but aces standardized tests. I have another kid who studied really hard to be a “B” student, failed those tests over and over, and finally passed them by the hair of her chinny-chin-chin.  I have a couple of kids who make straight A’s but only score average on them. I just don’t think they give a real picture of academic aptitude and the stress they create has taken the wonder and the fun of discovery right out of the elementary schools! Kindergarten naps? No! It’s time to get STAAR-ready… And yet in Finland they don’t use those tests to evaluate students. They focus on project-based learning and providing highly qualified teachers. Teachers are so well-respected, well-paid too; and somehow that kind of employee-appreciation trickles down into the kids they teach. Students from Finland consistently out perform our students, and still, WE DO NOTHING.

Lately I’ve read a lot about classrooms for kids with ADHD and other learning challenges. There are so many amazing ideas floating around out there, and yet I don’t see many classrooms incorporating any of them. I don’t see stations where students can stand to work, or opportunities to be more kinesthetic. All I have seen are notes that say “have you thought about trying Adderall?”

My youngest daughter’s in a classroom right now where the teacher seems to get it- kids need different ways to learn. She can walk around if she needs to. She can tackle it a alternate way if it helps her, and while we’ve had a few awesome experiences like that, it’s not the norm- and not because we don’t have great teachers in our town, but because that’s just not the way things are supposed to be done. I have one kid who would bust out some amazing work if he could use his iPod to tune out distractions, but that just goes against the grain…

I feel a stirring inside myself to give kids like mine a voice. I think maybe it’s time to lobby on their behalf. I could homeschool them, yes, but there are other things I want them to experience. I want my kids to see a shift in education like no generation before them has experienced. We’re raising generation Google. They don’t need to memorize when Christopher Columbus came, they can find that in 2.1 seconds. It’s time to completely overhaul what we teach them, how we teach them, and what they leave school prepared to do. I’m afraid this isn’t something I can accomplish at a PTO meeting or with a letter to my congressman, because I’ve tried both of those, but I believe the time for change is here. Our kids are facing the biggest deficit in history. They’re mending racial tensions that continue to brew despite 50 years of progress. They’re going to need to deal with environmental issues, technology growth, and all the other problems we’ve set into motion, so how do we give them the tools to turn things around? Sometimes it seems so hopeless, but then I look over at my old dog, snoring loudly on my down comforter, and I know it’s never too late to find a better way!

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