I've spent the past eight years immersed in the science of early learning, working with researchers from the world's great universities. We have distilled this science into seven essential life skills you can teach your children (not typical academic achievement-oriented skills. Real life skills). The result of this journey is Mind in the Making, a book, awareness campaign, and teaching approach to early learning. The best thing about these skills is that you can apply them to your daily life, no matter how old you are. Each week, I'll share with you real-life examples of these skills at play, and I encourage you to share your observations with me on Twitter (@ellengalinsky). Here is my first story:
Picture this: a group of young people from Youth Onstage have created and are performing a play called Work, Play & You--A Love/Hate Triangle at New York City's Castillo Theater:
Here is one of the first scenes called "Security Check:"
Some of the young people in the cast play security guards; others play students waiting to be checked into their school building. They have obviously created this scene from their own experiences attending inner city schools. Because the scene is so powerful, I will share it with you from the play's script:
Guard 1: Come on, come on. If you were any slower, you'd be going backwards.
Guard 2: Take that hat off. And get those rainbows out of your pockets.
Student: Hey, man I got the right to have rainbows in my pockets.
Guard 3: Don't give us no attitude. Empty 'em. Now!
(Student 1 empties his pockets and exits.)
(Second student comes through.)
Guard 2: Wait a minute. Is that glitter?
Student 2: (holding up the bag) Yes, it is--this backpack is sprinkled with happiness.
Guard 2: Go back outside and clean it off.
(Student 2 goes back out.)
(Third student comes through smiling.)
Guard 2: Discard that smile.
(Student has a hard time getting rid of her smile.)
Guard 2: Do you want it ripped off your face?
(She stops smiling and is waved in. Fourth student comes through.)
Guard 1: Wait, wait, do you see what I see in that bag?
(Guards 2 and 3 look.)
Guard 3: Yes, it's definitely a glimmer of hope.
Guard 2: (opening bag, taking the hope out) We'll keep that. If it's still alive at the end of the semester, you can have it back.
Student 4: Please officer, I need that hope. It won't hurt anyone.
Guard 2: Hope has no place in school. Get to class.
(Student 4 exits. Fifth student come in looking very sad.)
Guard 1: She looks depressed enough for school.
Guard 2: Yeah, she's fine, let her through.
(Student 2 returns.)
Guard 1: Her bag's clean now.
Guard 2: Yeah, but she's a troublemaker. Scan her.
Guard 3: Okay, assume the position. Spread 'em, spread em.
(Student 2 holds her arms out and spreads her legs. Guard 3 scans her. Looks in student's hair.)
Guard 3: Wow! There's dreams in her weave.
Guard 1: You've got some attitude problem, girl. Go home and wash those dreams out of your hair. Don't come back until they're gone.
Guard 2: I don't know what's wrong with kids these days.
(Sixth student enters.)
Guard 1: This bag has set off every alarm.
Guard 2: Open it up.
(Sixth student takes things out of bag.)
Guard 1: Self respect? You know that's against the rules here.
Guard 2: Songs? Creativity is banned.
Guard 3: Imagination!
(The Security Guards are shocked.)
Student 6: I need my imagination.
Guard 1: Not here you don't.
Guard 3: This one's a real criminal.
All Three Guards: You're expelled!
As this powerful play, directed by Dan Friedman, continues, there is scene after scene where a character named Work and a character named Play compete for "everyman." As one of the actors says in the beginning of the play: "When you go to school, you're forced to leave play at home or on the street or wherever. They just don't want it in the classroom."
I saw this play on Sunday January the 10th, and following the play served as one of the discussants for a conversation with the audience and the cast. Then I went home and turned to the most serious of serious sections of the Sunday New York Times, the business section.
And there I read a front page article by Lane Wallace, entitled, "Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School? The point of this article is that business school students need to learn the essential skills of critical thinking and perspective taking. As the article says, students need "to learn how to approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions."
Lest you think that this is only a radical idea, it is being implemented at such august B-Schools as Harvard and Stanford and the C.E.O. of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, John J. Fernandes, estimates that while about 25 percent of association-accredited schools are changing their curriculum to develop more sustainable leaders now, he expects that figure to reach 75 percent in 10 years.
B-Schools are making these changes because they lead to better results--future business leaders who can possibly make better decisions.
So it was a day of two worlds--the world of high school education where students have to leave their best selves at the door and the world of business schools, where some of the leading institutions are revising their programs to help students obtain important life skills.
Is A Reconciliation Of These Two Worlds Possible?
That is the hope of the students from Youth Onstage and the play's conclusion. I certainly hope they are right.
Having spent the past eight years studying how children learn and filming many of the best experiments in neuroscience, cognitive science, and child development research, it is clear to me that education must focus on what is learned (content AND life skills) and how it is taught (using techniques that include what researcher Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University and her colleagues are calling playful learning).
I also know that these essential life skills of critical thinking and perspective taking develop early and that there are hundreds of everyday ways that teachers and parents can nurture them. We shouldn't have to wait until graduate school to try to reintroduce them to students. If we do, we are losing far too many students and potential leaders along the way.