Arianna Huffington's Thrive: the Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder hits the stands March 25, and depending on how soon it lands in your hot little hands, by April 1 you may never be the same again.
In the book Arianna asks us, like so many before her have tried to do, to remember that this is but one life -- to slow down -- take it in, not be taken in by it.
I know for my part I keep trying to remember that. I periodically reread Steve Jobs' famous moving speech he gave at the Stanford graduation because he says it so very well. And he did it so very well. And I want to be living a life of success, fulfillment and love.
Arianna's Thrive actually gives us the tools to achieve it.
She writes, "My goal is for this book to chart another way forward -- a way available to all of us right now, wherever we find ourselves. A way based on the timeless truth that life is shaped from the inside out -- a truth that has been celebrated by spiritual teachers, poets and philosophers throughout the ages, and has now been validated by modern science." And she does just that in this incredibly-user friendly and intellectual weaving together of the above; you can't help but transform your life.
But this isn't a review of Huffington's excellent, life-changing book.
This is a call to action.
Each of her chapters addressing our own well-being, cries out to me about my most passionate frustrations I have felt for children in California K-12 schools...public and private alike.
"Nothing succeeds like excess, we are told. If a little of something is good, more must be better. So working eighty hours a week must be better than working forty."
When I taught high school English, the rule of thumb was certainly that there must be homework. Parents expect homework and lots of it as a sign of a rigorous classroom environment. The UC System's weighted system drives students to take an absurd number of AP classes (most teachers of AP classes agree that two in a year is plenty in terms of what makes good learning). Some private high schools where reputation is enough to carry applications have dropped APs for this reason. A good start. But most kids in public school are still overwhelmed by the demands of a system that is overstocked with talented and capable kids and a need to weed them out. I do recall a few parents here or there expressing frustration about dinner and family time. I promise you I had no training to know what this meant from my education courses, and before parenthood, no frame of reference.
Ask any parent of a teenager who keeps up with her homework, and I can assure you there is little time for family or even friends.
And then there's the homework structure for our young children. My own 4th grade son has about an hour of homework a night at one of the most progressive private schools on the Westside. Factor in piano lessons, Hebrew School, skateboard lessons and there is no time for family and it's a big stress-fest. It doesn't matter that I'm the kind of mom who tells him, 'Don't stress. Just skip it.' Because he's the kind of kid that stresses out.
Thanks to No Child Left Behind and Common Core Standards, children in public school have benchmarks and standards that must be met at often at an artificial pace. The entire first grade curriculum is now in Kindergarten. Unfortunately lawmakers forgot to tell our gametes, and children still appear to look developmentally the same as they did before they moved curriculum around.
Is this really what we want the tapestry of our children's lives to look like? Trying to pretzel and bend time around some body of knowledge, figures and facts? I want them to learn! I want them educated and to have a body of information and be "prepared for the 21st century." But is there no better way than cramming learning into these tight little spots of time at home after they've been in school for 7 hours already? Just how authentic can such learning be?
"Burn Out: Our Civilization's Disease."
This is Arianna's section about burn out that you needed to read yesterday. There is plenty of evidence our kids are stressed out, too. Moms are writing about it in OpEd pieces. Based on the APA's (American Psychological Association's) 2013 survey, 31% reported feeling "overwhelmed" during a school year. 30% felt depressed or sad as a result of stress. 23% reported skipping a meal due to stress.
I was taking yoga and decided that I would help my 11AP English students to relax before their practice AP test by doing some breathing exercises. I'll never forget how I felt like I was caught in the act when the Superintendent just happened to walk into my room to ask me a question. In fact, I don't even think he noticed as he had something else on his mind, but my face burned with shame. It struck me as I read Arianna's section "Meditation: It's Not Just for Enlightenment Anymore" how instead I should have been excited to think he'd witnessed us integrating something innovative and sorely needed in education. And it also strikes me now how it didn't seem to impress him, either. No wonder I couldn't know.
Let's teach children to breathe more in class. Imagine what a powerful tool for tests, for facing socially upsetting encounters, for all that they'll encounter in life as adults! Are they going to remember how to problem solve or are they going to remember facts? Which is going to serve them better? Oh, fine! Can't we make ample room for both?
"Overconnectivity: The Snake in our Digital Garden of Eden."
As Arianna helps us to learn how to sometimes disconnect more and focus in so we can better connect, I think we'll find that we need to focus in on children whose lives are, ironically, not about disconnecting to connect. Been to a Dodger game, lately? I hadn't been in decades. The amount of electronic information on the walls was beyond my wildest dreams. There was a game to watch! Who needs all the rest? It's a Brave New World and teachers and parents will need to learn about how to connect to children who are connected. I'm not saying we don't unplug them for their own good. I'm saying that even when they're unplugged it's not the same as when we are, and curriculum that considers that is going to get a much better connection to students. I want to see schools that are having these conversations more. I want to see teachers who are asking for help how to connect even as they are learning how to disconnect themselves. I know there are teachers out there doing it! And we celebrate you! More of it!
"Sleep Your Way to the Top"
This is one of my favorite sections of Arianna's book and it's not just because I'm tired and want a 9:00 pm bedtime. The idea that presidents are making important decisions like if we should go to war with the same amount of sleep as a breastfeeding mother of twins is beyond absurd. In fact, let's leave that decision to the sleep-deprived breastfeeding mother of twins! Well, a girl can dream, can't she?
Children need sleep. I remember distinctly the moment when I had to start waking up my child to go to school and how wrong it felt. If I put him to bed on time and he still needed to sleep, why was I waking him? Why would we think teenagers can perform well at 7:30 or at 8 a.m. Why do we keep doing it when we know the answers? Can we be no more creative than this? "Well, if we don't start early then they miss their last class for sports." Change the schedule! "Well, if we start later then they end later and don't have time to do all of their homework." Umm, you know my take on that.
If following our intuition isn't enough to make global change, let's get science on our side: In a 2012 study that appeared in Pediatrics, scientists concluded that even just 27 minutes more a night of sleep can help our children (ages 7-11 we studied) be more alert and "regulate emotions."
According to the National Sleep Foundation, your 5-10 year-old needs 10-11 hours of sleep; your 11-17 year-old needs 8.5-9.5. You and I need 7-9, and we're not getting it which is why we are going to read Arianna's book, admit we have a problem, and get a sleep sponsor right away.
When my son was stroller age, walking in the mornings we'd see mothers and fathers scrambling to get their kids out the door for school. Each house was the same. Harried. Hurried. Seriously, at least every other house someone was yelling because they couldn't find a shoe. You could do a documentary on parents trying to get out the door on a single street and how each house is the same. It's some serious dark humor. Oh, and that whole rushing thing is in Arianna's book, too. Not so good for your relationship with the kids, either. I don't think you need me to cite a study to know that when we yell because we can't find a shoe it's a bad way to start the day.
"Walk This Way"
Walking and thinking as a good way to work things out. I can't see why that isn't an excellent mediation skill for children. Seems much more effective to me than some of the conflict resolution that goes on. Sometimes you just need time to cool off. Sometimes you just need to think. Sometimes a good walk can help.
Pets for therapy. Why do they only let you have little furry friends in kindergarten? I'll bet hypo-allergenic dogs could help teach how to endure the feelings that come with the sadness someone feels being left out on the playground, or when your boyfriend just told you he's moving on, or when you're mad at your parents and are finding it too hard to concentrate in class.
"Life as a Classroom"
Learn to listen to your inner voice. This section offers the power of listening to your intuition...what if we taught that as a valued skill to younger children! And of slowing down and taking our time to learn. Now we're getting to the heart of it! Yes! And why not begin with children...the Classroom as Life!! So life can be a classroom.
This does not mean that we take away challenges, adversity or strife from children. We won't need to as, I'm afraid, life always has a way of offering those to them. Instead we as teachers and educators offer to them the tools and the playing field to face these moments in life. We also prepare them and introduce them to the moments of wonder that Arianna talks about which will shape who they are and all they might become. Field trips bring opportunities for wonder. Math, science and literature, too. But so does giving of one's self: If well-being, wisdom, and wonder are our response to a personal wake -up call, service naturally follows as the response to the wake-up call for humanity. Service learning when integrated into a curriculum in meaningful and not contrived ways moves students beyond themselves into profound and transformed ways. It is education perhaps at its best as we teach our children the power of love that grows inside ourselves from helping others. What greater purpose might schools have than to prepare a next generation to have empathy and compassion and to find joy in doing so. And I can't tell you how often I see this kind of service learning ("community service") botched by well-meaning educators who force it upon children, make about earning points or fulfilling requirements, and forget about kindling the fire within.
Arianna ends her book with these words: "We have, if we're lucky, about thirty thousand days to play the game of life. How we play it will be determined by what we value."
With all of the days our children spend in school, how can we do anything but ensure that we create schools that champion those values as well.