Google’s Ngram Viewer may be the coolest thing on the web. You can find it at http://www.ngrams.googlelabs.com/ It’s an app that graphs the frequency of a word or phrase during the past 500 years from their database of over 15 millions books. While it is a powerful tool for lexiconographers, social historians and other academics, it is a lot of fun for anyone to play with. You can even compare the frequency of two or more words, for example, you can see that in 1965 the use of the word “coffee” surpassed the word “tea” for the first time since 1675. Use of “abacus” shot up in the 1850s and coincided with Commodore Parry’s visit to the Asia. “Calculator” surpassed “abacus” in 1950—no surprise. There are endless words and phrases to try. Even names work—you can trace the rise of names like Khayal, Lazarus and Josefina.
The Ngram Viewer can also be used to look at trends in education. The word “manipulatives” is used to describe classroom materials that children get to touch, move and manipulate to aid in learning. In the 1980’s, use of the word exploded. This was when traditional schools discovered what Montessori schools always knew:children need to handle materials to learn and understand. Unfortunately, traditional schools still do not come anywhere close to having the kind of thoughtful and engaging things that we have at Evergreen. Montessori works because the materials are the education and the teacher is the guide—not the other way around.
Who doesn’t love it when a lone voice speaks out against the orthodoxy of the educational-industrial complex? And why would a technocentric blog written by a self-described, “passionate advocate of learning innovatively” call Interactive White Boards a waste of money and time? To many Montgomery County parents, Interactive White Boards seem like a great leap forward for their children— a 4-foot touch screen that brings graphics and video to the classroom. It’s like a giant I-pad on your wall. To Lisa Nielsen, writer of The Innovative Educator blog, these Smartboards, “don’t change the model that’s broken. They just make that model way more expensive. With a Smartboard, the teacher usually still controls the content, stands in front of the classroom, and has to manage a bunch of kids through a lesson they’d rather not be managed through.” Montessori materials may look low-tech and simple, but they stimulate a growing brain far more. Be thankful for what you don’t have.
On Saturday, our family friends invited us to their church’s annual crab fest at St. Mark’s in Pikesville, MD. They are native Baltimoreans and to them, crabs are just part of their soul. And there were bushels and bushels of them. You have an image of the heaps of shells and debris, muck and mallets that piles up in the center of the table in a room just like this one.
It was after eating—while sitting at the table in the mess– crab slime up to my elbows– we were greeted by a huge white man in a small green apron that read “optimist club’ He was selling raffle tickets. I am not sure if was the crab, our friends, or the beer, but when I saw that apron, “the optimist club’ I knew, I just knew, I was going to win that raffle. ‘The optimist club.’ This raffle was a sure thing. So I did the thing I never do, I bought $40 worth of tickets. Did I mention that I was in a really good mood?
It turns out that the raffle man’s apron was from a real organization. Optimists Clubs are big in Baltimore, apparently. There are chapters all around the US. It stuck with me— I love optimism—and with my three foot ribbon of orange raffle tickets in my sticky hands, I waited for the drawing.
Fast forward: the next day was Sunday—9/11. It is hard to name the feelings of the 9/11 anniversary– sadness, emptiness. I watched the news and ceremonies. I hated the way I felt. I did not want to see another story, read another remembrance, hear another account of destruction. I wanted hope. I wanted to hear about the Arab spring. I wanted the Redskins to win.
It got me thinking… Do we suffer from a lack of optimism? As a country? Is Obama’s ‘Hope’ completely extinguished? Things are getting worse, not better. Right? How about Thomas Friedman’s new book—That Used to Be Us?
I believe that there is nothing more important that you can give your children than hope in their own future. We must be up for the task. There is nothing more important than you can give your children than hope in their own future. But how? Two ways:
First, find a role model. Can you name a great optimist? Someone convinced that there can be a better tomorrow. Maria Montessori comes to mind. Her first move—to take a group of children, given up as disabled, poor and unteachable and educate them so they passed tests thought impossible. This was called the ‘Montessori Miracle.’ When no one else thought it could be done, she did it.
How did the Montessori miracle happen? By believing in the power of the child. Be inspired by Maria Montessori. And be inspired by the power of your child. Whenever I visit a classroom here, I see children engrossed and believing they can accomplish whatever they’re doing. When you watch them, their belief in themselves rubs off. Our children have such confidence in their own powers.
The second way to give your child optimism is by being optimistic. While thinking about the roots of childhood optimism, I reached on my book shelf past books… The Explosive Child, The Out-of Sync Child, The Strong-willed Child, and The Whole Brain Child until I found The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman. Seligman recognizes that environment has a lot to do with optimism. Place your child in an optimistic place—with optimistic people– and chances increase that he or she will be optimistic.
Your task… model optimism in the words you speak to your child. I recommend Seligman’s book to parents with pessimistic children.
Evergreen can model optimism too. I wholly believe that this school, this community is able to come together and thrive in ways that might have seemed as impossible as Maria Montessori’s first school. A place that believes in itself and its mission has such potential. The things that a group of people can accomplish together far exceeds what we can do on our own. We can call it the Evergreen Miracle. I invite each of you to make this a place where we can rely on one another—where we can support one another in the most difficult task you’ll ever face… being a parent.
If you ever have one day easy day being a parent, I want you to call me. I have never had one of those days. There are far too many uncertainties. I worry about everything. Am I too strict with my children? Too loose? Are my son’s computer games too violent? Will he grow up to be sadistic? Is my daughter eating too much sugar? Is she going to become diabetic? Is she reading enough? Will he get into a good college? Will she get a tattoo? Lead poisoning, swine flu, lice, baldness?
What are your worries?
This is crazy, isn’t it? We need to believe that everything works out for the best—because it almost always does. The most optimistic way to look at the world: believing that there is someone out there who can help you when you need it. Here there is a community that can support you raising your child. Band together with other parents and teachers at Evergreen. Tonight, introduce yourself to someone you do not know. And just as importantly, come to the PAC meeting on October 7, sign up for classroom projects tonight, come to the fall festival, get involved in the auction. Commit to making a difference. The Evergreen miracle. We all really need each other. At the very least, read the ‘greenletter and join the Facebook group.
Now I know there is a lot of cynicism in the world. And thinking that you are going to win a raffle at a crab fest isn’t really optimism—it’s just my bad understanding of the laws of probability. But being part of a caring community that takes care of each other, at least, is the root of raising happy, optimistic children.
Thanks so much for all the support and kindness you have given me in the short time I have been here. I look forward to the year ahead. And by the way… I didn’t win the raffle.
There is one question I was asked over and over since I started at Evergreen in July: How do you like it? I always tried to answer positively and honestly, but the truest answer was: “I don’t know, yet. School hasn’t really started.” Summer is an unreal time. A restless time of planning, waiting, anticipating, and arranging. Summer may be busy, but isn’t it satisfying.
Goodbye summer. The 2011-2012 school year officially has begun. So now, how is Evergreen? I love it. Today our veteran students returned and everything fell right into place. The choreographed dance of school work, lunch, reading, painting, arrival and dismissal worked just as smoothly as ever—the school is alive again, and I feel like I really belong.
It will take a little time to get to know everyone, but it has been a great beginning!