Please enjoy pieces of the book as chosen by the Authors. These are not full chapters, rather they are sections of the referenced chapters. Enjoy!!!
Who Prepares the Student?
In elementary school, as I’ve pointed out, the teacher sees the same students throughout the day, and therefore is more likely to be in touch with an individual’s strengths and struggles. The teacher may recognize whether a student is having problems at home, or isn’t eating properly, or is having emotional difficulties. The teacher sees the whole person. In middle school, the teachers just see a piece of the person, for less than an hour a day.
It’s in middle school where a student will begin to slip severely if he or she is lacking in technique, and in this day of technological savvy, we’re doing the worst job in history of teaching technique. In middle school and beyond, the student has advanced beyond the grade school fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Strategic planning is essential, and it’s not being taught. Instead, the student is ushered through from period to period, week to week, semester to semester, year to year.
When a student begins performing poorly in class, the so-called educators often respond in knee-jerk fashion. The student may be assigned to study hall, which is sort of an academic prison. They go there because they lack the fundamentals, but they still lack them, and so their frustration grows. They may start to behave badly as a result.
When the parents notice those poor grades, they may have another knee-jerk reaction, with the best of intentions. They hire a tutor. This is common in high schools and certainly in colleges, particularly in athletic departments. The idea is to get the student to spend time with an expert on the subject. That’s like putting a Band-Aid on cancer. The low grade might not be due to an inability to understand the subject, and therefore the tutor isn’t the answer. If a student is having trouble in math or English or across the board, the problem might lie in other struggles that he or she is going through. The problem might be social or emotional; it might be economic; it might be nutritional; or it might be a lack of technique and understanding of strategic planning. Maybe the kid just needs to learn how to build a study guide. Even if the tutor helps the student get a higher grade in a subject, the underlying cause might remain unaddressed. It’s just treating the symptoms.
Medicating the Problem
I’ll be blunt. I believe in teaching technique, not dispensing medication. We have created an overmedicated society, in which drugs are prescribed unnecessarily, and I find that particularly distressing in regard to treating children for diagnoses such as ADD, ADHD, and some other conditions that are believed to be the source of learning difficulties.
I’m not denying that those conditions exist. Research has given us insights that we didn’t have just a few decades ago. But this reliance on medication to solve the issues of students making low grades is insanity to me. I don’t even buy the term learning disability. As I see it, if you ask the question, “Can this person learn?” and the answer is yes, there is no disability. There’s just a difference. I don’t believe in learning disabilities, I believe in learning differences.
Maybe a student doesn’t learn at the same pace as someone else, and that’s okay. Education is a matter of individualized teaching. Maybe someone learns in a different manner than others, and that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to suggest to someone that he or she is disabled, or unable. One thing I’ve learned from thirty years of coaching is that if you give a kid an excuse to lose, he will lose. Competitive greatness does not arise from labeling someone as disabled.
I think that often what is happening is that helicopter parents are looking for a reason to explain their children’s poor grades. And so they go to the medical doctor. And sure enough, the doctor comes up with the diagnosis and the prescription and the label. I think we need to recognize that. There are, of course, some young people who truly have perceptual or processing differences and may need treatment but not nearly at the level at which society today is diagnosing and medicating.
Change Begins at the Edges
I believe strongly that most learning problems can be resolved without pills or tutors or shuffling a kid off to study hall. My own thoughts on the matter began to gel when I read a book by Joel Arthur Barker called Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future. I had felt as if I were alone in my beliefs about our educational system, and the book led me to realize that’s where change begins. When a paradigm shifts, Barker says, it usually shifts at the edges. It shifts at the periphery. It shifts with people who are not currently part of the dominant thought. You need courage to be in that position, because people will call you crazy. When Galileo presented the idea that the sun was the center of the universe, he was almost put to death for heresy. But he held on to what he knew to be true.
In the late 1960s the country that led the world in watch making was Switzerland, with well over 90 percent market share. The Japanese share in the industry was just a few percent. And yet ten years later, Japan led the world in watch making. The technological change that revolutionized the industry was the quartz movement. The Swiss produced the first quartz wristwatch, but their paradigm disapproved of a battery-powered watch for commercial production. They felt it would cheapen the watch as a work of art. The Japanese, however, felt it would cheapen the watch—that is, lower the production cost so that they could make ten for the price of one. And the watch would have no spring to break, wouldn’t need to be wound, and would be far more accurate. It was a paradigm shift that shook the watch-making industry.
As a paradigm shift in education, why is it that a college football coach is offering reform? You would not think that that’s where it would originate, but think of it this way: If too many athletes fail history and English and become ineligible to compete, it’s not the history and English teachers who will lose their jobs. But the football coach might be gone at the end of the season.
Coaching is higher education’s version of merit pay. You win, you stay. You lose, you’re gone. That’s how it is. The young athlete’s performance influences the coach’s livelihood, and so the coach is concerned not only with how the athlete does on the field, but also with how he does in the classroom, and how he behaves in social settings. If he gets in trouble, they call the coach. If he acts out in class or under performs, they call the coach. And if we don’t win the games, they call the coach.
This leads you very quickly to a fork in the road. We can bend the rules for these young people and manipulate the system so that they can get through and stay eligible, or we can invest deeply in them and help them technically and fundamentally so that they can become legitimate, independent performers.
I see myself at the center of the paradigm change. Study halls and medication and other quick fixes aren’t what we need. They aren’t the long-term solution. We need sustained, fundamental change. The change is not likely to come from the classroom teacher. The people who see these kids three days a week for 50 minutes or two days a week for 90 minutes and then may never see them again aren’t the people who are going to be able to effect long-term change in those children’s lives. They don’t have enough contact with them. As a coach, I have an opportunity that teachers do not.
And when I speak, coaches listen. They’re the first whose antennas go up. Why? Because they deal with eligibility every single day. If an English teacher or a math teacher or a science teacher has a young person failing their subject, he or she merely fails the subject. If the child fails too many subjects, he may be out, whether dropped out, or kicked out, or placed in an alternative curriculum. The teacher stays on the assembly line. But if too many athletes fall by the wayside, the coach doesn’t have a team, which means he doesn’t have a job.
When I speak to a group of principals, they often urge me to talk to the teachers who really need to hear it. The teachers urge me to talk to the counselors who really need to hear it. The counselors urge me to talk to the principals and teachers. Everyone passes the buck without taking action. The teachers stick to their subject and anything else just isn’t their job.
If we are going to effect permanent, long-lasting, fundamental change, it is going to have to happen as a paradigm shift that begins somewhere other than in the schools. Then the schools will have to embrace it. Until then, parents will need to pursue such change individually through a program such as Academic Gameplan.
The Need for a Filter
It’s more important than ever that we recognize that young people are having a difficult time compartmentalizing and prioritizing. The much-ballyhooed technology that has become a part of every classroom is actually detracting from their ability to focus.
As a parent myself, as well as a college football coach, I have some personal perspective here. We have two girls in high school as I write this, and I’ve sought to eliminate their distractions. Kelly and Mckenzie are bright young people, so if we were to see any slip in their grades, I would know it’s not a matter of ability. The problem is in the management of distractions. Those distractions have come via 500 television channels, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, video chatting, Youtube, and more.
Jill and I had to make a rule in our house that the cell phones get turned off at 9 p.m., no questions asked. The computer is to be used at the dining room table and it never goes up to a bedroom. The computer in and of itself isn’t evil. The cell phone in and of itself isn’t evil. None of this technology is evil. But the application of it is very, very damaging if not managed and if discretion is not taught. We have seen what computers can do for us. Those apps, some of them, hold the potential to make our lives better, just as the farmer with the hoe welcomed the invention of the disk. But because these devices stream such tremendous volumes of information, they also stream tremendous volumes of distractions.
The cell phone provider is not Sprint or AT&T but rather the adult that purchases the phone and pays the bill. It is clearly the job of the provider to establish the ground rules and teach the discretion necessary to allow the child to succeed. We have made it emphatically clear in our house that the phone “is a tool and not a toy.” Being productive with the tool requires technique and we have taught the technique every step of the way.
In our house the rule is; the phone gets turned off and I mean completely powered off when homework starts and stays that way until it’s done or there is a distinct break in the process. Why? It’s that way for the same reason that an airplane pilot will ask that “all electronic devices get powered off before take off.” When asked why, they will explain that “they do not want to risk any interference with the aircrafts navigational system.” Interesting! Our policy is based on the same line of thinking. Keep in mind that it often takes longer to recover from an interruption than the interruption took itself.
Doing homework or work of any kind for that matter is a navigational framework of going from “chaos to concept and process to product” An occasional interruption is manageable but constant interruption will definitely cripple the process. Today, one simple cell phone can stream enough distraction to bring even the most basic creative process or work flow to its knees. It is a gateway to an information super highway that can and will be used against you in the court of creativity. It is technological water boarding on steroids.
Imagine the teenage distractions that come via the phone that streams non-stop sounds that chime, ring, ding and dong. These sounds alert them to vitally important notifications of incoming text messages, instagram, twitter, facebook, snapchats, google alerts, emails, likes, comments, calendar reminders, friend requests, followers, favorites, retweets and phone calls if those even exist any more.
I feel like installing a speaker system in my house and via the intercom make a nightly announcement: Good evening young ladies and welcome aboard flight 168 to success. From the flight deck this is your captain John speaking. In a few moments we’ll be checking your homework for accuracy and completeness. For your convenience you’ll find a safety briefing card with the house rules on the refrigerator door in case you forgot them since last night. We require that you give us your careful attention. The use of all electronic devices is prohibited at all times as they can interfere with the homework navigational system. All portable electronic devices such as I pods, and cell phones, must be turned off and remain in the off for the duration of our flight. In the event one of you little FOMO’s feels light headed due to lack of contact with the outside world, oxygen masks will drop down in front of you. Please pull the mask down toward your face and place the mask over your nose and mouth. If you are studying next to someone acting like a child, please attend to yourself first, then the child. Breathe normally, the feeling will pass. Thank you for your attention now sit up, lean forward, act interested and attack your homework.
Today, if someone in a persons social network decides that he or she is bored and wants to send a text rather than do homework, their friends’ phones start beeping. Smart phones go off twenty-four hours a day. I noticed that whenever my daughters’ phones made those noises, they would stop what they were doing, wherever they were, and immediately look at the phone. You have probably seen what I have witnessed at a restaurant: four people at a table, and all of them staring at their phones rather than chatting with one another.
My kids do get As, and I’m proud of them. But as a dad, I wanted to help them manage those distractions so that they could think straight. I didn’t want them to resent me or think me old-fashioned, but I was resolved to do something about the situation. Though the devices aren’t evil, the values that the media can stream to you are potentially very evil and damaging. Keep in mind that young people in their teenage years do not and cannot have the life experience to interpret everything they say.
I’m astounded, for example, that many parents seem oblivious to the fact that pornography can so easily find its way into their children’s lives, even when those children don’t go actively looking for it. Sexual predators wait to pounce online, and some prey on very young children. These are hardly free spirits, though it takes wisdom to recognize that.
We’re all familiar with the statement, “Parental discretion is advised.” I often feel there’s little substance behind that statement—almost as if it’s used as a marketing ploy to entice attention—and I think parents don’t act on that call to action. It means parents should have the life experience and perspective to help young people interpret what they are watching and should be involved.
Today’s parents may feel frustrated at their children’s incessant social networking, but every generation of adults has had a difficult time with something that the next generation of kids was doing: their styles, their music, their slang. Every generation also thinks the younger one is ungrateful. But that attitude of gratitude comes from only one thing, and that’s life experience. It gives us perspective. In time, we all learn to be thankful.
I wanted my children to see that there are other ways to do things, and the house rules were meant to help them filter out the distractions. So we restricted those cell phones, and we got rid of Instagram. We got rid of Twitter. When I told my daughter Kelly that Facebook was out of the picture too, she protested.
“You don’t understand!” she told me. “My coach uses Facebook to tell all of us when the practices will be, and the teachers use it to send us our assignments.”
She was pointing out to me a legitimate use of the social media. When it’s used as a tool, all is well; when it’s used as a toy, we have better things to do. It’s an attempt to reach out and communicate useful skills and necessary information. It’s not that adults should teach young people to shun the social media. Rather, they should teach them to use these devices and applications wisely in the spirit of forming healthy connections.
These are tools, not toys, and parental discretion is advised.
We were with our team recently at the Sun Bowl banquet, which is a big community function before the game. Both teams and both coaching staffs and prominent people from the community come to those banquets. At each table, a player from each team sits with six members of the community. We looked out over the room and we were horrified. We saw players from USC and Georgia Tech, two major universities, sitting at tables with six strangers—all good, hard-working members of the community who had paid for the honor of being there—and the players were staring into their phones. Instead of interacting, they were putting up a wall. They seemed to have no idea how to introduce themselves or carry on a simple conversation with a stranger.
After that, I made it a key part of Academic Gameplan to make sure that young people know the real meaning of social networking. The cell phone and laptop actually can become shields from the rest of society. What I see is a tendency in young people to pull out their cell phones whenever they feel uncomfortable or aren’t sure what to do or how to act. They can retreat into their own customized little world, all the while displaying body language that says, “I’m too busy to talk. I have something more important than you here.” When I was that age, the “idiot box” that my mom wanted us to get away from was the television. Today, the idiot box fits in your hand.
If parents see a slip in a student’s grades, they need to get to the source of the distraction and not just treat the symptom. A lot of things can sidetrack a student, including emotional and social issues, but a major one is the distraction of a cell phone or the Internet. It is critically important that we work to identify the source and to filter out the distractions. People are born to grow, to develop, to learn, to compete, and we must not let anything interfere with that.