This book changed the way I interact with my kids

I just read the book “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley.

I found it to be an insightful book that looks at the differences in education practices and policies throughout the world.

The book focuses on the two top scoring countries — Korea and Finland. It also discusses the changes that have occurred in the American education system.

There were several gems of information that I learned from this book:

  • “Taxpayers in the smartest countries in the world spent dramatically less per pupil on education than taxpayers did in the United States. … And, most encouragingly, the smart kids had not always been so smart.” (page 18).

This is very encouraging! Improving our education system does not mean that we need to throw more money at the problem. It also challenges the notion that low-performing kids cannot become “smart”.

The book quotes these findings from a 2009 survey of 5,000 parents worldwide: “Strange patterns emerged. For example, parents who volunteered in their kids’ extracurricular activities had children who performed worse in reading, on average, than parents who did not volunteer, even after controlling for other factors like socioeconomic background… By contrast, other parental efforts yielded big returns, the survey suggested. When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they were fifteen… As kids got older, the parental involvement that seemed to matter most was different but related. All over the world, parents who discussed movies, books and current affairs with their kids had teenagers who performed better in reading.” (pages 107-108).

Working and busy parents don’t have to feel guilty if they are unable to volunteer in the classroom. We can be more influential in our kids’ education and understanding of the world by reading to them and engaging in meaningful conversations. This particular paragraph changed my family’s dinner table discussions. Now, along with asking each one of my kids to talk about their high and low for the day, we talk about current events (like how women in Saudi Arabia will soon have the right to drive). It has been fun and eye opening.

“High school in Finland, Korea and Poland had a purpose, just like high-school football practice in America. There was a big, important contest at the end, and the score counted. Their teachers were more serious, too: highly educated, well-trained, and carefully chosen. They had enough autonomy to do serious work; that meant they had a better chance of adapting and changing along with their students and the economy. The students had independence, too, which made school more bearable and cultivated more driven, self-sufficient high school graduates. The closer they got to adulthood, the more they got to act like adults.” (page 191).

How do we treat our kids when they reach adulthood?

When my kids reach their senior year, I try to give them more love and support (like I do with my adult friends) and worry less about discipline and control. I consider it a practice year for our kids to act like adults, while still living in the safety of our home.

The book recommends asking these questions of your principal: “When searching for a school, the leader matters more than any other factor… How do you choose your teachers? How do you make teachers better? How do you measure success? How do you make sure the work is rigorous enough? How do you keep raising the bar to find out what kids can do?” (Pages 215-217)

These are powerful questions. I plan on scheduling a meeting with the principal of our local school to ask these questions.

Please join me. Send me an email with your principal’s answers. I will write a blog about the results in December.

Melanie Flake

Melanie Flake

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