Care To Learn


Image: Rutu Modan

“What does it take to be a good parent? We know some of the tricks for teaching kids to become high achievers. For example, research suggests that when parents praise effort rather than ability, children develop a stronger work ethic and become more motivated.

Yet although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring…

People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character. As the psychologist Karl Weick is fond of asking, “How can I know who I am until I see what I do? How can I know what I value until I see where I walk?”

Adam Grant, “Raising a Moral Child” 4/11/14

When you think about all the rating, ranking, and sorting of students and teachers that is demanded by the Common Core, can’t help but wonder….

Does too much emphasis on student achievement, data-driven instruction, proficiency levels, independent mastery, and testing of students actually stifle and suppress academic, social, and emotional growth?

Does telling elementary and middle school students they are not “college ready” increase or decrease the likelihood that they will be ready for college by graduation?

Rather than repeatedly testing students to see if they are ready for college and careers shouldn’t we provide numerous learning activities and vocational pathways for students to actually practice their college and career skills?


Hard Skills Are Soft Skills Dependent

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

~ Daniel Goleman 


K-12 education programs should focus much more instructional time on helping students acquire and practice soft skills, if they expect them to master and apply hard skills in appropriate and effective ways.

The Common Core ELA standards demand that students provide evidence to support their claims yet the authors of the Standards seem to disregard decades of research and data regarding the importance of emotional intelligence.

In fact, David Coleman, the chief architect and lead author of the Common Core has made it very clear where he stands on this issue;

As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a sh#@ about what you feel or what you think.

The authors of the Common Core continue to maintain that the Standards, which emphasize a narrow set of testable hard skills, will properly prepare our students for the social and emotional challenges of college and careers, despite countless surveys and interviews regarding the critical importance of soft skills…

Do people underperform at your company because they lack these soft skills or do they disappoint because their technical skills aren’t up to snuff?

‘Soft skills are almost always to blame — that’s why we need to get better at measuring them.’

Do your best managers have the strongest technical skills in the company? Or do they excel on the soft side?

‘Soft skills set our best managers apart.’

Is it possible you have excluded some candidates with extraordinary soft skills because they didn’t meet your company’s benchmark for technical brilliance? These are the people who would have become your best managers.

My client refused to answer this question, but the look in his eye was a definite “Oops!…

Lou Adler, “Soft Skills Are Hard to Assess. And Even Harder to Succeed Without.” 3/8/14

In a new study in partnership with American Express (AXP), we found that over 60 percent of managers agree that soft skills are the most important when evaluating an employee’s performance, followed by 32 percent citing hard skills and only 7 percent social media skills. When breaking down which soft skills were most important, managers chose the ability to prioritize work, having a positive attitude, and teamwork skills as their top three requirements for management roles…

Soft skills can’t easily be learned, they need to be developed over time. The big challenge for millennial workers is that they have weaker soft skills than older generations, who expect face-time and teamwork from them. Millennials have spent too much time with their collective noses buried in their iPhones and Facebook pages…

Dan Schwabel, “The Soft Skills Managers Want” 9/4/13

One of my first conversations was with Clay Parker, president of the Chemical Management Division of BOC Edwards—a company that, among other things, makes machines and supplies chemicals for the manufacture of microelectronics devices. He’s an engineer by training and the head of a technical business, so when I asked him about the skills he looks for when he hires young people, I was taken aback by his answer.

“First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions,” Parker responded. “We can teach them the technical stuff, but we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think.”

“What other skills are you looking for?” I asked, expecting that he’d jump quickly to content expertise.

“I want people who can engage in good discussion—who can look me in the eye and have a give and take. All of our work is done in teams. You have to know how to work well with others. But you also have to know how to engage customers—to find out what their needs are. If you can’t engage others, then you won’t learn what you need to know…

Tony Wagner, “Rigor Redefined” ASCD Educational Leadership October, 2008

A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list…

Martha C. White, “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired “ 11/10/13

Common Core emphasis on a narrow and shallow set of measurable and testable hard skills rather than cultivating transferable and work-based soft skills means our students will be as well prepared for the real “tests” of college and careers as a contractor with a “fully loaded” tool belt who lacks the confidence, courage, and experience to climb a ladder.



Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood


“I couldn’t read. I just scraped by. My solution back then was to read classic comic books because I could figure them out from the context of the pictures. Now I listen to books on tape…Many times I can see a solution to something differently and quicker than other people. I see the end zone and say ‘This is where I want to go.’…Passion is the great slayer of adversity. Focus on strengths and what you enjoy.”

~ Charles Schwab

“You don’t have to be the fastest runner in the relay team or the best speaker on the debate panel, as long as you surround yourself with great people and contribute in your own way.

It’s no secret that I wasn’t the most academic student. Dyslexia held me back from focusing on school work and achieving good grades. However, I learned that if I flanked myself with people that complemented my weaknesses and shared my passions, I could work with them towards greater achievement…

Finding the spotlight isn’t about standing in it. There’s so much to be gained from working with a collective of people who support each other to achieve great things…

It’s therefore incredibly important to surround yourself with people who complement you, aid your self-development, and most importantly allow you to shine – even if it’s in their shadow.”

~ Richard Branson


As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has–or ever will have–something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.

~ Fred Rogers

Learning should be passion-driven and student-centered rather than data-driven and test-centered. Classroom activities should provide numerous opportunities for our students to explore their interests and unleash their special talents.

Learning activities in and out of the classroom should cultivate essential social and emotional skills that students will most surely rely and depend on whether they choose to continue their education in a classroom and/or on the farm…

Considering the diversity of student skills and abilities represented in our classrooms It is foolish and inherently unfair to define and predict student success in life based on a narrow and shallow set of testable math and reading skills.

How proficient 5th grade students become at multiplying or dividing by a power of ten is much less an indicator or predictor of success in life than how many learning opportunities and activities they have in school that help to cultivate student confidence, courage, creativity, and the JOY of feeling “Ten Feet Tall”

I’m clumsy, yeah my head’s a mess Cause you got me growing taller everday…

But you got me feeling like I’m stepping on buildings, cars and boats I swear I could touch the sky…I’m ten feet tall.

You build me up Make me what I never was…

I’ll be careful, so don’t be afraid You’re safe here, no, these arms won’t let you break…

~ Afrojack, “Ten Feet Tall”

Regardless of skill level or ability, all students should feel safe, supported, and valued in school for who they are, and not just for what they can do .

Learning should be a self-directed journey of discovery and students should be “free to learn” how worthy they are, rather than be subjected to repeated testing, sorting, and comparisons only to learn how much they are worth.

data wall

Education programs should cultivate lifelong learners who are passionate and creative risk-takers that follow their dreams rather than proficient and compliant test-takers who can follow directions.

Those students who are resilient and who persevere will succeed in life despite learning or reading disabilities. It is foolish to demand all students independently “dive into” complex informational text before they have learned to “Swim”

You gotta swim And swim when it hurts…

I swim to brighter days Despite the absence of sun…

I’m not giving in I swim…

Yeah you gotta swim Don’t let yourself sink

Just find the horizon I promise you it’s not as far as you think

~ Jack’s Mannequin, “Swim”

While determining the success of schools and effectiveness of teachers based on how many students graduate Common Core “ready” for college and careers may benefit corporate education reformers, history has clearly taught us that society will benefit when every student graduates eager to test their limits and ready to change the world.

Students Learn by Doing, Not Testing


Eliminating weeks of meaningful instructional time (projects, research, learning activities, performances, field trips…) so that tests can be administered to measure student growth and achievement is like an overweight person cancelling membership at the gym for a month in order to get weight and blood pressure checked at the doctor’s office each day.

This approach makes CENTS to edupreneurs and data miners because they view education through data-driven and test-centric glasses. From a learning and student-centered perspective, this approach is academically, socially, and emotionally bankrupt.

The Common Core regime of annual high stakes testing will not improve student proficiency but it will certainly increase the profits of those selling CCSS workbooks, test prep materials, and software solutions.

Standardized tests should be administered on a grade-span basis to more accurately identify and measure trends in student learning over a multi-year time period as student cognitive growth may be delayed one year but sprint ahead the next.

The relationship between standardized testing and the Common Core is toxic, and has poisoned the implementation and assessment well. Relying on this annual erroneous test data can actually delay and inhibit learning as students are mislabeled as “falling behind” and then subjected to more sit and learn time at the expense of recess and more vigorous learning experiences that would actually stimulate their fluid intelligence…

“Fluid intelligence is directly linked to creativity and innovation. The book smarts of crystallized intelligence can only take a person so far in the real world. Depriving children of recess and forcing them to sit still in a chair cramming for a standardized test literally causes their cerebellum to shrink and lowers fluid intelligence…”

~ Christopher Bergland, “Too Much Crystallized Thinking Lowers Fluid Intelligence”12/26/13

Preparing our students for the academic, social, and emotional challenges of college and careers is about cultivating self-efficacy and healthy risk-taking rather than self-doubt and more proficient test-taking. Students learn from taking risks and testing things, not taking tests.


Thirst for Student Data Impacts Development of Fluid Intelligence



“A wide range of new studies are finding that motor skills, hand-eye coordination, aerobic conditioning and daily physicality are important for maintaining working memory and fluid intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge. Fluid intelligence involves the ability to identify patterns and relationships that underpin novel problems and to extrapolate these findings using logic.

On the other hand, crystallized intelligence is the ability to utilize information, skills, knowledge, and experience in a way that could be measured on a standardized test. Crystallized intelligence represents your lifetime of cerebral knowledge, as reflected through your vocabulary, general explicit knowledge and Trivial Pursuit types of declarative memory of people, places, things…

Many experts believe that one of the backlashes of overemphasizing standardized testing as part of ‘no child left behind’ is that young Americans are gaining crystallized intelligence at the expense of their fluid intelligence…

People of all ages need to keep their working memory strong in order to maintain fluid intelligence. In a sedentary digital age full of standardized testing, crystallized intelligence is monopolizing our brains and causing some regions to shrink and become disconnected.

It causes me great concern for myself and my daughter’s generation that people—especially children—are totally out of balance between crystallized and fluid intelligence…”

~ Christopher Bergland, “Too Much Crystallized Thinking Lowers Fluid Intelligence” 12/26/13