Wednesday, May 13, 2020

K-12 Education Needs Reimagining

K-12 Education Needs Reimagining

Jonathan T. Jefferson

Humankind's illusion of dominion over the earth has been shaken back to reality by an unseen stealth attack, perpetrated by the world’s only true superpower, mother nature. Among the billions of people taking shelter at home from her COVID-19 wrath, are tens of millions of American school children. Crisis of this magnitude reveal competent leaders, bumbling idiots, and opportunists. Allow your own assessment of the facts to determine which categories you would place New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo in.

On May 5, 2020, while giving one of his daily Coronavirus updates, Governor Cuomo said, “The old model of, everybody goes and sits in a classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom, and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why, with all the technology you have?” This statement, and the question he asked, initially set off a firestorm of criticism. Randi Weingarten, United Federation of Teachers union president, tweeted, “Hey @NYGovCuomo .. what about the amazing educators .. who are “reimagining education” EVERY DAY during this #COVID19 crisis.. Why not start with the thousands of them... and @NYSUT and the #NYSRegents.. They have wonderful, creative, caring ideas ... #justathougt.” Apparently in response to concerns raised by the likes of Weingarten, Governor Cuomo established a "Reimagine Education" advisory council. Weingarten is among the 20 members on this committee.

When I initially saw the criticisms leveled against the governor, I was not surprised. After all, I asked this same question when I began my career in K-12 education nearly 27 years ago. Why are our school systems, modeled after factories during the industrial revolution, still operating in the same fashion during this pandemic as they did during the Spanish Flu? Staunch defenders of this outdated model inevitably came to its defense. In his book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”, Spencer Johnson posits that having cheese makes one happy. When you are comfortable with the way things are, why change? One reason to look for new cheese is to avoid being stuck with the old and foul. Another reason is that if you do not change, you can become extinct.

The governor's committee is chaired by a college president, and he is joined by school district superintendents, a teachers union president, and an assortment of other experts and advisors. Noticeably missing are school-age children, and more young adults who have recently graduated from the K-12 system. Young people can speak about the challenges they are now facing in their current line of work or area of study. One youthful voice is not enough, as their life experiences vary greatly. I hope the governor's advisory council does not defend what is, but joins in the conversation to consider what could be.

School buildings are definitely needed, but they should be a part of a blended model that includes an equal amount of time learning outside of buildings. The era of stay-at-home moms is long past. Parents who do work from home do not necessarily want their children underfoot. Children still need to attend schools to engage in group activities that prepare them for a group working environment, musicians need to get together to learn how to harmonize in bands and orchestras, many vocational trades require hands on experiences, and sports teams need places to practice and compete.

Technology allows for automation. The taking of attendance and grading of most exams can be done instantly. Students, parents, and teachers can review progress reports continually, and the need for in-person parent and teacher conferences can be eliminated. Virtual conferences could be scheduled as needed. Also, Imagine dialing in for PTA meetings, imagine never needing to make up for a snow day, imagine cyberspace inclusion and exploration. There are countless possibilities.

I am only scratching the surface here regarding what technology is capable of. Asynchronous and synchronous lessons, video and audio productions, international collaborations, self-paced learning, etc. Instead of spending millions of dollars on new classroom buildings, consider splitting the day to allow secondary students to attend either in the morning or afternoon. Days, weeks, and semesters could also be alternated. COVID-19 may inspire a mountain of positive innovations. I hope children, not crafty seasoned educators, take the lead in determining what the future of education will look like.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Quote from "Teddy" by J.D. Salinger

Excerpt from the short story Teddy by J.D. Salinger

“What would you do if you could change the educational system?” ….

“Well...I’m not too sure what I’d do,” Teddy said. “I know I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t start with the things schools usually start with.” He folded his arms, and reflected briefly. “I think I’d first just assemble all the children together and show them how to meditate. I’d try to show them how to find out who they are, not just what their names are and things like that...I guess, even before that, I’d get them to empty out everything their parents and everybody ever told them. I mean even if their parents just told them an elephant’s big, I’d make them empty that out. An elephant’s only big when it’s next to something else-a dog or a lady, for example.” Teddy thought another moment. “I wouldn’t even tell them an elephant has a trunk. I might show them an elephant, if I had one handy, but I’d let them just walk up to the elephant not knowing anything more about it than the elephant knew about them. The same thing with grass, and other things. I wouldn’t even tell them grass is green. Colors are only names. I mean if you tell them the grass is green, it makes them start expecting the grass to look a certain way-your way-instead of some other way that may be just as good, and maybe much better...I don’t know. I’d just make them vomit up every bit of the apple their parents and everybody made them take a bite out of.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Trauma-Informed Culture

Trauma-Informed Culture
Jonathan T. Jefferson

            Trauma-informed cultures are cognizant of the fact that their clients have been traumatized and will present with a host of issues that they seek to relieve without further negative impacts.  It is important to ascertain the scope of an individual’s adverse childhood experiences prior to attempting to treat them.  Areas of concern are broad and include historical trauma, toxic stress, resilience, executive functioning, and compassion fatigue (experienced by employees).
            The Black Lives Matter awareness efforts can be attributed to historical trauma.  This form of trauma spans generations and pertains to certain cultural, racial, and ethnic populations.  African Americans experienced centuries of slavery, Jim Crow era segregation, and current high rates of incarceration.  Native Americans (Trail of Tears), Jews (Holocaust), Japanese Americans (internment), and many other groups may present with symptoms of historical trauma.  “...historical trauma often involves the additional challenge of a damaged cultural identity.” (Sotero, 2006). 
            A trauma-informed culture would cultivate positive relationships, be non-judgmental, and demonstrate understanding of the negative impacts trauma has had on marginalized groups of people within society.  Focusing on a group’s fortitude and resilience can be an avenue toward healing.  Making supportive connections with key members within local minority communities (e.g. church leaders & elected officials) would be essential to addressing historical trauma.
Toxic stress is lengthy in time, intense, or persistently recurrent, and detrimental to overall wellness.  “Toxic stress can increase health risks including heart disease, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders, substance misuse, and has long-lasting negative consequences for cognitive functioning, behavioral health, immune functioning, and physical health.” (Hamoudi, et. al, 2015).  This was evident in my late maternal grandmother who lived through The Great Depression.  Upon her passing, my family found stockpiles of canned foods stored in her apartment.  This was likely the result of an anxiety disorder triggered by experiencing long periods of hunger. 
Health and human services organizations that are trauma-informed can disrupt patterns of toxic stress by relieving financial burdens on families and individuals, creating safe havens, and referring clients to relevant health care providers.  Removing barriers to services (e.g. cost, location, &/or transportation), and making connections with clinical mental health sources when warranted would also be evident.  Having these supports in place is necessary to avoiding retraumatization.
“Resilience is the ability of individuals to not succumb to adverse experiences and is the typical response to adversity.” (Southwick, Bonanno, Masten, et. al, 2014).  “Resilient people have a good sense of themselves and their abilities and have the life skills to feel competent as individuals.” (Ginsburg, 2014).  “They often have strong connections to other people in their families, communities, or schools, as well as a solid understanding of right and wrong and a sense of integrity.” (Ginsburg, 2014).
When I think of resilient people, I think of World War II veterans who experienced
unimaginable human atrocities yet managed to live long fruitful lives.  Nelson Mandela also comes to mind.  After twenty-seven years in prison, he went on to become South Africa’s first black president and lived to the age of ninety-five.  A trauma-informed culture would implement programs for youth that build social connectedness, emotional mastery, self-confidence, and self-control.
            No trauma-informed culture can succeed without having programs in place to account for the executive functions and self regulation of individuals.  Executive functions refer to brain development affecting abilities such as critical thinking, problem solving, planning, decision making, and completing tasks.  This is an extensive and critical topic that can easily encompass an essay of its own.  “Children who have experienced prolonged or pronounced stress and adversity, including poverty and trauma experiences, may struggle more than other children do to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.” (Zelazo, et. al, 2016).  Strategies to improve working memory, along with meditation and yoga, to improve concentration are among the processes that have proven successful at improving executive functions.
            As important, a trauma-informed culture would be attentive to secondary traumatic stress/compassion fatigue.  Secondary traumatic stress disorder is a normal, but hazardous, result that can come from working with traumatized individuals.  The symptoms of this fatigue are many and impact the cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical domains. 
Trauma-informed cultures openly discuss the impacts that working with traumatized clients can have on employees.  Employees should be encouraged and supported to engage in personal wellness activities (nature walks, nutritional counseling, mindfulness practices, painting, photography, etc.).  An anonymous and free employee assistance program should be available, and employers must informally and regularly check in on staff.

      Ginsburg, Kevin R. (2014).  Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings (3rd edition).  American Academy of Pediatrics.
      Hamoudi, Amar, Murray, Desiree, W.,  Sorensen, L., & Fontaine, A. (2015).  Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress: A Review of Ecological, Biological, and Developmental Studies of Self-Regulation and Stress.  OPRE Report # 2015-30, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
      Sotero, MM (2006).  A Conceptual Model of Historical Trauma: Implications for Public Health, Practice and Research.  Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice (1)1:93-108.
      Southwick, SM, Bonanno, GA, Masten, AS, et. al (2014).  Resilience definitions, theory and challenges: Interdisciplinary perspectives.  European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 5:25338.
      Zelazo et. al (2016).  Executive Function: Implications for Education (

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Importance of Play

The Importance of Play
Jonathan T. Jefferson

“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything, than when we are at play.” - Charles E. Schaefer

It was the summer of 1982.  My new Evel Knievel styled red, white, and blue bicycle survived the journey from Queens to Macomb, New York.  I was as anxious as any 12-year-old would have been to get their bike down from the roof of Dad’s brown Ford station wagon.  Taking a spin on the rolling hills of the rural farming community my family called home for so many summers was all I could think about since the scent of spring first tickled my nose.

My 16-year-old cousin Derek and I constructed a ramp from the door of a crumbling wooden out-building.  We stacked stones underneath one end until the ramp’s angle was steep enough to allow my bike to jump clear over the ten-foot wide swampy area in front of our home.  I conducted a few practice runs from the road, down the dirt driveway, and onto the wooden ramp.  Gauging the speed necessary to propel myself from the ramp onto the high grass on the opposite side of the swamp, occupied my thoughts for days leading up to the main event.

Today, I still wear the scars from a practice jump that canceled the main event.  Now, as an educator, I can see clearly how the unadulterated creative play of my childhood ingrained in me a true understanding of mathematical and scientific principles that were taught in school during the years that followed.  Conceptualizing the relationships between angles, height, speed, and distance was not difficult due to my real-life experiential practices.

Recently, I viewed a Tedx Talks presentation titled The Decline of Play given by Boston College Research Professor, Dr. Peter Gray.  Dr. Gray shared the results of the dramatic decline in play in developed countries over the past 60 years.  Results such as the following in children, adolescents, and young adults: increase in anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, suicide, and narcissism.
There are times when I assume something to be true, but I lack empirical evidence to prove it.  Dr. Gray’s presentation motivated me to delve deeper into the topic of play.  Are my beliefs that I learned to navigate challenges inherent in social interactions better owing to play?  Did older children model for me how to teach by being patient and responsible educators during challenging new games?  Was the sometimes cruel banter between peers, wins, and loses all experiences that prepared me for adulthood?  My gut response to these questions is yes, but what else does the research say?

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” - Froebel

“Chronic play deprivation may have the effect of gradually dehumanizing the children it affects, with a consequent loss of their ability to care, to emphasize and exercise compassion, or share the same reality as other children.  The available evidence suggests that play deprived children become disturbed, aggressive and violent adults” (Hughes, 2003).  Maybe I can thank play for the fact that I have never been arrested, and tend toward empathy over violence.

Parents reading this may be thinking that their child is not play deprived because they receive physical education in school, belong to a sports team, or attend play dates arranged by adults.  These activities may be beneficial at helping children to remain physically fit, stave off obesity and diabetes, and possibly help control tendencies toward hyperactivity; however, it is free play that researchers are finding most apt to benefit the whole child.  “…free play refers to activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.  Thus, adult-directed sports and games for children do not fall into the category of free play” (Gray, 2011).
According to Gray (2011), “Play functions as the major means by which children
  1. develop intrinsic interests and competencies;
  2. learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules;
  3. learn to regulate their emotions;
  4. make friends and learn to get along with others as equals; and
  5. experience joy.
Through all of these effects, play promotes mental health.”  What teacher would not want to receive children with the aforementioned strengths?  How much better would children perform academically if curriculum were scheduled around the premise that play comes first?

“Genius is play, and man’s capacity for achieving genius is infinite, and many may achieve genius only through play.” - William Saroyan

Skeptics may doubt the prudence of scheduling schoolwork around play; after all, to compete in a global society the products of our schools must be intellectually strong.  When referring to a commonly accepted international barometer, the PISA survey, one nation that places a high value on play does exceptionally well.  The survey compares 15-year-olds from around the world in reading, math, and science.  It is conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) every three years.  Since 2000, Finland has consistently scored among the top countries in all three areas; joining the consistently high performing countries of South Korea and Singapore.  “Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play” (Partanen, 2011).  Finland also places a high value on equality.  Regardless of socioeconomic standing, gender, and/or citizenship status, all students receive the same quality education.
Vanderschuren (2010) concluded “that the pleasure of play has the ability to reinforce learning activities…”  I can not tell you how many times my 12-year-old mind went over the projected speed needed to jump the swamp on my bike.  It was mid-summer.  No homework had been assigned, and no adults were involved in my plans.  I did not think of it as a learning activity.  It was fun; pure, unadulterated, fun.  “Play provides opportunities for children to learn, as they discover, create, improvise and imagine.  Children’s immersion in their play illustrates how play enables them to simply enjoy being” (EYLF, p.15 quoted in Educators guide p.32).

Imagine an urban street filled with children of all ages.  A street similar to the one I grew up on in Queens, New York.  My seven siblings were spread over 19 years.  Friends in my peer group had older and/or younger brothers and sisters in the peer groups of my siblings.  Often age-mixed play would ensue whether in backyards, playgrounds, or living rooms.

One of my favorite neighborhood games was called Catch One Catch All.  The older children set the parameters; no entering the alleyway, stay out of Mrs. Dickson’s garage, and the cross streets (avenues) were off-limits.  Many of these limits were the same limits set by our parents for the youngest among us.  The object of the game was for one person to begin as “It” while the others found hiding places up and down the block; under cars, behind bushes, in trees, and on rooftops.  It would count to some specified number with their eyes closed.  Once It opened his or her eyes, It would proceed to find the first person.  The found player would then join It in searching for the others.  This pattern would continue until everyone was caught.

Younger players would inevitably get caught first, and they would strategize together to catch the older players.  Over time, the hiding strategies of the older players would be learned by the younger, and the cycle continued.  Gray (2011) concluded that

“…age-mixed play offers opportunities for learning and development not present
in play among those close in age, permitting younger children to learn more from
older playmates than they could from playing with only their peers.  …the more
sophisticated behavior of older children offers role models for younger children…
…permits older children to learn by teaching and to practice nurturance and
leadership; and they are often inspired by the imagination and creativity of their
younger playmates.”

In remembering the beauty and wonders of play, it begs the question, where did we go wrong?  Has the advent of technology taken us away from the social richness of play in a manner that television never could?  How can we turn back the clock on the narrow testing and accountability, policy driven, standards based schooling that now dominates the educational landscape?  These are more than just questions to ponder.  The mental health and well-being of generations of young people depend on our collective next steps.

“Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” - Albert Einstein

When she was U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stated the following: “We were so independent, we were given so much freedom.  But now it’s impossible to imagine giving that to a child today.  It’s one of the great losses as a society.  But I’m hopeful that we can regain the joy and experience of free play and neighborhood games that were taken for granted growing up in my generation.  That would be one of the best gifts we could give our children.”

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) (2009).
Belonging, Being, and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia.
Canberra: Australian Government.
Gray, Peter (2011).  The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and
Adolescents.  American Journal of Play, 3(4), 443-463.
Gray, Peter (2011).  The Special Value of Children’s Age-Mixed Play.  American Journal of
Play, 3(4), 500-522.
Hughes, Fergus (2003).  Sensitivity to the Social and Cultural Contexts of the Play of Young
Children, In J. Isenberg & L. Jalongo (Eds.), Major Trends and Issues in early
Childhood: Challenges, Controversies, and Insights (pp. 126-135).  New York: Teachers
College Press
Hughes, Fergus (2003).  Spontaneous Play in the 21st Century.  In B. Spodek & O. Saracho
(Eds.), Contemporary Perspectives on Play in early Childhood Education (pp. 21-39),
Greenwich, CT.: Information Age Publishing
Partanen, Anu (2011).  What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success.  The
Vanderschuren, Louk J.M.J. (2010).  How the Brain Makes Play Fun.  American Journal of
Play, 2(3), 315-337.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Education: What Fareed Zakaria Missed

Education: What Fareed Zakaria Missed

Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson

The title of this opinion piece may lead one to believe that I am going to be critical of Fareed Zakaria.  Far from it.  I am an avid watcher of his television journalism.  I appreciate his attention to detail, use of empirical data, depth of questioning, fair and balanced reporting.  However, when it comes to my area of expertise (education), there is a finite, but critical, aspect that all journalists have missed.

There has been a mountain of reporting on the status of America’s education system.  These reports have been fueled by American students’ steady decline when compared to other developed, and developing, nations.  Measures of this decline often come from results on The International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), and the more recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that has Americans ranked 28th in the world in education.

Journalists have focused on the uproar surrounding Common Core State Standards, state testing, and parents opting their children out of state testing.  Prior to the advent of the Common Core, parents and educators had begun to complain about the number of tests being implemented, reporting of test results, and increased pressures.  There once was a time when tests were appropriately used for diagnostic purposes.  Where are students succeeding and struggling, and how can educators adjust what they do to improve students’ performance?  Now, state tests are punitive.  Principals and teachers are graded on student performance with the long term risk of losing their jobs.  Educators have pushed liberal education aside to focus on the limited scope of state exams.  The pressures educators are feeling trickles down to students and ventures home to parents.

Common Core State Standards are not a bad thing.  How Common Core has been rolled out, and testing students based on standards they have yet to be taught, is a bad thing.  In his interview with Microsoft founder Bill Gates that aired on Fareed Zakaria GPS May 17, 2015, Mr. Zakaria asked Mr. Gates what he thought of the Common Core.  Mr. Gates was correct in explaining how the standards provide a unified, focused, and step by step approach to teaching math.  On that occasion, the questioning regarding education ended there.  In fairness, Mr. Zakaria discussed a variety of topics with Mr. Gates during that interview.

To his credit, Mr. Zakaria came to the defense of liberal education in his recently released book “In Defense of a Liberal Education”.  The critical component negatively impacting students that is not being publicly discussed is the increased probability that a student will be affixed with a disability label.  If state test results are going to threaten an educator’s livelihood, then labeling a hard to teach child with a disability might absolve them from taking ownership for having to effectively teach them.  Once labeled (ADHD, ADD, AD, OCD, etc.), a child’s lifelong aspirations may be thwarted.  This is the conversation I would like to bring to the national, if not global, square.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Succeeding In Organizations

Succeeding in Organizations
Jonathan T. Jefferson

“If I knew back then, what I know now
If I understood the what, when, why and how
Now it’s clear to me what I should have done…”
George Benson 20/20 lyrics

I heard it said that today’s graduates will make an average of nine job changes during their careers. I heard that said several years ago, but it is likely still true today. Yours truly is in his ninth professional job since leaving graduate school in 1993. In each of the nine organizations where I was employed, I earned stellar evaluations from my supervisors. How did I succeed, and why did I work in so many places? This essay will share some insights on how I navigated through the challenges inherent in all organizations.

The size of organizations range from one to millions, their purposes differ, and their organizational charts vary. However, there is one constant that is evident in all. People... People make the world go around, and they are the engines that keep businesses running. Have you ever made a mistake and said to yourself “I’m only human”? We all make mistakes just as we all harbor frailties. Therefore, where there are people, there exist shortcomings. Understanding that all organizations have inherent imperfections is the first step toward individual success.

The maze within organizations is beset by mine fields and potholes. There exist uplifting personalities, downtrodden souls, and every other character trait imaginable. Where do you fit in? Are you the jovial type who likes to whistle while you work, the constant complainer, or the angry-at-the-world-just-because employee? What about those around you? Like it or not, we are often judged by the company we keep, and there is the quintessential notion that “birds of a feather flock together.”

New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, absolved himself of the actions taken by two of his former advisors (Chief of Staff, & Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) regarding “Bridgegate”. Bridgegate refers to the George Washington Bridge lane closures aimed at frustrating Fort Lee, New Jersey, residents to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election. Christie tweeted, “I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act.” However, he appointed individuals who might harbor a penchant for vengeance. Those willing to win by any means necessary… Considering Mr. Christie’s very public berating (“Sit down and shut up!”) no one should be surprised by the alleged egregious behaviors of those he appointed.

To succeed you must have a moral compass. Having a moral compass includes having integrity, being kind, and being balanced (not apt to over-react). Doing what is right when no one is watching, treating people the way you want to be treated, and choosing to navigate still waters instead of rough rapids. Along with a moral compass, one must be able to look into the mirror of their character and make an honest assessment. What are your shortcomings, and how can you overcome or mediate them?

Clearly, if Christie’s advisors were self-aware, and guided by a moral compass, indictments could have been avoided. The same could be said for the 11 former Atlanta school educators convicted of racketeering for changing grades on students’ state exams. What drove them to this? Was it greed? Performance bonuses were paid based on students’ improved test scores. Was it fear? With mortgages, car notes, and student loans, the fear of losing one’s job if they did not play along (cheat) may have been real. Knowing their own frailties (greed, fear, etc.), and having a moral compass, would likely have kept those wayward teachers on the right path.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

As a Child - When an Adult

As a Child – When an Adult
Jonathan T. Jefferson

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  1 Corinthians 13:11 King James Version

The above quote is a fitting start to this self-study.  I am not a religious man, and I rarely use quotes from religious texts.  As you will read, my life experiences are at odds with the statement written above.

In this essay, I will represent myself as John and my neighborhood peers as Lance.  We are all African Americans who grew up in a predominantly black middle class neighborhood in Queens, New York.  By the time we reached adulthood, we learned that the average income of blacks in Queens was higher than that of whites.  This was due to the fact that most of our parents worked service jobs for the city, state, or federal government.

By the age of two, John’s life experiences began to diverge from Lance’s.  John’s parents bought a rustic rural farm in northern New York’s dairy country.  John and most of his seven siblings were introduced to white farming families, and John spent the bulk of his childhood summers engaging with them.  In contrast, Lance either remained in the neighborhood all summer, or spent a couple of weeks visiting family in predominantly black communities in southern states (e.g. Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, etc.).  John experienced kindness and friendship while learning about life on dairy farms, and he looked forward to his summer escapes from city life.  Meanwhile Lance more or less became more immersed with city life, and the newest trends in black music, dance, and sports.

By the age of seven, the gulf between John and Lance’s trajectory grew even further.  John’s lack of effort and penchant for truancy at the neighborhood school led his mother to “bus” him out to a predominantly white school district roughly 10 miles away.  After visiting this school, his mother believed the “foreign” environment and richness of resources would keep her son engaged and reacquaint him with his early potential.  This would prove to be true.  John’s new school was academically two years more advanced than his neighborhood school, and in the process John’s socialization lead him to embrace diversity, as he attended many bar mitzvahs and sleepovers with his new friends of varying cultures.  Some of his new friends would also sleepover his house, which afforded them a reciprocal learning experience.

Life, however, was not always peaches and cream at John’s new school, as he would find himself on the receiving end of bullying from fellow black students in the “busing” program.  In this regard, distance from home base proved somewhat detrimental.

Summers added even more diversity to John’s experiences.  Amish farmers began to move into the dairy country of his summer escapes.  The ability to enjoy life with less was the foremost lesson he took away from his observational interaction with the Amish.  Lance, on the other hand, in succumbing to the prevailing peer pressure of the local neighborhood, received accelerated lessons in materialism and found himself more consumed with the fashionable attire he could attach to his body (sneakers, jeans, hair styles, etc.) than the batch of information he could plant in his brain to help direct the course of his life.

With the brief descriptions of the different upbringings of John and Lance, let me share a glimpse of their adult lives.  John did well in school, but college did not interest him.  He wanted to travel, see the world, and explore other cultures.  He had been suffering migraines all through high school, so the Marine Corps did not accept him; he reluctantly attended a local college.  The diversity of his college peers, and the excursions he took for college credit (skiing in Quebec & hiking in the Adirondacks) quickly warmed John to the idea of college.   Lance, meanwhile, saw his options as limited to enlisting in the army.

As a child, John traveled and experienced different lifestyles; no wonder he was keen on doing the same after high school.  Many neighborhood high school students felt largely unacquainted with the notion of college, so Lance joining the army was indeed a common pattern amongst his peer group – it certainly was a better option than falling into other neighborhood traps entailing drugs, crime and violence.  One nevertheless wonders if Lance might have thought differently had he traveled the more rigorous academic road that John was subject to?

Moreover, as a child John almost intrinsically found himself fulfilling the role of de facto teacher among his peers.  He would share the realities of the black urban experience with his white school mates, while enlightening his neighborhood peers about the social mechanics of other cultural environments.  Over and above racial distinctions, John’s teaching extended to informing both city groups (black & white) about details of life on a farm and the unique values of Amish living.  After graduating from a diverse city college, John went on to attain an advanced degree at a rather vanilla New England graduate school; after which, a teaching career awaited him.  Meanwhile, once Lance completed his tour of military duty, public-sector/blue-collar service jobs beckoned him to join their ranks.

John would ultimately embark on a career teaching and coaching sports as he had learned to do as a child.  He also became a school administrator with a compulsion to immerse himself in many different types of work environments in the education sector – ranging from white districts, wealthy districts, city schools, black and Hispanic districts, and private schools.  John’s work capacities varied as well from assistant principal, director/principal, central office executive, etc.  Lance, on the other hand, remained in one job year after year.  He never relocated, and seldom sought advancement.

The experiences John and Lance had as children clearly impacted the choices they made as adults, or even conceived them.  Thus, if I may offer a functional alternative to the Apostle Paul’s scripture: We don’t so much put away childish things as we ideally apply the richness of our child experiences to our adult lives, the act of which helps to ensure maximum growth.