Tuesday, May 17, 2005


We really enjoyed our daughter’s graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last weekend. It was easy to smile: she graduated with highest honors, was designated as Phi Beta Kappa, and was awarded a special prize for writing the best honors thesis in the English Department.

There was a separate ceremony for English majors, and we got to meet many of her professors. We made sure to congratulate them on their outstanding core curriculum, which is heavy in grammar, logic, classic literature and lots of other good things.

They made sure to tell us what a great scholar our daughter is, how hard she works, and to please send our other children there so that they could have the pleasure of teaching more like her.

I’m not bragging. There are many families like ours, who put a top priority on education and are probably having pleasant conversations like this with their child’s teachers right about now. I just wish every parent of a preschool child could walk a mile in the shoes of the parents of a college graduate for just a day, and get a bird’s-eye view of what works, so that the “learning thermostat” in their home could be set to optimum from the get-go.

That’s why I hope young parents and educators will pay attention to the ideas in the following book, described in this week’s educational advice column from my website,
www.DailySusan.com We all should help as many students as possible to get a leg up on learning, any way we can.


How to Make a Student ‘School Smart’

Q. Kids come to school with such incredibly diverse backgrounds. When they are from an “academic family,” they have what they need – books in the home, parents who value school highly, high expectations, clear rules about homework, and good role modeling for getting along with teachers and other students. Kids from chaotic homes and low-income homes often are at an incredible disadvantage because they lack those things. How can we as a society help level the playing field without holding back the kids who are “school smart”?

Author Jim Burke has come up with the “four C’s” for students who want to build up their “cultural capital” for educational success, and educators who want to help them:

1. Commitment: how much students care about their schoolwork, and consistently try to succeed, with the help of their parents and their school. It really helps students stay committed to academic effort if they have allies, guides and coaches, he says. They must consider school a haven where they are cared about and understood.

2. Content: it has to be a solid mixture of classic academics, and what is relevant, engaging, and practical for today’s students and tomorrow’s citizens. The content of the curriculum should not be narrowly limited to intellectual knowledge, but also contain the rich depth of moral, social, personal and practical strands of study as well.

3. Competencies: these are the skills students need, starting with reading, writing and figuring. Keys include the ability to communicate ideas, evaluate and make decisions, and generate ideas, solutions, and interpretations. Specific competencies run the gamut from organization to developing allies and mentors.

4. Capacity: beyond the basics, but starting with them, students build their capacity for learning. They need reading skill at a level that gives them confidence, dexterity, fluency, joy, memory, resiliency, speed, and stamina. Tolerance of risk and complexity are factors identified by Burke as affecting capacity.

Homework: The book is available on
www.amazon.com: “School Smarts: The Four C’s of Academic Success,” by Jim Burke (Heinemann, 2004).

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