The Race to Nowhere

The Race to Nowhere is a film that will make you think deeply about what a good education looks like.  It will challenge your beliefs about the nature of homework, AP classes, and college preparation.  You will re-think what a “successful kid” should do in middle school, high school, and college because, in many ways, what we as a society think about that fundamental question is dead wrong.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or administrator, this is a must-see documentary because it points out some very powerful flaws in our educational system and offers some good solutions.  Unlike other recent films about American schools, it does not demand more from students, parents, and teachers; in many ways it asks for less.  It will get you thinking and talking.

There are more screenings popping up around the country, and it will eventually be a DVD to purchase.  Check it out.

If this trailer resonates with you, and you’d like a greater sense of what this movie is all about, here is what the filmmakers suggest parents do in response to their film:

Continue reading “The Race to Nowhere”

Family Matters

Imagine two American families, living on the same street, both successful in pursuing the American dream. Their Christmas cards are equally impressive. All their kids are college-bound. Their marriages are stable, and they are in the midst of meeting their career and material goals.  There are no skeletons hiding in their closets; what you see is what you get with them. But there is a difference that only their very closest friends and family might recognize.

Let’s first meet the Johnson family. Jim is an engineer, who loves to fish and go to his kids’ ball games as much as he can. He is a Boy Scout leader, a bible study leader, and a really nice guy, by all accounts.  His wife Sue works part-time as a nurse at the local children’s hospital, in addition to raising three teenagers. Jack (16) plays three competitive sports and gets mostly A’s. He plays guitar in a garage band and loves to ride his dirt bike. Sally (14) is an average student but a truly outstanding gymnast who travels a lot for competitions. When home, she likes to go to the mall or the movie theater as much as possible. Jimmy (12) is interested in everything; he has dozens of hobbies, plays select soccer, is a Boy Scout, and still manages good grades. All in all, the Johnson’s are active, productive, and very busy. They seem content with life and get along well with all kinds of people. They are good neighbors, but they aren’t home much.

Now, meet the Landry family next door. Lou is also an engineer, and Donna works part-time at the elementary school where their three teenage kids attended. The three kids are Josh (17), Bill (15), and Claire (13). They are above-average students, but do not excel in sports or the arts. Except for a few minor incidents, the kids stay out of trouble. After dinner, they like to watch movies together, so they just built a family theater and a “ping pong arena” in the basement. Whenever possible, they get away to Grandpa’s cabin on a lake, where they do a lot of fishing, waterskiing, swimming, cliff jumping, and reading (since there’s no TV at the cabin). Lately, at night, they’ve been playing some very animated games of Texas Hold-em; Mom is actually the best bluffer of the bunch. Their neighbors miss them when they are gone at the cabin because they are a fun-loving family.

So what’s the difference? It’s subtle but powerful.

 

It’s all about WITH. One family lives WITH each other, while the other does not.  The Landry’s play with each other, hang out with each other, and eat with each other. The Johnson’s, however, are not with each other much, except in the car, en route to somebody’s activity. Most people would never see the difference, but it’s a big one. One family is a team, while the other is a bunch of individuals. Yes, the Johnson’s appear to be a tight family, but they are not.  They each have their individual lives, full of their own favorite activities; they freely pursue their own happiness, free from the inconveniences of the family bond.

Continue reading “Family Matters”

Questions to Ask Kids

Kids want to be known, and not just by their parents (their #1 source of value).  They want their teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and neighbors to know their names, their interests, and their talents.  Granted, some kids seem to want to be left alone, but even the shy ones deeply desire to be known by others on some level.  It’s ingrained in all of us.  Nobody likes to called by the wrong name (sibling confusion is common).  Nobody enjoys being overlooked by the cool coach who loves to talk with the cool kids on the team.  And when it’s halfway through the year and the teacher still can’t remember your name, it hurts.

Some adults are natural-born kid-lovers.  They just know exactly how to talk to kids and make them laugh.  Somehow they get away with teasing them to no end, or the kids just flock to them because they feel safe and loved with them.  They make great youth leaders, mentors, and assistant coaches.  However, it’s not so easy for most adults to connect with kids, especially if they don’t think they have anything in common with them.

Fortunately, it’s not rocket surgery.  So, here are some easy conversation starters.  First and foremost, always call a kid by name every time you see him or her.  If you can’t remember his or her name, then find out (to avoid the same problem next time).

“Hey, Joel…

How’s it going today?  What’s up this morning / afternoon / evening?

What did you do this last weekend?  What was the best / worst part of it?

What are you doing this next weekend? Anything fun or unusual?

What are you doing for Christmas Break?  (Adapt to whatever break is upcoming)

What sport are you playing this season?  How’s that going?  What position do you play? What team?  Who is on that team that I might know?  Who’s your coach?  Where do you play?  Does your teams travel?  Is it your favorite sport?  Do you think you’ll play that in high school?

Continue reading “Questions to Ask Kids”

Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask

Here are some of the big questions kids (10-14) have, although they will rarely, if ever, vocalize them.  Understanding the questions is half the battle; having all the answers is not necessary, even if it were possible.

Who are my real friends?  Who really likes me?  In which group do I belong?

Who am I?  How am I like and different from others my age?

What will I do with my life?  Will I be important?

What sort of career and family will I have?

What will I look and act like when I am a grown up?

Am I cool?

Am I respected?

Continue reading “Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask”

Fandango: How boys make friends

fandango  |fanˈda ng gō|  noun
1. a lively Spanish dance.
2. a foolish or useless act or thing.

In May 1993, six young men on the cusp of college graduation, decided to forgo the prudent way to spend the final two days before final exams, in favor of driving south all night toward Mexico in a small Toyota pickup, in pursuit of an adventure worthy of a lifelong memory.  Inspired by the little-known movie, Fandango, they piled three in the cab, three in the bed, with nothing packed but a desire to do something truly memorable and perhaps meaningful.  It was their final act before each going their own way in life to sundry cities, careers, and spouses.  It would be a celebration of the privileges of youth. And it would be repeated many times later.  Only later it would be a celebration of something more meaningful – deep friendship amidst life’s struggles.

Ten years later, those men, returned to retrieve what was left behind: a makeshift time capsule buried a stone’s throw from Mexico, full of meaningful tokens, such as pictures, prophecies, jewelry, notes to self, and a pact of friendship that they wrote on the spot.

And ever since 2003, they reunite for another summer fandango (each year someplace new).  Fandango began as a silly 36-hour road trip, and it’s become a rich tradition for these men. I am privileged to be a part of that group that grows in friendship each year.

We have talked about writing a book about it, but we can’t seem to agree on exactly how to do it well. I believe that the adventures and the lessons need more time to percolate, and in time, it will make a good read.  In the meantime, we’ve dabbled with some small pieces of writing.  Last year, Yancey wrote a piece about our 2009 Fandango, and this year Jeff has written a bit about the 2010 Fandango on his blog. I think it deserves attention in this space, since it deals with how men form strong friendships.

Boys, 10-14 especially, need to learn how to make friends well, in order to grow up to be effective men.  So if this interests you, follow this link to Jeff’s article about how men make lifelong friendships.  Here’s a taste: “For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans, and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.”

I hope it helps you better understand how to help boys make friends, for they are a very different social animal than girls.

In short, find ways to give boys opportunities (within basic safety limits) to get together to…

  • be physical  (wrestle, tackle, flip, chase, body surf…)
  • be silly  (tell jokes, tease, perform skits, practical jokes…)
  • take risks  (compete to win, jump off the high dive, ride a roller coaster…)
  • go on an adventurous journey with a mission (road trip with dad, bike ride to grocery store, hunting with grandpa…)
  • play with stuff (build forts, make a bonfire with dad, Nerf, foam swords…)

Boys need to share these kinds of experiences with other boys in order to make friends.  It rarely happens any other way.

Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis

If you are growing old well, then you are likely to help a child grow up well.

40 is not old, but it’s certainly not young either.  It’s the start of mid-life, and it has a well-earned, dangerous reputation.  It’s when so many people have an inner crisis, even if life is sailing along smoothly on the outside.  At some point disappointment, boredom, or depression accompany the person who has a career, a family, a home, a community, and all the subsequent stress of being responsible for so much.  In addition, health problems of all kinds begin to flare up by 40, which remind us that we are decaying in far more ways than we are growing.

Many 40-somethings have established their career, have gotten married, have had a few kids, and have bought all the things they need and most of the things they want.  They have arrived at their life destination, and they wonder, “This is it?”

For others, they are still building the best  life they can, and they feel the crushing weight of pressure from what they have constructed.  There are too many things to do, too many people to care for, too many problems to solve – just too many responsibilities in every area of life.  They are caring for children, spouses, friends, employees, and even aging parents.  They get to a point where they simply cannot balance it all anymore; it’s all just too much.  In frustration they cry out, “There just isn’t enough me to go around!”

It’s a tough time of life, indeed, and for some it’s just too much, so they pull the ripcord of life.  They give up on something big, like their marriage, their kids, or their career.  Sometimes they chuck it all at once.  Or they just give up trying very hard at anything, settling into a comfortably complacent lifestyle.  They fall prey to the consumer-centered suburban lifestyle, and they go out to pasture.

So what’s a mid-lifer to do?  Well, after spending four days in Colorado with some of my favorite 40-ish guys, I’m ready to convey a few suggestions based on our conversations.  I’m sorry if any of this seems trite; I realize that all of these things are a lot easier said than done.  But hopefully, it will help in some way – for your sake, and for your kids.

  1. Focus. Identify your top four or five priorities in life and focus on them — to the detriment of all else.  Set your sights on just a few things that you are passionate about and that you have valued for a long time.  For me (at this point in my life) it’s family, faith, teaching, and writing.  If I can do those things well, then I am on the right track.  But that may mean that I am not going to keep up with all my friends very well.  It means that I am not going to be able to play golf, read a novel a month, or hone my guitar skills anytime soon.  I have to face facts: I can only do so much.  Trying to do it all is living in a fantasy world (see #4 below).  Learn to accept mediocrity in the less important areas of your life. Continue reading “Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis”

It’s a Wonderfully Difficult Life

 

It’s a Wonderful Life strikes a chord — several chords — deep in my soul, every time I watch it.  Most importantly, it makes me want to be a better man and to live my life as well as I can for my friends, family, and community. Deep down, I want to be counted in the ranks of the George Baileys of the world.  And if I can’t, then I want my son to get there upon my shoulders.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” should be required viewing for every young person growing up.  Anyone over the age of ten should see this movie with their parents, grandparents, or any adult who cares enough to explain what’s going on as the film rolls.  If you haven’t seen it in a few years, do so.  And bring a kid along for the ride.

This movie says it all about growing up well.  It does not hide the truth that life is hard, and it’s even harder for those who choose to serve others.  It teaches just about every character trait you would want to see in a young man or woman.  In no way is it an easy life — just ask George Bailey — but it’s worth it all.

Here’s a fun little trivia game for lovers of this movieClick here


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