17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

CRIB NOTES: Coloring Outside the Lines by Roger Schank

This book was about:

Raising smarter kids. Schank is a "learning expert" who argues that our school system fails to instill true learning (especially a love of learning) in our children. He offers parents advice on how to teach their children traits he feels lead to a successful life. He says schools do not teach these traits, and often discourage their development. His "Six Traits to a Smarter Kid" include: verbal ability, creativity, ability to analyze, gumption, ambition and inquisitiveness.

I like these things about the book:

*I like how he stresses that a parent is a child's best teacher. This part of the book really made me feel good about my choice of being a SAHM, and that I can really make a difference in my child's development if I put forth the effort.

* I like that he encourages parents to help their children find their true passions from a young age, even if these "passions" may be a little unusual or looked down upon. He gives the example of the kid who is in love with video games who grows up to be a standout computer engineer. His own son was fascinated by subways and transportation, which eventually led to a career in urban planning.

I buy into this approach, although it goes against my own choices and upbringing. I was very "well rounded." I played the piano (pretty well), I played a variety of sports (pretty well), I was equally "above average" in my English and my math classes. In fact there is little that I don't know how to do....but not very much that I am REALLY gifted at. After my well-rounded college experience, I struggled with what to do next....and in many ways I am still trying to figure out what I should do with the rest of my life.

My DH specialized. He has worked on a school newspaper since middle school. That was his focus through high school and college, and his academics always came secondary. And it has paid off well for him in that he enjoys a career where his talents and passions come together.

*I like his advice and suggestions which are simple and specific. For example, to help your child become analytical, he says to put them in complicated (yet age- appropriate)situations and ask them to reason their way out. Schank gave the example of letting his older son loose on the Paris Metro and telling him how to figure out how to get around the city. For a younger child, you might ask them to draw pictures that show how and why dinosaurs became extinct. The idea is to drive kids to ask questions, make assumptions and test theories.

I don't like these things about the book:

*Although I agree with most of his criticisms about schools, I still think the very best teachers do instill creativity, inquisitiveness, etc. in their students. I don't think all teachers expect their students to conform, and they do encourage questions and exploration of ideas. However, some degree of conformity and structure is inheritely necessary in a classroom or else chaos would ensue.

*One of his suggestions to raising a verbal child is to never hire a caregiver if his/her English is poor. I found this borderline racist/classist. I agree that strong verbal skills are important in life, but I don't think a caregiver with an accent is going to set back a child in life.

*He uses his own children as examples through the book. His antecdotes get a little hard to swallow because he is always the "all-knowing parent" and his children (at least in the book) never misstep or fail (unless he deliberately wants them to experience expectation failure).

Recommend or not?

I do recommend this book. Especially if you are looking to fill the "gaps" in your child's formal education. And especially if you fear your child is getting bored in school or losing his/her love of learning. It is a fast read and Schank keeps it interesting.

I am shifting my mindset about what constitutes a successful learning experience for my kids. It no longer involves keeping their schedules packed full of as many activities as the day will allow, but rather giving them "kid time" to think, explore, play. It no longer relies almost entirely on their teacher and the school system for learning, but rather on myself and my husband to provide real-life learning experiences. And I think I will be ok if I never get to put on a "My child is a honor student at...." bumper sticker on the old minivan.....as long as they are learning and loving it.

I would love to hear other opinions about this book....or its ideas.....preferrably before I drink the entire pitcher of koolaid and join this "anti-honor roll" cult.

What are Crib Notes?


  • Educating my child is something that I think about fairly often, despite the fact that he's only four months old. I like what you said about learning being a merger between traditional schooling and parental instruction. It seems to be about striking a balance, although I have no idea what that balance should be. I guess I have a better idea of what I think it shouldn't be -- too many lessons, no free creative time or, conversely, too much free time. I guess I'll learn as I go.
    posted by Blogger Natalie at 3/27/2007 07:53:00 PM  

  • Does he have suggestions for all age groups or mostly school aged children?
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 3/27/2007 09:33:00 PM  

  • Melissa, It is mostly geared towards school-aged kids, although he does give suggestions about how to start developing these traits in preschool kids and younger. I am thinking I am going to have to reread the book in a couple of years when my kids are older.
    posted by Blogger Jen at 3/28/2007 10:52:00 AM  

  • I love getting a good book report! Thanks Jen. Time (ok, and ambition) for reading is scarce for me so it's nice to either get quick pointers from the book or realize, hey, that might be worth my time and energy! It sounds like a great read, besides the "we're perfect parents" part. :)
    posted by Blogger Katie at 3/28/2007 02:04:00 PM  

  • This book sounds really interesting. I'll have to pick it up after i finish the 3 books I have been reading for the last year. I miss my subway reading time.

    I think don't think I like that he makes such a blanket statement about public schools. I am interested to know if, in his book, he seems to lean towards other types of schooling (home, private, waldorf, etc) or if he simply advocates parent involvement in their child's educational experiences.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 3/28/2007 10:25:00 PM  

  • "not very much that I am REALLY gifted at".....
    Bwa ha ha ha ha - that's funny. No really.....

    I still love "Mitten Strings for God"... the best of all "fill-in-the-gaps-as-a-parent" books.
    posted by Blogger Em at 3/28/2007 10:49:00 PM  

  • Jen, I always love your posts.
    Your comments about your DH have helped my guilt go down about sending my DD to a specialized school, so thank you for that.

    As for the nanny, if I had been able to have a nanny, the most important thing to me would be their moral values. I would want the nanny instilling what is important to me, into my kids.

    However, I would also be WAY into a nanny that spoke another language, and if the nanny was with my child from birth, I would be interested in the nanny ONLY speaking that language to my child.

    I may have to pick it up...after I finish Harry Potter 2, Blink, the alchemist, eragon, fountainhead, the secret, ahab's wife, the namesake, the great santini, the rest of the harry potter books......all on my list
    posted by Blogger Kage at 3/29/2007 09:34:00 AM  

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