In a recent blog post on Zen and the Art of Admissions, I made a somewhat controversial statement about the types of extra-curricular activities that students should pursue. In the pursuit of excellence, I suggested that any activity from the math team to video games might be valid. I’ll use this post to elaborate and clarify my stance on the matter.
Archive for March, 2010
Here are three recordings from Andrew Magliozzi’s lessons on Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. In addition to being a classic work and one of Andrew’s favorites, it is also a common summer reading assignment for high schoolers. It is highly recommended that you read this pithy novel before listening to the following lesson recordings.
Today Andrew and I were invited to speak with a group of educational psychologists in arguably one of the best school systems in the Greater Boston area. Our host asked us to explain our services and how they fit into their students’ larger educational picture. Speaking with them really underscored the value of tutoring and relationship based education, and I would like to share some of the highlights of the discussion here.
The psychologists we spoke to are in the trenches of public schools, addressing students at both the low-functioning and high-functioning ends of the spectrum, as well as those who have signs and diagnoses of learning difficulties. In our discussion, a point that Andrew and I have always known was strongly corroborated: the one-size-fits-all model that public schools follow causes severe educational casualties. Students can’t simply be fed content and expected to learn. Sure, our schools work. They get the job done for a lot of students. But there is a tremendous amount of unrealized potential.
The major shortfalls, they said, were successfully meeting students’ individual learning needs and the lack of relationship based education. Teachers can hardly connect with every student in the classroom and tailor the lesson to their needs. Nor can they reach out and form a meaningful relationship with every student. The result: unengaged students who place themselves in a downward spiral of apathy.
Within most school systems, there are few safeguards in place to prevent against this sort of apathy and underperformance. In the home, it’s not much better – teenage students are generally hardwired to ignore everything that their parents say. However, according to the psychologists, tutoring with an emphasis on a strong relationship can be enough to fully customize and engage a students’ education.
This, in turn, is supported by our experience at Veritas. Individualized education delivered by a caring, engaging instructor can literally change a student’s life.
I write this post from a place of authority – I was once a teenage boy. I remember quite clearly that my backpack was a perpetual disaster area. My binders, no matter how hard I tried, could never seem to stay…well…bound. I wrote homework assignments everywhere except my planner. I made poor judgments about whether to spend time chatting on instant messenger or doing my homework. The list goes on and on…
Having worked with many teenage boys, and judging by my own experience, this is sometimes an unavoidable problem. It’s not permanent – most people grow out of it. I did about three years into my time at Harvard, and really shed the bad habits when I had to start running a business. But, for some reason, it can often be absolutely unavoidable for the teenage years. Maybe it’s the wiring, or the hormones. Whatever the cause, teenage male disorganization can be academically debilitating.
What’s the solution? Yelling? Screaming? 3-Hole Punching? These all work occasionally, but the best solution I’ve found is tutoring. Having a once-a-week homework-help check-in with an experienced tutor gives students someone to lean on for help. Simple activities like weekly binder cleanups, planning in advance for homework and larger projects, and discussing and implementing simple time management techniques can work miracles. Often students have no one with whom to discuss these sorts of things: peers are equally inept, teachers only care about their class and are strapped for time, parents are too embroiled.
It is perhaps even more important that students have someone safe to whom they can be held accountable. The relationship that forms between a good tutor and student is safe from the threatening, grade-bestowing teacher, the hyper-involved parent, and the judgement of peers. It’s a haven where the student can open up, ask for academic advice, be themselves, and also learn to look up to someone for their intellect and academic excellence. In this haven, tutors can inspire and motivate teenage boys, or any student for that matter, to try just a bit harder to keep everything together.
At Veritas we have seen a number of students who benefit from organizational help. And often just a bit goes a long way. Also, we have seen a strong trend toward independence with these students as well. The tutoring serves as training wheels of sorts for students to learn how to manage their own work in a stressful, demanding environment. Tutoring, in this case, is akin to training wheels on a bike. Once a student masters their organizational and time management skills, they no longer need the tutoring and are far better prepared for success as they move forward in their academic careers.
This work by Veritas Tutors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported.