We’re All Guilty When it Comes to Judging Other Parents

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When I said that I was running a conference and getting ready to go on stage and couldn’t get to the school before school let out for the day, the assistant high school principal told me that maybe it was time I made my son my priority.

She has no idea.

She has no idea about the changes I made in my life to be more available for my youngest, who is twice exceptional and has had a very difficult time navigating the innane structure we call public school. She has no idea how difficult it was for me to make the decision to go to work after being a stay-at-home mom for well over a decade. She has no idea the number of hours I volunteered when my older kids were in school, or how many of those hours were spent volunteering my own time answering phones in the very office where she now sits every day. She has no idea of my own heartbreak when I would arrive home from my part-time job at 3 AM on a Sunday morning to find my youngest asleep, curled up in a ball on cold tile near the garage door, where he would wait for me until he fell asleep. She doesn’t know that it was his inability to cope with my job that motivated me to launch my own company where I could be the boss and decide my hours. She has no idea how hard it was to have to fly out of state that first time I left him at home with his dad and his older brother — or the growth in confidence I saw in my son because of my travel. She has no clue about the number of times I have walked out of meetings in New York City, San Francisco, and everywhere in between to help him talk out his frustration and walk through his options to make a better choice in a difficult situation. She has no idea — none at all — about my life, my commitment to my family, or my own personal struggles in making all of the different demands on my time and my life work on a daily basis.

She has absolutely no idea.

But, all the same, she made my life — and my son’s life — incredibly hard that day, if for no other reason than to teach me a lesson because I wasn’t the mom she decided I should be.

Let’s don’t do that to each other.

Life is hard enough, and we’re all just trying to figure it out. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve worked part-time from home. And I’ve worked as an entrepreneur where I basically work ALL the hours in a day when I am not taking care of my family.

None of these roles is easy or perfect. And none of us gets to decide what works for someone else.

So the next time you start to tsk-tsk and judge some other mother or father, remind yourself: YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

In fact, all you have is a wrong attitude.

And that, at least in my book, means you have even more to work on than whomever you are judging.

That woman who judged me? She works as an administrator at a school. That is a full time position with many evening hours required. I can bet that I am often at home more hours in a day with my son that she is with her kids (if she has any). But she judged me in that moment, because I am a CEO who travels to other cities and who runs conferences and has obligations that sometimes mean I simply cannot drop everything to drive to school to sign a piece of paper that says that I understand my kid had his phone out in a class when he wasn’t supposed to. I sent an email — while standing backstage. I spoke to someone by phone (while my cofounder took the stage in my place). But when I couldn’t make it to school by 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, she made a decision to refuse to release the phone at the end of the day to my son. She made that decision after I begged her not to — not because I didn’t want my son held accountable but because it created a risk for my family. She was well aware of the consequences of what she was doing — leaving my son without a phone to call 911 in an emergency. She chose to send a kid home without his cell phone, knowing he had no home phone. I think the most astounding comments from her and her colleagues were that I was the one who decided to get rid of our house phone (really — what about every kid out there without a house or a phone?) and the suggestion that I could just go buy a burner phone (um, maybe the part about me not being able to leave didn’t quite sink in — and, besides — really? Do you know more than a handful of parents in your school that have money to blow when an administrator makes an arbitrary decision to keep personal property overnight which also serves as a child’s sole access to a phone line? How did administrators become so elitist that this is a valid response in their mind?).

So I’m left to wonder who cared less about the kid in question. The one begging the administrator to find another way to punish a kid other than leave him without a way to call 911 or the one who decided his phone could stay locked up overnight after being made aware of the consequences of her decision.

Well, that’s a lie. I don’t wonder. I know. And I believe that any school district that doesn’t think about the consequences of withholding phones overnight when many children no longer have home phones — and many don’t even have homes — and that if school boards and administrators are not considering the liability of lawsuits generated from such a policy, they should be. It will happen, and it won’t be pretty. And for the family that suffers the tragedy that results from that policy? They will never recover the loss that some school personnel decided was a negligible risk and worth the possible lawsuit.

I’ve been guilty of judging other parents myself, so I’m including myself in this admonition: Let’s do better. Let’s support each other. Let’s make life a little better, a littler easier, a little less lonely for the rest of the parents who are trying to do their best, the same as you or me.

Put yourself in the shoes of the parent you are judging. Could you live with their stress, with their obligations and responsibilities? Probably. Most of us rise to whatever we have to face. But why do we feel ok about ourselves, even self-righteous, about tearing someone else down whose parenting and lifestyle looks different than our own?

It’s a tough gig, this parenting thing. So is teaching. Maybe instead of assuming we’re at odds, we ought to find ways to support each other and make it work better for everyone.

That’s the world I want to live in, no matter how many hours a day it takes to make that happen.

Before You Insult That Quirky Kid in Your Class …

That odd-ball kid, the one who lives in their own dreamworld, dresses like a Hobby Lobby explosion, and just makes you a bit uncomfortable with their odd quirks or bizarre comments that seem to have nothing to do with what you are teaching? The one who you think disrupts your class on purpose just for the attention? The one who even the other kids in class treat like a pariah? Before you decide you’re helping the kid out with a dose of honest truth or harsh reality so they can get their act together before it’s too late, watch this. You may just be a bully with a teaching certificate.

The Power of What If

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I have a challenge for you. Go dig around in your kid’s school backpack (you might want to wear gloves for your own protection if your child forgets half-eaten sandwiches like mine does). Pull out a few tests and assignments, and see how many questions are similar to the following:

  • List three ways that …
  • Name four of the …
  • Define the following …
  • Calculate the …
  • Determine the …
  • Circle the answer which best …
  • Which of the following do not …
  • Write in the answer that …

Questions which evaluate memorization still make up the bulk of answers our children answer on a daily basis,  despite most of these same students owning a device which can search for just about anything and return information in a matter of seconds. For some reason, we still believe it necessary to determine if a student can recall the exact date in which the Louisiana Purchase was signed, although the chances of needing that specific tidbit of information to escape some precarious situation are quite low.

What if …

Please know I am not devaluing foundational knowledge or the need to teach our children rudimentary functions of grammar, math, science, or other academic studies. But what I am saying is that we are completely missing the boat when it comes to encouraging students to take risks, make mistakes, or explore the unknown where they can discover, invent or create.

A lot has been written about concerns over the decreasing number of young entrepreneurs, but what did we expect would result from spending twelve of a child’s most formative teaching them how to conform in their thinking? As we continue to pile on more testing mandates, no matter how well-intentioned, the result will continue to be an environment that greatly discourages exploration of ideas beyond the page – a foundational characteristic of entrepreneurship.

Asking a question that begins with What if helps us discover for ourselves what is and isn’t possible or what happens when we try something new. For myself, some of the most impactful experiences of my childhood began with some version of asking What if. I am grateful to have grown up in an era when children were allowed the opportunity to make mistakes, because we discovered that mistakes were just part of the learning process and nothing to be afraid of.

When I was about eight years old, my family lived in a neighborhood that bordered an empty field. My brother and I spent hours at a time exploring that field – chasing lizards, catching horned toads, digging in the dirt. We often asked what if and then spent days experimenting, building, and testing our answers. On this particular day, my brother and I had asked each other what might happen if we used balanced our toy magnifying glass over the head of our sister’s Barbie. In our defense, we didn’t do this to be mean; we’d simply run out of our Barbie supply, having already gone through all of mine on previous experiments. Besides, we didn’t use any of her special dolls; we found the one with the ratty hair and the teeth marks all over, thanks to a previous encounter with our dog. We buried the doll about waist deep in the sand and began our quest to discover the answer to our what if question. We were not disappointed. We learned that the sun, when filtered through a seemingly harmless toy magnifying glass, could melt plastic. While my brother and I were ecstatic with our discovery, alas, our sister was not, even after we pointed out our obvious consideration in choosing her chewed up doll.  I’m not sure she ever quite saw it our way – that she got a new doll out of it – but for me, it was well worth losing my allowance for several weeks to replace her doll.

Sure, text books had the same information, and we could have spent that summer afternoon reading about it. But I certainly wouldn’t remember it this many years later had I learned it in a book. I can still recall quite vividly that moment when the soft plastic of my sister’s doll started to sizzle and melt right before my eyes. My excitement at what I was witnessing was only slightly diminished by the realization we were going to be in trouble for destroying our sister’s toy in the process. There is something quite empowering about using actions to explore the wonder of our own mind that can never be replicated by knowledge gleaned from a text-book.

It is probably safe to say that almost everything new that exists today was a result of that single question. What if we can build a machine to fly? What if there is a cure for measles? What if … None of the innovations we enjoy today could have happened without individuals who were willing to go beyond the available knowledge to explore the What If inside of their own mind. If we want to foster a nation of entrepreneurs and inventors, then we need to encourage more What If questions – although I might recommend keeping those little plastic magnifying glasses out of reach. They’re a lot more powerful than the average eight year old might think.

How the Smart Phone has Equalized Access to Information

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The smart phone is the great equalizer of knowledge access. Never before has so much information been accessible to so many for so little cost. The global spread of smart phone tech has resulted in a device which entered the market as an expensive device available only to the wealthy metamorphosing in less than a decade into a personal tool whose market penetration spans across all socioeconomic demographics.

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Growth of Available Information

When knowledge was only accessible through printed materials, the cost of publication and distribution along with the need to continually print updated information created a barrier to access of knowledge for those individuals, communities and countries who could not afford entry into that world of knowledge. And while the internet introduced the possibilities of accessing information from each other, such as Wikipedia, and from our government agencies through websites and sunshine portals, the true catalyst for the explosion of open data was the proliferation of the smart phone and the understanding that for the first time that data could be consumed in mobile format to solve problems for cities and empower citizens. Within a year of its introduction, countries across the globe began signing up as supporters of open data and delivering data feeds out to the public, spawning a new culture of organizations of entrepreneurs working to develop innovative technologies solving problems facing people and cities.

Citizen-Generated Information

Beyond access to knowledge, the changes in culture, commerce and communication are ever growing because of the smart phone. Citizens living within the confines of repressive regimes continue to access information and news despite efforts to have that access banned or suppressed, often risking arrest or even execution. Think of that as a barrier, and yet it is still a price many have been willing to risk paying because the desire to gain access to true information is that high. Smart phones have resulted in citizens documenting revolutions, atrocities, and misconduct and then sharing their footage with the world through social media platforms like Twitter and news sharing sites like reddit. The world is watching in ways that were never possible before, and it has led to a higher level of accountability from those in power.

Growth of E-Commerce

Smart phones have also served as a portal to e-commerce according to a report by ATKearny, thanks to internet and mobile commerce engines within facilitating virtual showrooms and stores as well as international transactions. When smart phone technology can deliver this kind of access to individuals all across the world, that is a great equalizer of personal empowerment and freedoms.

Connectivity is New Barrier to Access of Information

As the costs of smart phones are reduced, they continue to break down barriers within lower socio-economic communities. With the reduction in cost to manufacture hardware smart phone tech, the new barrier to access of knowledge becomes connectivity. While many other countries throughout the world have made cellular service inexpensive, this has not been the case in the U.S. The industry is still controlled by a handful of major players who have kept a stranglehold not only the pricing of service but access to it at all, although some see a new initiative by Google as a possible disruptor to the status quo. The US lost out on an incredible opportunity to equalize access to connectivity when the television industry shifted to digital delivery. The ‘old’ television waves were auctioned off to the highest bidder, creating an exciting cash infusion for the F.C.C., but none of the winning bidders have expressed any intentions of opening those up for the delivery of affordable connectivity which could deliver access to remote, rural regions of the country. The immediate monetary gain of those expensive bids killed the chance of delivering equal access to remote communities and families without means to pay for internet or mobile access. While some forward-thinking cities are providing free wifi access within specific locations within their communities, such as libraries, civic squares, and, in NYC, old telephone booths, it is still far to few and too limited in scope to be considered anything close to an equalizer.

Demand for New Education Models

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For many educators, parents and students, the immediate access of information has resulted in our current education system becoming irrelevant and outdated, especially in later grades once the foundational skills such as reading are mastered. As the global community becomes empowered to independently access knowledge and training, it begs the question of how long it will take us to demand a shift away from the current waste of tax dollars spent testing, retesting and testing some more to assess a student’s ability to memorize and regurgitate information which is already stored in the smart phone in their backpack. If those same tax dollars were spent on teaching how to find information, vet it, and synthesize it – we could foster a generation of creative, inventive students who could take that information and further innovate their own future. If our schools fostered creativity, curiosity and analytical thinking, we’d also likely see the side-benefit of less children needing medication to sit still and lowered dropout rates.

The smart phone has been the conduit for equalizing access to information. But it is only the beginning. By supporting the continued growth and spread of mobile technology throughout the globe, we continue to empower and lift up more individuals. The imperative is on us to educate our children in ways that empower them to continue the momentum of innovation into the future.

 

I hate it when I’m wrong


I hate it when I’m wrong, but I especially hate when that means my husband is right.

If you’ve been married longer than ten minutes, I’m sure you can appreciate that sentiment. After twenty years of marriage, we’ve stopped keeping a tally mark, but that’s because we needed to clean out the garage, and all our old tally sheets were just taking up room. (Actually, it’s because I don’t want to even look at the real possibility that I might not be winning.)
This is how it usually goes in our house: I think I’m right. I know I’m right. I try to win a debate with my husband. I get mad. We quit debating. I pretend I’m still right.
This played out like an old dance during the first week the kids were back in school.
My third grader came home with massive amounts of work to do each night. Whatever he didn’t finish in class was sent home right alongside his regularly scheduled homework. And each night the poor little guy would start work right after snack and sit in the same spot in the kitchen until suppertime. After supper he would continue to work until it was time for bed.
The mommy in me was at a breaking point. He needed rescued, and who better to rescue than the same person to kissed his scraped knees and tucked him into bed every night?
I informed my husband of my plan. I was careful to use words like, “I’m going to” and “I plan to”. Not once did I slip in a phrase that sounded anywhere near, “what do you think” or “do you agree”. So, I’m not sure where things fell off course, but somewhere between the sentence, “I’m going to have a talk with his teacher” and “This has to stop; it’s ridiculous” my husband stopped me dead in my tracks with one comment.
“Leave it alone,” he said.
I had a lot of not-so-nice thoughts but managed to keep most of them from escaping my wagging tongue. He was mean. Cruel. How could he not care about his own kid? How could he be so dense as to think this was fair, reasonable for a poor 8-year-old kid to suffer through no playing, no fun every night – how could he be that unfeeling?

“Leave it alone?” I asked.

“Let him figure it out,” he said. “Remember all that research you did about dyslexia and about all those people with it? Do you really think that Charles Schwab, Patrick Dempsey or Steven Spielberg are so successful because of dyslexia? Or do you think it’s because there weren’t such things as accommodations and special plans when they went to school?”

“Well,” I said. It wasn’t much of an argument.

“Leave it alone and see if he can figure out that if he doesn’t work harder at school he doesn’t have fun at home. Let him solve this on his own. Don’t take that away from him.”

I still didn’t agree with him, but I knew this was going in his side of the tally sheet. Fine, we’ll do it his way and prove he’s wrong.

Over the next few weeks, the unfinished work that came home dwindled to almost nothing. And yesterday, there was a check next to everything on his schedule. Not one solitary piece of unfinished work in the back pack.

My husband won this argument. And this one I am more than happy to leave on his side of the tally sheet. Sometimes the best thing of all is to lose an argument.