Tag Archives: good does not equal easy

Chess Club Versus Football

Freeman Hrabowski, an African American with a Polish heritage (explaining his last name), was arrested at age 12 for participating in the “Children’s March” in Birmingham, Alabama. He also excelled in school, started college at age 15, and became president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). I was intrigued when his story aired on 60 minutes on November 13. Under his leadership UMBC has become known for innovation, interesting students in math and science careers, and for its high standards of discipline, community and achievement.

Of his students and educational philosophy Hrabowski says, “We teach Americans of all races what it takes to be the best. At the heart of it is … hard work. I don’t care how smart you are, nothing takes the place of hard work.” Football? Not at UMBC − no football. One student explains, “You might go to another university and the football team might be top dog. Here, it’s the chess team that’s top dog. Yeah, it’s cool to be smart.”

Hrabowski speaks of a typical first day message on many campuses: a dean saying, “Look at the person to your right and the person to your left. One of you will not graduate.” Being assured that from day one turns it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, at UMBC they say, “Look at the student to your left. Look at the student to your right. Our goal is to make sure all three of you graduate and if you don’t, we fail; And, we don’t plan to fail.” He explains that he wants his students to keep dreaming about future possibilities while at the same time understanding that hard work, a positive attitude, and getting support from each other are their keys to success.” Underlying his passion for education, it’s clear, Hrabowski truly believes it’s cool to be smart.

PS The list of good books according to Jocelyn from The Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver is growing. Check it out on the Tips and Previews Page of this blog.

Second Printing: Grandmas and Little Kids Love This Book

Authoring a book about the importance of early childhood education has not only created many wonderful opportunities for me, it has given me a new career.  Copies of “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” are now available from the second printing. For those of you in the Madison area, watch for them in more and more boutiques and book stores. For those of you from further away, feel free to introduce me to individuals (grandparents, parents, early childhood education teachers, elementary school teachers, early childhood caregivers, or anyone interested in the education of young children) as well as public venues that you would suggest for distribution. Your continuing notes to me – like this one from a grandma of a one-year old – are heartwarming: “Your book is marvelous. (My son) was very touched to have a copy of your book for his Ellie.  You can be sure that I will read it to her often, as will her parents.”

Highest Duty Revisited

Now I have read “Highest Duty” by Captain Chesley Sullenberger of the January 15, 2009 Hudson River miraculous plane landing fame. His subtitle gives a clue as to why his book was of interest to me: “My Search for What Really Matters.”

As a pilot, Sullenberger knew that his responsibility to the people on board and the community below really mattered. He was able to act on this belief in a crisis because he had spent a lifetime of learning how to do it. On p. 184 (caption) he writes, “I have a clear recollection that at age five I already knew I was going to spend my life flying airplanes.” His mother and father valued learning and supported his passion to learn starting when he was very young.

What may impress me the most about Sullenberger is his grit – his determination and focus. About the process that took him from being a child with a passion in a specific field to becoming an adult who would make a clear difference by applying all he’d learned in the intervening years, he says (p.138), “I’ve derived great satisfaction from becoming good at something that’s difficult to do well.”

“Becoming good at something that’s difficult to do well:” that’s my definition of accomplishment and the foundation for building self-confidence and high self-esteem. In terms of smart young children, this means encouraging them to continually take the next steps in learning new skills and knowledge; never letting them rest on their laurels; always providing a stimulating and challenging learning environment. It’s letting them know that it’s good, but not easy, to be smart.