Monthly Archives: June 2012

What’s Going On? Summer Edition, Part 1

Sorry that the posts have been a bit few and far between these days, but I have been unusually busy with the actual business of parenting. My children are settling into their summer routine, which seems thus far to involve a lot of road trips with me behind the wheel. Here is a hodgepodge of items I’ve been meaning to post:

1. Terra Cotta Warriors: If you are in or near New York City, make a date to go with your sons to see the “Terra Cotta Warriors: Defenders of China’s First Emperor” exhibition at the Discovery Times Square Museum. The history of these soldiers is fascinating: before the 3rd century B.C., at age 13 Ying Zheng became the ruler of the Qin state in China. He spent the next few decades on an ambitious, ruthless and ultimately successful mission to dominate all of the other feuding states in north central China. Once in command of all of the states, he renamed himself “Qin Shihuangdi”, or First Emperor of Qin, which actually meant first emperor of China. To ensure that he would never be forgotten, he was buried in a vast tomb complex which included more than 8,000 life sized terra cotta soldiers designed to guard him in his tomb. He and his terra cotta army were discovered and unearthed in 1974 by a group of Chinese farmers as they tried to dig wells on their farmland. Thousands of these warriors have been reassembled and are on view in a museum at the site in China. Nine warriors, along with a host of other artifacts, are currently on display at Discovery Times Square.

The exhibition is dramatic, exciting, expensive ($68 for one adult and one child ticket with an audio guide–pricey, but much less than a trip to China), and a lot of fun. The warriors are clearly the stars of the exhibition and they do not disappoint, as they are remarkably intact and fierce looking. My soon-to-be 13-year-old son and I were fascinated by the story and thrilled to see the soldiers. Much younger children might not be as interested, but middle schoolers and up may love it. “Terracotta Warriors: Defenders of China’s First Emperor” runs through Aug. 26 at Discovery Times Square, 226 West 44th Street, Manhattan; (866) 987-9692,

2. Hello Maroon Tiger!: And now for something completely different, Hello Maroon Tiger! is a book for the youngest of readers about Maroon Tiger, Morehouse College’s mascot. This is the story of Maroon Tiger’s journey around campus and over to the stadium to root for the Morehouse College Maroon Tigers football team. It is published by Mascot Books, a company which specializes in books featuring mascots of many colleges and universities as well as professional sports teams. Significantly, this is the first time an Historically Black College has been invited to publish such a book. Written by recent Morehouse grad Earl Anthony Cooper (Class of 2011) and illustrated by Morehouse rising senior Chase McKesson, it is an adorable introduction to the campus. If you know any Morehouse grads with little ones, this is the perfect gift. Or if you are a Morehouse grad who wants to give your toddler son (or daughter) a taste of the Morehouse magic asap, this book is for you!

3. Khan Academy Video Parody: Since GCP has been following Khan Academy for some time now cheering on its efforts to offer students free on line tutorials in math, science and other topics, we’ve decided to allow its critics their say, especially when they offer constructive criticism. Two math teachers posted a video on You Tube of themselves watching a Khan Academy math video, pointing out a few mistakes and generally critiquing the way in which several points are taught. While apparently this has launched a fierce and fairly snarky debate in cyberspace about the pros, cons and value of Khan Academy (some teachers believe it is much ado about nothing), the more significant result is that days after this video was posted, Khan Academy took down the original video, posted two videos on the topic which incorporated some of their critiques, and sent a message to an education blogger Justin Reich (who linked to the parody) saying he appreciated the feedback. Inspired by this series of events, Reich and fellow blogger Dan Mayer are sponsoring, with the help of a few other contributors, a contest offering a total of $750 in prizes to the educators who can create the best (“fun and enriching”) video critiques of Khan Academy Videos. Not only may this contest provide valuable peer review for Khan Academy (and they are clearly paying attention), but it will give contest participants the valuable perspective of what it actually takes to create and post a thoughtful and informative video. Perhaps the sharpest critics will spend less time critiquing and more time creating videos of their own! The Huffington Post article about this can be found here.

4. Fun in the Summer Sun: Early Childhood News, an online resource for teachers and parents of young children (infants to age 8) features lots of good articles on its site, including Fun in the Summer Sun, found here, featuring weekly thematic summer activities for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children.

Hope you and your children are enjoying summer thus far. Let us know what interesting summertime projects you are up to!

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Filed under Parents, Resources, Summer Camps and Programs

How to Encourage Summer Reading

Want to help your son improve his reading skills over the summer? A good idea, since many children lose ground in reading over the course of the summer and start the new school year with rusty skills which can zap their academic confidence. Here are a few ways to focus on reading this summer:

Public Library Summer Reading Programs: Most public libraries have free summer reading programs for students through middle school, and some have innovative programs for teens as well. Search online for summer reading programs at your local public library.

The Institute of Reading Development: The Institute of Reading Development, a California-based company which helps students of all ages reach their full potential as readers, offers summer reading programs throughout the summer. The fee-based programs start for children as young as 4, and are offered for students in grades 1-12, as well as college students and adults. The summer reading programs are offered through the Institute’s various partners, which include colleges and parks and recreational departments nationwide. For more information go to

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program for Kids: The Barnes and Noble 2012 summer reading program “Imagination Destination” gives children in grades 1-6 a free book when they read 8 books over the summer. Here’s how it works: Your child downloads and prints a reading journal from the Barnes and Nobles Summer Reading website, found here, and fills out the student information on the first page of the journal. A parent must sign on this page in order for the child to get a free book. After your child reads a book, he records in his reading journal the title, author, and whether he would recommend the book and why (or why not). After he has read and recorded 8 books, bring the completed and signed reading journal into your local Barnes and Noble book store between May 22, 2012 and September 4, 2012. Present it to an employee and they will let him choose a book from their free book list. Be sure to download the "Fun Activities and Teaching Tips" kit from this summer reading website to help make your son’s summer reading fun.

TD Bank Summer Reading Program: If your son reads 10 books this summer, he can earn $10! TD Bank is offering to deposit $10 into a new or existing TD Young Saver account for children 18 and under who read 10 books this summer. They must download and print the Summer Reading Form which can be found on their summer reading website, list the books they’ve read, and take the form to the nearest TD Bank from now until September 29th, 2012 to be eligible for the $10 deposit. Note that your son will have to open a Young Saver account or be prepared to open one in order to receive the $10. If your son does not have a Young Saver Account bring an I.D. for him when you accompany him to the bank. The TD Bank Summer Reading website also offers tips to make summer reading more enjoyable, and
a link to games (some goofy, some helpful), which provide basic financial information for children.

Pottery Barn Kids Summer Reading Challenge: If your son (aged 10 and under) reads all of the books on the Pottery Barn Early Readers list or their Caldecott Medal and Honor Books List between now and 8/24/12, tracks their progress and downloads a certificate of completion, he can visit a Pottery Barn Kids store and receive a free book, and also be eligible to win a backpack full of books. Both book lists and more details are on their summer reading challenge page, found here.

Hope these programs inspire you to encourage your son’s summer reading. Tell us what you are doing this summer to get him reading!

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Club 2012: This Is How We Do It

In 2007, a group of Black parents in Loudoun County Maryland became concerned as they watched their middle school sons fall behind in school. These parents’ expectations were high: they were raising their sons in one of the state’s most affluent communities and sending them to the high performing neighborhood schools. These well-educated, well employed professionals thought they were providing their sons with every opportunity possible.

But by middle school they noticed their sons getting passed over for honors courses and losing interest in school. Looking ahead, the high school statistics were even more sobering: African American children in their school district were consistently underperforming their white classmates on SAT’s and state standardized tests. What was going on? Did their sons feel too isolated in this predominantly white community? Were they not getting sufficient guidance from their teachers? Or were they simply not trying hard enough?

As reported in an article in The Washington Post, found here, these parents dispensed with the hand wringing, rolled up their sleeves, and got to work. They formed Club 2012, enrolling nearly every African American male at the middle school. The plan? Get parents involved, set high academic expectations, encourage positive peer pressure. Executing that plan proved to be quite labor intensive. According to the Post, “They organized twice-weekly homework clubs at school and monthly meetings at parents’ homes. They tracked their sons’ grades and test scores and pored over research about the causes and effects of the achievement gap. They set up study skills workshops, etiquette training and father-son rap sessions.”

As importantly, Club 2012 parents partnered with the teachers and the administrators of the school. They requested that their sons be assigned to classes with other black students. Parents sent letters at the beginning of the school year introducing their son to his new teachers, describing his personality and work habits, and explaining that they expected “nothing short of excellence” and that the teacher could count on their “unlimited support.” By the end of middle school, their sons were competing with one another to get higher grades and their GPAs were improving. While the parents put their most intensive efforts into engaging the boys in middle school, they continued working with them through Club 2012 in high school as well.

Six years later, the statistics for the core members speak for themselves: 100 percent graduation rate, 92 percent enrollment in Advanced Placement classes, a cumulative 3.7 grade-point average and a combined $1.3 million in college scholarships. 100 percent of the Club 2012 parents proud that their hard work coupled with their sons’ working harder and smarter paid off. At a private graduation ceremony organized by the parents, John Johnson told the students, “For the last six years, we’ve told you to do more, do better. We’re never satisfied, right? Well, tonight, we are satisfied.”

OK, GCP readers, if this isn’t inspirational proof that parental focus and support can positively impact our sons’ academic lives, then what is? These parents recognized that together they could make a difference, and they did. Good ideas abounded here, like writing to the teachers and pledging unlimited support for their sons’ academic growth during the year, forming homework clubs, and holding monthly parent meetings to share ideas and strategies. Good ideas that worked.

Kudos to the parents of Club 2012 who saw the issues, researched how to address them and got results. Read this article, and let us know what you think. Middle School parents, is there a Club 2018, 2019 or 2020 in you and your community?

Merci to our Parisian correspondent Albert Pettus for the heads up on this article.

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Filed under Ages 8-12, Parents

Should We Tell Our Children They Are Special?

Have you heard about the commencement speech given by David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, in which he told the graduating seniors “you are not special”? Rather than deliver the expected “go out and conquer the world” graduation speech, the teacher surprised the gathered body with comments like:

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.

The teacher went on to encourage the students to find and follow their passions rather than believe the hype of how great they already are. The speech has gone viral, with some people upset with the harshness of the message, and others applauding the teacher’s honesty. What do you think? Do parents of color, who want to do all we can to encourage our children to have a healthy self-esteem as they encounter many messages in the media and the world which can undermine it, tend to take this kind of commentary with a grain of salt? And should we?

On her CNN program “Starting Point”, Soledad O’Brien discussed this speech with a roundtable of commentators including Dr. Steve Perry, founder and Principal of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, and the chief CNN contributor on issues relating to education. During this discussion, found here, Perry said about the speech, “I didn’t like it. I loved it”. Perry believes that rather than over praise their children, parents should hold them to a high standards, but teach them that they need to understand that the goal of working hard is to change and enrich lives (their own and others). Panelist Roland Martin agreed, noting, “We have folks walking around with an attitude, we’re the best. You have to get there. You have to earn something…Colleges always say these are our graduates. Thurgood Marshall, Dr. King. Yes, but they got there after they graduated.”

LZ Granderson, a senior ESPN magazine and on-line columnist who also writes for, agrees that the speech was uplifting. In his column called “Kid, You are Not Special”, found here, he writes of telling his son that his middle school band performance was terrible “because I don’t want my son to grow up to be a loser.” He explains,

I don’t claim to know everything about parenting, but I do know parents do their children a disservice by constantly sugarcoating their shortcomings to protect their feelings. I can’t think of a more surefire way to raise a loser than not allowing a child to learn what it really takes to be a winner.

Check out the transcript of the “You Are Not Special” speech so you can form your own opinion. And then share it with us! What do you think? Was this an important wake-up call that we should share with our children?

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Filed under Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12

Parenting Lessons from Ellis Marsalis

Last night I had the incredible pleasure of sitting at a friend’s small dinner party for Jazz at Lincoln Center and listening to Wynton Marsalis jam with his quintet in her living room(!). As Wynton introduced their final piece, “Take the A Train”, he mentioned that he had the opportunity to meet Duke Ellington back in 1971, when he was 10. Ellington was in New Orleans performing and Wynton’s father, jazz great Ellis Marsalis, offered to take him to meet the world famous musician and hear him play. “I had the opportunity”, Wynton explained ruefully, “but I decided to stay home instead to watch the Oakland Raiders game on TV.” His father did not pressure Wynton, who at 10 was already an accomplished musician, and went on to hang with Ellington without his son.

While bobbing my head and tapping my feet to the wonderful music, I couldn’t stop thinking about Wynton’s intro. What a great parenting story! Marsalis in all likelihood was surprised and disappointed that his son was choosing to watch a football game over the chance to meet and hear a musical legend. But he didn’t force him to go, or try to make him feel badly about not wanting to go. He allowed Wynton to make the decision and accept the consequences of his actions. A pretty good lesson, since Wynton is still telling the story some 40 years later.

Many parents, myself included, would have cajoled or forced our sons to go, frustrated that we had to do so, but determined that they would not miss this opportunity. But truth be told, wouldn’t that effort be as much for ourselves as for our sons, so that we could feel good about giving them every opportunity we can? Marsalis the father recognized that for Wynton the opportunity would only be valuable if Wynton wanted it. He gave Wynton the freedom to make a decision and resisted the temptation to tell him it was not a great one. Very impressive.

There is another lesson in this story: have patience and faith when your son is not interested in your efforts to help him pursue his passions or when he makes a decision you understand and can accept but don’t agree with. After all, who would have thought that a boy who chose to watch the Oakland Raiders on television over meeting the legendary Duke Ellington and hearing him play would grow up to be a Pulitzer Prize and National Medal of Arts winning, globally heralded and revered jazz musician, composer, bandleader, and our international ambassador of American culture?

Patience and faith. Words to parent and live by!

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Filed under Experts, Guest Bloggers, Parents