Alison Krupnick is a former world-traveling diplomat, turned minivan-driving mom and writer. She chronicles this transformation in her book Ruminations from the Minivan, Musings from a World Grown Large, Then Small . Her writing has been published in Harvard Review, Brain, Child, Seattle magazine and a variety of news and trade publications and literary journals and anthologies. You can find more of her education reporting on Crosscut.com and enjoy sweet and savory moments and recipes on her blog Slice of Mid-Life .
If you follow education, by now you've probably heard about the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to prepare our kids for 21st century jobs. There is a dearth of qualified applicants for STEM-related jobs and a dearth of women and minorities in STEM careers, yet STEM is a crucial area of job growth.
Note, there is some debate here.
A 2011 Georgetown University study suggests that STEM jobs will only make up 5 percent of all U.S. jobs by 2018. According to the study, the deeper problem, beyond the shortage of STEM workers to fill STEM jobs, is the need for STEM-related skills across a broad spectrum of occupations.
To an extent, the new Common Core State Standards, which emphasize reading and understanding informational texts across disciplines, including science, social studies and technical subjects, are an attempt to address this growing skill requirement.
Editor's Note: Dr. Dan Siegel will appear at Seattle's Town Hall on Monday, December 9 at 7:00 p.m. Click here for tickets and other information.
When your teen sneaks out to a party with a boy, instead of watching a movie at a girlfriend's house like she told you she'd be doing, would it help you to know that the power of the adolescent mind has the spark of emotion, social drive and push toward novelty that may save life on our planet?
Instead, he asks you to consider that during adolescence the brain is undergoing a massive and necessary integration of functions that will have long-lasting impact; that solidarity with peers is evolutionary, giving the group the strength to deal with outside threats (read: predators); that shared experiences will enable their generation to be leaders and shape the future and that adolescents are at the peak of their creative prowess and courageousness.
Furthermore, how we navigate the adolescent years has a direct impact on how we'll live the rest of our lives.
He's a leader in promoting strategies to foster emotional intelligence in children and adults, and coiner of the term "mindsight," which describes the human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and of others.
Olivia Smith stood in front of a packed audience at McCaw Hall and made her pitch: Vote to support the work of Youth Ambassadors, a peer mentoring program at Seattle's Cleveland High School aimed at supporting high school freshmen who are at risk of dropping out of school.
Smith is a Cleveland High School graduate and former youth ambassador, studying Political Science and Spanish at Seattle University, with the goal of eventually working for the United Nations.
Her pitch was one of several made by the finalists in Social Venture Partners' Fast Pitch competition, which provides mentoring, connections, grants and investments to social innovators and the first-place winner in the competition's youth-led venture category.
Education groups were well represented and ultimately very successful at this event.
The big winner was Actively Learn, developer of an online e-reader that enables teachers to interact with students through a digital text, featuring imbedded Common Core-aligned questions and media and shared peer responses.
It would have been easier not to participate because, like most families, ours is busy with school and work and sports.
But when I saw the email request, I felt compelled to say yes. A person I had never met — a parent of my ninth-grade daughter’s classmate — was asking for volunteers to be part of a team that would serve dinner to homeless youth through the Teen Feed program. We would meet on a Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Seattle’s University Congregational Church to prepare the meal. Two hours later, the doors would open to our “guests.”
One of my biggest disappointments in the education of my kids is our family’s failure to find a meaningful and sustainable way to help those less fortunate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always one of the first volunteers for just about any cause, and my kids have witnessed that.
In fact, we have that popular magnet, “Stop me before I volunteer again,” prominently featured on our refrigerator.
We’ve donated money for school auctions and direct appeals, tsunami relief and hurricane relief, breast cancer and MS walkathons and bikeathons. The kids have participated in school-sponsored tree plantings, food-bank service days and visits to senior citizen centers, as well as various and sundry Girl Scout and Camp Fire volunteer events.
Still, they have never gotten up close to individual or widespread hardship. Nor have they ever volunteered on a regular basis.
CLARIFICATION: Great Seattle Schools, a legally independent political action committee supporting Suzanne Dale Estey's campaign, and not the candidate or her campaign, paid for negative ads against the Sue Peters for School Board campaign.
An opinion piece in a recent New York Times opinion piece caught my eye. Entitled Plutocrats vs. Populists, and published just prior to Election Day, it makes the case that, although the rich keep getting richer and more powerful, populists are an important political force to be reckoned with.
Such was the case with the Seattle School Board race between Sue Peters and Suzanne Dale Estey.
It was a race about passion.
It was also a race about money.
Grassroots education activist Peters, who attracted the support of anti-education reform activist Diane Ravitch, triumphed over Suzanne Dale Estey, who heavily outspent her rival and received significant financial support from wealthy businessmen.
It's a race that should be viewed as a bellwether for the future of the national debate about public education. Here's why:
1. Money talks
In this case, money was seen as "talking smack," most notably in the form of negative campaign literature, distributed just prior to Election Day, showing Peters' photo alongside a photo of the soul-sucking dementors of Harry Potter fame.
"Why is big money trying to buy this election?" wondered Peters, who said she prided herself on running an integrity-based grassroots campaign for this unpaid position.
Voters, who were not necessarily up-to-speed on or invested in the issues, paid attention to that question, which overshadowed the candidates' stances on the new Common Core standards and other education matters. It fueled the fire of concern about corporate influence on education.
2. But does money listen?
Negative tactics used earlier by the Dale Estey campaign had been poorly received by the public, an ironic twist of events, because Peters entered the race with an abrasive reputation and Dale Estey portrayed herself as a peacemaker.
Dale Estey, who claimed not to be aware of or in control of some of her campaign P.R. machinery, also admitted to me on Election Night that such tactics are a calculated risk. She said experts had told her that the gains from negative publicity far outstrip the losses.
Every week I go out reporting and also comb the news and social media trying to find education topics to bring to your attention. There's a wealth of material to choose from locally, statewide and nationally. Do you want to know about the flashers near schools in West Seattle? The latest on charter schools or school board races or enrollment boundaries?
Or who logs more travel hours, anti-education reform activist Diane Ravitch or Bruce Springsteen?
That was this Jersey Girl/education geek's favorite Tweet of the week.
Magically, by Wednesday I usually know THE story I want to share with you. And this Wednesday was no exception.
Standing in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in the stairwell of their new offices, I listened to Jeff and Tricia Raikes explain why they had established the Raikes Foundation.
"We are temporary stewards of a portion of society's wealth," explained Raikes, who acknowledges that he and Tricia, early Microsoft employees, were beneficiaries of the "Microsoft jackpot."
Raikes, currently CEO of the Gates Foundation, has announced he will retire from that role in 2014 and devote more of his time to his own foundation, which is expanding.
The seed of an idea
Their eldest daughter's experiences with middle-school bullying raised the Raikes' awareness about the challenges of early adolescence. They wondered how families without resources dealt with these challenges.
And most important, they wondered how they could help.