I provided some background on Mr. Smiley in my earlier post and now wanted to talk about his book, Your Kid’s too Soft. This book was written, based on Mr. Smiley’s 34 years of teaching experience and talks about the changes in youth he’s seen. Now before you go thinking that this is yet another case of someone complaining about the youth “these days”, it’s important to remember that cultures can peak and then loose their competitive advantage. This is another voice in the call to action in regards to helping our children succeed.

This book also could have been called: Parenting; You’re doing it wrong! It contains many stories that illustrate how parents can be apart of the problem. It is in no way suggesting a militaristic approach to parenting. (Sorry Dad.) It is however suggesting, a more structured approach with a focus on accountability. Smiley’s four keys to raising better students/better parenting are:

  • Be here. You have to show up. Like Lance says: “I show up prepared, I show up motivated and I show up because I love it and respect it and I want to do well”. I think the love it part of that statement is where most get lost. It’s easy to show up when you love something. It’s seemingly impossible when you’re not into it. Parents need to watch for developing passions in their children. The book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell touches on this and I suggest that anyone with kids read it; now. For those subjects that they’re not passionate about, you need to help them find something about that subject that they can dig their hooks into. This also ties into maximizing your effort.
  • Be here on time. People who show up late 5 minutes to everything will always tell you that they’re too busy or in the case of Mr. Smiley’s students, they’re simply not getting enough sleep. In the US, the desire to do everything, everyday is taking a toll. Students need to get the Zs to be clear and capable of learning. I have struggled with this over the years and fortunately “age related wisdom” has finally kicked in!
  • Maximize your efforts. Hard work is great and smart work is better. This is a hard lesson for those that come from a family with a legacy of hard work. It’s important to reflect on what needs to get done/be learned and then determine the best way to do that. This does NOT necessarily mean, pick the easiest path. It means selecting the best path.

It is important to remember that everyone learns things differently. Wrote memorization does not work for me. I’m a kinesthetic learner. Show me and then have me do it and I will NEVER forget.

When it came time to take Calculus in college, I dropped out of that class after my first day. The teacher knew the subject well but was unable to communicate the specialized language (calc) he learned over the years, back into English. So, I ended up going to another university and enrolled in Calc once again. I ended up enrolled in a class with a teacher that was not much better but I was sitting in on another class to learn the material. The teacher’s name was Gale Gliner and she taught in a way that had me asking myself at the end of every class; That’s it?!?!?!? She was able to translate math back into English (helping me learn that language) and then illustrate concepts through examples. I was sitting in her class to learn and was testing in the other class. I received an A. I maximized my effort but was dedicated to mastering the subject matter.

Education has to get better at learning how people learn; maybe a test at the beginning of school to see how best to teach each. student. Also, the creative mind is something that needs to be addressed in education. I had a friend that had 128 true false test in a masters level course. True false is a creative’s worst enemy. They spend their time thinking about potential alternatives. Better for the analytical mind but still ridiculous.

An example of this was Victor Hanson. Victor only needed to hear the material passively to retain and utilize it. Mr. Smiley had to give him molecular models to play with in class so he would not be disruptive. He was also one of the laziest people I’ve ever seen. Never had to work hard in school. Got Cs consistently because he never did any homework.

Oh by the way. Don’t worry about other cultures doing better on tests that the US. Those cultures focus on teaching students how to take tests and may not necessarily teach to master the subject matter.

  • Know when to give and get help. This type of wisdom comes with time. I’ve known people who are quick to ask for help instead of trying to master the material for themselves. There is a fine line between “thrashing around” and making progress.

Mr. Smiley goes on to say that high school is the age when students need to take ownership and as a parent it’s important to let them stand on their own. They need to know that they can always as for help but need to try to work it out on their own. Tough balance to be had.

I recommend reading this book even if you don’t have kids. The book made me think about how I’m raising mine, it also made me reflect on how I thought of school and hard work.

Your kid’s too soft