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Commentary: Oh, the Things I've Learned

By Keith Frome

Buffalo, NY – For the past 20 years, I've worked as an educator at every level of schooling, from pre-kindergarten through college. I've been a professor, an assistant dean of freshmen, the division head of a high school, a middle school teacher, and the headmaster of an elementary school. I've worked in public and private schools and large and small colleges. This must be a sign of middle-age professional grumpiness, but lately I'm not interested in complex policies or long-winded philosophical treatises or statistical studies about schools and learning. I like aphorisms. I'm looking for short sentences that express truths about education.

I forced myself the other day to write down everything I've learned in my career to be invariant and true. What follows is a navigational guide for the perplexed parent as they trek the K-16 path with their children.

Don't react until you have all of the facts.

Gossip is almost always malicious and rarely accurate.

Talk about children in terms of skills, not abilities.

Children are never set in stone. The early reader may not become a Rhodes scholar; the late reader just might.

Choose a college that is the right fit, not the most prestigious name.

Major in what you love.

Teach your children at an early age about plagiarism. I've seen many a college career ruined because of sloppy citation.

Math is not only calculating; it is problem and pattern posing and problem and pattern solving.

Reading is not just decoding; it is understanding and interpretation.

Try not to pass judgments on other families or children; noxious behavior almost always stems from personal pain.

Your children are watching and listening to everything you do and say.

The amount of time on task is more important than calendar days in a school year.

Gym and recess are as important to young children as academic study. Physical play supports academics; children should have daily, structured exercise times.

All middle school and high school students should have the opportunity to play on an interscholastic sports team.

A school's culture is determined by the methods used to evaluate students and teachers.

Education is not a race; it's a ride.

Children's brains are under construction until their early 20's; with patience and guidance, they should be given the chance to master the lessons they need to learn.

It is your business, whether your child is 4, 14, or 22.

A school's mission and model should always be distinguished. The school's mission is unchanging and sacrosanct; the models the school uses to enact its mission should always be scrutinized and if outdated, changed.

The core of any school lies in the relationship that exists between teacher and student. The bulk of a school's budget should be devoted to cultivating that relationship.

Without trust, a student cannot learn and a teacher cannot teach.

Your child should see you as the partner of the school, not its adversary.

It is how you say what you say that determines whether what you say will be understood.

The greatest gift you can give children is to help them to be independent.

The second greatest gift is to give them the confidence to try something new and fail.

The third greatest gift is a steady daily routine.

Children who come to school late learn less and feel more insecure.

Education is as much about cementing habits of hard work and accountability as it is about skill acquisition. It is easier to learn a new skill than to forge a new habit (or rid yourself of a bad habit.)

Children's friendships come and go and come back again.

Except in cases of extreme cruelty and physical harm, children are best left to work out conflicts on their own.

Children learn from other children, but they are guided by the example their family sets.

Take computers and phones and pagers and other technology whatnot out of children's bedrooms and install them in a public place in the house.

Children are strong and sturdy.

Repetition is the piston of learning.

Lifelong growth is the greatest joy in life. To be old and long out of school and still be learning is a supreme blessing.

Listener-Commentator Keith Frome is spending this year as executive director of Achieve: the Elmwood-Franklin Center for Tutoring and Enrichment.

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