“What are you going to do about it?” An essential question for learning.

books

I’m glad I let my Sirius subscription expire. Besides being an additional expense (that has varying and inconsistent price structures, by the way), it tended to replace the more meaningful time I would spend each day in my car listening to NPR.

One recent NPR story (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/02/26/467969663/wheres-the-color-in-kids-lit-ask-the-girl-with-1-000-books-and-counting) was about a fifth-grader, Marly Dias, who noticed that the books offered in her classroom library mostly featured characters who were white. Marly personifies what we all would like to see in our students–curiosity, empathy, eloquence, perseverance, and a host of other admirable traits. Just listening to her talk makes me wish I could handle an interview that well.

But what really stuck in my mind was what her mother said when Marly came home and told her about the lack of diverse literature in her classroom. Her mother said to her, “What are you going to do about it?” This simple question turned the challenge over to Marly, tacitly offering her the confident assurance that she had the capability to solve problems and effect change. Teachers try to duplicate this in our classrooms through project-based learning, but is this learning always structured to implicitly emphasize and encourage autonomy and self-directed problem solving? Do we, as teachers and parents, say to our children “What are you doing to do about it?” or do we instead offer our own opinions and solutions, ultimately disempowering them to come up with creative problem solving?

As a parent, I have failed to offer the “What are you going to do about it?” question. When problems seemed too difficult, I would feel the need to intervene, “helping” my children solve issues without realizing the bigger, more important picture–the need to help them experience challenge and to believe in themselves. No one is perfect–teachers and parents strive to do their best–but if there is anything we can learn from this NPR story, it is the reminder that helping our children help themselves is one of our biggest responsibilities. And by directing questions back to our children, we can and should expect fabulous solutions.