How to "Make America Great": Invest in Its ChildrenFriday, February 17, 2017 By Anne Cummings Jacopetti, Speakout | Op-Ed
There is only one sure way to "make America great": to support the full development of all its children. The National Research Council of the Institute of Medicine's review of the science of early childhood development is compelling and unequivocal:
Relationship is the foundation for healthy development. It continues to be crucial long after early childhood, and plays a critical role during the school years in shaping the architecture and functioning of our brains. The quality of our relationships determines the depth of our verbal, social and mathematical skills, as well as the maturity of our executive functions -- our working memory, attention span and ability to self-regulate our emotions. Children learn enthusiastically from adults they trust -- from parents who make them feel safe and loved, and from teachers who are sensitive to their challenges and respectful of their special talents. Learning and maturation shut down when children feel stressed, misunderstood or judged.
We are all products, for good and for ill, of this complex interplay between nature and nurture. While we may come from different cultures and carry different intellectual and creative proclivities, we all share this primary need for connection, this need to be seen, understood and loved. When this basic need is not adequately met, development is inevitably stunted. When children are not able to thrive, they are unlikely to become wise, resilient adults who can create and maintain the structures and processes necessary for a healthy society.
Although many teachers strive to inspire and encourage their students, our schools are not typically structured to support the strong attachment relationships and safety that children require. Education policy makers, focused on what children need to know in order to meet our society's vision of material success, have also failed to fully consider more basic questions -- how children learn, what activities are appropriate at what ages, and how learning can become an engaging lifelong process of intellectual, emotional and moral development.
What if our leaders and policy makers decided to ensure that every child has the emotional support needed for full and healthy maturation? What would that investment cost and what might be its return? How can we restructure our public schools, in particular, to support healthy development with strong attachment relationships at their core? In this moment of intense social challenge, I can think of no more important questions.
In my recent book, What Are We Going to Learn Today: How All Children Can Become Enthusiastic Lifelong Learners, I describe what can happen when strong attachment relationships guide brain and character development through stories, the arts and hands-on experience. Having spent multiple years with one group of children, I confidently chart how the connections we forged with each other and with the natural world became bedrock for healthy growth. I recount how these students, as they matured, became creative problem solvers, able to ask probing questions, make connections and assess consequences -- necessary survival skills for citizenship in the 21st century.
The true strength of a society should be measured, not by its GDP and hegemonic military presence, but by the percentage of its children who thrive and become contributing citizens. A society in which many children are not receiving what they need will never be vibrant and sustainable. All children need to be loved and want to learn; their survival now literally depends on it. We must stop letting them down.
Reference: National Research Council, Institute of Medicine. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, (National Academy Press), 2000.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.Anne Cummings JacopettiAnne Cummings Jacopetti is a retired teacher, administrator and writer who lives in Santa Rosa, California. Her book, What Are We Going to Learn Today: How All Children Can Become Enthusiastic Lifelong Learners, is available through her website: HowChildrenLearn.org and through Amazon.com.
The Kindle edition of What Are We Going to Learn Today? is available. I just pushed the publish button so it may actually take a day or so. It will definitely be there by the new year with a special price for those of you who have already bought the paperback edition. Self publishing has been a daunting exercise for this aging brain. We do learn by going where we have to go and I have been way out of my comfort zone. Hopefully, my tales of woe are behind me, at least for this stage of the process. My resolution for the coming year is to learn how to confidently navigate this website and to create informative, engaging blog posts for my readers. Please leave me your comments about the book, about the blog posts, about concerns that you have for your children or students and I will respond. I would much rather be part of a discussion than give a lecture.
I hope this holiday season gives you comfort and courage for the year ahead. We are all being challenged to speak and stand up for our convictions and for our vision of a more sustainable and socially just future. Above all, we must look deeply at the way we are educating children and the values and capacities that they are taking away from their years of schooling. What sort of human beings do we want them to become? What qualities do they need in order to be thoughtful, informed citizens of a democracy? I hope these questions inspire you to read my book and join us in a larger conversation.
If you want to expand your understanding of the importance of play to brain development and enjoyment of life watch the video below. Until 2017!
What Are We Going To Learn Today? is published and available!
October and November were gobbled up by the exigencies of formatting, proofing and polishing, but with the help and encouragement of husband, family and friends, who proofed, suggested and rescued me from various computer disasters and formatting challenges, I have arrived at this moment, humble and grateful. I am particularly indebted to my talented sister-in-law, Kiki La Porta, who designed this beautiful cover, and to my son Kelsey, whose computer skills were indispensable.
If you want to purchase a copy of my book, you can do so on below by connecting directly to the Create Space store on my Home page or by copying the URL below. (Create Space, my self-publishing platform,, offers a more generous royalty for the same purchase price than Amazon.)
If you like my book, please tell your friends about it. Writing a brief reader's review on Amazon would also help to interest potential buyers.
Hoping that you are finding some balance and joy through your friends and family this holiday season,
I sit at my computer this Sunday morning, writing my first blog post on my new website. The book that I have worked on for the past three years will be published soon and I am poised at the beginning of a new phase in my life. I'll call this phase The Summation because I am attempting to gather together my memories, my relationships and the insights that I have gleaned from my life experience and put it into words, always a daunting challenge.
What Are We Going To Learn Today? is about learning, - my continual learning curve as a teacher and the educational experiences of the vibrant young beings who shared their lives and passions with me over the years. I feel humbled by the task, but also passionately certain that this is an important, even essential, conversation not only for teachers and educators, but for all of us who are attempting to reconnect to basic truths and principles that underlie our human experience, principles that determine our place within the complex web of life that we have ignored at our peril. What we need is not more "material progress", it is a deepening understanding of our connections - to each other, to our communities, to our children and to the systems of life that have produced all of this abundance. Enough.
I am eager to share my insights and pleased that I can create a platform for an ongoing conversation. As a member of a generation that did not grow up with computers or the internet (we did not even have a television until I was fourteen!), I am also trepidatious. This is a new world for me, full of exciting possibilities, but also possible potholes and pitfalls with trolls and phishers lurking in the shadows. My grandchildren laugh at me as they leap intuitively forward in their efforts to teach Grandma how to move around the worldwide web with confidence. I'm still learning from children after all these years.
I will post relevant articles and links; please send them to me, especially if you have written them yourself. Send me your experiences, your stories. Tell me about your efforts to change our current education reform paradigm. Tell me what you have learned from the children that you teach. Let's build an on-line community of support and inspiration. Use the Contact Page for your comments and submissions.
Let's start then with Relationship. I'll post a story from What Are We Going To Learn Today? and a web connection to two Story Corps interviews that I heard last Friday on Democracy Now! I look forward to hearing from you! And so - we begin. . .
From Chapter Two: Relationship is the Crucible for Learning
"Jasper entered our class in fourth grade. His distress at having to change schools and to be in a group of unknown children was palpable. He concentrated all of his upset into an unblinking glare that he spent most of his class time perfecting during our first difficult weeks together. Jasper was obviously bright and capable, but declined to work. He was, however, willing to participate in artistic activities. He ignored my suggestions during his first attempt at a watercolor painting exercise and ended up with a brown mess on his paper. I looked at his painting and made the mistake of trying to reassure him. Jasper picked up the painting and rubbed it down his face and the front of his white shirt, saying, loudly “I’m going to kill myself!” There was a moment of shocked silence in the classroom. Then I smiled at him and said, “OK, but maybe we should wash your face first.” He looked up at me with a glimmer of a smile behind his scowl and followed me to the sink. Our relationship had begun.
What happened in this exchange that made it pivotal? Perhaps a better question is what could have happened. I could have become alarmed and reported Jasper to the administration as suicidal. I could have scolded him for making such a mess of himself and his desk. I could have sent him outside of the classroom, I could have called his mother to voice my concerns. The possibilities are many. Instead, I responded intuitively. Behind my words was an attitude that said, “I see you. I can handle this. We are going to get through this together.” I remember this moment because it was an ‘aha’ moment for me as a teacher. The tension in the room dissolved; the other children relaxed. I walked over to the sink and Jasper followed me and I helped him wash his face. He allowed me to touch him for the first time. This moment was the door, the way in, the beginning of a years long relationship that would always be challenging and full of growth for us both. This door is immediate, intuitive and personal. It can’t be codified or turned into a system or a How To Reach Difficult Students Handbook. It is the real work of teaching – to be present in the moment and to trust what comes through intuition.
When I react out of my own conditioning and allow my buttons to be pushed, I cannot be present in the moment. When I fall back on a system of consequences or rules without giving my full attention to the situation at hand, I am not present in the moment. Each day in the classroom is filled with such existential choices that determine the quality of relationship between students and teacher. A good practice for a teacher is to take time before sleeping to quickly review the day that has passed. Missed opportunities, responses that shut down learning rather than opening it up have a way of popping into consciousness. When I recognized and took responsibility for these inevitable lapses, I was often able to make amends and rebuild trust the next day, the trust that is necessary for children to feel safe and to become emotionally vulnerable, the trust that is the basis for learning."
The following stories last about five minutes and are both so wonderful they made my day.