I try not to read too many books about parenting and education. The amount of advice out there about how to raise children to be kind, smart, loving and successful people can be quite overwhelming. However, every now and again I pick up a book that offers valuable information about how kids grow and learn and how we can better help them. One book I read and enjoyed recently was The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. Written by Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley, it explores how three of the world’s current education “superpowers” – Finland, South Korea and Poland – have chosen to educate their next generation. Finland has chosen to invest in its teachers, forcing them to receive higher training and in return paying them more. In South Korea, schools focus almost exclusively on academics (kids do sports elsewhere) and parents spend less time on PTAs and bake sales and more time acting as their children’s study coaches. In Poland, the whole country has bought into the idea that education can elevate a country and its people, inspiring the kids to want to learn. Not all these approaches would necessarily work wholesale in the U.S., but they give us plenty to ponder as we consider how we can improve education here.
Today I gave this book to my friend Melissa, who I have known since our sons (my only and her younger) were in kindergarten together. As a mother of two boys and a school psychologist by profession, Melissa knows a lot about how children – especially male ones – work and don’t work, and I often look to her for wise advice on how to be a better mother to mine. For years now, we have discussed our sons’ eating habits, homework dramas, and media-related battles, and whenever I am struggling with some aspect of parenting, she listens without judgment and generously – and usually humbly – offers me suggestions for approaches to particular problems that have worked for her. I leave her company feeling calm, reassured and a little more capable. The combination of the information I can glean from well-researched books like Ripley’s and the wisdom and the encouragement I receive from a caring, fellow-mother friend like Melissa makes the whole parenting part of my life feel a wee bit less overwhelming.