This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors and editors. For this interview, Susan Herman, Development Editor Consultant for APA Books, talked with Roberta Golinkoff of University of Delaware and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University and the Brookings Institution.
Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD, obtained her bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College, her PhD at Cornell University, and was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at the Learning Research and Development Center of the University of Pittsburgh. She is the Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Education and professor of psychology and of linguistics and cognitive science at the University of Delaware.
Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, is the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Distinguished Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her research examines the development of early language and literacy, as well as the role of play in learning. With her long-term collaborator, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, she is the author of 12 books and hundreds of publications.
“I enjoyed working with this dynamic author team on their APA LifeTools book, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children. (The book has been widely discussed in academic circles and national media, and is already an Amazon bestseller.) One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is that I felt like the book was actually for me: a mom to two school-age kids! Also, I loved getting emails like this: “We’ll get back to you soon about the edits. We’re away at a conference now and Kathy is filming her flash mob this afternoon.” –Susan Herman
How long have the two of you been collaborating?
KHP: Roberta and I have been working together 37 years. We have lasted longer than most marriages. We would have each been good as solo scientists, but when you have a wonderful working relationship it actually feeds creativity. And I think it also feeds the product.
How did you come from developmental science, primarily working with young children, into looking at school-age children and what’s happening in K-12 education?
KHP: The book isn’t only about K-12. It really is about 0-99. If we want to prepare an educated citizenry of the future, we need to think not only about what’s going on in the schools but also what’s going on outside the schools, in the communities in which children live. If we think of education as only taking place inside the school walls, then we’re missing literally 80 percent of the waking time of children.
This book is really more about redefining education for the 21st century. It poses this central question: what counts as success? When our children grow up, what do we want of them as a society?
What I believe the 21st century answer ought to be is: we want happy, healthy, social, caring, and thinking children today, who are going to grow up to be compassionate, collaborative, critically thinking, creatively innovative, and responsible citizens of tomorrow.
What skills do you need to achieve that? You have to work backwards, reverse engineer it. The business community has been screaming for this for the better part of a decade. We want to reduce inequities and we want [education] to dovetail with the skills you need in the workplace.
Do we want to let [standardized] tests tell society what we can and cannot value? Or do we want to figure out what we value and find ways to see how children learn?
I saw an ad for an online learning company that says, “Each child is uniquely brilliant.” Is brilliant a buzzword now? What does it mean to be brilliant?
RG: We’re not about making people exceptional. We want to call attention to the fact that children have a vast range of capabilities, and while we’re mostly teaching content in the schools—and content is great, it’s got to be there—we must broaden what we do.
Because in this new world, it isn’t enough to be brilliant in the classic sense of getting straight A’s. Those people don’t necessarily get the jobs now. What matters for kids is to develop all the skills that will help them be better people.
For me, that’s number one—I want to create menschen. I want to create citizens who are members of their community and who play well together, who will function at a high level in their society. We want to help children get the jobs of the future.
For example, if we’re talking about how manufacturing plants are shutting down and the jobs are moving overseas, we’re not getting it—the nature of the workforce needs to change! The jobs that are going overseas are factory jobs. The jobs that are taking over in America are the high-level jobs.
We need to help our children find the jobs of the future, many of which haven’t been invented yet. We need to educate for the higher-level jobs that we are presently importing people to do because we don’t have enough people who can do them.
In your book, you conceptualize learning as consisting of six skills, the “Six C’s”: Collaboration, Communication, Content, Critical Thinking, Creative Innovation, and Confidence. How do you measure the Six Cs?
KHP: Roberta and I suggest that we can give you a profile of skills, using our Six C Grid [shown below]. What’s cool about the grid is that every one of us can look at ourselves and create a profile for ourselves on the six skills.
Collaboration is how we learn to communicate. Content builds on communication, our ability to listen, to talk, to have a vocabulary. You’re never going to be a great reader if you don’t have good language skills. And yet we’re starting our tests with reading, not with language. You can do letter-sound correspondence until you’re blue in the face but if you can’t translate sounds into a word that you know, then all of it is moot.
We have too much information—everybody’s talking about big data. But if you can’t sift your way through, then you’re not going to be able to use the content effectively.
Creative innovation teaches you how to use that content that you just critically thought about. So you can use that information to change tomorrow.
Kids need confidence to give it a whirl. We have beaten children into just giving us right answers. The creators of the world—the Edisons, the Steve Jobs—they failed many times before they succeeded.
None of these exists in a vacuum. They build on one another to create a profile of learning.
RG: We’re not arguing that we need a new curriculum for the Six Cs. We’re taking the position that, once you’re aware of these skill sets, you can think about how the assignments you’re creating for your class are building collaboration, confidence, creativity.
Let’s talk about Confidence. One recurring conversation I have with friends who are parents starts with, “Do you let your kid…?” Ride his bike to the park alone? Set up her own YouTube account? That kind of thing. How can parents leverage risk to help their kids build confidence?
RG: The New Albany, Ohio chief of police is now advising parents not to let kids go outside on their own until they’re 16. This is crazy, but not uncommon. This sort of thing happens nowadays for two reasons. One, no one goes on the news and says, “Sally had a good day today. She walked to the library by herself!” The media focuses on the bad stuff and this is the kind of stuff that goes around [on social media].
Two, parents are more fearful. Economic shifts have been profound in recent years and have made people worry that their children will have lesser lifestyles than they did. And this makes them focus more on stuffing that content in the kid, over developing the other skills that kids need.
The way it should work is that little by little, children are given more responsibility for taking care of themselves. Doing errands is the first kind of responsibility, and your kid will want to do it because it’s a way of showing that they’re growing up. Of course, you first have to have a conversation with your kids about how to not go with strangers, and about how to use other adults to help you if someone’s bugging you.
KHP: What do you do when your kid comes home [from the errand]? He has an essay for homework. Do you allow your child to have his own voice, as long as he backs it up? Or does he stick pretty close to the book review he’s supposed to do, “This is what A says, this is what B says…” Push him a little further and say, “what’s your take?”
You encourage him to try that experiment. As long as it’s safe. I remember something my kids wanted to do—they wanted to put water in the sink and add electricity to make a lightning bolt! Other than that one, I was OK with [their experiments].
When your child comes home from soccer and says, I don’t want to do that anymore, are you the kind of person who says, “OK well we’re not going back there anymore!” The lesson, when you stay with it, is confidence.
Everything’s a risk-benefit. Some things you may not want them to take apart, like the television. But you can say “We have this old blender—why not take apart that and see how that works?” Or you can say, “there’s this guy who’s been repairing watches forever. Why not go see what he does?”
How can parents advocate for their schools to teach the Six Cs?
KHP: You can evaluate your child’s classroom based on the Six C grid. The grid becomes almost like a map for us to ask, how are we doing as parents? What do we want from our children? How are we providing opportunities to allow them to get to that goal?
RG: Each chapter in the book has a section called Taking Action where we talk about how to create environments that foster each skill, and we give very concrete suggestions. [We want] to awaken parents’ consciousness to what they need to do to help their children be good, productive people.
And we don’t need to keep it a secret from our kids. We often don’t even talk to our kids about the kinds of things we hope they will get out of school. We can tell them why we want them to do x, y, z. We need to let the kids in on it, have this pervade the culture. It would be so much better than just emphasizing the content, which is giving kids stomachaches when they take these high stakes tests. It’s a culture shift that we’re going for.