time2Generation We kids are artists, chess players, musicians, singers, designers, athletes, dancers, actors, playwrights, fashion innovators, tech-savvy inventors, engineers, space travelers, environmental activists, civil rights activists, and scholars. They are forward thinking, technologically gifted (i.e., connected), intensely socially integrated, and ethnically diverse. Many of them just helped elect the first African American president in our nation’s history. They are roughly between the ages of 8 and 30.

So is it me? Or have we somehow managed to reduce their brilliance to the rather narrow band of competencies once considered appropriate for 19th century prairie schools?

They are, after all, judged in our schools on their ability to select one pre-ordained “correct” answer from a list of 4 possible choices on sterile and standardized tests designed independently by each state. States which, by the way, get to test whatever they want to test as long as they test that which is valued by one very onerous and unfunded mandate called No Child Left Behind.

prairie-school-21The education of Generation We has in effect been reduced to basic skills in reading, grammar rules, math, and test taking. In response to the accountability and testing movement, we have regressed toward a narrow curriculum once quaintly defined in one-room prairie school houses as the “3R’s”: readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmetic. (At least ritin’ requires thinkin’. ) Now the curriculum focus is defined by W.O.T.T! What? What’s On The Test. As in…”Today, class, we will study whatever’s on the freakin’ test”!!!!!

But if we are still capable of learning anything we should have learned by now that one of the defining characteristics of Generation We is that they are not going to be pigeon-holed in percentiles and proficiency levels. 

Keenan is a perfect example. He is not particularly strong in ‘readin’, ritin’, or rithmetic”. But his short term and long term memory is so acute he memorizes song lyrics the first time he hears them. He masters technology the moment he touches it: cell phones, laptops, I-pods, video games. (I wonder why they even bother to print owner’s manuals and directions any more… Gen-We kids don’t use them!)

aAnd he is a walking billboard for Avalon Tattoo in Pacific Beach. He is running out of space on his otherwise beautifully sculpted body to permanently ink icons or sayings or cryptic celtic designs. He designs is own tattoos because he can. It is his body and maybe after 12 years of captivity in someone else’s definition of art and literacy his designs are liberating. At one time he might have passed as an anti-social biker or a carnival ride operator or an island warrior. Today, his Facebook page has hundreds of “friends” from all over the world–most of whom have liberating tats of their own!

Throughout his school experience he was warned that he has to score Proficient on the California Standards Test and pass the High School Exit Exam or he’ll be doomed to a lifetime of failure. What does a tech-savvy, socially connected, Generation We kid with a superb memory and a willful defiance of traditional school norms do with his life when he grows up and struggles with the “readin’, ritin’, and rithmetic'” that we told him was so important?

He becomes fluent in American Sign Language. It comes as natural as new cell phone protocols. He remembers every gesture and symbol from the instant he learns it. He has mastered a skill set that he can actually use in the service of others; a vocation that is not tattoo-aversive.

Seems like we could learn from kids like Keenan that our schools should not be designed by educrats obsessed with the prairie grass that they see waving in their rear-view mirror.

Now let’s see. How do you “sign” the word Gifted? It’s not on the test.



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  1. Hey Kevin!

    Interesting post. But, I see things so much differently. I believe environment plays a huge role in how children develop into adults. Your post seems somewhat biased, with your son as the main theme. No offense and i respect your opinion.

    My 180 degree perspective is based on my nice Erin, nephew Josh and step brother Adam, who all all different and express their personalities in different ways.

    Erin who is 21 attends ASU Walter Cronkite School of journalism, is a Varsity tennis star and maintains a 4.2 GPA She bares no tats or piercings. Her hobby is creating Scap books and is president of a large Scrap book club in Cave Creek AZ.

    Josh who is 25 served in the USAF for 4 years, attended NYU film school and now runs his own videography business on the lower easts side of NYC. Josh is also the lead singer in a alternative rock band. He bares no tats or piercings.

    Adam who is 26 is a Wharton Grad with a degree in business and finance. He is king of the yuppies and works for Mobile Exxon in New Jersey. He bars no tats or piercings. His hobby is hiking and fishing along the Appalachian Trails.

    Common denominator – All three are exceptional students and are addicted to reading and writing. Yes, they all have MySpace pages and Facebook accounts, but so what, i do to and i am in my 40’s

    East Coast high School systems especially Connecticut where Erin, Josh and Adam attended are stellar. Classes smaller and budgets huge compares to the California school systems. I attended the same High School and have a good friend who teach Physics there. I was back in Greenwich year before last, having lunch with my best friend, and here is what i saw walking down the hallways of Greenwich High. Guys in Chino’s with polo shirts with Cole Hahn shoes, gals with pleated dress’s and angora sweaters. No long hair, no tats, no pants that defy gravity or Ho look for the young ladies, and best of all no cell phones.

    From growing up perspective, California’s grow up much differently than New Englanders. Different values,manners, business acumen and desire to compete.

    Being a New Englander myself and living in southern California for almost 12 years has never been easy. Roots are very different. Something to think about.

  2. Carden


    You’re missing the point of the entry. It is great that people in your family have accomplished some extraordinary things, but it feels like you are putting them above those who can achieve just as much, but through other forms of learning. Last I checked, Polo shirts or lack of tattoos have nothing to do with the intelligence level of a human being. At the same time, having tattoos doesn’t effect the way your mind works in any way shape or form. The point of this entry, is saying that kids can reflect intelligence in ways upgradeable by a standardized test. In Dr. Riley’s sons case, his artistic abilities as well as his ability to connect with people who are deaf is a pretty note worthy achievement. Knowing him personally, I also know that he has traveled across the world through his athletic abilities and has experienced things that could never be taught in a classroom. Point being, neither your family or Dr. Riley’s son’s achievements have been anything more or less than the other, simply that their styles of learning and variety of strengths and intelligence differ from one another. It is the beauty of the human mind and the more people that are willing to recognize that, the better off our world to be. Something to think about.

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