Don’t smile till Easter


Strict teachers. Learning by rote. And F’s.

“It’s time to revive old-fashioned education,” writes Joanne Lipman in the Wall Street Journal.

The “kinder, gentler philosophy” that has reigned in classrooms in recent decades doesn’t work, says Lipman, a former WSJ editor and co-author of Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations.

I used to teach at a Catholic high school, and a priest gave me some advice on the first day: Don’t smile till Easter. It’s better for the kids to respect you than like you.

Lipman would agree. Her eight principles to improve education:

  1. Painful feedback, if constructive, does more good than harm.  
  2. Memorization — drill and practice — is a basic building block in fields such as math.
  3. The fear of an ‘F’ helps students do better, as long as kids understand that failure is a part of the learning process.
  4. The most effective teachers in the worst schools in Los Angeles were strict, a 2005 study found. One student was quoted as saying, “When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teachers coddled me. When I got to Mrs. T’s room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she’s right. I need to work harder.”
  5. Traditional education does not kill creativity. Geniuses work hard.
  6.  Grit — passion and perseverance — is a better predictor of success than talent, research by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth shows. Duckworth, who just won a MacArthur genius award, says grit can be taught and that optimism — that you will get better if you keep working hard — is half the battle.
  7. Praise isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Tell a kid she’s smart and she becomes less confident, according to a study at Stanford. It’s better to tell a student that she’s a hard worker.
  8. A moderate amount of stress promotes resilience.

Lipman says, “Admittedly, individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.” I have to disagree with her there. They’re common sense.

You can read her essay here.