Tamar, Professor of Management, Mother of 2, UT
Tamar teaches management and does research on how people think and talk about moral issues. She lives with her two sons and her husband in Salt Lake City, UT. Tamar is a Catalyst for RE-ENVISIONED and was interviewed by her Mentor Catalyst, Crystal.
Tell me about a child you care about. What makes them unique?
The person who comes to mind is my older son… he’s almost 4, and what makes him unique is that ever since he was born he’s known what he’s wanted. For example, since he was two, practically ever since he could say sentences, he’s told us he wanted to play the double bass. We listen to The Carnival of the Animals, and showed it to him on YouTube, and I guess it spoke to him. It’s been very consistent, he’s been consistently talking about it for a long time, and I’m thinking about it because we asked around and it seems like starting with the cello is the way to go. So we just went to meet a cello teacher the other day. I’m excited about it for him. He’s like that in all of his life—he always knows what he wants.
Now, imagine that child is now in their 30s – out of school and starting into adult life. What do you hope for them about their life? What would make it a ‘good’ or ‘successful’ life?
I think it would kind of be, in terms of success, however he would think about it. I would hope that I wouldn’t project my own feelings of success onto him because he might have his own way of thinking about that.
A good life… A feeling of contentment and a sense that he is satisfied with whatever meaning he has found and hasn’t found in his life. That’s kind of vague, but it’s important to me to let my kids generally define things in a way that makes sense to them. I want to leave it up to them.
What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?
I think that it should make them feel comfortable thinking about that for themselves, and encourage them to value their own perspective on what it means to be successful, and pay attention to what it is that makes them feel the most satisfied. That doesn’t mean necessarily that school will allow them to feel satisfied all the time, but it should help them understand how to listen to that within themselves.
It should also give them some of the cognitive tools to be able to achieve goals.
And I can imagine there will be some goals they [my children] want to accomplish, in their lives. I think school has a role in helping them know how to formulate a goal, put in the effort required, and understand that things aren’t always going to be comfortable in meeting those goals.
You spoke about school giving children cognitive tools, would you provide some examples of these tools?
First of all, curiosity, knowing how to ask questions. I think that’s something that doesn’t come naturally. I’m a scientist, so for me this is pretty salient in my own work. It takes some training to come up with a hypothesis and useful way of asking questions.
The next one is applicable to life more broadly: an awareness of what kind of information you need to accomplish something, and the skills you need to build – a starting point.
Also, based on research on mindsets – a sense that it’s worth putting in effort to increase your abilities and that you can learn and grow yourself, and that the things that you strive for aren’t a test of worth but an opportunity to accomplish things you want or that you find interesting.
Do/will schools play the role that you think they should for your child? Why or why not?
So far we’ve had pretty good experience. My older son has been in daycare for most of his life, ever since he was 4 months old. I don’t know at what point that starts being a form of schooling—I would say by this point I think of it as being relevant to education, and for the most part it’s been pretty good. I have a pretty clear sense of approaches to schooling, and I’m able to understand and know what I’m looking for, and for the most part it’s panned out.
Although he’s about to switch schools because of a situation that’s come up for him over nap time - he’s dropping his nap, and his current school thinks kids his age need to nap. So he’s going to be starting at a new school in the next month or two. I am excited to see how that will go! It’s the lab school at the University of Utah. I’ve had good experiences university school settings with him so far.
I feel like my own early schooling experience was really positive and impactful for me, and that’s a big reason I signed up to interview for this project. My interest in thinking more about this is that I know how good and helpful early education can be, and I feel that my son got really lucky with that, and I would like to systematically find that for my kids.
Can you speak more about your experience in university school settings?
I trust university settings because that’s where I work, and I think of them as being more evidence based and progressive. With napping for example, based on all of my knowledge that I’ve been able to gather, it’s not developmentally appropriate to expect all four year olds to nap. I have more confidence that in a setting where people are doing their own research on children, the way they communicate with children is going to be more appropriate and informed by knowledge.
Will schools play the role it should for all children? If not, why not?
I definitely think that it doesn’t, or won’t, play that role. I have a lot of friends, I guess mostly online—because when you’re a mom and don’t have a lot of time, you end up making friends on Facebook. So I know a lot of other parents with kids who are a little bit older than my kids, who started Kindergarten in the last year or two. Which is a big transition. A lot of these parents are similar to me in terms of values for parenting and learning. It seems like it’s really been a mixed bag for them in terms of the experiences they’ve had.
One today posted about her son having a really hard time in Kindergarten because he’d never been in an academic setting before. He went to a Pre-K that was very play-based, he came into Kindergarten and was labeled as behind even though he’s a bright kid. It’s affected his self-esteem. She’s thinking about how it would be hard to afford to enroll him into a private school, and also how important it is to get him into an environment where he feels more self-efficacy about learning than where he is at now.
Do you think people agree with you on each of those levels?
I guess the things that I’ve talked about so far probably many people agree with, not all people. I think there are probably some other people who value discipline and order and traditional discipline… conformity is really what I mean. I think there are definitely some other parents who want their kids to conform, to do things in a way that’s conventionally correct, and want them to be respectful of adults, and not question why and do the things that adults tell them.
I think that’s relevant to education, and something I don’t see eye to eye on with others. But I do think there are many other people who feel the same way I do. I don’t know whether there’s substantive disagreement over what sort of schooling gets people there or whether it gets lost in the process.
Why do you think some of those disagreements exist?
It probably has to do with how people are raised, and cultural things, misunderstandings over what people mean exactly, like about discipline. There are some parents who see themselves as being more traditional, who may think that more alternative or progressive types of education or parenting are very permissive. I don’t see my values as condoning permissive parenting at all. I don’t see that as the type of parenting that I practice or value. To apply this to education: if people think about more a child-directed version of education, they often think it’s going to be total chaos. They’re not picturing the same thing I picture when I see that sort of model.
Tell me more about your own early schooling experiences, how were they positive and impactful?
I went to an elementary school based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy – the philosophy is named after a region in Italy where it was founded. Basically it’s really project-based, and gives kids a lot of independence to figure things out for themselves, and emphasizes working together and developing social skills.
When I think about my own experience I feel like it basically prepared me for graduate school! I was doing a lot of projects on my own, and encouraged to pursue what I was curious about. I don’t know that it works for every kid—that’s a question I have about it. But I feel that my son is similar to me in way that would make it successful for him. I feel for me it was just right in terms of encouraging me to work independently and in a way that allowed me to find a lot of joy and pleasure in school.