Birth of A Baby

Mother’s Milk

It is hard to ignore the event of birth and its implications for children’s learning. In case this seems like a reach for educational study, consider the response many years ago by the head of the Carnegie Endowment, Ernie Boyer, to a question concerning the most important lesson he had learned over five decades of work in education—”I would give the mothers milk.” In other words, to help education K-20, Ernie would make sure that each mother had enough quality milk to give their children the best start in life. 

The Hospital Gives Birth

My first grandchild was born last Friday and my wife and I were our daughter’s support system through the four days. I had plenty of time to review the hospital’s vision statement, see the hospital’s staff of nurses, doctors and surgeons support our daughter’s birth and to see them perform under high stress. We were so thankful for the care they took to bring our grandson safely into this world! 

Time on Task Cannot Be Ignored

When I say I had plenty of time during the four days it is because we were awake for most of those 96 hours. I watched how the 12 hour shifts changed over, how medical records were reviewed by each new and incoming staff, how patients were transferred and how everyone took such good care of us and our daughter. Not that everything was perfect because tasks do fall off the table, priorities shift, and to-do lists change. Everything that was critical happened at a high-level of excellence. Everything that was downgraded still got done. There is a sense that everything will get done because there is enough time to get it all done. The integration of these services takes time and coordination. If we could show students today what a medical career demands tomorrow we would help our students see the need for hard study, strong skill acquisition and a commitment of time. Good work, good learning and successful performance takes lots of time—and maybe more time than we are giving to it in schools. 

Job-Embedded Learning

As an educator I was thinking about how and what the hospital professionals learn on the job. There were young medical professionals trailing after older ones as they learned how to apply book learning to real-life situations. They had all been well taught in the classrooms of the Harvard Medical School but now during our daughter’s “giving birth event” they were on site, job-embedded and learning by doing. Most importantly they were integrating their knowledge, switching their focus quickly and carefully from rolling carts of computers to the patients in their hospital beds and back again to their screens. One of the critical skill-sets I witnessed was the need to read what had been learned from the previous shift on duty and promptly make new plans for the next shift. I saw doctors come in to ask about my daughter’s back pain and to make sure they had read about this I asked about their knowledge of what had started that back pain—and reassuringly, they all knew about her bi-lateral fracture of the L5—and they proceeded from that shared knowledge documented in her chart from many years ago. 

School Integration Like Hospitals

The lesson I came away with was schools would benefit from integration in all of its forms. Just as the hospitals teach the mother’s how to give milk, I would teach children in schools how to eat well in the morning. Just as hospitals give mothers access to the best advice on how to bring up their kids in the first few weeks of life, I would support our parents in helping their kids become good learners in the first few years of school.

What children need to learn well, is to experience a good start in life! We need to take that lesson back to K-20 schools but also most importantly with universal day care, pre-school and kindergarten. We need to give mothers and fathers the experience of being well coached by a staff that is well coached in an environment that is clean and warm and very well stocked with technology. Schools are not a business like hospitals and so lack some of the money and incentives of hospitals, but the business features of hospitals need some replication inside of schools, in order to give our students the best start in life.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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