Should Little Boys Wear Lipstick?

I read an article recently in a London Newspaper that reviewed a TV program titled “The Secret Life of Five Year Olds.”  I am writing this article as a precautionary measure because some of what we read in today’s newspapers reflects an entertaining but superficial view of child development.  In this particular article, the headline focuses on gender differences and at what age they are “fixed.” The teaser is that adult behavior in the boardroom really begins in nursery school.

Furthermore, the writer asserts that gender options should remain open for every child because biological differences between males and females are “modest.” The picture accompanying the story shows a little girl applying bright red lipstick to the lips of a five-year-old boy, who is wearing fluffy, feminine clothing. The picture is cute, no doubt, but is it necessary, and where is all of this going? The article’s final paragraph states:  “It’s the old adage. You can’t be what you can’t see.  Luckily, thanks to this compelling TV program, what our five-year-olds are seeing has become all too painfully clear.” Anna Maxted, Family and Features, The Daily Telegraph, Feb. 2, 2017.

So is there something painful about what these kids are seeing?  Somehow, I missed that, unless they mean boys acting like boys and girls acting like girls (Careful, we mustn’t let stereotypes rule us!).

What the article really reveals is that gender differences at age five are pretty much what parents have always experienced in the majority of their kids. As with any generalization, there are always exceptions, but the TV show reports the following observations:

•The boys’ football (soccer) team loses a penalty shootout and the captain declares he is changing his team’s name to “suckers” and then begins to sulk and blame his mates.

•When left to their own devices, boys the trash the studio while the girls are more competent and compliant. Extra tasks need to be added to keep the girls busy.

•Boys are also blunt in their opinions and referred to a drink made by their teacher as disgusting, while the girls tactfully indicate it is good but admit they don’t like certain flavors.

•And what about so-called “gender fluidity?” When these five-year-old TV “actors” are asked to cross-dress, the boys are horrified. This is what the professionals interviewed for the article call “gender boundary maintenance.” Most parents have other, less fancy names for this.

The writer of this article finally seeks professional input. In response, a psychologist states that our personalities are not fixed but are rather like plastic (referring here to the brain, I think), and it takes until the mid-20s to really complete maturity (of the brain).

So, does boardroom behavior really begin in nursery school?  I think the answer is no.  Boardroom behavior begins at conception, with powerful genetic influences, and is affected strongly, even in the first 12 months of life, as pointed out in neuropsychological research from the University of South Florida, reported in an earlier paper.  After that, future behavior is influenced all through early life, with solidification in the early 20s, but plenty of opportunities for changes in behavior, even after that

What’s the point of trying to show that gender differences are modest when they really aren’t?  Unfortunately, what isn’t raised in this article is what we might lose if we do not have a firm gender identity. Is it good not to feel comfortable with one’s own identity?  What about a father as a role model for his son, or a daughter accepting her mother as a role model?  And, truth be told, genders differ in so many ways that it would require an encyclopedic listing to cover even a small percentage of those differences.

Why then do we see continuing journalistic efforts to soften gender differences?  Is this a response to the highly publicized but tiny percentage of people who express trans-gender feelings? Or does the attempt to show that boys and girls are the same go much deeper and reflect a longing to know where we came from, how our personalities develop, and where we are headed as humans?

Before we go too far, we had better question the ethics of exposing a general population of children to this type of exploratory research on gender identity. I think most research granting agencies would have concern about enticing kids to forego their biological sex-role predisposition in order to study what happens in their lives over the following 25 years. What are the unknown and negative effects of experimenting with kids’ sexual identity?

One of the basic problems with this push for answers is that psychological research can go only so far in solving the question of who we are and how we got here. As with any science, psychology is better at answering the “whats” and less adept at answering the “whys.”  Since we humans are far too complex to be broken down into small pieces and analyzed like the parts of a computer, perhaps common sense, philosophy, and accumulated wisdom still have a place in offering us a deeper understanding of our role in this world.  And that includes five-year-old boys and girls, bless them.

 

 

 

General Trump and the Brain’s Civil War

Can our brain really be at war with itself?  Surprisingly enough, there’s quite a bit of evidence to support this concept.  While both sides of the brain are involved in every decision we make, there is still a significant difference in how the two hemispheres of the brain work, giving rise to wholly distinct takes on the world.

The left side of the brain focuses on detail and control.  It manages verbal ability, language, and written skills. It is also more predictable. The right hemisphere of the brain encompasses intuition, imagination, new experiences, and looking at the big picture. It is inclined to exaggerate and sometimes ignore the facts.

Psychiatrist Ian McGilchrist believes that over the past 2500 years there’s been a battle going on in our brain with ever greater reliance on the left side of the brain. He believes that the left hemisphere is so concerned with control and denial that it is “like a sleepwalker, whistling a happy tune as it ambles towards the abyss.”

(Ian McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, Yale University Press, 2009.)

Could a right-brain rebellion save us before we freefall into the void? Was Donald Trump’s election triggered by a right-brain insurgency?  According to Bret Stevens, our country’s economy is now “overregulated,” and this tight control was ignored “by coastal elites because we are mostly in the business of producing and manipulating words –– as politicians, lawyers, bureaucrats, academics, consultants, pundits, etc. These regulations and tight controls are the bane of anyone who produces or delivers things, such as jet engines, burgers, pool supplies, you name it.” Stephens goes on to say that “when those of us in the word-making world use the term “overregulation,” we are mostly putting a name to a concept we rarely experience consciously.” (Bret Stephens, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 20, 2016.)

Is this left brain – right brain idea just pop psychology or is there something to it?  Maybe the election polls will help us.  Clinton received votes from women, college graduates, and of course the media.  Not all women are left-brained, of course, but they are verbal and make up the majority of college students.  They lead boys in language skills by a full two years at age thirteen.

Another bit of support comes from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The basic and most important needs of right brainers and career education grads are security and livelihood. This is all the more true for the 70% of Americans who have not graduated from college. On the other hand, college graduates, wordsmiths and academics are concerned with much more esoteric needs higher up the hierarchy, such as self-actualization.  Maybe this is why, when they fly from New York to Los Angeles, they don’t look down and notice all those folks in the Midwest who produce and deliver things –– rather than talking or writing about things –– people who are concerned about jobs and crime in the streets

If there was going to be a left-brain, right-brain civil war, who would be appointed to the post of Commander-In-Chief?  A right brainer who lacked verbal pretensions and told it like it was?  Someone who looked directly at the big picture and didn’t try to dance around things?  Someone like World War II General Anthony McAuliffe who responded to a German general’s request to surrender, at the Battle of the Bulge, with one rather rude word: “nuts.”

Someone who shows expression and personality?  An entertainer?  I believe Jeb Bush might have won the presidency if he had taken off his professorial glasses and asserted himself with personality and vigor.  It may be unfortunate, and even dangerous, but since the days of the Nixon-Kennedy debates politicians do well on T.V. if the camera likes them –– and only if the camera likes them.

Needless to say, getting the camera to like you requires experience in front of a camera.  This experience is something that newly minted General Trump shares with Ronald Reagan, another right brainer and entertainer, who was also a person of ridicule to those who spent their time writing, attending seminars, and mixing with other elites in order to share abstract and even poetic thoughts about public policy and self-actualization.

So General Trump was awarded his 5 stars by the ground-pounders in the trenches rather than the media and the Ivy League professors.  And why did they select him?  Because he promised to respond to their needs, the needs at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy.  He promised to support the police and attack terrorists in order to provide security.  He promised to loosen up regulations and make life easier and more profitable for those who were in the business of delivering things.

monk cover and civil war 156And they believed him. Should they have? Right brainers easily grasp the big picture and rely on intuition, without the modifying and balancing effects of details and controls.  This can lead to a wondrous but rocky ride –– or a crash landing.  If you wanted a right brainer, you got him. Now buckle up and hold on to your hats!

 

 

Let them eat cake, part 2: Just change social class?  

Students in the lowest socio-economic class do poorly in school and the labor market.  How difficult is it to help youngsters or their families move to higher levels? Despite the inspiring scenario in the Broadway play, “My Fair Lady,” it’s takes more than diction lessons to move up.

Is it even possible? Anything is possible, but let’s take Keiko. He was born into a very poor, single-parent family and the initial obstacle he faces is in the first 12 months of his life. Unknown to him, this is a time when his brain will experience more changes than at any other time in his life span. If he suffers physical or emotional abuse, his brain will not develop properly.

Neuropsychologists at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, report that just having a mother suddenly change her facial expression from one of love and sympathy to a frowning scowl sends the infant brain into spasms that can be measured on an MRI. If Keiko’s mother doesn’t have the time or capacity to give him a fairly reliable, consistent, and nurturing emotional environment, he is already headed for big trouble when it comes to academics and self-control. And additional help in prekindergarten or a Head Start program comes much too late to really make a long-term difference.

Keiko also needs help with self-control. This often requires a family with both parents in the home. It takes a coordinated effort to establish routines and teach frustration tolerance. Kids who don’t develop self-control at an early age have difficulties with both academics and behavior as adults. Having an absentee father lurking about doesn’t help matters, either.

His next obstacle is his school. Since the best public school teachers, equipment, and materials are found in wealthy neighborhoods, it’s highly probable that Keiko’s school is inferior. There are other educational options, but his single-parent mother may not have the time or resources to provide them. Public school systems have magnet schools, fundamental schools, charter schools, and other options, but getting into these exceptional programs is sometimes daunting.

They require navigation through a rather complex application system in order to enter early lotteries. In one of these elementary schools in a Florida county, only 60 out of 550 applicants were accepted. In a middle school, 60 students were accepted from a pool of 168 applications. Many of these schools, including voucher schools, require private transportation, which is not available to Keiko’s mom.

Another obstacle is the neighborhood itself. Keiko not only lives in a poor neighborhood, but the high percentage of kids in his peer group who are also experiencing physical, nutritional, and emotional handicaps increase his problems. The kids whose parents have the resources, gumption, or fortitude to get them enrolled in better schools and other city services tend to be creamed off, leaving a residue of frustrated kids in Keiko’s peer group. Drugs are easily available on the street.

Even if his school is average and classroom behavior is mostly under control, Keiko will suffer because many teacher assignments today require computers and online access. Keiko has to search his neighborhood to find a Wi-Fi connection. Also, “flipped classrooms” where students are exposed to basic courses at home through the utilization of videos and online work in order to leave more time in the classroom for special projects, won’t help. He doesn’t have digital access and his mother doesn’t have the time or energy to help him. She works part-time and must care for his two siblings.

At this point, Keiko doesn’t demonstrate the type of mental ability or motivation needed for advanced academic work, but well-meaning politicians and intellectuals insist that all kids are the same and all should be capable of a Harvard education. Anyone opposing this stance is labeled a bigot and a racist. This is nonsense, of course, but Keiko is caught in this trap. He would prefer some career education, beginning in middle school, and eventual access to the job market, but instead is assaulted with abstract academic courses and mandated state achievement tests. All of this lowers his self-esteem and is emotionally damaging.

Anything else? Unfortunately, this is a depressing picture and there are no easy fixes.  Occasionally, a child survives this wretched beginning and emerges to do exceptionally well in academics or business. We all hear about people from poor backgrounds who have made it, but this was before we systematically creamed off the “best” kids to other schools. These exceptional cases are the result of intact families or stability and support coming from loving grandparents and/or other family members.

What’s to be done? It would help significantly if other parent figures could offer consistency during the first 12 months of life.  This could include grandparents, volunteers, and even that “lurking” biological father. Other volunteers could provide transportation and know-how to get children like Keiko into better school environments such as magnets and voucher schools. They could also serve as role models. School- sponsored tutoring usually helps.

Unless he is a high achiever and really wants an entirely academic school program, Keiko should have exposure to a variety of modern and advanced career programs. This is the path to a decent job and career, but if he still retains a discernable dialect, poor posture and appearance it makes employment difficult. “Dress for success” is not just a cute slogan. If Keiko finds a way forward, it’s likely that his children will move up and enjoy the benefits that come with a higher socioeconomic environment

Vietnam Oceania 127All of this is discouraging, but as long as well-meaning school reformers and members of the upper class pick up all the marbles for their college-bound kids, it won’t change.

 

 

Do education elites forsake poor families?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, columnist Peggy Noonan suggested that elites are distancing and detaching themselves from those at the bottom of society. What she calls a historic decoupling between the top and bottom and a disregard for the overall good of society. It’s what Noonan calls “forsaking our countrymen.” Noonan is writing about income and poverty levels, but I wonder if this is happening in education?

Noonan uses German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s unilateral decision to take in over a million Muslim refugees as an example of the pursuit of high ideals, but with little concern for the burden of social and cultural change experienced by people who live closer to the edge. Merkel’s decision, of course, isn’t a burden to those on the top.

Vietnam Oceania 127In one county in Florida that prides itself on innovative programs and a strong and dynamic core of administrators, a newspaper exposé showed that achievement in 6 to 8 schools in poverty areas was not only significantly below schools serving middle and upper middle-class families, but test scores were lower than comparable schools in other counties. Is this an example of Noonan’s hypothesis that the elite have less empathy for those on the bottom?

I don’t think so. In order to compete with private schools, voucher-driven schools, charter schools, and other competitors, the school district established high quality magnet schools, which inadvertently tend to cream off middle and upper middle- class families. Those without awareness of these programs or access to transportation, or an inability to jump through the hoops to qualify for a magnet, voucher, charter, or private school, were stranded in their neighborhood schools.

So, we have social-class segregation based on circumstance, not a diabolical plot cooked up by the school board or public school administrators. There’s little doubt that more could be done for those at the bottom who are left behind. Better teachers, more tutoring, and, especially career education, would give the vast majority of those left behind the opportunity to feel good about themselves and to eventually become independent citizens.

A closer analogy to Chancellor Merkel’s move was forced integration of our schools. This is a better fit because poor and lower middle-class students were thrust suddenly into middle and upper-middle class schools. While motivated by racial concerns, this actually had more to do with social classes. As with the Syrian refugees, forced integration left it to those on the bottom to struggle to cope with the abrupt cultural shock.

Also similar to Chancellor Merkel, the powerful people who set this in motion could take the moral high ground when there were objections and refer to complainers as narrow-minded and racist. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but there were some positive aspects to the forced integration of schools: at least kids on the bottom were exposed to good teachers, materials, and equipment.

What to do about those left behind? Efforts to surmount social-class barriers have never worked. Government and private research shows that beefed up preschool is not enough, and recent research at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, illustrates the importance of the first 12 months of life. There are more brain changes taking place at that time than at any time in the life span, and the physical and emotional effects of poverty can create long-lasting intellectual and emotional deficits.

Ten or fifteen percent of those left behind, who are capable and motivated for abstract academic work, can continue to take state-mandated achievement tests and study college prep curricula. Parents of other students should decide whether formal standardized testing is necessary, and their children should be given the opportunity to engage in career education. Unfortunately, as with the waves of migrants entering Germany as well as our previous attempt at forced integration, opponents of career education will take the moral and humanitarian high ground and label those who want realistic solutions for students on the bottom as racist.

So, I don’t think education elites are intentionally forsaking lower socio-economic class and working families, but they need a realistic view of those at the bottom and what can help them survive in our society. They must recognize individual differences and not propose solutions based on the concept that all students are the same or have the same academic potential. Sophisticated career education must play a major role if we are not to, in Peggy Noonan’s words, “forsake our countrymen.”

 

 

 

 

Brain Training. Does it Work?

BRAIN TRAINING: DOES IT WORK?

How do we maintain a healthy brain, especially in our later years? Research on neural plasticity continues to show the potential for regeneration in cognitive ability. My advice to friends and colleagues is to begin exercising unused areas of the brain. People with left-brain personalities who enjoy detailed, sequential tasks may benefit from creative, non-verbal endeavors.  Lawyers, bookkeepers, engineers and the like might forego crossword puzzles and take up art or other hobbies that promote right-brain attributes such as spontaneous creativity.

I have no research to support this recommendation, but my understanding of the literature points me in this direction. More recently, commercial products are available and claim to substantially increase memory and mental fitness. So called brain-training groups are becoming popular. The brain-training industry is forecast to grow to $1 billion in the next five years. 1.

What does the research show? One study had one experimental group use online games aimed at improving reasoning and planning. A second group did exercises to boost short-term memory and attention. A control group just browsed the internet.

 

What happened? Those using the brain-training exercises improved in the specific tasks they practiced but their performance wasn’t any better than the control group. And none of the groups showed improvement in skills that weren’t specifically used in their tasks. So these folks improved in the tasks they practiced, but it didn’t generalize to other areas.

This reminds me of group therapy with adolescents.  Within the group, much improvement is noted in empathy, self-control and communication skills. But when they step outside the therapist’s office, they tend to revert to their former behavior. This doesn’t mean brain-training doesn’t have potential. Some bright and well meaning people are working in this area. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

  1. Naik, Gautam. “Study Finds Limited Benefits.” The Wall Street Journal, 21 Apr 2010.

School reform? Let them eat cake!  

According to mythology, Marie Antoinette was made aware of starvation among commoners.  Her response to the famine and shortage of bread was “let them eat cake.” It is doubtful that she ever said these words and they are similar to a statement made by Marie-Therese, the wife of Louis XIV some 100 years earlier. These words do suit my purposes nicely, however.

 

The great truth in this mythological story is that the upper class does not always recognize the needs of lower-class citizens. Could we be repeating this mistake today when it comes to education? Even though here in the United States we pride ourselves on not being class conscious and offering equal opportunity to everyone, the hard, cold, scientific truth is that our efforts at class equality are unrealistic and may be the cause of negative educational outcomes for all social classes. It’s just not possible for everyone to have an equal opportunity for every level of education. Most people jump to the conclusion that what’s holding back advanced academic education is poor teaching and/or inappropriate teaching materials.

These good folks believe that if the system could be changed, much as the French revolution led to gradual economic improvement which eventually headed off starvation, every student could have their fill of cake. But the critical difference is that eating cake is not like learning. Almost anyone can eat cake, but learning requires certain pre-existing capacities and capabilities within each student.

Unlike a healthy diet, many other special ingredients are necessary to allow for academic proficiency. In general, these include two-parent families, nurturing, structure, the development of self-control, stimulation of the brain through parent reading and family discussions, early reading, etc. etc. And learning abstract academics at a high level is probably limited to 25 to 40% of the student population anyway, due to the normal distribution of intellect. I live in a modern, progressive community, yet only 19% of the population have a college bachelor’s degree.

Most students need bread in order to survive, but I’m afraid we are insisting they eat cake, instead. In this analogy, cake equals college. Our present mythology is that all children will attend college and eat the academic cake whether they like it or not. We will force feed them cake even if it makes them sick, and that is exactly what it is doing.

This push for college is based on mythology which rivals that of 18th century France. This belief asserts that all students have a right to college and all students are capable of college. Anyone who does not attend college is left behind, rejected, and somehow discriminated against. How about that apple tart with the cherry on top (Harvard)? Yes, Marie-Therese loves that idea. All of those hungry children enjoying a never ending birthday party right there at Harvard! Goodie, kind of like Alice in Wonderland.

How is it making them sick? The majority of our student population, especially those coming from a deprived background, do not find abstract academic work relevant in any way, shape, or form. But does it actually make them sick? Because they don’t have the skills they could learn through advanced career education, they become economically deprived adults with few salable abilities in the competitive marketplace. They are sick, but it’s more a chronic disease than an acute infection, and unfortunately it lasts a lifetime.

And to make things worse, through the process of creaming (siphoning off), those students who are least likely to want cake are being rounded up in neighborhood schools for forced-feeding. Parents who have the knowledge and wherewithal to get their kids into better public and private schools take them out of the neighborhood schools. Critics blame these elite schools for taking the best and brightest students, but it’s actually the parents who do most of the creaming. This is simply because they want the best for their children.

These parents search for good public schools in wealthy neighborhoods, schools that often require transportation (which some poor parents can’t afford), and public magnet and charter schools, as well as private schools. Public schools also cream, both within and between schools. For a partial list of institutional creaming devices, both overt and subtle, please see my book The Elephant in the Classroom.

At the present time, schools are evaluated based on the test scores of their students. In order to keep that all important school grade high, students who desperately need career education are often not referred to career programs because they are retaking that darned algebra test for the third time! So there we have it. These hungry students are sampling cupcakes to prepare them for the kitchens at Harvard.

101_0126Will creaming in our society ever end? No, and it probably shouldn’t. We live in a competitive meritocracy and constantly strive to be the best. For example, many times in our history we have set up selective hurdles for immigrants. Business recruiters go to elite universities because they believe those universities have done much of their work for them by creaming off the best students. Even though I don’t like to be thought of as elitist, when I get on an airplane I want the best pilot to fly my plane. Creaming even extends to children’s play time because parents are careful to arrange playdates that expose their kids to right kinds of friends.

But I think this education thing is different. The concern here is what happens to those who have not been creamed; those who have been truly left behind educationally? Answers to this question are found in some Florida public schools with Wall-to-Wall Academies. Ninth grade students select exciting and sophisticated career options such as aeronautics, where they can earn a pilot’s license. And those students who are turned on by academics have an opportunity to pursue college and eat cake as well as bread, if they wish.

So let them eat bread –– and cake.

 

 

Creaming For High Test Scores

Some naive school reformers think all schools can receive high test scores because they believe all  kids have the same academic potential. This just isn’t true. Only 30% or so are capable of advanced academic work. As a result, all schools, public and private, fight over the best students. Kids with the most academic potential are creamed or siphoned off by other schools, or the parents themselves.

Below is a list of ways kids are creamed. I just learned of two additional ways of creaming: Require parents to do volunteer work or ask for extra money for special programs, uniforms, etc. Here is the old list.

  1. A wealthy neighborhood draws higher-achieving students at the expense of schools in moderate and poor income areas. (Parents not residing in a wealthy neighborhood can, and do, give fictitious residency addresses or find courses available in the top schools that are not available in their local school, triggering automatic enrollment).
  2. The opening of courses or schools that require parental vigilance will lead to creaming. An example is magnet schools.
  3. Any programs or schools with waiting lists create a selective population. Examples would include charter schools and fundamental schools.
  4. Programs requiring parent or student private transportation.
  5. Having the best teachers and courses because of insider information.
  6. The use of private tutors.
  7. Having parents who are active in the school, such as room mothers or PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) members.

Overt selection:

  1. Children in AP (advanced placement).
  2. Children in gifted classes.
  3. Children in gifted charter schools (These are public-private schools).
  4. Children in the International Baccalaureate Programs.
  5. Children admitted to college-prep courses based on achievement test scores. (Public school collegiate academies).
  6. Children admitted to collegiate high schools that promise a high school degree and two years of college credits –– all in only four years!

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

 

       How demanding equality hurts education and mental health.

We are letting our emotions and humanistic strivings lead us down a dangerous path if we believe that “all men are created equal.” The truth is that all men are created unequal. There are no two humans who are equal in every respect, or even most respects. Our admirable impulse to make everyone the same is pretty dumb, when you think about it.

Our Constitution speaks of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness –– but it doesn’t say or intend that we will be equally happy, prosperous, successful, or holy.

Let’s start with Will Rogers, America’s greatest humorist. When he visited Communist Russia, he noted that “they don’t allow competition between different teams in athletic events. They claim that it is against true Communism; that if you defeat your fellow man it might make him think he is not as good as you, and they don’t want to leave that impression. If that was the way we looked at it over home (U.S.A.), imagine how poor Harvard would feel.”

Good old Will had it right, and I like the fact that he started with Harvard University. According to many Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, and politicians in general, all students should go to Harvard. If they don’t, it means our teachers are incompetent and we have let our kids down.

This fear of differences leads to unrealistic school policies. There is big-time pressure for all students to succeed in academics, regardless of ability, motivation, or lack of early support and stimulation at home. This pressure to succeed academically translates to everyone needing to attend college, which in turn means pressure for all students to prepare for college.

This in turn means everyone should graduate from high school and that American schools have failed because some students are below grade level in reading or math. There is also denial of the fact that a high academic mental ability is necessary to achieve in academics! Critics of our school system say: “Surely everyone can at least learn to comprehend reading and math at grade level.” But they can’t.

The most harmful part of this “do-gooder” motivation is the lack of political support for career education. Kids who could do something they find relevant and earn industry certifications, instead drop out of school or learn watered-down academics that won’t land them a job.

How about mental health? A number of years ago marvelous movie and play, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, generated sympathy for mentally ill individuals in state hospitals. Both conservatives and liberals decided it would be best to relocate these individuals in urban areas and support them with medication. This was once again based on the assumption that all people are the same or pretty much the same and embedding mentally ill people into a normal environment would make them well. Some of this may have been effective and there were some abuses in state hospitals, but we now have a large population of street people who are not receiving the mental health services they deserve.

This gets us back to the school system, because the same insistence on equality has led to placing children with significant emotional disorders in classrooms with non-ill kids. I have a friend who taught the sixth-grade for 25 years and one of his students was assigned a full-time aide to help in the classroom. The child could not keep up academically, and the class and school were losing their accreditation. The solution? The aide started taking the tests for the handicapped child –– that solved the problem.

Are there any limits to benevolent impulse? I suppose the next step will equate people and animals. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced recently that elephants will no longer perform in the circus. Elephants have been used in circuses for 200 years and if they were systematically abused, this is a good move. One author of a book on elephants indicates that they are sentient animals capable of a full range of human emotions.

If this is true, it means the elephant book author should receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Neuropsychologists are only beginning to study the several trillion neurons and connections in the brain and have little understanding of its makeup. The full range of human emotions may eventually be found in the human brain but we still have a long way to go.

We don’t even want to get into the potential inequalities found in gender differences, do we? Some people purport that men and women are the same, but it’s interesting to note that transgender research is showing differences in male and female brains and for every 100 males who graduate from college in 2016, 139 females graduate.  Mark J. Perry, American Enterprise Institute, The Wall Street Journal, “Notable and Quotable,” May 2, 2002. Yet accusations of sexual misconduct come primarily from females and not males. I would like to suggest that maybe the genders are not the same.

When I was studying clinical psychology, books on individual differences were all the rage. I haven’t seen one lately. If you have a copy, maybe you could lend it to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Push Back?

So where’s the push back? In December 2015, scientist Robert Sherrer reflected on the endless, empty summer days when he was a youth; a time when kids daydreamed, explored their neighborhood and invented games. Where do kids today find the time to daydream, when they can be playing computer games instead? Modern children, he says, are deprived of the key ingredient that develops a scientific attitude; “boredom, and lots of it.” Robert Sherrer, “How to Raise a Scientist in the Xbox Age,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 22, 2015.

Will the pendulum swing the other way? There has been an upsurge in Contemplation Therapy. Recent research shows that subjects who were taught mindfulness meditation with close attention to bodily sensations did better than a control group which was encouraged to chatter and ignore their bodies while their leader cracked jokes. Gretchen Reynolds, “Contemplation Therapy,” New York Times Magazine, Feb. 21, 2016. Wow, chatter and ignore their bodies? Reminds me of the drivers who are texting as they go merrily along their way –– and endangering all of us!

The Waldorf Schools are prohibiting the use of electronic gadgets at home as well as in school, and teachers claim they can spot the negative effects immediately when their students have been using electronic media at home. Harvard Educational Letter, Vol. 27, Number 6, December, 2011.

In Germany, children as young as three are sent to the forest where they sleep in tents, ride horses, pick berries and swing over the water on a rope. According to Jessica Holzer, these German kindergartens are in “Teutonic crash courses in becoming independent with minimal allowances for the tender age of participants.” Jessica Holzer, “Kindergarten Campouts Test Helicopter Parents,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 29, 2015.  Sooner or later, we always get a backlash to any movement, but this is an extreme one and will make Developmental Psychologists and most parents very unhappy.

 

This is all interesting, but where’s the research? A recent study demonstrated that play with electronic toys is associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with play with books or traditional toys. To promote early language development, play with electronic toys should be discouraged, the researchers concluded. Traditional toys may be a valuable alternative for parent-infant playtime if book reading is not a preferred activity.  Anna V. Sosa, JAMA Pediatrics Feb., 2016.

Another study focuses on electronically-enhanced toys and the impact on parent-child interactions. This was prompted by other recent evidence that a rich variety of parent-child interactions has long-term effects on areas of cognition and learning. The study compared the quantity and quality of the language children learned during play with either a traditional non-electronic toy or an electronic shape-sorter toy, to teach geometric shapes. The conclusion of the study was that traditional toys prompted more parental spatial language and more varied overall language than electronic toys. Jennifer Mzosh, et.al, Mind Brain and Education Volume 9, Issue 3, September 2015.

Hicks kids and Dan 009

So what’s really new? Not much. Research will continue to show the many dangers associated with excessive use of technology, but our dependence on it will probably grow. We may have fewer innovative scientists and creative people on the whole, but rote coursework may not be affected. Schools will continue to spend big bucks on the “latest” electronic products. And, as is often the case, educated and motivated parents will protect their kids from excessive use of technology and show them how to benefit from its effective use.

 

 

Sink or Skim in Digital World

The Digital Pandemic, Part Two

I wrote The Digital Pandemic in 2010, warning about drowning in the digital ocean that now covers us all. What has happened over the past six years? Some have coined the term Cyber Native to describe how our youth function on a day-to-day basis. When kids have over 1000 friends on Facebook and are exposed to almost 12 hours per day of media, not including school work on their computers or media exposure at school, I prefer the term Skimmers. Yes, they must skim just to stay afloat. They must sink or skim!

And electronic games are an additional concern. They do nothing to develop the all-important frontal lobes of the brain. Rather, the brain is being rewired to master narrow visual and fine motor skills. Meanwhile, we see an increase in concentration problems and less imagination and creativity in our classrooms.

While many of us have doubts about the push for educational technology, billions are spent each year in our public schools.  One public middle school in my hometown claims “a powered up magnet (school) sees gains in achievement and behavior.” Yes, the 88 sixth-graders enrolled in an inaugural class for innovation and digital learning did well on their achievement tests, but when I reviewed applications to this public magnet school I discovered that only 31% of applicants were admitted to the program. Colleen Wright, Tampa Bay Times, Jan. 31, 2016.

As I tried to make clear in my book, The Elephant in the Classroom, high test scores often result from “creaming” off the best students. With a carefully selected student body, we can be certain they will do well whether they use white boards, smart phones, or quill pens! We need to pay more attention to the student population when analyzing school reform claims. Thirty to forty percent of students have sufficient motivation and ability to continue to college, and career education needs to be offered to all students.

to be continued . . . .