Joy – What Kids are Missing in the Age of High-Tech

One thing I will say about my mother, who at 85 is still full of vitality: She shared a certain excitement for life that her growing children needed – my dad being a man, who, through no fault of his own, took life too seriously.  I am sure the six of us benefited greatly by having a happy mother, someone who let problems roll off her back. Though I think she could have exhibited a little more concern when it came to preventive measures. (Like the time our health teacher – a huge, balding man with thyroid eyes – told the class in no uncertain terms to make sure their families had an escape route in case of a house fire. My mom shook off his suggestion like a poisonous spider. “We’re never going to have a fire. So put it out of your mind.”)

Sometimes she showed excitement over everyday things, like the lamp she bought with S&H Green Stamps, or the delicious corn on the cob she picked up at the farmers market and would boil for exactly four minutes.

Sometimes it was about special events, like the Lenni Lenape Indian dancers she took us to see at the natural history museum, singing “hey ya” around the stage and shaking their rattles. And I can’t leave out her friend Dottie’s New Years Eve party. The next morning my mother laughed out loud as she told us about a party game she and my dad were involved in, called…um…”Pinchy Pinchy.”

Whenever figure skating came on TV, she would urgently shout up the stairs for me to come and watch. And her Hungarian Christmas cookies. She thought they were the most delicious delicacies in the world. She and my aunt and grandmother would fill enormous bins with these filled, yeasted cakes called “kifli.” And chocolate. Well, I won’t get started.

My point is this: It seems that as children are allowed to entertain themselves with computer games, sometimes even as babies, their focus moves away from the human face and spirit. Eye contact, and possibility of imitation, disappears. And they must find their own joy in a handheld device. Yes, they laugh and become animated. But the game is not relating to them as my mother related to me and I related to my children. It’s something that exists on another plane, and is really inanimate. Not only do children believe they are made happy by computer games, they become addicted to them, as a result, are less happy when not permitted to play.

As we have become a more and more technologically sophisticated society, I think children are becoming less interested in – and more disengaged – from adults.  I see this in schools when I substitute teach. It’s as though children’s memory neurons haven’t been programmed for job of sharing joyful exuberance. And there’s more than a good chance that this is the case. According to findings of neuro-psychologists such as Allan Schore of UCLA, an infant’s DNA is not fully programmed until well into the first year of life, and is highly influenced by the environment.

In almost every classroom I find at least one child who is hostile toward the suggestion of receiving adult assistance. And often I am warned about them. They positively refuse to bond with the lesson at hand, and will sit and do nothing, often finding any reason at all to become upset. Those children then grow up having had little early experience with joyful emotions that come from shared human experience. I should think the lack would result in less joy in just about everything.  Some children undertake every activity with the same absent look of boredom, and even express agitation. And there’s a definite problem with following what the teacher is saying. I find that children of all ages have a hard time with listening. Maybe because most of the time they are relating to themselves, urging themselves on to win a computer game, instead of interacting with a mom or dad.

Because more mothers are working, and have less time for interacting with their children, they could very well perform their duties in a more perfunctory way. I know it was true of me when I worked outside the home only two days a week. Mothers are often exhausted and unable to muster the necessary energy to deal with children. The result, in my opinion, is that -+kids are missing out on a normal function of the human spirit. And that is joy.

We need to convey joy to our children from the day they are born. And allow them to borrow our enthusiasm for life, so they will absorb the feeling, and take ownership of it themselves. No matter what our circumstances.

But most of all, we must convey our utter joy in THEM as unique and fascinating beings. Every single day. FFG

The Role of Early Nurturing in Preventing Hate

According to the late John Bowlby, co-founder of Modern Attachment Theory, the mother is the shaping influence of the baby’s coping capacity. But what we have now is a president who displays little ability to cope, has virtually no empathy, and who leads a base of supporters exhibiting more or less the same behaviors.

Not only is he triggered by the most benign stimuli, he has a desire to destroy what is good and promote evil. From my chair, that’s a mental illness – not a political perspective. Our church leaders should have bagged that one long ago, but many have not.

For this blog post, I have decided to style a response based on my study of maternal-infant attachment, and how this non-negotiable relationship affects a baby’s brain development and personality, in order to shed light on why some radical right-wingers may have taken up the cause of hatred.

I’ve read that people are usually unwilling to make changes in their lives until a catastrophe happens. (ResilienceDiscovering a New Strength in Times of Stress, by Frederic Flach, MD.) For I fear it will take a catastrophe – a complete upset of our nation’s homeostasis – before these shameless individuals feel even the slightest tug of conscience.

The real tragedy is Continue reading

In the Real World, Spelling Counts: Helping Kids Get Past Invented Spelling

Once I got over its blatant cuteness, it occurred to me that this little essay about our now deceased parakeet, Dundee, is a good example of “invented spelling.” At this time of year, when parents are just getting used to teacher expectations, I thought the subject would make an interesting post. As the parent of four grown children and former remedial reading teacher, I think I’ve got the street cred.

Invented spelling is what young children generally use once they have learned some phonics, but have not yet had enough visual exposure to words to memorize spellings. In addition, they have not yet learned (been taught) to think through spelling at a meta-cognitive level, applying conventional spelling rules and generalizations. 
When they invent spellings, children simply write the sounds

Continue reading

Betsy DeVos: Inexperienced and Unqualified – and Anti-Public Schools

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has not one day of experience as a professional educator and has never held public office. Not a good sign.

She and her children all attended private schools due to abundant family resources. She therefore wants to give poor children the same opportunities. The same options. Or so she says.

Break out the violins.

In this teacher’s humble opinion, the best thing for most children – almost all, I would say – is a good neighborhood public school. One they can walk to, if possible. A school where children have friends that live nearby (remember when kids didn’t require a two week-in-advance play-date appointment?).

Parents need their kids’ schools to serve as a hub for the community. To be places where they can meet neighbors at a rummage sale or pot-luck supper. A place to build friendships. And where they can pick up a sick son or daughter in a matter of minutes, without traveling across town.

If one of her privatized schools doesn’t work out for a family, I heard DeVos say in an interview, they can select another one.

Is she serious?

Changing schools is traumatic. The parent – usually a mother who’s already got her hands full – needs to spend time doing research before school-hopping. But privatized schools are not accountable to anyone except themselves. If a parent has a problem with anything, tough nuggies.

Teachers’ unions are up in arms about Trump’s pick for the nation’s top educator. Why would a president pick someone who wants to destroy the most important vehicle for elevating the masses? I think the answer is plain enough. 

For corporate giants who require cheap labor, the masses need to stay where they are!

But teachers deserve to be paid what they’re worth and have sufficient benefits. They want schools that are regulated and accountable for students’ progress. Schools that won’t close down, tossing both teachers and students out on their ears when the profiteers call it quits – which has happened in DeVos’s state of Michigan, where a high percentage of schools have been privatized, due to her influence.

She makes it no secret. DeVos’s real aim is pushing for-profit schools, which she couches in beneficent terms like “school choice,” “charter schools,” and “vouchers,” making it seem as though poor families deserve what families like hers can have in a heartbeat.

But I for one am tired of hearing conservative Christians promote ministries-for-profit while posturing as saviors of mankind. Next thing we know Chick-Fil-A, the Christian Conservatives’  favorite fast-food restaurant, will be running the country’s school lunch program.

I can’t help but question: Is it really the gospel of Jesus Christ that’s on her family’s mind, or the funneling of tax payer money into corporate hands? To me, for-profit education reeks of a philosophy steeped in social Darwinism. (A nasty old bugger!) This 19th century albatross perpetuated the idea that the highest social and economic classes should take advantage of the less fortunate due to their “evolutionary” flaws. It promoted a racist agenda that encouraged the cream to stay at top of the social pyramid – while the masses floundered at the bottom.

In the past, however, public education, like the military, has been the source of upward mobility, moving people into the middle class like a great equalizer. But it has not been doing a good job of it in the past quarter-century. The effects of globalization required that our children not have quite so much general knowledge, and much maneuvering has happened on the pedagogical front, pushed into schools by non-profit-funded educational gurus like the late education-reformer Ted Sizer. His “less is more” mumbo-jumbo required massive teacher reeducation on the nine principles of his “Coalition of Essential Schools,” which became widespread in the 1990s.

It was then that I learned about the new paradigm. No longer was the teacher the teacher. She was a facilitator, and the student was to be in charge of his own learning. This changed everything. Yet no teacher or administrator offered me this information. I had to dig it out.

In my view, education reformers threw the baby out with the bathwater. Under Bill Clinton and Goals 2000 there were many reform models. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Pew, among other foundations, provided the grant money to fund the change-agents.

But here’s the thing: Children need to know what they don’t know. Otherwise they end up an arrogant lot with inappropriate levels of self-esteem and weak basic skills. In some schools, a third-grader may know what a simile is, but see no reason to copy a word correctly when it’s placed in front of him. A class may be taught about primary sources, but be clueless about capitalization and punctuation.  A cut-and-color worksheet featuring gingerbread houses and gingerbread men is presented to kindergarten children who have never tasted gingerbread. Is nobody minding the store?

When children in elementary school are given developmentally and cognitively accelerated learning concepts, they are pushed too quickly into abstract thinking before they are ready for it. Some middle school children are so lacking in fine motor skills they cannot hold a pencil properly. Why is this? Textbooks are no longer viewed as essential learning tools, which only adds to the confusion. I wince when I think how little factual knowledge students will have when they graduate.

But DeVos’s pay-for-play leadership is not the answer to these problems. What we need is an understanding that children cannot learn when they are under stress at home. Parents and other primary caregivers must gain an understanding of how abundant positive interactions build brain circuitry and bonding, for healthy cognitive and emotional development. Parents and teachers must also understand effects of childhood developmental trauma that stems from a lack of such interactions, leading to neglect, and how such neglect negatively impacts brain development. That’s just for starters. Then we need greater empathy in the classroom.  More eye-contact and compassion. And the belief that every child should develop to his or her highest potential. But teachers must also understand their role in polishing these diamonds-in-the-rough. A diamond cannot polish itself.

My term for it is sweet striving. It’s when a child is encouraged to make something beautiful and not give up, but put in their best effort.

DeVos’s realm is wealthy indeed. And vast. And it is hard to stop anyone whose money wields such power.

Quoted in this Jan. 11, 2017, Cosmopolitan article, DeVos said, “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.

“We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.

“People like us must surely be stopped.”

I’m not sure what she’s implying in her last statement. Except that it’s a projection of what she believes people would like to do to her and those who support her. And she would be right. FFG

Surprised by Snow

We never seemed to know when a snow storm was coming. Back in the day we didn’t have Doppler Weather Radar. Or maybe we just didn’t care.

But no big deal. Most mothers were stay-at-home, and expert in the science of unjamming snowsuit zippers, and pulling on leggings and mittens.

My siblings and I cheered when we heard the hoped-for announcement over a local radio station. We couldn’t wait to set out for Frenchy’s Hill. Somehow, all memories of frozen fingers and toes from last winter had been erased from our minds.

As we loaded up on french toast or scrambled eggs – whatever Mom had on the stove – we’d hear the early scraaape-scraaape-scrape of snow shovels on the sidewalk. Someone clearing a path. Chester Smith, the old man next door, used to yell if you stepped on his grass.  Once I shoveled his walk as a favor. He poked his head outside and grumbled, “Come here and I’ll give you a quarter!”

I didn’t even want it.

Today, once again, we have a snow day.

I was notified of the mini-vacation by the school district’s website. Red letters flashed at the top of the screen: CLASSES CANCELED TODAY, FRIDAY, JAN. 6, 2017.  Now I can hunker down, instead of substitute teaching a bunch of seventh graders whose lack of understanding about what it means to “read” anything can only be described as a gaping hole. Continue reading