Monthly Archives: January 2016

Palin’s Trump Speech Should Sound Academic Alarm for Parents and Teachers

I admit, I laughed out loud when I read Sarah Palin’s speech endorsing Donald Trump for president.

But the speech wasn’t funny – contrary to all the searing send-ups on the internet, including Andy Borowitz’s Jan. 22, 2016, piece in the New Yorker. 

Incomprehensible might be a better word for it.  In fact, her inventive language (“squirmishes,” anyone?)  brought to mind Lewis Carroll’s poem, “Jabberwocky,” from Through the Looking Glass:

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.


“Beware the Jabberwock, my son

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

And so on.

But Palin is no literary genius. Not only was her speech not amusing, it was intellectually disturbing. And embarrassing, considering her national audience. Make that international.

To the former vice-presidential candidate, however, I’m sure its wonders were quite amazing. To me, she’s the product of too much self-esteem and too little ability.

Only a “hopey-changey” liberal would dare find fault with such a speech.

Well then, call me “hopey-changey.”

Because communicating, and communicating well, is one of the biggest reasons we bother educating children.

It’s why we babble and coo at our babies, and read toddlers endless stories, and listen to their woes with empathy. It’s why we help them with their spelling words, and teach them to make outlines and write paragraphs with topic sentences that are supported by facts and examples and anecdotes.

It’s why we teach them to check for spelling and punctuation, word-usage and sentence structure. Because if they don’t learn the rules, they won’t know when they’re breaking them.

And then the fun stuff happens when we get to help them practice their oral reports, so they can stand up in front of the class and make organized and logical presentations. They learn what is true and what is eloquent, and the difference between fact and opinion.

We do these things because we want to instill a desire for excellence in our children. Not perfection, but a sweet striving. Forget the ribbons and accolades for everyone, regardless of merit. Forget the cheaply-won trophies and awards.

Why does excellence matter?

Because ultimately children grow up. And people will expect them to be capable of expressing themselves, talking about what they know and think and feel with competence. In a way that actually make sense and identifies them as rational thinkers.  Not some crazy character that’s just gone through the looking glass.

But Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to care about excellence in communication or anything else, for that matter.  In fact, the Tea Party as a whole can’t handle the notion that knowledge is worth attaining.

Why is this?

Because learning anything new is really hard when the rational-thinking brain has to compete with fear. And Tea Partiers are just like a bunch of Henny Pennys whose sky is perpetually falling. Sadly, they can’t seem to help it.

Here’s how it works: when people are fearful, their stress hormones run amok. Especially cortisol. The more anxious and afraid people feel, the more their brains get used to hanging out at the far end of the stress continuum, up there near fight/flight or freeze.

What does fear have to do with academic excellence?


In order for the part of the brain that is responsible for rational thought to function well, people need to feel safe. Indeed, they need to grow up feeling safe, and see the world as a good and safe place.

Without the feeling of emotional and physical safety, the brain connections necessary for calm, rational thought are not made. The older people get, the more these patterns are reinforced, and the harder it is to turn it around – as plastic as the human brain might be.  But this isn’t new information.  In fact, it’s been around for a while.

Unfortunately, those who need it most – fearful, mediocre people with too much self-esteem – don’t really care.  FFG

Resources: For more information on the effects of toxic stress on the developing brain, go to

Toastmasters International “empowers individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.” Check it out!



Scholastic Wrong to Pull Plug on Controversial Picture Book, A Birthday Cake for George Washington

When I heard about Scholastic’s decision to halt distribution of A Birthday Cake for George WashingtonI immediately ordered two copies.

By pulling the plug on this book, Scholastic is underestimating the cognitive and emotional intelligence of children. Why is it so hard to comprehend that while slavery was a horrible institution, slaves were human beings, and human beings will seek out joy wherever they can find it – no doubt a failing of the human spirit.

Human beings also need to love their children. Perhaps even their work. Even when there is little hope of freedom.

A Birthday Cake for George Washington is about the President’s cook, a slave named Hercules, and his daughter Delia, who tells the story.

A Birthday Cake for George WashingtonTogether the pair take on a daunting challenge: They must make the President’s birthday cake, but have run out of sugar.

Sugar. Of all things. The irony should not be lost anyone.

Announced today in the news, the decision to pull the book off the market seems like pandering. Instead of allowing one individual’s story to be told, the publisher insists we see slaves as one tortured group. A patchwork blanket of blacks and browns.

Would it be so terrible for kids to read a story about an individual slave who loved his daughter? Whose lot in life was not desirable by any means, but who whose skills brought him satisfaction and pride? Respect, even?

Scholastic has made the decision for us.

Maybe they haven’t heard that young children Continue reading

Lost at the Library: The Importance of Empathy for Life’s Little Traumas

An ocean of worry trickled down the little girl’s cheeks.

I stooped down to her height. “Would you like a tissue?”

She squeezed her small body together, as though willing herself not to fall apart.  


“Can’t find your daddy?” I said, digging a tissue out of my fanny pack.

“Daddy!” she cried. It came out like a small explosion. Continue reading