Archive for October, 2012

TIGERS?

October 24, 2012

Recently, a close colleague initiated some thoughts relative to some currently-popular notions of child rearing, in particular those expressed by the Kim sisters in their book. ”Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers”…. and Chu’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. The “perpetrators” who follow “a highly active role in channeling their students’ progress in academics and other personal growth skills” are sometimes referred to as “Tiger Moms”, conveying a somewhat inaccurate picture of someone taking the last generation’s Tough Love to further extremes.
Examples were provided of what has become stereotypical of Asian Americans—-they are all high achievers in the academic world and owe a major element in their success to the prodding and support of loving, but rigidly restrictive, parents. The suggestion is that this would be something that other parents should consider if they really want their children to succeed in a highly competitive world.
Some of this harkens back to an earlier blog I wrote in which I described my experience in evaluations of alternative high schools, and in which I asked the question of students, “Why are you being successful here but you weren’t in the regular school?”  The answer was always some version of “Because an adult took an interest in me and wouldn’t let me fail”, essentially saying that a lack of the kind of quality espoused by the Tiger Mom Perspective was a prime factor toward the child’s failures. As a further comment, I said that in my 40 years of school administration, it was very unusual for students coming from stable families, whether both parents or a single parent, to not graduate from high school. The stability included helping the child gain self confidence and know that there was a loving figure committed to the child becoming a successful adult.
And this is where I might have some differences with the Tigerism, depending upon the degree of parental and family involvement in providing an umbrella of external motivation to the targeted individual. My initial question would be, how intrusive should be those influences on the child’s performance? As I have written before, a program has a better chance of success if the participants’ have ownership of the decisions necessary for implementation and operation; might this also apply to an individual? If there is too much pushing and prodding from external sources, then the question becomes, “Who owns the success?” Might it not be more fruitful to provide or establish in collaboration with the child a buffet of choices for the child to make, along with interactive discussion of the consequences of each, and let the child make the choice? Of course, the choices presented must all be satisfactory to the parent, but the child is given a goodly share of the power toward personal guidance, and also must live with the consequences.
Too often, we ignore teaching children to evaluate their own performance, to establish associated goals, and to design a plan of action toward achievement. Our Western perspective is one of achievement being representative of the individual’s ambition and industry; many non-Western cultural viewpoints look upon the individual’s performance as a reflection of the family. Thus, in the latter case, the individual is properly submerged within the gestalt of the group. That is not normally an acceptable option within much of our own culture.
Finally, there are cases where two parents may not be in alignment with the implementation of the Tiger approach, just as they also might not agree on any other type of child-rearing practice. It’s not unusual for the male to abandon most of the responsibility to the mother, although reserving “the right” to be critical when things don’t go especially well. In fact, it might be less of a problem in a single parent scenario, as the potential schism would not exist and thus would avoid additional anxieties and tension being added into the mix.
I must confess that all of these comments are based upon my own speculation without having read anything more than reviews and articles referencing the Tiger literature. As such, they are only opinions but perhaps ones that offer a springboard to further consideration.
I can withdraw into my comfortable Winter shell, tomorrow facing the first major snowstorm of the season, and try to plan my travel route to my son’s California wedding next week. I’ve already delayed leaving until this Saturday, and hope that next wave goes somewhere where I’m not.
At the same time, I’m continuing my experiment with Alpha Lipoic Acid to see if it has a positive effect on my neuropathy. Maybe it’ll help my chipping.
Always Be Happy!                                        To Our Youth!

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Randomly Yours

October 14, 2012

Occasionally one needs to be able to have a few moments just to savor, and with me, that offers a wide range of topics. Over my many years, I finally recognized fairly late in my career path that one of my fundamental personality traits was the avoidance of ever doing anything in any “real depth”.

At the same time, I have always wanted to know a bit about everything, a characteristic which stood me in good stead as a school administrator because it gave me some insights and empathy throughout the curriculum, and thus an understanding of what my teaching staff had to deal with. I could appreciate the concerns of the physical education teacher as well as those of the band instructor, the math and English teachers, and the shop and social studies instructors. Malcolm Gladwell would have categorized me as both “A Connector” and “A Maven” in his book, The Tipping Point. Others would have called me a Dilletante, with a capital “D”. And still others would have just called me Lazy. My prowess at Trivial Pursuit was legendary in the circles in which I ran; unfortunately it didn’t provide any financial rewards.

In Anton Gregoric’s rating system, I came out as Abstract Sequential, in other words, I have ideas and I can establish a sequence of events and activities in order to implement them, but after that, I’m finished and ready to move on to something else. And turn it over to a Concrete Sequential for implementation.

Which brings me back to my beginning point—-when I savor, it may be about anything, and you, the reader, become the victim.

Let’s start with some comments about the upcoming election and politics. I have recently become more disgusted than I was before, having felt that I had been able to tune out much of the rhetoric (read, BS). But I really need to say that there are three persons who are far above their colleagues in the area of being rude and obnoxious; this is unfortunate because all of them are extremely bright but their manner and mannerisms destroy what otherwise would be a significant contribution to their points of view. Those persons are Chris Matthews, maybe the most obnoxious person on TV; Joe Scarborough who, on his excellent “Morning Joe” cable show on MSNBC, consistently puts down his co-host with rudeness and verbal abuse; and finally the terrible performance of our Vice-President during last week’s debate when he was condescending, rude, and loud. Had he pursued a serious or at least calm demeanor, his message representing his party’s platform might have been heard, but it was overwhelmed by the nastiness of his performance. I believe he lost a lot more voters than he might have won. I certainly don’t want someone like that as my President. But then I don’t want any of the other guys, either. They’re far worse from the perspective of what they would do with our economy, as well as the major social issues they ignorantly raise. Here’s an example of poor thinking:

They decry the suggestion for raising the taxes about 4 % on the rich, saying that you shouldn’t discourage the “Job Creators” by taking away more of their money that would be used to create jobs. But I read an article submitted by a Republican billionaire that said, “that argument is so much BS (my translation). What allows them to create jobs is if the middle class has more buying power, creating demand, which in turn allows businesses to add more employees to make more goods. They’re  not going to add any jobs if there’s no demand. Actually, it’s the Middle Class that causes jobs to be created.”   Unfortunately, the Jobs Bill that President Obama had submitted to Congress was defeated by the Republican-dominated House; it was to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure with millions of jobs, and thus more tax revenue to replace whatever needed to be borrowed to fund the program. They just couldn’t see him be successful.

One further comment on that: Who is Grover Norquist? I don’t recall anyone ever voting for him. Why is he directing this “Assault on Reason”?

As for Abortion and Gay Marriage, they are taking away too much time from dealing with our real problems. If you don’t believe in either one, then don’t do it. It doesn’t affect you directly unless you’re a participant. A recent stupid ruling says that at conception, the fertilized egg is entitled to all the privileges of a fully- born person. Biologically, that egg “has the capacity” to become a human, but is not yet there. Probably the same thinking that considers a corporation as an individual.

Whenever I hear a politician refer to “The American People”, or I see him wrinkle his brow and widen his eyes to appear sincere, I know that there is more BS coming. How they have the arrogance and effrontery to act as though they’re representing all of us, by stating a partisan position, calls out for FactCheck.com to do its work. When they start a statement with “I think” I realize that (a) they’re expressing an opinion, not a fact, (b) they’re probably not thinking, and (c) there’s probably at least one or more other opinions about the same issue and we will be lucky if one of them is correct.

I continue to hear comments about “how far we’ve come” in the Arena of Tolerance. Yes, we’ve made some steps, but there’s a long way to go before racism goes the way of polio and smallpox. The current wave of Islamophobia sweeping through much of the lesser educated regions of our country is a major example of large groups of people being ignorant about that which they attack, and some of their leaders derive their status from fostering vicious attacks of hatred to their flocks. Rather, they should be reading the Qur’an, and seeing how the two religions supplement one another, not divide. Those who perpetrate terror are Muslims in name only, they are not following the basic tenets of the faith.  But the blatantness of their actions serves to increase the lack of trust and acceptance among peoples.

Well, enough ranting for the time being. As far as my own activities are concerned, I am looking into the use of Alpha lipoic Acid, a dietary supplement, to control my neuropathy. Googling reveals that it has been used widely for years, in Europe and especially in Germany, with good results. The clinical trial in Oregon which I’m investigating is focused on this regimen, but I may begin its use fairly soon instead of going through a 16 week research trial where I may be given the placebo instead of the material under study.

And to supplement whatever benefits may accrue, I purchased an Elite Integra Massage Chair (Google it) and a Sealy 12” Memory Foam Mattress. The former is now ensconced in front of my 55” TV and seems to be personally delighted to establish new muscle aches and pains through deep probing massage. The latter will be delivered next Friday, the same day as I close on the purchase of the house.

The weather has been cooperative in providing opportunities for daily golf, with temps around 70.

I hope to soon start using the 8” Meade Cassegraine-Schmidt telescope I bought from an astronomer friend, maybe I can finally begin using that major in Astronomy I received in 1960, then forgot. The scope is fairly heavy, the tripod alone weighs 26 lbs. It has a clock drive to maintain its position focused on a celestial object, but I foresee some careful study necessary for me to really use it. Fortunately, the skies out here in Wyoming are usually very clear, and all the forest fires have finally been extinguished so that the smoke is gone.

And I’ve joined a tennis group that plays two mornings a week indoors. One of the players has Alzheimer’s and seems to have a bit of trouble following what’s happening; this will be a good opportunity for me to learn more about the disease.

Finally, what is the the usage of the word, “well” at the beginning of an answer to a question? Is it still an adverb, or a noun, or is it something else? What is it really contributing to the answer?

Always Be Happy!                                                        To Our Youth!

CHOICES

October 6, 2012

A good friend recently brought to my attention a new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. In it, according to my friend who becomes a “muse” for me on this topic, self control and intelligence are wrapped up in will power, and can have significant effects upon the individual’s health and psychological well-being. The individual’s need to make decisions, “should I do this or do that”, “what if I make the wrong choice?”; she refers to the authors as emphasizing the draining quality of “too many decisions”. She also uses as an example the daily interactions of teachers with their flocks; for good teachers a highly-draining experience as they respond and make decisions affecting individual children’s needs as much as hundreds of times each day. I personally recall that I was much more fatigued, in toto, after a day of teaching five or six classes than I was after a hard day’s labor of digging and hoeing. I totally agree with that example; a further example from my experience as a school principal points to the fact that much of what I had to deal with, and make decisions about, were negative situations. Persons generally didn’t come to the office unless something was wrong, and as one of my administrative colleagues pointed out, “it’s as if there’s a monkey clinging to their shoulders and they’re hoping it leaps over to yours, thus relieving them of the problem” (this was a good motivation for me to spend lots of time out in the building visiting classes and having positive experiences with staff, students, and parents).

There are some other areas described that I would need to reflect upon before fully accepting them. Not having the book, I’m speculating only from my own experiences and personal reflection. One of the points raised was that if lots of small activities could become habitual or standardized, that would clear out a large portion of decision-making in our daily lives. It could be the protocols we use in getting up and about each day, in establishing the right foods to eat as a pattern, in the routes we take to our jobs, and so forth. This would allow us to focus on the “bigger things” in our lives.

This is where I have some disagreement; decision-making creates personal ownership, even if it can be a draining experience. But as we know from experience as administrators or managers, in order to have a successful program we need to have our co-workers feel important. A major approach to doing so is to involve them in the decision-making process. They need to be “empowered”, and shared management is a good option to do so. Living in a Republican-dominated state, I am frustrated in Presidential elections if I choose to vote for someone other than a Republican, due to the anti-democratic protocol of the Electoral College. My vote doesn’t really count, I don’t have even a modicum of voting power.

Decisions are part and parcel of making choices; Ms. Muse mentions an example of Obama indicating the fact that he only has two colors of suits, removing  a small area of decision-making from his daily tasks in order to allow him to address the larger ones. However, my own opinion is that Mr. Obama is highly analytical; decision-making for him occurs at a measured, studied pace. This is what I want in a President. But it does  not do him well in debates, he needs to have an opportunity to analyze his opponent’s comments, and in depth, before providing a reasoned answer.  Debates don’t lend themselves to this aspect of intelligence.

In some of my earlier blogs, I offered my opinion that individuals and groups who are considered as “Conservative” often like to establish a structure that makes the decisions for them, and then try to fit everything of that nature into the structure whether it is appropriate or not. Educational programs have been prime examples; for years we have moved kids through the “grade system” from Kindergarten on up, basing such movement not on each child’s attainment of skills but more a pattern for administrative convenience easily structured initially on a child’s age rather than level of development. Only in recent years have we really begun to look at kids and their developmental needs, individually. But the “old” way minimized decision-making.

She indicated that the authors then explore issues of self-control and will power, situations in which an individual makes a choice about whether or not to do something.  Choosing, for example, not to “do drugs” or other vices is cited as an example of self-control and will power. I submit that it may only be a lack of interest, it certainly has been on my part. But the need years ago to quit smoking was an extreme exercise in will power; I made a conscious decision to do so and after many attempts, was successful. At the same time, I have made other choices, some not consciously but just seemed “to happen”,  that ultimately had severely negative consequences not only for me but for others.

Further thought brings me to Jean Piaget and his theory of child development stages, where in some of the earliest growth the child learns something about cause and effect. As growth occurs, there develop differences among individuals as to the degree of recognition of this relationship; those who can look farther into the future regarding the consequences of an act may appear to be exercising strong self control when in fact they may have evaluated consequences and rewards from an intellectual perspective. Avoidance of perceived negative consequences  play a role also. Some of these scenarios will no doubt involve relationships, probably the most anxiety –producing situations where self-control and will power need to be exercised. I personally often want to communicate with persons with whom I am denied access, either due to factors of time, distance, level of status, and other issues. For me, the need to speak or write directly about “deep topics” is especially stimulating, and much less so to address them by writing in a general manner rather than to a particular individual.

These thoughts need to be explored further by me, and perhaps some others will offer new perspectives.

In other areas, I continue to pursue the withdrawal of the use of steroids as treatment for my auto-immune disease. So far, the only thing that has prevented me from playing golf has been weather; last night we had our first snow, a couple of inches that melted off before noon. Tomorrow I drive across the Big Horn Mountains, hopefully blanketed with a beautiful blanket of new snow, to do a school evaluation in a district that only has 92 kids. As the location is very isolated, we are forced to stay for three nights at an exclusive dude ranch 12 miles from the schools, the Ucross ranch (google it!). Unfortunately, the rigors of the activities prevent me from really enjoying the ranch’s amenities other than a good night’s sleep.

I’m in the process of becoming a potential participant in a clinical trial for a new treatment for neuropathy; I’m awaiting a recommendation whether to proceed from my doctors. That way, I won’t have to make the decision! And looking toward the future, I’m ordering a massage chair and memory foam mattress to help with the treatments!

Always Be Happy…Always!

UPWARDLY BOUND

October 1, 2012

A recent blog eloquently coupled a perspective written by an athletic champion (Kirk Mango, “Becoming a True Champion: Achieving Athletic Excellence from the Inside Out”) with a suggestion that the principles stated relative to athletic excellence could easily be adopted toward improvement in other areas. Emphasis was placed on academic and personal improvement interventions, and the steps toward such achievement can be easily referenced to already existing, but not used effectively, activities which schools are only just beginning to recognize as keys to success.

Determining strengths and weaknesses, in the world of academia, relies on the gathering of relevant data and subjecting it to keen analysis. Some attempts are being made through the use of standardized testing, often yielding only mediocre information to use in the process, as a search is being made for accurate measures for accountability purposes. Only in recent years have I personally seen this genre being taken down to the individual student level; one valuable development toward this process has been the implementation of the use of rubrics along with traditional subjective data, for students to use in assessing their own strengths and weaknesses. I have seen this happen with children as young as kindergartners, creating “smiley face” rubrics before they can even write! From these assessment activities, each child can then establish goals for improvement and begin a search for interventions to move him/her toward successful achievement.

Identifying fundamentals, skills, and strategies to use in addressing the various identified individual characteristics becomes the starting point toward an active road map for personal improvement. I have recognized for a number of years that there is a need for students to learn how to assess their own skills, establish goals, and then create “a road map” toward achieving those goals. “What do you want to be doing in five years?” Being able to recognize which interventions are relevant, and which are not, is an important step in personal development. We often read, these days, of references to “21st Century Skills” and are generally left to guess at what those are.  Actually, Communication, Cooperation, Collaboration and Creativity headline those skills, along with the ability to Work Independently toward personal growth. By having the student begin to focus on his/her own needs and accomplishments, the education process becomes more personalized and “real”, and not something merely to talk about in class.

When I taught classes on Middle Level Education, I would not ask the students to write the characteristics of a Middle School; rather, I asked them to write down how their own middle/junior high school was the same or different from the idealized middle school concept. In this way, they were relating their own experience to the issue under consideration and lodging the concept into their own mind for thoughtful use. The same principle was used when I was teaching Anthropology; the question used might have been “How are you different from Neanderthal Man?”, again going from their own experience to the new. Both of these examples were a bit farther up Bloom’s Taxonomic Scale then merely Knowledge and Understanding.

Note that I was asking students to express an opinion, and one which they needed to be able to support. When we stop to think about it, it appears that most decisions are based more on opinions than on actual facts; certainly the political campaigns strongly reflect this situation. What I ask of all students is that they will be developing opinions but that they need to be strongly rooted in factual information, not just other person’s speculations. At the same time, they need to be able to evaluate what is being expressed by others, whether it is factual or opinion. This is critical to effective decision making.

Implementation of the chosen interventions is the next step toward improvement; in the world of athletics, as well as in other arenas such as the performing arts, the key words are ‘”practice, practice, and more practice” in order to make the physical movements become a part of the individual’s arsenal of skills. With that practice, movement toward mastery is achieved. We can see how this can be fruitful for educational concerns; students are constantly required to master some basic skills such as Reading with the intent that they may be used as tools toward higher levels of learning. One of the problems with schools has been the passing of students on to the next level before achieving mastery or competence in the early levels. The multi-age grouping concept, and “looping” in which a classroom of elementary level students stays with the same teacher over two or three years, are two approaches to fostering better mastery; however, it has been difficult to overcome “traditional” perspectives regarding organization and use of personnel in order to establish different methods.

A final step in the process is that of evaluation, can the individual effectively assess how far and how well he/she is making progress toward achieving the established goal. Again referring to Bloom, the highest level of learning is that of being able to evaluate what has been done in order to make changes and modifications if necessary toward further improvement. In general, we have not taught students much about how to evaluate.

Many years ago, when I was a Head Teacher for a Model Cities Project in the Inner City of Gary, Indiana, we set up a class for the 7th graders in the project. It was called, “How to Make Mistakes” and the first lesson was to tell the student that you wanted him to get you a can of tomatoes from the nearby stack, and you wanted the bottom can. When the stack fell while the bottom can was being removed, we then discussed how we should have done it, and how could we retrieve our “mistake”. This approach could lead to a whole host of discussion topics; after all, most of the stuff sold at a Home Depot is probably for use in fixing mistakes made in Do-It-Yourself projects! Trial and error is often a worthwhile approach to use in learning; at least, it’s hands-on!

Finally, let’s emphasize that these basic principles are not restricted to athletic achievement or academic success; they should be used in all areas where improvement is a desired outcome. Interpersonal relationships, financial concerns, personal growth—–all are examples at the individual level. But we can see how the same can be applied to large problems involving populations, situations currently being addressed on a national scale such as deficit reduction, entitlement programs, immigration reform, and social prejudice. Identify strengths and weaknesses, generate goals, explore potentially effective interventions, and implement.

An example with which I am personally involved has been a major change in the protocol being used to evaluate schools and school districts for the purpose of accreditation renewal. The guiding forces of the accrediting organization felt that the programs need to be more effective, and that there needed to be a greater component of subjective ratings introduced into the process. Next week I will be having my first experience with using the new protocol as a member of a team going to the smallest school district in our state (Wyoming). All but 8 of the students in the district are in one K-12 building; the others are several miles away in a smaller facility. This should be a good way to introduce us to the new directions we are to follow, before going to larger and more complex organizations. That one building is divided into elementary, junior high, and high school, sharing teachers and facilities in a manner similar to a school I evaluated with a partner last year. We were responsible only for the middle school; in this one, I’m assigned to the high school.

During all this, I hold out hope that the medications I’m currently taking to address some of the issues of my neuropathy will continue to work, as the doctor and I gradually withdraw me to very low levels and perhaps total withdrawal. However, it appears that there is before me a lifetime of dependence upon highly expensive drugs having some nasty side effects. I’ve recently contacted a research project, in Oregon, as a potential volunteer for clinical trials of new directions in treatment. In other words, I’ve assessed my strengths and needs in the arena of health, am exploring possible interventions, and will potentially implement changes and evaluations of new possibilities. Just like the stuff in this blog!

Always Be Happy!