Archive for the ‘Student Behavior’ Category

Marijuana Use, Then and Now, on College Campuses in Colorado

November 26, 2012


 I live overseas in North Africa, but my home state in America is Colorado.  Colorado is one of the two states which just voted to make marijuana legal.

Yesterday at home, I was sorting through some old boxes and came across the letters I had received while in high school and college.  Most were now moldy, and I was reading through them one last time before tossing them all these years later.

2011 Boulder annual “420 Pot-Smoking Rally” on the University of Colorado campus

To my surprise, in letters from 1973, I had a friend at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who said, “If you don’t smoke grass, there is nothing to do on the weekends.”  He wasn’t a smoker, but implied most people around him were.

In another letter, from my boyfriend, who was a serious student at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley,  said, “I went to a party this weekend where there was only supposed to be beer.  But when I got there, there was a pile of marijuana at least three inches high.  Everyone was rolling cigarettes (with the marijuana) and passing them around.  I passed five (marijuana cigarettes) by to other people, but I didn’t try them myself.   Everyone was stoned.”

Mass exhale of marijuana smoke on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus in 2010, at the annual “420 Pot-Smoking Rally.”

I know a student currently at the University of Northern Colorado.  I asked her what the reaction was on campus to the new law.  She told me all the college students voted for it, and many were running around shouting, “Yay!” with their arms in the air after hearing that the new law passed.  But I don’t think everyone is using it.  The student I know told me that she’s been to a couple parties where she smelled the marijuana smoke in the air, but didn’t actually see any marijuana.

I’m sure I must have been around people who used drugs, but I never associated closely enough with them to know that they really were, other than some cousins I had who used marijuana during the hippy era.  I also attended a couple of parties (in Cape Girardeau, Missouri) where I smelled the marijuana smoke in the air, but never actually saw the product myself.   I used to hear during the 1980s that one or two people I knew in business were using cocaine, but I didn’t know whether to believe it or not.

Interestingly, I’ve lived in North Africa for twenty years, and I hear that tourists are always offered marijuana in the souk.  Yet it’s never happened to me.  My husband (a local) says it’s because, “You don’t look like the type of person who would want it,” which is true!  But with it happening to so many others, I felt a little disappointed that I’d never even been asked, or approached.

I don’t know what the percentage of marijuana users in U.S. colleges was then, or is now, but I’m going to guess the percentages were/are similar.  I’m going to guess that back then, 30-40% of people tried it once, and that maybe 15-20% of people might have been regular users in college (and far fewer once they got out of college).

Legal marijuana clinic in Colorado, prior to marijuana being legalized for everyone.

I’m going to guess that with this new law, maybe 60-70% of youth may try it once, and maybe 30% might turn into regular long-term users.  In April, 2012, a marijuana-smoking rally at CU Boulder attracted 10,000 participants.  But it should be remembered that Boulder has 30,000 students, which means that 2/3 did not attend.

I predict it will be a novelty for a generation, and as health problems start to show up in regular users (such as happened with tobacco cigarettes), people will try to quit, and it will become thought low-class to be a pot-smoker, as has happened today with cigarettes.

–Lynne Diligent

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Do Cat Thieves Give Clues to the Origins of Criminality in Humans?

November 12, 2012

Here in  North Africa, I watch the neighborhood animals, who belong to no one, and make their rounds in the same places daily.  We have a lot of street animals, and cats often jump in to our house through the windows (other people’s houses, too), in search of food. Some of them can get quite aggressive, especially with our own cats.  Our cats feel they have to go outside and “defend the yard” every time they see a cat jump in over the garden wall.  Of course they go absolutely wild if a neighborhood cat jumps into our house.

I began to think about these intruders as thieves, because that’s what they would be considered, if they were humans. It’s easier for them to steal food than it is for them to hunt for it themselves in an urban environment.

It’s also easier (than working) for human thieves to do the same–either because they are lazy, or their environment didn’t give them other reasonable options, or because they are more greedy than others (white collar criminals?). I wonder how much of this laziness/greediness could be genetically determined, or if it is somewhat genetically programmed into all of us.  In fact, scientists are now finding evidence of this (see HERE and HERE).

My observation of cats in the neighborhood has lead me wonder whether ALL cats would be thieves if they weren’t fed by their owners.

Therefore, what keeps ALL humans from becoming thieves? Rather than asking the question who is likely to become a criminal (in human society), perhaps we should seek to understand this question  by asking instead, what KEEPS people from taking the easy route of becoming a thief/criminal? Instead of asking who cheats and why, maybe we should be asking, “Why doesn’t EVERYONE cheating/lying/stealing? What keeps those of us who are law-abiding citizens, so?”

I wonder if the answer lies in the environment.  Instead of saying that the environment causes criminality, perhaps the reverse is actually closer to the truth.  Perhaps we would all be criminals, except for if we have a positive environment which, as we are raised, gives us POSITIVE REWARDS (such as RESPECT or ADMIRATION) for becoming law-abiding citizens.  Those who grow up in impoverished environments (or cultural environments) where they never experience these rewards, are unlikely to become honest and law-abiding.

What do others think?

Middle Eastern Student Shares REAL Reasons Behind Anti-American Protests

September 21, 2012

Anti-U.S. Protests in Pakistan

The Arab World does not hate America because of their materialistic culture, their television programs, or their freedoms.  It’s not about that.  The real reasons behind the anti-American protests come down to an imbalance of power between the United States and the Arab World.

This week, one of my students commented on the recent violence occurring in reaction to the anti-Islamic video and the French caricatures.  She expressed a viewpoint which has merit, but which I have not seen reported elsewhere.  Quoting my student:

“The Muslims feel in competition with the West.  They feel that they have to be better, on top, the winners.  Every time the West does something, even on television, Arabs feel they have to compete.  For example, when America created the show America’s Got Talent, the Arab World created Arabs Who Have Talent.  When the West created The Voice (with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton) the Arab World created The Voice in the Arab World.  To copy American Idol, they created Arab Idol.  They copy every single thing!  They always feel in competition with America, because they feel America hates them, and does not like Arabs.  They always feel they have to be the best, but particularly better than America, most of all.”

Egyptian Winner of Arab Idol

My student also explained that the reason Muslim populations always take the side against the United States in international disputes is that they feel the REASON America doesn’t help Palestine is because they are Muslim, and that they help Israel because they are Jewish.  (Of course, not every person believes this, but generally speaking, it is quite commonly believed, even among the well-educated.)   “Here,” my student said, “they always take the side against America because they believe America doesn’t help Palestine because they are Muslim; they help Israel because they are Jewish.”

Today I watched to see what the reaction in third-world countries would be to the second print-run of the French caricatures.  Surprisingly, I found only very minor protests against France, and continued protests against the U.S., such as mobs burning the U.S. flag and pictures of President Obama in Pakistan.

Why were the protests against France so feeble, while weeks after the YouTube video, the protests against America continue so strongly?

A BBC interview with Pakistanis, on the streets of Lahore following the protest, also supports this same point-of-view my student had.  The BBC asked, “Where is all the anger coming from?  Is it all over a low-budget movie, or is it something else?”  Half of the respondents said it was because of hurt feelings over religious insults, while the other half said something different:

“They’re not just angry because of the movie.  They have their personal political issues, their personal problems.  They are angry about the wars (U.S. power in the region).”

“Whenever the powerful countries try to take over the resources of the weaker countries (how America is perceived in the entire Middle East), obviously the people living in those countries will try to protect their rights, and try to protect their resources.  Every country should have equal rights with every other country (angry about lack of power).”

“They are angry over poverty and unemployment.  There are many rich people and very poor people, and the difference is very great.  They are angry because they don’t have enough food, and mostly because they don’t have enough power.  So they are not just angry because of a simple movie.

Basically it comes down to a question of power.  Those who are choosing to protest actually have underlying anger issues at the United States that go far beyond the YouTube film.  What they are angry about is the imbalance of power–that the United States seems so overwhelmingly more powerful than the Muslim countries, and the Arab World.  There were comparatively few protests against France  because France does not have the same overwhelming power and influence when compared to Muslim countries.

At the end of my discussion with my student, I asked, “So, what you are saying is that the only way to get the Arab World to stop protesting against America  is to stop helping Israel, and to become weak (at least weak enough to be no threat to the Arab World)?”

“Exactly!” my student replied.

–Lynne Diligent

A Health Problem in North African Schools and Society?

May 16, 2012
Typical American school restroom for primary-school girls

Typical American school restroom for primary-school girls

As an American teacher living in North Africa, I was complaining to a public-school teacher friend in the same country about my perception of lack of adequate toilet facilities for girls in the international school where I taught previously.

I said that we only had had only four girls’ toilet stalls for four classes of girls.  Each elementary-school class had about 30 children, and about half of those were girls, so we had four toilets for about 60 girls.

The problem was that for several months, two of those toilets WEREN’T WORKING.  For more than two months, ONLY ONE TOILET WAS WORKING.  (For reference, current American law requires that for students over five years old, one toilet needs to be provided for every 20 pupils.)

My friend began to laugh, and told me that in his small-town school of 1600 students (approximately 1,000 boys and 600 girls), there were only three toilets for girls, and three toilets for boys!

No wonder my own school didn’t view getting the toilets repaired quickly as a problem in need of urgent remedy!

Modern school bathrooms in the United Kingdom (England)

Lurking in the background is a behavior assumption which is still unclear to me.  I have been told by some in North Africa that it’s “not polite” to use the restroom (toilet) anywhere other than one’s own home (or relatives’ home).  Yet when I asked other people, they haven’t heard of any such “rule.”

This is the type of toilet found in most schools (public and private), but as you can imagine, they are not nearly this clean.

Many public toilet facilities are unclean, but the cleanliness issue is not the subject of this post.  The AVAILABILITY of toilets, and whether or not it is socially acceptable to use them, is the topic.

When I go out with my North African husband, and we are away from home for several hours, I think it’s normal to need to find a restroom.  But my husband gets very upset and complains that “other people don’t need to use the bathroom” and that I “must be drinking too much water” or that it’s “embarrassing” for HIM if I need to find a restroom!  I wondered if this is normal, or just my husband?

When I mentioned to a North African woman friend that my husband didn’t want to take me to a musical event in the evening which he goes to regularly, and I mentioned that the reason he gave was that I said I would certainly need a bathroom during the course of the evening (8-10-hour event), she immediately agreed, “Oh, yes, that would be a big problem!”

The type of evening musical event which my husband and friend indicated would be “a problem” to take me to (if I should need a bathroom).

Doctors in North Africa have told me often over the years that people here don’t drink enough water.  On the other hand, both men and women over the years have told me, “Yes, it’s true all the doctors say to drink more water, but I don’t do it because then I would need to go to the bathroom!”

At this large music festival in Morocco, I wonder what all these people are doing about finding a restroom–are they all “waiting all day, until they get home?”

My North African husband drinks very little water (he tells me he drinks about half a glass once a week).  He does drink Coke, juices, coffee, and milk, but not much (by the standard of drinking one-and-a-half liters of liquid a day–and doctors recommend at least a liter of that be water, or four glasses a day–in America, we are told to drink eight glasses of water a day).

All of the above is similar to a problem I once experienced with a Greek lady in America, where my best friend was Greek.  My friend’s grandmother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and I offered to take the grandmother out for an afternoon in order to give his mother a break from her care-taking duties.  During the afternoon we went to a movie, and had been gone from home for about three hours.  In the middle of the movie, the grandmother got up and walked out.  I assumed she must need the restroom (she was losing her ability to communicate in English), so I took her there.  But she did NOT need it.

Later, when we got home, my friend’s mother said that in her entire life, she had NEVER seen her mother use a public restroom, that in fact, her mother (who came from Greece at the age of 18) could “hold it all day.”  Being born in America herself, she said she could not figure out how her mother could do that.  (Like North Africans, she probably was purposely not drinking any water.)

Women’s public restroom in American movie theater

So now that I live in North Africa, I wonder if this could be a Mediterranean-wide idea.  Is it that WOMEN shouldn’t use a restroom in a public place, or is it that NO ONE should use a restroom in a public place?  Is this why schools seem to think many restroom stalls aren’t necessary for children?

In most schools here, students go to school for four hours, then go home for lunch, and then come back for an additional four hours.  However, at the schools in the countryside, students are often walking 6-7 kilometers to school (4 miles) each direction, and certainly would not be walking “home” for lunch.  What are they supposed to do?

At our international school we kept foreign hours from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm, but it was still a half-hour drive for most people to-and-from school.  Believe me, it took a lot of time (when we should have been teaching) to get all the girls through the restroom when there was only one working toilet.

I hope I will have some feedback on this issue from men and women in North Africa and the Mediterranean areas, as well as from anyone experiencing any similar problems in their schools or otherwise!

–Lynne Diligent

Part II: The Shocking Truth about Children’s Eating in England and America

May 5, 2012

Children are picky eaters–it’s normal.  In the past, children would have eaten junk food if it were available–but it just wasn’t widely available.  Fast food restaurants are not to blame.  Society, which expects parents to work 60-hour weeks, is to blame.

In American society, where we have no maids or help at home, nor extended families to help out, fast food and pre-prepared food (which can just be reheated, or served as is from the store container) is the solution to a time-crunch problem (see Part I of of this series). What’s different today, from in the past, is that with the proliferation of junk food everywhere, parents at home and nutritionists at school have basically given up trying to force children to eat healthy food.  Gone are the rules of sitting at the table until vegetables are eaten, or (proper portion sized) plates are cleaned.

Package of chicken nuggets, which can just be opened and reheated. Chicken nuggets aren’t even real pieces of chicken, which is why children complain if parents try to make them at home using real chicken. (In fact, as Jamie Oliver demonstrated to children, they are made out of pureed chicken scraps (mostly skin, fat, and a tiny bit of meat) left over on the carcass after all the meat has been cut off. They are an invention of the food processing industry to see how much money can be salvaged from the last bit of waste.

Parents no longer have the time or energy to make or enforce such rules, much less to cook fresh vegetables from scratch.  But sadly, most of these children are not even being served the delicious frozen vegetable combinations that children of the 60s and 70s grew up with.

It seems that family meals are now a thing of the past in the majority of households.  With everyone “grabbing what they can on the run,” or “eating whenever they feel like it on different schedules,” as well as everyone working on their own computers in different rooms, family mealtime doesn’t even exist in many homes any more.

British Chef Jamie Oliver, known for making fresh produce accessible to all.

When I saw Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners, which showed children in England who didn’t know the names of common vegetables (such as potato and tomato) I just couldn’t believe it.  But to my surprise, in his next program, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Jamie came to America and showed us American children who did not know the same common vegetables!  But all of these children knew what French Fries and ketchup were–they just didn’t know anything about potatoes and tomatoes.

English Chef Jamie Oliver, who emphasizes fresh produce and its health benefits, showed us both British and American school children who did not know what tomatoes and potatoes were.

In America, in the 1960s and early 70s, we still had healthy, well-balanced lunches at school.  These were all planned on a monthly basis, and published in advance so everyone could decide whether to eat the hot lunch, or bring a lunch from home.

Let’s take a look at those lunches.  All included a protein, a green vegetable, sometimes a yellow vegetable, a fruit, a roll (bread), and a dessert.  The green vegetables were sometimes cooked spinach, cooked green beans, cooked peas, or something similar.  The typical fruit was a few pieces of canned apricot, canned peach, or canned applesauce.  Sometimes the desserts were two cookies, and a brownie.  Students went through one cafeteria line, and everyone was served the same healthy lunch.  Pizza might be served once a month, and hot dogs might be served once a month.  Those were very popular days.   Macaroni and cheese might be served twice a month, and red spaghetti with meatballs might be served twice a month with a small bit a fresh salad.  The only drink given was a small carton of milk, and once a week, students were given the choice to have chocolate milk.

tacos for school lunches

While this is a modern lunch tray in a school which obviously cares, I’m certain that the majority of kids drink the chocolate milk and eat the taco, while throwing away the rest. This was true in the 60s and 70s, and it is why so many schools have done away with trying to serve things that kids won’t eat (vegetables and fruits).

So what actually happened to these lunches?  Did students eat these healthy lunches?  Not generally.  The meat or chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy,were generally eaten.  A few kids ate the canned fruit, but more threw it out.  Hardly anyone touched the green vegetables because canned green vegetables generally do not taste good, are overcooked, and often stringy, and canned spinach is pretty disgusting.  some kids ate the fresh salad, but more did not.  So roughly 50 percent of the food was thrown away into the bins every day.  Parents and school districts lamented all the wasted food, as well as the cost of all of it.

Were we taught about nutrition in those days at school, and at home?  Of course we were.  Most mothers were cooking healthy, balanced meals and teaching their children about the four food groups, as well as pointing out those groups on the plate when they were served.  Most people were eating properly-sized servings at home and remained at a healthy weight.

The four food groups, as taught in the 1960s and 1970s.

Families went to a nice restaurant about once or twice a month, and to inexpensive or fast-food restaurants no more than twice a month.  No one bought pre-prepared food at supermarkets, in fact, supermarkets did not yet sell that.  Many mothers did use frozen vegetables, which were of higher eating quality than canned vegetables.  But more people ate canned vegetables because they were cheaper.

The generation before that, most people were still canning vegetables at home in winter, and fresh produce in summer.   I still remember my mother talking about growing up in Colorado during the 1930s, where getting ONE orange in the Christmas stocking was considered a worthy gift from Santa Claus.  Fresh fruit was still expensive and rare, especially during winter.  By the 60s and 70s, few people were still doing that.  Those who could afford it began using high-quality frozen foods to reduce food preparation time, and those who could not afford it ate canned vegetables.   Fresh foods were available, but they were not in as wide variety as they are today, and they were always expensive.

Did all of this make us eat our vegetables at school, or even like them?  Of course not.  Because of the disgusting quality of the canned green vegetables at school, many people got turned off green vegetables for life.

Cooked spinach, served directly out of a can on a lunch tray is disgusting to most people, particularly children.

This is why you still find many men in their 50s and older who still won’t eat their vegetables!  (Women eat more vegetables because they are still more concerned with meal planning and the health of their families.)

When I was four, I was a very picky eater and refused even to eat things like steak.   Only by the time I was in high school did I  come to appreciate the good-quality foods my parents forced me to eat at home.  In those days, the concept of “children’s foods” and “adult foods” did not exist.  Children were served, and expected to eat, the same foods as adults.  Many children of today never learn to appreciate these good, fresh foods.

Most children are picky eaters, and if left to their own devices, will always choose a junk-food diet.  The difference is that when that junk food is not available anywhere, most children do eventually learn to appreciate healthy foods.  The problem with many of today’s children, as exemplified in the television program Jamie’s School Dinners, which can be seen HERE, is that with today’s proliferation of junk food, adults have given up and started serving children the junk food they crave–not as an occasional treat, but as their regular fare.

Unhealthy lunch tray that many kids crave.

Typical school diets in England of pizza and chips (French Fries), according to a nutritionist who analyzed the meals, lack even minimal vitamin C and iron; these diets also promote heart disease, diabetes, and cancer,” she says.  All the problems being treated in the National Health Service come back to what we are feeding our children.”   This means that they will most likely never learn to appreciate good food, and wind up with poor health in middle age, as a result.

This is happening in America, this is happening in England, this is happening in the third world.  It is even happening where I live now, in North Africa.   In North Africa, in the upper-middle-class school where I taught, where students bring lunches from home, parents often send healthy lunches, including salads with many fresh vegetables and even three or four pieces of fresh fruit.  However, many other parents send white bread and french fries, sometimes with cooked ground beef, a whole sack or can of potato chips (crisps), sugary drinks, and a whole sack of cookies.  Most of the kids who eat like the latter are overweight, and of course share their junk food with their friends.  So many of the kids bringing healthy lunches don’t eat their healthy food (a few do) and instead eat the junk food their friends bring.  Before 1999, this junk food wasn’t even available, but with the first supermarkets opening, a much wider variety of processed products became widely available.  Now that many more women are being educated and working outside the home, they no longer have time to make the home-cooked meals typical of North African cuisine, especially in the larger cities.

So what is to be done?  If families care for the health of their children, they should make an effort to prepare home-cooked meals at least a few times a week.  Most importantly, YOUNG children (starting at age two or three) need to be INVOLVED in the food preparation.

Teach children how to help prepare vegetables while they are still young enough to be interested.

Yes, it’s trouble for the adults, but this is the age (before 7) when they are interested and want to listen to their parents’ ideas.  By age 8-9 it’s the very last chance.  By age 10-11, peer pressure has completely taken over.  It’s too late.  They will only be interested in assisting you to make their favorite junk-food dishes.  At preschool ages, they love learning about fruits and vegetables, and different ways to prepare them.  Make the most of this chance if you have young children.  If you give them an appreciation for good food when they are young, even if they later go heavily into junk food, they will come back to an appreciation of good food in their 20s, as they have money to start enjoying nice restaurants, and as they start their own families and think about the health of their own children.

–Lynne Diligent

Part I:  Devaluation of Support Roles at Home is Driving the Increase in Junk Food Consumption

Why Tracking Needs to Be Brought Back in Math Classes

April 6, 2012

In this shocking short video, originally written about on Brian Rude’s Blog, an adult woman in her 20s doesn’t have a clue how to go about figuring out an answer to the following question.  “If we are in a car traveling at 80 mph, how long will it take us to go 80 miles?”

Having taught elementary and middle-school math for twenty years, I can categorically state that this is NOT just a question of the girl “not having paid attention in math class” as some of the commenters on YouTube stated.  This is a THINKING problem which needs to be addressed, either through private tutoring (with the right tutor) or through an elementary or middle-school math class taught at a level to deal with this problem (taught by a teacher who understands these thinking difficulties).

Over many years, I have discovered that TEACHING MATH IS LIKE TEACHING DRAWING SKILLS. Now, let me explain.

We all know of people who seem to have a natural ability as artists.  Those without this natural, seemingly inborn, ability stand continually in awe of those who have it.  We wonder how these natural artists are able to take pencil to paper and draw something that actually approximates reality, while we, ourselves, are stuck drawing stick figures, even as adults.  This happened to me.  Then, in my 20s I had an opportunity to take a short, six-session drawing course from a fantastic instructor who understood that drawing is a SKILL which CAN BE TAUGHT.  In TWO HOURS, I went from drawing stick figures to drawing quite realistic portraits, and so did my other classmates.

How is this possible?  I remember the feeling exactly.  What happened was the teacher was able to show all of us a DIFFERENT WAY OF SEEING.  Our art teacher was able to TRICK our left brain hemispheres into turning off, and our right brain hemispheres into taking over, using clever and skillful exercises.  It is actually a different physical feeling.  She then showed us how to call up this state at will, and continued showing us precise drawing techniques used to improve perspective, and the like.  Now I can draw quite adequately whenever necessary.

As someone who suffered severe math disability as a child–but overcame as an adult– (not in calculating, but in understanding any sort of real-world problem), I can immediately recognize the problem of the girl in this video.  She is trying to draw upon her real-world experience, but cannot recognize what is right in front of her.

Just as in drawing, there are people who seem to have a natural, inborn ability with understanding math.  But I doubt that more than a third of people fall into this category.

I would say the average person acquires usable math ability through regular math classes;  however,  at least a quarter of normal-intelligence students are NOT able to acquire it through normal math classes. Most times these students get through school and end up not able to use ordinary arithmetic that would help them in their daily lives.  Shouldn’t THIS be the foremost goal of math education?   These students need a DIFFERENT KIND of help; they need help in SEEING MATH PROBLEMS IN A DIFFERENT WAY.

       

Speaking of myself, who overcame math anxiety problems only in adulthood, the feeling was exactly like what I described in my art class.  The shift didn’t happen in an hour (it happened over a couple of years); but once it happened, it changed my life.  Students with these problems ideally need to be taught by someone who has suffered with the same sorts of problems, and who has overcome them.  Most math instructors don’t understand the unique problems of students who aren’t thinking in the same way other students are.  The problem is a lack of CONCEPTUAL understanding.  The girl in the video understands she can run seven miles per hour.  But she clearly has no comprehension of what the term “miles per hour,” in an of itself, ACTUALLY MEANS.

Here is another example of a lack of conceptual understanding.  When I was in my first semester of college, I signed up to take Principles of Accounting and found myself completely lost conceptually, as to what debits and credits were.  When I asked the teacher, she told me, “Debit is the left side of the ledger, and credit is the right side of the ledger.”  But that did not help me conceptually understand what I was doing.  Now, years later, I have my own business, and do my own bookkeeping, and do understand.  If she had explained it like this, I would have understood:

“Accounting is like organizing–making a place for everything, and having everything in it’s place.  Each account is like a separate cupboard.  When you have an expense, you must think, ‘What kind of expense is this?  Which cupboard does it belong in?  When you put something INTO a cupboard, it’s a CREDIT.  When you take it OUT of the cupboard, it’s a DEBIT.’  “

In other words, people with math comprehension problems need things explained in a VERY CONCRETE manner.  Not every teacher is able or willing to do that when students get beyond second or third grade.  But do it, they must, if they expect their students to succeed.  After two or three years of practice with situations given in word problems explained as in my accounting example above, students will find they are able to begin to reason abstractly and understand explanations that previously went right over their head, as with the girl in the video.

This is why we need tracking to be brought back in math classes.  If the teacher gives this sort of explanation for the students who need it, the more advanced students will generally make fun of those students.  This bores the advanced students, and yet still keeps the lower-level students from being able to even hear the appropriate explanations.

To those who say tracking is unfair to lower-level students, I would pose the question, “What good is studying calculus, geometry, or even algebra, if one cannot make sense of the simplest math questions one faces every day in counting change, in measuring, in cooking, and in doing daily tasks?”  An enormous number of students are passing through school and taking advanced math classes, yet still have no idea how to do these basic tasks, and are unable to figure out how to go about discovering the answers to important questions in their daily lives.

–Lynne Diligent

Each Tutor’s Most Crucial Dilemma

March 3, 2012

“Thinking back to literature tutoring days, there’s a fine line between helping students, and doing the work for them.  Students and parents are happiest only if the tutor crosses it.  How do you handle such situations?”  a fellow tutor asked me.

This is the tutor’s most crucial dilemma, in a nutshell.

Most successful long-term tutors have also been teachers.  As teachers, we want students to benefit from doing their own work.  However, as tutors, we have to remember who we are working for, if we wish to stay employed.

Most students who choose to use a tutor are not reading the required books in school anyway.  Few students are.  These days, tutors or not, I’m finding that upwards of 90 percent of students are just watching the movie, and a few students are going to Spark Notes and reading those notes, or taking those quizzes.  (Few actually read the Spark Notes well, and even fewer bother to take their quizzes.)

As a tutor, what I’m really being paid for is to make sure my students get good grades.  Parents are willing to shell out money for this, but not so much for someone who tells students that they must read on their own and who does not coach non-reading students for their tests.  So, what is a tutor to do?

Formerly as a teacher, I prided myself on getting all of my students to LOVE reading for pleasure, and to become truly interested in whatever subject we were studying.  Presently as a tutor, I pride myself on getting my non-reading students to read SOME, and to APPRECIATE what we are reading or studying.

I use all sorts of techniques to achieve these aims.  I sometimes rewrite books that use difficult language, to tell the story in simpler language.  I read these simpler rewrites with my students, and once they understand, they are sometimes motivated to read the original.  Sometimes they are unable to read the original, but at least they read SOMETHING, and learned about the story, and are able to pass a test asking them about the story.  We discuss the story and how we feel about it as we read it (even if it is in its easier version), and the students gain an appreciation for the piece of literature.

Is this acceptable?

As a tutor, I cannot take the same attitude I would take as a teacher.  As a tutor, I am coming from the perspective that students are not reading, and are not going to read.   If I can get them to read ANYTHING (even if I have to “spoon-feed” it to them), they are reading more than they would if they were not coming to me.  If I can get them to APPRECIATE the story, they are appreciating it far more that if they were not coming to me.  If they are PASSING THE TEST, they are learning far more than if they were not coming to me.

spoon-feeding students

Should we spoon-feed pupils?

So yes, I DO cross that “line” as a tutor, but I try to do it stealthily, where I sneakily make the student work and understand more than he planned to do before he came to me!

This same dilemma exists in helping with writing assignments, with math homework, and with everything else that a tutor does  As a tutor, I try to help lighten the students’ burden, while at the same time actually teaching the student on a one-to-one basis, in a way which would be impossible in a full classroom.  For example, I often do math homework problems on individual white board along with the student.  Then we compare answers.  If they are the same, we move ahead.  If they are different, we go back through the problems step-by-step to see where we diverged.  I feel students learn more this way.

I would like to hear about how others deal with this dilemma.  If you are a tutor, where do you draw the line?  If you are a teacher, what are your thoughts?  If you are a parent, what are your feelings?

-Lynne Diligent

WHY Parents and Teachers Need to Watch the Same Television Shows as Students Do

February 17, 2012

As a parent or teacher (even outside of America, and regardless of your religion or lifestyle), have you tried to instill proper values and behavior in your own children or students, yet watched while the following values and behavior appeared instead?  Have you wondered where this has been coming from?

  • Requesting a bulldog
  • Popularity of sushi
  • Proliferation of fake ID’s and even younger high school students attempting to use them
  • Underage drinking, even at home parties, where parents leave and let children party alone
  • Obsession with champagne
  • A sudden interest in learning Burlesque dancing
  • Requesting or attempting underage driving
  • Obsession with Ivy League colleges
  • Teenage obsession with wearing only “designer” dresses
  • Thinking it’s not normal for parents to make a “curfew” time
  • The idea that even young teenagers “go where they want, and do what they want,” and that “their parents give them the freedom to do so just like adults;”  they TELL their parents what they are doing, rather than ASK them.
  • Girls (even young girls) acting in a sexually aggressive manner toward boys (girls insisting that they both take off clothes)
  • Girls thinking that it’s normal to date older men secretly without their parents knowing about it
  • Thinking that normal parents just go to bed, and “don’t wait up for their high school children who come home late.”
  • Sassy, angry attitude toward any parents who question any of the above assumptions!
  • The idea that “success” in life equates ONLY to how much money you have, and how “glamorous” you appear to others!
  • Honesty, dependability, responsibility, and/or service to humanity are unfashionable, boring, stupid, and undesirable
  • Kindness to others is “out;” while “one-upsmanship” and rude “put-downs” at the expense of others are “in”
  • An expectation that life is supposed to be one continuous “party”

Any parent or teacher who is having trouble understanding teenage values and behavior today should IMMEDIATELY watch the three television series Beverly Hills 90210 ; Gossip Girl; and 90210 (a different show than Beverly Hills 90210).   Even watching a couple of episodes of each show will give you an idea of where this culture is coming from.  (Click on these titles for direct links to the series which should work worldwide.  Make sure to start with Season 1, Episode 1.)    These new values are coming directly from television.

Unfortunately, teenagers are now watching these shows WORLDWIDE.  Some are watching on the internet, in English (especially with the global rise in study of English, it is now accessible).  But in most countries, these shows are now dubbed in local languages, and right on the television.  Not only is American culture changing, but world culture is assuming that these TV shows represent traditional American values (which they most assuredly do NOT).

The people who made these shows recognized that they are FANTASIES of how teenagers WISH their lives were.  That’s what makes them fun to watch.  However, unfortunately, the children who grew up watching these (without any input from their parents) grew up assuming that this is what they WOULD be able to do as teenagers, and now, the upper middle classes ARE DOING it. Some of the middle class parents don’t know that their children are behaving this way.  Among more conservative families, parents should BEWARE if their child asks to spend the night with another family, because they are often going out, or even sneaking out to nightclubs.  It doesn’t help that the full age of majority in many countries is 18, rather than 21.

I live in the Middle East, and throughout our region, this is exactly how most teenagers are behaving.  The emphasis in our region is all on appearances to create the impression with others that you are rich (even if you are not).  Most of those who are rich turn their children (even girls) loose with plenty of money and the family chauffeur (usually driving an expensive, black, four-wheel-drive vehicle) for the weekend.  They certainly don’t wait up for their children to come home at night.  Most of the kids have fake ID’s and go to night clubs (which don’t even open until 11).  Their age is clear, but they just slip $20 to the doorman, who lets them in.

Father Knows Best

In the past couple of years, I’ve read a number of articles where generations following the baby boomers are now criticizing the work ethic of baby-boomers (born 1946-1960) and wondering where this work ethic came from.  It’s very clear to me now.  It came directly from TELEVISION (as well as from our parents, and from society in general).

Shows during the 1950s and 1960s (and even into the 1970s) showed children working hard, being kind, taking responsibility, and most importantly, GETTING RESPECT FROM OTHERS FOR DOING SO.  Some of these shows were Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, The Rifleman, The Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie.   In contrast, teenagers who behave this way today don’t get any respect from others.  Instead, they get “USED BY OTHERS” (in the words of a teenager I tutor).  Today, it’s showing-off and acting in accordance with the list above that gets a teenager respect from other teenagers.

–Lynne Diligent

Anti-Theft Lunch Bag: A Solution to the Stolen Lunch Problem

February 5, 2012

Anti-theft lunch bag

Among students who bring their lunches to school, there is nothing worse than opening up your lunch only to find it stolen.  This is a big problem in elementary schools where students don’t have lockers and are required to leave their lunch in a commonly-accessible place .  I came across this humorous picture, but thought it would provide a great solution for kids having this problem regularly.  It could be done with a permanent magic marker on the outside of the bag.  It would also help deter lunch bullies.

–Lynne Diligent

Why A College Degree Does NOT Slow Brain Aging

January 23, 2012

The idea currently being promulgated by aging researchers that a college degree itself increases mental capacities later in life by at least a decade is just plain WRONG.

A Sharper Mind, Middle Age and Beyond (New York Times, January 2012) summarizes some of the latest aging research and states, “For those in midlife and beyond, a college degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade, adding a new twist to the cost-benefit analysis of higher education — for young students as well as those thinking about returning to school.

Having been a teacher for a decade in America and two decades in Africa, I’d say something else is at work here, skewing the statistics. This research has simply put the cart before the horse.

It’s no doubt true that exercising mental capacities maintains a better level of brain functioning, it is NOT the college degree which is creating the improvement.   It is that higher-functioning people (and more wealthy people) tend to be the ones who complete their college degrees!

Having lived in Africa for two decades as a teacher, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe many people who were illiterate, many who left their education at all sorts of different levels, and many college graduates.

What happens is that those who have learning disabilities, listening and/or attention problems, intelligence deficits, or other problems which prevent them being successful in learning tend to drop out all along the educational path.  It is the higher-functioning people who go on to complete their education.  If a researcher comes along later and says, “These people are higher-functioning later in life because they earned a college degree,” the whole premise is wrong.  Those people are higher-functioning because they always were higher-functioning.

In America, we are now trying to push everyone into college.  Having a college degree will not give everyone the benefit of an extra decade of a higher-functioning brain.  I know some people in America who struggled mightily to get through college in six years, who in spite of their degree, don’t like to read (because they had learning disabilities to start out with).  It is not a person’s college degree which keeps their brain active.  It is their PERSONALITY.

 

Furthermore, I have known certain people who never learned how to read or write who enjoy conversing on current events; who follow active hobbies, crafts, dancing, or sports; who read, write, or blog; who take a course or who teach something to others; or who regularly participate in social activities or weekly luncheon clubs.  All of these things can keep one’s brain active.

Study, or a college degree is just one type of activity.  The aging researchers quoted in the article linked to above are just being far too narrow in their focus.  College-educated people have already self-selected themselves into a group which has high cognitive functioning.

It’s not the college degree that keeps one’s brain from atrophying.  It’s the personality, the interest, the spark for life.

–Lynne Diligent