In The Mind is Flat, Nick Chater uses our flawed intuitions about how we see to question the veracity of the intuition that we have a cognitive subconscious. My review will focus on what Mr. Chater calls “the grand illusion”; our belief that we see much more than we do. Our thoughts and actions are dependent on our perceptions. What we have perceived in the past influences our present perceptions as our current perceptions continue to create who we are and how we will perceive in the future. Illusions can cause us to believe that we are seeing what we know cannot be true. I cannot express this better than the author’s words. Continue reading
How to Take Charge of Your Child’s Education
Susan Wise Bauer
Susan Wise Bauer is qualified to write about school and education. She is the author of 13 previous books and co-author of another, all on learning and education. She was home-schooled and home-schooled her children. She has practical experience on how educational systems work. If you and your child are struggling within the system, Susan Wise Bauer has practical recommendations to improve the fit between your child and the system. As she states: “Schools exist to serve children, not the other way around.” She also shares recommendations on homeschooling if that is your choice. Continue reading
Heike Schuhmacher, MD
Vision and Learning does an excellent job of explaining the complexities of vision. Dr. Heike Schuhmacher manages to do this with a light touch aided by wonderful illustrations. Continue reading
In an article in the January 22, 2018, issue of The Wall Street Journal by technology columnist Christopher Mims entitled “Not All Screen Time Is Equal”, Mr. Mims suggests that it is time to stop worrying about limiting screen time and time to switch our focus to what children are doing on their screens. Continue reading
My notes from reading this book are long due to the importance of the topic and the quality of the book.
It was once said that the study of genetics taught us just how important the environment is.
In this book, I use the term “adolescence” to refer to the period of from ten until twenty-five.
The United States lags far behind the rest of the developed world on most indices of adolescent achievement and health.
New research shows that the brain continues to mature well into one’s twenties.
In general, the earlier age at which children now mature physically is much more worrisome than most people recognize, because it doesn’t bode well for physical or mental health – earlier puberty places people at significantly greater risk for a host of physical, mental, and behavioral problems, including depression, delinquency, and even cancer.
The fact that the adolescent brain is malleable is both good and bad news, though. As neuroscientists are fond of saying, plasticity cuts both ways. By this they mean that the brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk.
The United States spends more per student on secondary and postsecondary education than almost any other country in the world, so it’s unlikely that our mediocre school achievement or worrisome college attrition is due to a lack of financial resources.
And as the world’s leader in prison population, we spend nearly $6 billion each year incarcerating adolescents, many of whom have committed nonviolent crimes and who could be managed in the community at a fraction of the cost.
One-third of students who enroll in college never graduate; the United States has one of the lowest college-graduation rates in the industrialized world, despite the fact that the economic returns on college completion in America are among the world’s highest.
The birth rate among unmarried women increased by 80 percent between 1980 and 2007. In 2011, nearly one-third of the women who gave birth had never been married. Having a child outside of marriage increases the risk of young women and men curtailing their education, depresses parents’ lifetime earnings, and increases the odds of living in poverty.
The United States has one of the highest rates of youth violence in the developed world, as well as the highest rates of violent deaths among adolescents.
Nearly two-thirds of our high schools have security guards who carry firearms.
The United States leads the world in adolescent obesity and diabetes.
The rate of adolescent suicide in the United States is consistently higher than the international average, and suicide attempts and suicide ideation among American high-school students are both on the rise.
The capacity for self-regulation is probably the single most important contributor to achievement, mental health, and social success. The ability to exercise control over what we think, what we feel, and what we do protects against a wide range of psychological disorder, contributes to more satisfying and fulfilling relationships, and facilitates accomplishments in the worlds of school and work.
In today’s world, though, where formal education is increasingly important for success, people who are bad at reasoning, planning, and self-regulation are at a serious disadvantage, and the fact that the development of these abilities is highly sensitive to environmental influence is a mixed blessing.
The adolescent brain is extraordinarily sensitive to stress. The average age of onset for serious mental health problems is fourteen.
In all cultures and times, the mortality rate among boys spikes a few years after they become adolescents. It’s called the “accident hump”, and it occurs because the rise in testosterone that takes place at puberty makes males more aggressive and reckless.
A large survey of American children born in the early 1960s found that the average age of breast budding was close to thirteen years. By the mid-1990s, it had fallen to a little under ten.
Melatonin levels are sensitive to artificial as well as natural light. That’s why people are discouraged from staring at illuminated screens (like computer monitors, smartphones, or tablets) before they go to bed – the light they give off suppressed melatonin production, which makes it harder to feel sleepy. It’s little surprise that today’s teenagers, nearly all of whom have 24-7 access to television, computers, and other devices with glowing screens, are having more sleep problems than past generations. Your genes predispose you to go through puberty around a particular age, but the more fat cells you have, and the more light to which you have been exposed, the more likely it is that you will go through puberty on the early side of your inherited propensity.
The presence of chemicals in the environment that can accelerate puberty is so ubiquitous that children are exposed to them even when their parents are very careful about what they eat.
Menarche at twelve or earlier elevates a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 50 percent compared to menarche at sixteen.
Things that feel good, feel better during adolescence. A small structure inside the limbic system is the most active part of the brain for the experience of pleasure – it’s the center of the reward center – and it actually gets bigger as we grow from childhood into adolescence, but, alas, smaller as we age from adolescence to adulthood.
Although adolescents are relatively more attentive and responsive to rewards than adults, they’re actually less sensitive to losses. This bias is something that parents and teachers should keep in mind: it’s easier to change an adolescent’s behavior by motivating him with the prospect of a reward than by threatening him with a potential punishment.
Being upset, excited, or tired interferes more with prefrontal functioning during adolescence than during adulthood because the relevant brain circuits are not fully mature.
According to statistics from the FBI, most crimes are committed by adolescents.
In other words, it’s not necessarily overt peer pressure that leads adolescents to do more reckless things with their friends. It’s that being around friends when you are a teenager makes everything feel so good that you become even more sensitive to rewards than you ordinarily are, which leads you to take chances you wouldn’t otherwise take.
Risk taking is a natural, hardwired, and evolutionarily understandable feature of adolescence. It may no longer be especially adaptive in the world in which we live, but it is in our genes, and there isn’t much we can do to change that. We should devote fewer resources to trying to change how adolescents think, and focus on limiting opportunities for their inherently immature judgments to hurt themselves or others.
The marshmallow test seems to gauge something about people that stays with them as they grow up. More remarkably, the people who were delayers when they were four years old turned out to be more successful in life as well as in the lab. Life is constantly presenting us with choices between smaller immediate rewards and larger delayed ones.
From an earnings standpoint, going to college without getting a bachelor’s degree is now pretty much a complete waste of time.
Expanding opportunities to go to school without ensuring that people have the determination to take advantage of them is unlikely to succeed.
The United States spends more money, in absolute and relative dollars, on postsecondary education than nearly any other country. It has one of the highest rates of college entry in the industrialized world. Yet it is tied for last in the rate of college completion.
Matching former students and their careers with my recollection of their credentials at the time they applied, it struck me that the things we asked about on our admissions application were more or less useless in predicting future success in the field.
Only about 25 percent of school performance is accounted for by intelligence.
The abilities needed in most jobs can often be acquired after one is hired, but capacities like perseverance and conscientiousness must be nurtured before adulthood.
At its core, more than any other capacity, determination requires self-regulation.
In order to develop competence, children must learn from their mistakes.
You might be surprised to learn that, despite the stereotype of the pressure-cooked Asian student, the teen-suicide rate is higher in the United States than in China, Korea, Japan – or, for that matter, Germany.
Without changing the culture of student achievement, changes in instructors or instruction won’t, and can’t, make a difference.
The fact that Asian American children in particular do so well in our putatively terrible schools and with our ostensibly terrible teachers has nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom. It has everything to do with how they are raised and what their parents expect of them.
Most teenage delinquents don’t become persistent adult criminals. People tend to grow out of crime, just as with other sorts of risky and dangerous behavior, which decline as people mature through their twenties.
We spend our time telling adolescents what they shouldn’t do, rather than guiding them toward what they should – and can – do.
I read this book a few years ago and put the summary aside. I went back to look at my review to see how it held up to the test of time; a test that we don’t have as much time for today. Reading – or just scanning – the excerpts is what we will tend to do. But they would be better on a page-a-day calendar. Turn the page and think for a moment. As we all feel the urge to move on, I hope that these questions about questioning cause you to pause. Continue reading
The perception of stress is that all stress is negative and something to be avoided. The definition of mindset in the American Heritage Dictionary is: “a fixed mental attitude that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations.” Carol Dweck’s research has brought attention to the overriding importance of mindsets and has also dispelled the myth that they are immutable. https://gwilliamsfamilyeye.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/mindset-the-new-psychology-of-success/ There is now a substantial body of research – the conclusions of which are counterintuitive – which proves that mindsets can be changed and that these changes can be permanent. It is also clear that stress can be positive. Stress is not all the same and it provides important motivation.
Changing our mindset can make dramatic and lasting changes in our lives. Almost like the magical force in “Star Wars”, in The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal uses research to demonstrate how the forces of mindfulness and mindset can control our responses to anxiety and stress. While everyone has heard of the “fight or flight” response to stress, the “challenge” response and the “tend and befriend” responses are less well known.
To demonstrate that stress is not necessarily bad for us, McGonigal shares the following: “In 1998, thirty thousand adults in the United States were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year. They were also asked, ‘Do you believe stress is harmful to your health?’ Eight years, later, the researchers scoured public records to find out who among the thirty thousand participants had died. Let me deliver the bad news first. High levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43 percent. But – and this is what got my attention – that increased risk applied only to people who also believed that stress was harming their health. People who reported high levels of stress but who did not view their stress as harmful were not more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those who reported experiencing very little stress.” p. xii
Also, “Those who had a positive view of aging in midlife lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those who had a negative view. To put that number in perspective, consider this: Many things we regard as obvious and important protective factors, such as exercising regularly, not smoking, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, have been shown, on average, to add less than four years to one’s life span.” p. xiv
McGonigal goes on to explain that mindsets are core beliefs we have about how the world works. They tend to be invisible, like prejudices. “The mindset doesn’t feel like a choice that we make; it feels like an accurate assessment of how the world works.” p. 32 If we think about mindsets at all, we don’t realize that they are choices we have made and that we can change our choices. “Our physical reality is more subjective than we believe. Perception matters.” P. 4
“People who believe that stress can be helpful are more likely to say that they cope with stress proactively. For example, they are more likely to:
- Accept the fact that the stressful event has occurred and is real.
- Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of stress.
- Seek information, help, or advice.
- Take steps to overcome, remove, or change the source of stress.
- Try to make the best of the situation by viewing it in a more positive way or by using it as an opportunity to grow.
These different ways of dealing with stress lead to very different outcomes. When you face difficulties head-on, instead of trying to avoid or deny them, you build your resources for dealing with stressful experiences. You become more confident in your ability to handle life’s challenges. You create a strong network of social support. Problems that can be managed get taken care of, instead of spiraling out of control. Situations that you can’t control become opportunities to grow. In this way, as with many mindsets, the belief that stress is helpful becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” p. 18
The thinking and life changes that people go through to avoid anxiety and stress have been demonstrated to produce more stress than the situation that they attempt to avoid. Also, “It turns out that a meaningful life is a stressful life.” p. 65 “Feeling burdened rather than uplifted by everyday duties is more a mindset than a measure of what is going on in your life. These are normal and expected parts of life, but we treat them as if they are unreasonable impositions, keeping our lives from how they should really be.” p. 69 Resilience was the theme of a prior blog https://gwilliamsfamilyeye.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/resilience/ which discusses the balance between load and resilience. The research on mindsets supports that changing your mindset decreases your load and increases your resilience. Kelly McGonigal’s favorite description of resilience is from Salvatore Maddi; the courage to grow from stress. p. 94
Anxiety disorders can be crippling. People feel a loss of control. Lives are changed and the disorder can keep people constantly wary and fragile. Medications can help but behavioral interventions have the potential to be more powerful and more lasting. The following is an example of much of what has been discovered that is counterintuitive. “The value of rethinking stress is not limited to people who aren’t really struggling. In fact, embracing the stress response may be even more important for those who suffer from anxiety. Here’s why: Although people who have an anxiety disorder perceive their physiology as out of control, it actually isn’t. In Jamieson’s study, and in many others, people with anxiety self-report higher physical reactivity than those without anxiety. They think their hearts are pounding precariously fast and their adrenaline is surging to dangerous levels. But objectively, their cardiovascular and autonomic responses look just like those of the non-anxious. Everyone experiences an increase in heart rate and adrenaline. People with anxiety disorders perceive those changes differently. They may be more aware of the sensations of their heart beating or the changes in their breathing. And they make more negative assumptions about those sensations, fearing a panic attack. But their physical response is not fundamentally different.” p. 125
As complicated as we are and as complicated as the world is, when we explore a wide range of behavioral problems and health problems, it is remarkable how we keep returning to a common core. We need to understand and take into consideration how our bodies, brains, and perceptions have evolved to produce the potentials that we have including the ability to adapt to the stresses of life. With this great potential we also have constraints. Understanding how our body/brain systems work provides insight into a range of disorders including sensory integration disorders, autism, allergies, auto-immune diseases, cancer, attention deficit disorder, and learning disabilities. Wellness and what fosters wellness is at least as difficult to study as are diseases. The variables are almost countless, but this is now being done and the revelations are astounding and exciting and have the potential to facilitate greater wellness in the future.