Condemned to Joy

The Western cult of happiness is a mirthless enterprise.

On August 21, 1670, Jacques Bossuet, the bishop of Meaux and official preacher to the court of Louis XIV, pronounced the eulogy for Princess Henrietta of England before the Prince of Condé. The Duchess of Orléans had died at 26 after drinking a glass of chicory that may have been poisoned. At the threshold of death, the young woman had called on priests rather than doctors, embraced the crucifix, asked for the holy sacraments, and cried out to God. The wonder of death, Bossuet exclaimed, citing Saint Anthony, was that “for the Christian, it does not put an end to life but rather to the sins and perils to which life is exposed. God abbreviates our temptations along with our days; he thus sets a limit to occasions that might cost us true, eternal life; for this world is nothing but our common exile.” The good death was a door opened on eternity, a passage to that “true, eternal life.” In this life, by contrast, agony was expected.

Is it possible to imagine an attitude toward happiness and living further from our own?

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Trauma: How We’ve Created a Nation Addicted to Shopping, Work, Drugs and Sex

Excellent interview on education, addiction, ADHD, and child rearing.

Link to full interview:

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Maté, there’s a whole debate about education in the United States right now. How does this fit in?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, you have to ask, how do children learn? How do children learn? And learning is an attachment dynamic, as well. You learn when you want to be like somebody. So you copy them, so you learn from them. You learn when you’re curious. And you learn when you’re willing to try something, and if it doesn’t work, you try something else.

Now, here’s what happens. Caring about something and being curious about something and recognizing that something doesn’t work, you have to have a certain degree of emotional security. You have to be able to be open and vulnerable. Children who become peer-oriented—because the peer world is so dangerous and so fraught with bullying and ostracization and dissing and exclusion and negative talk, how does a child protect himself or herself from all that negativity in the peer world? Because children are not committed to each others’ unconditional loving acceptance. Even adults have a hard time giving that. Children can’t do it. Those children become very insecure, and emotionally, to protect themselves, they shut down. They become hardened, so they become cool. Nothing matters. Cool is the ethic. You see that in the rock videos. It’s all about cool. It’s all about aggression and cool and no real emotion. Now, when that happens, curiosity goes, because curiosity is vulnerable, because you care about something and you’re admitting that you don’t know. You won’t try anything, because if you fail, again, your vulnerability is exposed. So, you’re not willing to have trial and error.

And in terms of who you’re learning from, as long as kids were attaching to adults, they were looking to the adults to be modeling themselves on, to learn from, and to get their cues from. Now, kids are still learning from the people they’re attached to, but now it’s other kids. So you have whole generations of kids that are looking to other kids now to be their main cue-givers. So teachers have an almost impossible problem on their hands. And unfortunately, in North America again, education is seen as a question of academic pedagogy, hence these terrible standardized tests. And the very teachers who work with the most difficult kids are the ones who are most penalized.

AMY GOODMAN: Because if they don’t have good test scores, standardized test scores, in their class—

DR. GABOR MATÉ: They’re seen as bad teachers.

AMY GOODMAN:—then they could be fired. They’re seen as bad teachers, which means they’re going to want to kick out any difficult kids.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s exactly it. The difficult kids are kicked out, and teachers will be afraid to go into neighborhoods where, because of troubled family relationships, the kids are having difficulties, the kids are peer-oriented, the kids are not looking to the teachers. And this is seen as a reflection. So, actually, teachers are being slandered right now. Teachers are being slandered now because of the failure of the American society to produce the right environment for childhood development.

AMY GOODMAN: Because of the destruction of American childhood.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s right. What the problem reflects is the loss of the community and the neighborhood. We have to recreate that. So, the schools have to become not just places of pedagogy, but places of emotional connection. The teachers should be in the emotional connection game before they attempt to be in the pedagogy game.

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It’s the breadth that matters

“When we think about likely career paths that our students will take, the life paths, the vast majority of them will go through multiple jobs, life and career directions,” says Gregory Call, dean of the faculty at Amherst College in Massachusetts, a top-ranking US liberal arts college. “A liberal arts education gives students exposure to a broad range of fields. They learn how to work both independently and in groups, how to write well, how to analyse arguments. This should be better preparation for that kind of multiple career path.”

David Oxtoby, president of Pomona College in California, agrees. “Narrow training that prepares you for one particular career just doesn’t work any more,” he says.

But a liberal arts degree is also good for society, he believes. “The broader benefit is preparing educated citizens, people who will take an active part in society, who will be intelligent voters, who can read a newspaper, understand the issues and be part of an educated electorate.”

The financial crisis has prompted some in the US to argue that, in tough times, education should prepare people for their first job out of college. Oxtoby calls this “misguided”.

“People talk about China and India preparing all these scientists and engineers. They say, ‘Let’s get back to basics, let’s just prepare people for a particular job.’

“But one of the things we’ve learned in this latest crisis is that no job is secure. What you really need is to be flexible. You may need to move into a job that you haven’t had before or that didn’t exist when you graduated from college. For me, this is a strong argument for a liberal arts education.”

The irony is that while the numbers majoring in vocational subjects in the US grow, other countries are looking to learn from its liberal arts programmes.

“I’ve spent time in Hong Kong, Singapore and China,” Oxtoby says. “Each place is recognising that narrow professional training goes a certain distance, but in terms of really preparing innovative people who will be the entrepreneurs of the future and who will create whole new enterprises, a broader education has tremendous value. They are looking at the American model.”

Liberal arts education in the US has also come under attack for being “elitist”. It certainly can be pricey. The small, private Sarah Lawrence College in New York is reputedly America’s most expensive college, with fees of $56,934 (£36,508) a year. It has a student-to-faculty ratio of nine to one. However, 61 per cent of its undergraduates receive some form of financial aid.

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Are We Beginning To See The Light?

I think the argument is not simply teaching MORE science and math but teaching science and math more effectively.  The answer lies in teaching LESS content in a more in-depth and inquiry based way. Teaching  science and math in an interesting and engaging way will do more to close the current international education gaps than simply continuing on this path of more mindless testing and rote learning.

  Are We Beginning To See The Light?

NEW YORK, June 2, 2010 – Americans are convinced that math and science skills are crucial for the future, with strong majorities who say there will be more jobs and college opportunities for students with those skills, according to a new Public Agenda survey. But while there’s broad support from parents and the general public for K-12 national standards, more than half of parents (52%) say the math and science their child is getting in school is “fine as it is.”

These are just some of many surprising realities facing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in public schools, according to “Are We Beginning to See the Light?”, a new Public Agenda survey exploring the views of more than 1,400 individuals nationwide, including 646 parents of children grades K-12. The national survey was underwritten by the GE Foundation.

Preparing For Tomorrow’s Jobs

While only 3 in 10 Americans see a demand for science and math-focused jobs in the current economy, 84% agree that there will be a lot more jobs in the future that require math and science skills. And 9 in 10 Americans say studying advanced math and science is useful even for students who don’t pursue a STEM career. Additionally, 88% of the public agrees that students with advanced math and science skills will have an advantage when it comes to college opportunities.

Overall, the general public favors a “national curriculum” as one way of improving STEM education: 8 in 10 Americans say establishing a national curriculum in math would improve STEM education, with more than half (53%) saying it would improve it “a lot.” And 78% say the same about a national curriculum in science, with 48% saying it would improve it “a lot.”

“Giving today’s students a world class science and math education is the key to maintaining our country’s economic prowess,” said Alan Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “Parents are beginning to envision the opportunities for their children in the STEM fields, and I am especially heartened by their receptivity to having high national standards in these critical subjects.”

Strategies For Improvement

At the same time, parents agree with the general public on the value of STEM education. Most parents surveyed want their own children to take advanced math and science courses in high school (60% and 54% respectively). Parents would also like to see their local schools spend more money on up-to-date and well-equipped science labs (70%), more equipment for hands-on learning (69%) and more equipment to help students learn computer and technology skills (68%). A plurality of parents with children in grades 6-12 say they want to see more emphasis in their child’s school on STEM topics such as computer programming (65%), basic engineering principles (52%), and statistics and probability (49%).

“The public is open to many different strategies for improving STEM education, and they’re enthusiastic about the overall goal, but much more has to be done to help them understand what’s needed for kids in their local schools to have a world-class science and math education,” said Jean Johnson, director of Education Insights at Public Agenda. “The problem is particularly acute in science. Many parents don’t realize the importance of starting children in science early on. Many think it can easily wait until high school.”

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Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators

We are facing a modern day Sputnik.  I have never seen such a concentrated and often hostile effort in this country to reform education.  If we want to do it right, educators and their Unions must join the dialogue in a constructive way that is open to change and new ideas.  So far, teachers have done a lousy job of contributing to this national conversation in a proactive manner.  Educators beware, the train is barreling down the tracks.

Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators


With China’s debut in international standardized testing, students in Shanghai have surprised experts by outscoring their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of a respected exam. Continue reading

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Teachers Need a Better Evaluation System

Most teachers and administrators will admit that the current system of evaluation is superficial and ineffective. The problem is the union entrenchment in the status quo. When new ideas are researched and offered to the public debate, the official response from the education world consistently remains defensive. We need to start contributing to the public debate with a more proactive, research based voice or we risk having these reforms forced upon us by an angry populace.

Teacher Ratings Get New Look, Pushed by a Rich Watcher
PRINCETON, N.J. — In most American schools, teachers are evaluated by principals or other administrators who drop in for occasional classroom visits and fill out forms to rate their performance.

The result? More than 9 out of 10 teachers get top marks, according to a prominent study last year by the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group focusing on improving teacher quality.

Now Bill Gates, who in recent years has turned his attention and considerable fortune to improving American education, is investing $335 million through his foundation to overhaul the personnel departments of several big school systems. A big chunk of that money is financing research by dozens of social scientists and thousands of teachers to develop a better system for evaluating classroom instruction. Continue reading

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Teacher’s Unions are in Trouble

Unless the teachers and admnistrators start offering some intelligent reform alternatives, this type of insanity is going to be forced upon them and in the end, our children’s education is going to suffer. 


Jeb Bush urges education leaders to follow Florida’s lead

By Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer

At a D.C. conference, Florida leaders urge educators to adopt Florida’s requirements.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – He’s still mad, pounding-on-the-table mad.

And when the talk turned Tuesday to reforming Florida’s public schools, that anger bubbled right to the surface for Sen. John Thrasher, the architect of last year’s failed tenure-reform bill. He took aim squarely at teachers’ unions.

“There is no way in our state right now that the dadgum unions are going to agree with this kind of stuff,” Thrasher told the crowd at the third annual education conference organized by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “So you either bring them to the table and tell them what you’re going to do, or you run over them.” Continue reading

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Bill Gates Needs to Do Some Research on Educational Reform

There is no valid research supporting any of Bill Gates hysterical solutions for improving our education system. Indeed, the research is conclusive that smaller class sizes improve educational outcomes and merit pay does not improve teacher effectiveness. As for the master’s degree requirement, the entire teacher training system in higher education should be reformed. The current educational training programs are an embarrassment for those of us in education working towards greater professionalism.

November 19, 2010
Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls
Bill Gates, the founder and former chairman of Microsoft, has made education-related philanthropy a major focus since stepping down from his day-to-day role in the company in 2008.

His new area of interest: helping solve schools’ money problems. In a speech on Friday, Mr. Gates — who is gaining considerable clout in education circles — plans to urge the 50 state superintendents of education to take difficult steps to restructure the nation’s public education budgets, which have come under severe pressure in the economic downturn. Continue reading

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Smart phones and video games may be harmful to our children’s education

Consistent multi-tasking, new technology, and the need for immediate gratification is changing the way our children work, play, and learn. Many children are not succeeding in the traditional classroom environment.

NYTimes Link:

In an experiment at the German Sport University in Cologne in 2007, boys from 12 to 14 spent an hour each night playing video games after they finished homework.

On alternate nights, the boys spent an hour watching an exciting movie, like “Harry Potter” or “Star Trek,” rather than playing video games. That allowed the researchers to compare the effect of video games and TV.

The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys’ brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary words. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Markus Dworak, a researcher who led the study and is now a neuroscientist at Harvard, said it was not clear whether the boys’ learning suffered because sleep was disrupted or, as he speculates, also because the intensity of the game experience overrode the brain’s recording of the vocabulary.

“When you look at vocabulary and look at huge stimulus after that, your brain has to decide which information to store,” he said. “Your brain might favor the emotionally stimulating information over the vocabulary.”

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory.

In that vein, recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self.

Researchers say these studies have particular implications for young people, whose brains have more trouble focusing and setting priorities.

“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Rich of Harvard Medical School. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”

“The headline is: bring back boredom,” added Dr. Rich, who last month gave a speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled, “Finding Huck Finn: Reclaiming Childhood from the River of Electronic Screens.”

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Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected

Bill Cosby took a lot of heat for similar statements about the reasons many black students underachieve.  The sociological reasons, uncomfortable as they may be to acknowledge, must be part of the dialogue if we are ever going to improve the crime of institutionalized racism in this country.

Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected

The report shows that black boys on average fall behind from their earliest years. Black mothers have a higher infant mortality rate and black children are twice as likely as whites to live in a home where no parent has a job. In high school, African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower.

The analysis of results on the national tests found that math scores in 2009 for black boys were not much different than those for black girls in Grades 4 and 8, but black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades.

The search for explanations has recently looked at causes besides poverty, and this report may further spur those efforts.

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

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