Posted in ADHD, Medicine, Personal History

The Task of Your Life

DEFICITS, DYSFUNCTION, HYPERKINESIS, AND BRAIN DAMAGE

  • In 1902 Dr. George Frederick Still included it in a lecture on “some abnormal psychical conditions in children.”
  • Later in the 20th century it was referred to as, the brain-injured child syndrome, minimal brain damage, and minimal brain dysfunction.
  • By the 1960s it was “Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood.”

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the term Attention Deficit Disorder was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The latest version, the DSM-5, published in 2013, separates the disorder into three distinct types, or “presentations.” The three, simply put, are 1) hyperactive, 2) inattentive, and 3) combined. People still argue about the terms “hyperactive” and “deficit.” Adults with ADHD are often driven, energetic, and impulsive, but the term hyperactivity is considered childish and insulting. Children and adults with ADHD might seem not to be able to pay attention, but chances are that they are paying attention to too much, and not able to isolate that to which they are supposed to be paying attention. Attention deficit, then, is actually an attention excess.

DIAGNOSIS: TWO IMPORTANT CRITERIA

Hank Green, of Vlogbrothers fame, recently did a video blog (vlog) entry about his own experience with ADHD.

Coincidentally, I answered a Facebook question about a similar disorder about the same time as Hank’s video was released. The Facebook question implied that the disorder wasn’t real and was just an excuse for misbehavior.

It may be true that some doctors over-diagnose ADHD, but that doesn’t mean that the condition doesn’t exist. To those who live with ADHD it’s very real (the DSM-5 gives specific criteria for the diagnosis which you can read here).

[In fact, some argue that ADHD is under-diagnosed. See ADHD CHILDREN LEFT BEHIND, below.]

Two of the most important criteria in diagnosing ADHD are, 1) in order to be diagnosed as ADHD,  the condition cannot be better explained as another disorder (such as anxiety disorder, depression, etc.) and 2) as Hank explained it…

Disorders are only classified as disorders when they’re ongoing, frustrating, impairments.

In other words, a rambunctious, active child is not necessarily suffering from ADHD if his behaviors are within the normal range and there is no impairment in social and occupational (school) functioning. In other words, if it doesn’t cause serious problems in social situations, home, or at work or school, it’s not ADHD no matter how “hyper” the behavior.

For example…

Child A reads adequately, but has difficulty concentrating and remembering. He often falls asleep when reading, does not complete homework, and has trouble remembering details. He has high intellectual ability, but fails academically because of 1) his inability to remember things he reads and 2) his inability to pay attention during discussions. Furthermore, he has a tendency to fly off the handle at real or imagined slights. He reacts without thinking and often becomes enraged if things don’t go his way. He is frequently impulsive and will often do things which cause upset to others due to his inability to control his behavior and speech. Because of this he has difficulty in social situations and is often isolated. 

Child B has some trouble sitting still. He needs a lot of room to move around and sometimes breaks things at home because of his inability to control his large motor movements. His mother has put valuable pieces away and has provided a place in the basement where he can jump and play without breaking things. He is encouraged to go outside whenever the weather permits to “run it off.” At school he will sometimes drop things during class, or bump into people, but is generally easy to get along with and is an above average student. At recess he is constantly active, but is able to settle down when he returns to the classroom.

In the examples above, Child A is the child with ADHD. While he is not hyperactive he is inattentive, impulsive, and unable to focus and remember things. This condition is causing problems both at school and at home, and among his peers. Child B shows some symptoms of “hyperactivity,” but those symptoms aren’t getting in the way of his social functioning and school achievement. After discounting other possible conditions, a competent professional will correctly make a diagnosis of ADHD for Child A.

TREATMENT

ADHD can be debilitating. About half of all children with ADHD also suffer from a related condition such as a learning disability, or have symptoms of another disorder like depression or anxiety. Treatment for ADHD varies with the patient. Hank describes what’s needed for treatment.

There’s kind of two parts to minimizing the negative effects of your brain not working…normal. [1] Changing the environment to suit the brain, and then [2] there’s improving the functionality of the brain itself through things like medications or mindfulness or exercise.

The second one is how most children and adults are treated for ADHD. Therapy, biofeedback, and medications are all tools professionals can use to help patients cope with the symptoms of ADHD. Treatment is important because, like Hank said,

Figuring out how to live in your own mind and your own body is, like, the task of your life.

GROWING UP WITH UNTREATED MBD

Full disclosure: Child A, above, was me.

I went to elementary school in the mid 50s and was diagnosed with minimal brain dysfunction (MBD).

Back then Ritalin was used to treat kids diagnosed with MBD and hyperactivity. Since I wasn’t hyperactive, I received no medications, or any other treatment, for the condition.

Most of my elementary teachers were kind and patient, but weren’t sure how to help a student who couldn’t remember what he read and couldn’t focus when explanations were given.

By the time I got to middle school the diagnosis was forgotten (or discounted), possibly because I wasn’t hyperactive, and probably because, even though I wasn’t a very good student, I was “getting by.” As the content became more difficult, I was given less and less leeway and words like “lazy” began to haunt me. Teachers would report that I “didn’t try hard enough,” ask me “why don’t you listen?” and comment that I was smart, but just “not willing to put forth any effort.”

Meanwhile, I had learned (through a massive personal effort) to control my temper (see Child A, above). I still embarrassed myself repeatedly by blurting out the wrong thing at the wrong time, but at least the fights occurred less often.

Every school year started with me promising myself that I would do better. I promised to keep up with my classwork, and pay attention in class…but after a few weeks I was already lost and far enough behind that catching up was rarely an option.

Hurtful and embarrassing phrases directed at my “deficit” increased…from school and home. I became convinced that I wasn’t very bright. My friends were good students, but there must be something wrong with me. I often heard the dialogue in my head, “What were you thinking?” “You’re just lazy,” “You’re just not trying,” “Maybe you’re not really smart after all.” The phrases and lectures were, I’m sure, meant to encourage me, but instead they taught me that I was incompetent, incapable, and inept.

Somehow, and with a significant amount of help (and many mistakes), I got by. I even went to college and earned a teaching degree…and I only almost flunked out once.

During my teaching years I continued to question my ability and competence, despite receiving good reviews from principals and positive feedback from colleagues and administrators. After spending 20 years in general education classrooms, I moved into a position as a reading specialist. When offered the job I jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to help children who were struggling in class, like I did when I was their age.

As part of my work diagnosing learning problems, I began to learn about students with learning disabilities and ADHD. Reading about the struggles students had with reading and ADHD was like reading my own biography. Finally, after all that time (I was nearly 50), I began to understand the source of my own academic and social failures.

THE DANGER OF UNTREATED ADHD

I was fortunate. A few of the bullets below apply to me, but I have been able to get by in life with a bit of luck, hard – sometimes stressful – work, and most of all, the patience and help of family, friends, and professionals. Most people who have untreated ADHD are not so lucky.

When left untreated ADHD can

  • Lower educational attainment
  • Negatively impact employment

  • Increase interpersonal problems
  • Reduce earnings
  • Increase emergency room admissions
  • Result in greater healthcare utilization

People with untreated ADHD are

  • More likely to be divorced
  • More likely to suffer from anxiety
  • More likely to have traffic accidents
  • Twice as likely to smoke cigarettes
  • Six times more likely to suffer depression
  • Twice as likely to abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Four times more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases

Untreated ADHD: Lifelong Risks [emphasis added]

Children with ADHD who fare the best are those who have effective parents, are correctly diagnosed, and receive a combination of psychological, behavioral, educational, and pharmacological interventions. Yet even when treated, ADHD has a significant impact on an individual from childhood through adulthood.

When ADHD is left unmanaged, every area of life is negatively affected. In fact, research shows that untreated ADHD is one of the most highly impairing disorders to live with.

Kids, and adults, with ADHD are not just “normal kids being kids.” In order to be classified as a disorder it has to be beyond what is “normal” and have a significant impact on one’s ability to function in society. With appropriate treatment, however, children and adults with ADHD can thrive.

AHDH CHILDREN LEFT BEHIND

Two recent articles from ADDitude Magazine suggest that large numbers of children and adults are having trouble getting treatment, for two separate reasons.

First, children of color are not being identified as having ADHD at the same rate as white children when, in fact, the condition is present and consistent among all racial, ethnic, and economic groups.

Children Left Behind

Evidence shows that people of color — black and Latino in particular — are much less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, even though they show symptoms at the same rate as white people. And if they are diagnosed, they aren’t as likely to receive treatment — even though many studies show that it can dramatically help kids and adults manage symptoms.

The reasons for the discrepancy based on race and ethnicity is complicated, but one factor is health insurance inequity. It’s clear that a significant number of children and adults with ADHD are “falling through the health care cracks” based on the fact that health insurance rates are lower for people of color. Children are struggling in school because of lack of diagnoses. Adults are struggling with job loss, relationship issues, substance abuse problems, and other symptoms of ADHD because of the inability to afford treatment.

The lack of insurance, coupled with diagnostic biases – assuming that “certain” kids are just “bad” or “uncivilized” instead of seeking a neurological source for misbehavior, the taboo of mental health issues, and fear of medication are all part of the problem.

Second, the lack of health insurance is not the only economic issue when it comes to affording medical care. Often insurance doesn’t cover the complete cost of treatment. ADHD diagnosis and treatment can cost thousands of dollars a year when one factors in medication, psychiatrists, and therapy. When health care dollars are short, an “invisible” diagnosis like ADHD has a tendency to get slighted.

ADDitude surveyed readers and found that people often found ways to work around the limitations of poor or non-existing health insurance. Sometimes this “working around” meant not getting needed treatment.

“We Can’t Afford to Treat Our ADHD”

A learning specialist in a private school, in New Orleans, tells a variation on this story. Both she and her two children have been diagnosed with ADHD, but her insurance plan pays only 60 percent of her family’s health expenses, making it impossible to pay for services like occupational therapy, speech, and behavior therapy for her two children. She estimates that she spent more than $5,400 out of pocket on medications and therapists in 2016.

In her job, she says, she often talks to wealthy parents “who come to me crying” about the high costs of paying for ADHD treatment, making her worried about the comparative pressures on parents with fewer resources.

Given the fact that untreated ADHD is so damaging, we can’t afford to ignore the consequences of this health issue.

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Posted in Immigrants, Newbery, Personal History, Racism, Trump

Inside Out & Back Again: We’re All Immigrants

A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS

We’re all immigrants to North America. If you go back through your ancestry far enough all of us originated in Africa. Early humans are entirely African. Humans living in the western hemisphere sprung from groups who migrated from Africa.

More recently, however, Europeans traveled west across the Atlantic and settled in the western hemisphere, bringing their families with them. The people who were already here, the Native Americans/First People, were in the way of the Europeans, and were moved, subjugated, or eliminated. The United States was founded by Europeans on a land they occupied as conquerers along with slaves brought from Africa. The first census, in 1790, claimed nearly 4 million including almost 700,000 slaves. First People weren’t counted.

Immigration to the United States of America started with its founding and continues to this day.

SOME FAMILY HISTORY: WRETCHED REFUSE

My family came to America from Eastern Europe…from what was then Czarist Russia (now Latvia and Lithuania). Three of my four grandparents arrived here in 1905-06 during a large migration of Jews from Russia. The fourth grandparent, my maternal grandmother, was born in the U.S. to parents who emigrated from the same area a few years earlier.

Ellis Island Immigration Museum, with the Statue of Liberty in the background

They came through Ellis Island, and were welcomed into New York harbor by the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in October of 1886 – her raised lamp lighting the way to freedom. At her base are the words of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

My grandparents left Russia because the economic, political, and social strain of a war with Japan had stirred a virulent nationalism resulting in renewed attacks against Jews. The anti-Jewish pogroms in 1905 resulted in thousands of deaths. Yet that same Czar who instigated the attacks on the Jewish people of Russia, conscripted Jewish men to fight his war on the eastern front; i.e. Siberia.

In a family history begun just a few weeks before his death in 1986, my father wrote,

Both of my parents were immigrants to the United States and both came in 1905 from the Baltic region of Czarist Russia. 1905 was a year of great emigration of Russian Jews probably because of the continuing pogroms in Russia as well as the Russo-Japanese war. The latter, in which Russia was badly beaten by the rising Japanese empire, sparked much unrest in Russia, increased drafting of young men into the czarist army, rising revolutionary disorder with subsequent government repression, etc.

My paternal grandfather, who died a year before I was born, was from the Russian province of Courland (aka Kurland and Kurzeme) which is now in western Latvia. According to my father’s history, he “fled to escape service in the czarist army.”

My mother’s father, who was born six months before the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, told me a story about the pogrom which resulted in the death of his grandfather. He recounted how he was hidden away and could hear the noises of the pogrom…the horses riding through the town and the shouts of people. He came out when it was over…and learned that his grandfather had been killed.

He was from the area around Daugavpils, then called Dvinsk, in the southeast of what is now Latvia. His story is interesting because, at the time of his emigration to America, he was already a soldier in the Czar’s army. My mother recounted his escape in a family history she left behind on her computer.

He had been in the Czar’s army in Dvinsk… When he learned that his unit was to be sent to Siberia, he told his father… A family plan was concocted; (1) his mother…bought him the passport of a dead man… (2) [He] told his captain that he had to go into town to mail a letter and to buy cigars (for the captain, to be sure). (3) Always agile, he raced to his parents’ home in Dvinsk where he was secretly sent to Estonia after spending a night in the hayloft of a friendly farmer.

…in the days of pogroms by the army of the Czar, it was not unusual for young men to disappear with the help of their families, emigrating to America…

From Estonia he traveled to western Europe and from there, to the U.S. The family he left behind likely didn’t survive the Nazi occupation which began 35 years later.

An image of a page from my grandfather’s
passport used to escape from Czarist Russia.

Both my grandfathers left their home and emigrated to America.

Like millions of others who came before and since, they came to the U.S. to escape religious oppression. In the U.S. they had the opportunity to raise their families in relative peace and freedom. The fact that anti-semitism was present in the U.S. didn’t dissuade them from coming here.

IMMIGRANTS AND THE “OTHER”

Nativism and discrimination against minorities and the “other” increases in times of war and economic hardship. The fascist rise in Europe prior to World War II was due, in part, to the economic difficulties of the Great Depression.

The current economic downturn is no different. Hate crimes in the U.S. have continued to increase over the last few years. Most hate crimes in the U.S. are based on race or ethnicity, however, religious-based hate crime has been on the rise with a steady increase of Muslim victims. The chart below, shows the comparison of hate crime victims based on their religion, either Jewish or Muslim. Note that for the last 15 years between 70% and 80% of religious based hate crimes have been against Jews and Muslims. After 9/11, the percentage of Muslim victims grew quickly and continues to increase. There is little doubt that, when data for 2016 is published, the rate of increase of Muslim victims will be even higher.(1)

This discrimination and hatred of the “other” isn’t new. Each new ethnic, religious, or racial group emigrating to America is subjected to similar types of hatred.

The restrictions recently placed on the immigration from seven Muslim majority nations is based on fear of the “other” – in this case, fear of possible terrorist infiltration. The United States has not experienced terrorist activities from citizens of the countries chosen for the restrictions. Other countries, where President Trump has investments, have no such restrictions even though terrorist activities based in those nations have had an impact on Americans. Furthermore, the restrictions will likely hurt Americans by disrupting the economic benefit of immigration.(2)

IRONY ALERT

Of course, the purveyors of the recent upsurge in hate, scapegoating, and discrimination, including the recent immigration policy, are descended from immigrants themselves. President Trump is descended from German and Scottish Europeans. All four of his grandparents (like three of mine) were from Europe and came here as immigrants. During and immediately after World War II, a number of German-Americans were interned in the same way that Japanese Americans were (though not to the same extent or under the same conditions). The last were released from where they were held on Ellis Island in 1948.

Steve Bannon, formerly of the white supremacist site, Breitbart, is descended from Irish-Catholics who were subjected to intense discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries (see here and here).

Another supporter of racists in the administration (if he’s confirmed) is Jeff Sessions, a mostly “pure” anglo-saxon with ancestry of English and Scots-Irish. His ancestors were possibly among those who were against Bannon’s ancestors (and mine). But even the most “pure” anglo-saxon bigot in America today, has a history which extends back to European immigrants.

In addition to racism, there is, it seems, a long American tradition of bullying newcomers, immigrants, and refugees.

The German transatlantic liner, St. Louis, carrying mostly Jewish passengers from Europe in 1939
was refused refuge in the U.S. The ship returned to Europe where many died in the Holocaust.
January 28, 2017: Demonstrators at JFK International Airport in New York in support of travelers being detained.

OTHER VOICES

The reaction to President Trump’s executive order restricting immigration was swift and clear. It’s unAmerican…unconstitutional…and shameful.

Inside Out and Back Again

This is a children’s book about immigration…because this is an education blog, after all. Inside Out and Back Again is a Newbery Honor Book (2012) about a child who emigrates to America.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.

President Trump, Meet My Family

Mr. President, please remember: This is a country built by refugees and immigrants, your ancestors and mine. When we bar them and vilify them, we shame our own roots.

Trump’s Shock-and-Awe Campaign—Stand Up and Speak Out

If Trump can do all this and face no opposition, he’ll do more. Silence will not protect you. If you think what is happening to Muslims will never happen to you, you’re mistaken. We will either survive together or perish separately. [emphasis added]

Holocaust Exploitation: When the Analogy Is Wrong

Let’s be clear: President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days and blocking entry to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days is both a moral outrage and strategically self-defeating. No refugee has committed an act of fatal terrorism in the United States—the specter of which this directive is allegedly intended to prevent—and while applying a higher level of scrutiny to citizens of anarchic or jihad-plagued nations is certainly appropriate, indiscriminately prohibiting those who already hold visas and green cards from entering our country is absurdly overreaching and vindictive.

Everything you need to know about Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’

See also

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(1) FBI 2015 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2014 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2010 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2005 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2000 Hate Crime Statistics

(2) Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis

Foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event that imposes high costs on its victims despite relatively small risks and low costs on Americans as a whole. From 1975 through 2015, the average chance of dying in an attack by a foreign-born terrorist on U.S. soil was 1 in 3,609,709 a year. For 30 of those 41 years, no Americans were killed on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks caused by foreigners or immigrants. Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard to American life, liberty, and private property, but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism. The United States government should continue to devote resources to screening immigrants and foreigners for terrorism or other threats, but large policy changes like an immigration or tourist moratorium would impose far greater costs than benefits.

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Posted in Anti-Intellectualism, asimov, climate change, Personal History

Isaac Asimov, January 2, 1920

[NOTE: I originally wrote this post a year ago and decided to update it in order to add the quote from and link to Asimov’s article in the January 21, 1980, Newsweek, A Cult of Ignorance, which, with the current political atmosphere in the United States, is even more important today than the day he wrote it.]

Today would be Isaac Asimov’s 97th birthday.

When I was in middle school and high school, Asimov was one of my most important teachers. This isn’t to say that my Chicago Public Schools teachers didn’t do their best to get this difficult-to-educate student motivated to learn…but Asimov did it better.

It was his science, not his science fiction that started me on the road to Asimov fanhood. I began reading his science essays some time in the early ’60s.

I had discovered science fiction when I was in middle school and started buying pulp sci-fi magazines. One of them, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (which has been in continuous publication since 1949), had science articles by Asimov. After I read one I searched the magazine monthly for Asimov, not science fiction.

I learned science from this reading, and as the years passed, I also learned more about Asimov the writer, and Asimov the person. He was a Renaissance man…a voracious reader and writer, knowledgable in dozens of academic areas, not just science. He taught me sociology, psychology, literature, history, philosophy, and religion. His books and articles were the ones which kept my interest…not my textbooks.

When I took science classes, especially biology and chemistry, I remember thinking that I was a real scientist, like Asimov. It’s interesting that in my generally unsuccessful high school career, the science classes were the only ones I consistently did well in. [It’s also likely that my father, with his Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Chicago, influenced my interest and ability in science as well.]

Here then, in honor of his 97th birthday, are some of Isaac Asimov’s quotes.

~~~

• A little less than two month ago, the United States ended it’s quadrennial Presidential election cycle. This particular campaign, and its aftermath (the election and subsequent cabinet appointments, for example), reminded me of Asimov’s article about anti-intellectualism called,

A Cult of Ignorance by Isaac Asimov. Newsweek, January 21, 1980

It’s hard to quarrel with that ancient justification of the free press: “America’s right to know.” It seems almost cruel to ask, ingenuously, ”America’s right to know what, please? Science? Mathematics? Economics? Foreign languages?”

None of those things, of course. In fact, one might well suppose that the popular feeling is that Americans are a lot better off without any of that tripe.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

The complete article, A Cult of Ignorance, by Asimov, may should be read here.

• Even as a professional, Asimov knew that discovery did not always follow expected paths. New discoveries sometimes just happen. The “teachable moment” is not something teachers plan. It, also, just happens.

• In an interview with Bill Moyers, Asimov asserted that people think of education as something you finish. Good teachers understand that learning is something that needs to continue throughout one’s life.

Asimov made his statement as a criticism of the current education system. Graduation makes education a “rite of passage” and many think that once they graduate, they’re done. In contrast, Asimov considered learning to be a life-long pursuit.

• In 1989 Asimov spoke about the greenhouse effect and how it can have an impact on the Earth. Listen starting about 1:30…[to about 7:00]. If he were still here his voice would surely be raised in alarm. The idea that humankind (Americans, at least) is denying real science in order to add to the profits of fossil fuel companies is the height of folly. My guess is that he would have choice words for the ignorance that seems to have enveloped the nation.

We are facing problems that transcend nations…

• Asimov taught himself to read before he went to school…and he graduated from high school at age 15. He went on to earn a B.S., an M.A. and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University. He left us with more than 500 volumes filled with his ideas, imagination and knowledge.

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

• For more on Asimov…

My favorite non-fiction works by Asimov were his articles in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Those have been collected into quite a few books. My favorite Asimovian fiction writings are two short stories which later grew into novels: Nightfall, and The Ugly Little Boy.

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Posted in Baseball, Personal History

Baseball Interlude: Random Thoughts: Cubs Win!

IT’S “NEXT YEAR”

I saw my first professional baseball game at Wrigley Field in the summer of 1956 – or maybe it was ’55…or ’57 – in any case, it was sometime in the mid 50’s. Ernie Banks was a newcomer, having joined the team in 1953 after playing professional baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs. Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Ferguson Jenkins were teenagers still in high school. Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux hadn’t been born yet.

I watched games after school. I got on the ‘el’ after high school and rode to Wrigley. I followed the team in the newspaper when I didn’t have TV or radio access. I joined the Die-Hard Cubs Fan Club in the 80s…and the Cubs Club when the former morphed into the latter.

Here, then, are some random thoughts on an occasion I always hoped to see. The Cubs have won the National League Pennant. “Next year” is now.

  • In 1969 I was in college and only followed the Cubs in the newspaper (IDS). There were TVs in the dorm (I even had a roommate with a TV for a while), but that was before cable or satellite and WGN didn’t broadcast to Bloomington, Indiana. I’m glad I didn’t see that season on TV or in person. It was too painful.
  • My dad saw (or more likely listened to) the Cubs win the National League in 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945, but never saw a World Championship. I was born three years after the Cubs’ last trip to the World Series.
  • All the years the Cubs were in the post season for the National league pennant…and came up short…1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2015…”Wait till next year!”
  • “So the Cubs haven’t won a pennant in nearly forty years. Why not look at it this way? Take it in terms of eternity. That’s not even a fly speck. Just tell yourself that sometime in the next thousand years the Cubs will get their share of the pie.” – Jack Brickhouse*
  • Since 1876, and before 2016, the Cubs have won two World Series, sixteen National League pennants, and six division championships. The last pennant win (until last night) was 1945. The last World Series win was 1908.
  • Hey! Peanuts! Cubs peanuts here!
  • “I have always been an optimist and even though sometimes you lose more than you win with that type of attitude, still and all there are enough great moments, thrills and excitement to make it all beautiful. You know that tomorrow will be a better day.” – Jack Brickhouse*
  • When Dexter Fowler walks to the plate in the top of the first inning in Cleveland on Tuesday, October 25, he will be the first African-American in a Cubs uniform ever to play in a World Series.
  • For decades I’ve said that all I want is a National League Pennant…even if they lost in the World Series. Now that the Cubs have finally won a National League Pennant, a World Series win would be nice…
  • Baseball is the perfect metaphor for life. Some teams, often those with the most money, win more times than others. But money doesn’t always buy success just like money doesn’t buy happiness. For that, you have to rely on family and friends (teamwork), hard work, a positive attitude, and some luck. Getting knocked down doesn’t make one weak. Strength is better measured by the ability to get up after being knocked down. Courage is not the opposite of fear…it is being afraid, yet still persevering in the face of certain defeat. A hero isn’t the one who wins the game, but the one who keeps swinging till the final out.
“Don’t let anyone say that it’s just a game
For I’ve seen other teams and it’s never the same
When you’re born in Chicago you’re blessed and you’re healed
The first time you walk into Wrigley Field
…Someday we’ll go all the way, yeah, someday we’ll go all the way” – Eddie Vedder
  • Perseverance. Perseverance. Perseverance.
  • “Cub fans will take winning in stride. With enthusiasm, with tears of joy, perhaps, but in stride…When it happens you will find us, like our ancestors in 1908, sensitive enough to know how to be humble in the face of a miracle.” – Jim Langford*

THE TWO GREATEST CUB FANS IN HISTORY

I wish you could have been here to see this…

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*from The Cub Fan’s Guide to Life by Jim Langford.

Posted in asimov, Baseball, Personal History, poverty, Public Ed, read-alouds, retention, Teaching Career

Random Thoughts on the Occasion of My 10th Blogoversary

…which is tomorrow.

[NOTE: This is not my “main blog.” You’ll find that at http://bloom-at.blogspot.com. I began this “mirror” blog in January of 2013, a full 7 years after I started blogging at Blogger.]

Here are some random thoughts about learning, education, and other things…with a few quotes sprinkled throughout. FWIW…

  • “Lazy” students are most likely students who have given up. If there’s one argument in favor of investing more in early-child education and early intervention, then this is it. It’s much easier to keep a child going with successful experiences than to get a child to “restart” after they have failed and given up.
  • Misbehavior is often a cover up for academic difficulties. It’s much easier to choose to be a behavior problem than it is to accept that learning is difficult and risk being labeled as “stupid.”
  • Despite the chronological gap between the students I taught in 1975-1976 and the students I taught in 2015-2016, the needs of the children were the same. They wanted – and want – to learn, to be accepted for who they are, and to be loved.
  • Reflective teachers never stop learning. I have never considered myself a “master teacher” because I recognize my own inabilities and weaknesses. I don’t believe that I ever “mastered” teaching. Each day there were things I could have done better.
  • “…it is the struggle itself that is most important…It does not matter that we will never reach our ultimate goal. The effort yields its own rewards…” – Data in The Offspring
  • Criticism is worthwhile. Ask trusted colleagues for it, then accept it and use it to improve.
  • “For years we’ve been told from Wall Street entrepreneurs that we don’t need more money for these inner-city schools, we just need the same management techniques that they use on Wall Street. They say, “You can’t throw money at this problem.” But they are the ones who pull their kids out of the public school system and put them in Exeter and Andover, which now costs about $50,000 a year, or the people who live in the rich suburbs who spend $24,000 on their public schools, almost twice as much as children in New York. They say you can’t throw money at the problem, but I say it seems to work for their kids.” – Jonathan Kozol An Interview with Educator and Activist Jonathan Kozol
  • Every student can learn. However, expecting that every student will learn the same thing, at the same time, and in the same way, is unreasonable. Human beings don’t grow on a set schedule. We all didn’t learn to walk on the 3,000 day of life and not everyone will learn to read in First Grade Kindergarten. Those who expect uniformity in child development should stay out of the classroom. Those who demand uniformity in student achievement should keep their policies out of public education. Students are not widgets. Education is not a business.
  • Every student is different. The strength of a classroom is in the diversity of its students. One way for humans to outgrow the damaging tribalism which has been responsible for most of the wars in human history is to bring together our children to play and learn.  We should celebrate and encourage infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
  • “When people have said ‘poverty is no excuse,’ my response has been, ‘Yes, you’re right. Poverty is not an excuse. It’s a condition. It’s like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.'” – Gerald Bracey, Parents, Poverty and Achieving in School
  • It’s well established that children need a safe place in order to learn. No one can learn if they’re afraid. The same goes for the adults in school. Teachers need a safe place to teach. Bullies don’t belong in the classroom, the school office, or the central office.
  • Things I miss in today’s schools: cursive writing, typewriters, card catalogues, and paper based reference materials (aka World Book Encyclopedia).
  • “Cub fans will take winning in stride. With enthusiasm, with tears of joy, perhaps, but in stride…When it happens you will find us, like our ancestors in 1908, sensitive enough to know how to be humble in the face of a miracle.” – Jim Langford in The Cub Fan’s Guide to Life, 1984
  • “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children…It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” – 1983 Commission on Reading. Reading aloud is more important than standardized tests, test-prep, work sheets, homework, book reports, flash cards…
  • Teachers, you won’t be able to “finally get caught up” until the end of the school year. There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it. Until a better way comes to American education, teachers will have to accept that fact and prioritize.
  • Teachers, there won’t be enough money for public education until the American people, through their leaders, give it a higher priority. It’s the future of the nation. Public school students are the future leaders of the country. We’re a nation of selfish, shortsighted people only thinking about “mine” and “now.” We need to invest in our future…in public education.
  • If you retain a student in grade you’re increasing to 60% the chance that he will drop out. Obviously no teacher can force a student to learn, but we need to reach students before they fail. Students need early intervention, wraparound services, and attention to the causes of their learning problems, rather than the reaction of retention. Policy makers can help by funding Pre-K education, early intervention programs, and support services. Which child isn’t worth the money?
  • “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” – Isaac Asimov
  • My first students are now adults in their late 40s. I can see how they impact the community. Teachers, quite literally, have the future of the nation in their classrooms. Today’s difficult student might one day make a contribution to national defense, the national economy, or an advancement in medicine.
  • “History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less-developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference might be, the results are invariably disastrous.” – Picard in Symbiosis
  • One’s skill as a teacher, while important, is secondary to one’s ability to understand and relate to children. My greatest successes as a teacher were with those students whose hearts I was able to touch. My greatest failure – and one stands out more than all the rest – was with the student I couldn’t reach because I couldn’t relate to him.
  • Technology is not “the answer.” It’s a tool. The same goes for educational trends like…brain training, phonics vs. whole language, multi-graded classrooms, project-based learning, and new math. Those techniques and concepts, and others like them, might be helpful for some students some times, but they are just tools. I’m more and more convinced that the “answer” is found in the relationship between teacher and student.
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Posted in asimov, Personal History

Isaac Asimov, January 2, 1920

Today would be Isaac Asimov’s 96th birthday.

When I was in middle school and high school, Asimov was one of my most important teachers. This isn’t to say that my Chicago Public Schools teachers didn’t do their best to get this difficult-to-educate student motivated to learn…but Asimov did it better.

It was his science, not his science fiction that started me on the road to Asimov fanhood. I began reading his science essays some time in the early 1960s.

I had discovered science fiction when I was in middle school and started buying pulp sci-fi magazines. One of them, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (which has been in continuous publication since 1949), had science articles by Asimov. After I read one I searched the magazine monthly for Asimov, not science fiction.

I learned science from this reading, and as the years passed, I also learned more about Asimov the writer, and Asimov the person. He was a Renaissance man…a voracious reader and writer, knowledgable in dozens of academic areas, not just science. He taught me sociology, psychology, literature, history, philosophy, and religion. His books and articles were the ones which kept my interest…not my textbooks.

When I took science classes, especially biology and chemistry, I remember thinking that I was a real scientist, like Asimov. It’s interesting that in my generally unsuccessful high school career, the science classes were the only ones I consistently did well in. [It’s also likely that my father, with his Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Chicago, influenced my interest and ability in science as well.]

Here then, in honor of his 96th birthday, are some of Isaac Asimov’s quotes.

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In 1988, Asimov, along with Jason Shulman, wrote, Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations. In it, he wrote

The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.

Preschoolers and Kindergarteners know this. The wonder of learning is in discovery.

Even as a professional, Asimov knew that discovery did not always follow expected paths. New discoveries sometimes just happen. The “teachable moment” is not something teachers plan. It, also, just happens.

In an interview with Bill Moyers, Asimov asserted that people think of education as something you finish. Good teachers understand that learning is something that needs to continue throughout one’s life.

Asimov made his statement as a criticism of the current education system. Graduation makes education a “rite of passage” and many think that once they graduate, they’re done. In contrast, Asimov considered learning to be a life-long pursuit.

The teacher reaches out, continuing to try to reach his students…day after day, year after year. There’s no way that one teacher, working alone, can do it all. But we keep trying…

From his book, The Relativity of Wrong: Essays on Science.

In 1989 Asimov spoke about the greenhouse effect and how it can have an impact on the Earth. Listen starting about 1:30…[to about 7:00].

We are facing problems that transcend nations…

Asimov taught himself to read before he went to school…and he graduated from high school at age 15. He went on to earn a B.S., an M.A. and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University. He left us with more than 500 volumes filled with his ideas, imagination and knowledge.

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

For more on Asimov…

My favorite non-fiction works by Asimov were his articles in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Those have been collected into quite a few books. My favorite Asimovian fiction writings are two short stories which later grew into novels: Nightfall, and The Ugly Little Boy.

Isaac Asimov, Visions For The Future (1992)

A List of Isaac Asimov’s Books

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Posted in NEIFPE, Personal History

Tests Don’t Measure Everything

NEIFPE

I’m fortunate enough to be a member of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE). Our mission statement, which you can find on our blog, reads,

We are citizens, teachers, administrators, and parents united by our support for public education and by concerns for its future. Recent federal and state reform measures have created an over-emphasis on testing and have turned over public education to private interests. We believe that these reforms threaten the well-being of our children and jeopardize their futures. Our goal is to inform ourselves and to start community discussion about the impact of these measures on our public schools and, more importantly, on our children. [emphasis added]

Earlier this week NEIFPE had the opportunity to speak to three undergraduate education classes at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) about “educational reform.”

Our presentation was often depressing as we talked about the loss of public education funds to charter and voucher schools, the misuse and overuse of testing, and the loss of teachers’ collective bargaining rights. However, we tried as much as we could to be encouraging to the future teachers in our audience.

One question which kept coming up (because the professor kept bringing it up) was, “Why, with all this going on, would anyone want to go into teaching?”

We answered in a way you would expect a group of retired and former teachers to answer. “We never wanted to do anything else.” “We loved our careers.” “We loved our students.” “We loved what we did.” “There’s nothing better than seeing the light in a child’s eyes when they ‘get it.'” “There aren’t many jobs which provide the satisfaction that teaching does.”

I loved teaching and working with children so much that upon retirement, I immediately began to volunteer in local elementary schools. Now, five years retirement, I still work a few hours a week with primary aged students on reading and literacy skills in a public school near my home. I like being with children and I find satisfaction in teaching and working with students who need extra help. I enjoy interacting with students and helping, where I can, to make learning easier for them, and, in a very small way, to mitigate the negative effects of “educational reform.” I indicated this to the students at IPFW (though not in such detail).

A VISIT FROM A FORMER STUDENT

As often happens, an event occurred today which reinforced what our group said about being teachers. It also reminded me of one aspect of teaching which is often ignored by “reformers” – the relationship between teacher and child.

This morning one of my former third grade students (from c.1985) paid me a visit. She has a child at the school in which I volunteer. It has been decades since I saw her…probably the last time was when she was in the elementary school I taught at when she was in third grade. She had discovered that I volunteer in the building – where her child is a student – and made it her business to come talk to me.

She was my student during a particularly difficult time in her life. I remembered it clearly when she mentioned it this morning and I mentioned a talk we had, teacher to child, during which I did my best to encourage her. She remembered, and was surprised, but seemed genuinely pleased that I remembered it as well.

The important part of our conversation today, was that she expressed gratitude, after all these years, for the patience and understanding which I had shown her when she was a child who was hurting. She has carried it with her throughout her life and has shared it with her family now that she is an adult.

She didn’t thank me for helping her learn to read. She didn’t thank me for helping her pass the achievement test. She didn’t thank me for helping her learn her math facts. She thanked me for being a kind and caring adult who helped her during a difficult time.

There is so much more to education than tests and standards. Children learn much more than can ever be put on a standardized test. Teachers – live, breathing, actual human beings – make the learning process part of life. One of the most important aspects in the education of our children is the relationship between teacher and child.

No test can ever measure that.

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