How Long Will We Slight The Social-Emotional Costs Of On-Line Learning?

Thursday, First Year Writing, The Morken Building 131, the first in-person class of the academic year. Students take turns summarizing their first papers about whether one needs, as a Stoic philosopher we read argues, a coherent philosophy of life and a “grand goal of living” to avoid squandering one’s life. They’re smart, so they push back at the suggestion one can neatly plan their life. They talk about some things being outside of our control, like viruses.

If not a coherent philosophy of life, what about guiding principles I wonder. And if so, which ones? They’re not quite ready for subtly, nuance, ambiguity, complexity. That’s why college is four years long. For now at least, I keep those thoughts to myself and just listen.

One student says her mother died in February. Not expecting that, I loose track of what follows, wondering how she died and what would it be like to lose your mom at 17 or 18. She says doing well in school doesn’t matter as much as it did previously.

The students, many who say they struggle with anxiety, have never enjoyed going to class more. Not because of the doofus facilitating things, because they’re famished for friendship. Flat out famished. They linger afterwards, partly to disinfect the tables, but mostly to extend our shared sense of normalcy as long as possible.

The student whose mother died walks up to the front to talk to me. Through my mask I thank her for having the courage to share that news and gently inquire about her mother’s passing. She tells me her mother chose “Death With Dignity” after a lifetime of being severely disabled. And she wanted me to know the paper was really challenging to write, but my sense was, not in a bad way, in an important way. I think it caused her to grieve her mother in a way she hadn’t. She ended up writing her mother a letter and using parts of it to begin her paper.

For those few moments, as her classmates slowly filed out of the room in small groups, she and I shared a human connection that superseded our teacher-student identities. I saw her and heard her in a way that’s utterly impossible on-line.

I am all in on the scientific consensus regarding masks, social distancing, maximizing time outdoors, and washing hands. I am comfortable enough returning to the classroom because my university has done an excellent job preparing for as safe as possible a return to in-person classes. I will not help politicize this public health crisis.

What follows is a non-partisan question, my reference point is the social-emotional health of young people.

If we don’t begin implementing “blended” or “hybrid” teaching methods soon, with at least some in-person instruction, what are the social and emotional costs to friendless students who are not being seen or heard in any kind of meaningful way?

Thursday Required Reading

1. Owners and Election Day: A Chance to do the Right Thing. Two sociologists call for Congress to declare the first Tuesday in November, Election Day, a national holiday. Along the way, they destroy the “athletes should just shut up and dribble” argument.

“About a dozen states have declared Election Day a state holiday, including, in the last few months, both Virginia and Illinois, and many states give their workers time off to vote. A majority of Democrats (71%) and Republicans (59%) support having Election Day become a national holiday, but many Republicans clearly want fewer, not more, people to vote.”

2. Topless Beach Drone Scandal! Do the Golden Valley Police Department and the Minneapolis Park Police get any points for good intentions? Prob not.

“The Golden Valley Police Department’s well-intended but very wrong assumption about drone as deescalation tool is a familiar one among regular drone users. Because its people were comfortable with drones, they grossly overestimated how comfortable the average person actually is with the prospect of being looked at by a flying camera drone, much less one that’s zeroing in on their private bits.”

[Editor’s note—Major props to Ron for leading with the sociologists and not the second, click-bait reading. Role model.]

3. How Police Unions Fight Reform.

I believe The New Yorker pays its writers by the word. You would never know that by how fast Finnegan starts. Paragraphs 3-5.

“In many cities, including New York, the unions are a political force, their endorsements and campaign donations coveted by both Republicans and Democrats. The legislation they support tends to get passed, their candidates elected. They insist on public displays of respect and may humiliate mayors who displease them. They defy reformers, including police chiefs, who struggle to fire even the worst-performing officers. In an era when other labor unions are steadily declining in membership and influence, police unions have kept their numbers up, their coffers full. In Wisconsin, the Republican governor, Scott Walker, led a successful campaign to eliminate union rights for most of the state’s public employees. The exceptions were firefighters and police.

Police unions enjoy a political paradox. Conservatives traditionally abhor labor unions but support the police. The left is critical of aggressive policing, yet has often muted its criticism of police unions—which are, after all, public-sector unions, an endangered and mostly progressive species.

In their interstitial safe zone, police unions can offer their members extraordinary protections. Officers accused of misconduct may be given legal representation paid for by the city, and ample time to review evidence before speaking to investigators. In many cases, suspended officers have their pay guaranteed, and disciplinary recommendations of oversight boards are ignored. Complaints submitted too late are disqualified. Records of misconduct may be kept secret, and permanently destroyed after as little as sixty days.”

4. Discovery in Mexican Cave May Drastically Change the Known Timeline of Humans’ Arrival to the Americas. Archeologists can’t agree on when humans arrived in the Americas. It may have been twice as long ago.

5. How to Handle Anxiety Over Back-to-School Decisions.

“It’s helpful to remember that in times of chaos, the dogged search for certainty can itself lead to distress. . . . the goal is not to guarantee that your child will never be exposed to a virus particle. That is impossible. The goal is to make a realistic plan that will holistically keep teachers, families and children as safe as possible.”

One excellent insight after another.

“When your mind starts moving into the slippery slope of unproductive worries, try naming them: ‘There goes my mind again.’ This highlights the difference between ‘having a thought’ and ‘burying a thought.’ When unproductive worries strike, you don’t have to go down that rabbit hole of trying to disprove them or reassure yourself, you can just let them be. It’s not bad feelings or thoughts that are the problem. It’s what we do with them that causes more suffering.”

The author, Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D.  is working on a book about the tyranny of self-care. I predict that is going to be a very good read.

Over Parenting

Parents, grandparents, and guardians of infants and young children cannot dedicate themselves enough to children’s well-being. Especially during the first ten years of life, every hour spent conversing with children; playing with them; helping them learn to enjoy sports, arts, and school tends to pay positive dividends later when they blossom into respectful, thoughtful, kind, independent, self-confident young adults.

But I’m not sure how to square that hypothesis with the fact that an increasing number of adolescents are suffering in silence with not just anxiety disorders and depression, but suicide, because many loving parents, grandparents, and guardians invest time and energy in those same silent sufferers.

As many are quick to point out, one thing that’s different these days is the pervasive influence of social media. The most shocking related statistic I learned lately is that 40 percent of teens say they use a device within five minutes of going to sleep, 36 percent admit to waking up to check a device, and 32 percent say they use a device within five minutes of waking up.

For parents the numbers are 26, 23, and 23.

If tonight Steve Kerr tweets that I’m needed in Golden State’s backcourt, or the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences tweets that I’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize, I’m sorry, I’m not waking up. I know, sleeping straight through the night, how old fashion can I get?

To point to social media as the single most important variable is too simplistic. When it comes to something as complex as parenting and adolescent development, differences over time have to be multi-causal. So what else might explain what’s different today? Or to ask the same question differently, when it comes to raising relatively happy and mentally healthy young adults, what did my parents’ generation tend to get more correct?

I think the answer lies in one thing I notice about parenting today. Many super involved parents of young children seem wholly unable to disengage from their children’s lives as they move through adolescence into adulthood. More simply, compared to their parents, they stay way too involved, way too long. Having dedicated themselves so much early on, it’s as if they can’t help themselves. But somewhere between ages ten and twenty, parent involvement reaches a point of diminishing returns.

Many modern parents don’t realize that too much involvement can convey a lack of trust in young people’s abilities to learn from their mistakes and gradually become independent. Just yesterday, after some unsolicited advice, Youngest, who is building a photography business said to me, “And dad, I’m going to make mistakes because I’m new at this.”

I believe over parenting is contributing to an unhealthy, prolonged, co-dependence between parents and children. I have no idea how to restore some semblance of balance.

How about you?

Friday Assorted Links

1. When Being a Humble Leader Backfires. I greatly prefer leaders who error on the side of humility, but these findings makes sense.

“Our findings show that you can increase team effectiveness by being humble only if team members expect a leader to display that characteristic. Pay attention to what values the team holds, and adjust your behavior accordingly. If your team demonstrates a desire to share power, your humility can encourage more dense and frequent information exchange and promote creativity. In teams where the unequal distribution of power is accepted, however, members are likely to expect you to take charge and make important decisions. In these circumstances, showing weakness through humility can be counterproductive.”

The challenge then is correctly reading your team’s expectations.

2. Disparities Persist in School Discipline.

“Black students represent 15.5 percent of all public school students, but make up about 39 percent of students suspended from school. . . .”

The report from which this statistic springs will frame the final exam of my “Multicultural Perspectives in Classrooms” course the next time I teach it. Take home exam. 1) Why do those disparities persist in school discipline? 2) What can/should teachers, administrators, and others do to eliminate the disparities? Why?

In question one I’ll be looking for references to educators’ implicit biases, or more specifically, their negative preconceived notions about students of color. I will also be looking for references to “teacher pleasing behaviors”, or more specifically, how white, middle class students tend to catch breaks because their mannerisms are far more familiar to their predominantly white, middle class educators.

3. In historic first, an American Indian will lead Seattle Public Schools.

4. From tests to sports to music recitals, competitive activities can wreak havoc on a kid’s confidence. This piece is sorely disappointing because the journo fails to ask the all-important question: whether kids need to compete as early and often as they do. My answer, no they do not.

Friday Assorted Links

1. A Teacher’s Struggle With Student Anxiety.

“Anxiety has become the most significant obstacle to learning among my adolescent students. In a teaching career spanning more than 30 years, I have watched as it has usurped attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which itself displaced “dyslexia,” as the diagnosis I encounter most often among struggling students. In contrast to dyslexia or ADHD, for which I have developed effective teaching strategies, anxiety in students leaves me feeling powerless. As a new school year kicks off, I am left wondering how anxiety has become so prevalent so quickly. What can I do about it? Might my teaching actually contribute to it?”

It doesn’t appear as if Doyle is familiar with Twenge’s recent work on how smart phones contribute to adolescents’ anxiety.

2. There’s nothing more addictively soothing than watching someone flipping homes on HGTV.

“HGTV was the third-most-popular network on cable television in 2016, a 24/7 testament to the powers of Target chic, the open-plan kitchen, and social conservatism. It unspools with the same bland cheerfulness as Leave It to Beaver, and its heart is in the same place. Many viewers — in red states and blue cities, in rent-controlled studio apartments and 6,000-square-foot McMansions — confess it’s a bedtime ritual, prelude to a night spent dreaming of ceramic-tile backsplashes and double-sink vanities. Over the past two years, it has become such a ratings and advertising sensation that it is largely responsible for the recent sale, this summer, of its parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive, to Discovery Communications for $11.9 billion.”

I confess, I’m an HGTV-er.

3. A university president held a dinner for black students—and set the table with cotton stalks and collard greens. I propose a term for this. . . macro aggression.

4. Even jellyfish sleep.

5. Evan Osnos’s take-aways from a trip to North Korea. Long time Pressing Pausers will know I’ve been a long time observer of North Korea. Osnos’s report is interesting throughout. He reports that if Kim Jong Un’s picture appears in a newspaper, North Koreans must avoid creasing his face. And being in a wheelchair disqualifies you from living in Pyonyang, the capital. Monitors on the city’s perimeter limit movement in and out of the capital. Most importantly, Osnos’s reporting strongly suggests North Korea wants better relations with the U.S. Which makes Trump’s approach—increasingly provocative threats—the exact wrong one at the wrong time. Heaven help us, and especially, the South Koreans.

 

 

One Surefire Way to Improve Mental Health

Jean M. Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, argues that smart phones are contributing to Millennial’s worsening mental health. The data is concerning.

Here’s her Atlantic essay (hyperbolically) titled “Have Smartphones Ruined a Generation” and here’s an interview with her from yesterday’s PBS NewsHour.

In summary, the less tethered young people are to their phones, the better their mental health.

Haim is Contributing to the Greater Good

I lent my iPod to Alison once.

She ended up sharing its contents with my sissy who got a big kick out of my fondness for female artists of a folky/pop/R&B persuasion. I’m secure enough in my maleness to say I dig me some Karen Carpenter, Jill Scott, Abigail Washburn, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Tracy Chapman, Sade. I pity the faux-macho who are too insecure to embrace the beauty of female voices.

Which brings us to Haim, who I just learned about as a result of this lengthy review of their second album, Something to Tell You. Learning of my discovery on her visit home last week, Alison has been helping me catch up. Their voices are excellent, but I’m even more enamored by their stage presence.

Carl Wilson, Slate’s music reviewer, follows the music scene much, much more closely than me. As a result, I had to read Wilson’s review a couple of times to make sense of it. From the odd opening reference to Haim as “the smart set’s favorite white pop band”, I alternately really liked and disliked his analysis.

I liked his description of their newest vid.

“This emphasis on musicianship rebukes the stubborn stereotype of the “girl band” as an artificially assembled group of sexy singers. Haim (pronounced “Hi-um”)* doesn’t have to dress up and do choreographed dance routines. The sisters are not ornaments—they’re the music makers. (Of course, it’s the music business, so they’re still conventionally attractive. Though that also reinforces that they’re making a choice.) So, in the video, they move only when they feel the music, sing only when it seems expressive. Got it.”

I disliked his thesis.

“Every pop moment is embedded in history, and history is embedded in every pop moment. Thinking through Something to Tell You, I’m puzzled by how Haim has gotten better but seems worse than in 2013–14. The reason has to be that in the late Obama era, when pop-chart populism still seemed democratizing and progress was on the upswing, Haim’s sisterhood variation on the theme felt liberating. That populism now feels double-edged, so the songs don’t quite stick. At the tail of the “Want You Back” video, the dance routine falls apart, and the trio wanders off laughing as the camera pulls away. The cathartic feeling dwindles back to mere charm, a shrugging amiability. It works as a reclamation of the band’s autonomy from pop imperatives, but it’s also like what happened here didn’t matter. It’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A.”

Mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter, it’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A. That last phrase strikes me as especially odd. What makes L.A. carefree and privileged, the fact that they closed Van Nuys Boulevard for the shoot? And why is Haim responsible for, or even complicit in, L.A.’s supposed carefree, privilege?

Maybe Wilson is too deep for me, but the way I interpret his “mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter” sentence is that art must be political today. Meaning Haim has to take some sort of a stand on pressing issues of the day. I beg to differ because I interact regularly with a lot of young women who are extremely self conscious, sometimes to the point of being intensely anxious and/or clinically depressed.

When I watch the “Want You Back” vid and this one,

the Haim sisters come across as joyfully unencumbered. Carefree is absolutely right. Given some young women’s mental health challenges today, that is gift enough.

Every one of us struggles, to varying degrees, with being self-conscious. The less self conscious among us inspire us to be more authentic, to make art, to dress, to write, to live, however we feel.

I’ll take more unencumbered joy with my art than policy pronouncements any day.

* I LOVE hate it when I am right and Alison is wrong. DIG the hypen Al, two syllables!** Let your friends down easily.

** Exclamation point = Millennial flourish.

But How Will It Look On My Resume?

Statistics show people don’t tend to read any particular blog for very long. I’m not jumping from blog to blog, I’m reading fewer, which begs the question, why read this or any other blog? One common thread in the few blogs I read regularly is the authors link to interesting and insightful writing that I wouldn’t otherwise come across.

The best bloggers are connoisseurs of some specialized content and curators who provide an invaluable service in the Age of Information Overload—they help focus people’s attention.I try to do that, but my statistics reveal that few readers follow my links meaning posts like this probably don’t work that well. If I knew how to change that I would.

Starting for real now. An email arrives from an ace college roommate, a successful psychotherapist specializing in adolescent development. His 12th grade daughter has been admitted to two highly selective colleges and is conflicted about which will look better on her resume. Dad’s equally torn about where she should go. What does the college professor think?

The college professor can’t get past the fact that the daughter is worried about her resume. I wrote back that the schools’ respective prestige was within the margin of error and that the only thing that matters is whether she builds lasting relationships and develops interpersonal and intellectual skills that cannot be easily automated.

Her family enjoys far greater economic security than 90-95% of people. I don’t understand her thinking, but I know that if she is pre-occupied with her economic future, it’s no surprise that anxiety disorders among adolescents are at an all-time high.

I suspect something deeper is at work in this college decision-making case study. Something spiritual. Cue David Brooks, who wrote this essay in Sunday’s New York Times. It’s Brooks at his best. Lots of self-righteous readers savage him, for in essence, not being a Democrat. How dare a Republican reflect on what’s most meaningful in life. I wonder what it’s like to have one’s politics and daily life in permanent, perfect alignment.

Brooks is scheduled to discuss his new book, The Road to Character, on the Diane Rehm show Thursday, April 16th at 11et.

A Better Way To Treat Anxiety

The title of a recent Wall Street Journal article about exposure therapy. 1.8 million young people, or nearly 10% in the U.S., experience anxiety disorders of some sort. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Virginia Tech and other institutions are finding that slowly exposing children to the things they are anxious about, at an early point in treatment, can be highly effective in helping them overcome anxiety.

Stephen Whiteside, a  Mayo pediatric psychologist, in the article:

When parents help children to escape from feared situations, anxiety symptoms may worsen and children frequently become more impaired.

Exposure therapy explained. Also verbatim from the article:

1) Children are gradually exposed early in treatment to things and situations they fear, and parents receive training as ‘exposure coaches’. Instead of avoiding things, the child begins to learn new ways to behave.

2) Don’t overreact. If your child is complaining or distressed about an upcoming situation—say a math test—tell him you understand how upsetting it is but you are going to be very proud of him for trying.

3) Save the praise. Praise the child only after she actually takes a step toward dealing with her fear, such as germs (‘You did a great job of riding the bus on the field trip.’)

4) One step at a time. Encourage your child to take small steps toward a goal, such as visiting an airport in advance of a scheduled flight.

5) Encourage decision making. Let your child make some choices on his own, such as whether to walk past a dog or visit a house where there is a dog.

6) Grin and bear it. Encourage your child in situations that might involve her fears, such as conversing with strangers—even if you think she might become upset or make a scene.

7) Positive reinforcement. Communicate that you are confident that your child can accomplish the goal, such as separating from the family for a camping trip. Tell her it will get easier every time she does something new.

Number five reminds me that when I was young, I was deathly afraid of dogs. In the sixties, with three older sibs, I was left to my own to work it out. Less intelligent than the dogs that scared the sh*t out of me, I tried to outrun a few. Which of course only made things much, much worse. Now, I’m happy to report, the family sometimes worries I may be too close to one particular doggie.

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Spare me the “guess marijuana really is legal in Washington” jokes. It’s early.

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