Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The end of a life together

For anyone that follows Melissa at Suburban Bliss, you have been following a very difficult story lately.  Melissa has been struggling with mental illness for quite some time, quite publicly.  She is clinically depressed, on and off medication, and dealing with her marriage, family, and a dysfunctional family history.  It's all there to read about.  What a tough hand to be dealt - bad enough to have the crazy family... but, the ongoing legacy (genetic, environmental, or whatever) of mental illness is obviously making it all more challenging.

Whether or not the public aspect of her struggles (her blog) has made it worse - no one can clearly demonstrate.  However, from this vast distance, over the internet... I really feel for her and her family.  Everyone is clearly in pain.   And, while her husband feels as though he is done with the good fight, and Melissa seems to struggle to figure out what normal is, and their children are in the middle of all of this.  We can all take a moment to send our best wishes to all of them that they can sort out their family life in the most positive way for all involved, maintain their health (mental and physical), and learn a new way to get along.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The correct way to do it.

I took a child to the doctor for wart removal some time ago.  The doctor pointed out that there are about a dozen approved treatments to treat warts.

"Which means, of course, that none of them are really good.  If there is a really good treatment, it becomes the treatment of choice".

Why aren't there dozens of books out there with the following titles?
  • A dozen different tools to drive a nail into wood.
  • Which way do you want to address your envelope?
  • Different solutions to 2+2.
  • Which way should you punctuate "I'm"?
  • How you should sit in a chair.
Right, because pretty much, if I have a nail, a hammer looks like a good tool for the job.

So, when we see hundreds, thousands, or even more titles in a "How to" section - that indicates that there is not just one solution that works for everyone.

Which sections of self-help guides are full of titles?
  • How to lose weight and stay in shape.
  • How to be an effective teacher.
  • How to be an effective learner.
  • How to be the most effective and loving parent.
  • How to have a happy and successful marriage.
There are some universal truths.  People like to be treated fairly and with respect.  People like to connect with other people.  People like to feel valued.  But, how to do that and achieve your goals will vary depending on the dynamics of the situation.

Suffice it to say, we should all recognize that there is no such thing as one size fits all education, parenting, or marriage.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Get a good workout - for your brain.

When we go to the gym to get some exercise, we accept that, to get any bang for our exercise buck, we need to feel like we are working hard.  You want to break a sweat, maybe feel a little sore later, struggle with the last repetitions in a set, and breathe hard.  To make your body stronger and more fit, we accept that we need to work.  Hence, we call this process - working out.

Likewise, if you ask too much of a gym workout - you either won't succeed (you can't lift the whole stack without working up to it).  Alternatively, you may finish it but be too sore to follow through and go back to the gym the next time.

It seems to me that learning is the same process.  So, it shouldn't surprise us that to make gains in learning and understanding new ideas (algebra, for example)... we should feel like we are struggling a little.  Wrapping our minds around something new doesn't come easily.  So, if you aren't feeling like you are struggling a bit - you probably aren't making gains.  Obviously, if you can march through your schoolwork without really paying attention to it - it is too easy and you won't make gains.  Similarly, if it is too hard - you won't be able to struggle to the answer - no gains again.   Thus, one real key to education seems to be finding the "sweet spot", just the right level of difficulty.

Another key to education, which can be very difficult to develop, is a willingness to struggle.  We intuitively want things to come easy and make us feel smart.  But, to really figure something out, some degree of struggle seems to be necessary. If we frustrate too easily, we will miss these new insights.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What does handicapped mean?

My father lives in a retirement community.  When asked how he is feeling, he generally answers that he feels good.  And, generally, he does.  He does, however, have his third new heart valve, shoulders that don't allow him to raise his arms, neuromas that cause pain and numbness below his knees, and a variety of other aches, pains, and challenges.  When asked about any of those items - he, like most of the more well-adjusted residents, would answer that "everyone has their issues".

Issues are not restricted to the old-folks home.

Whether it is a bum knee, hearing loss, digestion issues, eyesight degradation, memory loss, attentional deficits, social deficits, dysgraphia, dyslexia, or some other deficit - everyone has their issues. No one is perfect.

I read an inspirational post at this morning that shows a handicapped boy wheeling himself to camp.  The other parents are horrified that this poor child has to wheel himself with his friends down the road to camp.  The kid's friends had to get their bikes to keep up with his speed-demon wheeling.   Which kids are handicapped?  It is the ones that aren't allowed to walk on their own or the ones that are forced to?

Early on in my teaching career, I had a student that was "handicapped".  In that I teach field courses with some rigorous physical activities, early in the semester I pulled him aside.

"I see that you have issues with your arm.  You look very capable.  I just want to let you know that if you are ever asked to do something that is difficult or challenging - just give me a nod, and I will understand.  Do you have any specific limitations that I should know about?"

"Nope.  I'll be fine."

Boy, was he ever serious.  This one-handed boy toted canoes, paddled canoes, pulled nets, went through samples, shoveled, and did everything everyone else did - plus some.  What a great kid.  This kid hadn't accomplished a lot despite his disability - his disability gave him the fire to accomplish whatever he wanted to.  How did he do it?  I couldn't even tell you... I saw the kid tote a canoe and paddle it, and I am still not sure how one paddles one-handed.  He's an accomplished fisherman too!

High school football?  Sure - he played until his father didnt' allow him to - after his good arm was shattered in a particularly rough tackle.  I knew him after he'd recovered from his football injury.  This kid was a perfectly normal, if motivated, bright, and active young man.

No one ever told this kid what he couldn't do - so, he found a way to do whatever was thrown his way.

If we are defined by our actions rather than our words or our shortcomings... we need to take whichever issues life throws at us, however big or small, and succeed however it takes and however we define it.