Archive for May, 2019

How to “Bully-proof” Your Child? Teach Them the Serenity Prayer

May 30, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading a NYTimes article by Estelle Erasmus titled “How to Bully-Proof Your Child“. The bottom line answer is provided by child psychologist Izzy Kalman who suggests that if a child is bullied they should “...treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.” The article offers several examples of how to apply Dr. Kalman’s principles, including this one:

The Reflexive Response

“I didn’t. Tessa is a liar!”

“No, she’s not!

“She is! I didn’t cheat!”

“Everyone knows it’s true.”

“It’s not true!”

Mr. Kalman’s Approach:

“Really? Do you believe it?”



Or, if the answer is “Yes”:

O.K. If you want to believe it, how can I stop you?”

“You can’t. So I’m going to tell everyone you cheated. And you can’t stop me.”

“That’s right. I can’t.”

After reading this example, I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer ascribed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In dealing with the false accusation, the bullied individual is acting on this prayer: They accept the thing they can’t change— the accuser’s beliefs— have the courage to stand up to the accusation— but ultimately accede to the accusation because they see that changing the accuser’s mind is an impossibility.

From my experience, all bullying can be resisted in this fashion. A bullied individual cannot change the behavior of the bully on their own and they cannot change the bullying incident itself. The bullied individual, then, needs to have the wisdom to decide whether to seek the intervention of someone who CAN change things or to continue accepting the bullying.

Ms. Erasmus’ elaboration of Dr. Kalman’s theories reinforce the notion that the Serenity Prayer might be applicable across-the-board, as my italicized notes indicate:

Instead of having adults act like law enforcement officers against bullying, Mr. Kalman advises teaching children the following four facts:

1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on. (i.e. they are not accepting what they cannot change) 

2) They have been making themselves upset. (i.e. if they ACCEPT what they cannot change they will not make themselves upset) 

3) Fighting back and acting defensive fuels the bullying. (i.e. IF they accept what they cannot change it will diminish the bullying behavior— in this case courage IS acceptance) 

4) By not getting upset, the child wins, and gets the bullies to stop.

“The way to reduce bullying is to not punish kids for exercising their freedom of speech,” Mr. Kalman said. Teaching children that everyone is allowed to speak freely removes much of the power of the bullying and enables children to be their own advocates.

Bullying has been going on for decades… and trying to stop it by developing elaborate rules and protocols can be self-defeating. I’m with Dr. Kalman on this issue:

Mr. Kalman explained that when we punish kids for using certain words, it teaches them that words are very harmful. And when an adult punishes a child for saying something hurtful, it magnifies hostilities and takes the solution for fixing the issue out of the child’s hands.

Nobody can guarantee their children a life without difficulties. If you protect your children from the social challenges of life, it weakens them,” he said.

Facial Recognition System Installed at NY School: What Could Go Wrong?

May 30, 2019 Comments off

I can hear the arguments in favor of this now. It’s cheaper and less intrusive than a “good guy with a gun” and a metal detector and can target outsiders and potential troublemakers much more efficiently.

The overarching argument against it is that THIS is exactly what a totalitarian regime would do if it wanted to train its citizens to accept 24/7 monitoring.

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Will I Ever Witness Racial Justice in My Lifetime?

May 29, 2019 1 comment

I am 72 years old and counting… 7 years older than the Brown v. Board of Education decision that was supposed to replace “separate but equal” opportunities with integrated schools “with all deliberate speed”… and yet story after story illustrates that we are not only falling short of that court edict but seemingly working to make that mandate unrealizable.

A few weeks ago an op ed piece in the NY Daily News by Cornell professor Noliwe Rooks reported on some of the reasons Brown v. Board of Education, the supposed law of the land, has not gained traction, using NYC’s experience as a case study. These two paragraphs explain the sordid reality in NYC:

Over the past 65 years, a majority of large-scale integration efforts in New York City have relied on parents choosing, volunteering or agreeing to allow black and Latino children to attend school with their children. Time and time again, they have refused. Sometimes they say they support the principle of integration but are opposed to specific remedies like busing, redrawing district lines or eliminating high-stakes admission tests. Parents who could afford to do so have also simply removed their children from public schools.

The result is New York City schools are among the most racially segregated schools in the country.

And, as Rooks explains, addressing the two root causes of segregation– the admissions tests used to effectively limit the enrollment of blacks and Latinas from the elite high schools and the segregated housing patterns in the school— are seemingly intractable. Rooks has the sense that the root cause of the failure to integrate is that too many white parents do not want their children to attend schools where their children are in the minority. She concludes her article with this:

One thing is clear: If we want integration, we will have to privilege the law over the desires of parents who do not want their children to attend school with students who are of a different race.

NYC is nowhere near solving the riddle of school integration that was to have been the hallmark of the Brown v. Board. As long as parents in refuse to welcome black and Latino students into their children’s schools, anniversaries such as this will come and go, but our schools will remain the same.


Another recent article shared on Facebook illustrates that things have not changed in Mississippi, even when courts recently (albeit belatedly) enforced the intent of Brown v. Board of Education. Mississippi Today writers Aallyah Wright and Kelsey David reported on the sad story of Olecia James’ whose status as Class of 2018’s salutatorian for the newly consolidated Cleveland Central High School was stripped at the 11th hour over a school board decision to modify the weighting of IB courses. From all evidence this ex post facto decision was made in order to prevent Ms. James, who is African American, from earning the honor for fear that her achievement would lead to more white flight from the recently integrated public school. So instead of attending the University of Mississippi on a full scholarship, Ms. James will be involved in yet another lawsuit being filed against the Cleveland School District for its discrimination against African American students. Happily, Ms.James DID land on her feet:

Although she didn’t get to graduate from East Side or attend her first choice of college, James said she’s still choosing to make the best of her situation.

Instead of pursuing a law degree at Ole Miss, she decided to attend Alcorn State University majoring in mass communications. She ended her freshman year with a 4.0 GPA, Freshman of The Year, a presidential scholar, the Sports Editor of The Campus Chronicle and a ROTC Cadet.

“I was sad but at the moment it was all about resilience and controlling what you can control,” she said. “I got a lot of doors opened for me … and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me at Alcorn.”

Stories like these make me wonder if I will ever see racial justice delivered in my lifetime… it’s been more than 65 years since Brown v. Board of Education and we are still falling short of the standard that case was supposed to put in place. But stories like Ms. James DO make me hope that my grandchildren will see a day when students like Ms. James can receive the honors they earn… especially if Ms. James can parlay her degree in mass communications into a wider platform to seek racial justice.

‘Enormous Victory for Transgender Students’ as SCOTUS Declines to Hear Challenge to Inclusive Bathroom Policy

May 29, 2019 Comments off

In a rational world this would make it possible for school boards to no longer need to worry about this issue at the local level because it is now “settled law”…. but in the world we live in organizations like “the conservative Christian law firm Alliance Defending Freedom” will continue to find cases that they can bring forward to erode the rights conferred on these students by the Supreme Court. Nothing stirs the hearts and souls of individuals like a controversy rooted in religious conviction.

Source: ‘Enormous Victory for Transgender Students’ as SCOTUS Declines to Hear Challenge to Inclusive Bathroom Policy

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Beware Billionaires Bearing Gifts

May 27, 2019 Comments off

This Common Dreams article by Leo Gerard captures the essence of everything that is wrong with giving billionaire plutocrats free reign on how they spend their money… Here’s the concluding paragraph:

For Americans to achieve real freedom and self-governance, some of the billions that flow into the pockets of the already rich must go instead into the paychecks of the workers whose sweat creates profits. Political bribes, like the $500,000 the Kochs gave Ryan, must be outlawed. And the rich must be properly taxed so that the nation can afford to pave its roads, send its youngsters to affordable, properly government-supported technical schools and colleges, and restore its once-great middle class. American workers want autonomy, not charity, to help every person rise.

Source: Beware Billionaires Bearing Gifts

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Schools Serving Children Raised in Poverty are Overburdening Underpaid, Overworked Teachers

May 27, 2019 Comments off

Pedro de Costa’s recent EPI blog post connected the dots between under-resourced schools, underpaid teachers, and the teacher shortage that exists in schools serving children raised in poverty. This poignant quote from a presentation given by Joy Kirk, a middle-school teacher from Frederick (VA) teacher illustrates the daunting challenges that face teachers in under-resourced schools:

….okay, we know so and so doesn’t have water, how can we get them into school early and maybe get them down to the gym? As teachers, you’re making these little baskets and you’re letting this kid come to class 20 minutes late and the other kids are wondering but it’s because as teachers you know they don’t have water right now and you’ve got to do something—but you don’t want them to stand out.

“But as the problem began to grow, especially through the recession, we began to recognize this was more than just a few teachers on a team, or a few teachers in a school. It’s a community issue and we need to step up.

“We need the mental health workers, we need the school psychologists. We have some of our schools now that now offer laundry service and the kids can bring in clothes to do their laundry, so they’re not ‘that’ kid.”

The bottom line, as Ms. Kirk and Mr. de Costa infer, is that schools are the last line of defense in the War on Poverty that was launched with insufficient funds, insufficient “soldiers”, and insufficient “armaments” from the outset… and so the problems that students bring to the classroom persist and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening.


Eugenics Led to IQ tests, SATs and Standardized Testing: Sorting an Selecting Persists

May 26, 2019 Comments off

I just read Linda Gordon’s review of Daniel Okrent’s The Guarded Gate, whose subtitle is: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians and Other European Immigrants Out of America. The review describes the eugenics movement that swept our country in the late 19th and early 20th century, a movement that was purportedly based on hard science that provided tools to objectively identify those nationalities who deserved to be allowed into our country and those who should be barred from entry. In describing the basis for the eugenics movement, Ms. Gordon writes:

Misunderstanding what was and wasn’t genetic led to enthusiasm for eugenics, the science of human breeding. Not all eugenics was discriminatory. In the late 19th century progressive reformers used eugenic arguments for improving public health through, for example, the promotion of healthy pregnancies. But by the 1920s eugenicists were ranking ethnic groups as superior or inferior, and their work was considered state-of-the-art science, taught in standard biology textbooks…

Supremely confident of their objectivity, nativist leaders sought to put eugenics into practice. Willet Hays — a plant breeder — proposed that each American be assigned an 11-digit “number name,” a score of their genetic lineage, to guarantee their “mating with those of equal general excellence.” Okrent reproduces a sample report on an individual’s physical, mental and temperamental qualities. Eugenicists persuaded the Public Health Service to offer certificates of eugenic suitability for marriage.

Ms. Gordon makes no mention of the most long-lasting outcome of the eugenics movement: standardized testing. As Natalie Frank writes in an Owlcation essay, the originator of the IQ test, French psychologist Albert Binet, intended the test to be used to identify children who needed special attention. Moreover, he cautioned against using the tests to rank the general population. Ms. Gordon writes:

Binet firmly declared that his test was never intended as, “a general device for ranking all pupils according to mental worth” (Binet, 1916). A single score, he emphasized, could not quantify intelligence. He went on to state that it would be a serious mistake to use what had come to be referred to as an IQ score as a definitive indication of a child’s intelligence.

Binet’s fear was that the IQ score would condemn children to a permanent assumption of stupidity, limiting their education and ability to support themselves.Overall, Binet stressed that intelligence progressed at variable rates, was malleable not fixed, could be altered by the environment, and was only able to be compared among children of the same background and education(Binet & Simon, 1916)

Unfortunately, it appears that on its way across the ocean Binet’s intelligence theory and warnings regarding interpretation got lost somewhere in the translation. It became clear that his concerns were well placed as some did misuse his scale for purposes he had never intended. The services for those children struggling to learn that he hoped would be employed would not materialize for several generations.

As noted in previous posts, the individual who emphasized the value of IQ scores and standardized test scores in general was Lewis Terman, whose ideas came to dominate schooling in our country:

Terman defined the primary benefits of this test, now called the Stanford Binet, as “curtailing the reproduction of feeble-mindedness and in the elimination of an enormous amount of crime, pauperism, and industrial inefficiency” (White, 2000). Now that the concept of eugenics had been bestowed with scientific merit through the endorsement of a respected Stanford Professor, the movement began to grow exponentially.

And the line from IQ tests to SAT tests to standardized achievement testing is linear and clear. Lewis Terman’s associate, Robert Yerkes, developed a standardized test used to sort military conscripts and one if his assistants, Princeton psychologist, Carl Brigham, designed the test that became the SAT. Like the IQ, the SAT originally had a narrow purpose: it was designed to identify “...academically gifted boys who did not come from the Eastern boarding schools” to attend Harvard. James Conant, Harvard’s President at the time, saw the SAT as a good proxy for “…pure intelligence, regardless of the quality of the taker’s high school education.”

The first standardized tests used at the State level was designed by Lewis Terman and two of his assistants.  Their initial purpose was “ test the accomplishments of school children in grades two through eight” but like other tests they assumed a broader purpose, especially when those calling for accountability emerged in the 1980s.

We now live in an era where the prevalence of data collected on each individual student combined with genome research make it possible to accomplish the kinds of coding plant breeder Willet Hays envisioned… a world where every child could be assigned an 11 digit code that would score their genetic lineage and make it possible to achieve the ultimate sorting-and-selecting the efficiency experts sought in the early 1920s. A chilling prospect… but one that seems increasingly plausible given our obsession with tests as a means of determining “merit”.


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