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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

Teaching Reading in the Failing Public Schools

An article in the June 23, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("Phonics finally Gets Its Due in New York. It took the city's education bureaucracy 20 years to recognize that the Success Academy approach works") described the shocking failure of the public school's ability to teach reading. Yet the blame is not theirs alone since if parents read first to and then with their toddlers, almost all children would be reading simple books by the time they entered kindergarten. And if all parents explained their directives (apart from emergency situations) rather than saying, "Do it because I say so," their cognitive development would be further enhanced since not providing explanation depresses the development of both the capacity for abstract thinking and of intrinsic motivation ("motivation which is inherent in information processing and action," as the noted psychologist, Joseph McVicker Hunt, stated in his 1960s paper). Hunt's work was a major influence in beginning the Head Start program. Learning and its love begin at home. Sadly, these no-cost education remedies are far from universal.

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Sex and Gender Education

Much present social dispute concerns the need for "evidence-based" education about sex and gender though the term "evidence-based" has become simply a feel-good marketing term. The significant question in all education is what is truly based on objective research and what is simply disguised propaganda. My only, small, sex education class had (as I remember) only male students and is described in the first chapter of my novel, "Park West: A Novel of Love and Murder and Redemption," which is posted on my website. It was a graduate course at Columbia University, "Human Reproduction and Sexual Development," and taught by a well-known male OB/GYN. It must have impressed me since it is the only class whose name I still remember, along with several student questions which seemed to momentarily puzzle and surprise the teacher: "What is the function of pubic hair?" and "Does seeing your naked patients affect you?" He described the likely genetic function of pubic hair as being to provide protective cushioning; and said that his patients were only concerned with their health though, he added with a small smile, "Some vulva are prettier than others." Gender was never mentioned. Nuff said.


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A Prescient Sci-Fi Story About Modern Life

I recently read a science fiction story by Robert Silverberg, "Alaree," which was originally published in 1958. A crippled spaceship from Earth has landed for repairs on a small, previously unexplored planet. There they encounter a small humanoid creature with whom they speak using a speech converter. The creature has great difficulty understanding the concept of "I" since on his planet all the creatures are "we."

He becomes close to the space travelers, watching as they work. Soon other aliens appear, all identical to him. He implores the captain to take him with him back to Earth and, after initially refusing, the captain agrees, Alaree having said that if he remains he'll die. On the return journey, Alaree behaves in a puzzling manner, staring into the face of each of the crew members as if trying to merge with them. Then he suddenly dies and the captain understands why: because on his world he had been part of "we" and, when losing this identify and becoming an "I," he could not survive.
This reminded me of the fear of some people to reject popularly held concepts, perhaps from the subconscious fear that, like Alaree, they couldn't survive.

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Student Violence Against Teachers Is Increasing

An article in the June 3, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("'There Were Fists Everywhere.' Violence Against Teachers Is on the Rise") detailed the increased student violence against teachers. In one Nevada school district there were three dozen criminal battery assaults against teachers thus far this year. Yet the needed remedy is known and should be applauded by teachers, parents, and students. While youthful acting-out behavior varies in significance by age with a very young child's hitting often reflecting simple immaturity while a teenager's indicates serious developmental issue, the remedy is the same: having a comprehensive psychological assessment to determine the degree of psychopathology present and providing effective intervention.

But these cannot substitute for having school principals who won't tolerate such behavior and make this clear; and mandating legal consequences for assault. Having sufficient security staff is critical too. Several years ago there was public outrage after an assaulting teenager was pepper sprayed by police as they restrained him in school. Yet, as I then wrote, the benefit of this police action was that no one was hurt.
Learning and teaching cannot succeed where the safety of all is not assured. Nor should teachers be expected to be hostage to student rage.

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My Breakfast Suggestion

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal provided several fancy oatmeal recipes. Try my simple one using the less expensive Quaker or store brand. After cooking, it can be refrigerated and served for several days: two cups of quick-cooking oatmeal, two cups of frozen blueberries, three tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, perhaps 1/2 teaspoon each (I don't measure these) of cinnamon and ginger, and four tablespoons of Kretschmer wheat germ. After dropping this mixture into four cups of boiling water, it's cooked on a low flame in about seven minutes. I sometimes add frozen raspberries or strawberries. In my view you can't get a quicker, healthier, or better tasting breakfast. One to satisfy your sweet-tooth and can be prepared in advance to be later eaten cold, a particular advantage on summer mornings. Or anytime since there is no mandate that a typically breakfast dish can only be eaten in the morning.

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