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

School Achievement and Choice

An article in The Wall Street Journal on April 3, 2023 ("Milton Friedman's School Choice Revolution - Biden may write him off, but his idea is more popular than ever."} aroused this blog. The greatest factor in school achievement is for a child to have experienced a "good-enough" parenting. If all parents read first to and then with their toddlers, almost all children would be reading simple books by first grade. And, apart from emergency situations, to never say, "Do it because I say so," to children since this depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking, as psychologists have long known.

The teachers that I've treated are just as frustrated, having to teach classes of students speaking multiple languages, which can include unsocialized or (literally) crazed students creating classroom chaos and being ignored by administration, having parents who are clueless about parenting or too overwhelmed to provide it. Back to basics, as has long been said, and not the recent craze to avoid standards and achievement tests. The greatest benefit of the admission-test high school I attended was not its academics but that there were no fights or bullying (though being big, I was never bullied), and also no athletics and only rare parties (it was a different time). My dentist, another of its graduates, told me that once he almost got into a fight after making a deprecating remark but though the other student balled his fist he desisted.

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Let All Praise The School Nurse

School can be distressful time for students caused by social discrimination or bullying or when family-based issues overwhelm. Then the normal symptoms of anxiety may arise: feeling restless or tense and impending doom; breathing rapidly (hyperventilating); sweating or trembling; feeling tired or weak; headache or stomach distress. All being quickly remedied in the school nurse's office who, in addition to her medical skills and counseling ability, offers juice and respite from stress. Thus, let all praise the school nurse, whose critical role is too-little appreciated despite she being a student's first line of defense when their parent isn't available.

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Parenting, School Achievement, and Standardized Testing

Parents should read first to their toddlers and then with them, this enabling most children to induct the nature of reading as they do the grammar of the language of the country into which they are born (thus a toddler in Germany learns to speak German, a child in Argentina learns to speak Spanish, etc.) and reading simple books by kindergarten. Parents should also explain rather than say "Do it because I say so," since this depresses the development of the critical capacity for abstract thinking as psychologists have known since the 1960s. Which is not to say that public schools don't need improvement since, with exception, they tend to be clueless in helping struggling children. But schools shouldn't be expected to remedy absent parent involvement or act as parents for children who haven't been socialized (as teachers complain). Standardized testing is critical too since a child's poor scores says something important which need be investigated and remedied.

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Special Education Consigns Students to "A Treadmill of Failure"

A January 7, 2022 letter in The Wall Street Journal, "The Tragedy of 'Special Ed,'" insisting that these programs consign students "to a treadmill of failure," aroused my long-past memory. While doing psychological research in a Mid-West school, I sensed the similarity between a school and a factory.

Both operate on a rigid timetable where products (widgets or students) must move smoothly along the production line. With students this involves flowing without interruption from classroom to lunchroom to dismissal, with interference being removed. Thus defective widgets, or slowly moving/uncooperative students, are removed, with the latter being sent to Special Education to begin their struggle along the "treadmill of failure." The reason for this is simple: while academic failure can result from several reasons, it usually reflects psychological causation which schools, lacking sophisticated child development knowledge, are ill-equipped to remedy.

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Why Most Teachers Fail With Problematic Students

Teachers are generally clueless about teaching problematic students and for good reason: it's not their job! Most learning problems derive from inadequate early parenting which affects the development of those basic ego capacities which govern control of behavior, development of a sense of self, mood modulation, and others. Limitations in these are exacerbated by parents who didn't read to and then with their toddlers, who bossed them around rather than explaining "why" which depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking, and who didn't foster individual development and demand civil behavior. All else is window dressing, like the computer technology which is expected to alleviate these early life failings but can't. Thus do teachers take the rap for being unable to "re-parent," which is basically not their job and a vastly complicated business too.

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Should America Adopt China's Way of Education?

The (September 9-10, 2017) Wall Street Journal's article, "Why American Students Need Chinese #Schools," makes several points: that, in China, the teacher rules supreme over the parent, and that effort and drill are considered the educational pathway to success. There, teachers engage in behavior which would cause their arrest for child abuse in America. Yet,  Read More 
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Diagnosing Bullying

Though all agree that bullying is bad, its complexity and that of the victim are often downplayed. In fact, bullies may primarily be sadistic, depressed, or anxious; and victims may primarily be submissive, provocative, or masochistic. Varying teacher and family dynamics exist for each, ranging from fear and helplessness, to parents who gain vicarious  Read More 
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How a New Teacher Tamed His Class or “George is humping Valerie’s doll!”

I recently heard this story from a relative. A twenty-two-year-old began teaching Earth Science in one of New York City’s most difficult schools. As the class began, fifteen-year-old George tore the clothes off his classmate’s doll and pretended to have sex with it. The class screamed, “Look, George is humping Valerie’s  Read More 
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The Similarity Between Dying Schools and Dying Businesses

As a psychologist, I've long found that parents complain most about schools. They are, as institutions, hermetically sealed, uninterested in any opinion that doesn't agree with their own and, when their efforts with troubled children fail (as almost always happens), the parents become termed expert and the school demands that they resolve their child's  Read More 
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Teachers' Responsibility For Students' Academic Success

The problem with holding ‪teachers‬ largely responsible for their ‪student‬s' learning is that many learning difficulties derive from emotional and family issues that are uncontrolled by the teacher. Teachers teach--with greater or lesser knowledge and creativity--and can be a catalyst for a child's learning but they do not control most elements of a  Read More 
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