Archive for October, 2010

What’s Really Scary on Halloween (and every other day these days)? Homework, Academic Stress and Toxic Levels of Competition

October 27, 2010

Greetings.  I’m in two places at once today:  here writing about the terror lurking beneath education; and guest posting at one of my favorite haunts as a reader—The Kitchen Witch—where Dana hosts my tale of neurotic kitchen terror from a Christmas past.  Please visit her today (she’s a lot of fun) and then delve back here into the grim tidings of education and our individual and collective needs to adjust…

I recently attended a screening of the film Race To Nowhere by Vicky Abeles.  Vicky was there and the event attracted two back-to-back auditoriums full of parents followed by discussion focused on how and why we are putting too much pressure on our kids.  Topics raised by the film include homework and whether it is effective (both in terms of actually helping kids learn and in terms of the emotional well-being of children).

What the film reflects is our current culture—fraught with anxiety and ceaseless competition both conscious and unconscious.

While I absolutely feel that our culture is in the throes of tremendous pain, narcissistic (meaning clueless) and futile competition that is both a road to nowhere as well as a circular road to the eternal here and now, what I wish to facilitate with my post today is the furtherance of the discussion, the continuation of the consciousness that recognizes that more of what does not work (i.e. more, faster, harder, better, bigger, richer, thinner, more famous) will still not work.

We all just want to feel better.  And if we trusted, deep in our souls, that our kids would be happy, healthy and “successful” through being true to whoever they truly are, we parents might relax and get out of the way and simply allow our kids to learn, bloom and grow.

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Putting the ass into, or taking it out of, Asperger’s?

October 20, 2010

The Social Network is very good filmmaking, but it’s ultimately not more interesting than the real-life subject it addresses.

As we transition from the age of narcissism into the age of autism it makes great sense that the reins of power move from the narcissistic and entitled elite (perfectly personified by rich, rowing twins who are, in fact, played by one actor—a feeble antagonist that Andy pointed out was a lot like young Malfoy in Harry Potter, complete with eating clubs evocative of Slitherin) who stand in stagnant and befuddled contrast to the code-cracking Rain Man-like neuro-atypical embodied by Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg (actually, the character portrayed in the movie, which is not at all the same thing) seems every inch the asshole, but really he is not.  He is not hard-hearted so much as socially mind-blind.  He does lash out at a girlfriend, but mostly because he is wounded and cannot metabolize his hurt; he is computer-language gifted but socially retarded—a perfect specimen to helm our ship of fools into the New Age.  If we release judgment, perhaps this movie-Mark Zuckerberg is oddly enlightened:  he has a sort of collective compassion (he knows what the group is ready for and wants) and he practices this compassion without attachment (which to us muggles looks like coldness and not caring).  Perhaps he is an agent of karma, his own and ours as well?

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Hello Cruel World

October 13, 2010

I’m astride my bike near the big park.  G.D., the local bully/cool kid, calls out to me.  I turn and look and our eyes meet.  With cold inscrutable contempt he takes the rather hard “softball” he is holding and simply beans me in the face with it.  He watches my anguished pain, humiliation and shock the way an infant watches milk tossed off the highchair tray, studying his universe of cause and effect, of pleasure and pain.

Time stands still.  With a whooshing of surreal clarity everything telescopes back into sharp close-up focus.  G.D. is almost unbelievably handsome, charismatic with intermittently smiling eyes and a star aura.  He shouts at me to go get the ball—the ball rolling off down the street after it bounced off my face.

In a millisecond of calculation I picture retrieving the ball and having it thrown in my face again, the lesser toughs cackling like hyenas as my puddle of already liquefied self-esteem seeps into the nearest sewer.  Like a refugee running from armed soldiers I make a break for it, blur-pedaling my green Schwinn stingray fastback with equal parts rage and fear, laughter receding behind me.

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Autism becomes us

October 6, 2010

An article in the most recent Atlantic by John Donovan and Caren Zucker, “Autism’s First Child” is well worth reading.

Using the first identified case of autism in the medical texts, and exploring the human story of this now seventy-seven-year-old, Donald Gray Triplett, the authors invite us to think about how the oncoming epidemic of autistic adults might offer new ways to think about differences in the context of the group.

Having worked with autistic and Aspergers children, I was thrilled to come across the following sentiment in Donovan and Zucker’s article:  “…we can dispense with the layers of sorrow, and interpret autism as but one more wrinkle in the fabric of humanity. Practically speaking, this does not mean pretending that adults with autism do not need help. But it does mean replacing pity toward them with ambition for them. The key to this view is a recognition that “they” are part of “us,” so that those who don’t have autism are actively rooting for those who do.

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