Posts Tagged ‘educational issues’

Hello, Again

December 21, 2011

Being the winter’s solstice, it seems a propitious day to offer up my “good-enough” parenting book, Privilege of Parenting, and to unveil my new blog home with much thanks to Sarah Fite (and for the book cover design as well).

One of my favorite psychologists, D.W. Winnicott, coined the term “good-enough mother,” intuitively arguing against the possibility, or efficacy, of perfection in parenting—assuring us that “good-enough” will help kids grow and thrive just fine.  This is probably true for all of life, the value of the middle path—trying our best for excellence, but not perfection.

While I wish I could offer up a better book, a magical book that could mean all things to all people and magically transform parenting into song and dance and sugar the way Mary Poppins rolls, I hope my book shall suffice to serve as a “hello” to anyone who sincerely wants to talk about parenting and work together for the good of all our collective children.

I also wish the book were shorter, but I simply couldn’t find the time to make it any more concise.

So, in a spirit of love and gratitude, I wish all who come across these words good cheer, encouragement through dark nights of the soul and fellowship in neurosis—in the service of all our kids.  If it takes a village, let’s be the village people.

Namaste, BD


Growing up as America

July 6, 2011

Here we are in July, two days after America’s 235th birthday.  Given that parenting requires us to consider issues such as autonomy, attachment, independence and development, perhaps it’s worth zooming out for a moment and considering our current state of development as a parenting zeitgeist and as a country.

Like stars forming from dust and later burning out and blowing up into dust again, countries are born and they also die.  The Roman Empire has dwindled to a tourist destination (an every-other-month cover of Travel and Leisure) while the sun pretty much does set on the British Empire; meanwhile China and India are growing vigorously toward dominance like well fed children… rising once again (if you look at long-term history).

So, where is America in all this?  America seems to be a country struggling to come out of a very long adolescence.  As a psychologist I have seen that insecure attachment leads to distrust, to problems with relationships—sometimes to avoidance of others, at other times to control and dominance and manipulation of others.  At a national level we have oscillated between isolationism and pre-emptive attacks on perceived enemies.

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Panic in Piddle Park: Self and Self-Esteem

June 29, 2011

A recent Atlantic article by Lori Gottlieb, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” goes by a different hook on the magazine’s cover:  “How the Cult of Self-Esteem is Ruining our Kids.”

It’s summer so I’ll keep it brief:  fear-driven pitches sell books and magazines but do little to help parents do better with children.  The end.


But… if you’ve got a couple of extra minutes we can drill a little deeper.  Gottlieb traces the ever-swinging parenting-styles pendulum that proves about as helpful as an Edgar Allen Poe accompaniment to the pit.

The experts tell us that we’re messing up our kids, and then we embrace this year’s new-new panacea.  We’re giving too many choices.  We’re telling kids they are special when they are not.  We are failing to say no and set limits.  We are failing to give our kids space to separate from us and learn from a little adversity.

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Left Behind

May 18, 2011

I read an illuminating and provocative essay recently about how, and why, the No Child Left Behind Act has failed—and I thought it worth sharing in this space.  It happens to have been written by my older son, Nate Dolin, as a paper for his Junior year history class.  He became interested in this issue having volunteered in several public elementary school classrooms, having worked with special needs/autism spectrum children and tutoring kids who struggle in their public middle school… and having been faced with numerous inequities, subsequently found himself wondering why things are as they are.

So, if we want our kids to be encouraged to consider growing up to help, perhaps even to step up and educate, the next generation of kids… our future grand children, we are well-served to deepen our understanding of why things may be as they are.


Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind act seeks to leave no child behind in terms of academics, but the intentions of the act will never be met.  Even though President Bush claimed that the act was having a “dramatic effect” in 2008, the average white student scored 28 points higher on the reading section than the average African American student, and 26 points higher on the math section.[i]  Since the White students are obviously not inherently smarter than the African American student, what is causing the immense score gap?  Is every child in America really treated equally?  If society believes all children should have an equal opportunity for education, why are the most disadvantaged children being left behind, why is excessive testing proving to be more harmful than beneficial, why can’t the “supposed” intentions of the act be met, and why do some argue that the act was intended to benefit the economy rather than the children?

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We Miz

May 4, 2011

A recent NY Times news story, “In a Mother’s Case, Reminders of Educational Inequalities,” by Peter Applebome plunged me into fetid shadows akin to Dickensian London and Victor Hugo’s Paris of injustice on the brink of revolution… the dark and shameful inequalities that define the American school landscape circa here and now.

“Facts” are troublesome (and I perhaps no reliable narrator), but the story at hand is of a drug-involved mom who allegedly used her babysitter’s address to enroll her kindergartener in a better school district—and who now finds herself (aside from drug charges) facing charges of “first degree larceny” and “conspiracy” on account of sending her kid to a better-equipped suburban school when she actually lived in a poorer urban school district.

The boy, Andrew Justin Patches, bears a name-is-destiny sort of Dickensian yoke (just in patches/rags) and half made me wonder if I was dreaming (or is it nightmaring?) as my dandelion tea cooled beside my laptop last Thursday morning.  Is this a narrative to illustrate the spirit, if not crisis, of our time?  Are these people for real?  Are we, as a culture that leaves so many kids behind for real?  What sort of revolution might grow out of such injustice?  And what good might it do if this is where we are, centuries after much-vaunted revolutions in France and America, that have come and gone on in business as usual inequality and injustice?

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Self Taught

April 20, 2011

A teacher I know recently said to me that they felt that, after three years at it, they were just starting to truly understand how to teach.  That made sense to me—as a past therapist had told me that her supervisor had told her that it takes seven years of practice before you truly know what you are doing as a therapist.  Moving into two decades of clinical work, I keep learning how much I do not know, but ever deepening my appreciation for the process, for the courage of my clients, for the possibility of accurately connecting as a way to facilitate healing and growth.

That teacher went on to say that they were very excited about teaching, and that I should tell all my clients to become teachers, not just because it is a noble thing to do, and deeply rewarding to the soul, if not always the purse, but because he was learning how to be a father to himself through teaching—having conversations with students, and giving compassionate counsel in ways that had been entirely missing from his own upbringing.

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Princeton Re-View: Fiddler in the Rye

February 16, 2011

This is the story of my fail of a Princeton interview, and a small, but redemptive, synchronistic twist of fate that occurred thirty-three years later.  I tell it in the spirit of calming fears, in this case the fear of rejection; for when it comes to the lizard brain, rejection, loss, abandonment, annihilation, dread and death all cluster together.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), when we are in lizard mode, things do not go well for one-to-one love, nor do they pulse well for the social network.  And when it comes to parenting, whether it is about getting our child into the “right school,” or just getting them into the car when they are in one of those moods, calming ourselves by being mindful that we are already accepted to the school of life—the school we’re all in together—may help us calm our children and support them to shine, not just for the benefit of themselves, but for the collective good of all of us.

This particular story came back into my mind recently when I was dining with friends and got to chatting with a visiting step-mom, now a fellow psychologist, who turned out to have been in charge of admissions at Princeton for a good number of years—years including 1978 (a time when I had, more or less, fashioned myself after Sartre, Camus and Starsky—not Nick from The Great Gatsby).

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Tiger Moms in Tigger Times

February 9, 2011

I doubt many parents have failed to find Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother blipping over their radar, Tigger-triggering little waves of unease.  But as the dust settles, I want to employ this latest meaningless tempest in a teacup to further the aim of facilitating calm amongst parents.

Therefore, let’s not bother debating the merits of tiger parenting vs. Chua’s gloss on Western parenting; I imagine you already have your opinions on that and will not benefit from mine.

Instead, let’s consider why this issue has gotten so much ink, so many comments at the Wall Street Journal, where Chua’s essay on her parenting philosophy ruffled feathers, and sparked wide ranging debate in the New York Times and across the blogosphere.

I suspect that this all distills down to fear.  Fear that we are not good enough parents.  Fear that we, and/or our children, will be left behind (and the feeling of being left behind distills down to abandonment, which distills down to annihilation—to feelings swirling below the radar of many an unsuspecting grown-up that are akin to excruciating dread, angst and lonely shame).

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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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History Lessons

September 1, 2010

It was the evening after the first day of school and after cooking with Andy we were all seated in the deepening dusk of the garden, candles burning in jars, Will stating that this macaroni and cheese was the best he’d ever had… Andy’s magic, complimented by my grilled protein and sautéed green beans (beans that Nate had helped prep).

We debated the merits of school starting before Labor Day and my assertion that since summer had already ended, Labor Day might be less depressing, less drenched in the last meal before the execution sort of melancholy.

We talk about being present to the moment and I can happily report that I was—the edge of fall in the night air (or what passes for fall in LA), the color of the velvet sky, the tastes and textures of pasta and cheese—soft, crisp and creamy, the sounds of neighbors living life on the other sides of fences and trees.

Will excused himself to get back to his homework and Nate asked for tips on reading more effectively.  We talked about sitting up rather than lying in bed, all of which lead to him talking about what he’d read on his first day of eleventh grade:  the opening and the afterward from Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.”

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