Once More Unto the Breach!

(My Years of Montessori – Part 36 – partially plagiarized from Part 6 – but this time with pictures!)


On my very first day in my “new” school (which really isn’t new anymore, seeing as how this is my sixth year there) I watched with morbid fascination at how awful the kids in the “Sekundaria”  – the 13 and 14 year olds – treated one another as well as the teacher who was trying so hard with them.

Traditionally, in this first circle discussion of the school year, the group comes to a consensus on seating arrangements and general rules concerning classroom etiquette, independent study time conditions and shared space. This includes a wide variety of topics from the use of cell phones to eating in the classroom, from quiet versus social areas to music volumes, from which kids are allowed in which rooms to respecting others’ property, from doing chores to not running in the hallways . . . It was quite a list. And a surprising one. In my introduction to the ways of this school so far, I had heard it contrasted to “rules schools” quite a few times. And here were the same prohibitions you would find anywhere. The only difference was that the kids were supposed to come up with and agree to them on their own. The teacher’s goal was to have them create a poster of the rules that would then be signed by all and hung in the classroom to guarantee a peaceful and productive school year.

That poster never came into existence. In this long excruciating hour, the kids teased and interrupted one another constantly. They chatted with neighbors rather than listening to the one who currently held the conch, oops, I mean the heart-shaped pillow. Elbows were dug into other kids’ ribs. Squirming was constant and adversarial. Barely audible but clearly snide comments and subsequent chuckles were made at other people’s expense. Pseudo-laughter over things that weren’t really funny was a constant feature in general. Arms were crossed in a defensive posture as one student after another leaned back and signaled their anger. All the while, the well-meaning and not un-respected teacher kept cajoling and lecturing the kids, trying to make them admit that they were old enough and smart enough to understand everything he was trying to accomplish. They were and they did – but none of them were going to actually admit that out loud. At some point, the clock struck 10, signaling recess, and the group discussion was over.

I went home and brooded over the experience for hours on end. In less than two days, I would have to face this group for the first English lesson (a subject they had collectively rebelled against in the past). How could I get this troop to give me and English a chance? I would have to hit the exact right tone and fairly quickly – these kids were clearly not receptive to lectures. They were tired of being talked to, reasoned with, and they immediately tuned out. And rules? They turned out to be enticements – the kids were very creative in finding ways to break them. I was going to have to get equally creative.

The first question was how to deal with all the rebellion. By sheer coincidence, it was an election year, so one of our first topics was democracy. I introduced them to the American history and governmental system with an emphasis on rights and responsibilities. We moved from “I have rights” to “Everyone should have equal rights” to “Everyone should respect the rights of others.” The final project in these lessons was to take their classroom rule list and reframe it. For instance, instead of “Rule #1 – No running in the hallways”, they wrote “We all have the right to safety and security, so we don’t run in the halls.” They may have been wildlings, but they were also impressively smart. Suddenly breaking the rules for the sake of breaking the rules didn’t seem like such a great idea to them. But there was still a problem in how they treated teachers and one another on an emotional level . . .

And now we get to the sub-title of this post.

Two years ago, on a different blog platform, and before any of my current readers (except one) even knew I existed, I wrote about my eventual solution to the “wildlings” problem:

. . . After three weeks I introduced them to my group dynamics box.
Sitting on the floor in a circle, I explained to them that sometimes I wanted to send them a message, but didn’t want to do it in a lecturing way. So everything in the box was a symbol and a message. The first object was a Stop” sign but with some words added underneath. It meant things were getting too rowdy. Time for them to collect themselves:


The second object was a little music box that played a particular melody – that one was sort of self-explanatory for them.  They were, after all, 13 and 14 year olds and they inherently understood the concept of momentary brainlessness.


The third objects were for the cases when a student was disinterested in everything –– the idea that something is “”Boorrrinngg!”” can be so contagious in a classroom. I said, ““I don’t expect you to find every topic interesting, but if everything is boring to you, then you are not really living. You might as well start building that coffin.” I put some big nails on the floor. Here are some coffin nails. You can get started.””
Also in the box was a Socrates doll (teacher/student relationships / listening goes in both directions), my replicas of the Constitution and Bill of Rights (the classroom is a democratic space), and a little stuffed bird. This last one referred to a German expression “”You have a bird! which is actually an insult and means You are crazy.”” I told the kids that, in our class, “having a bird” was a compliment – like thinking outside the box or being original / creative.

         socrates replicas bird

Im not sure what Montessori, Steiner, Wild, & Co would think of this method, but the kids loved that box and it worked like a charm. The few times I did use it, there was always some laughter and then an easy course correction. They showed it off proudly and explained it to their parents on Hummingbird Day . . .  
My box of objects has gone through three adaptations based on the group dynamics and the personalities in the class each year.


About those adaptations. I had a subgroup in Year 3 that loved to make ridiculous requests. The first two or three times, I actually explained, almost apologetically and in words, about why I had to say “No”. Then I realized it was just a game for them. They wanted to see how I reacted. Enter the flying pig:


chickenNot all of my inspirations worked out. In Year 4, I added a chicken to deal with two boys who refused to speak English. It completely backfired and was quickly remr-potato-headmoved from the box. But also in Year 4, Mr. Potato Head joined the collection to deal with problems in circle discussions. He had big ears and no mouth. He turned out to be a keeper.

Last year I had such a harmonious class that I retired the group dynamics box all together. But lately, I have been considering reactivating it. I have a pack of five boys who have started rebelling collectively, mostly against journal writing. (For ten minutes at the end of the school day, the kids should reflect on the day and write something – anything! – about it.) The vast majority of our kids seem to like doing this. They write creatively and/or review what was new or fun for them that day. They add colorful illustrations or fitting song lyrics. But for the past month, the entries of the Pack of Five have included a lot of illegible scribbles or swearwords or penis drawings, etc. Or they provokingly write the same two sentences day after day after day: “Before the break we had (Math) and after the break we had (German). It was cool.”

This rebellion came to the Team’s attention and since then the battle fronts have hardened. (To be honest, I kind of admire the boys’ tenacity.) The schedule was tweaked so that I am now there for journal writing time twice a week to support my sorry young colleague who had been taking the brunt of the incoming up to that point. I also identified the weaker links in enemy force and have been employing a divide and conquer strategy with some success. Last Tuesday I challenged the whole class to write five sentences without ever using the German phrases for “I/we had” or “I/we did” – and that led to a few creative workarounds. I think I am weakening their defenses, but the battle is far from over. They still want to win.

I have been racking my brain for some symbol that might help in this journal feud to add to my magic box before I reintroduce it. One idea was a little white flag of surrender and a message like “I know you don’t want to give up. The problem is that you already have.” Another idea was something to do with wolves or sheep – though that might be too harsh. Basically, I am still waiting for an inspiration.

So I’ve decided to enlist YOUR help, my blogworld people – you are all so creative. Any suggestions?


Hail to the Chief


I have no idea where they came from, but we inherited this ancient German encyclopedia set and these books have spent most of their lives since collecting dust in my library. Recently, however, I took one off the shelf on a whim and gave it a closer look. My first discovery was the old Germhail2an script which I find quite difficult to read. Then I looked at the copyright and saw that these books were published in 1937 in Leipzig, Germany. Almost exactly 80 years ago.


1937 . . .

If memory and my high school history teachers serve, 1937 was four years after Hitler’s election to German Chancellor and one year before he annexed Austria, kicking off the march toward World War II in the process. I wondered, what was the mindset of the people who let these developments happen? What were the facts of their world? Here on my library shelf were five volumes with the answers to my questions.

I first tried to think of non-political things I could look up. Things that might have been new at that time. My husband suggested “Jazz”.

After struggling a while with the kooky letters, I learned that Jazz “arose out of English and Scottish folksongs and operetta music as well as the plantation work songs and religious singing of the North American negro and their dances which stemmed from Africa. Jazz is foreign to the German music sensibility.”

The word “negro” stood out. In German it was “Neger” and that is a word that is no longer socially acceptable around here. I assume, however, that no one in 1937 Germany had a problem with it.

I looked it up and read about where the negros come from and all the places they were shipped off to as slaves (“See ‘the Negro Question’”), a litany of their – seemingly unattractive – physical attributes, and (dubious) cultural influences, leading to the fact that: “The power of state-building is inherently lacking in the negro.”

Apparently, (I’m paraphrasing now) their industry is limited and mostly agricultural. Only one tribe in Liberia developed a real written language. Their mostly religious artwork only reached any heights in one part of West Africa. There seems to be a general musical talent. “Intellectually they rapidly developed, but the negro quickly lagged behind the people of European cultures; he is not suited to autonomous cultural work but does not die out when coming into contact with higher cultures, rather resigns himself to it.”

This little nugget of wisdom was immediately followed by the term “Negerfrage” (“the Negro Question”), meaning the dangers of racial mixing and the “negro-ification” of white peoples in places where they live in close proximity. It is a long, convoluted, and disgraceful entry which I stopped reading after the third sentence.

Of course there was one more thing I had to look up.


hail3I read about Adolf’s youth and long (seemingly heroic) struggle to finally be elected leader (with 36.8% of the votes). I “learned” how “very early on he became a decisive enemy of narcissism as well as Judaism and realized that nationalism and socialism only seemed to be antithetical, and that the German worker had to be restored to his traditional role.” How he turned a small Workers’ Party into a movement. How after gaining power, he successfully dismantled the longstanding dominance of political parties and the parliamentary establishment. “In foreign policy, he stood for a policy of peace and accommodation based on German honor and equal status.” Or, in simpler terms, he promised to make Germany great again. After that, he consolidated all the power and proceeded to get over 90% of the votes for basically everything he wanted. And there the story ended. For the time being.

To be continued . . .


I’ve heard we are living in a “post-factual” world – probably because we have become used to powerful people saying things in front of live cameras and then denying having said it two days later.

But that can’t be true because, clearly, facts are not static things – they are the always changing, commonly accepted perceptions of reality as we grow and learn.

I would say we are living in an era where facts are simply buried under a mountain of manure. Sort of like in Germany in 1937.

Our outgoing president reaffirmed his faith in people just yesterday and I agree with him. I still hope and believe that 80 years from now, people will look back at the encyclopedias of 2017 and have no trouble distinguishing truth from today’s transient turds.

No Holiday for Ingrates

If not for the internet, I would have completely forgotten what day it is. Thanksgiving is one the holidays that has fallen by the wayside in my emigration. I attribute this to the fact that I don’t like: 1) stuffing, 2) cranberry sauce, or 3) pumpkin pie. And I am not thrilled by turkey either. I also attribute it to the fact that the Thanksgiving family gatherings of my childhood were often nerve-wracking affairs with the one and only upshot being we all resolved to behave ourselves better at the next celebration 4 weeks later.

You’d think I would be a bit more patriotic about the whole thing – seeing as how my ancestry on one side has been traced back through the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, all the way to the Mayflower. There is some discussion among the genealogists in the family which of several paths is the truest, but all agree on direct descent. I could join the DAR (“Daughters of the American Revolution”)!! And yet, I have never felt the remotest inclination to do so. I feel no affinity to those people and suspect they would return the feeling. In modern terms I would consider the Pilgrims to be obnoxious religious fanatics and in turn, they would take one look at the riffraff assembled around my family’s turkey and think “Look at this pack of gluttonous heathens! Is this what I puked my way across the Atlantic for?!”

I didn’t always feel this way. In Grade School I got the same romanticized and whitewashed stories of America’s “discovery” and the intrepid first settlers as I assume most American kids do. I even vaguely remember a picolumbuscture in my history book showing the savage “Indians” bowing down to the god-like Columbus – like this one I just picked off the internet:


Thanks to more honest High School teachers interested in promoting critical thinking, my knowledge of these events was slowly updated and revised. After literature studies at college and a slow resurgence of Native American culture and arts, I got to fold in new information on these events from other perspectives. But it is a more comemade-in-americadic “historian” (although, maybe not the most academically serious one) who has implanted a truly resilient image of those Pilgrims into my brain . . . Bill Bryson who wrote “Made in America”. After relating how the crew of the Mayflower “referred to them as puke stockings, on account of their apparently boundless ability to spatter the latter with the former,”  Bryson continues his description of the Pilgrims:


It would be difficult to imagine a group of people more ill-suited to a life in the wilderness. They packed as if they had misunderstood the purpose of the trip. They found room for sundials and candle snuffers, a drum, a trumpet, and a complete history of Turkey. One William Mullins packed 126 pairs of shoes and thirteen pairs of boots. Yet they failed to bring a single cow or horse, plow or fishing line. Among the professions represented on the Mayflower’s manifest were two tailors, a printer, several merchants, a silk worker, a shopkeeper, and a hatter­–occupations whose indispensability is not immediately evident when one thinks of surviving in a hostile environment.’ ( . . . )
They were, in short, dangerously unprepared for the rigors ahead, and they demonstrated their incompetence in the most dramatic possi­ble way: by dying in droves. Six expired in the first two weeks, eight the next month, seventeen more in February, a further thirteen in March. By April, when the Mayflower set sail back to England,* just fifty-four people, nearly half of them children, were left to begin the long work of turning this tenuous toehold into a self-sustaining colony.’ ( . . . )
For two months they tried to make contact with the natives, but ev­ery time they spotted any, the Indians ran off. Then one day in February a young brave of friendly mien approached a party of Pilgrims on a beach. His name was Samoset and he was a stranger in the region him­self. But he had a friend named Tisquantum from the local Wampanoag tribe, to whom he introduced them. Samoset and Tisquantum became the Pilgrims’ fast friends. They showed them how to plant corn and catch wildfowl and helped them to establish friendly relations with the local sachem, or chief. Before long, as every schoolchild knows, the Pil­grims were thriving, and Indians and settlers were sitting down to a cor­dial Thanksgiving feast. Life was grand.
A question that naturally arises is how they managed this. ( . . . )
The answer, surpris­ingly glossed over by most history books, is that the Pilgrims didn’t have to learn Algonquian for the happy and convenient reason that Samoset and Squanto spoke English-Samoset only a little, but Squanto with to­tal assurance (and some Spanish into the bargain).
That a straggly band of English settlers could in 1620 cross a vast ocean and find a pair of Indians able to welcome them in their own tongue seems little short of miraculous. It was certainly lucky-the Pil­grims would very probably have perished or been slaughtered without them-but not as wildly improbable as it at first seems. The fact is that by 1620 the New World wasn’t really so new at all . . .


So there you have it. My mental image of my ancestors – and it is not a pretty one. Particularly now, having battled a stomach flu for the past two days, it seems the only thing I inherited from these distant relatives is the ability to puke.

It suddenly occurs to me that I have managed to write a Thanksgiving post on the subject of ingratitude, which is kind of weird. So let me rectify the situation quick before I click on “Publish”.

On this particular Fourth Thursday in November I am thankful for NeoCitran, pretzel sticks, 7-up, saltines and stomach-friendly herbal tea. I am thankful for my coworkers who covered for me. I’m thankful for my elder daughters’ ability to cook her own lunch. I’m thankful for the friend who will give my younger daughter a ride to her Hip Hop class. I’m thankful for the living room couch. I’m thankful for my husband’s homemade beef soup – the first thing in two days that has made a one-way trip to my stomach and not returned. And now that I am feeling a bit better, I am thankful for Samoset and Tisquantum.

Rainmaker Riposte

First – a re-blast from the past . . .

Metaphorical Money

March 6, 2015

Over the years of listening to hundreds of business student discussions, it started to occur to me that the way we talk about money –– the idioms and metaphors we use –– have changed over the decades. I started collecting those idioms and metaphors and discovered that they generally fell into three distinct groups. One for each of the three physical states any substance can take: solid, liquid, and gaseous. Let me explain.

A hundred or so years ago, money had the physical properties of solids. It was dough or bread. You could hold a big wad of cold hard cash in your hand or jingle the coins in your pocket. You could stockpile money, put it where your mouth is, throw it around, or stuff it in your mattress. Like Scrooge, you could stack up your wealth against someone else’s or squirrel it away. You could pinch pennies, hold the purse strings, have money to burn or have money burn a hole in your pocket. Money talked.

Then something changed –– maybe it was abandoning the gold standard or deregulation. Who knows? But it seemed that the revved up economic motor got hot and money melted. Liquidity was born and savings turned into cash flow and liquid assets. Companies no longer went broke, they became insolvent. They didn’t fuse, they merged. A small amount of money was a drop in the bucket. More and you were awash in it. See a good investment? Then dive in! Some of the money evaporated. Some of it trickled down.  But even in its liquid form, there were still some natural barriers to keep money contained; you could pool it, but not for too long, because then it would go stagnant. Money had to keep circulating. And some of those pools had bubbles in them.

The economy heated up a little more and then, in 2008, came the “Great Economic Meltdown” which strikes me as a misnomer. The economy had been melting for a good long while. This was more like the ”Great Economic Vaporization”. We suddenly discovered that money had become a gaseous substance somewhere along the way. At first it had seemed to be everywhere and limitless; you could just breathe it in. You could make money out of thin air. No need to produce anything or do actual work –– let the Chinese do that. We could just buy and resell stuff to make money because it was not connected to anything on the ground anymore. The FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate – in which nothing is actually produced) ascended, while roads, bridges and schools crumbled. But in money’s new form, it started, like most gases, to rise upward, collecting in the stratosphere. For the 95% of us down here on earth, huge portions of it simply floated away; there was suddenly no financial oxygen around anymore, no cash flowing or trickling, nothing solid or tangible to put in your pocket. Poof. Gone.

What now? As I admitted at the start, I am a language teacher, not an economist –– or a chemist for that matter – but it seems to me there is no way to get all those escaped gasses back. And simply printing more money as some have suggested won’t do anything to reverse the chemical processes that have been set in motion. I think we have to start building things again. Let’s start with things that keep the planet cool. Like wind turbines. And solar panels. And schools.

I generally don’t like re-blogging stuff (even when it was written at the start when I had a readership of one), but I have found myself returning to this old idea lately because it still seems completely relevant to what is going on today, and more particularly in how economic issues have been dealt with in this election. One hears continually that decades of increasing financial frustrations turned into rage (with some help from a well-meaning socialist senator and a de-meaning wannabe strongman), leading us into our current political quagmire. Now we are being asked to choose between the classic medicines of the political left and right. Put her in office and she will try to push through her hundred ideas of how the government can help us. Give him the chance and he will wield the magical powers of money to save us.

Although I definitely fall in the camp that sees government as a useful and necessary institution, I believe now that old ways of thinking are no longer valid. For over thirty years of deregulation, wealth has slowly consolidated upward as the lion’s share of the tax burden shifted consistently downward to lower earners. All of these developments have made our economy precariously top-heavy and in constant danger of tipping.  Left/right solutions no longer make sense for an up/down problem. The core of our predicament is neither political nor economic – it is chemical . . . and mythological.

Ironically, the arguments behind three decades of deregulation have been disproven by their own implementation.


Myth #1: “Job Creators”
Let large companies keep their money and they will reinvest it, creating new opportunities for workers.

In reality, the vast majority of people are employed either by government or by smaller companies. When the large ones have more money, is it their first instinct to think “let’s go hire more people”? Or do they go shopping for smaller competitors, take them over, fire employees with redundant positions and make those remaining take on the extra workload? Seeing as how the prime directive of corporations is now “shareholder value”, the choice seems clear.


Myth #2: “Dishwasher to Millionaire”
A person can work their way from nothing to fabulous success.

At some point I learned that a person now needs money to make money. Horatio Alger might disagree, but it seems to me that there are more people working harder and harder just to decrease the rate at which their standard of living is sinking. We have become Gatsby’s, believing “in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us . . .So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


Myth #3: “Taxation without Representation”
Paying taxes means “the government is taking your money”. You are a much better judge of how your money should be spent than those bureaucrats in Washington.

Really? Personally, I don’t want to have to home school my kids, check the quality of my food, build my own roads, put out my own fires, dig my own well, confront the burglar myself, build my own generator, drive my injured friend to the hospital (on roads I built myself) or pay every individual (home-schooled) doctor out of my own (already empty) pocketbook (-and I haven’t even had lunch yet!) I don’t want to dine on cat food when I am seventy or build my own playground or define and defend my own rights.

And I don’t want others to have to do all that alone either.

Until the day arrives when not only the obscenely rich up there in the stratosphere, but ALL of us, down here at ground level, can afford private daycare, private schools, private transport, private doctors, private libraries, private security forces and private pension funds, I think we are going to have to keep working together. It would help us all a lot if we had more cash flow.

So let’s start by making it rain.

Cease Your Over-Manifestations


(Cringe-worthy – Part 1)

I just finished childhood journal #1 and it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. Spanning two years, from age 13 to 15½, it wasn’t really like a diary. It contained a lot of doodles, jokes, lists, pictures I drew, a few Bionic Man stickers from my boxes of Lucky Charms, my favorite family sayings (“Cease your over-manifestations of anti-social tendencies!” and “But the theoretical implications are alone staggering!”) and one rant about my mom making me do chores (“So unfair!”), immediately followed by this written on the opposite page:


On a more humbling note, my 54 year old’s memory of her 13 year old self turned out to be fairly true. It seems I never met a boy I couldn’t get a crush on. And I never had a crush that lasted for more than a few weeks (mostly because some new boy came along). The only saving grace is that – just like with my mom rant – I seemed capable of some self-reflection even at that time. A few weeks before my 14th birthday, I catalogued “The Guys in My Life* – *As of Valentine’s Day, 1976”.  It’s a list of names (a lot of them unfamiliar to me now), each one followed by a short commentary:  sort of, eh, mistake, chased but never caught, the first real one, the second real one, I give up!, the third real one, could be never was, and  experience. This was followed by:


It’s kind of a miracle that I’ve stayed married for 27 years.

I did a lot of shifting around on the girlfriend and “best friend” fronts too. The journal starts with a euphoric declaration that K.S. was now my best friend. (“Best day of my life!!”). Four pages and two months later, we mutually decided that we were not best friends after all. (“But we’re still good friends.”)  K.S. then moved away and quickly disappeared completely from my life.

Later, I mention the “cool crowd” and the “cheerleader crowd” in my High School, neither of which I belonged to. I hatched a plan to find every girl these two cliques had cut and invited them all over to my house for a party. According to my journal, “we were really rowdy and had a blast”. Of course, I made a list of all their names. And just like with the list of boys above, I can’t remember now who half of these girls were. But the other half? They stayed my friends throughout high school and, even now, over thirty-five years and several thousand miles later, there’s still a connection.

The only truly disconcerting thing about Journal #1 was some of the words I used. It stunned me to read them and discover they were ever a part of my vocabulary. I can’t even bring myself to type them now. The least offensive one was “quier” (sic), which I am pretty sure just meant “strange” at the time and was not yet used to insult gay people (geez, I hope not!) Where did that budding capacity for self-reflection go when it came to my word choices? Were these words I tossed around outside the confines of my journal? Was I so oblivious to their meanings? Or was I just trying them out or, even worse, trying to sound cool? If it was the last one, I can say definitively to my 13 year old self that it was the uncoolest thing about you.

Thank You, NPR

I am fairly sure that I owe my sanity to National Public Radio.

Whenever I overindulge in corporate media and feel myself winding up tighter and tighter till I’m ready to snap (and here “snap” usually means going on a blog rant), I switch to public radio and television for a while. It’s like therapy. News of the world is discussed calmly and in depth by people who actually have expertise in the subjects they are talking about. Commentary (opinion) and news (fact) are clearly delineated. Podcasts and shows cover a wide range of topics beyond the sensationalized flavor-of-the-month personality or the most recent act of violent insanity heralding the End of Days.

I like the science shows the best. Interesting and nice people enthusiastically researching cool things out of sheer curiosity or for the advancement of their chosen field. Sure, some of them may secretly dream of attaining fame and fortune for curing cancer. But isn’t that still better than merely fantasizing about fame and fortune for their own sakes?

An Aside:
The whole fame thing has been a constant question in my life. Honestly, what is the appeal? So you get your picture in the paper a lot, but the tradeoff from that point onward is never knowing who your true friends are. In case you aren’t convinced and you still want to live forever, here are my recipes for success:
15 minutes of fame:               Audition for a casting show
15 months of fame:                Become a Trump campaign spokesperson
15 years of fame:                    Compose a one-hit wonder song
15 decades of fame:               Take over Germany
15 centuries of fame:             Start a religion
15 millennia of fame:             Fossilize
Eternal fame:                          Start a blog on WordPress
Where was I? Oh right. NPR.

cyberkrank1Today I indulged in a bunch of podcasts all dealing with parenting and technology, the first being an interview with the author of “How to Raise a Wild Child”. It started with statistics that the average American child spends less than 10 minutes a day outside and up to 10 hours a day at some device with a screen. (First question: do I believe that? Not really. But even if it were one hour outside and 5 hours with a screen, I would still be alarmed.)  It intrigued me and got me linking to all sorts of related stories. I heard great discussions about helicopter versus free range parenting including a story about some Americans who got into trouble (or maybe even arrested?) for allowing their kids to walk home from the playground alone. It seems that not only are kids rarely outside, they are basically never unsupervised.

When I was young, my mom didn’t know exactly where I was every second of the day. I spent a lot of my afternoons “bombing around” the neighborhood with the other kids on the block, riding bikes, playing games, taking walks to the Dime Store or 31 Flavors . . . It was understood that I would show up back home around dinnertime.

My own girls have grown up in the country in a house built into the side of a hill. Behind us, up a steep climb is a major road leading to the local spa, but spread out in front of us are rolling hills, fields, trails, streams and small forests. We can walk for a half hour in that direction before coming to a road. My daughters didn’t have the benefit of a neighborhood gang, but they had friends over  or sometimes struck up short-lived friendships with young guests at the three B&B’s near our house. I can still remember the first time the two of them told me they were “going outside to play” and then took off. Over the next 4 or five hours, I heard their voices sporadically, but in between I wasn’t really sure what they were up to. I fought the impulse to go looking for them and reminded myself of the importance of trust. By early evening they had returned to the trampoline in my neighbor’s yard and I finally shouted down to them “Time to come home, girls. It’s getting dark.” And then a monstrous wave of nostalgia washed over me. How often had I heard that sentence in my own childhood?

Where was I? Oh right. NPR.

The next show I listened to was about a study finding that American parents were less happy than non-parents (mostly due to financial and work-related pressures).  After the report above, this didn’t surprise me at all. With so few family-friendly policies, affordable daycare options, live-in grandparents and the fact that children apparently need to be supervised 24/7, I wonder how Americans ever succeed in combining careers and kids. It must be exhausting. I can imagine such harried parents being grateful for an hour or two of peace and quiet as their kids are glued to TV sets or playing some game online in their rooms with the doors closed . . .

cyberkrank2The end of that show got me thinking about a local lecture I had missed (due to work) and so I found the link to the video and watched the entire 2 hours. Manfred Spitzer – a German expert on brain development – gave a talk about the dangers of introducing children to the digital world too soon. He has written two books (“Digital Dementia” and “Cybersick” – unfortunately neither of which has been translated into English) in which he explains very clearly why we should keep our children away from screens and their mindless, habit-forming instant gratification for as long as humanly possible. His prescriptions for good brain development of your children: 1) bilingualism, 2) music, 3) sports.

That all made me feel pretty good.  By way of happy accident, my kids grew up speaking two languages, they were always encouraged to do sports by their gym teacher father, and they were both born with musical talent in their genes. They don’t like video games and watch very little TV – never during the day. I live in a country with family-friendly policies and in a marriage with a 50/50 dad. Very little of the above is of my own doing, beyond making a fortuitous decision here or there. I fully realize that I have been lucky.

Where was I?

I also fully realize the irony of confessing to hours and hours of internet consumption while writing on the topic of digital dementia – but all that surfing today did me a world of good. My mind finally detached from all the sensationalized reporting of creepy convention frenzy and found its way back to my real life, here and now, past and present. The corporate media had been sending me multiple messages that the world is falling apart and that my kids are in danger. NPR tells me that they are doing fine and have bright futures. I can now go to bed with a mind at ease.


Hey Kids! Go Outside, Already    http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2016/07/20/children-nature-parenting-outside
Why Are American Parents So Unhappy? http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2016/07/11/unhappy-american-parents
Prof. Dr. Dr. Manfred Spitzer – Gehirnforschung und die Schule des Lebens (Stadtgemeinde Feldbach)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IAsvyadSvQ