Two weeks ago Greg Pembroke, a dad of two boys in Rochester, NY, posted a series of photos of his sons on a Tumblr titled “Reasons my son is crying” that has since gone viral. Mr. Pembroke found that instant fame is a greater strain than parenting through a toddler meltdown. He tells The Christian Science Monitor he may have also stumbled upon a cure for the toddler meltdown: Take a picture and show it to your child.
“I wasn’t looking for a solution and people offering advice and armchair diagnosis should know I also wasn’t looking for a cure,” Pembroke told me today. “But I accidentally found that just by taking a picture it usually ends the meltdown because the kids love to see themselves and it distract them and the storm ends.”
Pembroke, who writes commercials for Stephens Media Group radio station, and his wife have two boys William, 3, and Charlie, 21-months. And as any parent might do, he began documenting the commonplace meltdowns two weeks ago in pictures which he posted along with witty captions to his Facebook. One caption of a weeping Charlie reads, “He’s crying because I wouldn’t let him drown in this pond,” while another documents the moment he wept “because the milk isn’t juice.”
Pembroke said his friends wanted more photos, but no one wants to be the parent over-sharing on Facebook so Pembroke looked for another venue to post the photos and a friend suggested Tumblr. He thought the move would actually decrease visibility.
“I really wasn’t looking for any of this,” Pembroke said. “It’s just completely bizarre. I want everyone to know they can stop diagnosing the boys now, they’re fine. Charlie’s not autistic, there’s no weird food allergy causing their noses to run. Oh, and no, William’s not dehydrated and that’s not what’s causing him to cry. Wow! They’re just normal kids crying over normal things.”
Pembroke says he can’t wait for the spotlight to turn away from his family because, frankly, he’s feeling a bit fried by the unsolicited advice many have posted on various message boards as a result of the photos of his children which, admittedly, are all crying shots. While he appreciates the fact that he struck America’s funny bone, he would like people to stop backseat parenting his boys.
“They don’t cry all the time or have tantrums like some people think,” Pembroke explained. “They’re 10 second fits of frustration that I just snap a picture of and then they’re back to all smiles.”
Pembroke also said his visit to Good Morning America with the boys (where he was chagrined to be met on camera by an expert billed as The Baby Whisperer) was not about fame, but a free mini vacation. “[GMA] offered to fly us to New York City, and the boys love planes. They offered to put us up in a hotel, and the boys really love hotels. So we went, but that’s IT! No more.”
On a happy note, this dad was inspired by a site that also inspires me in many ways, Humans of New York (HONY), a photo and caption website by Brandon Stanton. Mr. Stanton has walked the streets of New York every day since September 2010, making portraits of strangers with a goal to create a photographic census of the city with 10,000 photos on an interactive online map.
“I was inspired by HONY,” Pembroke explained. “I’ve been on it every day for over a year and it’s just so beautiful. Just taking shots of regular people with a quick witty, or inspiring caption. “
Pembroke said the best thing that came out of his family’s instant fame was the fact that when he reached out to Stanton while in NY for a visit with Good Morning America, Stanton shot a picture of Charlie this week. Yes, the child was crying. The picture, of course, made it onto the Pembroke Tumblr feed.
“The boy (Charlie) was completely normal and laughed far more than he cried, but when he did cry, Dad would quite secretly snap a quick shot,” Stanton wrote in an e-mail this morning. “They were very down-to-earth parents, and definitely not interested in being famous. A small page they made for friends went viral, and now they're ready to get back to normal. All around good people.”
Unfortunately, Stanton isn’t getting the kind of viral traction as Pembroke who, after just a week and 600,000 Tumblr views, is all over the news.
“Please stress that this was all an accident. I was just taking pictures of my kids and ... do people really look for this to happen like this?” Pembroke said. “I wish everyone would shift their focus to HONY and just forget me.”
Media personality Glenn Beck spent the better part of an hour attacking a MSNBC commercial for its suggestion that as a society we are responsible, in a broad way, for parenting our community’s children via providing a top notch public education. However, since a Harvard University study revealed that America has to run to catch up to Latvia, Chile, and Brazil which are all making educational gains at three times the rate of US students, perhaps exploding all over the ad only provides smoke, when what we need are mirrors held up to society.
The complete quote in the MSNBC promo where anchor Melissa Harris-Perry talks about children's education is: “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we have always had kind of a private notion of children, your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion, of these are our children. So part of it is we have to kind of break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, then we begin making better investments.”
As someone who volunteers twice weekly to help teach children, who are not my own, to play chess to improve critical thinking and standardized test scores at a community center and a public library without a cent of funding, I have a very different take on this commercial than a this “political shock jock.”
My opinion is tempered by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) and its study revealing that the US ranks 25th out of 49 countries in student test-score gains over a 14-year period.
When Harris states that as Americans, “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have….” I think about that Harvard report and how the US isn’t just chasing the scholastic aptitude of industrialized countries like Latvia, Chile, and Brazil, but choking on the dust of Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania which are all improving at twice the rate, according to the PEPG study.
The study’s authors, Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University, Paul E. Peterson of Harvard, and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich, examined fourth- and eighth-grade test score gains in math, reading, and science from 1995-2009 in 49 countries.
I realized that by watching the MSNBC commercial enough times to get the transcription right (four), anyone who just glossed over it picking out key words could take it amiss, but only if they were looking for trouble. Whenever I was ready to have a meltdown over something someone said that offended me, my maternal grandmother would say, “If you go looking for trouble you’re sure to find it everywhere you look.”
Maybe the word “collective” is too retro for some hosts who can only see it in the narrow contexts of the Cold War or a George Orwellian 1984 kind of scenario?
I prefer to see the word used in a more positive and respectful tone toward our nation in sentences like, “Let’s use our collective wisdom to solve America’s problems.”
To me that commercial says the American people as parents have always been proud, independent, and perhaps more financially able to provide a top-notch education and home support for their children.
However, the ad also reminds me that we must move with the times and realize that not all of us can now afford to be at home lavishing attention and education on our kids as the economy has shrunk our schedules and budgets.
As parents work multiple jobs, as I do, and teachers struggle to make due with shrinking budgets our society’s earlier choices to place the heavier burden and responsibility on the individual parent is having a negative impact on our society.
America wants to be the best at science, technology, engineering, math (the STEM disciplines), but we fall far short in what we have to offer the global market. I see America losing its edge in business and the global economy because we are stuck in the middle of the achievement gap.
When we look at our kids getting a good education because a major network decided to champion kicking it up a few notches to help our kids be competitive in the job market some day, we aren’t looking at a conspiracy, but a blessing.
Taking a collective approach to education should not be demonized. As Matthew 25:40 in the American King James Version of the Bible said, “And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.”
Perhaps we could also view that in the newer translation which changes the word “to” to “for.”
I like the notion that we are being reminded that in society and for our children, “'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' “
My niece Annie and her boyfriend Jonah came to visit from Portland, Ore., recently. The Saturday before Easter was a beautiful one by Boston standards, the first decent day in what seemed like a millennium, so we took them on a walking tour of the city. It was so beautiful out that thousands upon thousands of pasty white Bostonians, their hands clenched into fists from 170 consecutive days of gripping ice scrapers, emerged from their burrows and thronged into the streets hoping to glimpse their shadows. It’s sad, really, to see people celebrating a day that in most of the country would be considered a day to hunker down and sit by the fire: breezy with temps in the low 50s. But that’s life in Beantown.
In any event, we took Albie, our rescue dog, with us. But what I failed to consider was that this was likely the first time he had ever been in a city. He came to us from rural Louisiana and since then he’s led a mostly suburban life, with some time spent in the hills of western Massachusetts.
We parked in an underground garage and when Albie emerged from the car he was totally spooked. Indoor garages are filled with sounds I barely noticed before: squealing tires, huge exhaust fans to ventilate the place, car doors slamming. I coaxed Albie toward the staircase but he refused, utterly refused, to enter the concrete stairwell. So I tried to walk him up the car ramp to the street but again he made a stand and decided to plunk himself down right in the middle of the driveway leading to the exit. While occupied trying to cajole Albie up the ramp I failed to notice a car had entered the garage just to my left and the lift gate was up at the very moment I managed to shift myself under it. When the gate came down on my head I was a little stunned but unhurt. Realizing the need for extreme measures, I picked up my 85-pound dog in both arms and carried him up the ramp to the street.
There were so many people and new sights and sounds and other stimuli – city stuff – that Albie didn’t seem to know where to look or lurch next. He seemed puzzled trying to navigate through all the people, and his attention was constantly being hijacked by one sound or another: fire engines, workers tossing debris into trucks, a guy playing an instrument that looked as if it were designed by Dr. Seuss.
We walked through the Public Garden and over Beacon Hill to Quincy Market where huge crowds drew circles around the street performers. And before I knew it Albie was becoming one of the attractions himself. A young Japanese tourist posed with him while her boyfriend took pictures. A woman from Argentina wanted to share her ice cream with him. Every child under three feet tall just wanted to touch him. One little girl who looked utterly entranced didn’t even flinch when Albie gently reared up, rested both paws on her shoulders and nearly touched his nose to hers. He just doesn’t convey even an ounce of menace.
If you’re shy and need a way to open conversations with strangers, trust me, get an adorable dog and you’ll make more new friends in a day than Justin Bieber giving away free concert tickets.
Milford, Del. resident Margaret Smith, 89, didn’t reach that ripe old age by avoiding the risk of helping others. However, after making national headlines for being locked in the trunk of her own car for two days in the bitter cold by two teenage girls she assisted, suffering as her tormentors took a high-speed joyride and later robbed her, Smith’s family insists she alter her ways for her own safety.
“My sister will not be allowed to drive a car, or anything, anymore,” said Christina Carroll, 79, firmly announced in a phone interview regarding her older sister Margaret. “This is not happening again.” Spoken like anyone who has ever had a ferocious scare put into them by the unconscionable actions of a stranger.
Ms. Carroll, and five of her six living siblings, there were 13 in all, have morphed into helicopter parents to their elder sister out of love and fear for her safety. She added, “We need our sister safe. We need this to never happen again.”
According to the New York Times, Smith had stopped at the Chicken Man Convenience Store in Milford for a butter pecan ice cream cone when two teenage girls approached her and asked for a ride across town. The girls allegedly grabbed her keys, stuffed the octogenarian in the trunk, and took off on a joyride with Smith in the trunk. She was released two days later, but only after the girls robbed her.
Smith told ABC News that while she’d hesitated when asked by the girls for a ride, her good nature won over in the end and she decided, “to do a good deed.”
When Ms. Carroll put Mrs. Smith on the phone this morning she talked about how she feels about the prohibition of her driving, curtailing of her long-held freedoms and being pressured to stop living alone. All of this change, she and her sister both say, comes as a direct result of the actions of the girls she thought she was helping.
“Well, I’m not jumpin’-happy about it I can tell you that,” Mrs. Smith said. “I’m in the land of the living and that’s a good thing. Now, I suppose you could say I am having some adjustments in my life that are going to take some time to adjust to.”
According to Mrs. Smith, “There are seven of us siblings living and they all are very strong on the idea that I need to do what they want now.”
Mrs. Smith isn’t the only one getting such calls. When I first started looking for her to interview it turned out the name Margaret Smith’s pretty common in her area. Upon reaching the first of half a dozen women of the same name this morning, the lady replied, “Oh that’s a different Margaret Smith, but my family’s all been calling me ever since that story came out. They are lecturing me on safety, telling me not to make the same mistake! If you find her tell her I’m so glad she’s safe and to stay careful.”
Mrs. Smith has no children of her own, but has always made it her policy to help the young people she knows “to get by when they need it.”
The change, she says, is, “I’m going to have to think a lot harder about who I help. Helping someone you know is one thing but someone you don’t… well, that’s changing for me.”
“It hasn’t changed me wanting to be a good Samaritan, but it makes you think,” she explained. “It shook my faith in people, but it didn’t break it. I still believe in helping people.”
I asked her if she had any words for the two girls who changed her life so dramatically, and whose actions resulted in curtailing many of her personal freedoms.
“Well, I suppose I would have to ask them to think,” she said. “How would you like to put yourself in my place? I wonder, would they do that to someone if they tried to think like that. I don’t suppose they would though, think like that. I don’t suppose they ever put themselves in someone else’s position.”
Mrs. Smith is adamant that this experience and the fallout with her siblings has not changed her mind about helping young people. “People deserve our help and we ought to give it,” she said. “But you need to think before you help someone. You need to look them in the eye and know something about them. Help someone you know.”
Mrs. Smith teaches us a valuable lesson by reminding us that it’s OK to say no when we don’t feel 100 percent safe about those asking for the assist. There is no shame in choosing safety so that we may live to help another day.
When Princeton alum Susan Patton penned a letter to her alma mater's female students urging them to find a husband in college, she cancelled our appointment with the Love Doctor and scheduled one instead with the Inclination PhD. Aside from leaving many people feeling frustrated, she did get me to remind my sons that higher education isn’t a place to shop for a mate and love can’t be distilled into a formula of marriage-mind + Megamind = Pi in the sky happy ending.
“For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you,” Ms. Patton, the divorced mother of two sons, wrote in a letter specifically aimed at Princeton’s female students. “Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate.”
Trying my best to find something in her letter that will not make me want to fling crockery, I can say I like that Patton is empowering young women to value their intellect over their body image. It’s also good to tell a child of either sex to place value on intellectual connection above more transient, physical attractions.
After that I have to shake my head and walk away because Patton didn’t just twang the love and marriage chords, she set up an elitist paradigm that is at war with everything we believe about love and marriage.
It strikes down Disney princess and geekette alike.
The Disney version has a girl of humble but pretty origins marrying the man who owns the university, while the geekette script has the captain of the football team falling for the nerdy, unfashionable, smart girl. Both of these are Kizmet-based with nary a mention of anyone’s Mensa status.
In her letter, Patton references attending an event and how the “girls” of Princeton at the event took on “glazed looks” while they listened to academic issues discussed but changed dramatically into attentiveness when dishing about how to find the right mate. While this immediately explodes the perception of what an intellectual Princetonian woman might do, I am willing to roll with it.
To get intellectual on this issue I can say that college (at least undergraduate level) the statistics show marriage is happening post-graduation no matter where you meet your mate. According to the Census bureau in a 2013 online posting,the median age at first marriage in 2012 was 28.6 years for men and 26.6 years for women.
Before the princesses and geekettes become collateral damage, however, Patton’s letter lays waste to the love lives and apparently future happiness of any non-Ivy Leaguer while simultaneously bashing them as “unworthy.”
I don’t like the elitist side of the letter at all. My eldest son currently attends a state school because Ivy League isn’t affordable. However, having met many young women from Virginia Commonwealth University I can say the gene pool there is quite wealthy in intellectual young women and men. Anyone would be wise not to exclude them from the romantic running unless the plan is to breed a Princeton Tigers-only populace.
I’ll look on the bright side and hope that maybe Patton meant her letter to apply to any “intellectual” at any university.
After the letter made the lightning round of critics, Patton told The Huffington Post, “The extreme reaction to my letter is astonishing. Honestly, it was intended as little more than honest advice from a Jewish mother. And, yes, this is exactly the advice I would give my daughters.”
While Patton has no daughters, only sons, like me, I am not holding that against her. As a woman who has experienced marriage, divorce and Princeton (not necessarily in that order) she has some experience and possibly regret as a basis for her advice.
My advice to my sons after having read Patton’s opinions is that they should find someone who makes them happy. Fall in love, not with your eyes or ears, but with your nature and hers.
There are so many things in life that look good or bad on paper, and I can tell my sons that love is not something you can bind with ink and paper, or on a computer screen via ones and zeroes.
I have read and re-read the letter all morning and shared it with my spouse of 25 years. We met in college and married three months after my graduation.
We met when I was a college senior and he a recent graduate of the same institution, Monmouth College in New Jersey and instantly disliked each other. On paper, even after 25 years of marriage and four sons we don’t look like we’re possible or likely.
My father-in-law, God rest his soul, was so horrified when he heard we were to be married after knowing each other only three months bellowed, “Hell can be fun for three months!”
What’s the secret to 25 years of door slamming, heart hammering, crazy love?
Neither of us thinks we’re smarter than the other and we deeply appreciate the skill sets we each bring to the table that are non-degree or Mensa measurable.
He can repair anything and turn trash into treasure. He makes old bike wheels into giant pinwheels using colorful Duck Tape to ornament my garden. When he’s over-thinking life and getting angry I make him laugh at something totally absurd.
As the lisping Sid the Sloth tells Manny the mammoth in "Ice Age 2: The Melt Down" about Ellie the girl mammoth who drives him crazy, “She’s tons of fun and you’re no fun at all. She completes you.”
I tell my sons and anyone who’s interested, all it takes to live happily ever after is finding someone who is not your equal, but who helps you complete the sum.
There may indeed be 50 shades of gray, but Target made a mistake as big as a herd of sea cows when it chose to switch the name of a dress color from “Dark Heather Grey” to the more mass-representative “Manatee Gray,” when the dress was sold as a Plus Size. In this case, a major manufacturer played-into social bullying. And while “sorry” is expected, it’s not really going to get this job done for consumers who shouldn’t have to be the common sense police for an entire industry.
If a manufacturer or seller wants our hard-earned dollars in this economy it’s not about what they do for us as much as what they should never do to us as female consumers. They should never be so insensitive as to humiliate us or our kids in public by cluelessly naming things that will make a chubby kid’s life worse with bullies than it already is.
The Examiner reports that Target customer Susan Clemens was browsing through Target.com when she saw a grey, plus-sized garment labeled "Manatee Grey." The same exact dress was on the screen listed with the more appealing name, “Dark Heather Gray.” Clemens called out the retailer on Twitter. Target, admitting it had really missed the bulls-eye on this one, issued a public apology.
My mother, Glen Kristi, of New Jersey, a Parsons School of Design graduate who later taught there, spent decades as a fashion designer in New York City. One of her clients was the plus-size clothing firm Lane Bryant, so this morning the parenting blogger goes back to Mom for wisdom and insight into how this kind of error happens.
“Oh Lord! What were they thinking?” was mom’s reaction when I e-mailed her the photos from the Target website showing the two dresses and color descriptions. “They’re lovely animals, I swam with them once you know, but they’re called ‘Sea Cows!’ "
Once mom was over the shock she explained to me that colors for fabrics and other design trends are not something that the industry takes at all lightly.
“Every year when I was in New York, the Fashion Color Association council met to name all the news colors for the season,” she said. “Then I would go to meetings as a designer to spend hours learning all the names of the new hot colors before I worked on my line.” She added that manufacturers also choose their own color names, outside the council.
Mom added, “I do feel sorry for the people who have to come up with a new name for yellow every season: citron, sunshine, lemon.”
The color “Manatee Gray” had to at least get approved by the manufacturer first, then the marketing people before the raft of people at Target like their buyer, merchandiser, sale staff, and web team. All those eyes on that name and nobody thought, “Wow, that’s a bad idea.”
Mom was quick to point out that “manatee” as a general color name isn’t so bad; it’s the application, “but you never single-out a color for a size and never applied strictly to products worn by large-size women.”
Last Christmas I got the gift of nail polish from a friend in California who gave me one of those get-a-box-every-month-for-a-year gifts via a company I’d never heard of called Julep.com in Seattle, WA. This was funny to my kids because I am so low maintenance I barely remember I have nails let alone polish them. But I was struck by the color names like: Rebel (a super silver for plus-size Rebel Wilson who is in my favorite new film Pitch Perfect).
The Julep website states: “There’s a reason our nail colors are named for women who inspire us – women who are strong and smart and funny and gorgeous and different. Because everything we do as a company is grounded in the power of women emboldening other women to be their most vital, beautiful, confident and happy…and to have a lot of fun along the way. A part of the proceeds from the sale of every Julep Nail Color goes to organizations that empower women.”
No matter what the shade, it’s going to be a lemon with customers if a seller segregates us by our shape, size and their color choices. If you target someone for their weight your new name will be Mud with moms.
Two engineers are at my door, their neatly rolled blueprint in hand and two rubber bands keeping it neat and tidy (“Todd! Don’t lose those rubber bands. We’re going to need them at the end.”) These are carefully laid plans for a rocket ship, part of their class “Not a Box” project. In other words, it’s not a box, it’s a rocket ship. They are here on business: getting their plans passed by their principal and then by Dan, the head of buildings and grounds. We are high-ranking officials. These two Very Big Deal appointments, the culmination of a long process of planning, drawing, describing, coloring, imagining, and constructing, will earn them the Seal of Approval. It is tantamount to Planning Board Approval and license to build, the dispensation for a lot of cardboard and duct tape work. The financing has already been arranged.
More importantly, this is a test of another kind of flight.
The engineers speak. “Todd, we’re building a rocket ship. Do you have time to talk with us?” That introduction alone is a major feat.
Actually, the It’s Not a Box project is Not a Project! It’s a conversation. Yes, our 4-year-old engineers have a detailed, colorful and imaginative plan to be executed in three-dimensional glory. However, the launching pad of this rocket ship is the conversation that ensues around my office table. I will ask questions, seek clarification of various aspects of the drawing, and engage the engineers. It is a conversation that has required a great deal of negotiation already. It’s part of a day in the life of an unusual childhood.
Here at the learning-to-communicate onramp, preschool teachers Maureen and Sunday are asking good questions of their young charges. “Can the children communicate effectively with others?” they ask in their Friday e-mail to parents. “Can they recognize conflict, let alone try to resolve conflict? In order to do the above, one must first notice that others count too, as much as oneself. But can children manage their own thoughts? Can they make sense of the constant bombardment of stimulus (noise, etc.)?” They continue, “We think that these are some of the areas that need addressing with children in today’s world? Therefore, we have begun to incorporate the following practices into our classroom time: Silence. What did you notice, what did you hear? Was it easy (comfortable) or challenging? Why? Breaking down communication into specific steps: Slowing down to give time to consider how and what you want to communicate.” Like saving those rubber bands…. or an explanation of the big red squares colored into the rocket blueprint with crayon.
Consider the ancient wisdom at work in these questions and observations. Socrates said the following: “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” “To find yourself, think for yourself.” “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Examination can be complicated. There’s trouble ahead. Other forces have set in, thanks to their visit to my office. In the larger cultural context, conversations aren’t what they used to be. In fact, we seem to be retreating from some standard received wisdom of the Western intellectual tradition.
A recent commentary by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle suggests we are enamored of connection, but not always the depth of the kind of communication we are heir to. “We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection,” she writes. “Technology, she says, “is taking us places we don’t want to go.” Though hyper-connected through our digital devices, we may in fact hide our real selves from one another. We are too busy on our email! We can’t get enough of each other — if we can have each other at a distance, in amounts they can control. Think Facebook and texting and tweeting…. just right. How about face to face? Sounds like a job made for preschool to me! It’s messy, noisy, exuberant, chaotic…. just like enriched learning. This is not to condescend to preschool, but to elevate the skills taught there to their proper level: the soft and hard skills of the workplace and life of the future.
What would Socrates, the father of Western dialogue, discourse, and critical thinking, say about the current state of communication, conversation, probing argument, comfort level with disparate points of view, and tolerance levels of ambiguity? He would probably agree with Ms. Turkle about the larger culture, and feel pretty comfortable with the kind of talking, listening, and eye contact embedded in an elementary school education. He would enjoy asking Caleb and Ethan questions about their rocket ship — whatever that is. He would see that we are giving our students something that they will need, and that they may not be getting anywhere else. Won’t the future have a great need of critical thinkers and communicators, not just connectors? What happens to these engineers in middle school and high school? Does tweeting take over?
Back to the blueprint. One of my questions has posed a problem. “What if you used tin foil to make it look metallic?”
It’s a curve ball. Not in the plans. How will they adapt their drawings and materials list? Time to wonder, think, and examine their options.
“Ethan! I know! We can have a conversation about this,” says Caleb, rocket ship engineer and conversation starter. He and his engineering partner analyze the situation. I have recommended an external part to their ship. The problem is, it’s a late-entry building material and causing consternation for their partnership. But a very precise, rational dialogue ensues and a new plan is ratified based on sound management and aeronautical engineering principles (Preschool division). The project is still on track for an on-time, on-budget delivery. I get out the special stamp and and my Very Big Deal signing pen.
The rubber bands go back on the carefully rolled blueprint. The rocket men go back to their factory. Socrates exhales.
I’ve always loved the point of view of an old friend of mind, a former school head. Jonathan Slater told his faculty, one September, “Watching and listening are the greatest of the teaching skills — the most difficult to master truly, the most demanding to sustain over time…. By and large, children go about as far as the adults in their lives invite them to go, and truth to tell, most children are not invited to go very far. They are not invited to be curious, to be informed, to discriminate — except in the best of homes and in the best of schools.” But my school is not a box. It’s a school. Permission to rocket to the moon?
Granted. Signed and sealed. Fasten your seatbelts for take-off. Vertical lift. Warp factor nine, Mr. Socrates.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley. He and Joan Blanusa (ABetterConversation.com) presented at the recent National Association of Independent Schools convention in Philadelphia: If Socrates were on Facebook, would he friend you?
This weekend at Super Nationals in Nashville, Tenn., the biggest event of the year for scholastic chess competitors, parents there will be offered something that’s never been discussed at the event before: how to be good sport parents and coaches. The free seminar will not only address the ins and outs of raising a good competitor, but also how to choose a coach that’s best for your child.
Super Nationals, a quadrennial event like the Olympics, will host more than 5,000 kids from 47 states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, coming from a total of 1,541 schools, according to Robert McLellan, a spokesman for the US Chess Federation based in Nashville. Those children will attend with either an anxiety-ridden parent or professional chess coach by their side.
Even Alexandra Kosteniuk, the 12th Women’s World Chess Champion who herself began a chess career at age 5 admits that parenting her daughter Francesca, 6, through the process is very daunting.
“It’s a rollercoaster to see her play,” Ms. Kosteniuk said during a phone conversation from Nashville as she prepared her little girl to compete in what will be the child’s first Super Nationals. “It’s very hard for me to stop myself, not to intervene because at that age children don’t always play pieces correctly or remember all the rules.”
I now have this wonderful mental picture of the absolutely runway model-worthy Women’s World Champion pacing a few yards away from the tables, destroying her manicure, much in the way I do when one of my own sons compete at anything.
That makes me feel better as a sport parent because it tells me that becoming a parent levels the playing field between the famous and the average sport parent. Technically, chess is classified as a sport, covered by ESPN, and subject to the same kind of governance as other sporting bodies because it’s played in teams. Chess has coaches both good and atrocious, too.
The Chess in the Olympics Campaign says that there are at least 605 to 700 million people worldwide who play chess — that's more than the entire population of US, Russia, Mexico, and Japan combined, or 8.6 percent of all humans inhabiting the Earth. There are 8 million registered chess players representing over 160 countries. On the Internet, there are as many as 200 million people playing chess.
The thing that’s really important with chess is not the trophy but the win-win educationally for a child.
“I run a school in Russian and I can say without hesitation that you take a child, any child, and teach them chess and I promise you one year later this is a completely different child in many ways,” Kosteniuk says. “You see a child learn critical thinking, better overall life judgments, and confidence. It is that prize we should want as parents for our children most of all.”
Speaking of what sports parents want, Chess parents are just as notorious for outbursts as those in soccer, Pee Wee football, and any other sports where the worst in us emerges as the parental protective mechanism kicks in and merges with the thrill of battle haze.
“In seven years of Super Nationals we have had three physical fights break out,” says Bill Hall, executive director of the US Chess Federation. Only one was between children, the others were parent on parent. “Sometimes parents live a bit vicariously through children, and of course there’s a certain level of emotion when someone is talking about your child. Parents reach a heightened emotional state, to say the least.”
Mr. Hall himself was a chess player and is the parent of players as well and said he’s very glad to see the seminar that’s being given for the first time in the event’s history by Daniel Rensch of Tonto Village, Ariz. Mr. Rensch is a parent, former Individual National Scholastic Chess Champion twice over, and creator of the world’s most highly trafficked chess websites: ChessKid.com and Chess.com. According to Rensch, “ChessKid.com has just shy of 7 million members and is ranked No. 1 in the world for traffic by Google and Wikipedia.”
“I am going to talk about the importance of focusing on the student and getting results versus being results-oriented,” he explains of his seminar approach. “In chess it’s common for a child’s coach to be their parent, but whether you are the coach or are choosing one, you’re looking for the same basic approach.”
The same theme emerges when speaking with Kosteniuk, Hall, and Rensch, and that is that a child needs a coach who doesn’t tear the child down emotionally, berate, verbally, and in so doing kill their confidence and passion for the game.
“Choose a coach or choose to be the coach who finds tools that make a great player,” Rensch says. “Don’t focus on game results because we can’t change results.”
Rensch offers chess parents and coaches the same basic points:
- No more “Winning is everything” because it isn’t.
- Don’t replay a lost game immediately afterward or at the tournament.
- No critical growth teaching while a child/player is in an emotionally charged state. It may be taken as criticism even if it isn’t intended that way.
- Do focus on making sure the child has eaten, rested and is focused.
When it comes to tips on choosing the best chess coach for your child, Rensch’s rule of thumb is: For players with a rating under 1,300 or 1,400, find someone who will simply stimulate a child’s love of the game. For higher ranked players he says it’s a harder call, “There are people who know the game and people who can teach the game. Finding one who can teach chess can be difficult.”
Hall adds, “I recommend you go and observe a coach teaching a child who is relatively the same age and level as you child. See the interaction for yourself because ultimately, you will know who you feel good about for your child.”
Ultimately, Rensh says parents should review the relationship between child and any sports coach via regular discussions between parent and child about how that coach makes them feel.
“If you start early and get your child into the habit of talking regularly about the coach and how they feel then as they get older it will become natural for the child to share feelings and concerns with you,” Rensch says.
So when you’re out there in the chess field the moral is play nice and your kids will too. It’s not about us, but them — and no matter who we hire to coach them in a game, we are their life coaches leading by example.
What do early radar images of hurricanes, handwritten ship logs, and backyard rain gauges all have in common? More than you might think.
Each of these types of meteorological records represents one small piece of our global climate history. They all hold clues as to how our climate might be (or might not be) changing. And each one offers an opportunity for average citizens of all ages to make meaningful contributions to science.
For many kids, science class means slogging through textbooks, memorizing the discoveries of others, and performing pretested experiments that come with preconceived answers. On the other hand, citizen science projects can offer kids the chance to not just study science but also actually participate in and make a real contribution to science outside the constraints of the classroom.
Citizen science is certainly not new. The Audubon Society has called on amateur birders to conduct its annual Christmas Bird Count since 1900. For centuries, backyard astronomers have recorded their observations of the night sky, helping astronomers map the galaxy.
Today, many scientists are calling on everyday citizens to help understand the scientific issue of the century, global climate change.
When trying to develop a solid picture of the current climate, climatologists have to look at not just large weather patterns, but at individual microclimates. As the old saying goes, “Rain doesn’t fall the same on all.” Farmers and skiers can testify that hail and snow do not either. Piecing together detailed precipitation maps takes an extensive array of data, far beyond the existing weather monitoring infrastructure. So, rain networks around the country have turned to everyday citizens, families, and classrooms to collect and report rainfall measurements.
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, (CoCoRaHS) coordinates local volunteer groups in every state and parts of Canada with sponsorship from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
CoCoRaHS participants commit to spending a few minutes each day recording measurements taken from rain gauges, or plastic cylinders used for measuring inches of rainfall, placed outside their homes. Volunteers later upload their data to the CoCoRaHS website. The tasks are simple enough that even children can participate with minimal adult assistance.
In the process, kids get practical experience that reinforces several concepts taught in science class, including taking precise volumetric measurements, following consistent protocols, and organizing data.
Unraveling climate change requires not just an understanding of what is happening right now, but also of historic climate data. Fortunately, citizen scientists have collected weather statistics for centuries. However, much of that information must first be teased out of some unlikely places.
Researchers at Boston University recently plotted observations made in flower journals by Henry David Thoreau, the famed existentialist writer, philosopher, and naturalist, against temperature records to reveal the correlation between the onset of spring and bloom time. The researchers published their findings in the scientific journal PLOS One earlier this year.
Not all of these kinds of records are as manageable.
The British Royal Navy holds extensive daily records that date back to the middle of the 19th century. These detailed logs include wind speed, temperature, barometric pressure, and wave height around the world and across two centuries. Researchers at OldWeather.org have acquired millions of pages of handwritten logs and need help processing them.
This data holds valuable information about oceanic and arctic weather patterns. However, before climatologists can properly analyze these records, someone has to transcribe them into a digital format that computer modeling programs can read.
That’s where everyday citizen scientists can help.
Volunteers can sign up with OldWeather.org and pour through scanned images of ship logs. Since the site’s initial launch in 2010, citizen scientists have helped to transcribe over 20,000 log pages, an impressive number but still only 14 percent of the pages waiting to be recorded.
To help break up the tedium of data transcription, OldWeather.org has made the project something of a game. Volunteers can join a specific vessel, focusing on logs from a particular journey. Volunteers sign on at the rank of cadet. As they complete additional pages, they earn promotions. The volunteer who completes the most pages for that vessel becomes the captain of the ship. Those who continue with the project consistently soon find additional rewards hidden within the logs.
Sailors recorded much more than weather data in these log books. As volunteers sift through several pages, stories begin to emerge. Some logs detail the effects of the Spanish flu. Others talk about new pathways opening up in the Arctic as ice formations changed. Many detail happenings of the ship’s daily life, from reprimands for drunken sailors, to the tragic loss of a ship’s chocolate stores that were swept overboard. For kids and adults, these kind of stories help bring history to life.
These are just a couple of the many projects searching for citizen scientists. Meteorologists at the Cyclone Center need volunteers to help classify early infrared and satellite images of hurricanes in order to help understand if current storms are more intense than historic storms. Biologists at Nature’s Notebook need amateur naturalists to submit observations of phonological data, such as first leaf out, bloom time, bird migration, and insect emergence. Many more projects can be found on the Citizen Science Alliance website.
When Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice made the decision to be a violent, verbally abusive bully to his players, he got fired and in doing so blew a big hole in the wall of coaching to let some badly needed sunshine in on behavior our kids think they need to suffer in silence. Parents are ready to put coaches in the same glass housing we keep our teachers in and by doing so, make them stop throwing stones at our kids.
ESPN released a now viral video showing Mr. Rice at practice throwing one Class-A tantrum after another: shoving, grabbing, and kicking players, hurling balls at their heads, using profanity, and demeaning players’ sexuality with homophobic slurs.
At first, according to ESPN, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti suspended the coach for three games and fined him $50,000 after he first saw the video in November. He said he chose suspension rather than termination even though both options were on the table. Today the coach was fired and others in the profession are openly tagging the coach as a bully.
Eric Murdock, who worked with Rice told ESPN, "What this guy did the last two years is criminal -- it was criminal." During the two years he worked for Rice, Murdock said he and the assistant coaches repeatedly urged the coach to try to control his anger with players. "Bullying players made him feel better," Murdock said. "If he made a kid feel miserable, he was able to sleep at night better, even though the kid is going the other way and he's not going to be as productive.… He has real anger-management issues. He can't control his temper.… I can't believe that anywhere else in the country it is worse than this -- it's the absolute worst."
Rice reminded parents that coaches should be viewed through the lens of teachers and limited in their actions in the exact same way. Since we don’t stop being parents when our kids turn 18, we should not stop being outraged and taking action when an influencer like Rice teaches them to be bullies in sport.
I say this as a sport parent whose son, 19, is on the varsity crew team at Virginia Commonwealth University with some great coaches. He works like a man possessed to be an asset to his team because they are his “second family.” He knows the difference between a coach barking orders, a harsh criticism on his time or stroke versus bullying and physical abuse. The reason he knows these differences is because we have been through other sports, like swimming and soccer, where coaches took to bullying players and we took to another sport when the behavior remained unchecked.
Apparently we were not alone in our bully coach experiences, as Steve Horan, a girls’ basketball coach of 20 years and founder of The Sports Parent Network in Richmond, Va., told me in a phone interview this morning.
Mr. Horan had just seen the Rice video 45 minutes before my call and said that he was horrified but not surprised at all by the coach’s behavior.
“Coaches in our schools and at the college level get away with doing things to our kids inside the locker room and on the court that no teacher would ever be allowed to get away with,” Horan says. “It’s clearly a bullying relationship, physical and emotional abuse. A teacher would be fired. In the professional environment, you would be sued for behavior like that in the workplace.”
Horan ultimately believes in forgiving a coach's sins, but only when they come with something more than a hand slap like Rice's suspension. He agrees with Pernetti’s decision to fire Rice.
“We need a paradigm shift in coaching in our schools across the board need to re-examine how they choose and evaluate their coaching staffs,” Horan explains. “We need teaching and coaching programs for coaches. We have a lot of coaches who are just not emotionally equipped to handle their competition anger.”
Looking at Rice, I see someone who cannot distinguish between what it takes to lead a team versus the need to feel as if he is in control of the players.
Horan has a guideline for making that determination and it’s the TLC Rule. In Horan’s case TLC does not mean “Tender Loving Care” but “Teach, Lead, and Compete.”
“If we are teaching life lessons through sport, then as coaches we must stop and look at the bullying relationships we are creating with players and what lesson or message that is sending to everyone not only on the team but out in the stands,” Horan explains.\
Tell your young athlete this: A verbal push is fair game, but character assassination is a deal breaker. No coach or teacher has the right to verbally attack a player’s: character, sexuality, appearance, race, religion, nationality, or physical appearance (i.e. mocking unalterable features like a birthmark, not physical fitness level).
“Also, anything physical, hitting, kicking etc., is completely out of the question,” Horan says. “No way is a coach ever to lay hands on an athlete in either an abusive or sexual way. No way. Never.”
We didn’t stop being parents the day our kids turned 18, and anyone at a college or university sport program who tells us to shut up because our kids are now legally grown-ups is making a bad call. When our kids are out of college and in the “real world” we can stop calling plays, take that step off the field and just cheer them on.