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The Number of Inappropriate Teacher-Student Relationships Keeps Rising, and So Do Arrests: Professional Development Needed!

18 Sep

texas

Head’s up to all public school districts, and private schools.

When it comes to establishing relationships–including the proper use of communications technology and social media between students, teachers, coaches, and administrators–and even with parents, there is a terrific blurring of personal and professional boundaries.

My book Teacher-Student Relationships:  Crossing into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms is a guide to reduce the problems, by enhancing the boundaries and calling into account the higher calling of teachers, coaches, and administrators.  The book details the problems associated with inappropriate relationships and offers solutions to make education a much safer place for all.

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I am available to assist faculty and students to discern where the boundaries are at this time of confusion on many fronts, between teachers and the pupils and athletes they are charged to teach, protect, and mentor in their classes, or on the fields.

Feel free to email me at erniezarraphd@aol.com, or post a comment here.  I will return messages.

Please click the following link, to read about the serious abuse issue occurring in the nation, but particularly Texas.  My work is quoted and I am referred to repeatedly, in the piece.

http://www.breitbart.com/texas/2016/09/13/texas-teacher-sexual-misconduct-cases-hit-time-high/

Coming Out . . . The Genius of It All

2 Mar

coffee3

A few years back, our school newspaper published an article titled, “Sexuality loses meaning as it becomes career booster.” The title, in-and-of-itself, was an oxymoron. The very thing that enhances careers is indeed meaningful. In fact, the claim of “sexuality” at all has become and “enigmatic enhancement” of the first order. How’s THAT for an oxymoron?

But semantics aside, titles are meant to catch people’s attention. What is it about today’s culture, anyway? Everyone seems to be defining themselves by their sexuality. The stars in the media always have to come across as sexy. Clothes have to be sexy. Food has to be sexy. Then there are mouthwashes, toothpastes, cars, whatever! Sex sells, I guess. Being sexy-gay, and metro-sexual also sell in today’s culture. Even Facebook has caved to the pressures of sexual expression, called by progressives as “gender identity.”

In that issue of the school newspaper, comments by students were printed in response to others, who have chosen alternative lifestyles. Isn’t everyone’s lifestyle an alternative one? Titles really do not define us, and neither do nicknames. What they do, though, is capture attention. Consequently, if a person favors traditional marriage, he or she is labeled “anti-homosexual,” or a homophobe.” Attention pushes emotions and thus, fads are born. High school campuses are replete with fads. Sex is just one more fad. However, fads based on sexuality are just a bit different, in that people seem to think their sex and gender are who they are.

The Genius of It All

Here is an example. If I call myself a genius, a born genius, and I am someone who joins up with groups of geniuses—and even begin to wear the “attire of the genius” groups, use the language of geniuses, etc.–I am perceived by these actions as a genius. But am I truly a genius? Would a genius seek to be one so desperately that he must come out as one and join a group?

Taking things even farther, I could even have participated in a community parade of geniuses and protested people of ordinary intelligence, calling them all hater of geniuses, if they dared to speak of the ordinary in ways that validated their ordinary intelligence. All things considered, do any of these actions mean I am a genius? Participation in the actions that some equate with lifestyle does not necessarily equate to the conclusion that I am a genius. I could bear the title of GENIUS and not be one. What is more, I could claim to have been born a genius, only to arrive later in life at the realization that I am quite an “ordinary genius.” Talk about oxymorons?

We live in a heightened state of sexual identity today, media-driven to be sure! How else would high schoolers—or anyone for that matter—know their sexuality, absent the practice? In my opinion, the titles we ascribe to our identities are not the real points of identification. Just like one’s beliefs, names are just that—NAMES. It is the actual, continued practice that defines us, in my opinion. Attraction is not the main issue. In the same way no one can claim to be a potato because of one’s regular cravings, attractions–and even addiction–for french fries, no one can say they are heterosexual or homosexual merely by attraction, or sexual lust. I’ll return to this conclusion a bit later. One thing is certain: We are all born sexual.

In case no one has paid attention yet, allow me to open a door and reveal this truth. We, the human race, are sexual creatures. Did you hear me? WE ARE SEXUAL. Why should we have to go around labeling ourselves by culturally-spotlighted titles? Why should heterosexuals and homosexuals have to somehow be certain that their sexuality is front-and-center? Think about it. Why do we have “sexuality clubs” on school campus? The Gay and Straight Alliance (GSA) is a club titled after sexual orientation and practice? Is being “straight” a belief or a practice? Or is it a world-view? Or better yet is it an inalienable right to be homosexual, found somewhere in Jefferson’s Declaration, or Locke’s Natural Rights?

Considering Teenagers

How do teens ever know what they are, unless they practice something long enough to know? Are high schoolers even oriented yet? Their brains and bodies are changing daily. Do we expect that teens WILL inevitably experiment with sexuality to discover their orientation? I hope not. That is quite dangerous. So, what purpose does a “sexual-titled” club have? I’d love to hear of the celibate homosexual–talk about the ultimate in doublespeak!!!

Any Google search will produce the answers to the questions just raised. There are places all over the nation popping up that base their identity on sexuality—as far down as middle and elementary schools. However, instead of going Google, many young people are going “Gaga.” Here is one such recent example:

The Youth Empowerment Summit (YES)

YES took place at Everett Middle School, just one of dozens of locations in the past few years. YES remains a FREE conference, sponsored by GSA Network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, and straight ally youth dedicated to fostering safe schools and youth activism. The conference is open to all youth and allies, with a focus on middle school and high school. Adults and teachers are welcome. Under the guise of “bullying,” the homosexuality agenda has made its was into all the corners of our kids lives.

It is not a moot issue to ask why not have a BSC Club too (Bi-Sexual Curious club). What about a Transgender Club? Many GSAs include these other orientations and lifestyles as protectionary, for those choose to proclaim a different sexuality. If gays do not feel comfortable in places, based upon their sexuality, then bisexuals and transgenders will probably feel just as uncomfortable. Should all sexual expressions have their own club? I would like to know just what “alliance” is formed between students of different sexual expressions? What about the “teenagers with crushes on their teachers clubs”? I’ll stop there at the edge of absurdity.

Why can’t we just stick to clubs period, you know, those that enhance civic participation and not sexuality? Why does sexuality have to be the open door? I shudder to think that demonstrating sexual practice is somehow one’s civic duty. Does there have to be a heterosexual community service club and a homosexual service club? Could we ever envision a non-gender club? Hmmm. How about naming it the Interact Club, where everyone interacts? What about Rotary, or Lions Clubs?

What About the Celibates?

What I am pointing out in this article, and hopefully the reader is catching some of my sarcasm and facetious allusions, along the way, is that we are all sexual creatures– including celibates? Those folks are defined by their LACK of practice, or orientation. Are they born that way, or is it a choice? Do we have opportunities for them to be celibate, and are they offended by all of this intolerable sex-talk? Celibates are still male or female, therefore sexual. I would like to see the statistics on gay celibates–those who have never had sex before. I would enjoy a discussion to discover how celibates know they are gay. The norm never has to explain itself. It is pure silliness to think that just attraction and even physical lust makes one gay, yet these are the primary determinants of one’s “same-sex-ploration,” if you will, all pigeonholed by the phrase “born that way.”

We live in a society that is so afraid to discuss the gay-issue, for fear of being labeled a homophobe (fear of gays). Labels, Schmabels, Carling Black-Labels (Calm down; The latter is a beer). As a person, I dislike bashing of any kind. Bashing heterosexuals who speak out as activists against the gay-lifestyle, with labels of bigotry, is as bad as heterosexuals who bashing gays at every opportunity. I agree with my colleagues that bashing and sexual slurs have to stop. But, I will go one further. Defining oneself by their sexuality invites polarization, and that also has to stop, unless we are going to allow additional marginalization of Americans with whom they choose to love and with whom to have sex. I call that form of identification quite shallow. But we live in a culture of labels and shallowness, and it is as if people are so uncontrolled in their desires they cannot help themselves and have little choice in their actions. Additional labels are assigned when one finds heterosexuality, and comes out of the homosexual lifestyle. It seems that with sex, you can’t have it “both ways.”

Lost and Found?

Anyone who comes out of the closet to admit their sexuality is somehow viewed as a person who has found himself, or herself. When were they lost? Many gay-adults are people who had opposite-sex spouses and families, children, and were involved in mainstream American life and living. Suddenly some of these folks walk away from marriages, many of their responsibilities, and those they reared, in order to pursue themselves? That is quite the height of selfishness, if you ask me–another hallmark of the current culture.

Do I have to admit to being a heterosexual for the world to accept me? Am I intolerant if I have different set of beliefs about sexuality? Not at all in either case.

New Civil Rights?

I have heard it said that the gay rights issue of today is a new “race” issue, like unto what the blacks faced in earlier decades. I think that argument is a red herring. No one I know has chosen to leave the Asian, Black, or Caucasian races to join another. Slaves were property with no rights, no freedom of speech, etc. Gays have all of these constitutional rights and more, depending on the state–where the Constitution grants everyone the same basic rights. Your skin color and DNA are what they are. If just one person leaves homosexuality and lives a heterosexual life, then there goes the ALL GAYS ARE BORN THAT WAY.

If a person uses race as analogous to sexuality, in order to define or identify oneself, then a coming out of one race to realize he or she is not truly that race, would suffice. Many of us have heard about, or know gays and straights, that have chosen another lifestyle. Trust me on this. There is nothing Eminem, Madonna, or JT can do to be Timbaland, “no matta how day dress wiff dare cloves.” I know we are “One Nation,” but don’t ask the aforementioned to “Apologize” for their own identities. They did NOT choose them. I reiterate, if just one gay or straight has chosen the alternate lifestyle, then the “birth” argument needs to be reexamined. And believe me, it does need to be reexamined. There are many reasons for “being” homosexual, departing from the norm. Maybe I have it wrong. Maybe we are all born homosexual, and because of abuse, social conditioning, or gender identity maturity, we just come out as heterosexual–even though we say nothing about it. Are you shaking your head yet?

Today we have gay sports teams being sued by bisexual players for sexual discrimination. Homosexuals are demanding that marriage is a right, when it is clearly NOT a right. Government might grant a legal right, but it can never be “right.” Gays in Texas want to divorce there, even when they were not married in that state. They’ll try anything to get a state to recognize marriage. If states against gay-marriage grant divorces from OTHER states’ marriages, then they (1) would have to recognize the marriage for a divorce to be granted, and (2) “the full faith and credit clause” would be implied, opening the door to federal decisions to bring the “doctrine of incorporation” into the mix. Having said that, it is just a matter of time before homosexual marriage (notice, I did not say same-sex marriage) is brought to the Supreme Court. The trend is that soon, homosexual marriage will be a legally done deal, and incorporated into all 50 states. Then it will be like abortion–forever an issue that will raise anger and disgust for many.

Radicalism

We have proms being cancelled because lesbians and gay teenagers want to make it a point to being same-sex dates. Things are so out of control that there is little sense anymore. It’s all about the individual and not the common good. Soon there will be heterosexual proms, homosexual proms, bisexual proms, transgender proms, etc. There are already proms and graduation parties designated by race and ethnicity. I am starting to see some reasons why some Muslims of the radical sects want to destroy the western world. But they don’t have to do it. We are doing it to ourselves.

In closing, I reiterate, we are all born sexual, for that is what being male and female imply when you check the gender box. I know it is popular today for people to define gender and sex different ways. Expressing that reality with sexual practice, or not expressing that is mostly about one’s choice. Without the practice, who knows? We all have our feelings and passions. How does anyone really know what his preferences are, when they are based in experimentation? I would not trust a teenage mind to make a lifelong determination about sexuality.

Teenagers and Life-Altering Decisions

I would hate to define anybody by their feelings and passions—especially high-schoolers–whose brains and bodies are changing every day. Here’s the bottom line. Am I against gays, or somehow a homophobe? Nope. That would be silly. I can easily separate issues from people. What I am against is this notion that somehow we must accept that everyone’s individuality who is either born gay, straight, whatever–over and against the vast majority of others. I am against a group hijacking sexuality and calling those who speak out, all sorts of names. It is classical republicanism versus individual rights all over again. Common good for the majority, versus the individuality expression of one, or a group. This is a good struggle to have in a democracy, as long as the struggle is not enjoined by haters using media and politics to ruin dissenters.

Coming out of the closet is a choice. I repeat, coming out in a “choice.” So too, is coming out of, and entering a lifestyle. No one is so compelled and driven to practice a lifestyle, unless there are issues of abuse, self-control, or some other sociological or personal concerns, such as addictions. Does this mean that out of all homosexuals, NONE are born that way? Probably not. However, no one has discovered the “gay gene,” yet. But does that mean all are born as such? I would reject that notion, because humans are not so bound that they cannot un-choose, make new choices, or choose not to choose, at all.

Speaking of such concerns, I want to go on record and come out and state that I am a “caffeinexual.” I have been hiding this fact and been cavorting with tea drinkers. People think I actually am a “tea-drinker.” I feel highly empowered, after having written this piece. I also feel like a parade is “brewing.” Coffee drinkers unite! We are all born this way. I can now check the gender box as a caffeinexual. But I can both ways, honestly–and I have! Coffee or tea? I am attracted to both, depending on my moods and the days of the week. Come and join me in my classroom any morning in my new Coffee-Tea-Alliance, to celebrate my “phreshness,” as long as you have “grounds” to do so.

Attention Educators!

20 Apr

Front Cover

Front Cover

We have a national epidemic on our hands!

http://www.amazon.com/Teacher-Student-Relationships-Crossing-Emotional-Physical/dp/1475802366/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1366476640&sr=8-1″ title=”Teacher-Student Relationships: Crossing Into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms” target=”_blank”>

The Lead-Filled Laptop

10 Feb

Hello reader.  Just a warning before you scroll through the following blog post.

No doubt you have seen the video, where a supposed father reads his daughter’s Facebook post to the camera.  You know the one, where he and his teenage offspring are battling with words, after which the father uses her Facebook page to slam her. Why does this happen?  Supposedly the answer is in her first swearing about her parents and calling them names on her private Facebook page, all because they expect her to do unfair chores.

WARNING:  THIS IS NOT GOING TO APPEASE THOSE WHO THINK THE FATHER IS A HERO! 

Right up front, I think the daughter is a mess and the father is a jackass, and the whole lot is beyond dysfunction.  They are all rebellious and acting juvenile.

Now that that is out-of-the-way, let me move on.

In this blog I intend to address issues which include parenting, bullying, violence and vices, and the differences between teenagers acting like punks and adults acting like teenagers.

I have seen the video in question several times now.  I have read many comments posted by viewers.  Side-takers abound.  The video has gone viral and some are calling the man a hero, and even “father of the year.”  If he is father of the year, then Alec Baldwin is Shirley Temple.

So, with all of this, I thought I would toss my comments into the ring, given the fact that I work with teenagers every day in my profession.  So, here goes.

PARENTING

It does not take a rocket scientist to draw the conclusion that there is major conflict in the home of the teenager in question.  I contend that the biological father’s divorce from the daughter’s mother caused a rift some time ago.  But I cannot be certain about this.  I do know that whomever is supposed to be rearing the teenage girl is sorely missing the mark.  There is no respect for either the stepmother or the father, and there is no respect toward the daughter by them, in return.  What has apparently gone on is the purchasing of things to spoil even further a teenager with no respect for the gift-givers.  So, taking violently extreme measures as a parent was felt as the last resort.  This is not heroic.  This is “dangerous.”

The father earns an “F” grade as protector of the family.

OVERKILL

Destroying property, when the Internet was the issue was overkill.  Shooting and “killing” a computer as a point to be made is overkill.  A normal person would have seen a long time ago that taking away the Internet–and the cell phone–and keeping them away–would have been the solution.  Hey dad, who bought the computer for the “spoiled” brat daughter?  You did, dad.  Who was it that allowed a teenager to have a Facebook account in your house?  You did, dad.  Who gave her a smart phone?  You did, dad.

No real parent takes his gun and shoots up the very technology he spent $150 on just a day before.  This action was not the action of a balanced father.  Of course, it is clear the father was acting in anger.  If he is to be believed, then he had threatened to use the gun before and shoot up the computer, t least on another occasion.  Only God knows what else he threatened to destroy with his weapon.

There are good chances that the father is an overkill kind of man, seeking revenge and payback–and all of this upon a teenage girl.  Umm, dad, I have news for you.  Your daughter has friends and you cannot go around shooting up all of their computers now that they have labeled you a sicko!  Anyone can use a weapon, but it takes a man–a REAL man, to admit to his teenager that he is wrong and wants to work things out with her.

PROFANITY

Language being one of your major concerns, pops, I see where your daughter gets her profanity.  You do not strike me as a man who intends to live by what he says.  Rather, you seem to be the “Do as I say, not as I do,” kind of person.  You posted your video critiquing her letter, with both your own profanity and hers, yet you claim she is in the wrong for all of her cursing.  Hey dad, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Two wrongs do not make a right.  Maybe if you put down the cigarette instead of your daughter, once-in-a-while, and have your second wife be a bit more relational and understanding in love, then something might be accomplished in your home.  Stop taking sides and show some love, pops!

Your behavior as an adult and your lack of parenting skills leave me no alternative that to give you the grade of an “F” as the father. 

BULLYING

So, let me get this straight.  The father invades the privacy of his daughter online, just because he was stealthily able to gain access.  Wouldn’t it have been better to sit with her and look her in the eye, while viewing Facebook together?  It seems he was just looking for an opportunity to go nuclear over an issue online, with the full support of the second wife.  Next, the father discovers the posting, prints it out, and reads it on in a video recording.  How did he first come to know that the posting existed on her private page, without invading her online privacy?

Next in the sequence, he takes out a gun and proceeds to pump someone’s computer full of lead.  We really do not know yet whether that was her computer, or a dummy.  But let’s assume it was her computer.  I can see the daughter’s face when she gets a text alert via her cell phone Facebook application.  When she sees the video posted by her father, she goes ballistic.  I bet her friends can’t wait for the next sleepover.  I would like to be a fly on the way in the school principal’s office, the homes of the girl’s friends, and at the police station, once all these entities gain the knowledge and see for themselves how wacko the father truly is.

The daughter can easily post from her friends’ pages, access her homepage from a friend’s computer, or even from her phone.  She can open a new page and continue the disrespect.

  • So, what is the father trying to accomplish?
  • Why shoot the computer?
  • Why the threats earlier about shooting the computer?
  • And what as the reason to act like a 15-year-old and post the video on his daughter’s Facebook page?

I contend the father is a bully and he is a power-monger, which is precisely part of the reason the daughter lashed out online to begin with.  If the father was angry about her lashing out before, just wait until the hormones line up on this new line of exasperation.

At 15, I’d be afraid if my parent shot something given to me, posted it on the Internet for all to see–including ANYONE on my homepage.  I’d be fearful about going home.  Such extreme actions are meant as overkill and an in-your-face act as payback.  Adults who resort to such actions have lost control of themselves and take it out on their rebellious teenagers.

For the act of shooting a computer to make a violent point, and posting his violent act on his teenager’s page–the father is a bully and earns an “F” grade.

USE OF VIOLENCE WITH PROFANITY

I do hope someone checks on the ordinances in the father’s locale to determine whether he violated the law by discharging a weapon.  If he did, it is a crime.  If he has no license for the weapon, then that also is a crime.  Let me ask the reader, what crime did the teenager commit?  None that I can see.  The father was embarrassed, so he played big-man and shoots a computer.  That’s just plain childish.  And he empties all the rounds into the computer, all while making certain to “give one for the mom?”  Juvenile father rearing a teenager is what I see.

For his use of violence and profanity the father earns an “F.”

VICES

Did anyone check to see whether the father had been drinking prior to his immature and dangerous behaviors?  It is obvious that he has at least one vice.  He was so nervous that his buddy, the cigarette, was gripped tightly by his fingers on his right hand.  I would not be surprised if daddy-o has some beer on a table somewhere nearby.  I would also like to know if he has a problem with any other substances, aside from tobacco.  If so, this makes his gun usage ever more concerning.  All I know is that if I was a neighbor and saw a man shooting something in the neighborhood backyard, I’d call the police.  The typical family with teenagers deal with rebellion and disregard of family rules all the time.  I would not be surprised if the daughter smokes, drinks, does some types of drugs, as teens sometimes do.

Given the modeling and poor parenting seen in this video, the father has to accept some of the blame for the way his daughter is turning out, much as I accept some of the blame for the ways my kids turn out.  Parents actually do accept responsibility.

TEENAGERS

I have been working with teenagers for over 25 years.  I won’t provide my resume to bore you.  Suffice to say, my wife and I reared two of our own, each with unique struggles and concerns of their own.  We exacerbated some issues and behaviors, and our teenagers made their own choices to do the same.  All that being said, “relationships” with teens in rebellion are not based in heavy-handedness.  That only pushes them away farther.  Raising teenagers is a real challenge, made even a greater concern by parents just giving their kids things and not modeling he behaviors they expect from them.

Teenagers must respect themselves, their families, and the goods they are given as part of the family.  The old adage is true:  “You really do not appreciate things you are given, unless you have worked for them.”  The daughter is a spoiled brat and does not work.  But how many 15-year-olds work?  She does not do her chores.  So, as an impulse, she decides to overkill on Facebook.  I wonder where she learned to do that?  Although I cannot prove it, I do this is not the first time the father has resorted to extreme measures to try to corral his daughter.  Over time, the truth will come out.

All in all, the father took what the daughter did–and she was wrong in what she did–and made it worse by stepping down to her level.   The teenager acted like a punk and the father acted like a teenager.

This raises a lot of other issues beside family and parenting.  Because of this, I am pleading with the father to put down the cigarettes, take off the cowboy hat, lock up the weapons, and get off his high horse.  You all need serious counseling.  Bring the mother and step-mother with you, if they can stop fighting long enough to see the needs of the teenager.  Heaven help them if there are more teenagers to follow.  I just hope this family does no become a statistic, all while side-taking people applaud the father and encourage the daughter.

Art or Science?

16 May

Sitting here having coffee and running a few things through my head.

If teaching is a gift, and art form, why then are we seeking to quantify the qualitative aspects associated with this art?  Can we understand how to paint better by analyzing the colors on the canvas?  Can we understand what it takes to be an artist, by dissecting each stroke used by the artist?  Are educators made better by meeting with others who are painters, merely to describe what we can do to get better paintings?  The creation of a common canvas does little for the deep and passionate gift that lies within.  This gift is best expressed by merely painting.

When the artist is able to use his or her creativity, there is often no explanation; Things just happen.  Following a specific set of protocols minimizes creativity.  Likewise, quantifying this creative process and then standardizing and commonly formalizing what is a gift, equates to gathering artists and seeking to replicate similar results on canvas.

Psychometricians want to measure apples and oranges and place giftedness into numbers, so as to justify methodology.  Education is now akin to “painting by numbers,” while calling those in the profession “artists.”  Educators whose cognitive bent is to acquiesce to this form of reductio absurdum miss the real place whereby education occurs.

Education is not in the numbers; It is in the brain where context and learning occur.  A student learns despite the ability to give back what is learned.  The forming of context occurs differently for all of us.  Some take longer than others to frame schemata and add to it the newer concepts formed, or knowledge gained.

Since we are all unique, and our brains contextualize very differently, there is no one format and style of teaching that fits all.  Neither is there one test that is common to all learning, and learning styles.

In a real world, all students would test according to their learning styles.  Good luck with that.  This would require students to be assessed, in terms on a common formative assessment given across 400 students of all levels, male and female, auditory and visual, communicative, gregarious, and shy, etc.

We need to end the hyper-scientizing of education and celebrate the giftedness of both teachers and students.  There is a reason the scientizing comes from the top-down, administratively.  Most administrators are numbers people and have drunk the Kool-Aid served by other administrators at the District level.

Measuring student learning with a series of short assessments after a lesson is an attempt to secure something in return, from students, that may very well be in their working memories to some extent.  The real test is tomorrow, or next week.  Did that learning stick and transfer to another context?  Unfortunately this measure is not completed best by a multiple choice “bubble” test.  Measuring qualitative giftedness is done best by student’s expressing their “own” learning.

In closing, I think we all know that bureaucrats have assembled a list of standards that students are to master at all levels, to a large degree.  One one level, it makes sense for students to “learn this and be tested on this.”  That is the mathematical approach.  However, on many other levels, we must ask ourselves whether bureaucrats know best what best prepares our students for the real 21st century world they face?

Should not those with the gift be the ones setting the course?  Instead of analyzing “red,” may we allow those of us who understand how red, blue, yellow, green, and other colors best fit on a canvas, as well as what strokes work best on any given surface?

Teenage Maturation

8 Feb

Mention teenagers and maturity in the same phrase, in the midst of a room full of adults, and watch the reactions of these same adults.  The result will be everything from snickers to smiles to outright laughter.

Have you ever asked a teenager why he did “something,” or why she said that “those certain shocking words”?  Remember their responses?

Mom:  Why did you do that?

Son:  “I don’t know.”

Dad:  What were you thinking when you said that?

Daughter:  “I don’t know.”

Part of you thinks, “This kid knows exactly what he or she did.”  Another part wonders whether or not that hopeless look is genuine, or not.  Whatever the case, we have to stand back and greet these wonderments with reality:  Welcome to teenage maturation!

The emerging field of neuroscience is providing answers to explain many typical teenagers’ behaviors.  It turns out that teenage impulsivity has its roots in brain development.  Yes, teenagers have brains, despite rumors to the contrary.  If they didn’t where would we have found that we had ours?  Gotcha on that!

The frontal lobes of our brains are those areas where impulses are controlled.  Scientists are telling us that the frontal lobes are not fully developed until well past the age of 20—and up to 25—according to some studies.  Ever wonder why some teenage females seem to have their impulses under control earlier than some males?  There are different degrees of biological development for females and males, all which have interesting implications for educators and parents.  This kind of puts into perspective why some males in their early twenties are not mature enough for females of their same age group.

Researchers at Radford University (William Hudspeth) and Harvard Graduate School of Education (Kurt Fischer) have discovered that the teenage brain is still “wiring up” and that there are certain growth spurts that mark this wiring.  The three general periods of brain growth spurts occur (1) between the ages of ten and twelve, (2) fourteen and sixteen, and (3) eighteen and twenty—the latter may extend into the mid-20s..

As an educator, I now know a little more about those moments when the light bulb goes on in a student’s head.  What is actually happening is that there is a connection being made cognitively.  What this connection is and where it is going to be manifested are separate events.  What is true, however, is that the teenagers have made emotional connection in their brains, which is naturally the way most teenagers contextualize their world.  Music places them somewhere.  An event categorizes a period in time, etc.  Think about it.  When you hear a song, or have an emotional reaction as an adult, there is a context to this event.  Without context, here is no emotion.  This leads to my next point.

Recently, there has been a lot of focus on “emotional intelligence.”  The research has caused educators to sit up and take notice of some things, like never before.  The major factors involved in emotional intelligence are intrinsic motivation, impulse control, empathy, and social competence.  There are many things educators and parents can do to facilitate teenage brain development, resulting in emotional intelligence.

Intrinsic motivation “emerges out of an environment that encourages the discovery and exploration of personal interests and abilities” (Sylwester 2003).  So what can teachers and parents do to encourage and stimulate growth of their student’s internal motivation?  First, we must find ways to produce relevance to what we are teaching.  Students must see how their learning fits their world.

Second, we all have experienced the teenage challenge questions: “Why do we have to learn this stuff,” and “When are we ever going to use this in the real world?”  The answers to these two questions have been simplified.  In the first instance, the reply is “brain research shows that you need this in order to continue onto cognitive and emotional maturity.”  They will stare at us, providing the very rationale needed.  In the second instance, the answer to when it will be used in the real world is NOW.  The fact that students even ask the question is proof enough.  What I am saying in “their” language is, “You are being graded on this stuff.”  Grades make things relevant to their worlds in a hurry, both cognitively and emotionally and immediately.  Grades contextualize learning.

Impulse control is something very few teens have a handle on.  In fact, I could point to a few of us adults that need some extra attention here, as well.  Isn’t this what we mean when we look at our friends who have never really “grown up?”  Teenagers often act without giving themselves any time to think through, or reflect on their actions ahead of time.  Adults are more choice-oriented before acting.  Teenagers simply act a lot before thinking.  This is the way they are wired, reiterating the “I don’t know” response addressed earlier.

As neuroscientist Jay Giedd puts it, teenagers “have the passion and strength but no brakes” (Stranch 2003).  Teachers can help students to learn to control impulses by providing opportunities such as discussion, journaling, and places to vent.  Students will learn over time.  So those long-term projects, and things student do not yet see as relevant for their lives, delay gratification and cause necessary reflection.

Empathy is an important aspect of emotional intelligence, again found in the developing frontal lobes.  Empathy allows students to act in ethical ways, and demonstrate altruism.  High schools and even junior highs are requiring many hours of community service, in order to assist in the development of empathy.  Teachers can help by allowing students to share their thoughts, and allow their expressions to connect with those of others.  These expressions must be tempered with proper classroom, decorum at all times.  Writing is a way for a student to express even the more bizarre of thoughts that come to him or her.

Social competence is that which allows students to “read” social contexts and respond adequately.  Many teenagers seem socially awkward, particularly when singled out, or in relationships with the opposite sex.  This is why they find such identity by looking the same as their friends look in attire, hair style, taste in music, youthful language, etc.  When it comes to respect, consideration of others, and development of manners, adults can play a large positive and negative role.    According to Robert Sylwester (2003), “Manners do not come naturally but must be taught.”  Teachers can assist in the development of manners by allowing students to work in groups and debriefing afterwards.  The same works around the dinner table at home, as we set aside time in our busy lives.

In closing, if we want students to learn to make good decisions and become the leaders of tomorrow, let us allow them the opportunities to fall short, learn from their shortcomings, and work with their brains—right where they are at, while anticipating where they are going.

Celebrate each phase of their development and be thankful one leads to another.  Learning to use their brains more deeply is what maturation is all about.  My dad used to think that my teenage my brain was connected to my backside.  After repeated attempts to “kick-start” it, I finally figured out a few things.  But I guess science has a great distance to go to prove this empirically.

It’s Rough Growing Up In The Entitlement Age

7 Feb

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be young, again? Really, really, young again? George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  I read that and I wonder, did he work for Toys R Us?  Was he a teacher?

A discussion that prompts adults to consider going back to their youth is met with many responses.  I can hear groans now. Puberty, emotions, biological clocks and interpersonal issues?  Are you kidding me, Zarra?  Outcries are deafening and certainly do get my attention — but wait a minute.  How about we let teachers go back to their youth?  In some ways, teaching keeps teachers young.  We all know, in reality, it’s not true, but teaching is a profession that thrusts youth and adulthood together in unique ways.

So here’s the deal.  Although we can never really go back in time, teaching the same age group and grade level every year somehow circumvents the reality that we are getting older.  It perpetuates a perception that the time clock is somehow in neutral and that our relevance and vibrancy still exists.  The strange part is that as teachers age we are aware that students appear the same age, year-in and year-out.  Each new group of students that comes my way is about the same age as the previous year’s students.  It is in this sense that teachers perceive themselves as youthful — literally and figuratively.

Today’s young people have it made.  They work daily on typing skills and literary interpretations.  Text messaging is essential to them because they have to be in touch with friends in other classes.  It makes little difference that a teacher thinks they might be sending photos, messages or answers about a quiz or test.  Text messaging has done away with the need for writing notes to fellow students.

Typing skills are up.  Writing skills are taking a nose-dive.

Keyboarding teachers love it.  English teachers, not so much.

With the spell check option on every computer, anyone can be virtually as smart as Bill Gates.  That can’t be a bad thing.  Besides we all know today’s youth can be trusted with many things and would never try to get away with breaking any rules—I am smiling because I know what I was like in high school.

While in class, all anyone needs is an excuse to go to the restroom and then a student can make all the phone calls desired with no one around.  They’d have to check in with Mom to be certain she didn’t leave a very important voicemail that must be heard right away.  If there are other students in the restroom, one could also test out the phone’s camera and video to see if its pixels are adequate for immediately uploading to a YouTube, MySpace or Facebook account.  A person could even check a digital calendar to see what activities were occurring that day.  That would make Mom happy, in terms of responsibility.

Gone are the days of pagers, gigapets, Furbies and other toys.  Thank goodness we have technology and communication at the touch of a key.  Waiting and developing patience was the pits.  For that matter, who needs an imagination when one has virtual reality?  This technological “reality” just might cut down on daydreaming, which teachers hate.  Everyone might be more focused in class, much to the delight of teachers.

The wonders of technology would make youth so much fun.  If only we could be young again.

Think of the possibilities, parents!  Think about being young again and how fun it would be to be banished!  The words “go to your room” would be an invitation for an awesome time.  We would have our own cell phones, computers, instant messaging, cable-television, iPods, DVD players and video games.  Now that’s what I call being grounded!

Another cool thing about being young is that parents and teachers are virtually clueless when students copy and paste documents together from the Internet—along with sharing files and pirated music and other cool things.  Just think, no typewriters.  If we all became young again, we would be taught to work together in groups and turn in assignments derived from collaborative efforts. Mom and Dad always wanted me to get along with others and learn to share, anyway.

Being young also means being stylish.  We could wear our hats and hoods in class, claiming our heads are cold, while listening to our favorite tunes.  If our parents let us have cell phones and iPods, what is so wrong with using them whenever we so desire?  We must be entitled to them.

Whatever happened to vinyl 45s?  There is something to be said for that “pffffft, pffffft” noise with each turn of the record.

Shaw concluded that “Youth is wasted on the young.”  Couple that with another of his famous sayings, “I want to be all used up when I die,” and students might begin to understand just what parents and teachers have in common.  We are gigabytes in a terabyte world. 

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