Jonathan Martin and the Soft, White, Private School Question

The New York Times

A report for the N.F.L. detailed harassment of Jonathan Martin, third from left, by Richie Incognito, second from left.Bill Feig/Associated PressA report for the N.F.L. detailed harassment of Jonathan Martin, third from left, by Richie Incognito, second from left.

N.F.L. lineman Jonathan Martin encountered a Miami Dolphins team culture that was sick at its core. But was his private-school upbringing partly responsible for his inability to cope with the locker-room bullying he encountered there?

“I figured out a major source of my anxiety,” he wrote to his mother during his ordeal, according to the 140-page report on his ordeal that an outside law firm released on Feb. 14. “I’m a push over, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me. I mostly blame the soft schools I went to …”

Then, in a message to his father a week later: “I suppose it’s white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek.”

These comments press all sorts of buttons for private school parents, who worry that by trying to buy their way up to what seems like a better education, they’re robbing their child of the hard knocks every kid ought to experience. By invoking race, Mr. Martin, who is African-American, seems to suggest that private-school culture stands for training or retraining students of color to be meek young adults who don’t speak up or fight back.

But what sort of softness was he talking about? And how exactly does “white private school conditioning” manifest itself?

Mr. Martin, who is 24 years old, and his parents declined to expand further on his words in the report. He attended the private John Thomas Dye School in Los Angeles for fifth and sixth grade. Ray Michaud, the headmaster there, also declined to respond to Mr. Martin’s comments, citing a school policy on talking about alumni and things they do or say after they leave.

Harvard-Westlake, which has produced many Hollywood stars and a handful of other professional athletes, was Mr. Martin’s next stop. “Harvard-Westlake simply offers our strong support for Jonathan Martin and his family during this difficult time,” its president and chief executive, Rick Commons, wrote by email. When I asked him whether his response was the very sort of other-cheek-turning that Mr. Martin described, he said that it was an “interesting follow-up” but did not comment further.

Both schools were willing to disclose some numbers in an effort to address the demographic charge specifically. At Harvard-Westlake, 19 percent of the student body receives need-based financial aid and 43 percent of students are not white. That compares favorably with national numbers that the National Association of Independent Schools tracks: Students of color make up 28 percent of the population at all private schools nationwide; 23 percent of students at member schools received need-based aid. John Thomas Dye is less diverse than average, with students of color making up 23 percent of its student body. Just 8 percent of them receive financial aid.

“Our schools are not the sort of impervious bastions of WASP culture and privilege that they were at the inception of independent schools,” said Caroline Blackwell, the vice president for equity and justice for the National Association of Independent Schools. “And so for a lot of people, they continue to have this idea that doesn’t really match the reality.”

These institutions like to be called independent schools nowadays, in part because “private” raises the question of just who they’re excluding. Independence speaks to their strengths, as they stand apart from the educational culture of test-taking and rigidity and, at their best, build close-knit communities centered around character as much as academic achievement.

Perhaps Mr. Martin was using “soft” as an antonym for “real,” as in the real world that private-school students might not encounter enough. But what would it mean for private schools to feel more real? Ms. Blackwell wondered about this, too. She is African-American and a product of private schools herself. She’s also made her career in them, working in the past as a counselor, admissions officer and multicultural affairs director, including 17 years at theUniversity School in Nashville. She ran the local human relations commission there before going to work for the independent schools association.

Ms. Blackwell wondered, as many private school parents might have when they read Mr. Martin’s words in newspaper accounts of the league’s report, whether he was calling out the sort of deliberately constructed communities that many private schools specialize in creating — built on intense attention to children’s feelings and the imprinting of values that support a commitment to civility.

Schools like that are not much like the world that many parents live and work in, where people are disposable, loyalty no longer matters much and every person is scratching away for themselves. But those mothers and fathers don’t necessarily want their 9-year-olds going to school in it. “My experience of independent schools is one where a premium is placed on problem solving in civil ways — dealing with conflict in ways that prefer conversation and discussion as opposed to fighting and aggression,” Ms. Blackwell said. “We would teach students to be assertive without necessarily being aggressive.” If she’s right, that’s hardly turning the other cheek.

It’s not clear whether that sort of teaching went on at Harvard-Westlake or John Thomas Dye, since nobody there wanted to talk about it. But Ms. Blackwell doesn’t think it’s fair to ask the product of any school to serve as proof of its educators’ success or failure if the test is to withstand what Mr. Martin did. “Preparing kids for the vitriol and hostility of a locker room, that’s not our intention,” she said. “Nor is it the intention of public schools or other types of schools, regardless of where they are, to simulate the worst sort of cultural experience to see if the kids can endure.”

If you’re a product of a private school or a parent at one, what do Mr. Martin’s words mean to you?


Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for The New York Times. He’s currently on leave to write “The Opposite of Spoiled,” a book about parenting, money, values and raising the kinds of children all parents want to push out into the world, no matter how much money they have. He hosts regular conversations about these topics on his Facebook page and welcomes comments here or privately, via his Web site.



7 STEM Toys That Put Barbie to Shame

Toy Fair 2014: STEM Toys


NEW YORK — Among the piles of plush toys, dolls and cars on display at the 2014 International American Toy Fair this year, there was a new standout category: STEM toys.STEM — an acronym that refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is becoming increasingly popular as parents opt for educational toys that instill these basics at an early age.

This year, we saw a board game that teaches programming to kids, Lotti Dolls that come with accessories for building robots and of course, engineering blocks from GoldieBlox, whose ad set to the tune of The Beastie Boys’ “Girls” song went viral earlier this year.

Who needs a Barbie Dreamhouse when you can be an architect and build your own?

  • Stem_gallery-6

    Thames and Kosmos Gyrobot

    This kit allows users to build motorized robots that make use of a gyroscope. This one can balance on two linear wheels and move along a tightrope.

  • Stem_gallery-2

    Lottie Doll

    Move along, Barbie. The Lottie Doll collection promotes STEM learning, like building your own robot. The doll’s body type is also designed to reflect that of a typical 9-year-old girl, unlike Barbie’s unrealistic figure.

  • Stem_gallery-7

    Goldie Blox

    GoldieBlox — the company behind the viral ad that urges young girls to become inventors — has a collection of toys that teach building, construction and the basics of engineering.

  • Stem_gallery-3

    Robot Turtle

    It’s never too early to turn your child into a computer programmer. Designed by a former Google engineer, the Robot Turtlesboard game teaches kids ages 3 and up the basics of writing code.

    The child has to direct — or write code (via a deck of cards) — for the adult to follow and get a turtle to its corresponding jewel, placed elsewhere on the board.

  • Stem_gallery-4

    littleBits Circuits

    littleBits consists of tiny circuit-boards with specific functions engineered to snap together with magnets. Each bit has a specific function (light, sound, sensors, motors, etc.) and can be used to create anything from speakers, a dancing robot to even a playable guitar.

  • Stem_gallery-5

    Thames & Kosmos Smart Car Robotics Kit

    Kids can build and steer this high-tech car via a tablet or smartphone app. With the use of QR codes, the car drives through a virtual augmented reality cityscape on the screen.

  • Stemhouse

    Roominate Dreamhouse

    Founded by two Stanford engineering graduates, Roominate has a variety of construction kits for girls, including this one that lets them build a dream house of their own.

Why Middle School Girls Sometimes Talk Like Babies

The Atlantic

 FEB 18 2014


Teachers are technically hired to teach content—math, science, English, history. But over the course of a normal school day, we teach so much more. I’veenforced dress codes because I want my students to value their brains over their body parts. I’ve made spelling count because ideas presented sloppily are less likely to be heard. I teach about temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude in order to strengthen my students’ hearts as well as their minds. And when I hear my female students adopting a high-pitched, cutesy baby voice or turning their statements into questions with “upspeak,” I take the time to teach them how to find their voices of authority.

For years, I ignored the habit of baby voice and upspeak because while it is irksome, I was grateful my students were speaking up in class at all. I appreciate how hard it can be for some kids to open their mouths in class and risk embarrassment, so I did not want to do anything to instill more self-doubt or dampen their enthusiasm for my class. (Besides, baby voice works on some people. One male college professor I spoke with admitted that when a femalestudent uses baby talk, “I fall for it like a ton of bricks.” He added: “It does make me softer and more merciful, more likely to expend extra energy to help, and so on.”)

I tried to look past the habit, hoping it, like most trends, would pass into history. But after a few years of listening to girls make smart and insightful points with tentative, childish voices, I felt compelled to intervene. I became even more concerned when I realized that the trend could be interpreted as something more sinister than mere vocal affectation. “Sexy baby voice,” or SBV, was showing up in television and films as an instrument of sexual manipulation, a way of exploiting our culture’s fetish for adult sexuality wrapped in adolescent packages. Grantland posited that SBV “portrays the speaker as a submissive 12-year-old trying to be a sex object.” Tina Fey mocked it in an episode of 30 Rock. Actress and director Lake Bell launched her own takedown of SBV while promoting her film In a World.

If women want to pass themselves off as pubescent in order to attract sexual attention, fine, that’s their adult business. But when the trend spills over to real12-year-olds, who may or may not understand what the world hears and imagines behind that baby voice, I feel obligated to help them move toward a more mature means of communication that does not sacrifice content to its delivery. In an interview with the Washington Post, Bell explained, “I think what I find most unfortunate about it is that it’s diminutive, it’s sort of diminishing. And it’s a dialect. It’s not even justified by, ‘Oh, she was born with that.’ It’s learned.”

Some, including Jessica Grose at Slate, felt that Lake Bell was unfairly “dissing women’s voices,” that “women who are smaller may have narrower vocal folds, which will lead to a higher pitch.” However, when I consider whether my students are expressing themselves with confidence, I’m not looking for pitch. Middle school girls often have very high-pitched voices that may or may not develop into a deeper chest voice with time. I’m looking for the more subtle lilt, tone, and retreat from authority delivered via that high-pitched voice. Most of all, I’m looking for what could be perceived as an intimation of sexual or societal submission.

With that in mind, I started approaching baby voice as yet another practice to be overcome, much like habitual disorganization or shouting in the halls. In my lastteaching job, I was lucky enough to teach my students for three years in a row, and I took great delight in watching them grow and mature as thinkers. They came to me as little children and left for high school as burgeoning adults. I wanted to send them off into adulthood knowing they have the right to take up space with their voices.

If, as Lake Bell asserts, baby voice is learned, it can be unlearned through practice, positive reinforcement, and more practice. However, before tackling the symptom, I wanted to get at the root of the problem. I turned to psychotherapist and author Katie Hurley. She explained that younger children tend to use this form of vocal regression to cope with anxiety, when they are feeling overwhelmed or battling intrusive, distressing emotions and thoughts. For older children, she said, “it can stem from low self-esteem or is used to seek attention from peers and/or adults.”

Hurley recommends that teachers and parents look at the underlying feelings behind upspeak and baby talk. “Saying something like, ‘From the way you’re talking, it sounds like you might be feeling overwhelmed or anxious right now’ shows the child that you understand where they are and you are there to support them without judgment or punishment.”

I’ve seen this strategy work in my own experience as a teacher. After class one day, I finally decided to speak to a sixth grade student who was a frequent babytalk and upspeak user. We sat down in my office during snack time, and, over our herbal tea and cookies, we talked about why she uses such a high-pitched voice at some times and not others. I’d heard her on stage, when she’d inhabited a character in her fifth-grade play, and her voice dropped down into an authoritative and confident place. She talked about the pressures she’d faced, living in the shadow of a superstar older sibling, her tense relationship with her mother, and her worries about living up to her parents’ expectations. That conversation turned into a three-year-long effort to identify when and why she shifts into baby voice. Once we’d done that, we worked together to get out of that doubting voice and down into a definitive, confident chest voice rooted in her core, a voice worthy of the weighty insights she shared in class.

I also worked to instill these lessons in all my students. I incorporated a lot more public speaking in all of my classes. I taught my students to stand on both feet, hips square, chests out, and shoulders back. I invited the drama teacher come to class and teach them how to take up space with their words. He taught them how to breathe deeply, from the diaphragm, to project, and to be ready to speak before they open their mouths. All of my students benefitted from these lessons, but my babytalker more than anyone else. Her classmates and teachers started listening to her. By the end of her eighth grade year, she had emerged an academic and social leader. At graduation, she gave a speech describing her long battle with self-doubt, and the pride she experienced as she learned how to have confidence in her own ideas and her ability to express herself.

As I support my students and bear witness to their growth, I will keep Hurley’s advice close to my heart. I will listen to them without judgment or punishment, and make sure their outer voice—the one the world will hear and judge as they make their way out there—matches the depth and breadth of their inner voice.

Demand for Computer Science Classes Grows, Along With Digital Divide


February 17, 2014

Here’s an article on the importance of children learning computer programming.  FYI: Sacred Heart students begin learning to code in Pre-School, students code in all four grades in the Middle School and we have various computer programming classes in the Upper School.

Alex Tu, left, an Advanced Placement student, works during a computer science class in Midwest City, Okla. There's been a sharp decline in the number of computer science classes offered in U.S. secondary schools.

Alex Tu, left, an Advanced Placement student, works during a computer science class in Midwest City, Okla.There’s been a sharp decline in the number of computer science classes offered in U.S. secondary schools. Sue Ogrocki/AP

By Eric Westervelt

A handful of nonprofit and for-profit groups are working to address what they see as a national education crisis: Too few of America’s K-12 public schools actually teach computer science basics and fewer still offer it for credit.

It’s projected that in the next decade there will be about 1 million more U.S. jobs in the tech sector than computer science graduates to fill them. And it’s estimated that only about 10 percent of K-12 schools teach computer science.

So some in the education technology sector, an industry worth some $8 billion a year and growing, are stepping in.

At a Silicon Valley hotel recently, venture capitalists and interested parties heard funding pitches and watched demonstrations from 13 ed-tech start-ups backed by an incubator called Imagine K-12. One of them is Kodable, which aims to teach kids five years and younger the fundamentals of programming through a game where you guide a Pac-Man-esque fuzz ball.

“As soon as you can start learning [coding] you should, because the earlier you start learning something, the better you’ll be at it later in life,” says Grechen Huebner, the co-founder of Kodable. She’s working two computer screens to demonstrate how the game works in the hotel lobby.

“Kids have to drag and drop symbols to get their fuzzy character to go through a maze so they learn about conditions, loops and functions and even debugging,” Huebner says.

So should kids who’ve barely shed their pull-up diapers really learn to code? Huebner thinks it’s vital. “We have kids as young as two using it. Five is just kinda the sweet spot.“

My daughter’s behind, I think. She’s four and she hasn’t started coding. Bad parent.

Even if kids aren’t offered game-based computer science concepts in pre-K, there is growing consensus students should get exposed to basic computer science concepts early. Kodable and other startups hope to make a profit filling this enormous void in American public education.

“Ninety percent of schools just don’t even teach it. So if you’re a parent and your school doesn’t even offer this class, your kids aren’t going to have the preparation they need for 21st century,” says Hadi Partovi, co-founder of the nonprofit “Just like we teach how electricity works and biology basics they should also know how the Internet works and how apps work. Schools need to add this to the curriculum.”

Through his “Hour of Code” initiative, Partovi is working to get kids, parents and schools interested computer science curriculum.

‘It’s All Around Us’

Third graders at a public elementary school in Baltimore recently took part in a game-based Hour of Code to start to try to learn the very basics of coding even though they don’t realize it. “So you’re moving three blocks and then you press start,” one third grader says. Gretchen LeGrand with the nonprofit Code in the Schools is trying to bring computer science fundamentals to underserved, low-income kids in Baltimore. She says it’s a huge challenge in a district with few resources.

“The computers are old or outdated. We either can’t install the software we want to use to teach computer programming or the connection’s slow.” She’s had to adapt to teaching about coding without a computer or what more teachers are calling teaching CS unplugged.

Partovi says teaching computer science is not about esoteric knowledge for computer geeks or filling jobs at Google or Microsoft. Most of these jobs are not with big high tech companies. It’s about training a globally competitive workforce and keeping most every sector of the U.S. economy thriving.

“Our future lawyers and doctors and politicians and businessmen — the folks in the other jobs — need to have a little bit of a background about how the world around them works,” Partovi says. “It’s all around us, and every industry gets impacted by it.”

According to a study by the largest U.S. computing society, only 14 states have adopted secondary school standards for computer science. At the same time, there’s been a sharp decline in the last five years in the number of introductory and advanced placement (AP) computer science classes offered in U.S. secondary schools.

Ironically, that decline comes just as states tout improvements to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula. And several groups and corporations have voiced deep concern that the new Common Core state standards promote no significant computer science content in either math or science.

There are some bright spots: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Broward County, Fla., have all recently boosted their commitments to expanding computer science offerings. But there’s a long way to go, says Chris Stephenson who directs the Computer Science Teachers Association. She says a big problem is profound confusion about just what computer science is. Too many parents and administrators conflate gaming and basic point-and-click literacy with computer science — the principles and practices of computing and coding.

“I’ve had administrators actually say to me in all good intention, ‘I know kids are learning computer science in my schools because there are computers in the schools.’ And that is just not true,” Stephenson says.

“I think that they just don’t understand that having access to a computer isn’t the same as learning computer science any more than having a Bunsen burner in the cupboard is the same as learning chemistry,” she says. “There’s a scientific discipline here you can’t just learn by playing around with the technology.”

Informational Divide

The “guesstimate” is that only five to 10 percent of schools teach computer science, based largely on data on students who take the AP test in computer science annually. The real percentage may be lower. Nobody tracks the figures nationally.

Some sobering stats from last year’s AP data:

In Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming, no girls took the computer science exam.

In 11 states, no black students took it.

In eight states, no Hispanics took it.

In 17 states, fewer than 100 students took it.

“It’s crazy small. I mean it would be absurd if it weren’t so scary; that’s how terrifying it is,” Stephenson says.

So never mind the hardware-based digital divide, there’s a growing digital information divide. Computer science education, it seems, is now privileged knowledge accessible mostly by affluent kids.

“The people that are most likely to succeed have access to it and other kids do not, and we really need to look at those facts and figures and be horrified by them,” Stephenson says.

She says the Hour of Code — which has reached millions of students around the world — is a terrific start. But until more public schools offer computer science— for credit — she says the knowledge gap will only continue to widen.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit Explore: coding, c

Helicopter parenting has crippled American teenagers. Here’s how to fix it.


driven teen.
The key is figuring out how to get teenagers to tune into their own motivation.
Photo by Bevan Gold Swain/Thinkstock

Ian was sitting at his usual place during what his parents had decreed was his nightly homework time. But he had his chair turned away from his open books and calculator, and he was removing the fourth raw hot dog from the package. He gingerly placed it sideways on the family dog Walter’s muzzle and commanded him to “walk.” Ian got the idea after a liberal sampling of YouTube’s stupid pet trick videos.

Ian’s mother, Debbie, peeked in on her son and then turned around to stare at her husband. It was a look that said: “Your turn. Get him back to his homework. I’ve reached my limit today.”

“Ian, its almost 8, let’s get going!” Michael yelled.

Four minutes passed.

“Ian, if you don’t get started now, I will not help you with your math.”

Ian commenced homework but soon drifted to watching more dumb pet tricks on YouTube.

Michael and Debbie had realized early that Ian was extremely bright but that he couldn’t often work up to his capabilities. He was disorganized, easily distracted (the stupid pet tricks!), and discouraged by the slightest failure. So they did what many dedicated parents do these days: turn themselves into a rodeo tag team to keep him on track at his competitive Washington, D.C., private school. Every evening, they reviewed his homework assignments, made a list of priorities, kept track of upcoming tests, reviewed long-term projects, and made plans to get a tutor if the work was confusing. Then the next night, they did it again.

Lately, we have been schooled on the hell that is adolescence, and more specifically, the collateral damage this phase of life inflicts on parents. The recent New York magazine cover story includes several examples of families locked in the kinds of pointless battles I just described. The stories might leave parents who read them with a strong sense of recognition, and also hopelessness. But as a clinical psychologist specializing in family systems, my job is to help parents and kids get past the deadlock. The key, it turns out, is figuring out how to get kids like Ian to tune into their own motivation to get their work done, and to get the parents to tune out of their motivation to shield their kids from failure and disappointment.

“Ian” and his family are recent patients of mine at my private Washington, D.C., practice, and the teenager has the typical profile of many I see. They are often boys, smart but underachieving, possibly with some diagnosis—ADHD, a learning disability, or something on the autistic spectrum. Their parents work diligently to help them succeed: cajoling and pleading and threatening and occasionally employing more intrusive techniques copied from mob debt collectors. The worthy goal of these enormous efforts is to insure that these kids feel good about themselves, and failure to achieve that goal is often equated with failure as a parent. I consider it my job to teach every member of the family to succeed a little less and fail a lot more in the service of a greater goal, developing character. Teaching them to make space for failure is a monumental task and often requires begging on my part.

In my nearly 30 years as a psychologist and family therapist, I’ve learned that parents can only play one of two possible roles at any given time: cheerleader or Texas high-school football coach. The cheerleader’s main goal is to keep the spirits up. As soon as the child is born, he is offered fun activities that are sometimes mildly challenging, so long as they leave the glow of “something positive just happened” —stimulating crib toys, managed play dates, rec sports. The cheerleader has learned to “praise the effort, not the outcome” so mom and dad ignore the score and pass out prizes to all. The coach’s main job, on the other hand, is to build character. Built into that lesson is an assumption of challenge and possible, eventual failure. The aim is to develop a “character repertoire” that includes willpower and the ability to delay gratification and to accept hardship as part of life.

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that we live in an era of cheerleaders. Manysociologists and parenting experts have diagnosed (and complained) about this prevalent style. In my experience the approach works well in the younger years; there is something charming about encouraging effort over just winning, about boosting self-esteem. But then in the middle-school years it often all comes crashing down. The kids are wholly unprepared for what they’ll face and the parents, stuck in cheerleading mode, wind up like Michael and Debbie, like the parents Jennifer Senior profiles in the New York magazine cover story: desperate to “bring back that loving feeling”—the positive glow and sense of parental gratification.

Over the past decade Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck have conducted six studies of 412 fifth graders, ages 10 through 12, comparing the goals and achievements of children praised for their intelligence with those of youngsters commended for making an effort. “Praising children’s intelligence, far from boosting their self-esteem, encourages them to embrace self-defeating behaviors such as worrying about failure and avoiding risks,” said Dweck, lead author of the study. Po Bronson warned about the risks of this parenting error in his 2007 story “How Not to Talk to Your Kids.” Keep praising middle-school kids who are struggling and their grades might never recover, he writes, because they never learn strategies to deal with failure.

So what can parents do? Unfortunately, it’s really hard to motivate parents to shift from cheerleading to coaching mode this late in the game. It’s no fun, and it is not rewarding for parent nor child. It is also counterintuitive, particularly for parents who have spent more than a decade helping their child be as happy as possible and avoid pain. It requires parents to be witnesses to minor and possibly major train wrecks: getting F’s for missed homework, being sucked into the black hole of online games, discovering marijuana—things that make pet tricks look like harmless fun by comparison. The phase requires parents to tolerate anxiety, self-doubt, and failure, not just in their child but—even harder in some ways—in themselves as parents.

But it’s absolutely critical because parents and their kids construct a reality together that at this stage only the parents can undo. As parents, we can get caught in the day-to-day unfolding “story”—the simplest sequence of events in our lives. We find places for our child to have fun and succeed. He is happy. We are good parents. We are happy. End of story.

What I try to do is get parents to appreciate some grander “narrative” —a system of stories, related to each other, that extends the single “story,” say, a failure to prepare for a test, into a larger evolving narrative. Along with David Black, a clinician and research neuropsychologist at the National Institutes of Health, I am developing a program called “Transitions X: Working With Families to Build Autonomy” that includes many such experiments in teaching middle- and high-school parents and their at-risk kids independence. What’s hard is getting the parent commandos to commit to an exit strategy of gradual, real troop withdrawal because it feels to them like neglect or even abuse. We want them to evolve from what has been referred to as “Helicopter Parents” to “U-2 Parents”: observers instead of combatants—present, attentive, but largely undetected from such a distance.

So let’s say Ian spends the night before an exam doing pet tricks instead of studying, but this time, his parents, Michael and Debbie, refrain from the usual exhortations. (This is a true story, names changed) Ian fails the test, and he is demoralized. The next week he does the same thing again and still they don’t intervene. This time he’s also angry. “This really sucks, and it is your fault!” he yells at his parents. He is called into the dean’s office and asked to account for his drop in grades. The dean tells him he has to improve his performance or he’ll get placed in a lower math level.

Ian is still angry at his parents for “not caring” about him, but he really doesn’t wantto get a math demotion. This is the first time it’s occurred to him that he might not get into a great college, which is what his parents have been signaling to him is his inevitable fate. It takes a lot of work to get his parents to stick with the program at this point. Michael and Debbie were really worried he would become overwhelmed or even break down. I convinced them that if they intervened now, they would only be delaying a train wreck until the first year of college. Sooner or later, he had to learn what to do when he failed.

Used to being bailed out by his parents, Ian was confused. Eventually he came up with the idea of asking his teacher for help. The teacher was willing to help but only if Ian made the appointments himself and showed up consistently. In these private meetings, Ian learned that his revered double honors math teacher had failed calculus the first time. The teacher was blunt in telling Ian that if he did not take responsibility for his own learning, he should give up on the idea of being a math or science major in college. Ian had been counting on this teacher for a strong recommendation. Once again, his sense of inevitable success was shaken, so he was scared into being responsible. Ian is still showing up for the appointments.

Motivating kids who have reached their teenage years without accruing much intrinsic motivation is a complicated affair. Some adolescents have been shown to dramatically increase their test scores with something as simple as the promise of M&M’s. For some kids—the confident ones—cheerleading by laying the compliments on thick spurs them to take on challenges. For the less confident kids, overpraising is disastrous.

The hardest part of the parents’ task is often the quid pro quo, insisting on getting some things from their kid up front, in return for the privilege—not the inevitability but the earned privilege—of going to college. Parents have to accept that the narratives are open-ended. One never knows which “failure” will be the tipping point for an adolescent toward more effort, self-reflection, assuming responsibility, in a word, discovering inner motivation.

The reason we need to make this shift is obvious if we think about our own lives. We can very often trace significant, unexpected growth in our adult lives as emerging out of disappointments and setbacks. Perhaps as a direct result of a failure, we encounter someone who becomes a pivotal mentor, who sees a spark in us we miss. We are denied admittance to what seems like the ticket to our early dream, only to discover our calling, more subtle but more configured to our values and strengths. If you need convincing, here is a blog that chronicles the unlikely ways that musicians, artists, and other creative types got their start. All of these experiences are painful in the short term, but ultimately, hopefully, lead to a shot at happiness.


Dan Griffin is a clinical psychologist and family therapist in the greater Washington area.


4 Ways to Introduce Girls to Engineering


February 11, 2014

Here at AAUW, we have a lot vested in the future of girls in STEM-related fields. After all, our own study  has proven that it is important — both for girls and for the future of engineering — that the engineering workforce be more diverse and inclusive of women. But what can you, as a parent or sister or scout leader or whatever, do to introduce the girl in your life to engineering? We have some ideas.


Grace Hopper (center) with the early computer model UNIVACWhen little girls envision their futures, they often use women they admire as a sort of template to plan their own dreams. If the girl in your life doesn’t know any famous female computer engineers, chances are she’s not going dream of being the next Grace Murray Hopper. So do what you can to introduce her to women whose legacies are just as important as those of George Washington Carver or Neil Armstrong, whom we all know and love.

This can be as simple as watching TV shows with strong STEM women or bringing up famous women in everyday conversation. It may feel a little strange to point out that a female engineer named Margaret Knight invented the paper bags used in grocery stores, but hey, kids are curious and facts like that are bound to leave a mark.


Girl holding an electric drillFrom Super Bowl ads to remarks by lawmakers, the extremely gendered nature of contemporary girls’ toys has been in the news a lot.
According to STEM advocates, toys may be something worth worrying about. While it’s fine for the girl in your life to love her dolls, make sure that she has access to STEM-related toys that will both nurture her critical-thinking skills and inspire her imagination.

Since many of these engineering-related toys are oriented around problem solving, they can also make great projects for you and your future engineer to do together. Don’t be embarrassed if you aren’t the world’s best engineer. Seeing you bungle your way through building your own contraption may well inspire her when she’s facing her own frustrations later in life(you know, when she’s just hours away from landing in the history books and wants to quit).


Two girls in lab goggles carefully hold a test tube with a white material inside.

You may not know it yet, but you’re probably a huge role model for the girl in your life. Being a role model is amazing, but it can be a little stressful, too.

Studies show that girls begin to lose interest in science and math very early in their scholastic careers, and in many cases, their perception that math and science are harder than other subjects may be to blame. Try not to reinforce this stereotype with your own language. If she is having a hard time with her algebra homework, don’t reinforce her discouragement by mentioning that math was once the bane of your existence. Instead help her frame her struggle as a puzzle to be solved instead of something insurmountable and boring.

Kids look to their role models for cues about how to feel about almost everything, so it’s better to face your own fear of long division instead of discouraging the girl in your life away from engineering-related fields forever.


Four girls stand together holding engineered car models.

Image by Todd Kulesza

When I was a kid in school, there weren’t a whole lot of academic clubs that related to science and engineering. I was a member of the quiz bowl team and school newspaper, but that was just about it unless you count the short-lived Spice Girls fan club I founded. Thankfully, things have changed. Many schools and community groups now sponsorrobotics leagues and even host hack-a-thons. Additionally, the Girl Scouts incorporate STEM-oriented activities as a major part of their overall programming, and there are conferences like AAUW’s Tech Savvy that are designed to attract and interest young girls.

To find out if a group exists in your community, start with your local science teachers. Even if there are no local clubs, your interest may be able to help spark something that would benefit girls throughout your community. In addition to local events, look into introducing girls to aspects of the national STEM movement such as Hour of Code.

Getting the girl in your life involved with other future women engineers doesn’t have to be limited to the school year either. The number of engineering-related summer camps is growing each year, including programs such as AAUW’s own Tech Trek. Do your research. She’ll thank you later when she realizes that she isn’t the only girl who is just a little obsessed with circuit boards.


Introducing the girl in your life to engineering is probably looking pretty hands-on, but we promise you, it’s worth it. Every hour you invest in the girl in your life will not only help improve her chance of success but also make her a more well-rounded, engaged citizen, whether she pursues a STEM-related field or not.

Engineering is all about creating something new and when you see the girl in your life flush with excitement over her first “invention,” you’ll know that it’s about creating something beautiful too.

So what do you do to introduce the girl in your life to engineering? Help our readers get some more ideas by commenting below.

This post was written by AAUW Social Media intern Brittany Edwardes.

How To Be As Tough As A Drill Sargeant

By Annie Murphy Paul

Monday, February 10, 2014

Do you crumble when you encounter difficulty and stress? Do you give way at the first sign of resistance from others? Or are you mentally tough?

To be mentally tough is to resist the urge to give up in the face of failure, to maintain focus and determination in pursuit of one’s goals, and to emerge from adversity even stronger than before. Psychologists claim that almost everyone can benefit from strengthening these skills, even those people we might consider paragons of mental toughness: army drill sergeants. The U.S. military is now implementing a resilience-building program, designed by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, intended to make soldiers as rugged in mind as they are in body. This effort—one of the largest psychological interventions ever attempted—holds lessons for anyone who wants to strengthen their mental muscles.

Drill sergeants were chosen to receive the training because they’re in a position to teach the service members under their command, promoting a trickle down of psychological resilience. The program’s key message: Mental toughness comes from thinking like an optimist. “People who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local and changeable,” notes Penn psychology professor Martin Seligman, describing the intervention in a recent journal article. When such individuals encounter adversity, they think to themselves: “It’s going away quickly; it’s just this one situation, and I can do something about it.” Sergeants learn to analyze their beliefs and emotions about failure, and to avoid describing failure as permanent, pervasive and out of their control — all characterizations that undermine mental toughness.

Another pillar of psychological fortitude is the ability to resist “catastrophic thinking”—the tendency to assume the worst. Seligman’s program offers examples drawn from army life: a sergeant stationed abroad doesn’t hear from his wife back home and concludes that she’s left him; a sergeant receives a negative performance evaluation from his commending officer and immediately thinks, “I won’t be recommended for promotion, and I don’t have what it takes to stay in the army.” Participants learn to fight back against such negative thoughts, challenging their accuracy and searching for a more positive spin — while also making sure to reflect and act on genuine concerns and problems.

Lastly, the drill sergeants in Seligman’s program are taught two capacities that might seem at odds with mental toughness: gratitude and generosity. Participants learn how to “hunt for the good stuff” — to look for and appreciate the ways in which they are fortunate. And they learn not to judge too hastily subordinates who themselves seem to lack grit. The participants are offered this scenario: “A soldier in your unit struggles to keep up during physical training and is dragging the rest of the day. His uniform looks sloppy and he makes a couple of mistakes during artillery practice. You think to yourself, ‘He’s a soup sandwich! He doesn’t have the stuff of a soldier.’” The sergeants are warned against over-generalizing about others based on a few pieces of information, and encouraged to cultivate strength in junior soldiers instead of rejecting those who don’t make the grade right away.

Similar interventions with civilians have succeeded in reducing participants’ vulnerability to anxiety and depression. While evidence of the program’s effectiveness for soldiers heading into combat is still being gathered, it is hoped that enhancing resilience will help reduce the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide among service members and veterans, which has soared to record levels during the United States’ military engagement with Iraq and Afghanistan. The 10-day training session, which also focuses on building personal strengths and fostering positive relationships, can’t address every psychological issue that soldiers may face. But sergeants who graduate from the program return to drill practice with a new kind of ammunition: a keen understanding of how to toughen the mind for the daily battle against adversity.