The Sociopath, the Psychopath and the Wrong Path

Front Page, Health, Human Interest, Opinion/Editorial, Science

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (San Antonio Current Photo, 2017)

 

 

     Shots ring out, 14 are left dead, 29 are wounded and the shooter is dead at the scene from an apparent suicide. The motive is not known, but an investigation is underway.  Stop.  Does this sound familiar?

     It sounds familiar because it is. Five of the deadliest shootings in the United States occurred in the last ten years.  In 2007, 32 were killed at Virginia Tech.  In 2012, we had the Sandy Hook massacre and 27 were killed.  In 2016, there was the Orlando night club shooting where 49 died.  In 2017, we have had the Vegas attack and the Sutherland Springs attack with a combined total of 84 dead.  Since 2007, there have been 54 mass shootings.  In the ten year period, from  1997 to 2007, there were 23 mass shootings, and from 1987 to 1997, there were 17 mass shootings.  Based on the statistics available from Mother Jones, it appears that mass shootings are on the rise, but why?

     The easy answer and indeed what appears to be the only answer is guns. Nearly every article written about mass shootings concludes that guns and assault weapons in particular are the problem.  Without guns, there would be no mass shooting; the reasoning goes, but that is like saying, “Without cars, there would be no auto accidents.  Both statements are of course true, but neither statement addresses the cause.  Cars do not cause accidents.  Careless drivers, distracted drivers, sleepy drivers, drunk drivers, and even texting drivers cause accidents, and guns do not cause mass shootings; psychopaths do.

     Most articles on mass shootings eventually get around to the psychopath behind the gun, but it is done with great reluctance, and only after guns have been sufficiently blamed. The reluctance to label a mass murderer a psychopath is somewhat understandable.  Typically a mass murderer has not been clinically diagnosed as a psychopath, and in fact, the term psychopath has fallen out of favor for a more politically correct term.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM IV) used by psychologists and psychiatrists contains a category called “antisocial personality disorder” (APD) which covers both the psychopath and the sociopath.  While it is true,  mass murderers exhibit antisocial behavior.  It seems to me that referring to their mental condition as an antisocial personality disorder is inadequate to describe the morally depraved mind of a mass murderer.  For that reason, I will use the more descriptive term psychopath.  With that said, I will attempt to shed light on  the question, why is the frequency of mass murder on the rise?

     To be accurate both the frequency and the magnitude of mass murder is increasing. The impact of advertising, the moral decay of society and drugs are perhaps three of the contributing factors.  Radio, television, and other media coverage of mass murder functions as advertising and encourages other psychopaths to act out at some future time.  Often sensational headlines glorify the killing which inspires more killings.  Headlines can also offer a challenge.  Consider this headline from CBS News, “Two of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history come just 35 days apart.” I can imagine some psychopath reading that headline and saying to himself, wait until they get a load of what I can do.  Perhaps a better headline would have been written like this, “Two low-life psychopaths dead at the scene just 35 days apart.”  Sometimes headlines convey sympathy for the psychopath like this one, “He was the loneliest kid I’d ever met.”  That was the headline for a 14-year-old that killed his algebra teacher and two classmates.  The headline might have read, “Deranged 14-year-old murders his teacher and two classmates.” Certainly news coverage of mass murder is necessary, but the media should be careful not to glorify or sympathize with the psychopath and cover mass murder with an awareness that coverage can advertise.

     Acting out in our contemporary society appears to be the norm. It matters not whether you are taking a knee during the National Anthem, creating riots in the streets, or merely changing your gender.  Acting out is trendy and cool and is usually encouraged in the media.  However, being trendy and cool is merely symptomatic of changing values or moral decay in society.  As values change, actions that were once forbidden by society are now permitted.  The more values change, the more permissive society becomes until you reach the point that psychopaths feel it is okay to act out their macabre fantasies.  It is my belief that as values continue to be eroded, mass murders will continue to rise as they have in recent years.

     This notion is borne out by the immanent Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung.  In Carl Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, Jung mentions an  element of latent sociopathy and psychopathy within any given culture.  Perhaps 10 percent of a society is composed of latent sociopaths and psychopaths, and 1 percent or less represents actual sociopaths/psychopaths. Most of the latent people will never become dangerous if they are living within a culture that is healthy and morally balanced.  In fact, those with inherent psychopathic traits can become very high functioning members of society who excel at careers in business, government, and the arts.  However, in the event values continue to erode, latent sociopaths/psychopaths have the potential to become active sociopaths/psychopaths and act out as they see fit.  It is a disturbing prospect to consider that the mentally disturbed 1 percent could evolve into 10 percent.

Website Graphs - Violence
Note: The FDA estimates that less than 1% of all serious events are ever reported to it, so the actual number of side effects occurring are most certainly higher. (CCHR International Mental Health Watchdog)

     If the prospect of a growing number of psychopaths is not disturbing enough, then consider that the problem is compounded by the use of pharmaceutical drugs. Most readers will have seen more than one commercial for a drug with side effects including suicide and violent behavior.  If you doubt the truth of this, then pay attention to the next Chantix commercial you see.  Chantix is administered to smokers to help curb cigarette cravings, but it is 18 times more likely to be linked to violent behavior than other drugs. Even more interesting is the unadvertised psychotropic drugs administered to children.  Today more than 10 million children are prescribed addictive psychotropic drugs with the warning the drugs can cause suicide in children and adolescents.  In fact, according to the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System, the following drugs are linked to violence:  Pristiq, Effexor, Luvox, Halcion, Strattera, Lariam, Paxil, Prozac and Chantix.  Most of the drugs are antidepressants and are often prescribed for the treatment of ADHD in children.  It is probably just me, but it seems we are taking the wrong path when we give children with mental problems a drug that will increase the likelihood of suicide and violence.  I am not aware of any studies that link pharmaceutical drugs to mass murder, but it is interesting to note that Stephen Paddock, Devin Patrick Kelley, and Dylann Roof all had mind altering prescription drugs prior to their killing spree.  Perhaps we are no nearer to answering the question, which came first the drugs or the psychopath?  But should we deny the connection?

     We can continue to blame guns for mass shootings because it is easy, and it fits a political agenda. However, if we want to know the cause of mass shootings we need to look elsewhere. After all, “The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions,”  according to Claude Levi-Strauss.

Until next time…

Please follow and like us:

A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

Baby Blues

Front Page, Human Interest, Opinion/Editorial, Science

 

     Prior to World War II if you mentioned “baby blues”, it would have been understood that you were referring to eye color. Now, a reference to “baby blues” might refer to the feelings of depression experienced by some mothers following childbirth.  This is especially true following the birth of the second set of twins or triplets.  However, I am referring to the blue eye color and the variants green and hazel.  Most babies of European decent are born with blue eyes giving rise to the expression “baby blues.”

     As it turns out, a baby’s blue eyes might change color during the first year and the eye color could change to green, hazel or even brown.  It is worth noting that no human eye has blue pigment.  The only pigment in human eyes  is brown (melanin).  Blue eye color is caused by a lesser amount of the brown pigment required to produce brown eyes.  Eye color is actually determined by the way light waves are reflected back out of the eye in much the same way as the sky is colored blue. Brown eyes result from high concentrations of brown pigment in the iris which causes light of both shorter and longer wavelengths to be absorbed.  In blue-eyed people, the shorter wavelength light is reflected back resulting in the blue color.

 

     Blue eyes occur in all parts of the globe, but brown eyes make up 75-90% of the world’s eye color, and it is believed that all humans had brown eyes up until ten thousand years ago.  It is also believed that blue eyes are the result of the mutation of a single individual in Europe which led to the development of blue eyes according to the theory of Hans Eiberg, associate professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Copenhagen.  It should be noted that  professor Eiberg’s theory fails to explain how a single individual was able to spread his eye color throughout the world population.   Blue eyes are common in northern and eastern Europe around the Baltic Sea, and DNA studies on ancient human remains confirm light eyes were present tens of thousands of years ago in Neanderthals, who lived in Eurasia for 500,000 years.  Currently the earliest blue-eyed remains of Homo Sapiens were found in Sweden and  were 7,700 years old.

     According to Brandon Gaille’s market based research, the percentage of the population with blue eyes of the United States is on the decline and now stands at 17% while worldwide blue eyes are 8% of the population.  However, in Finland and Estonia, 89% of their population has blue eyes.  In Ireland,  57% of the population has blue eyes, and 29% of the population has green eyes.  In Iceland 89% of women and 87% of men have either blue or green eye color, but  a study of Icelandic and Dutch adults found green eyes are much more prevalent among women.  Worldwide green is the rarest of eye colors and occurs in 1-2 % of the population.

     As a disclaimer, I should say that the numbers used  in eye color worldwide varies greatly depending on the source.  Apparently eye color distribution has not been well studied, but the study of eye color over all has led to some interesting findings.  Brown eye color has been associated with lower pain tolerance, increased sensitivity  to alcohol, lower sensitivity to bright light, lower night vision, and quicker reaction time.  Exploratory research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh  with 58 healthy pregnant women determined that women with blue or green eyes had a higher threshold for pain compared to their brown-eyed counterparts before and after labor.  The research team of the department of psychology at Georgia State University found that blue-eyed subjects were less sensitive to alcohol and therefore consumed significantly more alcohol  than brown-eyed subjects. They concluded that the greater sensitivity to alcohol in brown-eyed people resulted in reduced alcohol  addiction.  The study concluded that blue-eyed people are more likely to abuse alcohol than brown-eyed people.  This lends credibility to the old Western movie notion that you should not give “fire water”  to “red men.”

     Melanin is thought to protect the eye by absorbing light. Therefore brown-eyed people have more melanin and are less sensitive to bright light than blue-eyed people.  On the other hand, blue-eyed people are more sensitive to light and more prone to macular degeneration.  So, as ZZ Top would say, “Get yourself a pair of cheap sunglasses.”  People with blue eyes have a better night vision than those with dark-colored eyes.  From an evolutionary standpoint it  seems to make sense. Since  blue-eyed people evolved in the northern  part of the  world,  where there are long dark winter nights.  It is believed that blue eyes help man navigate their dark domain.  Apparently evolution did not work the same for the Inuit or Sami Laplanders herding reindeer. A study by the University of Louisville found that brown-eyed subjects had better reaction time and motor skills when performing tasks such as hitting a ball or boxing.  It should come as no surprise that the baseball legend Babe Ruth used a Louisville Slugger and was brown-eyed.  The study found blue-eyed subjects were better at tasks such as bowling and golf.  This could explain why golf was developed in Scotland.

     While the study of eye color has produced some unusual findings, it is interesting to consider that all blue-eyed people could trace their ancestry  to a single individual with a mutated gene meaning that all blue-eyed people are related.  Since this is not yet settled science it could well be that blue eyes are the result of visit by a blue-eyed extra terrestrial in our ancient past.  Either way eyes are fascinating and blue eyes, well they are captivating, but it is the vision that matters, and “Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye,” according to H. Jackson Brown. Jr.

 

Until next time…

Please follow and like us:

A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

The Ultimate Pillar of Success: Be an Existential DJ

Arts, Education, Front Page, Human Interest, Opinion/Editorial, Science

       Imagine the sheer astonishment of Leonardo Da Vinci if he were suddenly alive and flying in a 747 at 35,000 feet above the ground. Can you see his mind-body – all his senses – become arrested in a state of complete Nirvana? Can you see him gasping at the recognition and acknowledgment of the fact that one of his wildest luminary visions is now a reality. The nature of humanity, however, suggests that the sublime bliss of this experience is likely to dissipate by more than half by the time he sets foot on his return flight. The emotional return on the experience will continue to diminish with each passing flight until one day he will get on the airplane, shut his window, shut his eyes, and hope for a new dream to entertain him during the hours that follow.

         What happened to his awe? What happened to the ecstasy? This diminished return on experience is known as, hedonic adaptation (def. the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative life events or changes). It so happens that being awestruck is the key to being our best selves, the key to our inspiration, and the key to liberating our inner genius. When in a state of utter surprise, we are attentive, we learn more, we think and perform better. These behaviors define what it means to be in an ecstatic state of mind (aka – a “flow state” or “the zone”). Unfortunately, the more exposed we become to the goings-on of the world around us, the less surprised or compelled we are by anything that happens, and the less affected we are by the sheer magnificence that engulfs being a living, breathing human being.

          So how do we transcend the been-theres and done-thats of our adult minds – the banality of our everyday lives? Can we reverse-engineer the experiences that allow us to use our minds in the most optimal way and tap into our highest potential? Legendary observationist, Charles Darwin, said: “Attention, if sudden and close, graduates to surprise; and this into astonishment; and this into stupefied amazement.”

Charles Darwin resting against pillar covered with vines.

           But how many of us today have the attention span of Charles Darwin? And how, in a world where the patience to pay attention to any one thing is so rapidly in decline, can we mindfully slow down and focus for long enough to become interested? Might this not explain why children seem less and less likely to sit through a full-length movie, but prefer instead to watch YouTube?

 

       We know that our minds and moods are dictated by neurochemistry. After years of examination, science seems to have become fairly accurate in identifying scenarios that trigger the chemicals which cause us to feel, think, and act in the various ways that we do. So, if scientists can predict which chemical will be released during a given situation, then we should be able to – using a variety of methods – author our own neurochemical Nirvana. Timothy Leery obviously believed so. And his “trippy” method, though highly controversial and ultimately unsuccessful, is still very much in use today. MDMA, for instance, is being prescribed to PTSD and OCD patients on a regular basis, and in many of these cases is being reported to have, in one afternoon, the same effect of 10 years of psychotherapy. (And yes, I did just use 3 acronyms in one sentence.) Using drugs as tools or loopholes to alter our state of consciousness in search of ecstasy is no doubt a controversial topic. But perhaps, through a delicate and mindful combination of psychology, technology, and pharmacology, the future will allow us to engineer our own paradise, offering us the proverbial “red pill”, a super-drug that has managed to dispense the bathwater and reprieve only the baby.

      Pharmaceuticals, however, are nowhere near our only hope. Neurochemicals, after all, are stimulated naturally and require no drug whatsoever if the human in question is disciplined enough to seek the proper experience and dedicate himself to the time and patience necessary to become submerged in said experience. For some, such ecstasy may be rendered through a specific artistic endeavor, or by spanning time in some natural or designed heterotopia; outer vastness reflects inner vastness, after all. Others might meet their hedonistic needs through meditation or Yoga, or maybe through an extreme sport where the risk of danger or injury is present. Personally, I haven’t found a high quite so exhilarating as that of leaping from the top of a tall cliff into a deep, glassy body of water. Though it is a very short rush, facing the fear of what I perceive in the moment (accurately or not) as falling to my death leaves me feeling completely alive.

 

       No matter the method, bliss and sublime well-being are consciously achievable and are not limited to fleeting moments which lie outside of our control. The final frontier has been said to be outer space, but I would contend that perhaps there is a final-final frontier, one which consists of our own inner space. You don’t need to be a “flow-junky” or a philosophical hedonist to aspire to have the key to your own happiness and your own gift of genius. As Brain Games host, Jason Silva, puts it, “Ask yourself: What makes me feel alive? What gives me the goosebumps? What makes me well up?” When you have the answer to these questions, make note of the surroundings – both those which lie without as well as those which lie within. Nail down the formula, and then, like a DJ with all the tools at your fingertips, tweak and tailor each component. Mix, match, and harmonize your own Nirvana.

Please follow and like us:

Matthew Thornton is an Austin-based artist and a history teacher. Originally from Corpus Christi, his wide-sweeping artistic interests range from writing and film-making to photography and painting. His work and studies explore patterns within the endless nuance of life as he remains constantly in search of the so-called, “big picture”.

A Mastodon in Flour Bluff?

Flour Bluff, Local history, Science

 

     It appears that mastodons walked the shores of Oso Creek in Flour Bluff over 25,000 years ago.  According to a January 1, 1954, Corpus Christi Caller-Times article, the discovery of a large tooth weighing nearly 18 pounds led to the uncovering of an entire skeleton of the prehistoric elephant on the east bank of Oso Creek off Yorktown Boulevard.

     Travis Berlet, civil engineer for the Houston Natural Gas Corporation, unearthed the tooth on his 11-acre property off Yorktown where the road crosses Oso Creek over the old Mud Bridge. According to the article, “He found part of the tooth sticking out of an eroded area back of his house.  He broke part of it while digging it out.”  Berlet, who was an authority on the subject, estimated the age of the mastodon based on the condition of the tooth.  It was the second mastodon find by Berlet.  The first was found in the clay banks of Galveston Bay near Kennah, Texas, in 1928.

Caller-Times photo from January 1, 1954

     Berlet said that his property lay in the midst of a geological fault that is believed to extend as far as Copano Bay.  A fault is a fracture in the earth, usually caused by an earthquake.  The Caller-Times reported that mastodons are found most frequently in faults because they wash up more easily.  Berlet, who moved to Corpus Christi in 1941, said his mastodon was the first unearthed in the Flour Bluff area.  The discovery occurred 62 years ago.  At that time, Berlet planned on contacting Texas A & I in Kingsville and Del Mar College to see if anyone was interested in extracting the beast.  For now, this is all that has been uncovered in terms of the story behind the article.

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Peace, Love, and Play: Our Future Generations

Education, Front Page, Human Interest, Science, Teachers' Corner

Peace. Love. Play.

This motto perfectly describes the Mamma Mel’s Learning Center, a bilingual, progressive early childhood program in Rincón, Puerto Rico. The school offers a full immersion model, exposing the students, ages 3-8, to English and Spanish every day, all day. Melanie Smith, the program director, believes that children learn through play, and she has created a beautiful, eco-friendly space for the kids, including an art studio, organic vegetable garden, yoga classes, and music.

The Mamma Mel’s curriculum emphasizes respect and love for the environment and our small community… which is where I come in. Since August, my Tuesday afternoons have been filled with the laughter of K-2 students during our weekly oceanography workshops. As a marine scientist, who spent nearly 10 years in academic research, I have discovered my true passion involves ocean education and outreach. Teaching my community, and especially its children, about the sea, a crucial resource that we are inextricably linked to, provides an incredible opportunity to “give back”, after having the privilege of living my dream of becoming an oceanographer.

A firm believer in hands-on education, I have an amazing opportunity to teach these students outside, at the beach. They take a stroll to the ocean for lunch and play;  then we begin our lessons about the deep blue sea. Their eagerness to learn, week after week, astounds me, and they can hardly wait for the topic of the day to be announced. We have covered everything from biology to geology, from the ocean zones to how beaches are formed. The children have created their own marine food chains, learned about sea turtles, built a coral reef, and imagined life as the tiny, microscopic plankton that support the entire ocean food web.

My favorite workshop focused on marine pollution and debris, which is a huge threat to the health of our oceans. Plastics are, by far, the worst offender. Did you know that ~74 million pounds of plastic are spread throughout the world’s ocean gyres (circular currents)? Over 50% of all marine mammal species on the threatened list have been observed entangled in or ingesting plastic. Tiny, toxic micro-plastics have increased 100 times in the North Pacific Gyre over the past 40 years and are eaten by marine life, which then are consumed by us.

After discussing the problems with ocean trash and how long it takes to biodegrade, the students happily (and quite enthusiastically) helped with a beach cleanup, filling an entire garbage bag in less than 15 minutes. They were so proud of every piece of trash, and my heart filled with joy while observing their precious hands tidying Mother Earth. To wrap up our lesson, we made a pact to reduce the amount of trash we created, pick up litter during every beach visit, and share what we learned with friends and family.

As I watched the kids walking, with lunch boxes in hand, back to school, I realized the importance and impact of spending time with our future generations. It truly makes a difference. We are leaving this planet to these brilliant and passionate children, who deserve a beautiful Earth to enjoy and care for.

What can you do to help minimize marine debris? Use less plastic. Recycle. Opt for reusable bags. Cut apart plastic 6-pack rings before disposal. Avoid single use plastics (straws, utensils, plates, to-go cups, water bottles, etc.). Bring your own to-go containers.

I dedicate this piece to my mom, Cindy Schwierzke, a beloved Flour Bluff ISD kindergarten teacher, who passed in 2012. Her legacy shines bright.

Source: One World, One Ocean. The Plastics Breakdown: An Infographic. http://www.oneworldoneocean.com/blog/entry/plastics-breakdown-an-infographic

Please follow and like us:

Leslie is the creator of Mindful Dine, a community dedicated to inspiring nutritious eating and healthy living. She is a self-taught cook, writer, marine scientist, ocean lover and wellness advocate. Leslie is passionate about wholesome, healing food and enjoys inspiring others to be active participants in their health. A native Texan, she now lives in Puerto Rico with her husband.

Sorry I Forgot I Am Here

Education, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial, Science, Teachers' Corner

Courtesy of scontent-a-sea.xx.fbcdn.net

 

     If the title of this article seems a bit ambiguous, it is.  I did not write it; my 8th-grade granddaughter did.  When I dropped her at school just as morning was breaking, I asked her to send me a text when she got inside the building so that I would know that she arrived safely.  She agreed, then promptly forgot.  When I finally received her text, I laughed out loud.  Had she arrived safely, or was she distraught at not knowing the status of her existence?  Texting, tweeting, and other modes of short, fast communication are ruining the fine art of writing.  Add to that a general lack of practice in the modern English classroom, and we find that we have a generation of kids who are not adept at producing good writing.  Let’s face it.  They text and tweet more than they write formal compositions, which means they are practicing bad writing all day long.  But wait, there’s more!

text

     In the August edition of the Texas Lone Star, a publication of the Texas Association of School Boards, writer Ellie Hanlon addresses this topic in Texas.  She refers to an article in the Education Post that describes the “angst of employers who have to manage far too many employees who cannot produce comprehensible written material.”  She further notes that writing assessment results in Texas have been poor, with only 72 percent of seventh-grade students meeting even the very basic standards in 2015.  As a teacher who taught writing successfully for nearly thirty years, I will add one more reason for the lack of writing skills in Texas: ten years of over 80% of Texas schools using a heavily criticized, error-riddled, “teach-to-the-test”, scripted, K-12 online educational curriculum (CSCOPE).  Teachers are struggling to recover from its adverse effects in many areas, only one of which is writing.  Because it was in existence for so long, even many graduating college students are unable to write a decent sentence or paragraph these days.

     Prior to CSCOPE, teachers who asked their students to write regularly, deducted points for style and mechanical errors, and insisted on complete sentences for all responses created good writers. Writing is one of those subjects that only has so much to learn in terms of the mechanics of the skill. Once students learn the rules, that’s it.  No one is inventing new ones.  However, as the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”  In Frans Johansson’s book, The Click Momentthe author contends that “deliberate practice is a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures.” For example, in tennis, chess, classical music, and writing, the rules never change, so you can study up to get better and even become a master.   One of the many weaknesses in CSCOPE was its lack of direct writing instruction coupled with lots of independent – not group – practice.  When teachers and parents fail to insist that their children use the skills they have acquired – well and often – they will lose them.  Students must practice good writing at least as much as they are practicing bad writing.  So, how can the teacher and the parent help the child become a better writer?

     Hanlon’s article offers up a few valid questions for all educators to ponder as they attempt to overcome the deficiencies in reading, writing, and speaking:

  • Are students reading, writing, and discussing ideas every day in all classes?
  • Are students reading and writing a variety of text types?
  • Are students revising and editing written work by incorporating feedback from teachers and peers?
  • Are students learning how to use reading, writing, and thinking skills to learn new material and develop ideas in ALL content areas?

     Reading, writing, and speaking skills may be taught in the English class, but they must be practiced in all classes and – yes –  even at home.  Here’s a list of questions I devised for parents of these little destroyers of the language:

  • Are parents discussing matters of importance with their children and asking them questions that promote thoughtful responses?
  • Are parents asking their children to tell about their daily experiences using rich detail and good story order?
  • Are parents taking the time to read articles from newspapers, magazines, and books with their children to prompt such discussions?
  • Are parents insisting that their children speak clearly and explain or defend their thoughts?
  • Are parents checking homework for legibility, clarity, and logical thinking and asking their children to re-write the responses when even one of these elements is missing?
  • Are parents asking questions that encourage the children to be more specific in their responses?  That is, are they teaching them to elaborate?

     Even pre-school children can carry on intelligent conversations, think logically, articulate their positions on a wide variety of topics, and turn those thoughts into elaborate, coherent stories. Texas kids and teachers are recovering from the Dark Ages in Texas education, (aka, the CSCOPE era), a time when a one-size-fits-all curriculum traded creative thought and lively discourse in the classroom for mindless group work and repetitive lessons that were geared toward a test score instead of an education.  If our children are to become adept at writing, we must ask them to read the master writers.  When Arnold Samuelson interviewed Ernest Hemingway and picked his brain on how to become a master writer, Hemingway handed him a piece of paper and said, “Here’s a list of books any writer should have read as a part of his education… If you haven’t read these, you just aren’t educated. They represent different types of writing. Some may bore you, others might inspire you, and others are so beautifully written they’ll make you feel it’s hopeless for you to try to write.”  When students read great writing regularly, their brains are exposed to the patterns of language in a meaningful way.  The titles are below:

  1. The Blue Hotel (public library) by Stephen Crane
  2. The Open Boat (public library) by Stephen Crane
  3. Madame Bovary (free ebook | public library) by Gustave Flaubert
  4. Dubliners (public library) by James Joyce
  5. The Red and the Black (public library) by Stendhal
  6. Of Human Bondage (free ebook | public library) by W. Somerset Maugham
  7. Anna Karenina (free ebook | public library) by Leo Tolstoy
  8. War and Peace (free ebook | public library) by Leo Tolstoy
  9. Buddenbrooks (public library) by Thomas Mann
  10. Hail and Farewell (public library) by George Moore
  11. The Brothers Karamazov (public library) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  12. The Oxford Book of English Verse (public library)
  13. The Enormous Room (public library) by E.E. Cummings
  14. Wuthering Heights (free ebook | public library) by Emily Brontë
  15. Far Away and Long Ago (free ebook | public library) by W.H. Hudson
  16. The American (free ebook | public library) by Henry James
  17. Not on the handwritten list but offered in the conversation surrounding the exchange is what Hemingway considered “the best book an American ever wrote,” the one that “marks the beginning of American literature” — Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (public library)

     Long before Hemingway’s advice to Samuelson, Benjamin Franklin knew the importance of emulating the masters.  He was so embarrassed of his writing skills that he sat for hours copying the writings of the literary greats.  He knew something then that many have forgotten or just ignore:  Practice makes perfect.  Even the latest brain research supports what ol’ Ben was doing; he was learning the patterns of writing by practicing what good writers do. If we want to get better at anything, we must put ourselves in situations where we can hone the skill by learning the simple patterns of language that lay the foundation for understanding and producing more complex patterns through regular practice.  Leslie Hart wrote in a scholarly article about how the brain is a pattern-seeking device.

The brain is not logical or sequential in the ways it takes in and makes meaning of input from the world outside. Instead, it is constantly searching for patterns to understand in the surrounding environment. In their instruction, teachers should allow students to identify, understand, and apply patterns. We cannot predict what any one particular child will perceive as a pattern because so much depends upon prior knowledge, the existing neural networking of the brain used to process the input, and the context in which the learning takes place.

print-headlines

       To be clear, my granddaughter knew what was wrong with her text, and she chuckled about it, too, but we had “the talk” anyway. She is not offended when her granny points out or corrects her errors. After all, everyone makes a mistake now and then, even Granny. (She really enjoys catching me out, as do most of my friends and family.)  Her cousin got a similar talk from me when he was doing his math homework last week.  He tried to use a sentence fragment to answer a math question that required that he give the reason behind a wrong answer from a make-believe student. He wrote: “Because she multiplied by 2 instead of 3.” I made him erase and write a complete thought with proper punctuation: “Because the girl multiplied by 2 instead of 3, she got the wrong answer.”  I learned this from my seventh-grade English teacher, Miss Waterman.  Thanks goodness she set me on the proper path of using complete thoughts because my senior English teacher, Mrs. Lawson, required that we stand and address her in proper English, which meant using good grammar, good sentence structure, and clear speech.  It was good training. (She would be proud that I don’t allow children, mine or anyone else’s, to mumble an answer.  Clear speech is as important as legible handwriting if the message is to be conveyed.)  We must serve as the examples for proper speech and writing, planting language patterns in the brains of our children if we want to help them get better at such an important skill, a skill that is in danger of destroying our ability to express our thoughts.

For more information on how the brain works, visit:  http://nationalgeographic.org/education/brain-games/

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Futurism – Is It Natural to Become More Man-Made

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial, Science

     In an age where smart phones are visibly evolving to become a part of our hands, and during which we carry more knowledge in our pockets than we can hold in our heads, we must take pause and ask ourselves: What is the real meaning of natural selection? What will our species become in the next 100 years? 500 years? Are we turning science-fiction into science-fact? Will the future be less about building robots and more about building ourselves into robots?

future 

     I was listening to popular futurist, Ray Kurzweil, speak about the exponential growth of humanity as it relates to technology, and he posed an example regarding books. His idea is that books and learning take too long (a fact I have always recognized). Soon, we will be able to link our brains to the cloud and access every book we ever wanted to read but didn’t have time to do so. The information will just be stored in there for us to reference while at work or during casual conversation. Imagine the pattern association involved in having so much information readily available. Imagine the infinite possibility that would result from such exponential growth of knowledge. The 1980’s hit, Short Circuit, may have gotten it wrong when Johnny Five blazingly flipped through book after book, absorbing “input”, as he so famously called it. There will be no need for turning pages. We will simply plug in and connect to input. No longer will there be issues surrounding a lack of information, but only the problem of deciding which information to use and how best to use it. This, of course, is just one mind-blowing example from the utterings of futurists like Mr. Kurzweil.

     Oddly enough, at least once a day, I look at my 12-year-old students at school as they obsess over their smart phones, and I fear the years ahead. As I watch them, my predicting mind envisions a future that looks more like Mike Judge’s Idiocracy than that of the one imagined by Ray Kurzweil. My inner-monologue goes something to the effect of: “Our devices make us dumber because they do all the work, and do it so fast that careful thought is rendered unnecessary, and we are left with too much time on our hands and not nearly enough productive ways with which to fill it, meaning we will end up spending our days eating junk that rots our guts and watching rubbish that fries our brains…” Okay, I just became my mom between the years of 1987 and 1997 (I was a part of the MTV generation, after all).

kids-on-cell-phones

     Perhaps Kurzweil’s vision will play out in the reality of those who are driven, and Judge’s vision will play out in those who are not – thus creating the largest ever divide between those who are smart and those who are stupid (I am purposely avoiding the use of politically correct language in order to avoid confusion).  Sooo… should extremist egalitarians stop supporting technology in order to prevent any such divide and revive the hippy-communal movement of the Sixties where everyone gave up their technology and their possessions (and their jobs), and spent their days in Golden Gate Park indulging in Timothy Leary’s chemistry experiment which turned hate into love, love into confusion, and confusion back into hate? I digress…

     The truth is, like it or not, technology is growing at an exponential rate and is shaping our lives in the same way. Tools are meant to extend our reach, and if used appropriately, do so. When we imagine extra-terrestrials from some far-flung galaxy in deep space being so far ahead of our own evolution that they have mastered interstellar travel, a little piece of us smiles inside at the sheer wonderment of what could be. Much of what is impossible today will become the reality of tomorrow. And the astonishment of our imaginings will not be so astonishing when such dreams come true because they will do so as part of a natural and practical process. When I think back to being 8 years old, imagining the day I might hold a phone to my ear in a red, white, and blue corvette (it was definitely the 80’s), I laugh because we have actually reached the point where holding a phone to your ear in a car is not only possible, but has been for so long that we have learned it to be dangerous, and thus, have made it illegal. What a big thing I thought I was dreaming at the time, but when the day came that I could actually drive and talk on a phone at the same time, I wasn’t so astonished because the change occurred gradually and in a way that made good sense. When I was 8, my imaginings were more magical, more fantastical. An emotional letdown perhaps, but it doesn’t change the fact that my wildest childhood dreams became child’s play reality in less than 20 years. If the curve continues as it has, who knows what I stand to see as an old man.

     When I think of what is natural, however, technology and its astronomical progression does not immediately seem to fit the mold. After all, natural, we are taught, is that which is not man-made. But is it not natural to evolve, to build tools that allow us to build more tools, and to use anything we have at our disposal to see as far as we can at any given moment?  Yes – the tools, like the times, they are a changin’ – but the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same. Apart from the tools themselves, is anything we are doing really so different at the core? Two-hundred years from now, there will be an entirely new population of people on earth, all with better tools that will allow them to build even better tools, and my mind lingers around the idea that they, too, will be dancing around the same thoughts that I have today.  Perhaps the new natural is building devices that aid us in becoming more assured in our health and more advanced in our minds – more “man-made.”  Of course, this all assuming that we as a people do not suddenly decide to settle where we are with the tools we have and stop moving forward.

Please follow and like us:

Matthew Thornton is an Austin-based artist and a history teacher. Originally from Corpus Christi, his wide-sweeping artistic interests range from writing and film-making to photography and painting. His work and studies explore patterns within the endless nuance of life as he remains constantly in search of the so-called, “big picture”.