Am I smart enough?


school picture

I’m not that smart. I don’t think my IQ would register that high. Never measured it, probably because I am afraid of the result. I am trying to improve my cognitive function theses days. I enjoy learning. I didn’t always. Which brings me to this week’s blog topic. Education. Can anyone argue against “getting a good education”. Children whose parents went to college have a tendency to go to college. Children whose parents did not go to college want their children to go so they can get get a “good education”. That way, they don’t end up in a “dead end job”. I am certainly an advocate for getting a good education. I am much more of an advocate of being intelligent and a lifelong learner. This is the question I am continually asking myself. Is going to grade school the best way to achieve intelligence, a lifelong curiosity and love of learning?

Right now, with the system we have in place, I do not think it is.

School is not a bad thing. It is a needed part of society. Kids need to be exposed to information. Parents often need somewhere for their kids to go while they are at work. And there is the social exposure that the students develop.

The problem is that schools have not evolved their curriculum and methodologies fast enough to keep up with the changing of our world. Children are not empty vessels that are simply ”filled up” with information and facts to be subsequently regurgitated on a test in order to please teachers or parents. Those who can do it well are considered smart. Those who are not interested or have trouble remembering could possibly be labeled as not bright. It seems a cruel label that can stick with a child for years. He or she might be able to build an incredible Lego building, or sing any number of songs beautifully, but to not be able to do a reading comprehension assignment on a book they didn’t particularly enjoy may affiliate them with a negative label at 6 years old. Of course, this is an oversimplification, but if it happens enough……….

Students and adults in the workforce today need creativity, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and the ability to collaborate and get along with others. Schools could be the vessel to do this, but it will take some reform.

I do not feel I was very well educated in school. It is not any of the teachers fault. They were hardworking, wonderful people who tried their best with the curriculum that they were given. I take full responsibility for not “applying” myself. I just did not like school. Fortunately I was smart enough to “do” school. In High School, I paid enough attention to pass most tests, and for those I was unsure if I would pass, I crammed the night before so that I would pass, with the information gone from my head as fast as I could answer the questions. English class was not for boys to excel in. It was “not cool”. So I barely tried at all. It did not help that the assigned reading was Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence and the like. I don’t remember ever getting a chance to choose my own books after grade 4 or 5. (Though my memory of school before grade 6 is hazy at best. My memory of last week is also hazy) I knew that I would go to university after Grade 12. It seemed the only way to get a “good” job and have a happy life. I am living proof that it is possible to go right through college (in some fields), bullshit your way through subjective courses, come out the other side with a degree, get a job, and not be all that smart.

Does any of this sound familiar? Now I am not saying a degree is a waste of time. I am not advocating that at all. And I am sure that I picked up some problem solving skills and critical thinking skills just by being there. It is much better than 4 years of watching reality TV eating Cheetos on the couch.

But for me, the amount of information I need to put into my head to get even a small portion of learning to take place seems staggering. I don’t know how to learn. School turned me off learning and it is taking me a tremendous amount of time and effort now to relearn how to learn. What is my point in this ramble? It’s the following. Young children are wired to learn. They WANT to learn. They can’t get enough of it. They can learn languages, counting, reading, empathy, compassion, and facts all on their own by 4 years of age. Why do our educational institutions take the passion to learn away from many of them?

Clearly that’s not the goal of school, but I feel it is happening in some places. I base this opinion on my own experience and my children’s experience. Standardized testing, memorization, pressure to perform, excessive homework and lack of autonomy for students can drive away the passion to learn. (I’m sure Jane Austen was a great author, but I really didn’t have a passion to read her novels when I was 16)

How do we get it back? Good question. There are people smarter than me looking at this problem and trying to find answers. (They must have applied themselves.)








The dreaded teen years…… for some of us they have arrived, for some of us they will be here before you know it. For us, we have about 6 years to prepare. Is it by default that this formative age is going to be a massive struggle and battle of wills? Is this a projection of our own teen years? Will it be a self -fulfilling prophecy?
If you expect your children to be a handful, chances are they will be. The question for many is how to mitigate the possible issues. Mitigation starts early. As early as possible, perhaps even at birth.

From what I have come to believe, the two most important things that will help parents and children navigate through their lives peacefully and with respect are modeling, and a loving connection with your kids.
I think modeling is a pretty easy concept. Kids can spot a hypocrite a mile away. They are designed to do that. So if you want your kids to eat healthy, then eat healthy. If you want your kids to be active, be active. If you want your kids to love reading, read to them and read in front of them. If you want your kids to have less screen time, then don’t watch TV in front of them. It’s a pretty simple formula, really. It may not happen the next day, but over time, they will learn, either good habits or bad. Your kids are watching you and learning from you, even when it doesn’t seem like they are paying attention. I often hear the phrase that “ kids are pretty smart”. Yes they are, and if you think they are not picking up on the fact that you are telling them to do one thing and then doing the exact opposite, then you are setting yourself up for potential battles. And we all know “actions speak louder …….”

Connecting, on the other hand, is a much harder concept to grasp. I will go out on a limb here and make the assumption that we all love our kids. We all want what we think is best for them. But by loving them, does that automatically create a connection? We have to foster a kind, gentle and open relationship with our kids, so that when they have a problem, they will come and talk with us. That’s why when a 4 year old has a screaming meltdown over a broken toy, we should try to empathize with them. For them it’s a big deal. Huge even. When they are teens and a really big deal does happen, they will have the confidence to come to us without being judged. Connecting and listening with empathy should start as young as possible.

I have heard many times that “We can’t be their friends…..” and by that statement I feel that as adults, we imply the opposite. We need to be the “ authority figure”. If we don’t tell them everything they need to know, they will NEVER be able to figure it out on their own. (That is not taking the “kids are pretty smart” philosophy} And I will agree that as parents and adults we need to set limits on our kids, not just “be their friends”. I am not advocating permissiveness. I am advocating listening to children and working on things together. Collaboration, discussion, negotiation, kindness and respect are the key to solving any problems that you may have. After all, shouldn’t this be what we all strive to do in the “real world”.

Our kids don’t have to like our decisions, but they have to have their opportunity to voice what they want and to do so in a safe environment. If this happens from a young age, then some of the issues of the teen years might be easier to handle. Wouldn’t you rather your kids come to you and have a discussion about drugs and alcohol when they encounter them? That is my goal. It may not happen, but I am choosing the methods that I think will have the best chance to get me to that goal. Let me put it this way. In an unscientific assignment of numbers, let’s say that by lecturing, grounding, punishing and yelling at kids, it will produce a teen that has a 60% chance of staying away from drugs, doing well in school, living a productive and happy life, and have a close relationship with their parents and siblings. By being respectful, empathetic, gentle and constructive, maybe we increase our odds of happy productive adults to 75%. I realize these numbers are completely arbitrary, but which would you choose? Most sane people would choose the latter. I feel that there is a much better chance of them “turning out well” by being kind and respectful. I don’t have numbers, but it simply makes sense to me. Nothing is foolproof, and there are many influences in a children’s life. Socio economics, stability, peer groups, etc. have influence on your children. My kids could end up in jail, for all I know. The future is a huge mystery to us all.

We can tell them, teach them, punish them and lecture them on the dangers of life, but will that stop them from experimentation? For some kids it might. For others who will push limits anyway and have no safety net because they may be afraid of what their parents will think or what their parents will do to them if they “get caught”, life can be a scary proposition.

Next – some great resources.

Kids Really Are Amazing!!

Starting a blog is not as easy as I thought it would be. In fact, it has taken me over two years to write this, my first post. By my math that is less then one word per day. Hopefully I can improve on that pace. I hope it wont be two years until the next post.

Why did it take so long?

Hey, it’s hard to put yourself out there for ridicule and judgment. Things like admitting that I can’t buy extra virgin olive oil at the grocery store because it reminds me too much about high school, and other potentially embarrassing things are hard to say in a public forum. I think that many people struggle with the same issues on a daily basis, at work, at home or in some social situations. I want to try and overcome these obstacles, and try to set an example for my children to follow their passions. After all, I am frequently telling my children to not be afraid of trying something new, perhaps I should follow my own advice.

With this blog, I want people to think about their own status quo and evaluate their own beliefs, thoughts, and goals about parenting and the education of our children. I plan to dive into topics that a lot of us may have questions on. What can I do if my child talks back to me? Homework vs. no homework? Are schools able to meet the needs of a changing society? I will try to pass on some the tremendous amounts of resource material that I have encountered for raising and educating children.

6 years ago, my life changed so significantly, that it forced me to evaluate ideas that I had previously believed, and also to change my goals in life. 6 Years ago I became a father of a wonderful boy.

As it turns out, parenting is hard. Who would have thought that? My parents had it so easy it seemed. Could there have been any better kids than my two brothers and I? And then, to make matters tougher, 2 years later, we went ahead and had a wonderful little girl. That was enough punishment for us.

I say “punishment” half in jest, half not. Most parents can relate to this on a substantial level. It is both the most rewarding and frustrating job I have entertained in my entire adult life. And for some of you kind enough to read this, I’m sure those feelings are ones that happen fairly frequently. Now that my kids are entering the school system, I want to ensure that they are receiving adequate knowledge, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and creativity to be happy productive members of our society. Are the adults of our future going to be creative and resilient enough to tackle new problems in the future, problems that do not even exist in our existing realm of knowledge?

I am not writing this as a recipe for “good” kids or to criticize parenting skills. We are all doing our absolute best as parents to raise our kids and help them toward a quality education and to help them become quality people. Nor do I believe there is a one size fits all approach to parenting. There can be many ways to get our children to a successful adulthood. My goal is to put forth some ideas on parenting, education and politics that may be different than what is happening in the “mainstream”. You may choose to disagree with me or with the content, and I am ok with that. I hope to generate discussion and healthy debate amongst us, so that we may learn from each other. I ask that you keep an open mind and open yourself up to new ideas and thoughts. I will do the same. I am reminded of a quote from Malcolm Gladwell,

“I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being — to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.”

Look at what your beliefs are and challenge them with alternative views, and see if they hold up to your own scrutiny.

Coming next – Parenting – How to control your kid

How to Control your Kids

Almost as soon as our firstborn was caught by the Doctor and swaddled up in a tiny blanket, I started to read books on how to do this parenting thing. I have come across many different ideologies for raising kids in the years that followed. Most of the early literature that I read started down the path of “training” your children. “Discipline” was paramount, and controlling the behavior of infants and toddlers was the goal. As I sifted through some of these books, it occurred to me that controlling our children was more for the parent’s sanity, than for the good of the child. Many of us may have been raised this way in some form or another. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was a mantra that I had heard before, and to some people raised in that manner, it may be the only way to “get” your children to do what you want them to do.

But there was one thing that nagged at me early on. I did not want my kids to ever fear me or to fear adults in general. I did not want my kids to fear that what they were doing would bring anger, hostility, or punishment from me. I wanted them to know they are loved unconditionally and valued as people, all the time.

So how do we control them without punishment? Is it possible? If you are looking for that magical answer at this point, you are going to be disappointed.
There is no doubt in my mind that as adults and parents we can control children through a series of punishments and rewards. The question is, should we? And for 8 to 10 years, you may have a model child who listens, obeys and does not act up in any given situation. Other parents speak highly of your children’s manners and you are happy with how your kids “behave”. But as kids get older, it becomes tougher and tougher to control them. They start to learn that they have a voice and they no longer want to be controlled. It is the inevitability of human nature. So, for the most formative years of their lives, they are controlled, punished, put in timeout, but did not learn one thing about self-regulation or how to handle big emotions. They just know that they have been bad. How is lacking self -control going to help them in their teen years?

I get angry with my children. I am not claiming that they are not incredibly frustrating at times. How I react in those moments of anger and frustration is the most important thing, I believe. I think children generally want to do well. They rarely intentionally try to upset or anger us as parents. The reason why they can frustrate us is that often they are busy doing their own thing and do not understand why what they are doing is “wrong” (as labeled by adults) or, why they would have to stop the activity. It makes them incredibly frustrated when they are told that they have to leave the playground or not eat that chocolate bar. Melting down may ensue, (by both parents and children in some instances.) But as young children, it is developmentally appropriate to be extremely upset at things adults may see as “little things”.

Imagine being at a restaurant with your friends, having a good time, watching the superbowl. The game is tied at the two minute warning. It’s a great atmosphere, the food is good, the beer tastes fantastic and then your significant other calls you and says it’s time to go. No emergency, it’s just time to go. Personally, I would be upset, and I might even beg for 5 more minutes, or at least until after the game. Even if I was permitted 5 more minutes, I still would not really be happy to leave.
The difference between myself in the Super Bowl situation, and my daughter having to leave the park, is that she screams bloody murder if she has to leave before she is ready. That is intensely annoying and frustrating for me, but age appropriate for her.

Many people at this point feel that now at this young age is the time they need to be “trained” or “taught”. The thinking is that if they are not taught to “behave” at a young age, they will be melting down at 13, 14 or 15 years old, maybe even as adults. I have a different view based on some of the fantastic books and blogs that I have been reading over the years.
I really try to empathize with my kids when they are upset. It does not necessarily help them to stop being upset, but it does give them a voice, it tells them I am listening and it tells them I understand. How they act as 4 year olds is not how they will act as 8 year olds if we give them a chance to develop the internal regulation that will come naturally to most.

I try my best to react with empathy and compassion as often as I can when our children get upset. I don’t always manage to do this. The demands of work, laundry, cleaning, homework, driving to activities, lack of sleep etc. will sometimes upset my applecart. And it’s not pretty. But all I ask of myself is that I try my best. The kids are counting on me.

Up Next – Connecting with your kids