Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Myth of the Spoiled Child


I really thought I would be too busy gardening this summer to read.  I am so excited that I have, in fact, read 2 books in the past 2 weeks.  Yay!

A friend of mine told me, “I loathe the word ‘spoiled’ when it applies to anything other than rotten food.”  After reading The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn, I fully agree with her.

I should state that I was introduced to this book via  I should also state that the link I just provided isn’t the one that I read.  What I read was a chapter excerpt which prompted me to get the book from the library.

In the interest of social change, Kohn argues that there are many misconceptions about how children are being raised today.  He argues convincingly that they are not, in fact, more spoiled, entitled, rude, etc. than the children raised years ago.  He also uses the book as a platform to argue for unconditional parenting–a topic explored in depth in one of his previous books called… Unconditional Parenting.

Since I am also interested in and committed to positive change, here are some parts of the book that I found intriguing:

– Every generation for thousands of years has complained about the generation that will succeed it–even the ancient Greeks!  A well-worn tune, apparently.

– Most of the complaints about children’s behavior is anecdotal and not research-based.

– Many children are still not being heard, cooperated with or listened to about things that matter to them either at home or at school.


– Listen to children.

– Promote skepticism, media literacy and help children learn how to question authority.

– Encourage solutions for positive change by engaging in projects that reject a status quo that is not helping children reach their potential.

– Parent by “working with” your children, instead of “doing to.”

One section, in particular, stood out for me as both a teacher and a parent.  It was about “deep modeling” as opposed to simply modeling behavior.  Kohn asserts that modeling a certain behavior, while useful, can be made even more effective by taking it a step further by “deep modeling.” He uses the example of an instructor who tries to solve a problem, makes mistakes, corrects them, and works toward a solution.  He suggests that students will learn in the process to feel less anxious about making mistakes themselves and will also be more aware of the process behind problem solving, that it takes work, errors, revisions and so on.  I found this compelling because I have always questioned myself when I don’t have a ready explanation for Philip for why we aren’t going to do something that he wants or when I make a mistake while writing on the dry erase board in the classroom.  In the former, I chide myself for being a confusing parent.  In the latter, I feel as if my students have concluded that I’m an idiot with no grasp of the subject matter.  Reading this section, however, was quite reassuring for me.  It also gave me some ideas for more collaborative work in the classroom.

This weekend, we celebrated part of Philip’s birthday in Chicago.  One of his gifts was a trip to the Adler Planetarium.  While we were in the Planet Explorers exhibit, Philip was busy building a robot jetpack with PVC pipes and I was enjoying the show.  Nearby, there is a magnetic cogs station.  At this site, you take wooden magnetic cogs of different colors and sizes and try to get them to interact and spin on a magnetic board.  I watched casually as a young boy worked diligently to align and interlock nearly all the cogs in the station.  While he was designing his master work, his father visited.  He told the boy that the design wouldn’t work because there was too much weight.  The father tried to twirl one side with his fingers to illustrate his point and then he started relocating some of the cogs.  The boy protested.  The father persisted.  The boy protested again.  The father persisted.  Eventually, the father walked away and I could tell he was thinking, “Geesh, I was just trying to help.  I was just trying to have a little fun.  My kid is so…(insert your descriptor here).”  The boy continued his work.  A few minutes later, his father returned.  It was almost like watching an instant replay.  The same remarks were made.  The same attempts were made by the man to change the boy’s work and correct it.  The same verbal objections were voiced by the boy.

I don’t know how this all ended up.  My memory tells me that the boy eventually abandoned the project, but that may not have been the case.  More likely, Philip began to show me something about his project and I forgot all about the boy at the station.  But, it did get me to thinking about this book and the importance of having children become thinking, questioning and passionate adults.  Further, I saw that, as parents, we have to resist our urges and see things from our child’s perspective and not just our own.  It isn’t easy.  It takes time.  But, I believe it is worth the effort.

In one of my favorite movies, Contact, with Jodie Foster, there’s an exchange between her character and Dr. Drumlin (her adversary and former boss).  He tells her something to the effect, “It’s a cruel world out there” (suggesting that he knows how to navigate it and his lying to get on the ship was justified) and she says, “I’m sorry.  I thought the world is what we make of it.”  I love that line and I fully agree with her sentiment.

I think the world is what we make of it and it is also one that our children make.  Thankfully, there are a lot of people trying to make the world a better place.  I am grateful that Alfie Kohn, despite all of the challenges he has seen in education and parenting, is still trying to do just that.  I hope more people are inspired, as I am, to keep trying.


Missing Microbes


It seemed like only a month or so ago (turns out it was 3) that I listened to Terry Gross interview Dr. Martin J. Blaser about his new book, Missing Microbes on NPR’s Fresh Air on my way to work.  I was so fascinated that I decided to get it from my local library.  After waiting patiently in the queue, I received the e-mail announcing that the book was finally available for me to check out.  Hooray!

I learned a lot about the microbiome in the book.  While I knew that we all share our lives with bacteria, I didn’t know that the body is composed of “an estimated 30 trillion human cells” but is also host to “more than 100 trillion bacterial and fungal cells.”  Specifically, “seventy to ninety percent of all cells in your body are nonhuman.”  All told, “these bacteria weigh about three pounds, or the same as your brain, and represent perhaps ten thousand distinct species.”  Incredible.

Dr. Blaser makes cogent arguments for the overuse of antibiotics in the United States.  I was personally thrilled to read that France has had 2 campaigns to instruct both physicians and patients about the risk of antibiotic overuse.  While Dr. Blaser didn’t suggest that this had economic motivations, I suspect that that may have also influenced the decision.  Nonetheless, that France–and other nations–are attempting to implement measures to reduce our excessive use of antibiotics, is good news.  I certainly don’t imagine that we will fully dodge the “super bug” (or bugs) that can resist current antibiotics, it is comforting to think that some public health officials are trying to minimize our risk.

I found the chapter on c-sections fascinating.  I had no idea that an infant is bacteria free when it is in the womb.  I don’t know what I thought prior to reading the book.   Probably nothing.  But, it was quite the revelation that babies receive their first “dose” of bacteria as they pass through their mother’s vagina on their way out into the world.  Children born from c-sections, however, acquire bacteria from the hospital surroundings and then from parents and so on.  Hunh.

Here’s a fun fact for you: each and every one of us has a unique microbiome.  It’s kind of like a fingerprint in that no two are identical.  That revelation prompted me to think about the reasons behind our different reactions to different drugs, foods, situations and so on.  How many times have you been talking with a friend about health problems and she has one kind of solution that works for her and you have another one that works for you?  In those conversations, I feel like, most of the time, both of us are wondering why.  Maybe I now have the explanation?

Dr. Blaser suggests that the dwindling diversity of our microbiome could maybe, possibly be a factor in the rise in obesity, diabetes, esophageal cancer, allergies, and asthma.  For some afflictions, he points to his laboratory studies on how mice have been shown to demonstrate a certain condition with certain types of antibiotics.  It seems that he and his team have scratched the surface of these modern “epidemics” and he is quick to point out that he doesn’t have all the answers.

Learning about possible solutions to our microbiome deficit was encouraging.  There are things that can be done.  Diagnostic tests to determine if an individual’s symptoms are driven by bacteria or viruses could be utilized (once they’re funded and developed).  Then, there’s fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).  Sounds nasty, but, rest assured, it isn’t coprophagia.  You get a slurry of “good poop” from a donor and, instead of drinking it, it gets dumped into your body via a tube.  But hey, it could save your life!  I was particularly intrigued by narrow-spectrum agents that are basically drugs that attack a particular bacterial strain that is wreaking havoc on your system.  Can it be done?  Not now, but it could be if it was funded and the research could proceed.  Sounds like a lot of painful work.  Lastly, Dr. Blaser mentioned that it would be a good idea to stop feeding antibiotics to cows, pigs, and other farm animals that become food since many people get extra doses of the drug that way.  Plus, and this is my comment, not the good doctor’s, a cramped, overcrowded space is a perfect place for a superbug to appear.    While it’s not a bacterium, nor is it currently a threat to public health, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) sounds pretty awful.

Well, that’s all I have to say about the book.  Well worth the wait and the read.  I am sharing this information with you since it gave me a lot of food for thought.  Maybe it will for you, too.