Can Playing Video Games Give Girls an Edge In Math?


 | July 24, 2013

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Girls should play more video games. That’s one of the unexpected lessons I take away from a rash of recent studies on the importance of—and the malleability of—spatial skills.

First, why spatial skills matter: The ability to mentally manipulate shapes and otherwise understand how the three-dimensional world works turns out to be an important predictor of creative and scholarly achievements, according to research published this month in the journalPsychological Science. The long-term study found that 13-year-olds’ scores on traditional measures of mathematical and verbal reasoning predicted the number of scholarly papers and patents these individuals produced three decades later.

But high scores on tests of spatial ability taken at age 13 predicted something more surprising: the likelihood that the individual would develop new knowledge and produce innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the domains collectively known as STEM.

The good news is that spatial abilities can get better with practice. A meta-analysis of 217 research studies, published in the journal Psychological Science last year, concluded that “spatial skills are malleable, durable and transferable”: that is, spatial skills can be improved by training; these improvements persist over time; and they “transfer” to tasks that are different from the tasks used in the training.

This last point is supported by a study published just last month in the Journal of Cognition and Development, which reported that training children in spatial reasoning can improve their performance in math. A single twenty-minute training session in spatial skills enhanced participants’ ability to solve math problems, suggesting that the training “primes” the brain to tackle arithmetic, says study author and Michigan State University education professor Kelly Mix.

Playing an action video game “can virtually eliminate” the gender difference in a basic capacity they call spatial attention.

Findings like these have led some researchers to advocate for the addition of spatial-skills training to the school curriculum. That’s not a bad idea, but here’s another way to think about it: the informal education children receive can be just as important as what they learn in the classroom. We need to think more carefully about how kids’ formal and informal educational experiences fit together, and how one can fill gaps left by the other.

If traditional math and reading skills are emphasized at school, for example, parents can make sure that spatial skills are accentuated at home—starting early on, with activities as simple as talking about the spatial properties of the world around us. A 2011 study from researchers at the University of Chicago reported that the number of spatial terms (like “circle,” “curvy,” and “edge”) parents used while interacting with their toddlers predicted how many of these kinds of words children themselves produced, and how well they performed on spatial problem-solving tasks at a later age.

[RELATED: How Thinking in 3D Can Improve Math and Science Skills]

As kids grow older, much of the experience they get in manipulating three-dimensional objects comes from playing video games—which brings us back to the contention at the start of this article. Males have historically held the advantage over females in spatial ability, and this advantage has often been attributed to genetic differences. But males’ spatial edge may also reflect, in part, differences in the leisure-time activities of boys and girls, activities that add up to a kind of daily drill in spatial skills for boys.

If that’s the case, then offering girls more opportunities to practice their spatial skills may begin to close the spatial-skills gender gap—and produce more female scientists, engineers and mathematicians in the bargain. So suggests a study by University of Toronto researchers, published in the journal Psychological Science. They found that playing an action video game “can virtually eliminate” the gender difference in a basic capacity they call spatial attention, while at the same time reducing the gender difference in the ability to mentally rotate objects, a higher-level spatial skill.

Exposure to video games, the authors conclude, “could play a significant role as part of a larger strategy designed to interest women in science and engineering careers.” Participants with little prior video-game exposure “realized large gains after only ten hours of training,” they note, adding that “we can only imagine the benefits that might be realized after weeks, months, or even years of action-video-gaming experience.”

Parents of daughters may blanch at the idea of actually encouraging “years” of action video game play. These moms and dads should tell themselves that their daughters aren’t wasting their time—they’re readying themselves for brilliant careers as scientists and engineers.

Selfie-Loathing: Instagram is even more depressing than Facebook


By |Posted Tuesday, July 23, 2013, at 12:27 PM

Joyful woman in bikini runs to the sea

You know you want this life.
Photo by Soft_Light/iStockphoto

It’s a truism that Facebook is the many-headed frenemy, the great underminer. We know this because science tells us so. The Human–Computer Institute at Carnegie Mellon has found that your “passive consumption” of your friends’ feeds and your own “broadcasts to wider audiences” on Facebook correlate with feelings of loneliness and even depression. Earlier this year, two German universities showed that “passive following” on Facebook triggers states of envy and resentment in many users, with vacation photos standing out as a prime trigger. Yet another study, this one of 425 undergrads in Utah, carried the self-explanatory title “ ‘They Are Happier and Having Better Lives Than I Am’: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives.” Even the positive effects of Facebook can be double-edged: Viewing your profile can increase your self-esteem, but it also lowers your ability to ace a serial subtraction task.

All of these studies are careful to point out that it’s not Facebook per se that inspires states of disconnection, jealousy, and poor mathematical performance—rather, it’s specific uses of Facebook. If you primarily use Facebook to share interesting news articles with colleagues, exchange messages with new acquaintances, and play Candy Crush Saga, chances are the green-eyed monster won’t ask to friend you. But if the hours you log on Facebook are largely about creeping through other people’s posts—especially their photos, and especially-especially their vacation snaps—with an occasional pause to update your own status and slap on a grudging “like” here or there, then science confirms that you have entered into a semi-consensual sadomasochistic relationship with Facebook and need to break the cycle.

A closer look at Facebook studies also supports an untested but tantalizing hypothesis: that, despite all the evidence, Facebook is actually not the greatest underminer at the social-media cocktail party (that you probably weren’t invited to, but you saw the picturesand it looked incredible). Facebook is not the frenemy with the most heads. That title, in fact, goes to Instagram. Here’s why.

Instagram distills the most crazy-making aspects of the Facebook experience.

So far, academic studies of Instagram’s effects on our emotional states are scarce. But it’s tempting to extrapolate those effects from the Facebook studies, because out of the many activities Facebook offers, the three things that correlate most strongly with a self-loathing screen hangover are basically the three things that Instagram is currently for: loitering around others’ photos, perfunctory like-ing, and “broadcasting” to a relatively amorphous group. “I would venture to say that photographs, likes, and comments are the aspects of the Facebook experience that are most important in driving the self-esteem effects, and that photos are maybe the biggest driver of those effects,” says Catalina Toma of the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “You could say that Instagram purifies this one aspect of Facebook.”

Instagram is exclusively image-driven, and images will crack your mirror.

“You get more explicit and implicit cues of people being happy, rich, and successful from a photo than from a status update,” says Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University Berlin, co-author of the study on Facebook and envy. “A photo can very powerfully provoke immediate social comparison, and that can trigger feelings of inferiority. You don’t envy a news story.”

Krasnova’s research has led her to define what she calls an “envy spiral” peculiar to social media. “If you see beautiful photos of your friend on Instagram,” she says, “one way to compensate is to self-present with even better photos, and then your friend sees your photos and posts even better photos, and so on. Self-promotion triggers more self-promotion, and the world on social media gets further and further from reality.” Granted, an envy spiral can unspool just as easily on Facebook or Twitter. But for a truly gladiatorial battle of the selfies, Instagram is the only rightful Colosseum. 

Instagram messes more with your sense of time.

“You spend so much time creating flattering, idealized images of yourself, sorting through hundreds of images for that one perfect picture, but you don’t necessarily grasp that everybody else is spending a lot of time doing the same thing.” Toma says. Then, after spending lots of time carefully curating and filtering your images, you spend even more time staring at other people’s carefully curated and filtered images that you assume they didn’t spend much time on. And the more you do that, Toma says, “the more distorted your perception is that their lives are happier and more meaningful than yours.” Again, this happens all the time on Facebook, but because Instagram is image-based, it creates a purer reality-distortion field.

Instagram ups your chances of violating “the gray line of stalkerism.”

“If you don’t know someone, and Facebook is telling you that you have interests in common,” says Nicole Ellison of the University of Michigan School of Information, “you can see their profile as a list of icebreakers.” But that same profile is also a potential list of icemakers. If you meet a vague acquaintance at a party and strike up a conversation about a science article he posted to his Facebook wall, that probably seems normal. If you meet a vague acquaintance at a party and strike up a conversation about the eco-lodge he chose for his honeymoon in the Maldives, he will likely back away from you slowly. “And then,” Ellison says, “you’ve violated the gray line of stalkerism.” Instagram’s image-driven format gives you the eco-lodge but not the science article.

And arguably, you’ve violated the gray line of stalkerism simply by looking at those photos in the first place, even if you don’t reveal yourself in public as the sad lurker that you are. Each time you swipe through more images of people’s meals and soirees and renovation projects and holiday sunsets, you are potentially blurring the boundary between stranger-you-haven’t-met and sleazy voyeur skulking around the cabana with an iPhone. To be sure, daily acts of stalkerism are all but part of the social contract at this point. But stalkerism heavily diluted with links to articles, one-on-one messaging, Dr. Oz ads, and second cousins who still play FarmVille will always seem more palatable than the uncut version.

Anger at Teens (Or is it Worry?)

by Roni Cohen-Sandler, PhD
Remember when your toddler wandered off somewhere or ran into the street? Or your elementary school aged son jumped off the highest monkey bar or hid in a department store with no regard for his own safety—or your nerves? For however many seconds it took before you knew that your daughter or son was safe, you were probably terrified. But the moment you knew all was well, your fear probably turned to anger. If you’re like most parents, you may have felt a strong urge to throttle that precious child. You were unbelievably scared about what could have happened! Plus, she made you doubt your ability to keep her safe, which is typically one of the priorities of parenting.

More than likely, although your young child sensed how upset you were, you kept your fury in check. But now that kids are older, these scenarios often become far more complex and emotionally charged. When teens and tweens put themselves in danger or make bad choices, they provoke a whole different level of parental anxiety—which is quickly converted to anger that many mothers and fathers no longer contain. The result? Explosive confrontations, furious parents, indignant kids, and strained parent-teen relationships. With summer’s lack of structure and relaxed rules, many parents and teens are struggling even more. Fortunately, to turn things around all you might need is a better appreciation for what’s causing this dynamic—and some suggestions for responding more mindfully.

Why You’re So Worked Up

It may feel like a cruel trick of nature that just when teens are more mobile and face far greater temptations and dangers, we parents have much less knowledge of their whereabouts and hardly any control over them. It can be quite unnerving, for example, when a son goes off for the weekend with his friend’s family or a daughter is invited to a dance by an older boy. This anxiety probably skyrockets if you don’t hear from your teen or tween and can’t reach them when you try to call—whether cell service is spotty or they forget their cellphones or they can’t be bothered to answer your call.

It’s even worse when you find out about actual transgressions—say, if your son and his friend snuck out of their room and got up to no good or your daughter texted her date a grossly inappropriate photo. Then anxiety can transform instantly into rage. At these moments, you may feel disrespected by kids who seemingly ignore your basic rules, wise advice, and urgent admonitions. In an instant, your mind can go from the present situation to unimaginable tragedies. In the panicky parental mind, cheating on a test, accepting a ride from an underage driver, or skipping school are one step away from fatal auto accidents, teen pregnancy, and drug overdoses.

Why Teens Don’t Get It

You may think your son is purposely causing your constant agitation, sleepless nights, and graying hair. In reality, of course, this is unlikely. Probably your daughter thinks the situation is no big deal and has no idea why you’re so upset: “It’s not like anything happened!” “I’m fine, aren’t I?” In fact, your teen may truly wonder why you “flipped out” or “overreacted.” How could they not? They don’t have the perspective or judgment that come from fully matured brains and about 25 to 35 more years of life experience. In kids’ views, they’ve been unfairly criticized, misunderstood and blamed for circumstances they may view as insignificant or beyond their control. It wasn’t their fault! You just don’t understand them! Not only can teens feel hurt and indignant, but also they may become even more determined to demonstrate you can’t control them. That’s how parental anger can backfire and trigger unproductive, if not harmful, vicious cycles.

First Step: Empathy

Although this suggestion may seem counter-intuitive, your first step may be to muster up some empathy for your teen or tween. First of all, if you’re all worked up, you can’t think clearly enough to see the big picture, much less to have a productive discussion. Empathizing with how they’re thinking and feeling can quickly deflate your rage as well as deposit good will in the parent-teen relationship bank. These reminders may be helpful:

• Developmentally, teens figure out who they are by exploring, experimenting, and discovering. In fact, these pivotal tasks are all but synonymous with adolescence. Testing limits is practically teens’ job.

• Making mistakes is a necessary part of this process. That’s a primary way teens learn about themselves and the world, enabling them to make wiser decisions in the future. Your goal, of course, is to speak to them in ways that discourage minor risk-taking and mistakes from becoming truly dangerous behaviors.

• Your teen didn’t invent rule-bending and risk-taking. Try to recall your own desires for spontaneity, excitement, and freedom when you were that age. Chances are, your goal was to have fun—not to spite your parents or send them to an early grave. Your own teen is probably not so different.

More Strategies

Once you’re calmer, you can probably examine the situation more fairly and flexibly, which will lead to more constructive discussions and resolutions. Here are some ideas:

• Keep an open mind. It’s easy to jump to conclusions. When our brains are activated by fear or anger, the parts that help us think clearly and assess situations accurately are all but shut down. So when the initial anger subsides, consider that you may not have all the facts. Listen carefully to your teen’s explanation of the situation.

• Examine your anxiety. Decide if your reaction was reasonable for the situation. Perhaps it was exaggerated by what else you’re dealing with, such as financial, job-related, marital, or elderly parent issues. If so, the last thing you need is a teen who’s worsening your stress. Regardless, being aware of your anger makes it less likely you’ll be unhelpfully critical or unnecessarily punitive.

• Discuss constructively. Make a genuine effort to hear and understand each other’s positions. If you overreacted, own up to it. If you’re upset with your teen, convey your message in ways that lead to constructive resolutions of the problem. For example, “I’d sleep a whole lot better if you could text me that you arrived safely” usually works better than, “Because of your selfishness, I was up all night!”

• Agree upon solutions. Brainstorm specific, concrete ideas that could (a) significantly lower your anxiety, and (b) be tolerable to your teens. In most situations, as I learned when my own kids were teens, just hearing from them was reassuring. If your teens are too mortified to talk to you in front of their friends, would they agree to text (which is inconspicuous) or call but hang up so you see a missed call on your phone? Rather than waiting up, could you leave a light on in the hallway that they turn off when they come in? Or ask them to slide a piece of paper under your bedroom door? Definitely pre-arrange an SOS signal so you’ll know when they’re in trouble and need your help. When you talk about your apprehension without anger, they’ll be far more likely to negotiate these options with you.


Having said all this, it’s hard to imagine raising teens and tweens today without the occasional night of tossing and turning. No matter how smart and responsible your kids are, they still have immature judgment and hormone-infused impulses. It’s still your job to keep them safe by protecting them—even from themselves. Once in awhile, seeing you upset or worried or even angry conveys to them the depth of your love and concern. Plus, it comforts teens to know you are there to set limits and rein them in if they step over the line. But in general, expressing anger excessively or when you’re really feeling terribly anxious isn’t all that useful—to them or to you. Take a deep breath—it’s summer, after all—and enjoy the increasingly rare time you may have with your teen.

Summer Matters: How Parents Can Keep Their Children Learning All Summer Long


JUNE 26, 2013

Because summer learning loss is cumulative over time, it leads to increased dropout rates among those students who have fallen behind.

Missing out on summer learning is as harmful to children’s physical health as it is to their academic health, because students who lack access to summer learning opportunities are less likely to be physically active and more likely to spend their days watching TV and eating junk food — and sedentary behaviors are contributing to America’s exploding childhood obesity epidemic.

With only 90 days of summer, every day a student is not participating in summer learning is a loss by every measure. Fortunately, there are numerous easy, effective and affordable ways that parents can help keep their children learning — and moving — all summer long, in ways that are as fun as they are educational. Better yet, all the resources they need to engage their children in summertime learning that can keep them academically and physically healthy are either at home or close to home.

Finding the Right Program First, parents can search for free or low-cost, high-quality summer learning programs in their local communities. Research shows that students who take part in high-quality summer learning programs that combine academics, enrichment and physical activity benefit from substantial improvements in their academic achievement, vocabulary and reading skills, social skills, work habits and attitudes, and readiness to learn.

To help determine whether a summer learning program is a high-quality one, start by looking for these six elements when assessing a program:

A program that broadens students’ horizons — by exposing them to new adventures, skills and ideas. These could be activities like going on a nature walk, using a new computer program, giving a presentation, visiting a museum or attending a live performance.

A program that includes a wide variety of activities — such as reading, writing, math, science, arts and public service projects — in ways that are fun and engaging. A program that helps students build mastery — by helping them improve at doing something they enjoy and care about. This could be anything from creating a neighborhood garden to writing a healthy snacks cookbook to operating a robot.

A program that fosters cooperative learning — by working with their friends on team projects and group activities such as a neighborhood clean-up, group presentation or canned food drive.

A program that promotes healthy habits — by providing nutritious food, physical recreation and outdoor activities.

A program that lasts at least one month — giving kids enough time to benefit from their summer learning experiences.

Family Fun Parents can also do a great deal to support their children’s summer learning through educational and engaging home-based activities that will help keep them mentally and physically fit, and ready to start the new school year with success. Here are five ways to get started:

Read to your children — or encourage your children to read — books recommended by their teachers, your local library and online summer reading lists. Sign up for your library’s Summer Reading Program, which offers incentives for summertime reading.

Visit free local learning resources in your community that are entertaining, educational and close to home, such as libraries, parks, museums, universities and recreation centers.

Play fun math and word games that turn everyday household activities into learning opportunities. For example, have your kids add up prices at the grocery store and challenge them to tally up the final bill. When going on drives, ask them to look for certain shapes, colors, letters or words on billboards and signs.

Ask your children’s teachers to recommend engaging, grade-appropriate educational activities that you can easily access online and download for free.

Get moving and get healthy. Turn off the TV, computer and video games (or at least put limits on screen time), and keep your kids moving with physical activities that also encourage learning. For example, organize a scavenger hunt that leads them around a local playground, park or museum.

With a little time, planning and creativity, parents can play an important part in making sure that every summer matters in advancing their children’s learning, health and well-being.

Law on Racial Diversity Stirs Greenwich Schools

The New York Times

Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

Greenwich education officials are weighing several proposals to address racial imbalances in the district’s schools.

Published: July 19, 2013 
Greenwich, Conn. — Just a few minutes’ drive from the polo fields, the fieldstone walls guarding 10-acre estates and theGreenwich Country Day School, from which the elder George Bush graduated in 1937, is far denser terrain, where the homes are smaller and closer together and part of a public housing complex that seems escaped from New York City.
Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

“In 2013, that is a very different conversation than in the civil rights era,” said the superintendent, William S. McKersie.

This, too, is Greenwich, and the two public elementary schools in this part of town look, demographically, nothing like most schools in the whiter, wealthier areas. At both, minority students make up at least two-thirds of the enrollment, including some students who are the children of housekeepers, landscapers and construction workers who keep up the lavish homes in the backcountry.

And that is putting the town on a collision course with the State of Connecticut.

Segregation within school districts is not unique to Greenwich — one need look no farther than New York City to find mostly white schools a few blocks from mostly black schools. But Connecticut is one of a few states that forbid districts from letting any of their schools deviate too much in racial makeup from any of their other schools.

The Greenwich district, where minority students constitute one-third of the overall public school population, is trying to come up with solutions. But as previous attempts to correct the imbalance have failed to keep up with population shifts, the district’s leaders and many parents are challenging the notion that the law, which was passed in 1969, is even relevant today.

“In 2013, that is a very different conversation than in the civil rights era,” the superintendent, William S. McKersie, said. “We are getting high-quality outcomes. The challenge with the state is, ‘Are you applying an old understanding of how to get educational opportunity that could undermine what we are trying to do here?’ ”

Based on a number of measures, including high school students’ performance on SAT and Advanced Placement exams, Greenwich in recent years has ranked near the top among Connecticut districts in its economic class, said Kimberly D. Eves, a district spokeswoman. She said, “We are among the top performing districts in the state, over all.”

The district’s student body breaks down as 69 percent white, 16.9 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian, 2.9 percent black and 2.8 percent multiracial.

State law says that no school’s nonwhite enrollment can deviate from the districtwide average for schools with the same grade levels by more than 25 percentage points. In addition to New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue Elementary, the two schools on the western edge of town with too few white students, two schools on the far eastern and northern sides of town are flirting with imbalance of an opposite kind: having too few minority children.

Greenwich education officials are weighing several proposals for state review, including starting additional magnet schools and doing some modest redistricting, with busing for those options. This week, district officials updated state education officials on their plans.

In a statement, Stefan Pryor, the state education commissioner, defended the law as a way to improve the quality of education for all students in Greenwich.

“Greenwich has grappled with this issue for years,” Mr. Pryor said, “undertaking, for example, efforts regarding magnet schools and facility upgrades, with limited effect to date.” Noting that Greenwich “continues to have a significant achievement gap,” he said it was important that the district make greater progress.

Greenwich officials say they have made gains, even if not enough.

The gap between whites and blacks on meeting state goals in reading dropped to 27.4 percentage points in the 2011-12 academic year, from 32 points five years earlier, said John Curtin, the district’s special projects manager. For whites and Hispanics, the gap fell to 21.7 percentage points, from nearly 30 points in the same period, he said. (Asians make up only a tiny percentage of the students at the two schools.)

Dr. McKersie, the superintendent, said, “We are not satisfied with the quality of education we are providing, particularly to our low-income Latino and African-American students, and our other low-income students.”

But in making their case that improving education might not be as simple as rebalancing the schools’ racial makeup, Greenwich officials point to another, smaller gap. In New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue Elementary, black and Hispanic students are passing state tests at only a slightly lower rate than in the other schools — in math, the difference is six percentage points.

They also say they spend $2,000 to $4,000 more per student in those schools, in addition to any federal aid given to schools with high-needs populations. This is evidence, they say, that the district has tried to address head-on the core concerns behind the state law — that segregated schools do not provide for their lowest performing students.

“We have evolved educationally in recognizing that we must provide high-quality instruction based on individual student needs, regardless of where the school is in the district,” Dr. McKersie said. “I am not convinced that forcing students to move from their neighborhood elementary school is the best strategy for improving academic outcomes, especially in a district where students attend integrated schools from 6th through 12th grade.”

The imbalance was created by a steady increase in black and Hispanic residents on the western side of town, which created another vexing problem for the district: Several schools are now in danger of becoming overcrowded.

Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Board of Education, said the state preferred local officials to solve the racial imbalance issue. If it found a remedial plan was insufficient, she said, the state could order the district to redraft it, and if it was still lacking, the matter could end up in court.

Amid the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a number of states developed policies or enacted laws on racial integration in the schools, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, said Gary Orfield, a professor of education and law at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is a director of the university’s Civil Rights Project.

Since then, he said, many of the desegregation policies have been “repealed or interpreted away, or died of little use.”

In Boston, it was a federal civil rights lawsuit, not a state law, that led to busing, and the resulting widespread protests and white flight from the public school system.

Susie Ponce, whose parents are from Colombia, moved to western Greenwich from Queens in 2007. She thinks Hamilton Avenue Elementary, which her two children attend, could have more white children, she said, but it has an array of nationalities.

“If I had a choice, I would keep my kids where they are right now,” said Ms. Ponce, who until recently was the school’s parent coordinator. “Because not only are they getting a great education, they are getting the social-emotional intelligence that I grew up with, just being exposed to other children from different cultures.”

Still, Jennifer Roberto, 15, said that had Hamilton Avenue Elementary been more integrated when she went there, her high school experience might not now include a lunchroom demarcated in unofficial zones: light-skinned faces here, dark ones over there.

“If they change the groups at kindergarten and everything, if they start mixing it, it will be more diverse later,” Jennifer said. “Cliques wouldn’t even form.”

Adriana Ospina, the lone Hispanic member of the Greenwich Board of Education, said, “You hear some of the kids being referred to as ‘the ghetto kids,’ and that is horrendous.”

But even parents and local officials who think Greenwich needs to try harder to integrate its schools are wary of forcing students to travel across town.

Ms. Ospina said she was hoping that voluntary measures, like increased used of magnet schools, could solve the problem. She said it was not fair to tell a parent of an elementary school student on the eastern side of town that her child “no longer has the right, or privilege, to a neighborhood school.”

That is the stated view of virtually all parents, almost all of them from schools in the northern and eastern parts of town, who have spoken at the district’s public meetings on the issue.

Lori Fields, whose daughter just completed kindergarten at Parkway Elementary, a school in the backcountry, in far-northern Greenwich (with a 17 percent minority enrollment this spring), said the school was a large reason she bought her home eight years ago, when she was moving from California.

At a June 14 hearing she said, “I don’t support any option that would force children out of their neighborhood schools.”

At the hearing, Benjamin D. Bianco, a lawyer and father of a student at North Street Elementary School (29 percent minority enrollment), in the center of town, said he saw the state’s racial balance mandate as open to challenge as violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution, an idea the district has also said it is considering.

“We all bought our homes based on what school our kids were going to go to,” Mr. Bianco said. “If you talk to any Realtor, I’m sure in this town, but probably in any town across America, when they give you the listing for homes you have price, square footage, school district. I mean, it’s not a complicated concept.”


Kristin Hussey contributed reporting.

Rachel Simmons at the “Girls Symposium” – October 17 in Trumbull, CT

Here’s some information on an upcoming local symposium on girls featuring Rachel Simmons.  Many members of the Middle School faculty will attend; perhaps some parents would also like to attend.



Keynote Speaker
Rachel Simmons

Keynote speaker Rachel Simmons, is aNew York Times best-selling author, educator, and coach helping girls and young women grow into emotionally intelligent and assertive adults.

She will share best practices on empowering girls with confidence and courage.

The first 100 registrants will receive a free copy of The Curse of the Good Girl.

Thursday, October 17
Marriott Merritt Parkway, Trumbull

Join more than 200 educators, social service providers, parents, school resource officers and more at the Second Annual Girls Symposium.

You’ll experience expert-led presentations and workshops specially designed to help today’s girls and young women.

You’ll learn strategies you can apply in the following areas:

  • Teen dating violence and sexual assault
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Empowering girls to take on leadership roles
  • Body image and self-esteem
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Fostering Collaboration among girls
  • And more


The Girls Symposium is ideal for:

    • Educators
    • Social Service professionals
    • Faith-based leaders
    • Therapists
    • School Resource Officers
    • Parents and guardians
    • Anyone who works with girls


Registration is $75 per person and includes continental breakfast, lunch and materials.

Space is limited to the first 200 attendees, so register online today.

You can also print, complete and mail your registration form and check.


Date: Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Location: Trumbull Marriott Merritt Parkway
180 Hawley Lane
Trumbull, Conn.
Driving Directions 


Tricia Hyacinth
Program & Development Associate
The Fund for Women and Girls



Siege by Taliban Strains Pakistani Girls’ Schools

The New York Times

Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

Girls attending class in Nowshera. The Taliban see schools as symbols of Western decadence. More Photos »

Published: July 11, 2013

GHALANAI, Pakistan — The classroom in Ghalanai, an area nestled amid the mountains of Pakistan’s tribal belt, has the air of a military camp: a solitary tent pitched beside a bombed-out building, ringed by a high wall and protected by an armed gunman.

“We need to assure parents that it’s safe,” said Noor Haider, a local tribal leader who took on school security after Taliban militants bombed the school three years ago.

Extreme measures have become necessary as Taliban militants have pressed their violent campaign against girls’ education in northwestern Pakistan, bombing schools and terrifying pupils and parents.

More than 800 schools in the region have been attacked since 2009, according to government education authorities. But it was a vicious attack last October on an outspoken 15-year-old schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, that moved the issue to global prominence.

A Taliban hit man shot Ms. Yousafzai in the head in an attempt to silence her eloquent advocacy of education rights in Swat, a picturesque mountain valley that had been the scene of fierce fighting between the Taliban and the military.

After a medical evacuation to Britain, where war surgeons repaired her shattered skull, Ms. Yousafzai has made a startling recovery. In March, she resumed her schooling in Britain. And on Friday she is marking her 16th birthday by addressing a youth assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

That speech will be the first unmediated public appearance by a young woman who has become an international symbol of teenage bravery and educational activism. Ms. Yousafzai has won numerous honors and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. News of her progress is assiduously followed across the world.

Back in Pakistan, however, the Taliban war on girls’ education continues unabated.

Ghalanai is the headquarters of Mohmand, a hilly tribal agency along the Afghan border where schools have been the targets of more than 100 attacks. Military check posts dot the hilltops, overlooking largely barren land. A female suicide bomber almost killed the leader of a religious party here this year.

The Pakistani Taliban see schools as symbols of both Western decadence and government authority, but their attacks are also intended to deny the Pakistani military the possibility of establishing temporary bases in the buildings. Typically, they strike in the dead of night, planting explosives that topple buildings and shred desks and blackboards.

The authorities have struggled to respond. At the Government Girls Primary School, Mr. Haider started the tent school with help from the United Nations. Otherwise, the government has done little, he said.

And the Taliban continue to exert pressure on parents and pupils. Night letters posted in the town describe girls’ schooling as a “product of the West” and order pious Muslims to shun the schools.

The siegelike situation has led some brave young women to follow Ms. Yousafzai’s example and defy the Taliban edicts. That was the case in Shabqadar, on the edge of Mohmand, where the Taliban decided to send a violent message in December.

Hira Gul, a 14-year-old pupil, was awakened by an explosion at midnight. The next morning she found a pile of rubble where her school had stood. The attack came as no surprise. “This has become very common in our area,” she said.

Her teacher, however, was profoundly affected. For days after the attack, the teacher, Fazeelat Bibi, visited the destroyed school every morning “to cry my heart out,” she said.

She has restarted class in her back garden. But attendance has fallen 75 percent, and Ms. Bibi has started wearing an all-covering burqa to work to avoid attracting the Taliban’s attention.

“Teaching here was never easy,” Ms. Bibi said.

She noted a prevailing conservative mind-set in which education is the preserve of boys. But she added, “Now it’s fear and growing extremism that are making parents keep children at home.”

The attacks on schools are mostly the work of the Pakistani Taliban, who see girls’ education as un-Islamic. The group earned global scorn and revulsion after it proudly claimed responsibility for the attack on Ms. Yousafzai — a claim that, at least briefly,helped rally Pakistani public opinion against the movement.

In Swat, which lies about 50 miles east of Mohmand, deeper in the mountains, some tribesmen have lionized Ms. Yousafzai as a teenage heroine who stood up to the Taliban where many others have faltered. Despite continuing threats, the girls’ school that she attended, which was run by her father, is open and running at full strength.

“We were not expecting the pupils to come back, but they did,” said the school administrator, Iqbal Khan.

Ms. Yousafzai, meanwhile, has resumed her schooling, at Edgbaston High School for Girls in Birmingham, England. Another teenage girl hurt in the October attack recently arrived in England to join her.

“They will not stop me,” Ms. Yousafzai recently wrote on her Facebook page. “I will get my education, if it is in home, school or any place.”

But Ms. Yousafzai’s plight has also provoked some contrary reactions in her own community, ranging from jealousy and suspicion to naked fear. An attempt to rename a government girls’ school after her failed after students loudly protested that, by associating with Ms. Yousafzai, they would make targets of themselves.

In the bazaar, some residents hint at resentment toward the global attention to Ms. Yousafzai. Some complain that it has overshadowed the bravery of other young women. Others indulge in muttered conspiracies about Western intervention.

Some have posted crude abuse on Ms. Yousafzai’s Facebook page alongside the praise for her campaign, calling her a “kanjri” — an Urdu word for a prostitute — or an “American agent.”

“Many people think it is a fabricated drama,” said Ihsanullah Khan, 35, a university lecturer in Swat’s main town, Mingora. “And so many other people have spoken out against militants, or sacrificed their lives. Why are they forgotten?”

Equally, though, the Taliban war on education has strengthened the resolve of Pakistani leaders who see no choice but to stand up against the militants’ cultural and religious dictates.

Mr. Haider, the tribal leader in Ghalanai, said the Taliban had recently kidnapped one of his relatives because he allowed the security forces to draw water from wells on the family’s land.

Since elections in May, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, bordering the tribal belt, has been governed by the party of Imran Khan, a charismatic politician who has a reputation for being soft on the Taliban, yet who has also increased the provincial education budget by 30 percent.

Yet the decision about whether to defy Taliban edicts on girls’ schooling often falls to individual families. The greatest resistance often comes from fearful fathers, said Ms. Bibi, the teacher in Shabqadar.

“They say they don’t want their daughters to become the next Malala,” she said.

Taha Siddiqui reported from Ghalanai, and Declan Walsh from London. Sana ul Haq contributed reporting from Swat, Pakistan.

Is pink Lego deterring girls from science?

The Telegraph

Lego’s range of pink toys for girls helps enforce a gender divide that sees boys performing better in science, a BBC television presenter and scientist has claimed.

Lego Friends.

Lego Friends

10 Mar 2013

Professor Alice Roberts, who has fronted programmes including Coast, Secrets from the Ice and Digging for Britain, lambasted sexist attitudes for deterring women from pursuing the subject and suggested the Danish toy was part of the problem.

Since girls are better represented in science elsewhere in the world, the reason why they lag behind in Britain must be “cultural”, she argued.

“The gender divide seems to be getting worse to me,” she told teachers and school leaders at an Education Innovation summit in Manchester.

“Lego has always been a good toy which teaches children about engineering. But Lego is now producing a range which it is says is for girls, which is completely pink and is about creating cakes.

“I think the problem is happening at a very young age, when the idea is instilled that there is a big difference between girls and boys, rather than at age 15.”

She attacked suggestions by education experts that schools could adopt “shopping-based” problems to encourage girls in maths and said the idea of using shopping and the colour pink to interest girls in science was “outrageous”.

“It goes back to a 1950s idea of what women should be like,” she said.

The Lego Friends range, to which Prof Roberts was believed to be referring, was criticized last year for fuelling gender stereotypes.

The line includes a set for girls with figures in pink, purple and green settings, a dream house, a splash pool and a beauty shop.

Lego said it was developed following requests from parents and girls for more realistic and detailed sets with brighter colours and role-playing opportunities.

A spokesman said: “We’ve always had Lego bricks that are pink and we’ve got a wide variety of different sets.

“We don’t say ‘this is for girls’. It’s up to the child or the parent to make the choice.”

Prof Roberts, an anatomist, physical anthropologist and science writer, said women also struggled to progress in scientific careers because of childcare.

“If you have a career break, it has an amazingly bad effect on people’s career,” she said.

Raising Conscientious Children

Don’t Make Your Children the Exception to Every Rule

New York Times, Motherlode

While teaching at a Midwestern university about 15 years ago, I came across a clear case of plagiarism in a student paper. I invited the young woman who had turned in the paper to meet with me to discuss the university’s policies on plagiarism and my concerns about her work. The meeting was pleasant enough until I turned my attention to her paper. She promptly soured, grabbed her bag, left my office and could hardly have been out of the building before my desk phone rang. It was her father, calling from New York, threatening legal action.

This story is distasteful from a number of obvious standpoints: the student’s refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing, the father’s blind defense of his daughter’s “innocence” and the reflexive effort to abuse power and privilege to avoid fair consequences. There is also something deeper here that unsettles me as a psychologist focused on parenting and as a parent myself. In rushing to the rescue, the father was most likely undermining what he was aiming to protect: his daughter’s future well-being.

Research on well-being – the outcome closest to happiness that psychologists will promise – centers on three core factors: health, relationships and a sense of mastery in one’s chosen pursuits. In other words, “happy” adults enjoy good emotional and physical health, have relationships that make their lives better (not worse), and have a sense of competence and control in their endeavors.

When we look at the research on the childhood precursors of adult well-being – the traits we see in children who go on to become happy adults – we find that the driving factor is childhood conscientiousness, not childhood happiness. Children who are industrious, orderly and have good self-control are more likely than their careless or undisciplined peers to grow into happy adults.

Like the father on the other end of the phone, none of us want our children to be unhappy, and we all hope our children will grow to be adults who enjoy an abundance of well-being. It turns out that adult happiness doesn’t arise from parents bending the rules to a child’s advantage; it comes from children learning the rules and conforming to them.

As with many findings in academic psychology, the connection between childhood conscientiousness and adult well-being simply proves common sense. Conscientious people enjoy better health as adults because they chose long-term payoffs over short-term gratifications. Most conscientious people would prefer a cheeseburger to a trip to the gym, but they know that – genetic factors aside – heart disease doesn’t care who your parents are.

In their relationships, conscientious people are unlikely to lie and cheat or, presumably, put up with that behavior in their friends and lovers. When it comes to having a feeling of mastery in one’s endeavors – whether one chooses to be a homemaker or a homebuilder – conscientious people come out ahead because they do good work even when no one is looking.

Of course, people who hold economic and social power enjoy more opportunities than most to operate around the rules: to bully coaches into a lineup change, to buy their way into a school, to help secure an undeserved job. But “exceptionalism” – my term for the belief that rules or conventions are to be observed only when convenient – is not limited strictly to the wealthy or influential. All parents share the instinct to protect their children, and a subset of parents in every tax bracket can be found exercising any leverage they have to have exceptions made on behalf of their children.

We all know irresponsible or dishonest people who have ridden favors, exceptions and connections into adulthoods that seem to be pretty happy. Yet we often suspect that their joys are fleeting or superficial when compared to the contentment of adults who have earned their way, like trust funders who party away their 20s only to become depressed at 40 when they realize they will never share the professional pride of their agemates who are now reaping the rewards of two decades of early-career grunt work.

Raising conscientious children is definitely not the most fun part of parenting. If it were, we as parents would not struggle so universally to follow through on consequences, monitor chores and insist that children spend more time reading and less time playing Temple Run. As a parent, every time I dish out a “helpful reminder” (that would be what I call nagging), I am grateful for research linking childhood conscientiousness with adult well-being. My children may call it annoying, but I consider it a down payment on their future happiness.


Lisa Damour (Twitter: @LDamour) is a psychologist in private practice in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a clinical instructor at Case Western Reserve University, and the director of the Center for Research on Girls at Laurel School.