Are Kids Too Coddled?

The New York Times

Andy Rementer


Published: November 23, 2013

AT a middle school near Boston not long ago, teachers and administrators noticed that children would frequently return from a classmate’s weekend bar mitzvah with commemorative T-shirts, swag that advertised a party to which many fellow students hadn’t been invited.  So administrators moved to ban the clothing.

They explained, in a letter to parents, that “while the students wearing the labeled clothing are all chatting excitedly,” the students without it “tend to walk by, trying not to take notice.” What an ordeal.

Many parents favored the ban, a prophylactic against disappointment.

Some did not, noting that life would soon enough deal the kids much worse blows along these lines. And one observer, in a Facebook thread, said this, according to a local TV station’s report: “Perhaps they should dress the children in Bubble Wrap and tie mattresses to their backs so they don’t get hurt.”

I assume that’s facetious.

But these days, you never know.

I occasionally flash on that anecdote as I behold the pushback against more rigorous education standards in general and the new Common Core curriculum in particular. And it came to mind when Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently got himself into a big mess.

Duncan, defending the Common Core at an education conference, identified some of its most impassioned opponents as “white suburban moms” who were suddenly learning that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good.”

It was an impolitic bit of profiling. Gratuitous, too. But if you follow the fevered lamentations over the Common Core, look hard at some of the complaints from parents and teachers, and factor in the modern cult of self-esteem, you can guess what set Duncan off: a concern, wholly justified, that tougher instruction not be rejected simply because it makes children feel inadequate, and that the impulse to coddle kids not eclipse the imperative to challenge them.

The Common Core, a laudable set of guidelines that emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization, has been adopted in more than 40 states. In instances its implementation has been flawed, and its accompanying emphasis on testing certainly warrants debate.

What’s not warranted is the welling hysteria: from right-wing alarmists, who hallucinate a federal takeover of education and the indoctrination of a next generation of government-loving liberals; from left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats.

Then there’s the outcry, equally reflective of the times, from adults who assert that kids aren’t enjoying school as much; feel a level of stress that they shouldn’t have to; are being judged too narrowly; and doubt their own mettle.

Aren’t aspects of school supposed to be relatively mirthless? Isn’t stress an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper? Aren’t certain fixed judgments inevitable? And isn’t mettle established through hard work?

Apparently not, to judge from some reactions to the Common Core in New York, which has been holding hearings on the guidelines.

One father said that while his 8-year-old son was “not the most book-smart kid,” he was nonetheless “extremely bright.” With the new instruction, however, too many kids were “being made to feel dumb.” There was “no room for imagination or play,” the father groused. “All the kids are stressed out.”

A SOCIAL WORKER testified that she’d been receiving calls and referrals regarding elementary-school students on the psychological skids. “They said they felt ‘stupid’ and school was ‘too hard,’ ” she related. “They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home and upset even to the point of vomiting.” Additional cases included insomnia, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation, she said, and she wondered aloud if this could all be attributed to the Common Core.

A teacher on Long Island did more than wonder, speaking out at a forum two weeks ago about what she called the Common Core Syndrome, a darkly blooming anxiety among students that’s “directly related to work that they do in the classroom.”

“If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is,” she thundered, to wild applause. Then she endorsed the idea of parents’ exempting kids from Common Core-related tests. “The mommies in New York,” she concluded, “don’t abuse their children.”

If children are unraveling to this extent, it’s a grave problem. But before we beat a hasty retreat from potentially crucial education reforms, we need to ask ourselves how much panic is trickling down to kids from their parents and whether we’re paying the price of having insulated kids from blows to their egos and from the realization that not everyone’s a winner in every activity on every day.

There are sports teams and leagues in which no kid is allowed too much more playing time than another and in which excessive victory margins are outlawed. Losing is looked upon as pure trauma, to be doled out gingerly. After one Texas high school football team beat another last month by a lopsided score of 91-0, the parent of a losing player filed a formal complaint of bullying against the winning team’s coach.

It used to be that trophies went to victors; now, in many leagues, they go to everybody — for participation. Some teams no longer have one or two captains, elected by the other players, but a rotating cast, so that nobody’s left out.

Some high schools have 10, 20 or 30 valedictorians, along with bloated honor rolls and a surfeit of graduation prizes. Many kids at all grade levels are Bubble-Wrapped in a culture that praises effort nearly as much as it does accomplishment.

And praise itself is promiscuous, though there are experts with profound reservations about that approach. They say it can lessen motivation and set children up to be demoralized when they invariably fail at something.

“Our students have an inflated sense of their academic prowess,” wrote Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in Education Week. “They don’t expect to spend much time studying, but they confidently expect good grades and marketable degrees.”

David Coleman, one of the principal architects of the Common Core, told me that he’s all for self-esteem, but that rigorous standards “redefine self-esteem as something achieved through hard work.”

“Students will not enjoy every step of it,” he added. But if it takes them somewhere big and real, they’ll discover a satisfaction that redeems the sweat.

And they’ll be ready to compete globally, an ability that too much worry over their egos could hinder. As Tucker observed, “While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better.”

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How Can You Make a Student Care Enough to Work Harder?

The New York Times, Motherlode

KJ Dell’Antonia

It’s time to address the question I’ve been avoiding, the most challenging and most frequent question teachers are asked. I have received emails containing this question in its various iterations at least three or four times a week since I started writing this column, and according to my research, it’s also the most frequently asked question in a teacher’s day-to-day life.

Dear Mrs. Lahey,

My son, previously a good student is falling off the rails in ninth grade, capped with an F on his geometry midterm that came home Friday. Clearly, he’s capable of so much more than this, but how do I make him care enough to try harder?


Dear M.L.,

As your question is one of the most challenging questions teachers receive, I’ve enlisted some of my most trusted colleagues to help me find the words to guide you in your quest to help your son engage.

Suzanne, a middle-school teacher, writes: Be positive about education. Acknowledge the work you see your child do and praise him/her for the effort more than the end result. Don’t focus on what is not being accomplished.

Launa, a middle-school teacher: Human beings bloom in their own time, with the right environment and the right care. Wait, water with love and potentially fascinating experiences. Pay attention to what they need vs. what they want; give them what they need and only a little of what they want. Expect a lot of the child in small, practical ways that are in his or her actual realm of skills, and then give him room to succeed and to fail. Repeat endlessly.

Kathleen, law school professor: 1. Find something they DO care about and focus on that. 2. Back off.

Sandy, adjunct professor: Why does the parent think the child is not working up to his or her potential? Does the parent have an exalted opinion of the student’s capabilities? I had a parent who insisted that his child must become a doctor, and the child had neither the intellectual ability nor the interest in a career in medicine. Another student was upset because her parents were going through a divorce, and literature was the least of her concerns. One cannot force a child to become interested in a subject, but a parent or a teacher can show the student why the course is important. If the pupil sees this, he or she will eventually become engaged. If the person has other concerns that are more important, schoolwork will be secondary until the other matters (emotional, social, physical) are met. All we teachers can do is make the course interesting, relevant and engaging, and provide positive nonjudgmental encouragement at all times.

Finally, my own advice is also to back off, as counterintuitive as that may feel. Instead of increasing pressure, surveillance and control over your children, try releasing your hold. The fastest way to undermine intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from within) is to increase parental control. But research has shown that the best way to increase intrinsic motivation is through promoting autonomy and the competence that follows from doing a good job on one’s own.

Allow your child to feel the consequences of those low grades, but do not change your expectations, and do not take over where your child has fallen off. Let this be his or her struggle, not yours. As long as this blip in achievement is about motivation, and not due to some other, more serious emotional struggle, time will often be the solution you seek. It can be hard to watch your children fall down at school, but if you stand back, let them have the reins, and allow them to really feel the consequences of their actions, you will be doing them a great service in the long run.

Good luck to your son (and to you!),

Mrs. Lahey


Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer and speaker. She writes about parenting and education for The New York Times, The AtlanticVermont Public Radio and her own blog, Coming of Age in the Middle. Her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed” will be published by HarperCollins in 2014.

Is it Bullying Or Drama?

The Huffington Post

Here’s an interesting article on bullying vs. drama.  At CSH, we work hard to have all be responsible for Goal IV, the building of community as a Christian value, as we inspire the girls to address examples of unkind behavior.  While it is most effective for the person who is receiving the negative treatment to stand-up for herself, we are also inspiring the bystander to be brave and confront the issue.  We are also encouraging the girls to reach out for help, when needed – “never worry alone.”

Posted: 11/13/2013

bullying or drama

Acting like a jerk is one thing, being cruel is another. Knowing the difference matters. Bullying is… a repeated pattern of harmful or rejecting behavior that occurs over a period of time, leaving you feeling excluded, isolated, or humiliated on a large scale. Your life feels seriously interrupted, and you can’t see an end in sight.

Drama is… the everyday difficulties that all teenagers experience, including relationship rifts with friends or people you’re dating, onetime instances of classmates being jerks, and conflicts that eventually blow over. People involved aren’t victims or perpetrators—they’re just part of the social world where mean things sometimes happen.

By Melissa Walker You missed a key shot in the basketball game last night, and this morning at school, there’s a Post-it on your locker that says “Choker!” Then in math class, two teammates say you’d better step it up at practice, and kids whisper as you walk by in the hall. You feel kicked around and can’t wait for the day to be over—but are you a victim of bullying?

“If bullying is every single mean thing that happens, then there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” says Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. But recognizing the difference between true bullying and everyday drama can help you brush off the little things, keep situations from escalating, and help you realize when something serious is going on—so you can step in and get help for yourself or a fellow student.

Case 1: Gym Intimidation Paul dreads going to phys ed. He’s always been small and skinny, but now that he’s in high school, the difference between him and other guys his age seems huge. A few of his classmates have started calling him “bird legs,” saying that his chest is “concave” as he changes in the locker room. They also take every opportunity to knock into him or push him down during class. It’s so brutal that Paul would rather serve detention than go to gym.

Bullying or Drama? If this happened once, says Jill Weber, a clinical psychologist in McLean, Virginia, it would just be drama. But since Paul is facing ongoing rejection and humiliation, it’s definitely bullying.

What to do: Paul could try being more assertive—kids who stand up for themselves don’t get bullied as much. “Direct confrontation is the bully’s kryptonite, because deep down they’re scared and vulnerable too,” says Weber. But this is physical intimidation, and if it gets bad enough, Paul should tell an adult. Since the gym teacher doesn’t seem to be stepping in, finding another teacher Paul trusts is key.

Case 2: Out Of Line… Online Jess didn’t think anything of it when she texted David, her friend Laura’s crush, about the math homework. But when Jess went on Facebook later, her heart dropped. Laura and their friend Allie had created a “We Hate Jess” page, where they accused Jess of moving in on David. Jess’s eyes filled with tears. How could her friends post such hateful comments?

Bullying or Drama? It’s both. Laura and Allie feel they’ve been wronged, so they’re not just targeting Jess for no reason. That’s drama. But “the Internet has changed bullying,” says Bazelon. When the drama between Jess and her friends goes public, anyone can join in—and that makes it a bullying situation.

What to do: Bazelon notes that even friends sometimes act meanly. But as tempting as it is, Jess shouldn’t respond online. Talking in person, on the other hand, is much more effective, because it takes the drama down a notch. Jess should contact Laura and Allie, or have a neutral friend do so, and then hear them out. Although it’ll be hard, asking her friends why they did this and telling them how it has hurt her is important. “They will all probably be friends again,” says Bazelon, “so Jess should try and talk it out.”

Case 3: Is mean on the menu? It’s lunch period on Zach’s first day at a new school, and he faces the cafeteria with absolute dread. His heart pounds in his chest as he walks slowly around the room, hoping that someone will look up at him and smile. Finally, he sees an open seat at a table with a group of girls and guys, so he asks if he can sit down. One girl stares at him and pushes the chair into the table. “No,” she says. “There’s no room.” Ouch.

Bullying or Drama? Although that girl at the table is definitely a jerk, she’d probably do this to anyone who isn’t part of her inner circle. So unless she continues to harass Zach in some way, it’s a onetime brush with drama, says Weber.

What to do: The cafeteria is a classic setting for this type of popularity-war drama, says Danah Boyd, author of the upcoming book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens—it’s like a big stage where new kids are in the spotlight, and where mean kids can get the attention they crave. The best thing to do is to bite your lip, turn around and find a seat on the other side of the room. Sure, this drama stings, but remember: It’s probably not personal—and it’s temporary.

How to stand up to drama and bullying: If you see someone caught in a cycle of drama or bullying, there are lots of ways to help. Here’s how to step up and step in.

1. Lend an ear Often it’s hard to intervene in the moment, but letting people who are struggling with bullying or drama know that they’re not alone—that you get it—can have an enormous positive impact. If you don’t know them well, even just asking “Are you OK?” can make them feel less distressed.

2. Find help If the problem is more than you can handle, be a friend—even if you don’t know the victim well—and suggest that they talk to an adult. Ask if they have someone they trust, or steer them toward someone you know. Boyd notes that just “telling a trusted adult” is kind of random—you want to choose someone who you think can really help deal with what’s going on.

3. CONFRONT the troublemaker If you have a lot of confidence, be a role model and an upstander by defending the victim when an incident occurs. Make it clear that you don’t agree with what’s going on. Try saying something like, “You’re being cruel, and it needs to stop.” Then walk away with the victim and get out your superhero cape, because that’s an awesome move!

They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets.

The New York Times

John-Patrick Thomas


Published: November 9, 2013 

At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., admissions officers are still talking about the high school senior who attended a campus information session last year for prospective students. Throughout the presentation, she apparently posted disparaging comments on Twitter about her fellow attendees, repeatedly using a common expletive.

Perhaps she hadn’t realized that colleges keep track of their social media mentions.

“It was incredibly unusual and foolish of her to do that,” Scott A. Meiklejohn, Bowdoin’s dean of admissions and financial aid, told me last week. The college ultimately denied the student admission, he said, because her academic record wasn’t competitive. But had her credentials been better, those indiscreet posts could have scuttled her chances.

“We would have wondered about the judgment of someone who spends their time on their mobile phone and makes such awful remarks,” Mr. Meiklejohn said.

As certain high school seniors work meticulously this month to finish their early applications to colleges, some may not realize that comments they casually make online could negatively affect their prospects. In fact, new research from Kaplan Test Prep, the service owned by the Washington Post Company, suggests that online scrutiny of college hopefuls is growing.

Of 381 college admissions officers who answered a Kaplan telephone questionnaire this year, 31 percent said they had visited an applicant’s Facebook or other personal social media page to learn more about them — a five-percentage-point increase from last year. More crucially for those trying to get into college, 30 percent of the admissions officers said they had discovered information online that had negatively affected an applicant’s prospects.

“Students’ social media and digital footprint can sometimes play a role in the admissions process,” says Christine Brown, the executive director of K-12 and college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep. “It’s something that is becoming more ubiquitous and less looked down upon.”

In the business realm, employers now vet the online reputations of job candidates as a matter of course. Given the impulsiveness of typical teenagers, however — not to mention the already fraught nature of college acceptances and rejections — the idea that admissions officers would covertly nose around the social media posts of prospective students seems more chilling.

There is some reason for concern. Ms. Brown says that most colleges don’t have formal policies about admissions officers supplementing students’ files with their own online research. If colleges find seemingly troubling material online, they may not necessarily notify the applicants involved.

“To me, it’s a huge problem,” said Bradley S. Shear, a lawyer specializing in social medialaw. For one thing, Mr. Shear told me, colleges might erroneously identify the account of a person with the same name as a prospective student — or even mistake an impostor’s account — as belonging to the applicant, potentially leading to unfair treatment. “Often,” he added, “false and misleading content online is taken as fact.”

These kinds of concerns prompted me last week to email 20 colleges and universities — small and large, private and public, East Coast and West Coast — to ask about their practices. Then I called admissions officials at 10 schools who agreed to interviews.

Each official told me that it was not routine practice at his or her institution for admissions officers to use Google searches on applicants or to peruse their social media posts. Most said their school received so many applications to review — with essays, recommendations and, often, supplemental portfolios — that staff members wouldn’t be able to do extra research online. A few also felt that online investigations might lead to unfair or inconsistent treatment.

“As students’ use of social media is growing, there’s a whole variety of ways that college admissions officers can use it,” Beth A. Wiser, the director of admissions at the University of Vermont, told me. “We have chosen to not use it as part of the process in making admissions decisions.”

Other admissions officials said they did not formally prohibit the practice. In fact, they said, admissions officers did look at online material about applicants on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes prospective students themselves ask an admissions office to look at blogs or videos they have posted; on other occasions, an admissions official might look up an obscure award or event mentioned by an applicant, for purposes of elucidation.

“Last year, we watched some animation videos and we followed media stories about an applicant who was involved in a political cause,” says Will Hummel, an admissions officer at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. But those were rare instances, he says, and the supplemental material didn’t significantly affect the students’ admissions prospects.

Admissions officials also said they had occasionally rejected applicants, or revoked their acceptances, because of online materials. Often, these officials said, a college may learn about a potential problem from an outside source, such as a high school counselor or a graduate, prompting it to look into the matter.

Last year, an undergraduate at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., who had befriended a prospective student on Facebook, notified the admissions office because he noticed that the applicant had posted offensive comments about one of his high school teachers.

“We thought, this is not the kind of person we want in our community,” Angel B. Perez, Pitzer’s dean of admission and financial aid, told me. With about 4,200 applications annually for a first-year class of 250 students, the school can afford to be selective. “We didn’t admit the student,” Mr. Perez said.

But colleges vary in their transparency. While Pitzer doesn’t contact students if their social media activities precluded admission to the school, Colgate University does notify students if they are eliminated from the applicant pool for any reason other than being uncompetitive candidates.

“We should be transparent with applicants,” says Gary L. Ross, Colgate’s dean of admission. He once called a student, to whom Colgate had already offered acceptance, to check whether an alcohol-related incident that was reported online was indeed true. (It was, and Colgate rescinded the offer of admission.)

“We will always ask if there is something we didn’t understand,” Mr. Ross said.

In an effort to help high school students avoid self-sabotage online, guidance counselors are tutoring them in scrubbing their digital identities. At Brookline High School in Massachusetts, juniors are taught to delete alcohol-related posts or photographs and to create socially acceptable email addresses. One junior’s original email address was “bleedingjesus,” said Lenny Libenzon, the school’s guidance department chairman. That changed.

“They imagine admissions officers are old professors,” he said. “But we tell them a lot of admissions officers are very young and technology-savvy.”

Likewise, high school students seem to be growing more shrewd, changing their searchable names on Facebook or untagging themselves in pictures to obscure their digital footprints during the college admission process.

“We know that some students maintain two Facebook accounts,” says Wes K. Waggoner, the dean of undergraduate admission at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

For their part, high school seniors say that sanitizing social media accounts doesn’t seem qualitatively different than the efforts they already make to present the most appealing versions of themselves to colleges. While Megan Heck, 17, a senior at East Lansing High School in Michigan, told me that she was not amending any of her posts as she applied early to colleges this month, many of her peers around the country were.

“If you’ve got stuff online you don’t want colleges to see,” Ms. Heck said, “deleting it is kind of like joining two more clubs senior year to list on your application to try to make you seem more like the person they want at their schools.”

When Advanced Math Placement Is a Struggle

The New York Times Motherlode Blog


This week’s question is an amalgam of two questions, but because I have received quite a few inquiries about ability grouping, I thought I’d do a mash-up in order to cover all the issues surrounding the challenge of academic placement.

Algebra homework, the second time around.Jessica LaheyMrs. Lahey’s own algebra homework, when she retook the course last year.

Dear Mrs. Lahey,

We pushed really hard last year in order to get our daughter placed in above-level math. She claimed she was up for the challenge at the time (she’s in seventh grade now) and while her teachers were worried about her skills and her ability to rise to the challenge, we promised we’d get her tutored over the summer to shore up her skills in preparation for the more challenging math class. Now, two months into the new school year, we fear we may have made a mistake. Despite tutoring over the summer and help from both of her parents every night during math homework, she’s hovering around a C-. In order to keep her on the accelerated math track in her school, she needs to maintain a B- or better in math, and I know the subject of math placement will come up at our next parent-teacher conference. We are all exhausted by her nightly struggle with the material but feel we are stuck because we pushed for the placement in the first place. What should we do?

Thank you, M.A. (and M.G.)

Dear M.A. (and M.G.),

As with any complicated math problem, the first thing we need to do is look over all of the factors involved and figure out the order of operations we need to employ in order to make some sense of it all.

The first place to start is with your daughter, as she’s clearly the most important factor in this equation. I’d be honest: Admit that you are unsure of how you handled the issue of math placement, and ask what she would do if she were in charge. After all, she is in middle school, and it’s important to allow adolescents to have a say in the trajectory of their education. She should be taking on an increasing degree of autonomy and choice when it comes to her courses, so give her a taste of this responsibility now. She’s the one who is going to have to shoulder the consequences of this decision, after all. If she really wants to stick out the harder math level, that should count for a lot in the finally tally. If she wants to move down to the lower ability grouping, if she reacts with relief that you have finally asked her opinion in the matter, that would be the end of it for me. I’d have the class change arranged the following day.

Your next step should be to talk to the teacher, particularly if your daughter really wants to stick out the above-grade class. Find out how the teacher perceives your daughter’s progress, and if both the teacher and your daughter are game to stick it out, then see how things go for a while longer. You can always revisit this decision in a month or two.

I will warn you, however, that if her teacher is anything like me, he or she will ask you one simple question: What is your goal? If your goal is for your daughter to be enrolled in above-grade-level math, then mission accomplished. Stick with the strategy you have committed to so far and tough it out. Your daughter might be in a rough patch, she might kick into high gear and find her way through the material, she might find her passion for math – we simply can’t know what the future holds. Given enough tutoring and support from you, she might limp through the year and remain in the above-grade math track, particularly if she’s invested.

If, however, your goal is for your daughter to learn math, and feel competent in her abilities, I’d recommend that you demote her to grade-level math.From what you have described, above-grade-level math has been challenging for everyone, and if your daughter’s grade is any indication, she’s not achieving mastery in what she needs to know in order to be fluent and confident in her math skills. Middle school is challenging enough without being pushed into an ability grouping she’s not ready for. Math skills are cumulative, and if your daughter does not achieve mastery this year, she will be at a real disadvantage as she moves forward.

I hope this is helpful, and I wish your daughter luck with math. If she’s interested in a fun read about math (no, really), I’d recommend Danica McKellar’s smart and funny books on math, written specifically for adolescent girls.

Good luck to all of you, and keep me posted!

Mrs. Lahey


Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer and speaker. She writes about parenting and education for The New York Times, The AtlanticVermont Public Radio and her own blog, Coming of Age in the Middle. Her book, about why and how parents need to let their children fail, will be published by HarperCollins in 2014.

If Your Child Was Bullied, When Did You Intervene and When Did You Stay Out?

The New York Times

Don’t forget our CSH mantra of “never worry alone.”

Rick Runion/The Ledger, via Associated Press A fund-raiser in Lakeland, Fla., for the family of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied for over a year.

By MICHAEL WINERIP Published: October 31, 2013

It is a very painful and scary thing for parents to learn that their child is being bullied. Though my four — now young adults — were relatively popular and athletic kids, I watched them go through bullying several times. It was one of the the harder problems I faced as a dad, and it’s the topic we are asking our readers to discuss this week: Do I intervene on behalf of my children or hold back and let them work out the problem themselves?

At times, it wasn’t until after the fact that I learned they were being bullied. And I think that’s probably true more often than not — our kids go through these things and never tell us. I know that was the case for me when I was a kid, as I wrote in a parenting column several years back. For me, the most painful bullying I suffered was emotional, not physical. When I was in junior high I was frozen out by my three closest friends, who, one day, for no apparent reason, stopped talking to me and never did again. When that happened, the last thing I wanted was for my parents to get involved. I feared if they did, I would be ostracized even more, as a little baby who needed Mommy and Daddy to fight my battles.

It would be nice if things worked out the way they do in those Hollywood blockbusters starring Bruce Willis. When one of my sons was being pushed around by a bigger kid in middle school, he popped the kid back, and that was the end of it. While I wasn’t aware of that situation until afterward, there have been times I have counseled them to do just that: hit the jerk back and shut him up. I know that a lot of readers will be horrified by that advice, and I also know that it is a lot easier to do in elementary school. By high school, teenagers can inflict terrible physical injury on one another.

In the case of my four, as was true for me, the most painful bullying was being frozen out or taunted. When I tried to discuss it with them, they didn’t want to, and the more I tried, the angrier they grew. Holding back caused me considerable anguish as a parent, but I did, and the problem was apparently worked out over time — all four are well-adjusted young adults. They have replaced the friends who turned on them with true friends. Which raises the question, when we get involved are we trying to save our kids or is it more about making ourselves feel better?

There are, of course, a million forms of bullying, and sometimes the worst thing adults can do is look the other way. In the most awful cases, we’ve seen teenagers use social media in such cruel ways that it has led to a classmate committing suicide.

The hopeful news is that in my lifetime, schools and law enforcement have become much more aware of the dangers of bullying and the need to be proactive. The bad news is it is still not enough.

I know from my own reporting that some of the cruelest bullying targets teenagers simply because they are gay, particularly boys who are effeminate.

Our question this week for our readers of Motherlode and Booming is not so much, “Should parents intervene or not intervene?” It’s, “If you think your child is being bullied, when and how should you intervene and when should you stay out of it?”

We’d like to hear your stories of how you handled your children’s bullying situations and how things worked out. We’d also welcome questions readers might have on problems they’re struggling with. Please share your thoughts in the comments section, and I’ll round up some of the most interesting answers and post them on Motherlode and Booming next Friday. Then it will be the New Parent’s turn to choose a topic.

As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry

The New York Times

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

At Stanford this month, Jeremy Dean showed graduate students how to use Rap Genius to teach the classics in the digital age.

Published: October 30, 2013

STANFORD, Calif. — On Stanford University’s sprawling campus, where a long palm-lined drive leads to manicured quads, humanities professors produce highly regarded scholarship on Renaissance French literature and the philosophy of language.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Tanya Llewellyn, a graduate student in English at Stanford, at a workshop on a database analysis of 18th-century novels.

They have generous compensation, stunning surroundings and access to the latest technology and techniques of scholarship. The only thing they lack is students: Some 45 percent of the faculty members in Stanford’s main undergraduate division are clustered in the humanities — but only 15 percent of the students.

With Stanford’s reputation in technology, it is no wonder that computer science is the university’s most popular major, and that there are no longer any humanities programs among the top five. But with the recession having helped turn college, in the popular view, into largely a tool for job preparation, administrators are concerned.

“We have 11 humanities departments that are quite extraordinary, and we want to provide for that faculty,” said Richard Shaw, Stanford’s dean of admission and financial aid.

The concern that the humanities are being eclipsed by science goes far beyond Stanford.

At some public universities, where funding is eroding, humanities are being pared. In September, for example, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania announced that it was closing its sparsely populated degree programs in German, philosophy, and world languages and culture.

At elite universities, such departments are safe but wary. Harvard had a 20 percent decline in humanities majors over the last decade, a recent report found, and most students who say they intend to major in humanities end up in other fields. So the university is looking to reshape its first-year humanities courses to sustain student interest.

Princeton, in an effort to recruit more humanities students, offers a program for high school students with a strong demonstrated interest in humanities — an idea Stanford, too, adopted last year.

“Both inside the humanities and outside, people feel that the intellectual firepower in the universities is in the sciences, that the important issues that people of all sorts care about, like inequality and climate change, are being addressed not in the English departments,” said Andrew Delbanco, a Columbia University professor who writes about higher education.

The future of the humanities has been a hot topic this year, both in academia and the high-culture media. Some commentators sounded the alarm based on federal data showing that nationally, the percentage of humanities majors hovers around 7 percent — half the 14 percent share in 1970. As others quickly pointed out, that decline occurred between 1970, the high point, and 1985, not in recent years.

Still, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences issued a report this spring noting the decreased funding for humanities and calling for new initiatives to ensure that they are not neglected amid the growing money and attention devoted to science and technology.

In The New Yorker in August, the writer Adam Gopnik argued for the importance of English majors. The New Republic ran an article, “Science Is Not Your Enemy,” by Steven Pinker, a Harvard cognitive scientist. A few weeks later came a testy rebuttal, “Crimes Against Humanities” by Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, rejecting Dr. Pinker’s views on the ascendancy of science.

“In the scholarly world, cognitive sciences has everybody’s ear right now, and everybody is thinking about how to relate to it,” said Louis Menand, a Harvard English professor. “How many people do you know who’ve read a book by an English professor in the past year? But everybody’s reading science books.”

Many distinguished humanities professors feel their status deflating. Anthony Grafton, a Princeton history professor who started that university’s humanities recruiting program, said he sometimes feels “like a newspaper comic strip character whose face is getting smaller and smaller.”

At Stanford, the humanists cannot help noticing the primacy of science and technology.

“You look at this university’s extraordinary science and technology achievements, and if you wonder what will happen to the humanities, you can be threatened, or you can be invigorated,” said Franco Moretti, the director of the Stanford Literary Lab. “I’m choosing to be invigorated.”

At Stanford, digital humanities get some of that vigor: In “Teaching Classics in the Digital Age,” graduate students use Rap Genius, a popular website for annotating lyrics from rappers like Jay-Z and Eminem, to annotate Homer and Virgil. In a Literary Lab project on 18th-century novels, English students study a database of nearly 2,000 early books to tease out when “romances,” “tales” and “histories” first emerged as novels, and what the different terms signified. And in “Introduction to Critical Text Mining,” English, history and computer majors use R software to break texts into chunks to analyze novels and Supreme Court rulings.

Dan Edelstein, the Stanford professor who ran this summer’s high school program, said that while it is easy to spot the winners at science fairs and robotics competitions, students who excel in humanities get less acclaim and are harder to identify.

“I got the sense from them that it’s not cool to be a nerd in high school, unless you’re a STEM nerd,” he said, using the term for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

True, said Rachel Roberts, one of his summer students.

“I live in Seattle, surrounded by Amazon and Google and Microsoft,” said Ms. Roberts, a history buff. “One of the best things about the program, that made us all breathe a sigh of relief, was being in an environment where no one said: “Oh, you’re interested in humanities? You’ll never get a job.”

For university administrators, finding the right mix of science and humanities is difficult, given the enormous imbalance in outside funding.

“There’s an overwhelming push from the administration at most universities to build up the STEM fields, both because national productivity depends in part on scientific productivity and because there’s so much federal funding for science,” said John Tresch, a historian of science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, since the recession — probably because of the recession — there has been a profound shift toward viewing college education as a vocational training ground.

“College is increasingly being defined narrowly as job preparation, not as something designed to educate the whole person,” said Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies.

While humanities majors often have trouble landing their first job, their professors say that over the long term, employers highly value their critical thinking skills.

Parents, even more than students, often focus single-mindedly on employment. Jill Lepore, the chairwoman of Harvard’s history and literature program, tells of one young woman who came to her home, quite enthusiastic, for an event for students interested in the program, and was quickly deluged with messages from her parents. “They kept texting her: leave right now, get out of there, that is a house of pain,” she said.

Some professors flinch when they hear colleagues talking about the need to prepare students for jobs.

“I think that’s conceding too quickly,” said Mark Edmundson, an English professor at the University of Virginia. “We’re not a feeder for law school; our job is to help students learn to question.”

His university had 394 English majors last year, down from 501 when he arrived in 1984, but Professor Edmundson said he does not fret about the future. “In the end, we can’t lose,” he said. “We have William Shakespeare.”

But for students worrying about their own future, Shakespeare can seem an obstacle to getting on with their lives.

“Students who are anxious about finishing their degree, and avoiding debt, sometimes see the breadth requirements as getting in their way,” said Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

Many do not understand that the study of humanities offers skills that will help them sort out values, conflicting issues and fundamental philosophical questions, said Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College.

“We have failed to make the case that those skills are as essential to engineers and scientists and businessmen as to philosophy professors,” he said.

Wanted: Women who want a college degree in a STEM field

An interesting article from USA Today.  Did you know that girls who attend single sex high schools are 6x more likely to consider majoring in math or sciences than girls who attend co-ed high schools?

Getting young women interested and immersed in computer science programs comes at a time when one million new jobs in tech-related fields will be created in the next decade.

Just 37% of this year’s freshman class at Georgia Tech is female.

And that’s increase over previous years, thanks in part to the school’s dedicated women’s recruitment team. Comprised of 75 current Georgia Tech students and an advisor, the team’s initiatives include speaking at high schools, hosting online chats and setting up campus visit events.

“It’s a whole, broad push,” says Laura Diamond, spokesman for Georgia Tech. We want girls to be thinking about STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) overall, she explains.

At the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), a number of the school’s upper level leadership is female, including the dean of the engineering school, which means the school has the responsibility to recruit talented young women, says April Welch, acting director of graduate admissions.

Getting young women interested and immersed in computer science programs comes at a time when one million new jobs in tech-related fields will be created in the next decade.

But fewer women are going into these fields. Just about 2% of women have a degree in a high-tech field, according to Catalyst.

Currently, a quarter of all Americans in computer-related occupations are women, compare that figure to countries like Oman and Qatar, whose governmentsemphasize girls’ education and STEM fields.

How can American colleges and universities get women interested in computer science and tech — and how can schools ensure their success?

These are questions Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe has been tackling for the past few years.

In 2005 when Klawe became Harvey Mudd’s president, 10% of graduates with computer science degrees were women. In 2011, that figure went up to 40%.

Klawe says Harvey Mudd fosters a collaborative and supportive environment, one that starts the minute students are enrolled.
Klawe explains that because “women are raised to be helpful and nurturing,” they tend to be interested in programs that can be framed in a real world approach to solve problems.

Consultation and advice from her school have helped Sabina Nilakhe, a senior computer science major at DePaul University.

“At first, it’s intimidating being the only girl in a class of 20-plus guys,” says Nilakhe.

But because of personalized classroom attention and a number of programs for women that the school provides — like tutoring by graduate students or weekly chats over lunch — she says it’s a lot less intimidating and has thoroughly enjoyed her experience.

At Columbia University, the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) organization hosts campus speakers who talk about what it’s like being a women in a top tech position. They also run a graduate-undergraduate mentorship program to aid underclassmen women in anything from study methods to applying for jobs.

Jiaqi Liu, president of the organization and Columbia senior, says the group does a lot of outreach to members of the school’s freshman and sophomore classes before they are required to declare a major. They want women know that computer science is a field they can flourish in.

At Harvey Mudd, support for its female students have led to outstanding graduation rates, Klawe explains, and gainful employment.

Harvey Mudd sends graduates to companies like Yelp and Microsoft, the former has 18 graduates working there and the latter has had 30 over the past four years, Klawe explains.

“It’s not surprising women work well here,” she says.

Nenad Tadic is a senior at Emory University.