Parenting for Success

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:09 am

Thirteen ways you can help your children succeed in school and life.

  1. Read to them from birth, read with them, have them read to you. Read for pleasure yourself. Show them that reading is fun, get a library card for yourself and for them. Without this, no amount of literacy lessons will really help, with it none will really be necessary – but the ones they have will be much more effective. Doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they read lots.
  2. Dramatically limit TV viewing for yourself and them. In our family we did it the simple way, by not having a TV at all. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with TV in itself, just that it’s a time sink that will tend to mean you don’t do any of the other things on this list, or if you do they’re cut short. Time is key, and the TV is a black hole for time.
  3. Eat dinner together at the dinner table and ask them about their day. And don’t accept “nuthin’” for an answer. Ask questions, be interested, listen, engage with the ideas they’re learning and talking about. Discuss events and ideas with them. Talk about values and beliefs – and also make bad puns and dumb jokes. Have fun with language and ideas.
  4. My wife Sue was a member of Toastmasters when our daughters were small, and had to do impromptu one minute speeches. We made it a game with the kids on long car trips, and they learned to marshal their thoughts and present them clearly and concisely, without saying ‘um’ or ‘er’ (or ‘like’).
  5. There’s simply no substitute for time with them. Maybe one or both parents can work less and spend more time at home? No matter how good the afterschool care centre, their parents are better. Not meant to make anyone feel guilty about what they choose – but it’s just plain fun to hang out with them, why deprive yourself?
  6. On the same topic, if your job is demanding 60 hours a week, either push back or find a new job. They’re only young once and they grow up real fast – do you want to miss it? There’s good research to show that more hours at work are not actually productive anyway, but some workplaces and some industries have very dysfunctional cultures. Your kids are worth getting proactive for… and it’ll enhance your own life (and make you live longer) too.
  7. Help them with their homework. Have a time after dinner when you all sit down at the dining table or in some other regular place. You can read or work or play Sudoku, but be there with them and help them with their homework. If you don’t understand it, show them that it’s possible to go to books and the Internet and find things out. Show them that knowledge is a resource available to everyone these days, and help instil the confidence that if they don’t know something they can find out. And you’ll definitely learn some interesting stuff yourself in the process of helping with their homework. You’ll also have a better understanding of where they’re up to and any particular learning strengths and weaknesses.
  8. Teach them their times tables and how to add and subtract. Don’t be scared to chant tables in the car in long trips, create flashcards, test them, drill them. For a variety of reasons it’s no longer fashionable for schools to do this, yet it’s one of the foundations of really useful and comfortable numeracy. In the same way that showing them that reading is important and enjoyable works to enhance their own literacy, modelling the fact that you can quickly estimate the number of eggs needed if you double the cake recipe and talking through the multiplication out loud can make them comfortable with numbers. And if you are not comfortable with numbers yourself, *don’t* tell them so, and *do* take steps to become so…
  9. Send them to a school in a suburb you can’t afford to live in. It’s unfair and something we should work toward fixing for everyone’s kids, but it’s irrefutable that there is a massive correlation between wealth and academic achievement. So for my own kids I’m going to take advantage of that. We’ve always sent the kids to good public schools in posher suburbs than the ones we were living in. Wealthier kids whose parents are professionals are going to take it for granted that they will be professionals too, and approach their school work with that assumption, and that won’t necessarily be the case in suburbs where many parents are on welfare or working in laboring or service jobs. Schools in wealthier suburbs are also often better maintained and supported by more active P&C committees and so on.
  10. Do your research. Get into the whisper-stream of parents and find out which schools have good reputations *and for what*. Match that to your own goals and values.
  11. Get to know their teacher(s). Don’t make a pest of yourself, but being interested and involved, offering to volunteer, asking the teacher about your child’s school life in general, not just his/her grades, attending parent-teacher evenings and so on is all important in building the relationships that support your child’s learning. And if you have been helping with homework you will be able to give the teacher useful information about your child’s particular needs.
  12. Dream big for them, but non-specific. Lots and lots of heartbreak for both parents and kids when the parents set their hearts on their kid becoming a doctor or lawyer and the kid either doesn’t have the academic ability or just isn’t interested in that particular life. Letting them know that you’ll support them and love them no matter what they do, but that you think they’re capable of amazing things, is far more productive for all concerned.
  13. Be amazed by and interested in the world around you. It’s not necessary to know a lot of science, though knowing some can help make things even more interesting. But take them to museums and science centres and art galleries. If you do have TV, get Discovery, if not get the DVDs – but more important than that, get them out in nature, walking around and looking and observing. Listen to science shows on the radio and discuss the issues with your kids. It’ll be their world real soon, and better they should know it and love it than ignore it or fear it.

Of course, all of these things work much better if you do them from birth, but no matter how old your kids are now, changing your patterns so that you do some or all of these things will absolutely, positively help them succeed at school and in life.


My daughters did it

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:30 am

This (may) explain(s) a few things: Having Daughters Rather Than Sons Makes You More Liberal.


Why ‘Global Warming stopped in 1998’ is a crock

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:32 pm

Cars could be part of the climate change solution

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:08 pm

Excellent program from ABC Radio National’s ‘Science Show’ about using the batteries in plug-in electric cars to overcome some of the challenges of using renewable energy (solar, wind, tidal and wave) sources to power the home grid. Cool lateral thinking that leaps straight past the ‘is it or isn’t it happening’ wars and looks for long term viable solutions.


Oh dear 2 – the apeman

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:00 pm

Human-Ape Hybridization: A Failed Attempt to Prove Darwinism

Age of Empires and the Masters Report

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:03 am

Geoff Masters released this report on primary education in Queensland late last week. My colleagues and I have been discussing the issues and recommendations (which are summarised here) as we plan to write a response during the Public Consultation period.

Here’s one note I wrote as part of that exchange:

Computer strategy games like Age of Empires require the players to manage an entire medieval economy while waging war in order to win. I sometimes play these games over our home network with Sue, and always get comprehensively thrashed. And it’s for stereotypically gendered reasons – she’s great at managing all the tasks at once and ensuring that everything is in place. I tend to focus on the latest crisis – creating more archers or other troops – only to discover that my gold mine has run out and I don’t have the gold to pay the troops, or the farms have gone fallow and I can’t feed them.

It seems to me that the makers of government policy in most places play more like I do, and in Queensland perhaps even more so. There’s a panic to deal with the latest perceived crisis – literacy and numeracy most recently – and then a new crisis is discovered and the emphasis shifts dramatically, with other imperatives being ignored. There’s not a long-term, coordinated vision and there’s not the competence to ensure that many things are attended to simultaneously.

Add that to a managerialist approach that seeks ‘efficiencies’ only in financial terms and is about ‘improving the numbers rather than improving the product’… and we get to where we are.

So one moral of the story is that perhaps Sue should run EQ! (Or perhaps potential education ministers should have to pass a test on their Age of Empires skills.)

The other is just that I think it’s really important that our response raises its eyes a bit from responding to the Masters recommendations piecemeal and accepting or rejecting particular bits, and tries to describe a principled and research-informed vision of primary education in Queensland that frames any particular responses to the report.


On pandemics and reserving judgement

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:34 am

Lots of people arguing that this particular flu virus is overhyped and means nothing. I really, really hope that’s true. But if this particular virus is not the one that ushers in the next great global pandemic, something else will be – it’s pretty much inevitable.

And one lesson this particular flu has brought home starkly is how inter-connected our world is and how fast any new pandemic would go global. How many countries have confirmed cases now, a couple of weeks in? When the big one comes, geography won’t be very protective.

The people who are pooh-poohing the threat of this particular virus (A(H1N1), nee swine flu, and sometimes rather charmingly named, from the 1337, as ‘Ahini’) will be doing exactly the same thing when the big pandemic does come… and then won’t have to eat their words because we’ll all be too busy surviving and burying the dead.

One particularly teeth-gritting response is exemplified by the following forum post:

lead paint
ozone hole
bird flu
hog flu
global warming
terrorism homeland security

Did I miss any overhyped paranoias? Help me out.

I don’t have time and space here to take on all of those, but the point is that they are all serious, real threats that have all killed real people (except y2k). The reason they haven’t killed more is prompt, well-planned and well-executed action… the very thing that those making this argument are trying to say is not necessary in the current situation.

Let me take on a subset:

  • ozone hole – a very real threat – quite visible on the relevant satellite photographs. Increased incidence of skin cancer in the Southern Hemisphere. International ban on CFCs in about 2000, and since then there has been significant improvement in the situation. Will still take some years, but the problem has been dealt with. Without action it would be much, much worse by now.
  • bird flu – avian flu H5N1 is endemic in bird populations, and has killed a few hundred people who came in contact with birds. The fear, though, is that a variant of this virus will jump to human-to-human transmission mode. This is still the scariest candidate for a big pandemic. So far, though, that hasn’t happened, so making the judgement that it’s been overhyped seems a bit premature, to say the least.
  • hog flu – this one, H1N1, has made the jump and is being transmitted person-to-person. From the sketchy numbers released so far it seems quite a bit more virulent than the ‘normal’ seasonal flu, with a 3-5% fatality rate. I hope it can be contained, but it’s far too early to be claiming that this is just a momentary blip.
  • global warming – the people who make these kinds of statements are the people who have already made up their minds that climate change is a myth, promoted by a secret elitist cabal of scientists motivated by their unquenchable thirst for easy research funding…
  • y2k – this, too, was a very real threat. The media did overhype it somewhat – it was never going to be the end of civilisation as we know it – but the problem really existed, and without the millions of hours of coding that went into fixing it, there would have been widespread problems.

I’m generally a very positive and optimistic person. But part of that is recognising how fragile our security is, and taking seriously the threats to that security. Part of that is having some understanding of the underlying science, and a grasp of the relevant issues that goes beyond personal experience and TV news reporting.

This particular pandemic – and let’s not forget, it currently has us at Level 5 on the 6-point WHO pandemic scale – might explode, or might just cruise along, or might burn out. But it’s the height of folly to just assume that every threat will just take care of itself: and the past threats that are used to make that case didn’t.

Oh dear

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:11 am

Where does one even start with these people?

Consensus Science: The Rise of a Scientific Elite


Five Horns Up – ‘Flight 666’ review

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:54 pm

Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, who made the metal documentaries ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey’ and ‘Global Metal’ were invited along on Iron Maiden’s incredible ‘Somewhere Back in Time’ world tour – the one Cam and I saw them on last year. The movie ‘Flight 666’ was the result, and Cassie and I went to see it together this afternoon.

As we were waiting to be admitted, I said ‘I bet, after seeing this, you will want to come to the show the next time Maiden is in town’. She said ‘What odds do you put on that?’ I said ‘I was gonna say 80:20, but let’s be conservative and say 70:30’. I explained that I’ve seen Maiden live twice and know how good they are, and I also know what she likes. As we walked out of the cinema after the movie, all she said was ‘You know me way too well…’

Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, is a bit of a polymath who fences and writes novels and makes films. He’s also a qualified airline pilot who flies for a small airline between tours. Hence the idea for this tour – a customized Boeing 757, ‘Ed Force One’ with Iron Maiden logos and images painted on it, fitted out for all the band’s gear, the crew and the band and families, flown by Bruce, allowed the band to tour to places that would otherwise have been uneconomic. The tour stretched from Mumbai in India through Australia and Japan, the US, several South American countries and Canada.

The movie is as much about the fans – including a few famous ones but really mostly just the ordinary fanatics – as it is about the band. There’s lots of fantastically-shot, amazing sounding concert footage, but also lots of interviews with fans and footage of the insanity that occurs when the band is in town. Fans in South America camped outside the venue for over a week to get good spots in the stadium. In some cases the crush was quite frightening – but the spirit was generally one of joy.

The documentary crew was ‘inside’ the life of the band, on-stage, back-stage and on rest days, for the whole 6 weeks of the tour, and there’s plenty of candid footage of 6 modest, smart, funny middle-aged men who can move whole stadiums to tears or roars of pure joy.

‘Flight 666’ is showing in limited venues for a limited time, but if you have the chance to see it, do – it’s an amazing, energising and life-affirming experience.