Saturday, May 30, 2009

Grace - Another Example

Today, my wife called me frantically (she's with the grandparents for a short visit). Her parents agreed to watch all three of our kids so that she could attend the temple with her sisters. She has been unable to go at all for a long time. Babysitting our family has taken on another level of complexity especially around mealtime - which is why we don't go out much alone, when we do, we squeeze it in between meals and we usually take our baby with us. Its just too much to ask someone to watch a diabetic 6 year old, a newborn who doesn't use the bottle or a pacifier, and a third little boy who also demands attention.

Well, diabetes is common and we live with it 24 hours a day, seven days a week so its easy to get sucked into this idea that you can thrust this disease on someone else, no matter how well-intentioned, without some pretty thorough training. But complacency can also lead to disaster, and for us it almost did.

Our daughter ate something, calories were read instead of carbs, and she was diagnosed for 170 (some-odd) carb, 4.8 units of insulin, when it should have been like 2. When my wife finally called to check in, and she heard this statistic (one unit of insulin can drop blood sugar by 100), she freaked out.

She directed her mother to see if our daughter was tired, she was. She told her to check blood sugar, she did, it read low (which means less than 20). This was low enough our daughter should have been passed out with an ambulance on its way. Instead she was playing computer games - go figure.

She was given a lot of sugar and some food. Her blood sugar went up to a safer levels, and all was well.

But we are convinced angels intervened on ours and her behalf because we just cannot understand how she was still functioning as well as she was with a blood sugar as low as hers was.

We're convinced it was grace.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I've been thinking about grace a lot lately, maybe because its something we all so desperately need. Sometimes I feel invincible, like I can do no wrong. More often, I feel very vulnerable and weak. One of my stumblings is my need to feel that I have to be incredible to do good. That I have to be the best, 10,000 hours worth of best, in order to be successful or even worthwhile in my field, in my church calling, and in my life general. I agonize over past mistakes. Worry that I'm judged only by the times I've been less than I should have been. This goes way back.

I played a lot of baseball growing up. Baseball is an incredibly tense sport. Although a team sport, there's not a lot of teamwork involved. Its a lot of individual performances summed up together to get to the final score. You're either in the batter's box, just you against the pitcher. Or you're in the field, just waiting until the ball is hit in your direction. And when the ball is hit in your direction, nobody else is stepping in your place. All eyes are on you to see if you will come through for the team.

I played high school baseball, two years worth. I was on the freshman and JV team before I just couldn't take it anymore. That freshman season was the most poignant for me. I was a tiny kid as a freshman, 5'1'', 101 pounds. I was on the team, but I didn't play a lot. But I played some. I batted .400 for the year, I was 2 for 5, with a double and a single. I also had a lot of walks I remember. I probably would have played more, but I just couldn't cut it in the field. I played second base. Our coach liked me, I remember, but he had a nasty temper. Whenever a mistake was made, he would curse, throw his hat, kick his feet. I just was not mentally tough enough to take it. I would be out there, praying that a hit would not come my way. But when you are afraid you will make a mistake, you probably will, and I did. I would drop easy balls thrown over to me on double play attempt. I would muff a throws to first base, or fail to field the grounder hit to me.

I was much better than that, but I invariably played far below my ability. I was afraid of the consequences of failure.

Not too long ago, I heard this very simple story as part of an episode of "This American Life" that just stuck with me. You know, I've heard so many stories from that show that I've loved. Its one of the best things around, I tell you, and its free. I pay good money for stuff I would give up gladly for the chance to listen to "This American Life" every week.

The episode is hereand the segment is entitled "Take My Bike... Please". The narrator of the story talks about his experience as a 12 year old kid in Tucson, AZ when his dad bought him a new bike, which for him meant a new found mobility and sense of freedom. When he got the bike, he was allowed to bike it home with his brother who waked along beside him, but was told to bike straight home because they did not yet have a lock.

Well, of course, kids being kids, they stopped at a convenient store to play video games. One boy would watch the bike while the other boy played. But eventually, the game got too exciting, they neglected to watch the bike. When they finished the game, finally, they go outside and the bike was missing. They were horrified. They cried, and in silence, they walked home. He felt awful. He was trusted with a gift at great expense, and he failed. "The one time I stepped outside the lines, the worst kind of calamity happened". They walked inside the house, terrified to face his dad. When he came in, his dad said, "I brought your bike home, its in the back." He decided to teach his son a lesson, to simulate the theft.

Later, the dad and the son talked about the experience.

The experienced bothered the dad. He felt he overdid it, ruined the experience for his son. That it took away the pleasure of getting the bike. It should have been a fun and exciting day, but it was a black cloud.

But his son had a different perspective. But here's the poignant thing he said:

"After that happened, I felt safe. Safer than I had before. And that I realized that even if you screw up, sometimes you get a chance, that its not over. That you get second chances in life even when you can't possibly imagine how it could happen."

He learned the exact opposite of what his dad was trying to teach him. That the world was not safe, but he learned that yes it is, but he learned both things: "Be careful, and sometimes you do get a second chance."

When his dad heard this from his son, he felt the same way. In his dad's words: "I'm feeling just as you felt, safer. I'm feeling the same kind of grace, you see, towards me." He felt like he did something that was a screw up, but it actually wasn't. He got a second chance.

And the world can be harsh, cruel, unforgiving. Our six year old gets diabetes for no obvious reason. No matter how we seem to try to accomplish something, we just can't seem to accomplish it, while we watch someone else do the same thing seemingly without breaking a sweat. Or we lose a job, are unemployed for months, unable to find another one.

But the world can also be beautiful and forgiving. The other day, my wife took the van out for a drive. She closed our garage door, but didn't realize a tricycle was underneath the door preventing it from closing. Also, the door to our house from the garage was unlocked. She was gone a couple of hours our garage door completely unopened. She returned with nothing stolen.

More poignantly, this evening we attended our son's Joy School graduation. My wife and a few of her friends with children roughly the same age, for the past nine months organized this cooperative pre-school program, and tonight they pulled together this really cool graduation at our church building, including a dinner. After the dinner, the kids ran around the gym in our church (including the stage). Well, for some strange reason, our little, sweet boy (who is a huge for his four year old age) was on the stage playing with the other kids. He decided to push a little girl who is half his size. I didn't see it, but I'm speculating that under normal conditions, the push would have been reasonably benign. But this was not a normal condition, the little girl was standing on the edge of the stage, and the push caused her to flip around landing on her forehead almost four feet below. Her dad picked her up screaming taking her into a room to comfort.

Our son, at first just kind of stood there. I'm not sure the details exactly because I was immersed in some conversation about the political history of Chile at the time (or some such thing) and was in the hallway I think. And it took me a bit of time to figure out the full story. I finally confronted our son. At first he was angry, but then he was really sad. I literally held him for the next 30 minutes while he cried, refusing to talk to anybody, burying his head into my shoulder. The whole thing was so sad.

I felt sick that my little boy pushed a little girl off a stage four feet (roughly) off the ground. I'm not a doctor, but I'm guessing a fall like that could have been fatal. But it wasn't. After twenty minutes or so, she was back playing. Her parents are going to watch her tonight to make sure she's ok. We have said our prayers for her and hope for the best.

But things like this happen. No matter how good of parents we'll try to be, inevitably our own kids will make mistakes, causing pain.

For a year I was young men's president in our congregation, working with the youth. I had such high ambition, but my ability was nearly as high as my ambition, and I have a lot of regrets from that year. I was also a valley big brother a while back. I've had many friends come and go in my life. Now I'm a husband and father. I can say with confidence, I've always tried to be good in every possible way, but more often than not I've not met my own expectations, and have not met other people's expectations of me. And when I focus on things like that, it makes me really sad.

But, turning the tables on this one hundred and eighty degrees. Aren't there people in this world thinking of me in this exact same way. Maybe a youth leader who worked with me when I was young. Or my parents, or sisters, or colleagues. Maybe there were times they did something hurtful to me. Maybe they have regrets. What is my responsibility in all of that.

I guess what I'm getting at is that we are so desperate for grace. We want to believe that the impacts of our mistakes will be blunted, and that the impact of the good we do will be magnified. We want other people to understand us, appreciate us for what we do for them, look past our failings. And in ways I do not understand, I think that's the point of the Savior's ultimate sacrifice. When we think if grace in religious terms, we think of the suffering and death of Jesus, and we think of the resurrection. Nobody else suffered like He did, but in his suffering He overcame. Not even His death was permanent. He overcame all.

And I play a part in that. My parents made plenty of mistakes in the way they raised me. But its grace both for me and for them, that allows me to rise above that and succeed in life despite them and because of them. The impact of their mistakes have been blunted, but what they did do for me, their unconditional love for me, if I can focus on that allow that to work in me, the good is expanded.

My son made a mistake tonight. But if all goes as expected, the little girl will suffer no ill effects. His moment of weakness (and our moment of neglect - we should have been more attentive to kids rough housing on a stage) will have no lasting effects, it will be blunted.

And as we go through life, we brush up against other people all the time. Sometimes in a moment of weakness, things are said, feelings are hurt. Grace allows us to grow thick skin, think the best of someone else, allow another's goodness to affect us while preventing another's badness from bringing us down.

This isn't perfectly so. My daughter still has diabetes and probably will all of her life (though maybe not) despite the fact that we pray for a cure every single time we pray (at her request). But grace allows us to endure this trial with, yes, grace, and grace will allow her to thrive despite the illness.

Of course, grace doesn't prevent all misfortune. Sometimes our mistakes cause harm and there might not be a lot we can do about it. But I think grace allows us to thrive and grow despite the setbacks.

So, my goal is to open myself up to grace, to be more forgiving to have more faith that my little contributions in the world matter to someone. Because with grace, my weaknesses can be blunted, and my little contributions can be expanded to bless lives. And likewise, I will try harder to allow another person's goodness to bless my life, and blunt another's misdeeds. Because grace is a two-way street.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The End of Overeating

I'm going to have to read this book. Heard the interview with the author last night and it was really good. The author was the head of the FDA during the Bush Sr. and Clinton presidencies and struggled with food himself. He finally realized and understood the physiological effects that food (or any other kind if stimulation) can have on your brain and when he did so, he was able to adopt strategies to help him restructure a different kind of relationship with food.

It was fascinating because I struggle so much with food, and its something I really struggle with knowing that I could in all likelihood be going down the road toward type 2 diabetes, knowing my family history. Its something I want to get control over.

The author explained that the food industry has spent millions of dollars in packaging and advertising to deliver food packed with layers of sugar, fat, and salt knowing that Americans would not be able to resist. And its not just the sugar, fat and salt that does folks like me in. Its the packaging, in bright flashy colors, the advertising, beautiful actors doing cool things while the "Do the Dew" for example. Its the fact that you can drive down every corner and get soda or a donut.

This experience of stimulation creates neurological connections in your brain, that causes you to crave the experience deeper the next time. And its difficult to resist and you cannot unlearn or break these connections when they have been formed. You're stuck with them your entire life.

And our culture has made it difficult. We have lost our food boundaries. We can eat high fat foods all hours of the day, almost everywhere any time. The French have been famous (until maybe just recently) for eating high fat foods and not gaining weight. But they're culture had strict limits on food. Snacking was frowned upon. They didn't eat while they worked or were in meetings. The boundaries also helped define their food relationships.

The trick is to build up something new that you want more than you want food. For some people, the trick is to become vegetarian or to focus on eating only natural foods, or gardening or exercise. It all hasn't sunk in yet, I really need to read the book, but the idea is fascinating.

Basically, having a food addiction (which I guess is what you call this), is really as normal as being human. Having these desires for stimulation is part of what makes us human. Its not our fault, its just who we are. Our society has made it almost impossible to have a manageable and healthy relationship with food, and we're suffering the medical consequences.

Having this knowledge though can give us power to protect ourselves, and even more importantly, to protect our children. In so many ways, we (I) have made mistakes with our kids. Using desert as a reward is a terrible message to teach to our kids. Personally, I have begun to transfer my desires for high fat foods onto my children. Its something I want desperately to change.

I'll have to get the book.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Republican Party is out of their Mind Lately

Loved this post entitled Republicans The Really Stupid Party.

Brad DeLong is an economists I've been following a lot lately, largely sympathetic of Obama's economic policies of late.

But apparently, the Republican Party has passed a resolution to ask the Democratic party to rename themselves the "Democrat Socialist Party". What?

DeLong says:

"Since Obama is not a socialist--at most he's a Keynesian, and less of a Keynesian than many of us would wish--this is the equivalent for a political party of defecating in its own pants: something that two-year-olds do because they haven't quite got the "you can control your own anal sphincter muscle" business down, something three-year-olds do when mad because it gets your parents' attention and makes them upset, and something four-year-olds and up realize hurts them more than anyone else.

Most disturbing is the absence of Republican push back from politicians and intellectuals. If the Democratic National Committee were to pass a resolution stating "Resolved, that we the members of the Democratic National Committee recognize that the Republican Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along fascist ideals," Democratic office-holders, candidates, and intellectuals would be out there in angry mobs, denouncing the DNC as having done something stupid and false, something damaging to the party and destructive for America. And I would be out there with them, denouncing the DNC in terms that make my views on Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ira Magaziner's stewardship of health care reform in 1993-1994 look like weak toast, or milk tea."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I love newspapers. I love news. My love affair goes way back. Growing up in Yuma, "The Yuma Daily Sun" was all I had. We didn't have cable, so we were stuck with three lousy public television stations, and there was no internet back then. So, at 5pm (or so), I anxiously waited for that pathetic little newspaper, and when it came I consumed it, starting, of course, with sports, then to the opinions.

When I went to college, I took one semester off (and summer) and worked in Ft. Huachuca which amounted to an hour and a half bus ride every day. I remember taking real comfort in reading the Tucson newspaper, absorbing every Arizona Wildcat basketball story.

Now in Phoenix, I have been a consistent subscriber of the Arizona Republic, reading (or at least skimming) over almost every article in the paper. Odd that now the internet is so ubiquitous I still look forward to going outside every morning to pick up my beloved Arizona Republic. But I'm just angry about how the quality of the paper has degraded since this recession. Some of my favorite writers (most notably Jon Talton have left the paper. The opinion page often has too many syndicated columnists (in the old days that was great, it was my only access to them - but now I've already read most of the articles on the internet) and not enough local writers.

And it has shrunk accordingly. The Valley & State section (still my favorite) now has the business section crammed into it.

I understand why. The newspapers have long been used to being able to leverage income from classifieds and advertising to supplement subscriptions. The internet, of course, stripped away classifieds from their business model. The newspapers are losing readers to the internet. And nobody wants to pay to read stories on the internet, especially when so much of it is already free.

In the old days, newspapers dominated their town. They were basically the sole providers of national news, now there are much better writers and news sources for national news available for free on again, the internet. I simply do not want to read about national politics in the local newspaper - I have better sources for it now.

But I want the newspapers to live. I would be sad without the tactile experience of a real, true blue newspaper plopping on my drive way every morning, reading it over my breakfast cereal. Not to mention the access I enjoy to local news, local sports coverage. Nobody covers the Phoenix Suns like our local reporters. Nobody at all covers my beloved Arizona Wildcats like the Tucson papers - whose website I hit religiously for the latest on recruits and their new coach.

But local newspapers are dying. And its one of the distressing things about this recession. Quality goods, stuff I want in my life are disappearing. Its a self-inflicting slow death. We are scared we will lose our jobs, so we stop spending, even on stuff we want. That stuff then starts disappearing.

More poignantly, teachers are being laid off, our universities are contracting.. Really, we want to reduce access to education?

The East Valley Tribune recently laid off reporters who recently won the pulitzer prize for their coverage on Sherif Joe.

Perhaps we don't need the actual, physical paper, but we need the reporters and the reporting. I'm confident that a new business model for local news is out there ready to be exploited for the common good of everyone. But that business model is not yet here, and is not obvious at all what it will become. And the internet lends its strength by providing commentary taking from all of that now disappearing reporting. And too many people are not noticing the loss of coverage.

Right now, I'm sad that our newspapers are dying.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fathers And Son

Just recently got back from ours. For those of you not in the know, this is a campout where the men and boys of our church congregation join together for an overnight in the woods.

After getting my son to bed, I joined the group around the campfire for some lively conversation. For whatever strange reason, global warming came up (plenty of global warming deniers in this group), which led to a late night discussion from every topic from the fiscal stimulus, Barack Obama (is he a socialist?), health care, to unions. There were like five guys who took very conservative views on each of these topics, and I just kept saying, "No, that's not true", "No, that's not true" having trouble getting a word in. Until finally, with raised voice (sorry for all of you who were trying to sleep), interjected the dissenting, more liberal position.

Was this the right thing to do? Probably not, but sometimes I just can't help it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Just wanted to send this out before its too late. Today, I learned from my sister that Mother's Day actually started out as a way for mother's of our great nation to unite against the injustices inflicted on society mostly by men of course. Mother's day started out as a political event and continued on as such for a while.

But like most things, consumerism won out.

Read all about it here.

"The women who originally celebrated Mother's Day conceived of it as an occasion to use their status as mothers to protest injustice and war. In 1858, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized Mother's Work Days in West Appalachian communities to protest the lack of sanitation that caused disease-bearing insects and polluted water to sicken or even kill poor workers. In 1870, after witnessing the bloody Civil War, Julia Ward Howe—a Boston pacifist, poet, and suffragist who wrote the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"—proclaimed a special day for mothers to oppose war. Committed to ending all armed conflict, Howe wrote, "Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage. … Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.""
Loved that last quote.

In the early part of the 20th century, though, Howe's daughter in her memory, worked toward making it a national holiday, but unfortunately for her, she received big support from the card and flower industries, and the rest is history...

So, in stead of all of the mothers getting sung to by the children of our congregation and receiving chocolate at church, maybe instead they could unite in some common political purpose. Maybe they could take up a united stand against pornography (something that's an especially egregious affront to womanhood) or write letters to our congressman that torture should not be tolerated in a civil society or ban together to demand proper financing for our schools.

But another part of me just enjoys buying my wife flowers and candy and making her breakfast in bed.

What do you think?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

She's Got Everything She Needs, She's an Artist, She Don't Look Back

I had this pretty long period of time in my life where I literally listened to nothing but Bob Dylan. Its a strange thing I admit, and luckily I moved well past that, but he has a pretty long list of music to listen to, and many different styles. During that period, I remember my sister buying me this album with the song, "She Belongs to Me", and she saying wistfully, yeah Dylan was singing about me.

At any rate, today, I was feeling pretty energyless after driving all three of my kids from store to store looking for how I can manage mother's day. I hate, hate, hate shopping, and after about the fifth store, my energy was sapped. I came home without any desire to do anything despite the fact that there was way too much to do.

But then I read this blog from my friend Bill about art. And of course I commented because Bill just happened to hit upon one of my many hot topics, a topic I've actually spent some time on... A topic I love talking and thinking about, and it was like I got this injection of something: my spirits were up, my energy came back, I was able to get on with my day. Thanks Bill.

And of course, I have to blog about this. Bill took a pretty popular opinion, an opinion I understand by the way, about abstract art, you know, the kind of art that's easy to exclaim, "my 10 year old could have painted that".

And click on his blog and look at the art in question. Its just a square white painting, with a pattern of geometric black lines painted on them. The artist was Piet Mondrian, read his wikipedia entry. I am no where near an art expert, but being able to appreciate art takes some skill and effort. You can either just be happy to put mass-produced prints of pretty flowers on your wall, or you can really explore art. You can be happy with mass produced food or you can learn to appreciate food cooked by a master chef. You can happily listen to the latest pop music, or you can really explore something more complex and sophisticated.

But are abstracts complex?

I'm not sure, but I had this experience with my wife that was interesting. We would attend these classical music concerts at ASU either performed by students, professors, or guest musicians. It was a nice, child-free time of our lives together that seems like this very short, distant memory...

But this one musician performed music composed by John Cage. Watch this performance of 4'33":

It explores silence as music. In the concert we went too, it wasn't this extreme, the pianist would play these very spare cords here and there. I found it interesting and strange all at the same time.

And that really what art is about, I think, its an exploration, a way to push boundaries, maybe. In many paintings, its not just the picture thats important, but the actual strokes from the brush, the colors of the paint. I went to a Monet exhibit a while back at the Phoenix Art Museum and I remember being fascinated by the broad brush strokes, being able to see the strokes that Monet himself placed on that canvas completely independent from the picture itself. I would look at the painting right up close not being able to recognize the picture at all, and instead see only paint and color. I would walk further away, and an equally beautiful picture would appear.

I've talked to my sister about the kind of art that any 10 year old kid can do. I've seen a lot of it. A painting that is nothing but a single color, or Jackson Pollack's drip painting. My sister had an interesting insight. Maybe I could have done it, she would say, but I didn't and that's the point. This sort of art presents art at its most primitive. That beautiful things don't have to be complicated or even necessarily impressive. They can be subtle or simple, but there's a certain sort of skill that presents even the mundane as something beautiful.

That color, in and of itself, is beautiful. Purples, greens, blues, and how they are mixed and blended together in certain ways. How these colors are presented to us.

To be honest, I really don't have much more to say. I wish I did. I wish I knew more.

I'll finish with three experiences I've had with art that really stands out for me, that I still remember with fondness, that changed me if only just a bit. They were all installation pieces that were more about ideas than about pretty pictures - I guess that's why I loved them so much.

1) An exhibit in the Phoenix Art Museum, the artist asked 20? 30? friends and acquaintances to identify a possession that was meaningful to them in some way, but were willing to give away. They would send this thing to the artist with an explanation of why it meant something to them. The artist put the item in a bag, hung them grid-like on a wall, with the story written underneath. There was something artful in the presentation, something beautiful about the grid, but also something moving about the stories as well.

2) Another installation in the Phoenix Art Museum where the artist took fragments of wood from a house that was destroyed in some way and hung them from string? down from the ceiling at random length, like a blur of (I believe) white wood fragments. I wish I could show you a picture, but it was beautiful.

3) The third was in New York City, at the Whitney Museum of Art, an artist presented two booths where visitors were invited to kneel at a small table and write a letter to someone, either asking for forgiveness or expressing gratitude. They could then put the letter in the envelope sticking it into slots in the wall of the booth. Each night, if the letter was addressed to someone, the artist would mail them, otherwise, the letter would be burned. As viewers approached the booth, they would see people writing letters, they would see letters already written, they would see the booths, all of this was art to be examined. I took my turn at booth. For a short while, I was part of an art exhibit at the Whitney.

Its been a while since I've been able to view art, but I love doing so. Usually I don't understand or always appreciate it. But I'm willing to approach art with an open mind and with a desire to be inspired in some way. Sometimes I am.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How to Learn Math

A while back when our Relief Society was in high gear doing these extremely high frequency enrichment activities, I casually mentioned to my wife how it would be cool to have a session on how to teach math to your kids. Word got back to the person scheduling these sessions, and somehow I was signed up to teach a session. Personal time constraints and a fundamental lack of experience in the area prevented me from pulling anything together, and the thing was ultimately shelved.

But one of the things I did do was go to the library to see what kind of books I could muster up on the subject. In the search I came across the book, Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic, Implications of Piaget's Theory. Its a pretty dense book really meant for classroom teachers and leans heavily on Paiget's theories on how children learn. It has an interesting premise, if I remember correctly, Piaget wanted to discover how human beings discovered knowledge in the first place, and to do so, he studied how children acquired knowledge as they aged.

But what hooked me in to this idea was chapter 4 entitled: "Autonomy: The Aim of Education for Piaget" claiming that obtaining knowledge really is about a child's development toward autonomy.

Here's a quote:

"An unusual example of moral autonomy is the struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights. King was autonomous enough to take relevant factors into account and to conclude that the laws discriminating against African Americans were unjust and immoral. Convinced of the need to make justice a reality he worked to end the discriminatory laws, in spite of the police, jails, dogs, water hoses, and threats of assassination used to stop to stop him. Morally autonomous people cannot be manipulated with reward and punishment."

The chapter continues with a discussion on how schools are geared to largely manipulate especially in mathematics. Math is pretty unique because there are truly right and wrong answers usually, but there are not necessarily wrong or right ways of coming up with the answer. The point of the book is that its not necessarily as important to get the answer right as it is in the struggle to get to the answer autonomously. To come up with internal methods to find it, and to learn to be sure enough in the answer to defend it to others. If in the process of defending your answer, you discover our methods are wrong, room is provided to reassess and fix the mistakes until the right answer is found.

The danger in our current teaching approach in mathematics is when the student views the teacher as the ultimate source knowledge, rather than learning to search from within. In reality, mathematics is intrinsically true. Numbers and equations that model nature around us existed before humans did. We came up with symbols and ways to represent them, but addition, subtraction, numbers were not invented they were discovered. The process of learning math, in Piaget's view, is to allow a child to go through the process of mathematical discovery in their own way working collaboratively with other children in the classroom using the teacher more as a guide and less as source for truth.

So, obviously this hooked me in. Any book that can use Martin Luther King Jr. to explain mathematical teaching is going to hook me in.

Well, with that book in my head, recently, I read about why programmers (like me) should learn math.

Here are some points:

On learning:
"In fact, I don't think you need to know anything, as long as you can stay alive somehow."

On math education:
"They teach math all wrong in school. Way, WAY wrong. If you teach yourself math the right way, you'll learn faster, remember it longer, and it'll be much more valuable to you as a programmer."

Math is:
"Math is... ummm, please don't tell anyone I said this; I'll never get invited to another party as long as I live. But math, well... I'd better whisper this, so listen up: (it's actually kinda fun.)"

How you should learn math:

"The right way to learn math is to ignore the actual algorithms and proofs, for the most part, and to start by learning a little bit about all the techniques: their names, what they're useful for, approximately how they're computed, how long they've been around, (sometimes) who invented them, what their limitations are, and what they're related to. Think of it as a Liberal Arts degree in mathematics.

Why? Because the first step to applying mathematics is problem identification. If you have a problem to solve, and you have no idea where to start, it could take you a long time to figure it out. But if you know it's a differentiation problem, or a convex optimization problem, or a boolean logic problem, then you at least know where to start looking for the solution."

I think this is more true in high school than in early grades because you need to have the foundations of numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. down solid. You can't understand algebra or geometry if you don't know how numbers relate to one another (the network of numbers as the Piaget book describes it). And you really need to know algebra and geometry.

Finally, I read Outliers and this quote:

"We sometimes think of being good at mathematics as an innate ability. You either have 'it' or you don't. But to Schoenfeld, it's not so much ability as attitude. You master mathematics if you are willing to try. That's what Schoenfeld attempts to teach his students. Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds."

The point is that people who don't get math, don't get it because they give up too early. Math, with its heavy emphasis on confusing-at-first symbols and equations is on the surface one of the most intimidating subjects around. But if you approach it systematically with focus and persistence, it is really not that hard. But it takes a certain kind of mindset, the willingness not to give up, and patient practice. The kind of attributes that translate really nicely in all kinds of other areas.

Summing all of this information together, I want to see my children really getting the basics principles deeply embedded. They need to not just know their math and subtraction tables, they need to understand deeply how numbers relate to each other.

Its why I think doing the repetitiveness of a worksheet is important, but also doing the math games and word problems Piaget would suggest, are even more important. I want to de-emphasize having the correct answers in favor for helping my children learn how to derive answers on their own and be able to defend their results to me, answers they came up with after a struggle. If their answer is wrong, I want them to be able to work through it until they get it right.

As they get older, I like the idea of gaining an overall awareness and an ability to identify problems that have mathematical solutions. I would probably emphasize statistics and probability and linear algebra over calculus. I just think probability and statistics is so important, so relevant in day to day life. Calculus is also cool and important, but maybe not as much so unless a science or engineering degree is pursued (basic calculus should be known, though. Basic calculus is really not that hard and can be learned by most anyone).

We'll see, but my personal goal is that every single one of my kids both enjoy and be good at math.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Diabetes Ain't no Good

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I had to hold our oldest daughter down while she literally screamed and cried, and writhed her body in protest so that my wife could insert a needle into her tummy. A bigger, fatter, longer needer than we're used to using, big enough to carry an IV inter her stomach so that a pump can constantly drip insulin into her body. Obviously, we didn't jump to this technique first try, but it seemed our only choice after spending time trying to convince her to submit to this willingly.

Today, we talked to another family with a new diabetic and they had a similar experience, except they needed another nurse to come in to help pin their son down for it.

We think the pump is going to make things a lot nicer for us and for our daughter. But it still kind of sticks that she has to have this not too tiny electronic device hanging off of her 24/7, and some plastic tubing permanently embedded into her flesh.

Yep, diabetes, it ain't no good.

(Title of this post stolen very directly from this song - substituting our long term chronic illness for "people")...