Monday, November 16, 2009

Annie Sullivan on Discipline

I recently ordered a course by Lisa VanDamme that analyzes three great plays--one of which is The Miracle Worker. So, in partial preparation for the course, the wife and I watched the movie based on Gibson's play.

Though I watched the movie as a child, and didn't like it, I found it much better this time around. The actions of the characters made more sense, and I could get past the erratic behavior of Keller in particular, to enjoy more fully the drama bound up in Sullivan's quest to get Heller to understand language.

On Sullivan's disciplinary methods: I'm not sure what you would call this these days--other than illegal--but I wonder what my readers would call it.

For instance: Can Sullivan be said to be using positive discipline? At some parts of the movie--when she's not slapping Keller hard in the face-- think a lot of what Sullivan does actually follows these principles (given my admittedly cursory understanding of them).

Anyway, I had to mention this real quick before I forgot. Also: if anyone has not seen the movie, I recommend it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

3 Lessons Richard Feynman's Father Taught Him

Richard Feynman is one of my favorite people. And he had a wonderful father. Below are some excerpts, from "What Do You Care What Other People Think?", showing what Feynman's childhood was like:
When I was just a little kid, very small in a highchair, my father brought home a lot of little bathroom tiles--seconds--of different colors. We played with them, my father setting them up vertically on my highchair like dominoes, and I would push one end so they would all go down.

Then after a while, I'd help set them up. Pretty soon, we're setting them up in a more complicated way: two white tiles and a blue tile, two white tiles and a blue tile, and so on. When my mother saw that she said, "Leave the poor child alone. If he wants to put a blue tile, let him put a blue tile." 
But my father said, "No, I want to show him what patterns are like and how interesting they are. It's a kind of elementary mathematics." So he started very early to tell me about the world and how interesting it is.
Feynman's family had the Encyclopedia Britannica (remember those?) and his dad would sit Richard on his lap, and read to him.
We would be reading, say, about dinosaurs. It would be talking about the Tyrannosaurus rex and it would say something like, "This dinosaur is twenty-five feet high and its head is six feet across." 
My dad would stop reading and say, "Now, let's see what that means. That would mean that if he stood in our front yard, he would be tall enough to put his head through our window up here." (We were on the second floor.) "But his head would be too wide to fit in the window." 
Everything he read me he would translate as best he could into some reality. 
It was very exciting and very, very interesting to think there were animals of such magnitude--and that they all died out, and that nobody knew why. I wasn't frightened that there would be one coming in my window as a consequence of this. But I learned from my father to translate: everything I read I try to figure out what it really means, what it's really saying.
Of course, Feynman's father taught him more than how to translate from words to reality. He also taught him to go from reality to words.
My father taught me to notice things. One day I was playing with an "express wagon," a little wagon with a railing around it. It had a ball in it, and when I pulled the wagon I noticed something about the way the ball moved. I went to my father and said, "Say, Pop, I noticed something. When I pull the wagon, the ball rolls to the back of the wagon. And when I'm pulling it along and I suddenly stop, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon. Why is that? 
"That, nobody knows," he said. "The general principle is that things which are moving tend to keep on moving, and things which are standing still tend to stand still, unless you push them hard. This tendency is called 'inertia,' but nobody knows why it's true." Now, that's a deep understanding. He didn't just give me the name. 

He went on to say, "If you look from the side, you'll see that it's the back of the wagon that you're pulling against the ball, and the ball stands still. As a matter of fact, from the friction it starts to move forward a little bit in relation to the ground. It doesn't move back." 
I ran back to the little wagon and set the ball up again and pulled the wagon. Looking sideways, I saw that indeed he was right. Relative to the sidewalk, it moved forward a bit. 

That's the way I was educated by my father, with those kinds of examples and discussions. It has motivated me for the rest of my life, and make me interested in all the sciences. (It just happens I do physics better.) 
I've been caught, so to speak--like someone who was given something wonderful when he was a child, and he's always looking for it again. I'm always looking, like a child, for the wonders I know I'm going to find--maybe not every time, but every once in a while.

For more by me on Feynman, check out "The Curious Life of Richard Feynman" and "3 Things I Learned Off the Beaten Track with Richard Feynman."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The (New) Rebel

With apologies to Tennyson:

He has a book between his hands
The third of three it is Ayn Rand’s
And with perfect posture, he stands

Around him theocrats and thugs
The rugs beneath their feet he tugs
And then a world changes, he shrugs

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Parenting Questions (Answers Sold Separately)

Here are a bunch of parenting questions I posted at Rational Jenn's excellent blog:
I have yet to delve fully into this issue but it seems there is a great need for objective definitions in [the field of parenting].

For example, what constitutes a reward? Does a smile and a high five, in response to a kid's achievement, constitute one? Or, using one of Kelly's examples, are good grades a reward?

What distinguishes a reward from an objective evaluation of the facts (or an act of justice) in the above cases? Does being a good parent demand that one pretend facts (or one's estimates of them) are other than they are? Put another way: is emotional neutrality with regards to children's choices and the consequences a virtue?

Are kids quick to exchange their parent's (or teacher's) values for their own? In certain areas--like food and games and schedules--it seems that this is not the case. But this seems to be the premise behind the strong need for caution.

What is "extrinsic motivation" and is it necessarily the same as "second-handed motivation"? How does the "extrinsic motivation" of giving a kid an allowance for their efforts at school differ from an adult getting a salary for their efforts at work?

As noted in the title, the answers are not included here. But feel free to post your own in the comment section!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Red Bull for Your Soul, Cont'd

Here's some more "red bull for your soul"--an excellent poem by Dale Wimbrow called "The Man in the Glass."
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the guy in the glass.
I love this poem, not only for its rhythm and rhyme, but for the message it holds: that, if happiness is your goal, you should be true to yourself--living in such a way that your own judgement of your own soul is unquestionably positive.