Sunday, May 27, 2012

Obstacles to a Dangerous Childhood

There are a large number of potential obstacles standing between every child and the dangerous childhood that he needs and deserves. Because of the level of control which parents can exert over a child's life, we should look at parental obstacles first:

  • Incompetence, low intelligence, maliciousness, and indifference
  • These characteristics are commonly agreed upon as being signs of poor parents and bad parenting.
  • Overindulgence
  • Overindulgence by parents within affluent classes and in affluent societies is often popularly seen as a sign of good parenting, although this is often the opposite of the truth in many ways (PDF pp 8-11).
  • Overprotectiveness
  • Overprotectiveness can often be seen in conjunction with overindulgence, but not necessarily. The two types of dysfunctional parenting should generally be seen as distinct.

Malicious, indifferent, and incompetent parents are apt to immerse the child inside an impoverished and unhappy environment.

Overindulgent parents are likely to cause children to focus upon the outward signs of success at the expense of development of the inner strengths required to achieve that sucess.

Overprotective parents tend to keep children from testing themselves against dangers and challenges that naturally arise in the course of daily life. As a result, children fail to move through necessary "rites of passage" which naturally lead them from childhood to adulthood.

Here is a quote from Conn Iggulden, author of The Dangerous Book for Boys:
One of the tragedies of the ­increasingly litigious ­society we live in is that schools now treat ­our ­children as though they are made of china.

Teachers worry that they will be sued if they take pupils on school trips where they can enjoy risk and adventure, ­climbing rocks and trees.

They are concerned that bruising sports, such as rugby, where black eyes and ­broken bones are par for the course, could expose them to ­litigation. They even ­hesitate over traditional games, such as tag and bulldog. _Conn Iggulden

What he says about schools is doubly true for homes. Parents must give children a rational exposure to danger and rites of passage, so that the children will not turn to destructive behaviours out of a desperate and unfulfilled need for risk.

Dangers lie all around us, and within ourselves as well. Failing to recognise them, failing to confront them, failing to learn to deal with them -- these failures have their roots in dysfunctional upbringings.

But dangerous children -- who have experienced a dangerous childhood in the best sense of the word -- understand danger very well, and have learned to devise a large number of ways to deal with a wide range of dangers.

That is what a dangerous child curriculum and a dangerous child upbringing is all about.

The ideas of danger introduced by Conn and Hall Iggulden and by Gever Tulley, are important starting points for modern parents -- who are likely to have been somewhat overindulged and overprotected themselves, and in danger of doing the same to their own children. A truly dangerous childhood will require such simple introductions to risk taking to be but springboards into greater and more sophisticated dangers, requiring greater and greater levels of expertise and competence.

A dangerous childhood leads to a positive, constructive, and productive adulthood. But the actual path has to be laid down by each dangerous child on his own, based upon a certain amount of guidance and preparation.

Because the end result of a dangerous child upbringing and education is essentially uncontrolled -- wide open and unpredictable -- it is seen as a threat by status quo educators, politicians, lawyers, journalists, and other vested interests in the modern dysfunction.

It is never too late for a dangerous childhood. But once the concept is grasped, it is better to begin sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Practical Competencies: Power Welding

Caution: Be sure to learn dangerous skills from qualified teachers and practitioners, and to use top quality equipment, eye protection, shielding, and protective clothing.

Welding metals together to produce a strong joint, is an extremely useful skill for the dangerous child to master. Ideally, the dangerous child will learn to weld with both a torch and with electrically powered welders between the ages of 12 and 16, depending upon the rate of maturation and the judgment of parents and teachers. Here we will take a quick look at some aspects of electric welders.
Popular Mechanics

Wire-feed welders are great, but there's a lot to be said for stick welders, which use a rod-shaped electrode held in a clamp. Here's how it works: A ground lead runs from the welding machine to the workpiece. When you touch the stick electrode to the metal, you make a welding circuit and create a high-­temperature arc that melts the rod. As the electrode melts, the flux coating on it is gasified, shielding the molten metal from the air. When the metals cool, they are fused together. A major advantage of stick welding is that you can easily switch among various electrodes. For example, some achieve high-strength joints; others repair cracked cast iron or fill in pitted areas. Also, there are stick electrodes designed to deal with rust or dirt, a good thing when you're repairing a machine outdoors where achieving a clean weld surface is impossible.

The downside to stick welders is that they are more difficult to learn to use, especially if you're teaching yourself.

Wire-feed welders are more mechanically complex, but they're simpler to operate. These machines drive a thin wire electrode off a motorized spool and through a cable to a welding gun.

And wire-feed welders can join metal ranging from automotive sheet steel all the way up to ½-inch-thick plate. _PopularMechanics
Tests of best wire-feed welders

Arc welding tutorials

Making your own spot welder using a microwave oven transformer. Such projects are for those who have already mastered high voltage transformer safety.

One of the things that makes dangerous children so dangerous, is that they learn to master skills which would be deadly to the untrained and unskilled. The safe mastery of several dangerous skills tends to set persons apart from the herd.

Most modern parents tend to treat children like precious trophies or jewels -- to be sheltered from all possible danger or practical use. And to top it off, they want to instill these helpless incompetents with an abundance of self-esteem!

Do your children a favour, and make them truly dangerous, competent, and deservedly confident. But don't tell anyone you don't trust. These days, raising strong, competent, independent and truly dangerous children is often enough to get you locked up, depending upon where you live and who runs your local social services department.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Using Games to Teach Reading Skills to 4 Year Olds

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have devised teaching games that are capable of teaching Swedish children as young as 4 years of age early reading skills. It is likely that such an approach could lead to even earlier learning of reading skills, in some children.
Previous research has shown that children’s reading development can be stimulated with structured and playful language games from the age of six. In a current three-year study, researchers at the University of Gothenburg are exploring the effects of having children as young as four participate in such games. The hypothesis is that young children who are actively stimulated in their development of so-called linguistic and phonological awareness end up better prepared for dealing with written language.

...The preliminary findings indicate that the phonological training had an effect immediately following the training, and that the effect can be observed one year later as well. ‘The children in the intervention group had a higher level of phonological awareness. They were for example able to identify and manipulate speech sounds. Rhyming is one example of this. The ability to recognise the form of the language is something that researchers know is important for early reading development,’ says Senior Lecturer Ulrika Wolff, who is heading the project together with Professor Jan-Eric Gustafsson. Since the studied children are still in pre-school, they are not yet being taught the art of reading. The researchers are planning to follow the same group of children for a few years once they start school in order to investigate the more long-term effects of early intervention on the development of reading and writing skills. Doing so will show whether or not the children who have not received the training are able to catch up with the intervention group. _UGothenburg
The more headstarts you can give your child in terms of skills acquisition, the more dangerous he can ultimately become. Reading allows one to acquire knowledge independently, without another person supervising or dictating the terms of learning.

The Swedish researchers once again point out the importance of game play in early childhood learning. Infants and young children are attracted to play, and are able to focus better in a play-captive state. This relationship of play and learning can remain in effect throughout childhood and into adulthood, although the "play" of adults can be harder to recognise as such.

Human brains develop according to a schedule, which is determined by the interaction of the child's genetic complement and the child's lifetime history from conception, and earlier (congenital factors affecting gametes and gestational environment).

As critical periods come and go, brain plasticity occurs at variably optimal levels. If parents have not prepared the child's environment for specific critical periods, much of the potential can be lost. A better prepared environment will boost the child's plasticity during particular windows of development, giving the child a head start -- and thus an extended lifetime with regard to specific skills and competencies.

Multi-competent children become multi-competent adults. And that is very dangerous to the powers that be, unless the powers that be happen to closely resemble the original writers of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. But in the modern world, that is most unlikely.

Train your children to be powerful and dangerous. But prepare them for the backlash which is likely to be ginned up by the status quo. H/T Science Direct

Friday, May 11, 2012

Musical Prodigies in Diapers? Science and Early Music Training

A recent study published in Developmental Science suggests that early training in active "participitory" musical experience boosts a six month old's communications and social skills.
We found that random assignment to 6 months of active participatory musical experience beginning at 6 months of age accelerates acquisition of culture-specific knowledge of Western tonality in comparison to a similar amount of passive exposure to music. Furthermore, infants assigned to the active musical experience showed superior development of prelinguistic communicative gestures and social behaviour compared to infants assigned to the passive musical experience. These results indicate that (1) infants can engage in meaningful musical training when appropriate pedagogical approaches are used, (2) active musical participation in infancy enhances culture-specific musical acquisition, and (3) active musical participation in infancy impacts social and communication development. _Developmental Science (abstract)
Six months has always been considered too early to begin musical training for infants. But if, in fact, the infant brain is particularly "plastic" to musical training at, or near, the age of six months, it may someday be seen as a sign of parental neglect to deprive infants of active participatory musical training!

The researchers describe a six-month experiment featuring 34 infants and their parents. The babies’ average age at the time of the first session was six and one-half months; the last week of classes occurred around their first birthday. Twenty of the infants and their parents participated in weekly, hour-long interactive music classes, which utilized the well-known Suzuki method.

“Two teachers worked with the parents and infants to build a repertoire of lullabies, action songs and nursery rhymes,” the researchers write. “Parents were encouraged to use the curriculum CD at home and to repeat the songs and rhymes daily.”

The other 14 infants and their parents enrolled in passive music classes, where they listened to “a rotating series of recordings from the popular Baby Einstein series” while playing together with balls, blocks or books. After six months, those who took part in the active music lessons demonstrated a preference for tonal over atonal music—a pattern not found in the passive group. In addition, the researchers found “significantly larger and/or earlier responses” to piano tones in the brains of the babies who took active lessons.

But the benefits of this training went far beyond early indications of music appreciation.

“After participation in active music classes, infants showed much lower levels of distress when confronted with novel stimuli than after participation in passive music classes,” the researchers report. All the babies smiled and laughed less as they aged during the experiment, but the fall-off was greater among the passive listeners.

Communication skills were also positively affected. “Use of gestures increased greatly between six and 12 months of age,” the researchers note, “but increased more so for those in the active compared to the passive music classes.”

Trainor and her colleagues do not view these developments as isolated. “Positive social interactions between infants and parents likely lead to better communication and earlier acquisition of communicative gestures, which in turn lead to more positive social interactions,” they write. _PSMag
It is important to emphasise that parental participation was key to the positive social and communication skills results obtained from the "active participatory" training group. Parent-child bonding was almost certainly enhanced as well.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of parental involvement in critical period training of children. If parents are too busy to help children take optimal advantage of developmental windows, it is unlikely that anyone else will take the necessary amount of care in such training opportunities.

If parents are there every step of the child's critical development and skills acquisition, the bonding of common experience and the building of trust as the child gains confidence and competence, will pay lifetime dividends for both parent and child.

Monday, May 07, 2012

What Leo Babauta Has Learned about Learning

Leo Babauta is an author and proprietor of Zenhabits, and other websites. He helps his wife homeschool his children in San Francisco, and describes his current views on learning:
When teachers succeeded in getting me to learn, it was only because they made something seem so interesting that I started to care about it. But then I learned on my own, either in class while ignoring everyone else, or more likely after class in the library or at home.

That’s because someone walking you through the steps of learning something doesn’t work — you aren’t learning when you’re just listening to someone tell you how something works. You’re learning when you try to do that something — putting it into action. That’s when the real learning begins and the superficial learning ends — when you try something and fail, and adjust and try again, and solve countless little problems as you do so.

The best teachers know this, and so they inspire, and help you to put the learning into action. As an adult, I’ve learned a lot on my own. The stuff I’ve just read, I’ve mostly forgotten. But the stuff I’ve put into action by playing with it, by practicing, by creating and sharing with others — that stuff has stuck with me. I truly learned it.

How to Learn (or Teach)

The teacher’s job, really, is to fascinate the student. Fascination is the key to learning. Then help the student put the fascination into action.

It follows then, that if you’re teaching yourself, your job is exactly the same.

Here’s how to learn:

  • Get fascinated. As a teacher, you should fascinate the student by rediscovering with her all the things that originally fascinated you about the topic. If you can’t get fascinated, you won’t care enough to really learn something. You’ll just go through the motions. How do you get fascinated? Often doing something with or for other people helps to motivate me to look more deeply into something, and reading about other people who have been successful/legendary at it also fascinates me.
  • Pour yourself into it. I will read every website and book I can get my hands on. Google and the library are my first stops. They’re free. The used bookstore will be next. There are always an amazing amount of online resources to learn anything. If there isn’t, create one.
  • Do it, in small steps. Actually doing whatever you want to do will be scary. You can learn as much Spanish vocabulary as you like, but until you start having conversations, you won’t really know it. You can read as much about chess as you like, but you have to put the problems into action, and play games. You can read about how to program, but you won’t know it until you actually code. Start with small, non-scary steps, with as little risk as possible, focusing on fun, easy skills.
  • Play. Learning isn’t work. It’s fun. If you’re learning because you think you should, not because you’re having fun with it, you will not really stick with it for long, or you’ll hate it and not care about it. So make it play. Make games out of it. Sing and dance while you do it. Show off your new skills to people, with a smile on your face. Do it with others. I believe most learning is done on your own, but doing it with others makes it fun. I like to work out with my friends and with Eva. I like to bake bread for my family. I like to play chess with my kids. That motivates me to learn, because I want to do well when I do it with others.
  • Feel free to move around. I will dive into something for a couple weeks, and then move on to something else. That’s OK. That’s how passion for a topic often works. Sometimes it will last for a long time, sometimes it’s a short intense burst. You can’t control it. Allow yourself to wander if that’s where things lead you.
  • Test yourself. You can learn a lot of information quickly by studying something, testing yourself, studying again to fill in the holes in your knowledge, testing again, and repeating until you have it by heart. That’s not always the most fun way to learn, but it can work well. Alternatively, you can learn by playing, and when you play, allow that to be your test.
  • Disagree. Don’t just agree that everything you’re reading or hearing from others on a topic is correct, even if they are foremost experts. First, experts are often wrong, and it’s not until they are challenged that new knowledge is found. Second, even if they are right and you are wrong by disagreeing, you learn by disagreeing. By disagreeing, you have already not only considered what you’ve been given, but formulated an alternative theory. Then you have to try to test to see which is right, and even if you find that the first information or theory was right and you were wrong, now you know that much better than if you just agreed. I’m not saying to disagree with everything, but the more you do, the better you’ll learn. Don’t disagree in a disagreeable way, and don’t hold onto your theories too tightly and be defensive about them.
  • Teach it. There is no better way to cement your knowledge than to teach it to others. It’s OK if you don’t really know it that well — as long as you’re honest about that when you’re teaching it to someone. For example, I’m a beginner at chess, but I will learn something about it and teach it to my kids — they know I’m not a tournament contender, let alone a master, and yet I’m still teaching them something they don’t know. And when I do, I begin to really understand it, because to teach you have to take what you’ve absorbed, reflect upon it, find a way to organize it so that you can communicate it to someone else clearly enough for them to understand it, see their mistakes and help correct them, see where the holes in your knowledge are, and more.
  • Reflect on your learning by blogging. You soak up a ton of information and patterns, and you can put that into action, but when you sit down and reflect on what you’ve learned, and try to share that with others (as I’m doing right now), you force yourself to think deeply, to synthesize the knowledge and to organize it, much as you do when you teach it to others. Blogging is a great tool for reflection and sharing what you’ve learned, even if you don’t hope to make a living at it. And it’s free.
Leo's emphasis appears to be more on didactic learning and minimal skills learning. And in general, Leo is right that one has to teach oneself, rather than to be taught by a teacher. If you recall, Doctor Arthur Robinson said much the same thing about his own experiences homeschooling his 6 children as a single parent.

If one wants to assist in creating dangerous children, of course, one will need to dive more deeply into more complex skills learning. For that, a certain amount of master : apprentice learning may be required, since many things that should be learned cannot be obtained from textbooks, the internet, learning videos, or wandering and blundering around on one's own. Some things have to be learned from someone else who put in the hard work and hard knocks to learn that special, rare knowledge -- whatever it might be.

Dangerous children will learn core skills at a relatively early age, then push that special knowledge beyond what they were taught. This will require special types of teacher : student arrangements which are not typical of today's conventional factory style, cookie cutter government education.

But learning should be fun, for it to become self-sustaining. It should begin very early in life, and it should last as long as life. And for it to be effective, it needs to be very, very dangerous.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Dangerous Child: Critical and Sensitive Periods of Plasticity

The term "neural plasticity" means the ability of the brain to reshape itself. Critical periods of brain plasticity are times when particular circuits and intercircuits of the brain are particularly prepared for experiences which will assist the genetically encoded development of those circuits.

The brain tends to develop from posterior to anterior. From the occipital lobe in infancy to the prefrontal lobes in late adolescence and early adulthood, brain circuits mature and myelinate according to a particular sequence which is genetically encoded -- but can be altered somewhat by experience.

If a newborn's eyelids are sewn shut so that he cannot see from the time of birth, his occipital lobes will eventually be used for other types of processing rather than seeing. If only one eye is unable to see, the other eye's visual input will move into the brain territory which would have been used for the "dark eye's" input.

More about what is known scientifically about critical periods, with an emphasis on the visual system:
From polyglots to virtuosi, human performance reflects the neural circuits that are laid down by early experience. Although learning is possible throughout life, there is no doubt that those who start younger fare better, and that plasticity is enhanced during specific windows of opportunity. An understanding of the neural basis of such CRITICAL or SENSITIVE PERIODS of brain development would inform not only classroom and educational policy, but also drug design, clinical therapy and strategies for improved learning into adulthood. Although which might be the critical periods for higher cognitive functions such as language, music or emotional control is the subject of popular debate, such sweeping questions fail to acknowledge the sequential nature of a multistage process that involves many brain regions. _Critical Periods in Local Cortical Circuits (PDF)

Critical Periods in Language Acquisition (PDF)

Much of the knowledge about critical and sensitive developmental periods of plasticity was learned from animal research. Here is an intriguing study demonstrating the restoration of critical period plasticity in the auditory cortex of rats (PDF).

The concept of "critical periods" is quite controversial. Perhaps one reason for the controversy is that many scientists do not want to consider that very young children may have special needs which are not easily met except by persons who are heavily invested in that child. Many child psychologists are women who in fact were unable to take time away from their careers to spend intense time with a child who may have been passing through several critical periods. Subconsciously, such a scientist might wish to minimise any blame to herself for pursuing her career -- even if the only person who might possibly point a finger is herself.

But careful research in animals has clearly demonstrated that animals raised in an environmentally complex -- stimulus rich -- environment, experience superior neural and brain support structure development than animals raised in a stimulus poor environment. It is not likely that the developing brains of human infants are an exception to this tendency to thrive on the richness of stimuli in the environment.

We are accustomed to hearing -- in regard to aging and memory -- "use it or lose it!" But that maxim is likely to apply in a much deeper manner to the developmental time windows in the young brain.

But there is a problem, in that very few neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, or child and adolescent developmental specialists actually understand how the mature brain works, much less how the working brain came to be the way it is through various developmental periods.

It is easily possible for an interested and intelligent parent to know far more about the natural development of the child than most "experts", through observation, careful reading, and trial and error. And if a parent wants his child to develop into a "dangerous child," the parent will need to work hard to understand the process -- preferably before the child reaches each critical period.

It may seem a bit unprofessional to think of a child's developing brain in these terms, but in many ways a child's developing brain is much like a fine gourmet dish, or a carefully prepared perfume. The sequence of assembly is crucial, as is the skillful touch applied to each step, each finely textured layer.

Of course, the developing brain is undergoing many active processes simultaneously, and is not a passive recipient of "the master's touch." Brains are capable of turning out rather well in spite of what seem like a large number of stupid mistakes on the part of caregivers, parents, teachers, and society. But that is no excuse for being sloppy or negligent.

We will look at critical periods more, and at the related concept of "rites of passage."