Monday, April 28, 2008

Narrative Therapy

Michael White dies at 59, a practiti0ner of narrative therapy. He was a social worker and therapist who worked with "storytelling" in his therapy in Australia. For all intensive purpose, and from what I gather in the article, "narrative therapy" is akin to "bibliotherapy". Now, why is this distinction important to me? Because I just spent over a year of my life laboring over defining, redefining, and editing my thesis on bibliotherapy. Literally no less than ten minutes of being finished I read this article, and the funny thing is it only further proves one of my points.

One of the questions I ran into by many professors and adults in the field of psychology and education was, isn't the field a little small? The scary thing is, no, books and stories as therapeutic aids is an intensely large and scattered field of studies. There is a whole website dedicated to narrative approaches that I never encountered in my study of bibliotherapy. In fact, each day as I worked I would find a new source I would want to read, but there is only so much you can do in a year long thesis. One 1983 book I read highlighted the disparate nature of bibliotherapy studies, where some are in psychology, some education, and some library journals. These studies are further complimented by literary analysis, reading the books themselves, and what I find to be key, making the therapeutic books. How do you bring the field together in a way that makes it accepted by the greater world? Where every theorist from a different background is holding hands skipping and singing about books and stories as therapeutic aids...I don't know how yet, but I'm not giving up.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A roll in the mud

As I sit here, dirty because the pipes were turned off, I think about how great it was to be a kid when you didn't feel compelled to shower everyday and dirt and grass stains were acceptable on your clothing. A friend once told me that one of her favorite child time hobbies was playing in the mud, I believe her. I would not believe or even expect to hear such a statement from a modern day child.

I have a beef with Dick and Jane, mostly because I feel like they don't look like real children. There was in fact a shift in picture book illustrations where clean and pristine faces became akin to slightly dirty children sitting on a Brooklyn stoop (Sendak anyone?). Nowadays, I'm starting to think that children might identify better with those sparkly clean Dick and Jane types, where clothing is ironed and white is bright. I once had a child tell me they were dirty because he had spilled bubbles on himself. I replied, "Bubbles are soap. You don't need to change."

What happened to the days when kids came home dirty? When children's clothing was cheap because they outgrew it and got it dirty. I see kids walking down the streets in designer clothing and I think to myself, that costs more than my clothing. When I enter into the world of teaching one of my goals is to get children as dirty as possible, and teach them that it's okay to be dirty as a child. We will crawl in the grass, finger paint until we look like pieces of art ourselves, and certainly take a role in the mud.

Sensory School Tools: Beginning with the book

I am a big fan of introducing new concepts with books. Characters in books, those the age of the children, are much better models for behavioral and social emotional modifications. I would get into a big long discussion on one of my favorite topics, bibliotherapy, but I think I will avoid that for now.

Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions That Build Success by Jennifer Veenendall introduces the readers to a little boy named Arnie who tells his story. It seems that he used to have trouble doing his work, he was bouncing all over the place, and not following the rules or learning. He gets school tools, which are explained very well with comparing them to a builder's tools, and things start to change. His tools are ones an occupational therapist might give, a stretchy band or something to hold along with other OT ideas. The best part about the book is that it conveys sensory solutions to the child with out using overly complicated therapeutic language. Arnie seems to be a success, with lots of new school tools he can learn. He hopes some day to have an exciting job, because he recognizes that he can't have a desk job, like an archaeologist.

The book is quite new, published in January of 2008, and I look forward to more books of this tenure.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Electronic Soap Box: Autism Awareness

Autism awareness month sparks charity walks, puzzle piece wearing, and a sense that people are coming together behind an important cause. My college created a few events to raise awareness about Autism on a campus otherwise preoccupied with global warming, organic foods, the arts, and hipster apathy. I attended in the company of mostly graduate students and adults to listen to a five person panel led by one of my professors on the subject.

As you might have been able to tell at this point, I have have a small background in working with Autism and very vocal opinions on who should represent education and awareness and how. I am by no means an expert, but an avid learner of theory and observer of cultural representations and awareness.

Awareness, that's the word. I think I expected more people to come to the lecture. It was by no means empty, but the small lecture hall definitely had seats open. I took pages and pages of notes on what people said, and I would consider myself fairly informed on the subject compared to some of my campus. How do you make a cause, a disease, an epidemic trendy? How do you invoke the voices of celebrities, the oh so important twenty somethings, and the people with real power? Celebrities have started to take up the cause, and as much as I cringe when a celebrity talks about what the cause of Autism is, I know that at least people are starting to learn, starting to take hold of why we need to know more about it. Autism has started its infiltration of the celebrity voice and the media, but until people start wearing puzzle pieces as much as they wear various colors of ribbons, the job is not done.

I wish I was an expert. I wish I could stand on a soap box with charts and diagrams pointing out reasons A, B, and C that Autism needs to be at the forefront of research, but I am not. As I slowly make the transition soon into the world of education perhaps I can stand on something, my diploma, my job contract, or even a telephone book and tell the world what I think needs to change. Until then I blog, I stand upon my a little electronic soap box and hope to spread the word.

Monday, April 21, 2008

You-Need-Stars! (or what hollywood can really do for Autism)

I downloaded "Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert for Autism Education" with a bit of hesitancy. I often dislike or question medias knowledge base and portrayal of Autism. I pay $1.99, which I later learned did go to charity, and watched as a bunch of famous people did comedy and various sketches for about 1.5 hours in order to raise money for Autism. They did very little pondering about what creates Autism or which therapy is better than the next, but did what they can truly do that no other person can do and raised a lot of money. Also, they made fun of themselves.

"When there is an ailment that needs curing...stars!"

They make fun of the fact that stars seem to be included in every cure and conflict known to man despite their relative amounts of knowledge compared to expert. Ben Stiller signs an autograph to cure a heart attack, they can fix problems in the Middle East, and they can certainly raise money for Autism. A lot of the 1.5 hours is spent making fun of themselves and when it was live actually raising money for Autism education. There is a small amount of information on Autism itself, because let's be honest, that plus stars is really what makes the majority of the public want to donate.

Oh, and Ben Stiller sings a song to the tune of 'We Didn't Start The Fire' with all of the names of people who have donated over the night and the lyrics "they didn't start Autism, but they opened their hearts and they opened their checkbooks." Still not sure what to do with that...

Well, I'm not sure what academic value comedy central special has the money certainly goes to a worthy cause when you spend $1.99 to laugh for a while.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Finally learning where the wild things are: in my unconscious!

When I was little my friend had a large armoire , the focal point of her room, that was covered in a mural of Max and the some wild things. It bothered me as a child, although I never said it, to have one book so dominate her room. My relationship with Max and Sendak has grown wildly through out the years and only as an adult can I understand why a child might feel so connected to Max, so compelled by Sendak's story, that he would want his whole room decorated with the metaphors and archetypes that Sendak so purposefully places.

I on the other hand was not so obsessed with Where The Wild Things Are until I cam to college and began to look into the study of children's books and the therapeutic usage of children's literature. I did a research paper on Sendak's use of metaphor last year. I reviewed his use of expanding images as a representation of the growing wild, I looked at some of the placement of characters and props in various books, but the whole paper fell flatly on it's face. Why? Because it did not include the child. The paper did not look at the reader and the interaction between the millions of children who read Sendak's work and why they might read his many books.

I revisited Sendak this year with a bit of trepidation as I begin my thesis on the therapeutic use of children's books. I began reading psychoanalysis: Freud, Jung, Lacan. Somewhere in the middle of reading it all I thought to myself, wait, go back. Go back to the archetypes and the collective unconscious. Look at Max, the child, the beast, the child god, the child hero, the abandoned child, and all of his manifestations of Jung's child archetype. Max is many ways the perfect representation of Jung's child archetype. This means nothing on its own. What it does mean is that Max is someone connected to the inner depths, the collective unconscious, of all people. It means that in Max, and much of Sendak's writing, is a character that all people can relate to, and they do. Sendak is not just successful because of his prose and illustrations, but he is successful because he connects to an inner part of each reader.

I may not have consciously liked Where The Wild Things Are as a child, but I certainly love it now. In fact, as a child I might have been pushing Sendak away because I did identify with his characters so much, but the point is kind of moot now. I now have a deeper understanding of Sendak, his writing, his personal history, and the way his books connect to the reader. I finally learned where the wild things are, they are hidden in my unconscious, with Max, Mickey, Ida, and a plethora of Sendak favorites.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gooney Bird Greene and the book of the week

It caught my eye in the bookstore. The cover was alluring, a pigtailed red head with a polka dot shirt and a tutu. The title splayed across her shoulders and the author and her accolades on top. It wasn't until I picked it up that I realized that it was by Lois Lowry an author of my childhood. It wasn't until yesterday that I probably picked up the book because the girl on the cover resembled the some unconscious archetype ala Pippi Longstocking. Either way, it was a good read. An 88 page chapter book about telling stories. The book portrays Gooney Bird Greene as she has just moved to a new city, she tells fantastical stories that turn out, with misleading titles, to be absolutely true. She teachers her classmates how to tell a good story and soon they all begin to dress like her and tell great stories. The book serves as a perfect offshoot for lesson planning on writing stories and is enjoyable for even the adult leading the class, or bedtime story.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The youngest blogger in the world

I never would have thought that I would get so addicted to a computer, or blogging for that matter. When my computer, which I might as well call my child, took a turn for a worse this weekend I was shocked, depressed, enraged, and overemotional. How would I do my work with out a computer? How would I blog with out a computer? I was at a loss. Most college students spend far too much time in front of their computers. Essays are written while music is playing, a youtube video is on, and various chats are in the background. This trend is starting younger and younger with new kid friendly computers, with some kinks to still work out, being marketed at cheaper costs. I start to wonder, when will pre-school kids start blogs.

In a literacy class I took my freshman year the teacher posed the question to the class, "Will there ever come a day when books are obsolete? When learning to read involves sitting in front of a computer?" I was shocked, but unfortunately computers are slowly creeping their way into the common verse of childhood banter. They are slowly teaching children to multitask and to assume everything happens at the speed of bandwidth. When do children have time to slow down? Go away from the computer to get rid of that glassy eyed stare...

I did not have a computer until I was in fifth grade and I am quite thankful for that. While I was not outdoorsy I was certainly spending my time creating and inventing in distilled and peaceful environments. Until computers can do that for children I don't know how much time I think young children should be spending on the screen playing mindless games. But then again, if instead they were typing a story, reading educational material, or doing something constructive , it would be different. I am certainly no expert on children's computer programs, but I see the change lurking in the future of the computer era. While it might be present with adults I'm waiting for the four year old who turns to me and says, have you heard the new Steve Jobs speech?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Psychology of the Big Give

When I first heard about Oprah's show The Big Give I was a bit skeptical. I thought it might exploit the act of giving, but I have changed my mind. There are the obvious upsides to this show, commercials and product placement probably create more money to give to people, money that would not have been there before. Here was the kicker, the people on the show aren't expecting anything except to give big. Oprah is secretly planning to give 1 million dollars to the winner of the show, but the contestants don't know that, they all do it out of the goodness of their hearts. That, and their defense mechanism that is 'altruism'.

What? Defense mechanism? Okay, so Oprah isn't exactly thinking about this, but I am. Back in December I read a book by a psychologist Vaillant called The Wisdom of the Ego. He talks about some defense mechanisms as healthy. One of these is 'altruism', people give back in order to make themselves feel better. By giving back these contestants are strengthening their ego and making themselves stronger more capable people. Now, lots of people do this, Anna Freud is Vaillant's example. Giving back makes these contestants feel better, and in the end it's infectious. I watch this show now believing that people will want to give back to feel just as good as the contestants do.

I remember an episode of Friends from probably a good 10 years ago. In the episode the character of Joey argues that it isn't possible to do a good deed that doesn't make you feel good. Phoebe tries continually through out the episode to do something good with out making herself feel good, and inevitably fails. The way I see it, who cares if the person giving something good feels good in return. Defense mechanism or no, two people feel good.

So, if watching Oprah's primetime show makes me feel like giving back and then boosters my ego, so be it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tricking kids into loving books

In my recent reading I have been looking at, well, learning to read. Those tricky ways that teachers make you think you are having fun. I remember in second grade during our poetry unit our teacher told us for every person or object we read our poems aloud to every week we got a sticker. I once got over 100 stickers. Little did I know that by reading aloud I was improving my literacy, because lets be honest, I just wanted the cool animal stickers. I know not all teachers can bribe students the way mine did, but I'm finding more and more that there are two sides in literacy education. The first is teaching children how to read, the second is teaching children to love to read.

The more students realize how fun, rewarding, and entertaining reading can be, the more motivated they will be to learn. In my research on bibliotherapy, or books as therapy aids, many people highlight the need for humor to engage children, this goes triple or quadruple for building literacy. Why do children love Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, and Jon Scieszka? Because they're funny. I'm a big fan of Jon Scieszka. First, he has possibly the most entertaining website ever. Second, his books are fabulous. Third, he started out as a teacher. Before his big break into writing Scieszka was an elementary school teacher and taught kids to read and to laugh. In a Horn Book podcast (free on itunes!) Scieszka talked about knowing his audience when he wrote, making the books funny for children, and while he never explicitly said this, I do believe part of his intention is building literacy through a love of reading.

Okay, so I'm not an expert. I honestly believe though that humor in books helps children WANT to read. I've been a big fan of the kids show Between The Lions for a long time, because aside from teaching literacy skills it teaches a love of reading. But every child I have asked about the show tells me that they don't really like it. How do we combine humor into what is sound in literacy methods? More teachers need to start writing, or at least people who know the fundamental literacy needs of children.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Memoirs are seductive. They draw you in with painful honest truths like you are listening ear pressed against a confessional box as someone purges their sins. It's like a voyeur peering into a secret life, you feel like you shouldn't be there but when you are it is soothing and you continue to go back for more. I tend to read memoirs in a few short days, once I pick it up I can't put it down. Eli Wiesel's Night was the first memoir this happened with when I was only thirteen, I read it in one afternoon. Memoirs are more than just stories, they are real people that when you learn about them you can say, hey that's like me. Even when you haven't been through that same experience there is something about the raw emotions that is therapeutic. I would argue that narrative writing is therapeutic, but I also don't have any memoirs published so for now I'll stick to the reading experience.

Reading psychological studies and books can be slow sleepy creeps towards understanding. In a memoir you get the rush of emotions and psychology within one fell swoop. I happened to take a psychology class this year where memoirs helped to introduce many psychological concepts. It almost felt like cheating. I've learned a lot from memoirs and narratives such as Nobody Nowhere and The Boy Who Loved Windows. Each book displays not just facts but details of emotions, and secondary symptoms, that many theories do not begin to fully explain. Most of all they show the story of the individual, something that is so important in psychology. A person is not their diagnosis but an individual dealing with a problem.

I'm taking this somewhere, or at least, to a certain book. In just over 24 hours I read, I drank up every drop of, Carolin Kettlewell's Skin Game. Read it. Really, I cannot recommend this book more. If you don't read this, go out an read a memoir, because it can enthrall you, entertain you, and soothe you all at the same time.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Good bye left side!

In yesterday's technology section of The New York Times an article was published titled, " Let Computers Compute. It’s the Age of the Right Brain". I don't know how to take it. First it crosses my mind how wonderful it is that large companies and the computer age so set in logical processing are investing in the creative end of the right side of the brain. One of the 'morals to the story' as they call it is that when people focus on the right side of their brain,

"There’s power in making career choices for fundamental reasons, such as doing something you love, instead of instrumental reasons, like hoping a job will be a steppingstone to something else."

That is important. I always value people who do things because they love them and not because it gets them a grade or a bigger paycheck. Yet, there is something about ignoring the left side of the brain that scares me. Where the advent of computers certainly lets some of that logical thinking off the shoulders of humans it arguably needed a lot of creativity in order to create the computers in the first place. I recall a book I read a few years ago, Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers, that to me integrates a lot of that left brain thinking with right brain thinking. In the book virtual reality designers, and a special artist look to create a space called 'the Cavern' where are can take form. Many of these virtual reality art pieces look just like the original. The virtual reality researchers are sharply countered by the story of one many held prison in a war torn country with little stimulation at all.

I think I just figured out the meaning of the book.

It's not about the left side, the right side, and the left side versus the right side but how the two interact and compliment each other. Yes, people tend to prefer one side to the other but both the logical and creative need to be stimulated in order to create masterpieces like 'the Cavern' in Plowing the Dark. Whether you are getting your BFA or MBA in order to truly excel to the top of your field, and probably to gain satisfaction, you need both. Okay, so not everybody is going to be a revolutionary in their career of choice but why not train kids early on to use both sides, or lots of sides as Gardner might argue.

Between the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain lies the corpus callosum. Where the left side used to be favored there is no reason now to focus solely on the right. People were born with thousands of nerves connecting the two, and that is the way it should ideally be.

Sunday, April 6, 2008 you think I am...?

Ever feel like those people laughing are laughing at you? That when your co-worker smiles at you they are secretly thinking about stealing your job? That the stranger on the subway is really thinking, what are you wearing? Don't worry, as hard as that might be, apparently lots of people are paranoid.

'Paranoia' was generally thought to be a part of a major mental illness. In a study with 200 British people 40% exhibited paranoid thoughts in a simulated subway situation. So don't get too concerned if you exhibit a few thoughts that the person in the next room is laughing at you, it's kind of normal.

Is it a sign of the times? With terrorism and war on peoples minds are they constantly thinking what will happen next? Once while waiting to pick friends up from the airport I was joking about a bomb and it occurred to me, what if they are taping me? What if I can't get on an airplane in a week? I laughed it off, but with the invasion of privacy that the government has taken on it can create that paranoid feeling that someone is always watching you.

So yes, people are more paranoid now, but if political leaders at large peeled away some of their paranoid anxieties I wonder if the every day person riding the subway might see someone smiling and just think, that's nice.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Clifford Stoll and his ideas worth spreading

Clifford Stoll's TED Talk has many different ideas. The physicist talks about a little bit of everything, most of all how children are the future and how he went from teaching a little bit of graduate school to teaching 8th grade science.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Pigeon of the Week


I waited. and waited. and waited some more. I couldn't go to the big release in Bryant Park but I made it to the book store today and to my delight, The Pigeon Wants A Puppy! I could not be more delighted with Mo Willems newest creation. I picked it up and read it right there in the book store before I bought it.

The pigeon has it's usual charm of a five year old in a pigeon body. Lines like, "I promise I'll water it once a month" and "You don't want me to take a piggyback ride on my puppy" have the great spirit and humor of a small child. The shift in colors from browns and purples to pinks highlight the 'passion' behind the pigeons voice. I am especially font of the type set when the pigeon says, "I WANT A PUPPY! RIGHT HERE! RIGHT NOW!" There is something about the pink highlight around the black capital lettering that fuses the sweetness and innocence of the pigeon with the demand to be taken seriously.

And he is, he gets the puppy, only he doesn't want it anymore. How many kids get dogs and then a week later decide they don't want to walk it and feed it...a lot. So now, the pigeon wants...a walrus? We'll have to wait and see if the next book holds in store a walrus and pigeon love story.

To see more about Mo Willems check out his BLOG!

Bruce T. Perry also known as my new idol

I'm usually not one for sitting in large lecture halls listening to academics speak about their work. Not because I'm not interested, but usually because I find their style to be dry and like they are reading from a script. Bruce T. Perry is quite the opposite. Never have I listened to someone so engaging and over an hour later realize how long he has been talking. Bruce T. Perry is an expert on child trauma and I look forward to reading his book I just purchased, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog. Until then let me provide you with some ideas he imparted on me and some links to resources on Bruce T. Perry.

Lessons I learned from Bruce T. Perry

The brain is most malleable in early childhood. This means that we, as adults, need to focus on this age and make sure children get the best attention and care as this will effect the trajectory of their development. Enduring trauma and neglect in early childhood puts a child at risk for crime, depression, and ending up in the special education system. If even 1 million is invested in a program to aid at risk youth and one child in this group is effected and does not end up in special education you have got your moneys worth. Unfortunately, the further you get away from people interacting with children the more you are involved in the policy that involves them.

And some excellent quotes from the lecture,

"How can you love someone if you were never loved?"

"Being born a human does not make you humane."

An inspirational man that I cannot wait to read more of. Here is some of his writing and information on the scholastic website. This is his biography at the Child Trauma Academy where he is the senior fellow.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Does The Maze Ever End? or A scary stroll through the maze...

Did you ever notice how high school seniors can't wait to get out but college seniors avoid talking about it? Senioritis is a common term in most high schools. Second semester comes and the kids planning to go to college already have been accepted and kids who used to put all their energy into every inch of work start to slack a little. But college seniors are different. When I bring it up to most of my friends the fact that in less than two months we will graduate most people respond with, 'please don't talk about it'. It's scary. In the community I came from when you graduated high school you were expected to go to college. You had a path for the next four years. Obviously this is not the same for all children, but as my undergraduate education comes to an end I question, when does the maze ever end? Does it?

I'm starting to think it never will. Graduate school, post-graduate learning, professional seminars, the news, and even curling up with a book you have yet to read. It's all a part of the education maze. It may not end, but how does it change? There is a point in school when check pluses become As, book reports become analytical essays, and four pages essays that take forever to write become all night term papers in the library. As you get older you get to make more choices about what classes you take and what ideas you study. In some ways one might imagine the maze getting more narrow as you close in on a specialty but I imagine a maze that all of a sudden has multiple choices that lead you the 'right way' because it's up to you to chose the end point.

Okay, so I've faced it, I'm never leaving the education maze, but I still want to know how it's changing, shifting, and maybe even creating vortexes to other mazes.

Medical advice from movie stars.

Jenny McCarthy is not an expert on Autism, and thus I will not treat her like one. I am compelled by her story and her exemplary action in helping raise Autism awareness. I am also thankful Larry King has other experts on the show to help give information on what might cause Autism. No one knows if it is due to vaccines and this should not be taken as fact.

Jenny McCarthy on Autism, and a few medical experts on the side.