Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jess Sass - 5 Tips On Fatherhood Your Dad Never Told You

Excellent post from Jeff Sass at Dad-O-Matic. I wish my dad had done ANY of these, although of the five tips, the only one my dad got right was #5, and that's big for any kid.

5 Tips On Fatherhood Your Dad Never Told You

By Jeff Sass | Aug 10, 2009

Counting Hands from one to five isolated over white

It is possible your Dad didn’t explicitly tell you these things when you became a parent, but he probably demonstrated at least some of them to you in actions if not words when you were growing up. Please allow me to take the liberty to point them out to you more directly now. In fact, it is my Dad-O-Matic duty to do so!

Disclaimer: Though I try to be the best Dad I can, I am guilty of not always remembering and adhering to my own advice, so this post is as much a reminder for me as it may be for you!

5 Tips on Fatherhood Your Dad Never Told You:

1) Listen. Despite our dominant position of authority as “the parent,” it is NOT always about us. Stop and LISTEN to your kids once in a while. I often catch myself taking over the conversation, so I am trying to make a more conscious attempt to let THEM do the talking for a change. Regardless of the subject matter, if it is important enough for them to want to tell you, it is important enough for us to be interested. Whether they are telling you about the frog they stepped on, their favorite flavor of chewing gum or describing an elaborate classroom math equation you will never understand, listen and be INTERESTED. Our kids crave and value our interest in their lives and activities far more than we realize.

2) Share. Share your adult life with your kids. Times are tough and we are all working really hard to make ends meet and provide for our families. If you work a lot and spend a lot of time on your job, share it with your kids. Tell them what you are doing at work and why. Tell them what you like about your job and what you don’t. Bring your work to kids day is a good idea.

3) Be Ridiculous. You can NEVER embarrass yourself in front of your kids. Anything silly you do will be enjoyed and remembered by your kids. The sillier the better. Inhibitions are not an excuse. If you cower at the thought of Karaoke, you should be proud to sing off key for your kids (and do so often). If you are a polished fashionable type you should be daring and dress in mismatched rags once in a while to make your kids smile. Shopping with your kids? Startle them and talk in complete gibberish to the cashier (and wink knowingly to your kids) as the cashier looks at you as a crazy person and calls for their manager (then, laugh with your kids and of course pay for the goods). These are some of the moments your kids will remember forever, so as long as nobody can get hurt, if you have a secret urge to be “wild and crazy,” go for it!

4) Teach. Anything and everything. Anything you do, if your kids are present, it is an opportunity to teach them. If you are fixing a light-switch (or engaged in any other household chore) if they come by don’t send them away as if they are a bother because “daddy is busy.” Instead, take a moment and show them what you are doing. An annoying chore like fixing a switch can turn into a quick and fun lesson on electricity.

5) Say “I LOVE YOU” – a lot! These three words are invincible. They are tougher than Teflon or Titanium, stronger than Stainless Steel and more durable than a Diamond. The words “I LOVE YOU” can never be worn down or overused. Plus, they are as satisfying and rewarding to say as to hear, and the more you say it, the more you will hear it. The “L” word is awesome, but don’t just say it, MEAN IT!

What do you think? What things would you like to add to this list? Let’s grow this list together in the comments!

Jeff Sass is the proud dad of ZEO (Zach, 21, Ethan, 19 and Olivia, 17). He is also a seasoned entertainment and technology exec and active social media enthusiast. You can see more of Jeff’s writing at Sassholes! and Social Networking Rehab.

Rev. Danny Fisher - Dude-ology (Lebowski Studies)

I'm pleased to be able to re-post something from Rev. Danny Fisher at this site - he's a great Buddhist blogger and film aficionado - see these articles he has written:
This is a nice bit of serious humor for those of us who loved The Big Lebowski. And I reminder that I should OWN this film in my collection.


December 29, 2009

There’s a great story in the New York Times today about a new book of academic articles from various disciplines about the Coen Brother’s 1998 comedy classic The Big Lebowski, and the burgeoning field of “Lebowski Studies.” I’ve posted a couple of times in the past about the film and its Buddhist connections. It’s also just a terrific, very funny film–highly recommended if you haven’t seen it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tripp Lanier - How Coaching Can Help You Quit Fumblef**king Around and Live Your Best Life

A lot of guys seem to be lost these days. Working with a coach can help. Tripp Lanier is a coach who specializes in working with men. 'Nuf said.
How Coaching Can Help You Quit Fumblef**king Around and Live Your Best Life

I get TONS of emails from guys who love The New Man Podcast but can’t seem to bridge the gap between what they’re hearing on the show and what they’re actually living.

Many guys want to:
  • Discover their passion or purpose
  • Find more satisfaction in their work and personal lives
  • Make some positive changes without upsetting their family or financial situation
  • Get over a hump they’ve been dealing with for months or maybe years
  • Look back on their life and have no regrets
What’s amazing to me is that most guys will fumblef**k around their challenges for years — wasting precious time, energy and money without ever achieving the success they really want.

It’s obvious that this “one foot in, one foot out” way of doing things is way more draining and costly than just putting both feet in.

So why do guys hold back, settle for less and “play-it-safe”?

Two reasons:

(1) They don’t know WHAT to do:
I’ve found that guys want specifics, a plan, a path. ABC’s, 123’s. Nuts and bolts. The Magic-Formula. The How-to Manual. Walking into uncertainty is a no-no.

(2) It’s too risky:
What if it doesn’t work? Guys are afraid to waste time, energy or money. They want some kind of a guarantee before they dive in.

Sound familiar?

So let’s say you’re a guy who has a goal, a vision or a desire to improve some area of your life.

How can you make your success inevitable?

How can you figure out what to do while minimizing the risk?

And what would that success be worth to you?

This is where coaching comes in.

What the heck is coaching?

Take a look at any major athlete. He or she has someone in their corner. Someone who helps them see their blind spots, play to their strengths and help them become the best they can be.

They’re not doing it alone.

For some reason, many guys find it completely acceptable to see this paradigm play out on the court or field; however, they don’t quite connect that they, too, can have this in their lives.

They, too, can have someone who helps them be the best they can be, to help them live their best life.

Nonetheless, the lone rangers — the guys who insist on going it alone — saddle up and ride off into a sunset of fumblef**king their way through uncertainty.

Kinda sad, huh?

So, what can YOU do?

In a nutshell, coaching will help you dig deep and find the right answers for yourself. Even though there is no magic formula or plan that works for everyone, if you want to live your best life, you CAN create the supportive container to make your success more likely.

A good coach will help you:
  • Get clear about where you’re headed
  • Stay on track
  • Challenge you to be the best you can be
  • Support you when things get a little sideways
What does coaching actually look like?

As your coach we would meet roughly once a week via phone (or video web conferencing). We’ll spend about an hour helping you get clarity about what you want and where you want to be headed. We’ll talk about what obstacles may be in the way and then develop strategies that fit for you.

This isn’t a cookie cutter mold or course. This is a custom tailored program that works specifically for you, your goals and the type of person you are.
  • We’ll co-create strategies that fit for you.
  • We’ll co-create practices that fit for you.
  • We’ll use our time together to benefit YOU.
Bottom line -- In our calls you'll get:
  • Clarity about where you're headed and what you truly care about
  • Challenge to step into this greater possibility
  • Accountability to actually follow through
  • Support for helping you get through the rough bits
Between meetings you’ll be taking action, getting things done and gaining momentum. You will no longer be stuck in the weeds. You will no longer be “wandering alone in the desert.”
Read the whole post.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

C.S. Sloan - The 3 to 5 "Plus" Program

C.S. Sloan knows his stuff. When I first got serious about lifting many years ago, his articles in Ironman Magazine were instrumental in my strength and fitness improvements. Better yet, which I did not know back than, he is a student of integral theory with a serious spiritual practice. Mindful muscle, indeed.

Here is a basic program for strength and muscle - I have had great success using this style of training both for myself and my clients. Most of my best gains as a young lifter (first three years) were made with a full-body, three-days-a-week program similar to this one (without the 100 reps portion). Adding the last set will do two things: (1) add volume to your workout, which is good, and (2) exhaust the endurance oriented muscle fibers that are hard to work on traditional strength programs, and which can be converted to strength fibers rather than endurance fibers.

Give it a shot in the new year.

The 3 to 5 "Plus" Program

Here's a simple program that really works well when it comes to gaining strength and plenty of muscle to go along with it. In fact, it may be more conducive to muscle growth than to pure strength.

Okay, first things first. Go back and read my post on "The 3 to 5 Method for Strength and Power." Here's a quick link.

Read it? Good. Now, the one thing I want you to do different with the training program here is I want you to limit your training to just 3 days each week (as opposed to 4 or 5). This way you have enough energy to perform the "plus" part of the training program—don't worry, we'll get around to just what the "plus" part is in a moment—and enough recovery time between workouts.

So the 3 to 5 part of the workout might look like this:

Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 3 reps
Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Close-Grip Chins: 4 sets of 5 reps

When you are finished with that portion of the workout, you will now perform the "plus" portion. For this, pick a bodypart that is lagging behind the others and needs a little "specialization" work. Then, pick a good "bang-for-your-buck" exercise to train the muscle group. If your chest is sub-par in development, for instance, you could choose the dumbbell bench press.

On this exercise, perform 100 reps. Pick a weight, however, where you would typically reach failure between 25 and 30 reps. Don't count sets. Just count reps. Do however many sets it takes until you reach 100.

If you have a bodypart that is really lagging behind the others, then you could work it at each training session. If you have several that need attention, then rotate exercises at each training session for a different muscle group.

A week of training might look like this:

Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 3 reps
Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Close-Grip Chins: 4 sets of 5 reps
Dumbbell Bench Presses: 100 reps

Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 3 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 3 reps
Bent-Over Rows: 4 sets of 5 reps
Dumbbell Squats: 100 reps

Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 3 reps
Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Close-Grip Chins: 4 sets of 5 reps
Pullovers: 100 reps

This is another one of those workouts that looks simple on paper—and it is. But that doesn't mean that it's not highly effective. It's that too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dr. Gad Saad - Facts and Myths About the Human Penis

Nice little article dispelling some penis myths. This stuff should be common sense basic knowledge, but it isn't - so a lot of men worry about the size and stature of their penises.
Penis Size, Female Sexual Pleasure, and a Man's Shoe Size.

One of the greatest physical insecurities that men experience is whether their phallus measures up. In a 2006 Internet study using a very large sample of heterosexual participants (52,031), Lever, Frederick, and Peplau (2006) found that whereas the great majority of women (85%) were content with their partners' penis size, a much smaller percentage of men were satisfied with the size of their own penises (55%). Of note, only 0.2% of men wished to have a smaller penis!

Given men's concern about the size of their penises, I tackle three penile-related issues in today's post: (1) Are visible traits such as a man's shoe size correlated to his penis size? (2) How important is penis size to women; and (3) Does a penis' girth or length contribute more to a woman's sexual pleasure?

Penis Size and Shoe Size

Shah and Christopher (2002), two urologists in London (England), measured the stretched penises of 104 men who did not otherwise have any penile abnormalities. The participants' shoe sizes were also recorded. A linear regression was performed between the two variables, which yielded an r-squared value of 0.012 (p = 0.28), which implies that there is no statistically significant correlation between the two variables. This must be a relief to those men who wear a small shoe size!

Do Women Care About Penis Size?

In a 2002 study published in European Urology, Francken, van de Wiel, van Driel, and Schultz asked women the importance that they attributed to penile size using two metrics: length and girth. Importance was captured via a four-item scale (totally unimportant, unimportant, important, and very important). One hundred and seventy surveys were returned. In general, most women felt that penile size was unimportant to them. Specifically, 20% and 1% of the women thought that penile length was important and very important respectively. The corresponding percentages for penile thickness were 31% (important) and 2% (very important) respectively. It would appear that to the extent that size matters, girth is more important than length. Of note, the authors seem to have identified the well-known "size queen" effect, as those women who cared about one metric seemed to also care about the other (correlation = 0.71).

Length versus Girth and Female Sexual Pleasure

We've all heard the colloquialism that it is not the size of the boat that matters but rather the motion of the ocean. This perhaps originated from the classic works of Masters and Johnson, these having concluded that there were no physiological reasons to expect that a man's penis size would affect a woman's sexual pleasure. In 2001, Russell Eisenman published a paper in BMC Women's Health wherein 50 women were asked whether girth or length contributed more to their sexual pleasure. Ninety-percent of the surveyed women responded that the thickness of a penis was a more important elicitor of pleasure. None of the women responded that they could not tell the difference between the two metrics. This suggests that to the extent that a man's penis size is important to a woman's sexual pleasure, it all resides in the thickness.

Source for Image:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

TNM 086: Dan Millman – How to Live the Way of the Peaceful Warrior

Nice interview from Tripp at The New Man podcast. This is a great get for Tripp - like him or not, Dan Millman is a big name and a great interview subject.

TNM 086: Dan Millman – How to Live the Way of the Peaceful Warrior

22 December 2009


Are you more afraid of rocking the boat or looking like a wimp?

Do you see your current life as a diversion or as the training ground for being your best?

And how can you walk the razor’s edge between being a passive wimp and the aggressive tough guy?

This week, legendary author and peaceful warrior Dan Millman is on The New Man to help you confront your fears, quit settling for less and live THIS life in the moment.

In this episode:

  • What is a peaceful warrior and why should you care?
  • How to live your life as a peaceful warrior
  • Is spirituality just some idealistic, high level, pie-in-the-sky cream dream or does it reside where “the rubber meets the road?”
  • How to tell the difference between objective and subjective fears
  • What to do if you’re on the fence or have a difficult choice to make
  • How to find a teacher
  • How to tell if you’re on the “right path” or not
  • How to handle confrontations
  • How important is the body in walking the path?
  • Can Dan Millman take Deepak Chopra in a cage match?
  • The single practice to help you get the most out of this life

About Dan Millman, Author and Teacher


Dan Millman is a former world champion athlete, university coach, martial arts instructor, and college professor.

After an intensive, twenty-year spiritual quest, Dan’s teaching found its form as the Peaceful Warrior’s Way, expressed fully in his books and lectures. His work continues to evolve over time, to meet the needs of a changing world.

Dan’s thirteen books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, have inspired and informed millions of readers in 29 languages worldwide. The feature film, “Peaceful Warrior,” starring Nick Nolte, was adapted from Dan’s first book, based upon incidents from his life.

Much of Dan’s time is devoted to writing and speaking. His keynotes, seminars, and workshops span the generations to influence men and women from all walks of life, including leaders in the fields of health, psychology, education, business, politics, sports, entertainment, and the arts.

Dan and his wife Joy live in northern California. They have three grown daughters and two grandsons so far.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Knowing Better Now - The Past in Light of the Present

A little wisdom to think about this fine Christmas morning. Sometimes, instead of trying to understand the present by looking at the past, we would do better to understand the past by looking at where we are now.

Knowing Better Now
The Past in Light of the Present

When we look back at the past, knowing what we know now, we often find it difficult to understand how we made the mistakes we made. This is because once we learn new information, it is nearly impossible to reenter the headspace we were in before we learned that information. And so we look back at parents who spanked their kids, for example, and wonder how they could have thought that was a good idea. Similarly, our personal pasts are full of mistakes we can’t believe we made. We did things then that we would never do now, and this is precisely because we have information now that we didn’t have, or weren’t able to access, then.

From ideas about how to raise children to how to treat the environment, our collective human past sometimes reads like a document on what not to do. In many ways, this is exactly as it should be. We learn from living and having experiences. It is from these past actions that we garnered the information that guides us to live differently now. Just so, in our personal lives, we probably had to have a few unsuccessful relationships or jobs, learning about our negative tendencies through them, in order to gain the wisdom we have now.

In order to live more peacefully with the past, it helps to remember that once we know better, we tend to do better. Prior to knowing, we generally do our best, and while it’s true that from the perspective of the present, our best doesn’t always seem good enough, we can at least give our past selves the benefit of the doubt. We did our best with what knowledge we had. Beyond this, we serve the greater good most effectively by not dwelling on the past, instead reigning our energy and knowledge into our present actions. It is here, in this moment, that we create our reality and ourselves anew, with our current knowledge and information.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Revolutionary Man - Why Original Sin Is Nonsense

A good post from Jayson at The Revolutionary Man. I was raised Catholic, with all the original sin nonsense, so this makes sense to me.

Why Original Sin Is Nonsense

Tue, Dec 22, 2009

Original Sin

Every so often I work with someone who has been dramatically impacted by the tragic teachings of original sin.

After we do some coaching together, we uncover that they believe they are fundamentally bad, wrong, or unlovable.

How did this happen I wonder? Where in the hell did they get this kind of message? For the lucky few that had great parents and teachers, who planted this seed?

One answer—original sin and “the church.”

Reginald A. Ray, the former head of the Religious Studies program at Naropa University and long-time Buddhist teacher told me once that in his 45 years experience teaching thousands of Western students meditation, he believed that original sin is responsible for why so many people have a negative view of themselves.

Of course it’s not the only reason.

When we are little kids, we pretty much believe what the big people tell us. Hence, racisim, sexism, and various forms of fundamentalism and extremism. Parents, coaches, teachers, and organizations have a HUGE power and influence over what kids learn and digest.

Brainwashing a child is pretty easy. Any form of fundamentalism starts by brainwashing children.

If you are a parent, how is it possible to look at your new baby and think that he or she is bad, guilty, wrong, or sinful? As one of my Catholic clients recently said about his son after birth, “he was perfect!”

As a father, I couldn’t agree more. Looking at my own son I was simply blown away at how pure he looked, felt and acted. His pure innocence and splendor. His eyes, face, little toes and hands were simply perfect. I felt deep love.

But if you yourself believe that you are fundamentally worthless, bad, or wrong at your core, it is no surprise that you will pass down that teaching to your children and children you work with.

Even still, how does any smart adult take the teaching of original sin seriously? If you test this and any spiritual or religious teaching against your own experience, what conclusions do you come to?

For example, if as a child you are taught that Hispanic (or fill in the blank) people are bad or less than you, you will simply take the adults word for it as truth. Even if your own experience suggests otherwise. As you get older however, in order to confirm your narrow belief system, you select only those experiences that match what you believe, thus concretizing your view and lodging racism into your psyche even further.

Are you really willing to come to your own conclusions or will you instead trust something even though it is in conflict with your direct experience?

Read the rest of the article.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Slaughterhouse-Five at Forty

High school and college students throughout the country read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five every year - and with good reason, it remains one of the signature novels of the 20th Century.

Yet in many ways, it is a novel by a man, written for men. Certainly, like all good novels, it transcends a gendered group of readers, but it was written by man who served in the US army, written about his experience in war (as a prisoner of war in Dresden, a city bombed by the US despite its knowledge that the city held prisoners of war, and that it sole purpose in the war effort was making baby formula - more people died in Dresden than in both nuclear bombings of Japan combined), and written to include his escapist fantasies.

It is one of my all-time favorite books, so I am appreciative of this Forty-year retrospective article from In These Times.

Slaughterhouse-Five at Forty

Why Vonnegut’s classic novel transcends the ’60s.

By Gregory Sumner

Slaughterhouse-Five's original 1969 paperback cover.

Beneath the book's structural gimmicks and childlike prose lies a kind of humanism, and even patriotism, more enduring than some of its early readers might have suspected.

Slaughterhouse-Five first appeared in bookstores forty years ago, and it remains the signature achievement of Kurt Vonnegut’s long and distinguished writing career. Long in gestation, it oscillates between realism and science fiction, mordant humor and grief, relieved by moments of unexpectedly lyrical imagery to convey the author’s experience as a young soldier in the Second World War.

He recounts for us his trials after capture by the Germans during their last great counter-offensive, in the chaos of the Battle of the Bulge just before Christmas 1944. Through the tragicomic alter-ego “Billy Pilgrim,” we learn about Vonnegut’s six months as an object deprived of free will.

We are with him standing in boxcars bound, in mysterious stop-and-start fashion, for unknown destinations. We encounter the baseness to which people can descend, as well as the nobility to which they sometimes rise, in the most extreme situations. Then we find out what it is like to go through the apocalypse—the firebombing of the city of Dresden on the night of February 13, 1945, which Vonnegut and about one hundred other Americans interned there miraculously survived.

Then followed days and weeks when the prisoners were deployed in the process of corpse disposal—imagine that task, that surreal landscape. When he got home, Vonnegut was shocked to find almost nothing about the raid and its ground-level consequences in newspaper archives, and came to the conclusion that his government, abetted by the press, could lie. The impulse to somehow tell his “untellable” war story, to expose it to the light, would drive him for decades, and it became the focus for his most ambitious work of art.

Slaughterhouse-Five was an immediate critical and commercial sensation in 1969, and it has stood the test of time. It was named by the editorial board of the Modern Library #18 on the index of the most important English language novels of the twentieth century, and is now securely in the canon of assigned readings in high schools and colleges across the land.

Like all of Vonnegut’s published works, it has remained continually in print, and available globally in multiple translations. It reached the big screen in 1972, in a film adaptation the author liked. Alternatively, it has been condemned and even burned by those claiming offense at its use of rough soldier’s language, no doubt a disingenuous excuse to quash a message some consider dangerously “unpatriotic.”

But given the book’s almost corny faith in bygone civic virtue and the democratic traditions that lie at the heart of Vonnegut’s vision, his identification with the insurrectionist 1960s generation is curious in some ways. Baby boomers formed the core of his underground “cult” audience before Slaughterhouse was published, and an accident of timing accounts for its deep footprint in the midst of the Vietnam trauma.

Young people loved Vonnegut’s bag of tricks—the demystification of the creative process, the fractured narrative, the time-travel and flights to extragalactic planets like “Tralfamadore.” They adopted to the point of cliché the fatalism of the novel’s repeated phrase, “…and so it goes.” Along with fellow veteran Joseph Heller’s 1961 landmark Catch-22, Slaughterhouse bookends the decade with an absurdist deglorification of the “Good War” narrative.

But just as a commentator for the Village Voice recently observed that “Vonnegut has outlasted the counterculture that embraced him,” I would argue that his most famous book transcends its immediate historical moment. It is really a meditation on the dignity, courage, and shattered dreams of the Great Depression generation. Its power and moral urgency come from sources far removed from the ideological wars of its time.

It is important to consider Slaughterhouse-Five within the wider arc of Vonnegut’s career—and, to use another of its concepts, to get it “unstuck in time,” as something more than a 1960s relic. Beneath the structural gimmicks, the sardonic detachment, the childlike prose—all adroitly executed, to be sure—lies a kind of humanism, and even patriotism, that is more enduring than some of its early readers might have suspected.

‘Poor old Edgar Derby’

Vonnegut tells us in the opening chapter of Slaughterhouse that he struggled for a long time to develop a language that would do justice to his “war story,” and for years had no good answers about when his “famous Dresden novel” would finally be completed. He moved cautiously, elliptically toward the task, but we now can see premonitions of his ultimate direction even in earlier works.

In 1961’s Mother Night, Vonnegut wrestled at length with the moral complexities of his war, with a fable about Howard W. Campbell, Jr, an American actor who posed as a rabid Nazi propagandist in Berlin, the belly of Hitler’s beast. In doing his job for army intelligence so well, did Campbell go too far with evil in the service of good?

Two years later, in Cat’s Cradle (1963), the moral inquiry involves the scientists who create doomsday weapons, men like those who worked for the Manhattan Project, or the eccentrics Vonnegut encountered in his public relations job at General Electric after the war. Narrow horizons sometimes blinded them to the havoc wrought by their chalkboard formulas and laboratory gadgets. Cat’s Cradle concludes with an “end of the world” chain-reaction, the result of a substance called ice-nine. Besides evoking the nightmare scenario of the recent Cuban Missile Crisis, it reads today a lot like what Vonnegut must have seen in Dresden.

With God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), Vonnegut inches ever closer to his own story. The title character, a World War II veteran who shows all the signs of what we would now call PTSD, is a direct precursor to Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse.

And so we come to Billy’s tale, which Vonnegut determined would show the soldiers he knew as the babes in arms they really were, not Frank Sinatra or John Wayne swashbucklers. Subtitled “The Children’s Crusade,” Billy appears as a passive, storm-tossed vessel, a gangling clown, representing the callow youngster the author thought himself to be during his time in combat. Soon enough Billy, a “chaplain’s assistant,” finds himself in a “Mississippi of humiliated Americans,” herded to collection points for the ride east. (In interviews, Vonnegut recalled being thrown into the disintegrating lines of the American front in December ‘44, an army scout wandering, lost in the snow, with a ragtag collection of other frightened novices—”I imitated various war movies I’d seen,” he once said.)

Billy attracts the unwanted attention of bullies along the way. But Vonnegut conveys the humanity and brotherhood the prisoners were able to muster, even in their collective misery. Crammed willy-nilly into sealed cattle cars to be transferred into Germany, many died during the halting ordeal. They were bombed and strafed by Allied planes, and one’s sense of time was all but obliterated. “Christmas was in there somewhere,” Vonnegut writes. Even with its Dante-like horror (Primo Levi would write in his memoirs of similar things, drawing on experiences on the other side of Europe) the scene is also a stage for community in its most idealized form.

Here is Vonnegut’s description, full of otherworldly wonder, of the boxcar society he experienced:

Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumper. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared.

Once at a prison camp, the Americans seem wretched and demoralized to the British soldiers who greet them, men who have long ago adjusted to their confinement. Urged to choose a leader, for purposes of discipline and self-respect, the Yanks halfheartedly elect the oldest man in their midst, an unassuming middle–aged high-school teacher from Indianapolis named Edgar Derby, who emerges as the moral center of the book.

“Poor old Edgar Derby,” as Vonnegut refers to him, had pulled strings to enlist at his advanced age, and now, as a POW, takes his leadership responsibilities seriously. He finds meaning and purpose in a fate that brings out the worst in others. He is kindly and attentive, a father who looks after his charges in the camp as he worries about his son serving out in the Pacific.

Vonnegut is, in important respects, Edgar Derby rather than Billy Pilgrim. In a letter from a Red Cross station in France in late May of 1945, published for the first time in the posthumous collection Armageddon in Retrospect (2008), Vonnegut, still severely underweight but otherwise intact, reassured his family that he was alive, and told of how he had used what little German he knew to try to defend his mates from the gratuitous excesses of their custodians.

“After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months,” Pvt. Vonnegut typed in his accounting, “…I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader.”

An unfashionable patriot

Vonnegut later described Dresden as having possessed the strategic importance of a wedding cake. Life there was spartan, for civilians and prisoners alike, but not so disagreeable. The Americans were put to work every day in a plant making vitamin-enriched malt syrup for pregnant women, slipping each other clandestine samples under the eyes of the old men and teenagers who guarded them. At night they repaired to their improvised billet, Schlachthof-funf, building number 5 of a sprawling slaughterhouse complex.

One night, Howard W. Campbell, the notorious propagandist from Mother Night, shows up in the bunker, spewing viciously racist interpretations of the war and seeking recruits to fight for Hitler on the Eastern Front. Hungry and emaciated as they were, none of the men stepped forward to volunteer, even with the enticement of all the steak, mashed potatoes and mince pie they could eat.

Outraged by Campbell’s display, “Poor old Edgar Derby lumbered to his feet,” Vonnegut writes, “for what was probably the finest moment of his life”:

His stance was that of a punch-drunk fighter. His head was down. His fists were out front, waiting for information and battle plan. Derby raised his head, called Campbell a snake [and] spoke movingly about the American form of government, with freedom and justice and opportunities and fair play for all.

These young men, he declared with steely eyes to his smiling, reptilian adversary, were united in their willingness to die for those ideals, and they would prevail in the end, thanks to “the brotherhood of the American and Russian peoples, as they worked together to crush the disease of Nazism.” Derby believed, in good faith, the declared purposes of the war, and he was ready to risk all to stand up for them.

Kurt Vonnegut was not mocking Edgar Derby. He was using him to voice the idealism he had learned as a boy, the civic religion of Midwesterners Lincoln and Twain, the New Deal optimism he had drunk deeply and never stopped defending. It is true that Vonnegut was a man of the left, broadly speaking. He loved the socialism of his German-American forebears, and the labor militancy of fellow Hoosier Eugene Debs. He saw firsthand the effects of the “survival of the fittest” capitalism that had wrecked so many lives during the stock crash and its aftermath—an experience he always called, even more than the war, the defining historical episode of his life.

Vonnegut was freethinking and pacifist by inclination, inspired by the “Merchants of Death” anti-militarism of the 1930s and opposed to knee-jerk nationalism. Vonnegut condemned, early and publicly, the tragic folly of the Vietnam War and the shredding of the Constitution that accompanied it. He was an instinctive communitarian in politics, and approved of many aspects of the youth revolt of the 60s—civil rights, women’s equality, environmentalism and challenges to illegitimate authority.

But through it all he remained a “patriot,” of the kind that was quite unfashionable when Slaughterhouse appeared. Vonnegut disliked the anti-intellectual proclivities of the later New Left, the violence of its rhetoric, even as his books were deployed on the insurgent side in the political wars of the day. In a 1973 interview with Playboy, he disagreed with the idea that he was a “radical.”

“Everything I believe,” he said, “I was taught (during the Great Depression…) at School 43 in Indianapolis, with the full approval of the school board…I simply never unlearned junior civics. I still believe in it. I got a very good grade.” In short, Edgar Derby is an expression of Kurt Vonnegut as what Michael Walzer once called a “connected critic,” a lover of his county and culture even as he anguishes about its shortcomings and failed promise. He was a brokenhearted American dreamer, not a bull-in-a-china-shop revolutionist.

Beyond Vietnam

There is much more to be said about Slaughterhouse on its fortieth anniversary—about the firebombing and its aftermath, Edgar Derby’s absurd death, and Billy Pilgrim’s travels in time and space, which are an escape from the oppressive demands of post-war domesticity and breadwinner masculinity.

But Slaughterhouse needs to be seen in a larger context, as an attempt (which Vonnegut declared, at the start, a “failure”) to come to terms with the ravages of war—the one he survived, and all wars. It is a commentary on Vietnam—”[e]very day,” Vonnegut laments in the final chapter, “my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science”—but it is more universal than that, and more sad than angry in its tone.

Vonnegut remained proud, if troubled, by his service in World War II, and declared it a “good war,” despite the many crimes committed by the winning side. Speaking of his ingrained sense of duty, Vonnegut once said that if he had been younger he probably would have enlisted for service in Vietnam, as wrongheaded as he thought that war to be.

Slaughterhouse needs to be “unstuck” from our conception of it as simply an artifact of the Vietnam era, and instead read for its expression of humanist values by a self-described “child of the Great Depression.” Call it the ethics of “poor old Edgar Derby,” the 1960s’ most unlikely hero, a living symbol of moderation, decency and idealism.

Between 1995 to 2005, Kurt Vonnegut contributed to In These Times. All articles he wrote for the magazine this decade are collected here.

Why Men Fake Orgasms

Nice article. I mostly agree with everything Wilson writes here (and I find it interesting that most of the articles of this type I have seen are written by women).

I really dislike and completely reject the notion that men are always wanting and ready for sex. We see it in magazine (Maxim, FHM, etc.) and on television and in movies. A quick search in Google turned up this article:
HOW Often Do Men Think About Sex?

Men are "always" thinking about sex, according to researchers at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University. By that they meant that 54 percent of men think about sex several times a day, compared with just 19 percent of women, they wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists.

Think that's a lot? It's nothing if neuropsychiatrist Dr. Louann Brizendine, author of "The Female Brain," is correct. She writes in her book that men think about sex every 52 seconds, while women tend to think of it just once a day. If men are thinking about sex more frequently than once a minute, how do they get any work done?

Really? Every 52 seconds? I must be a woman, because I'm more in the once or twice a day camp. Maybe some men are like that, and maybe men are more like that as teenagers and young adults, but I suspect that mature men have a lot of other interests and desires besides having sex.

[As an aside, I am skeptical of this article due to their inclusion of false data regarding language usage and the inability of men to read other people's feelings at the end of the article - more false stereotypes.]

My point is that this is the kind of nonsense we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Even if a man didn't think about sex all the time, he might say he does just so he doesn't look like a "wimp" or some other derogatory stereotype.

Anyway, if men are always supposed to want and be ready for sex, and if they accept that foolish assertion, there are bound to be a LOT of times when men have sex that they would rather not be having, and they have to fake an orgasm to get out of it with their "manhood" intact.

I would love to see men rebel against this nonsense - mature men already know that emotional intimacy not only feels good and makes us happier, but makes the sex better when both people feel close and connected. Why can't we teach this to our sons and to each other?

Sex and Relationships

Why Men Fake Orgasms

By Trish Wilson, AlterNet. Posted December 23, 2009.

Many women would be surprised to learn that men often fake orgasms. But why? Our limited, patriarchal view of sexuality, of course.

If you thought that only women faked orgasms, you'd be wrong. Plenty of men fake their way out of the sack. How on earth can a guy even fake an orgasm? What is he going to do, spray dish detergent and try to pass it off as semen? More importantly, why would a man want to pull off this kind of bluff?

Apparently, lots of men fake the Big "O" and some were willing to talk to me about it. I asked men in an online sex forum how many had faked orgasms, and I received some very fascinating – and distressing -- answers. Steve found himself in an awkward position when he bedded a woman to whom he was not very attracted, but he felt the pressure to perform. "I wasn't able to manage to keep it up for long because I really, really wasn't enjoying myself," he wrote. "So as I realized that I was going to be a limp noodle at any moment anyway, I pretended to cum then quickly disposed of the condom. Definitely not one of my prouder moments." Alex expressed similar sentiments when he admitted his reasons and method for faking. " ... there were a variety of reasons. Most commonly, it was just pure boredom and my attention span with someone had ceased or a very determined girl that wouldn't accept the fact that I just wasn't going to get off at that moment in time." Chris admitted that exhaustion was his reason for faking it. "To be fair, I think each time it was at least the third fuck of the day," he wrote. "And it was nice at first, but after a while I just wanted it over with. I wouldn't dream of doing that now though."

The exact percentage of men who fake orgasms varies depending on the source. The ABC News Primetime Live Poll: The American Sex Survey (2004) reported that eleven percent of men surveyed said they had faked orgasms. A study by Muehlenhard and Shippee of students at the University of Kansas (2009) found that as many as twenty-five percent of men surveyed reported that they faked orgasms on occasion. While there are many ways men who fake orgasms get away with it, the most common way is to use a condom. What will the partner do, inspect the rubber? Another way men fake orgasm is to say they don't make much ejaculate. When a woman is already wet and slick with her own arousal, she's likely to believe him.

It turns out that men fake orgasms for many of the same reasons women do. The most common reasons for faking orgasms cited by men in that internet sex forum were (1) not particularly aroused or into their partner, (2) boring sex, (3) difficulties holding an erection or coming, (4) not wanting to disappoint their partner, (5) performance anxiety, and (6) fatigue. While men's stated reasons for faking orgasms are similar to women's reasons, the question is, why fake an orgasm instead of just saying that you want to stop having sex? What kind of pressures are men under that makes them feel as if they have to fake it? Alex, Steve, and Chris described a very common pressure men experience: they feel a strong need to perform, and this pressure is based on the influence of porn culture, media, advertising, and magazine articles. Bombarded with pornographic images, commercials touting erection-enhancing drugs like Viagra, and magazine articles about how to keep thrusting until she screams for mercy, men are under a tremendous amount of pressure to come hard, come fast, and give their partners orgasms so intense that plaster falls off the walls.

No wonder so many men have trouble enjoying sex and coming to orgasm!

So what's to blame for such dismal sexual experiences? Patriarchy, of course. Sexuality under patriarchy has long been known to penalize women. However, patriarchy has also negatively impacted men's sexuality by placing most of their focus on their erections, penis size, performance, orgasms, and ejaculation.

How can men rethink their sexuality in such a way that opens up all the possibilities for sexual enjoyment and emotional closeness that is discouraged under the stunted view of sex according to patriarchy? According to Patti Brisben, the CEO and founder of Pure Romance, in her article "Why You Shouldn't Fake An Orgasm", "by faking pleasure, you’re not only neglecting your needs, but you aren’t being honest with your spouse. Let’s face it, if you’re faking in the bedroom, where else are you faking? Being in a committed relationship is about being open enough to communicate about all aspects, especially the tougher topics that may embarrass you like issues regarding your sexuality."

When men equate good sex with a huge erection and a rocking climax, they overlook the rest of the sex act and especially the emotional closeness that makes sex such a powerful and caring experience. Women have always had the "Not tonight, honey. I have a headache" excuse to get out of unsatisfying sex, but men have no similar alternative. The patriarchal view of men encourages them to rut like dogs, as if they were animals that cannot control their sexual urges – fuck anything that moves and fuck it hard. Rather than focus so much on their erections and ejaculation, as they have been instructed since they found their first lad magazine touting performance and orgasms, men can change their sexual outlook so that not only they but their partners benefit.

Once David admitted to his ex that he had been pretending to come into a towel, their sex life improved. He said, "I used to fake it on a regular basis with my ex. She was a selfish lover and after a good hour of doing all of the work I'd get tired. Rather than dealing with her being upset that I didn't come, I would pull out and fake cumming into a towel. Once I realized how stupid that was, I told her and our sex life did improve." Communication is the key to unlocking more rewarding sexual experiences: it helps both genders toss aside societal pressure to perform and help them enjoy the trip as much as the destination.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Parable of the Two Wolves

There is an old parable that circulates from time to time and also turns up in a lot of books. The last time I remember seeing it frequently was right after 9/11, but lately I have seen it two or three times in books I am reading.

I just came across it again in the new book from Pema Chodron, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, so here is a slightly different version than the one she uses:
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life...

"A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

"One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

"The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

"This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old chief simply replied, "The one you feed."
We all have this same choice in every moment of every day - and what we choose to do determines the kind of men we will be. But most of us have gotten proficient at empowering our negativity and insisting on our rightness - it's hard to break those habits and step onto the path of choosing wisely. Chodron says we all have the three basic skills necessary to feed the good wolf:
This path entails uncovering three qualities of being human, three basic qualities that have always been with us but perhaps have gotten buried and been almost forgotten. These qualities are natural intelligence, natural warmth, and natural openness.
So, what do you choose? Which wolf are you feeding?

Monday, December 21, 2009

John Buri - What Could Be Deeper Than Discussing What I Care About?

Too many men (and some women), it seems to me, think of "being intimate" purely in terms of physical intimacy. For many women (and some men) emotional intimacy is a prerequisite for physical intimacy. I am one of those men.

The more time we spend building emotional (and even spiritual) intimacy, the better the physical intimacy becomes - really, it's true.

This article from the Love Bytes blog at Psychology Today suggests that sharing and getting to know each other's deepest desires and cares is a great way to build intimacy - I agree. Communication is essential to a healthy and loving relationship.

Love Requires Coming To Know One Another

by John R. Buri, Ph.D.

Let’s start with a little review of some of the most recent Love Bytes blog posts. [Sorry – it’s an occupational hazard…… In the university environment, we are at the end of the semester right now.]

Passion (while important) is not the only thing needed for love. There are lots of deceiving frauds out there passing for love, but if you are looking for is real love, then you are going to need intimacy to go along with the passion [Poaching And The Heart Of Love].

Intimacy is one of our basic human needs. It is universal. We all long for it. We all need it. [The Road To Intimacy]

So where does one find this thing called intimacy? Bottom line: The road to intimacy is paved with communication. If you want love --- not just passion, but love --- then find someone who is willing to communicate [If You Want Intimacy, Then Find Someone Who....].

But what is communication? Communication exists on 4 levels. In last week’s Love Bytes blog [Communication: Going Deeper Than "Wassup"], we covered the first 3: (1) brief, superficial exchanges, (2) discussions of people, places, and things, and (3) talking about what we care about.

In many ways, staying at levels 1 and 2 (while safe) is not really communicating much of anything of substance. We might even go so far as to say that when we stay at levels 1 and 2, we may be talking, but it is questionable just how much we are actually communicating.

Love requires much more than mere talking. Love also requires coming to know one another. And at levels 1 and 2, what am I really telling the other person about me? What have they learned about what matters to me / what I value / what’s important to me? Without level 3, how much of me have I really allowed the other person to know?

And then there is Level 4. This is when we reveal to another just how an event has impacted us personally / how a situation has affected us / how circumstances have moved us.

One of my sons and his wife lost a baby during this past year. In one of our “Guys Night Out” [Guys Night Out (Part 1)], he talked with us about how hard this had been for him --- the sadness, the pain, the disappointment, the hope for another baby in the future, the doubts….. Level 4! He let us see what he had been going through. He allowed us to know him at a very personal level. He let us in.

[I am always honored when someone is willing to communicate in this way. That level of trust is no small thing.]

A question: In our culture, where does this depth of communication most often take place?

If you responded --- “In the therapist’s office” --- you are correct.

Does anyone (besides me) find it strange that many of us need to see a psychologist in order to meet our basic human need for intimacy? That we have to pay someone to engage us in level 3 and level 4 communication?

[I guess in some ways it shouldn’t be surprising --- if people are increasingly willing to pay someone (either live people or just computerized images) to meet their needs for passion, then why not our needs for intimacy as well……..?

Remember the quote from “Shall We Dance” [The Road To Intimacy]? Maybe it should be altered to capture the growing experience of people in our culture: “Why is it that people get married? [Why is it that people go to a therapist?] Because we need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet. What does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything…. [But with a therapist, he or she is promising to care about everything….] The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it…. You’re saying [The therapist is saying]: ‘Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.’”

We are sorely in need!

For more therapists?

Or for more authentic expressions of love in our marriages?

I vote for the latter.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Are There Really Different Learning Styles?

Over the last 30 years or so, many educational psychologists have tried to pin down why some kids are better learners than others, despite apparent equivalencies in overall intelligence. The initial research seemed to suggest that different kids have different learning styles, generally either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (with boys often being considered more visual or kinesthetic than girls).

This idea was expanded by Howard Gardner into the theory of multiple intelligences. He posited eight different intelligences, which educators have taken to indicate different learning styles and built curriculums around.
In recent years, he has proposed five new intelligences (Five Minds for the Future) that are only just now emerging but will be essential in the coming decades.
  • The Disciplinary Mind: the mastery of
    major schools of thought, including
    science, mathematics, and history, and of
    at least one professional craft.

  • The Synthesizing Mind: the ability to
    integrate ideas from different disciplines
    or spheres into a coherent whole and to
    communicate that integration to others.

  • The Creating Mind: the capacity to
    uncover and clarify new problems,
    questions and phenomena.

  • The Respectful Mind: awareness of and
    appreciation for differences among
    human beings and human groups.

  • The Ethical Mind: fulfillment of one's
    responsibilities as a worker and as a
These ideas make a certain amount of intuitive sense to a lot of people, and integral theory (Ken Wilber in particular) have taken these ideas as truths, despite the lack of solid research support for them. In my own work and experience, I have generally assumed them to be true as well.

One of the more noted criticisms has come from James Traub, in his New Republic article, "Multiple Intelligence Disorder: Howard Gardner's campaign against logic." Here is one long passage from this article:
Gardner failed to persuade his peers. George Miller, the esteemed psychologist credited with discovering the mechanisms by which short-term memory operates, wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Gardner's argument boiled down to "hunch and opinion." And Gardner's subsequent work has done very little to shift the balance of opinion. A recent issue of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law devoted to the study of intelligence contained virtually no reference to Gardner's work. Most people who study intelligence view M.I. theory as rhetoric rather than science, and they're divided on the virtues of the rhetoric. Steven Ceci, a developmental psychologist at Cornell, praises Gardner as "a wonderful communicator" who has publicized "a much more egalitarian view of intelligence." But he points out that Gardner's approach of constructing criteria and then running candidate intelligences through them, while suggestive, provides no hard evidence--no test results, for example--that his colleagues could evaluate. Ceci adds: "The neurological data show that the brain is modular, but that does not address the issue of whether all these things are correlated or not." Track-and-field athletes, he notes, may have special gifts in one particular event, but they will score better than the average person on every event. Psychological tests show the same kind of correlations.

Gardner describes this conventional view of intelligence as Cartesian rather than Darwinian. Cartesians, he argues, see the mind in strictly rational and ahistorical terms. "The Darwinian view," he says, "is that this is a crazy-quilt group of faculties that we have here, and they've dealt with survival over hundreds of thousands of years in very different environments. Literacy only existed twenty-five hundred years ago. What does it mean to develop a whole theory of intelligence that didn't even exist three thousand years ago? Moreover, given that we now have computers that will do our rational behavior for us, it's an open question what the intelligences are going to be that are valued fifty years from now. It might be artistic; it might be pointless kinds of things." Why should we accept a definition of intelligence that "took a certain scholastic skill--what it meant to be a good bureaucrat a hundred years ago--and make that the quintessence of intelligence"?

But that is, in a way, precisely the problem with Gardner's theory. Intelligence is not a crisp concept but a term of value--indeed, the ultimate term of value. Some in Gardner's corner, like his mentor and colleague Jerome Bruner, say they wish Gardner had employed a more neutral term like "aptitude. " But if Gardner hadn't used "intelligence" he wouldn't be the colossal figure he is today. Gardner does not shy away from the "political" dimension of his argument. "My claim that there are seven or eight Xs is not a value judgment," he told me. "It's my best reading of the biological and cultural data. But my decision to call them 'intelligences' is clearly picking a fight with a group that thought it, and it alone, could decide what intelligence was."
One of Traub's primary criticisms is that the popularity of MI Theory is not based on its validity, but rather, it is based on the egalitarian idea that everyone is different but equal - I might score well on measures of logic and verbal intelligence, but that does not make me "smarter" than Jane Doe who is very musically and interpersonally gifted. It is a theory that rejects hierarchies not directly, but covertly. It seems Gardner is not comfortable with the uses his theory has been put to, however.
Here we come to the heart of the problem with multiple intelligences--not as theory, but as practice. M.I. theory has proved powerful not because it's true but because it chimes with the values and presuppositions of the school world and of the larger culture. When theories escape into the world, they get used in ways that their inventors could scarcely have predicted or even approved. Gardner hasn't been quite sure where his responsibility lies in such matters. He told me that he cannot be the "policeman" of the world he set into motion, though he has, increasingly, been its poster boy. Gardner has begun to speak out against some of the more extreme uses of his theory, and critics like educational historian Diane Ravitch have urged him to do more. When I showed Gardner copies of some of the exercises in Celebrating Multiple Intelligences, he scrutinized them carefully, frowned, and said, " The only answer I can give to this is: I would certainly not want to be in a school where a lot of time was spent doing these things."
To see how these ideas are put into practice in one of the more noted MI-based schools, Traub then visited the Key Learning Center:
In the middle of this past school year, I spent a day at the Key Learning Center in Indianapolis, probably the most famous of the M.I. schools. I had expected Key to be one of those schools where kids learn everything in seven or eight ways, jumping up and down in math class and singing their way through English. In fact, the math and science classes I sat in on looked perfectly familiar. Still, M.I.'s influence was as conspicuous as the drawings of the intelligences that line the entrance corridor. Every student spends as much time on music and art as English or social studies. Students are not graded. They receive, instead, "pupil progress reports" in which their academic improvement, their level of motivation, and their "performance along the developmental continuum" are measured in terms that can't be plotted on invidious bell curves.


The school did have a few semi-farcical touches. There was a "flow" room designed to foster the state of unselfconscious engagement that people attain at moments of peak creativity--a practice that rested on a theory devised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who works closely with Gardner. Kids were playing computer games, "Parcheesi," or "Guess Who?"--the kind of activities I'm happy to have my seven-year-old do at home but wouldn't expect to be part of a curriculum. But the Key school was not absurd in the way that educational traditionalists imagine. It was a serious-minded place, and the kids I met seemed enthusiastic and engaged. On the other hand, if they were engaged in deep understanding, I must have missed it. The eighth-grade " linguistics" class I sat in on read through a passage in Life On The Mississippi without getting within hailing distance of its meaning. The school's ambitions almost seemed to be elsewhere--in fostering a sense of personal maturity, in a genuine commitment to music, in making the children conscious of their own strengths.

What the Key school is arguably about is the fostering of a new kind of child and thus of a new kind of person--less linear and more "well-rounded," less competitive and more cooperative. This is a monumental ambition, but it's actually not far from Gardner's own vision.
This all sounds great to me.

When I was first tested for then admitted into a talented and gifted (TAG) program when I was nine years old, the tests were standard verbal/logical intelligence tests. Later in the program, we began to get new peers, some who were not as highly scored on those tests, but who clearly exhibited genius intelligence in arts or music or some other of the eight intelligences. The diversity was welcom and exciting.

Even from Traub's skeptical mind, it seems as though the Key Learning Center is producing more well-rounded and mature students. That can only be a good thing. I would certainly have thrived in that environment as a student.

On the other hand, people are now starting to subject the idea of learning styles to more rigorous testing, which is also a good thing. If we are going to employ these ideas, we should be sure that (1) they are valid, and (2) we are doing so in the way that best fosters learning.

This whole post began as a result of a new piece of research that suggests there may not actually be a visual and auditory learning style after all.

The wide appeal of the idea that some students will learn better when material is presented visually and that others will learn better when the material is presented verbally, or even in some other way, is evident in the vast number of learning-style tests and teaching guides available for purchase and used in schools. But does scientific research really support the existence of different learning styles, or the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style?

Unfortunately, the answer is no, according to a major new report published this month in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The report, authored by a team of eminent researchers in the psychology of learning—Hal Pashler (University of San Diego), Mark McDaniel (Washington University in St. Louis), Doug Rohrer (University of South Florida), and Robert Bjork (University of California, Los Angeles)—reviews the existing literature on learning styles and finds that although numerous studies have purported to show the existence of different kinds of learners (such as "auditory learners" and "visual learners"), those studies have not used the type of randomized research designs that would make their findings credible.

Nearly all of the studies that purport to provide evidence for learning styles fail to satisfy key criteria for scientific validity. Any experiment designed to test the learning-styles hypothesis would need to classify learners into categories and then randomly assign the learners to use one of several different learning methods, and the participants would need to take the same test at the end of the experiment. If there is truth to the idea that learning styles and teaching styles should mesh, then learners with a given style, say visual-spatial, should learn better with instruction that meshes with that style. The authors found that of the very large number of studies claiming to support the learning-styles hypothesis, very few used this type of research design. Of those that did, some provided evidence flatly contradictory to this meshing hypothesis, and the few findings in line with the meshing idea did not assess popular learning-style schemes.

No less than 71 different models of learning styles have been proposed over the years. Most have no doubt been created with students' best interests in mind, and to create more suitable environments for learning. But psychological research has not found that people learn differently, at least not in the ways learning-styles proponents claim. Given the lack of scientific evidence, the authors argue that the currently widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources.

This would seem to have some impact on Gardner's model as well - although we will need more research directed specifically at his ideas to confirm that.

On the other hand, my personal experience as both a life-long learner and as an occasional teacher would seem to contradict this research. For me, I learn best by reading material, no doubt in part because I have an excellent visual memory. Yet I have known other people who learn best by doing something experientially - for example, I can read about how to do an exercise and visualize it in my head then be able to reproduce it on the first or second try, but many of my clients (who are very smart people) need to do an exercise several times to get it down.

In the world of boys (or at least me), I have a sense that boys are more logical learners than verbal, more kinesthetic than interpersonal, and more visual-spatial than naturalistic. However, if we set up our schools the way the Key Learning Center is set up, we can make ALL of these intelligences/learning styles available to ALL children. If we are practicing these various approaches from kindergarten onward, they will be a part of our tool kit, rather than something foreign or new.