Becoming Batman, Teaching, and Adoptive Kids

Here’s a question you don’t typically consider. Could the expectation of sight in a blind person allow them to actually see?

Could expectation be that powerful?

Turns out the answer to that question is that yes, expectations can allow the blind to see. I’m not going to get into the details of this incredible story. Rather, just go listen to this awesome new podcast by NPR. It’s called Invisibilia.

Invisibilia feels like a podcast handpicked for me. It’s a podcast that examines all the “invisible” things that influence human behavior. It hits all the really cool things I love to study: ideas, beliefs, assumptions, thought processes, and why we do what we do. And it does it with cool narrative arcs and a good mix of humor…sometime rather edgy humor given its NPR roots (the episode of fear had a very quick aside to a well known Saturday Night Live skit featuring Justin Timberlake and a box).

This particular episode raised questions about teaching and parenting.

On Expectations & Teaching

One insight (no pun intended) from listening to Daniel Kish was that it’s really, really important to get expectations correct. If you set the bar too low, students won’t learn to jump very high. In the classroom it’s particularly easy to get this formula wrong because you’re juggling a bunch of kids with a wide degree of capabilities at the start of school. All of which makes me wonder:

  • Can an academic performance expectation be more common than different?
  • How do you get that formula correct? Sure, the state sets expectations (standards), so this is somewhat dictated. But there’s still a good bit latitude.
  • And what about the kids who keep tripping over the bar? Seeing your students fail to meet your expectation over and over again is quite exhausting and, frankly, depressing.

On Expectations & Adoptive Parenting

Adoptive parents are told by a wide array of professionals and adoption books to constantly lower their expectations.

Part of this makes good sense. With biological children, most parents project a family experience similar to their own. If you’re upper middle class, successful, and generally well educated (not to mention had a childhood that was solid and loving from the beginning), you naturally think your children will be like you. And for the most part, that’s how it works out.

But adoptive children – especially older adoptive children – come with their own particular bags of issues (after all, there’s a reason they had to be adopted in the first place). Much of the cognitive and emotional capacity of parents and their adoptive children will be spent dealing with those issues…not necessarily the every day milestones healthy children face like learning times-tables, eating well, and understanding the mechanics of speech between peers and adults. Speaking from experience, we adjust. Often.

Adjusting is not necessarily the same as lowering. Frequently we lower and then raise.

Still, this episode of Invisibilia made me wonder if we’re calibrating correctly?


The first substantial book I read was the Value Tales. It was the Value of Patience (the Wright Brothers). I read the book to my sister Anna. I’m quite certain I botched most of the words. But I got from cover to cover.

The first chapter book I read was The Boxcar Children (1st or 2nd grade). After, I contemplated running way. I built a fort in the backyard instead.

The first book I cried through was Where the Red Fern Grows. I never picked up Old Yeller.

The first grown up book I read was from Gilbert Morris’s “House of Winslow” series (“Honorable Impostor”). They were Baptist adventure books. They always had romance, adventure, and a solid conversion near the end of the novel.

The first adult book I read was Clan of the Cave Bear and The Valley of Horses. Terribly written. And definitely not Baptist.

The first major science fiction book I read was Piers Anthony’s Macroscope. It triggered a complete and total love of the genre. To this day I will read anything published by Charlie Stross, Peter Hamilton, Neal Stephenson, Stephen Baxter, David Brin, Alistair Reynolds (this itself is a small sample).

I discovered fantasy late in the game (the exception being the childhood standards of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Prydain). I thought the genre somewhat cheesy. Then, a year out of college, I read Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. After, an entirely new set of authors like Kate Elliot, Guy Gavriel Kay, Brandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss joined my bookshelf.

I completely fell in love with anything written by Robin Hobb. Her ability to create human characters that experience great sacrifice is incredible. I’ve autographed copies of the Assassins Trilogy sitting on the bookshelf as well (somewhat worn because I lend the books out often).

There’s non-fiction too. Lots of history books (Guns, Germs, and Steel, 1492, The Warmth of other Suns), science books (The Ancestor’s Tale, The Elegant Universe, A Short History of Nearly Everything), and religious books (The Divine Conspiracy, Divided by Faith, Celebration of Discipline, Doubt).

I’ve always had a book on hand. I love reading.

The Disappearance of the Physical

After Ren and I bought our house, I took a great deal of pride and excitement in creating a study full of bookshelves. We filled shelf after shelf – even after sending a good number of cases to Half Priced Books. We had our own library. It was comforting, warm, and reassuring. It wasn’t that I ever intended to read all the books again, although a few copies would get pulled regularly for a second (or third) round of reading. Perhaps my kids would read the books when they grew older. Or I could be “that friend” who constantly passed on a new novel to home visitors. Having my own library was my own nerdy version of driving a Mercedes. Yeah, I was grown up enough to own and display lots of books.

But then I got an iPad.

And I picked up a used Kindle off Craigslist for $15.

We didn’t stop buying books. If anything, the simplicity of having a novel show up in one click increased our purchases (and cut down on my visits to the library). They just came in .mobi format (or the occasional ePub).

Our library went virtual.

The change wasn’t even gradual. Around the same time I got an iPad, I also brought home new children and started new jobs. My dedicated reading time took a dip. With less time, making trips to the library became more of a hassle. Downloading books with a click was easy and fast. Convenience replaced the satisfaction the physical.

This past Christmas break I slimmed down the library and gave most of our books away. The walls have art on them instead of bookshelves. The most prominent item is the glowing, alien ASUS router that connects me to Amazon and the Cincinnati Public Library. A solitary bookshelf contains the keepers. Cooking books (you always need pictures). Religious books. A large collection of Science Fiction. And my precious anthology of Calvin and Hobbs.

In religion class I remember learning about Jews and Christians and Muslims being a “people of the book”. This means different things for the different faiths, but shares the concept that a book, the book, has power. Books are a symbol to many things we hold holy.

What does it mean to become people of the screen? Does it somehow affect our identity? Or are narratives and words and ideas really platform agnostic? It really doesn’t matter if it’s paper or glass (or papyrus or clay tablet).

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. But it bears some reflecting that this is one of the moments where technology is, yet again, changing how we interact with our world.




Being Wrong & Keeping a Surprise Journal

From Slate:

If I could ensure that kids come away from science class with one thing only, it wouldn’t be a set of facts. It would be an attitude—something that the late physicist Richard Feynman called “scientific integrity,” the willingness to bend over backward to examine reasons your pet theories about the world might be wrong.


Teaching that spirit is easier said than done. “The hardest thing is convincing teenagers they can be wrong,” a high school science teacher from Phoenix lamented to me recently in a conversation about scientific integrity. But to be fair, it’s not just teenagers. We’re all captives of one of the most well-established errors in human reasoning, called confirmation bias: our tendency to focus on evidence that confirms our prior expectations. Once our minds alight on a theory, our impulse is to reassure ourselves it’s true, not set out to disprove it.

I loved this article. It contained a practical approach to being wrong: Call it being surprised or a moment of surprise. It’s easier on the ego. And if we teach students to recognize “moments of surprise” we’ll be doing a good job to continue to create a society based less on dogma and more focused on reason and/or empiricism. We can also relish the surprise in seeing the unexpected. Much as I don’t like being wrong, I also have a strong sense of curiosity that enjoys meandering down roads of discovery.

I’m adding a new area to my morning journals. A surprise call-out. I’d like to capture moments this year when my perspective, my views, my own pet theory about the world doesn’t quite match up. Maybe it will help facilitate growth.



New Year Goals: 2015

Because, as always, it’s good to write them down.

Write More

A few months ago my mom brought me my last box of childhood stuff. Sifting through it with my daughters (who found the box fascinating – especially the many sketchpads full of drawings), a few thoughts really stood out.

  1. I really was a fine arts nerd. The box brimmed with poems, stories, theater awards, art projects, and letters.
  2. I started a lot of stories. Rarely finished them.
  3. I clearly had a thing for Rob Liefeld. I mean, I know people generally think of him as a proportionally challenged, but his comic book heroes must have been easy to copy. Liefeldesq superheroes littered all my papers. With a bit of Jim Lee thrown in as well.
  4. I had a sense of earnestness that makes me smile. I’d qualify that statement with “lack of experience”, but by my freshman year of college I had lived and bummed around South America a good bit. So while the stories and poems read pretty fresh, I don’t think them naive.

All of which is a round about way of saying I had a classic adult looking at younger self moment: What the hell happened to that guy?

That’s not to say I’m disappointed in my current stage of life. But in the last decade and a half I definitely became more analytically and, I guess, pragmatic. The fine arts nerd doesn’t come out to play as much. And that sort of bugs me.

So, just like every year, I’m setting a goal to write more. But not just reflective, blogging style posts. I’d like to tackle a story or two. Lord knows I have enough of them rolling around in my head.

Once a Month Dinner with Friends

This is a joint goal with my wife. Life is stupid busy. Work, church, gymnastics, and raising family. Engaging moments with friends – be they new or old – seem to get pushed to the side. Renee and I trend introvert, which is all the more reason we tend to let this slide. This is an area of life that feels unbalanced. Consequently, in 2015 we resolve to find at least one night of the month where we get a babysitter and meet up with other folk.

Walk, Every Day

I actually started this in 2014, but I’m looking to continue it in 2015. I have a job that is not physically demanding. Sometimes I feel the computer screen sucking away any remaining youthful vigor. Throw in the fact that the big 4 zero is just a few years away and I find myself increasingly aware of the need to exercise. Good for the body and good for the spirit. Plus the dogs think I’ve become the best pet owner ever.

I also plan to lift weights and do arm bands. A constant source of pain for me is my upper back, neck, and arms. Hopefully such activities will allow me to keep chipping away at goal number 1.

Model Better Behaviors for my Kids

Specifically, digital behaviors. I find myself taking my phone out at the table, checking news feeds, answering email, and generally putzing on my smartphone when I should be engaged in conversing with my children and wife. I think every parent has moments of guilt over this. I really do want to be more intentional about setting the gizmos aside. My oldest is quickly entering the teen years where, I’m told, any fatherly influence starts to tank. I really want my kids to become happy and caring adults. Part of that means paying attention to people around you.

Embrace (or at least be okay with) Uncertainty

I’m a planner. I like knowing what’s around the corner. I have to consciously calm myself in the face of uncertainty. This past year I got to deal with random, crazy bouts of vertigo (thank you BPPV). This next year I get a new boss. My kids are unpredictable. Life, by its nature, serves curve balls. I’m trying to learn how to handle such pitches with peace. Journaling helps, as does blogging, as does reading the Book of Common Prayer (The Hours). The goal is to fine tune the toolkit.

Those are the top 5 for 2015. They’re not necessarily professional goals (I’ve a good bit of them as well), but they’re important. Here’s hoping 2015 is wonder filled.