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Dr. Helen

Barbara Oakley, author of A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), has an a new article out “How I rewired my brain to be fluent in math”:

The problem with focusing relentlessly on understanding is that math and science students can often grasp essentials of an important idea, but this understanding can quickly slip away without consolidation through practice and repetition. Worse, students often believe they understand something when, in fact, they don’t. By championing the importance of understanding, teachers can inadvertently set their students up for failure as those students blunder in illusions of competence. As one (failing) engineering student recently told me: “I just don’t see how I could have done so poorly. I understood it when you taught it in class.” My student may have thought he’d understood it at the time, and perhaps he did, but he’d never practiced using the concept to truly internalize it. He had not developed any kind of procedural fluency or ability to apply what he thought he understood.

More from Dr. Helen: 

How I Just Spent 20 Minutes of My Time

Is it Really a Shock?

October 1st, 2014 - 4:45 pm

I read the headline at Drudge: HHS shock: 1 in 12 Americans use illegal drugs, could fill all MLB stadiums 19 times:

America is doped up — and drunk.

According to a shocking new report from the Health and Human Services Department, there were 24.6 million people aged 12 or older who used illicit drugs during just one month last year.

“That’s enough people to fill every major league baseball stadium in the U.S. 19 times,” said the report. There are 30 MLB stadiums.

Even worse: Of the 24.6 million dopers, 2.2 million were adolescents aged 12 to 17.

Actually, I’m surprised the number isn’t higher. It’s like the 70′s all over again but worse, with drugs, apathy and incompetence rewarded or at least rarely penalized and success, achievement and hard work treated with disdain and distaste. I wonder where this will lead?

How Not to Be Poor

September 29th, 2014 - 1:46 am

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I read over Kathy Shaidle’s piece on the ways in which one can stay out of poverty. While a lot of the poor lifestyle decisions she points out make sense for avoiding poverty, such as finishing high school or not having numerous kids while a teenager, or even avoiding smoking, my experience as a therapist has taught me that education on how not to be poor is an important component for helping people to avoid poverty. Let me explain.

Most books like Peter Thiel’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future tell one how to get rich and become the next billionaire. However, that is a pipe dream for most people, given that there are only about 2,325 billionaires in the entire world. What we need is more training on how not to be poor, a much more attainable goal. Yes, large life decisions can make one poor, but small, educational steps can make people capable of using money to provide a better life for themselves and their families.

Over the years, I have dealt with clients who lived in bad circumstances. They were depressed and often broke, living in a bad area which caused their depression to worsen. When they would come into any money, they quickly spent it on unproductive items or gave it to other family members, rather than learning how to use small amounts of money to slowly turn things around. Many had no bank account, no credit, and no idea that going to the local payday loan place was like adding fuel to a fire. In short, many people simply do not understand how to use money to improve their life and, in turn, improve their mental health and health in general.

I would start by teaching a client how to save money each month, how to go to the bank and set up a savings account, and from there, a checking account. Those that listened almost always ended up with cash, a car, and a home without going into debt. How do you use money wisely? You think about it and realize that you don’t need a lot of money to live well. You just need to use the money that you have as a tool rather than a hindrance.

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How I Just Spent 20 Minutes of My Time

September 23rd, 2014 - 10:35 am

I saw a dumb quiz at the New York Times asking “Can You Read People’s Emotions?” (The quiz is a year old but still amusing). Given my profession as a psychologist, I would hope I could read faces and it seems I could: I got a 35/36. If only all tests were this easy for me–though one of the faces I got wrong.

Here is the test if you want to waste some time. Let me know how you did in the comments.

September 23rd, 2014 - 7:03 am

Barb Oakley, author of A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) has a piece in the WSJ: How We Should be Teaching Math:

Today’s Common Core approach to teaching STEM is at least superficially appealing. The goal of placing equal emphasis on conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application is laudable. But as with any new approach to teaching, the Common Core builds on the culture that’s already there. And the culture that has long reigned in STEM education is that conceptual understanding trumps everything. So bewildered math teachers who are now struggling to teach the Common Core are leaning on the old thinking, which has it that if a student doesn’t understand—in the “ah-ha,” light-bulb sense of understanding—there’s no way she or he can truly become expert in the material.

How Do You Prevent Male Suicide?

September 20th, 2014 - 4:24 pm

I thought about this as I read over this Yale Alumni Magazine article about a former alumna whose husband killed himself:

Jennifer Stuber ’02PhD will never forget the call. In 2010 her husband, Matt Adler, had taken a leave from his job as an attorney in order to deal with depression and anxiety. Stuber knew he was having trouble, but she did not realize how desperate he was—until their nanny called and said, “I think Matt has bought a gun.” They returned the gun, but he later bought another, and in February 2011 he took his own life.

Stuber, an associate professor at the University of Washington whose doctorate is in public health, became an activist: she has helped pass three laws in Washington State aimed at preventing suicide. The first, named after her husband, requires that mental health care professionals receive suicide prevention training. The second gives schools greater ability to intervene when a student expresses suicidal thoughts. The third, passed in March, requires that all doctors and nurses also receive the training….

Jennifer Stuber ’02PhD will never forget the call. In 2010 her husband, Matt Adler, had taken a leave from his job as an attorney in order to deal with depression and anxiety. Stuber knew he was having trouble, but she did not realize how desperate he was—until their nanny called and said, “I think Matt has bought a gun.” They returned the gun, but he later bought another, and in February 2011 he took his own life.

Stuber, an associate professor at the University of Washington whose doctorate is in public health, became an activist: she has helped pass three laws in Washington State aimed at preventing suicide. The first, named after her husband, requires that mental health care professionals receive suicide prevention training. The second gives schools greater ability to intervene when a student expresses suicidal thoughts. The third, passed in March, requires that all doctors and nurses also receive the training.

Stuber is helping to get laws passed that will help train mental health professionals and other health service providers. She mentions wanting to understand what her husband’s mindset was prior to killing himself. These are good things to want.

But training health professionals in suicide prevention is only a first step in understanding what happened and why: understanding what men in this country are feeling, thinking and going through is even more important. How about in grad school, when therapists and doctors are being trained, they learn sensitivity training and education on what men deal with, what their concerns are and why so many of them take their lives?

Our society focuses on the needs of women and even children and what they want. The focus is never on men, except to say something negative (or positive only if they respond the way that a woman would when it comes to feelings or relationships). Men often act differently and feel differently and we need to understand that and not be afraid. Especially those of us who are mental health professionals who have the privilege of treating men.

Their issues are human issues and we need to treat them as such. Instead of discussions of male “privilege” and men’s “oppression” of women, we need more training in grad schools on how to reach out to the men that are slipping through the cracks.

Real solutions to suicide prevention for men means first understanding what one is dealing with without judgement and with compassion, not anger, denial and fear. Suicidal men and their families deserve our compassion and need healthcare providers who are prepared. There are 30,000 men a year taking their own lives. This is mind-boggling but gets so little attention that we rarely hear about it until a male celebrity takes his own life. As a society, we can and should be better than this, and so should the healthcare system that has turned its back on so many depressed men.

UPDATE: Many comments here make good points. More laws may not help and may lead to more problems for men with depression. The government may make things worse, I get that.

However, men often see a mental health professional or most often a doctor or medical person in the months prior to their suicide. Often these professionals do miss the signs of depression in men as they look different, often times, men are irritable and drink or are more active in their depression. I do think we need to train professionals to be sensitive to these differences and learn more about what men are dealing with in our society. Some people say that nothing will work, but that has not been my experience. Over the course of my career, I have dealt with many suicidal men who got treatment that worked and they were able to change the course of their lives in ways that made them feel better and find peace.

The problem here is that the training that is provided to health professionals by any type of institutional intervention might be flawed and lead to poor outcomes. The Warren Farrells of the world would probably be the best instructors but they are in short supply and not sufficiently PC enough for our current administration. My point in writing this post was mainly to emphasize that rather than wasting all this time talking about social justice and the patriarchy for health professionals, schools and education should focus on real help and understanding for the many men in this country who deserve better. But maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part.

According to this article, 10% of Americans go to work high:

Showing up to work high? You’re not alone.

A new report has found nearly 1 in 10 Americans are showing up to work high on marijuana. Mashable.com conducted the survey in partnership with SurveyMonkey, and found 9.7 percent of Americans fessed up to smoking cannabis before showing up to the office.

The data analyzed the marijuana and prescription drug habits of 534 Americans. What’s more, nearly 81 percent said they scored their cannabis illegally, according to the survey.

Cannabis and the workplace seem quite linked lately. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently chimed in on marijuana and work. While criticizing Twitter during an appearance on CNBC Wednesday, Thiel said Twitter is a “… horribly mismanaged company—probably a lot of pot smoking going on there.”

I find it amazing that this many people would confess to smoking at work and 81% stated that they obtained the cannabis illegally. Some businesses drug test but others don’t or can’t afford it.

Do you mind if your Barista or server is high? What about your doctor? Isn’t this a problem to be taken more seriously? How are these high people getting to work? I see a lot of people in my area riding bikes on the main roads these days. Maybe they are high just trying to get to work. I guess a bike is better than driving but it still doesn’t seem like a great idea.

The Factual Feminist looks at video games

September 16th, 2014 - 3:36 pm

Christina Hoff Sommers: “Are video games sexist?”

Hottest Men in the Conservative Media

September 15th, 2014 - 1:44 pm

Politichicks asked me to guest judge the hottest men in the media a while back and they have posted the winners. You will notice that a number of the hottest Conservative men are from PJM, of course. They are known for their intelligence, courage and passion. Check out the list here.

The NFL’s Domestic Violence Problem

September 14th, 2014 - 1:30 pm

Many readers have written me to ask what I think of the Ray Rice situation. I have a few thoughts. Yes, perhaps the NFL does have a domestic violence problem, but does it only go one way? How much of the violence in many relationships, like that of the Rices, is reciprocal? And where was the outrage on the domestic violence front when Tennessee Titan’s player Steve McNair was slaughtered by his 20-year-old girlfriend:

Police recently concluded that former NFL star Steve McNair was fatally shot in his sleep by girlfriend Sahel Kazemi in a murder-suicide. Yet while there are more than 10,000 media entries on Google News for Steve McNair, only a few of them even mention the phrase domestic violence.

Violence by women against their male partners is often ignored or not recognized as domestic violence. Law enforcement, the judicial system, the media and the domestic-violence establishment are still stuck in the outdated “man as perpetrator/woman as victim” conception of domestic violence.

Misandrists like Amanda Marcotte and others lament that domestic violence is always a man’s problem. No, it is not. It is so much deeper than that and pretending that only men can stop domestic violence is foolish and adds to the problem. Linda Mill’s important book Violent Partners: A Breakthrough Plan for Ending the Cycle of Abuse “challenges the prevailing orthodoxies and maps out a plan to change domestic abuse treatment programs. Drawing on case studies and research from her abuse prevention programs, Mills reveals that intimate abuse is far more complex than we realize, and develops a program for healing that engages everyone caught up in a violent dynamic.” The book discusses how much domestic violence is reciprocal (both partners participate) and how this can escalate violence. Addressing both partners in the intervention can often be more beneficial.

Our misandric, PC society is determined to use the NFL, the military, colleges and any other places that men congregate to prove that men are perpetrators and women victims in all interpersonal situations. It is not that simple, as the McNair case above demonstrates. If the NFL chooses to address domestic violence, then so should any place where women congregate as intervention is fruitless without both sexes being involved. Phony domestic violence programs are always about putting men in their place. Real solutions look at the complexity of the problem and seeks solutions, not vengeance against all men.