The Making of a Fantastic Dad.

Once, I was at a hockey game with my son.

My eldest daughter was on the field. The spectators directly behind us were fans of the opposition and shouted insults at my daughter’s team during the whole game. We were wearing fan attire, they knew who we supported.

Sometime late in the game, I almost made a bad decision. I turned to my son and said, “I’m going to tell these people to shut up. Be ready to back me up if things go badly.”

My son replied, “I’m not backing you up if you do something stupid.”

It occurred to me then that the student had become the teacher and that through our flaws, fathers can learn as well as teach.

Fortunately for me, on many other occasions, my son demonstrated wisdom. Receiving it was both a joyful and humbling experience for me. As I reflected on where he learned it, I recognized many people were involved: his mother, his grandparents, extended family, and many others in our community.

My father played a particularly important role in my life.

When we think of someone who is sensitive to the needs of others, is affectionate, loves children, and is gentle, most of us probably think of a woman. And society in general does not value, as much as it should, nonmasculine behavior. The problem is “traditionally masculine characteristics may interfere with men’s relationships with others.” And that’s not good for our society.

But what if sensitivity, affection, love of children, and gentleness described our fathers?

For me, it does. My dad, whose family nickname was “Manics,” was a big man with a deep voice that was both soothing and authoritative. But, he didn’t use his physical stature to gain power over others. He was a gentle soul who loved children and squatted down when he spoke to them. He wanted to look them in the eyes to make them more comfortable instead of towering over them. That’s how he lived: looking people in the eyes and meeting them wherever they were.

This is a word picture of the man I grew up observing, the man I loved and respected. I wanted to be like him. Of course, he wasn’t perfect, and I don’t have a perfect record in applying the lessons he taught.

As far back as I can remember though, my dad has been a good example for me of one who demonstrated healthy masculinity. To me, healthy masculinity means using the God – given traits of men to benefit the world, not harm it. Unfortunately, not enough men have a built-in reference point for learning or understanding that.

Researchers have noted the importance of fathers passing down wisdom and love to their sons. Frank Pittman, M.D., in his book, Man Enough: Fathers, Sons and The Search for Masculinity states that for centuries, each generation of fathers has passed on less power, wisdom, and love to his sons.

“We finally reached a point where many fathers were largely irrelevant in the lives of their sons. […] Everyone seemed to be floundering around not knowing what to do with men or with their problematic and disoriented masculinity.

My son and I received wisdom and love from my father. Most of the lessons he taught through actions. On occasion, however, he taught with words. For example, when I was a teenager, some younger boys vandalized my car. I caught them and took them to the police. On the way, I berated them with profanity.

In talking to the police, the boys repeated what I said. The policeman, who knew my dad, repeated it to him. His response was typical of his teaching. He told me he I had to control my anger and there was no justification for the way I spoke to the boys.

“Remember this,” he said, “if you always act as a gentleman, you probably won’t have anything to apologize for.”

Through this incident, he taught me perhaps the most important lesson I learned from him – that, in everything, it was more important to focus on my conduct than the conduct of others.

We who have experienced the passing down of wisdom and love can draw from that in our roles as fathers – to love our sons well and to teach them what is important. We can affirm them so they don’t try to gain self-esteem through negative behavior, as too often happens

Men who do not receive attention, affirmation, and love from their fathers tend to suffer from “father hunger,” and are waiting to be accepted by and treated with love and respect from them. Some of these men often become aggressive to prove their masculinity. They don’t treat women well, engage in materialistic pursuits in hopes of filling the void, and become “masculopathic philanderers, contenders, and controllers.

In her film, “The Mask You Live In,” Jennifer Siebel Newsom addresses the struggle boys and young men encounter as they try to stay true to themselves while negotiating masculine stereotypes that encourage boys to “disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify women, and resolve conflicts through violence.”

In examining this struggle, the film cites these significant statistics:

1. Boys are more likely than girls to flunk or drop out of school.
2. Boys are two times more likely than girls to be in special education.
3. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be expelled.
4. Every day three or more boys commit suicide, and it is the third leading cause of death among them.
5. Ninety-three percent of boys are exposed to internet porn.
6. Twenty-one percent of young men use pornography every day.

The film encourages us all to raise a healthier generation of boys and young men by changing our culture’s conversation about what constitutes healthy masculinity. Among other things, it calls us to:

1. Dispel stereotypical views that it is about physical force, sexual conquest, and economic success.

2. As parents and mentors, model a healthier form of masculinity and provide a positive representation of it that does not hinder social – emotional growth.

3. Help boys connect their hearts to their heads so they can find the courage and conviction to stay true to themselves.

I was fortunate to have this modeled in my home. My dad showed me that being sensitive, affectionate, loving, and gentle demonstrates healthy masculinity. He showed me to apply faith in one’s life by serving others, to be committed to family, and to treat others – all others, regardless of race, gender, religious belief, or other differences – with respect.

This was my experience. I realize everyone’s is different. So, this is a call for all of us to draw on the positive examples we have and provide a healthy view of masculinity to the boys and young men we can influence.

Deryl Goldenberg, Ph.D., in “The Psychology Behind Strained Father Son Relationships,” explains that men who have had unhealthy relationships with their fathers must resolve their unresolved wounds or their hurt and anger may transfer onto all their other relationships:

“The optimal outcome, as men move forward toward resolving their feelings with their fathers, is to no longer be entangled with them through anger or hurt. Men can bring their newly earned individuation and energy into their love life, work life and friendships with other men.”

I have gratitude for my dad and the role he played in my life. I’m not entangled with him through anger or hurt. I am attached to him in spirit, love, and positive memories. I wish that kind of relationship for all fathers and sons.

But, whether we had that example at home or not, if we each pass down what wisdom and love we have received, we can benefit the world – one life lesson at a time.

Fathers, you are the primary model of manhood for your sons. You are their most meaningful mentor, and believe it or not, you are their hero in countless ways. Your words and your example are a great influence on them.

Stephen Lee


Loneliness Can Be A Good Thing.

My first love was a girl named Anita Bailey (a common enough name that revealing it will not enable anyone to google or FB her). We met when we were in primary school, and had a glorious, tragic, intimate year and a half together. After we broke up (all my fault), I missed her every day, for years. Every single day.

It helped somewhat that I’d been raised in the Christian tradition. I’m sure other religious and agnostic childhoods would bear other helpful fruit, but what I know is my own experience. Reading an article on a South African nun who was a student of some Catholic order and now studies at an European order, I was amazed that in light of Christianity’s view the feeling of loneliness is identified as the feeling of God’s Nature. In other words, loneliness is not a lacking of something, but rather the aching fulfillment of our open, raw, caring nature. I remember thinking about this under the moon up on the Alphen Trail, in Constantia, and my friend Hardy comforting me. I missed Anita so badly that night, the stars and moon and silhouetted mountain seemed to prick little holes in my silly red heart.

Other Christian texts remind us that when we fall in love with Christ, it is only a recognition of our own enlightened nature in others, or externally. We have only to realize, in such open, empty moments, that the love that we seek is present, now.

How Christians view loneliness, and why it can actually be a good thing and beneficial to your spiritual practice.

“Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.” ~ Janet Fitch

The below is a great quote…

Reminds me of Robin Williams’: “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you

feel all alone.

Friend: I’d like to ask a question about loneliness and love. In my experience, the kind of love where two people try to be together in order to protect themselves from loneliness hasn’t worked out too well. When you come in contact with loneliness, it seems to destroy a lot of things you try to pull off in trying to build up security. But can there be love between two people while they continue to try to work with the loneliness?

Me: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think anybody can fall in love unless they feel lonely. People can’t fall in love unless they know they are lonely and are separate individuals. If by some strange misunderstanding, you think you are the other person already, then there’s no one for you to fall in love with. It doesn’t work that way. The whole idea of union is that of two being together. One and one together make union. If there’s just one, you can’t call that union. Zero is not union, one is not union, but two is union. So I think in love it is the desolateness that inspires the warmth. The more you feel a sense of desolation, the more warmth you feel at the same time. You can’t feel the warmth of the house unless it’s cold outside. The colder it is outside, the cozier it is at home.

F: What would be the difference between the relationship between lovers and the general relationship you have with the soul as a whole, which is a whole bunch of people feeling desolateness to different degrees?

Me: The two people have a similarity in their type of loneliness. One particular person reminds another more of his or her own loneliness. You feel that your partner, in seeing you, feels more lonely. Whereas with the soul, it’s more a matter of equal shares. There’s all – pervasive loneliness, ubiquitous loneliness, happening all over the place.

Going left or right, going to yes or no, going to right or wrong has never really changed anything. Scrambling for security has never brought anything but momentary joy. It’s like changing the position of our legs in meditation. Our legs hurt from sitting cross-legged, so we move them. And then we feel, “Phew! What a relief!” But two and a half minutes later, we want to move them again. We keep moving around seeking pleasure, seeking comfort, and the satisfaction that we get is very short – lived.

We hear a lot about the pain of the heart, and we also hear about setting it free. But we don’t hear much about how painful it is to go from being completely stuck to becoming unstuck. The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA. We are undoing a pattern that is not just our pattern. It’s the human pattern: we project onto the world a zillion possibilities of attaining resolution. We can have whiter teeth, a weed-free lawn, a strife-free life, a world without embarrassment. We can live happily every after. This pattern keeps us dissatisfied and causes us a lot of suffering.

As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity. To the degree that we’ve been avoiding uncertainty, we’re naturally going to have withdrawal symptoms – withdrawal from always thinking that there’s a problem and that someone, somewhere, needs to fix it.

The middle way is wide open, but it’s tough going, because it goes against the grain of an ancient neurotic pattern that we all share. When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, including you and me.

Reflection provides a way for us to train in the middle way – in staying right on the spot. We are encouraged not to judge whatever arises in our mind. In fact, we are encouraged not to even grasp whatever arises in our mind. What we usually call good or bad we simply acknowledge as thinking, without all the usual drama that goes along with right and wrong. We are instructed to let the thoughts come and go as if touching a bubble with a feather. This straightforward discipline prepares us to stop struggling and discover a fresh, unbiased state of being.

The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up a familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. Or maybe we avoid the rawness by acting out and righteously telling the person how messed up he or she is. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victim hood.

Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and calming loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.

There are six ways of describing this kind of calm loneliness. They are: less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts.

Less desire is the willingness to be lonely without resolution when everything in us yearns for something to cheer us up and change our mood. Practicing this kind of loneliness is a way of sowing seeds so that fundamental restlessness decreases. In reflection , for example, every time we label “thinking” instead of getting endlessly run around by our thoughts, we are training in just being here without dissociation. We can’t do that now to the degree that we weren’t willing to do it yesterday or the day before or last week or last year. After we practice less desire wholeheartedly and consistently, something shifts. We feel less desire in the sense of being less solidly seduced by our Very Important Story Lines. So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 5 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior. That’s the path of bravery. The less we spin off and go crazy, the more we taste the satisfaction of cool loneliness. “One can be lonely and not be tossed away by it.”

The second kind of loneliness is contentment. When we have nothing, we have nothing to lose. We don’t have anything to lose but being programmed in our guts to feel we have a lot to lose. Our feeling that we have a lot to lose is rooted in fear – of loneliness, of change, of anything that can’t be resolved, of nonexistence. The hope that we can avoid this feeling and the fear that we can’t become our reference point.

When we draw a line down the center of a page, we know who we are if we’re on the right side and who we are if we’re on the left side. But we don’t know who we are when we don’t put ourselves on either side. Then we just don’t know what to do. We just don’t know. We have no reference point, no hand to hold. At that point we can either freak out or settle in. Contentment is a synonym for loneliness, cool loneliness, settling down with cool loneliness. We give up believing that being able to escape our loneliness is going to bring any lasting happiness or joy or sense of well-being or courage or strength. Usually we have to give up this belief about a billion times, again and again making friends with our jumpiness and dread, doing the same old thing a billion times with awareness. Then without our even noticing, something begins to shift. We can just be lonely with no alternatives, content to be right here with the mood and texture of what’s happening.

The third kind of loneliness is avoiding unnecessary activities. When we’re lonely in a “hot” way, we look for something to save us; we look for a way out. We get this queasy feeling that we call loneliness, and our minds just go wild trying to come up with companions to save us from despair. That’s called unnecessary activity. It’s a way of keeping ourselves busy so we don’t have to feel any pain. It could take the form of obsessively daydreaming of true romance, or turning a tidbit of gossip into the six o’clock news, or even going off by ourselves into the wilderness.

The point is that in all these activities, we are seeking companionship in our usual, habitual way, using our same old repetitive ways of distancing ourselves from the demon loneliness. Could we just settle down and have some compassion and respect for ourselves? Could we stop trying to escape from being alone with ourselves? What about practicing not jumping and grabbing when we begin to panic? Relaxing with loneliness is a worthy occupation. As the Japanese poet Ryokan says, “If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.”

Complete discipline is another component of cool loneliness. Complete discipline means that at every opportunity, we’re willing to come back, just gently come back to the present moment. This is loneliness as complete discipline. We’re willing to sit still, just be there, alone. We don’t particularly have to cultivate this kind of loneliness; we could just sit still long enough to realize it’s how things really are. We are fundamentally alone, and there is nothing anywhere to hold on to. Moreover, this is not a problem. In fact, it allows us to finally discover a completely un fabricated state of being. Our habitual assumptions – all our ideas about how things are – keep us from seeing anything in a fresh, open way. We say, “Oh yes, I know.” But we don’t know. We don’t ultimately know anything. There’s no certainty about anything. This basic truth hurts, and we want to run away from it. But coming back and relaxing with something as familiar as loneliness is good discipline for realizing the profundity of the unresolved moments of our lives. We are cheating ourselves when we run away from the ambiguity of loneliness.

Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing calm loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us – food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things okay. That quality comes from never having grown up. We still want to go home and be able to open the refrigerator and find it full of our favorite goodies; when the going gets tough, we want to yell “Mom!” But what we’re doing as we progress along the path is leaving home and becoming homeless. Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are. Loneliness is not a problem. Loneliness is nothing to be solved. The same is true for any other experience we might have.

Another aspect of calm loneliness is not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts. The rug’s been pulled; the jig is up; there is no way to get out of this one…

Death is no leveller if some live much longer than others

I think the fear of death is well founded, and I want to highlight another aspect of it.

A longevity gap would involve a difference, not only in the quantity of life, but in its very nature. Life extension will transform the way we think of ourselves and our lives, creating a profound psychological gap between those who have it and those who don’t.

Here’s what I mean. We are, in a fundamental sense, transmitters, who preserve what we inherit and pass it on to the next generation. From a biological perspective, we are transmitters of genes – ‘gigantic lumbering robots’, in Richard Dawkins’s colourful phrase, built by natural selection to replicate our DNA. We are also transmitters of cultural artifacts – words, ideas, knowledge, tools, skills and so on – and any civilisation is the product of the gradual accumulation and refinement of such artifacts over many generations. We are not narrowly bound by these roles, however. Our genes and culture have enabled us to create societies in which we can pursue personal interests and projects of no direct reproductive or survival value. We can become consumers, collectors and creators – indulging our sensual appetites, amassing possessions and knowledge, and expressing ourselves through art and physical activity.

As long as there has been inequality among humans, death has been seen as the great leveller. Just like the rest of us, the rich and powerful have had to accept that youth is fleeting, that strength and health soon fail, and that all possessions must be relinquished within a few decades. It’s true that the better-off have, on average, lived longer than the poor but this is because the poor are more exposed to life-shortening influences, such as disease and bad diet, and receive poorer healthcare, rather than because the rich can extend their lives. There has been an absolute limit on human lifespan (no one has lived more than 52 years beyond the biblical threescore and ten), and those who have approached that limit have done so thanks to luck and genetics, not riches and status. This inescapable fact has profoundly shaped our society, culture and religion, and it has helped to foster a sense of shared humanity. We might despise or envy the privileged lives of the ultra rich, but we can all empathise with their fear of death and their sadness at the loss of loved ones.

Yet this might soon change dramatically. Ageing and death are not inevitable for all living things. For example, the hydra, a tiny freshwater polyp related to jellyfish, has an astonishing capacity for self-regeneration, which amounts to ‘biological immortality’. Scientists are now beginning to understand the mechanisms involved in ageing and regeneration (one factor seems to be the role of FOXO genes, which regulate various cellular processes), and vast sums are being invested in research into slowing or reversing ageing in humans. Some anti-ageing therapies are already in clinical trial, and though we should take the predictions of life-extension enthusiasts with a pinch of salt, it is likely that within a few decades we will have the technology to extend the human lifespan significantly. There will no longer be a fixed limit on human life.

What effects will this have on society? Life extension threatens to compound existing inequalities, enabling those who can afford the latest therapies to live increasingly longer lives, hoarding resources and increasing the pressure on everyone else. If we don’t provide equitable access to anti-ageing technology, a ‘longevity gap’ will develop, bringing with it deep social tensions. Life extension will be the great unleveller.

But even so, we soon realise that our time is limited and that, if we want our projects, possessions and memory to endure, we must find people who will care for them when we are gone. Death encourages the most self-absorbed of us to become transmitters of one kind or another. Readers of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch (1871) will remember her portrait of the self-centred scholar Edward Casaubon, who as death approaches becomes pathetically desperate for his young wife to continue his researches.

Life extension will change this. Those with extended lives will not have the same sense of transience that we have. They will be able to indulge themselves without worrying that they are wasting precious years, since they can expect plenty of time ahead in which to get around to less frivolous things. They probably won’t feel any urgency to share their projects with others, knowing that they are likely to possess them for many more years, and they might hoard knowledge and culture as well as material possessions. They could spend years cultivating their minds, bodies and aesthetic sensibilities, and become obsessed with perfecting themselves, not worrying that old age and death will soon undermine all this effort.

They might also feel themselves superior to those with natural lifespans. They could see their extended life as a symbol of high status, like a luxury home or a yacht. They might feel self-important in a deeper way, too. The philosopher Daniel Dennett has described the self as a kind of fiction – the imagined narrator of the unfolding story we tell about our attitudes, experiences, motives, projects and careers. These narratives are in fact constructed on the fly, by a collection of somewhat disunified brain systems, but we interpret them as reports of a unified persisting self. Those with extended lives will be able to spin much richer and more optimistic life stories, full of self-improvement and self-cultivation, and containing far fewer incidents of loss and grief (assuming their loved ones have extended lives too). As a result, they might see their selves – the implied narrators of these fascinating multivolume narratives – as more intrinsically valuable than the selves of people with unextended lives, who can tell only sad short stories.

Of course, even the longevity-rich will eventually have to face up to their own morality, but for many decades they will be able to live as possessors and accumulators rather than as transmitters. By the individualistic standards of modern Western society, they will be hugely privileged over those with unextended lives – members of an alien species almost. It is not too hard to imagine violent scenarios in which the impoverished transients rise up against the sybaritic extended class.

This doesn’t mean that life extension will inevitably be a bad thing. It’s what we do with our extended lives that matters. The danger lies in removing the check on self-indulgence that death provides, and in the deep new inequalities that its removal could create. Perhaps we will be able to mitigate the latter by making life-extension technology widely available, though that would itself bring risks of overpopulation and resource depletion. At any rate, if we want to maintain a stable society, we will need to find some way of counterbalancing the loss of the levelling influence that death exerts, and of maintaining the sense of humility and shared humanity that it fosters.

Stephen Lee

My Letter to Regret.

Dear Regret:

I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship, and it’s time I said some things to you.

My children are young grown up adults now, and are off having adventures of their own. Sure, they still need me, and of course, I still need them, but it’s different now. We all live in different cities, doing the things we’ve dreamed of.

This makes me happy, but also sad. Sometimes, I want to bring them back and make donuts with them and be silly with them for the rest of our long lives.

Funny how, when I think back fondly to the garden we made in the backyard, you try instead to steer me toward thoughts of all the sand castle’s we didn’t build. In remembering that house that was really too small for us, you remind me about my never -fulfilled dream of building an addition instead of the books that filled our space, and the love of words, learning, and great discussions they fostered in our home.

And in our kitchen, Regret, you want me to remember the smallness, the inefficiencies, and the countertop that wasn’t the granite of my children’s friends’ kitchens, rather than remembering the wonderful meals we made together, and how all my children have developed a gift for making and enjoying the brilliant flavors and colors of excellent food – and their love of sharing it with others.

Dear Regret, you like it when I focus on the frustration I felt over never having enough money for my children to do and have everything they wanted. You’d like me to forget that always, always, somehow by magic, blessings, and love, it turned out that we had what we needed.

When the children were little, you wanted me to wish for a state-of-the-art, wide pushcart to push along with the other stroller parents, and that I had the time to help out in the school office or lead the parent – teacher organization.

But you know what?

I never really knew what any of that had to do with developing healthy, loving relationships with my kids anyway.

You’ll forgive me, Regret, for smiling when my younger daughter remembers the conversations we used to have, entirely in rhythmic rhyme, and the running story we made up about the adventures of a certain plucky fish who lived in the seafood shop at the Cape Town Fish Market where we went for lunch on Saturdays.

Things like that are what developed our relationships with each other, and that kind of depth and creativity doesn’t come from making sure their time was filled with structured activities.

Though my children would argue this, I was not an overprotective parent. In fact, the other people thought I didn’t do nearly enough sheltering, and there’s no doubt you, Regret, would agree with them. Of course, I wanted to know where my children were and when they were coming home. But they also learned to be wise and confident, to be fearless, yet sensible. All of them have become competent world travelers, people in whom I would have more faith than many adults my age.

To be fair, you made some good points over the years, like when I needed to apologize for causing someone pain, and when I made certain choices that could have been better ones.

You may have been at your best, Regret, when you reminded me about not owning a complicated video camera to capture their every move for posterity (there weren’t cell phones with video in those days). And you love trying to make me sorry, don’t you, for not having been able to take them to see Mickey every year?

Regret, I know that, more than anything, you’d love for me to find and obsess over all of the ways I’ve failed my children as a caring father.

But I’m so thrilled and proud of who and what they have become, and of the way they follow their dreams… and I know that if one thing had been different, they wouldn’t be exactly the fine people they are now.

And even though some things may be left undone, and unbought, and unrepaired, and, though looking back, I see the many mistakes I wish I hadn’t made, we four, my children and I – have not left things between us unfelt, unsaid, or unrepaired when necessary.

Whether or not you realize it, Regret, you’ve taught me to go forward with an eye to giving my best to the things I can control – like how I treat people, what I do to express kindness and love, and how I respect and encourage another’s fragile dreams.

And as I continue to watch my children thrive, I’ll remind myself that all of the things I did and didn’t do – all of the things I wish I’d done better, or done more of, and some I’m glad I did exactly right – those things have all made my children who they are, and made me who I am.

What I’m trying to say, Regret, is that we’ve grown apart. It’s not you, it’s me. We just want different things. And I think I should tell you, Regret, I’m getting back together with Joyfulness and Gratitude.

The Whys and Hows of Research and the Teaching of Reading

I talk a lot about research in this space.

I argue for research-based instruction and policy.

I point out a dearth of empirical evidence behind some instructional schemes, and champion others that have been validated or verified to my satisfaction.

Some readers are happy to find out what is “known,” and others see me as a killjoy because the research findings don’t match well with what they claim to “know.”

Members of this latter group are often horrified by my conclusions. They often are certain that I’m wrong because they read a book for teachers that had lots of impressive citations that seem contradict my claims.

What is clear from these exchanges is that many educators don’t know what research is, why we should rely on it, or how to interpret research findings.

Research is used to try to answer a question, solve a problem, or figure something out. It requires the systematic and formal collection and analysis of empirical data. Research can never prove something with 100 percent certainty, but it can reduce our uncertainty.

“Systematic and formal” means that there are rules or conventions for how data in a research study need to be handled; the rigor of these methods is what make the data trustworthy and allow the research to reduce our uncertainty. Thus, if a researcher wants to compare the effectiveness of two instructional approaches, he or she has to make sure the groups to be taught with these approaches be equivalent at the beginning. Likewise, we are more likely to trust a survey that defines its terms, or an anthropological study that immerses the observer in the environment for a long period of time.

Research reports don’t just provide the results or outcomes of an investigation, but they explain—usually in great detail—the methods used to arrive at those results. Most people don’t find research reports very interesting because of this kind of detail, but it is that detail that allows us to determine how much weight to place on a study.

Given all of that, here are some guidelines to remember.

1. Just because something is written, doesn’t make it research.

Many practitioners think that if an idea is in a book or magazine that it is research. Some even think my blog is research. It is not, and neither is the typical Reader Rescue article.

That’s not a comment on their quality or value, but a recognition of what such writing can provide. In some cases, as with my blog, there is a serious effort to summarize research findings accurately/ I work hard trying to distinguish my opinions from actual research findings.

Many publications for teachers are no more than compendia of opinions or personal experiences, which is fine. However, these have all of the limits of that kind of thing.

Just because someone likes what they’re doing (e.g., teaching, investing, cooking) and then writes about how well they’ve done it… doesn’t necessarily mean it is really so great. That’s why 82% of people believe that they’re in the top 30% of drivers; something that obviously can’t be right.

As human beings we all fall prey to overconfidence, selective memory, and just a plain lack of systematicity in how we gain information about our impact.

Often when teachers tell me that children now love reading as a result of how they teach, I ask how do you know? What evidence do you have? Usually the answer is something like, “A parent told me that their child now likes to read.” Of course, that doesn’t tell how the other 25 kids are doing, or whether the parent is a good observer of such things, or even the motivation for the, seemingly, offhand comment.

Even when you’re correct about things improving, it’s impossible—from personal experience alone—to know the source of the success. It could be the teaching method, or maybe just the force of your personality. If another teacher adopted your methods, things might not be so magical.

And, then there is opportunity cost. We all struggle with this one. No matter how good an outcome, I can’t possibly know how well things might have gone had I done it differently. The roads not traveled may have gotten me someplace less positive—but not necessarily. You simply can’t know.

That’s where research comes in… it allows us to avoid overconfidence, selective memory, lack of systematicity, lack of reliable evidence, incorrect causal attribution, and the narrowness of individual experience.

2. Research should not be used selectively.

Many educators use research the same way advertisers and politicians do—selectively, to support their beliefs or claims—rather than trying to figure out how things work or how they could be made to work better.

I wish I had a cupcake for every time a school official has asked me to identify research that could be used to support their new policy! They know what they want to do and want research to sell it. Rather than studying the research to determine what they should do.

Cherry-picking an aberrant study outcome that matches one’s claims or ignoring a rigorously designed study in favor of one with a preferred outcome may be acceptable debater’s tricks but are bad science. And, they can only lead to bad instructional practice.

When it comes to determining what research means, you must pay attention not just to results that you like. Research is at its best when it challenges us to see things differently.

I vividly remember early in my career when Scott Paris challenged our colleagues to wonder why DISTAR, a scripted teaching approach was so effective, despite that fact that most of us despised it. Clearly, we were missing something; our theories were so strong that they were blinding us to the fact that what we didn’t like was positive for children, at least for some children or under some conditions (the kinds of things that personal experience can’t reveal).

3. Research, and the interpretation of research, require consistency.

Admittedly, interpreting research studies is as much an art as science. During the nearly 20 years of my professional career, the interpretation of research has changed dramatically.

It used to be entirely up to the discretion of each individual researcher as to which studies they’d include in a review and what criteria they would use to weigh these studies.

That led to some pretty funky science: research syntheses that identified only studies that supported a particular teaching method or inconsistent criteria for impeaching studies (this study should be ignored because it has a serious design weakness, but then using studies with more acceptable findings even though they suffer the same flaw).

I’ve been running into this problem a lot lately. Not among researchers, but among practitioners. When I point out a research-supported instructional practice (Reader Rescue) that is inconsistent with phonics theories, I’m told “anything works if it is taught one-on-one.” That sounds great, but those same people are offended when there is insufficient attention to phonics instruction, in spite of the evidence supporting phonics such as the Reading Panel. The problem with this: the instruction in many of those positive phonics studies was delivered one-on-one.

I’m persuaded that both phonics and Reader Rescue work (because they both have multiple studies of sufficient quality showing their effectiveness). That doesn’t mean I think they work equally well, or that they are equally efficient, or that they even accomplish the same things for students.

I agree with those who argue against teaching cueing systems, because research evidence reveals that poor readers use non-orthographic information to identify words and that good readers do not. Teaching kids to read like poor readers makes no sense to me. Nevertheless, Reader Rescue clearly gives children a learning advantage, and we’d be wise to look hard at it to see why (one study found adding more explicit phonics to it improved children’s progress, and that’s a clue that may help us understand what it does and what it doesn’t).

The point isn’t phonics or Reader Rescue: but when we make those kinds of choices, we need to weigh evidence consistently—treating as the same those studies that challenge our deepest beliefs as well as those that are wind beneath our wings. What works in teaching, who it helps, how it helps them… those are complex questions requiring sound evidence and wise analysis rather than rage and cheap “hooray for our side” Tweets.

Let’s do better.

How To Teach Main Idea.

June 2017

Teacher question:

Last week, I read your article about how to teach theme to students by having them track character changes across a story and determine what lesson the character learns to determine the overall theme.Can you offer advice on determining the main idea of an informational text? Specifically, for third grade, students must determine the main idea, recount the key details and explain how the key details support the main idea. What is the best way HOW to teach this to third graders?

Shanahan’s response:

Teaching “main idea” might seem simple, but it’s actually kind of complicated.

Not everyone even agrees on what label to use. Are we talking about main ideas, central ideas, purposes, topics, central messages, or themes? I dealt with that vexing confusion previously, Dazed and Confused: The Main Idea of Main Ideas.

No need to retread that mushy ground today. Let’s just assume you mean what I mean when it comes to main ideas (and if there is any doubt, just read that previous blog entry).

But even when we agree on what a main idea is, there are lots of differences in what is taught in pursuit of main idea. In an examination of main idea instruction (Jitendra, et al., 2001), lots of distinctions had to be made. Were students taught main idea as an objective or a strategy? Was it for fiction or non-fiction? Short, medium, or long texts? Were students presented with main ideas, choosing main ideas, identifying them, or constructing them? Were the main ideas explicit or implicit? And, if they were explicit, where in the text did they appear?

Jitendra and colleagues found that different programs taught main idea in very different ways, and none were taught in ways that are very consistent with research results!

Those distinctions are important instructional considerations.

Let’s face it, it is one thing to find a main idea in a four-sentence paragraph in which the author signals its presence with language like, “The most important thing to remember …” and it is quite another to infer an unstated main idea from a 12-page chapter on electricity.

That study didn’t even exhaust the possible distinctions. Chang & Choi (2014) showed that the inclusion of particularly interesting or seductive information in a text (like the fact that George Washington had wooden teeth or that a lightning strike once restored a blind man’s sight) can block readers from developing coherent mental representations of expository texts. In other words, interesting facts like that can distract readers from getting the main idea.

And, then there is the range of topics possible, and the amount of prior knowledge kids may have with particular topics.

To teach main idea successfully one is going to have to provide lots of practice with a rich and varied collection of texts.

The problem here is that main idea location or identification is not a really a skill, per se. Skills are highly repetitive acts, but main ideas are so varied and arise in such a wide-ranging universe of texts that repetition is only possible in artificial instructional exercises.

That’s why, despite the success researchers have often found in teaching main ideas to kids, their results usually haven’t transferred to better performance on standardized tests (e.g., Sjostrom & Hare, 1984). Main idea teaching not only doesn’t usually lead to better general reading achievement, but doesn’t necessarily even improve kids’ performance on main idea questions — though this is because such questions don’t actually tap main idea as a separable skill (e.g., ACT, 2006; Davis, 1944).

I’d suggest the following guidelines for teaching main idea:

Since it isn’t really a skill and it doesn’t separate out from other “skills”, then teach it as part of a larger and more coherent reading strategy

The National Reading Panel (2000) found that teaching students to summarize as they read had a positive impact on reading comprehension and Graham & Hebert (2010) found that writing summaries of text was particularly powerful in the elementary grades. Summaries include main ideas of course, but these are embedded in a plethora of skills and actions.

For example, teaching summarization as a strategy means teaching students to use summarization to support their reading comprehension. They need to learn when to summarize. If I’m reading something that is difficult for me, I summarize more often — sometimes as much as every paragraph or so. In other cases, I may be able to wait until the end (or at least until the end of a section). Sometimes, I actually note these summaries down and other times it is enough to say them in my head.

In any event, the idea is that I am actively trying to understand and remember the text, by frequently stopping to retell myself the important ideas.

Who Decides What a Word Means?

There is a fact to bear in mind: no language has fallen apart from lack of care. It is just not something that happens – literally. Prescriptivist cannot point to a single language that became unusable or inexpressive as a result of people’s failure to uphold traditional vocabulary and grammar. Every language existing today is fantastically expressive. It would be a miracle, except that it is utterly commonplace, a fact shared not only by all languages but by all the humans who use them.

How can this be? Why does change of the decimate variety not add up to chaos? If one such ‘error’ is bad, and these kinds of things are happening all the time, how do things manage to hold together?

The answer is that language is a system. Sounds, words and grammar do not exist in isolation: each of these three levels of language constitutes a system in itself. And, extraordinarily, these systems change as systems. If one change threatens disruption, another change compensates, so that the new system, though different from the old, is still an efficient, expressive and useful whole.

Begin with sounds. Every language has a characteristic inventory of contrasting sounds, called phonemes. Beet and bit have different vowels; these are two phonemes in English. Italian has only one, which is why Italians tend to make homophones of sheet and shit.

There is something odd about the vowels of English. Have you ever noticed that every language in Europe seems to use the letter A the same way? From latte to lager to tapas, Italian, German and Spanish all seem to use it for the ah sound. And at some level, this seems natural; if you learn frango is ‘chicken’ in Portuguese, you will probably know to pronounce it with an ah, not an ay. How, then, did English get A to sound like it does in plate, name, face and so on?

Look around the other ‘long’ vowels in English, and they seem out of whack in similar ways. The letter I has an ee sound from Nice to Nizhni Novgorod; why does it have the sound it does in English write and ride? And why do two Os yield the sound they do in boot and food?

Nobody in a 15th-century tavern (men carried knives back then) wants to confuse meet, meat and mate

The answer is the Great Vowel Shift. From the middle English period and continuing into the early modern era, the entire set of English long vowels underwent a radical disruption. Meet used to be pronounced a bit like modern mate. Boot used to sound like boat. (But both vowels were monophthongs, not diphthongs; the modern long A is really pronounced like ay-ee said quickly, but the vowel in medieval meet was a pure single vowel.)

During the Great Vowel Shift, ee and oo started to move towards the sounds they have today. Nobody knows why. It’s likely that some people noticed at the time and groused about it. In any case, there was really a problem: now ee was too close to the vowel in time, which in that era was pronounced tee-muh. And oo was too close to the vowel in house, which was then pronounced hoose.

Speakers didn’t passively accept the confusion. What happened next shows the genius of what economists call spontaneous order. In response to their new pushy neighbours in the vowel space, the vowels in time and house started to change, too, becoming something like tuh-eemand huh-oos. Other changes prompted yet more changes, too: the vowel in mate – then pronounced mah-tuh – moved towards the sound of the modern vowel in cat. That made it a little too close to meat, which was pronounced like a drawn-out version of the modern met. So the vowel in meat changed too.

Throughout the system, vowels were on the move. Nobody in a 15th-century tavern (men carried knives back then) wants to confuse meet, meat and mate. So they responded to a potentially damaging change by changing something else. A few vowels ended up merging. So meetand meat became homophones. But mostly the system just settled down with each vowel in a new place. It was the Great Vowel Shift, not the Great Vowel Pile-Up.

Such shifts are common enough that they have earned a name: ‘chain shifts’. These are what happens when one change prompts another, which in turn prompts yet another, and so on, until the language arrives at a new equilibrium. There is a chain shift underway now: the Northern Cities Shift, noticed and described in the cities around the Great Lakes of North America by William Labov, the pioneer of sociolinguistics. There is also a California Shift. In other words, these things happen. The local, individual change is chaotic and random, but the system responds to keep things from coming to harm.

What about words? There are only so many vowels in a language, but many thousands of words. So changes in the meanings of words might not be as orderly as the chain shifts seen in the Great Vowel Shift and others. Nonetheless, despite potential harm done by an individual word’s change in meaning, cultures tend to have all the words they need for all the things they want to talk about.

In researching Samuel Johnson’s dictionary I made a startling find. Johnson, in describing his plan for the dictionary to the Earl of Chesterfield in 1747, wrote that

[B]uxom, which means only obedient, is now made, in familiar phrases, to stand for wanton; because in an ancient form of marriage, before the Reformation, the bride promised complaisance and obedience, in these terms: ‘I will be bonair and buxom in bed and at board.’

When most people think of buxom today, neither ‘obedient’ nor ‘wanton’ is what comes to mind (To my good friend: this is why a Google Images search for buxom is in my search history, I promise.)

Turning to the OED, I found that buxom had come from a medieval word buhsam, cognate to the modern German biegsam, or ‘bendable’. From physical to metaphorical (the natural extension), it came to mean ‘pliable’ of a person, or – as Johnson put it – obedient. Then buxom kept on moving: a short hop from ‘obedient’ to ‘amiable’, and then another one to ‘lively, gay’. (William Shakespeare describes a soldier of ‘buxom valour’ in Henry V.) From there, it is another short jump to ‘healthy, vigorous’, which seems to have been the current meaning around Johnson’s time. From ‘good health’ it was another logical extension to physical plumpness, then to plumpness specifically on a woman, to big-breasted.

The leap from ‘obedient’ to ‘busty’ seems extraordinary until we look at it step by step. Nice used to mean ‘foolish’. Silly used to mean ‘holy’. Assassin is from the plural of the Arabic word for ‘hashish(-eater)’, and magazine from the Arabic word for a storehouse. This is just what words do. Prestigious used to be pejorative, meaning glittery but not substantive. These kinds of changes are common.

I don’t know how we did without hangry so long in English, because I spent about a third of every day hangry

Two paragraphs ago, I used the words ‘leap’ and ‘jump’. But we see the ‘leaps’ only when lexicographers, looking back, chop up a word’s history into meanings for their dictionaries. Words change meaning gradually, as a small number of speakers use them in a new way, and they in turn cause others to do so. This is how words can change meaning so totally and utterly; mostly, they do so in steps too small to notice.

Again, no chaos results. Every time buxom changed meaning, it could have theoretically left a hole in the lexicon for the meaning it had left behind. But in each case, another word filled its place: in fact, the ones I have used above (pliable, obedient, amiable, lively, gay, healthy, plump and so on). For useful concepts, it seems, the lexicon abhors a vacuum. (I don’t know how we did without hangry so long in English, because I spent about a third of every day hangry. But sure enough, someone coined it.)

There are several predictable ways that words change meaning. Some people insist that nauseous means only ‘causing nausea’. But going from cause to experiencer is a common semantic shift, just as many words can be used in both active and agentless constructions (consider I broke the dishwasher and The dishwasher broke). Yet true confusion is rare. For nauseous’s old meaning we have nauseating.

Words also weaken with frequent use: The Lego Movie (2014) was on to something with its song ‘Everything Is Awesome’, because Americans really do use this word rather a lot. Once powerful, it can now be used for anything even slightly good, as in This burrito is awesome. It can even be near-meaningless, as in Steven Pinker’s lovely example: ‘If you could pass the guacamole, that would be awesome.’

But do we really lack ways of communicating that we’re impressed by something? No language does, and English-speakers are spoiled for choice from the likes of incredible, fantastic, stupendous and brilliant. (All of which have changed from their etymological meanings of ‘unbelievable’, ‘like a fantasy’, ‘inducing stupor’ and ‘shiny, reflective’, by the way.) When those get overused (and all are in danger of that), people coin new ones still: sick, amazeballs, kick-ass.

The thousands of words in the language are a swirling mass constantly on the move. Again, when one piece moves, threatening a gap or an overlap, something else moves too. The individual, short-term change is random; the overall, long-term change is systemic.

At the level of grammar, change might seem the most unsettling, threatening a deeper kind of harm than a simple mispronunciation or new use for an old word. Take the long-term decline of whom, which signals that something in a question or relative clause is an object (direct or indirect), as in That’s the man whom I saw. Most people today would either say That’s the man who I saw or just That’s the man I saw.

What word is the subject in a clause, and what is the object, is a deeply important fact. And yet, precisely because this is so, even radical grammatical change leaves this distinction intact. Readers of Beowulf are in no doubt that virtually every word in that epic poem is vastly different from its modern counterpart. What those who can’t read Old English might not realise is how different the grammar is. English was a language like Russian or Latin: it had case endings everywhere: on nouns, adjectives and determiners (words such as the and a). In other words, they all behaved like who/whom/whose does (there was even a fourth case).

Today, just six words (I, he, she, we, they and who) change form when they are direct or indirect objects (me, him, her, us, them and whom). In a longer view, modern Anglophones speak godawful, brokendown Anglo-Saxon, lacking all the communicative power that those endings provided. How, one can imagine Alfred the Great asking, do English-speakers know what is the subject of a sentence and what are the objects without those crucial case endings?

The answer is boring: word order. English is a subject-verb-object language. In I love her, case is evident by the form of I (a subject, in the nominative case) and her (a direct object, in the objective case). But the meaning of Steve loves Sally is just as clear, despite the lack of case endings. Subject-verb-object order can be violated in special circumstances (Her I love the most) but it is expected; and that expectation, shared by all native speakers, does the work that the case endings once did.

To any six-year-old, everything is epic, which strikes my ear as awesome must have done my parents’

Why did the case endings disappear? We don’t know, but it was probably sped up as a result of two waves of conquest: adult Vikings and Normans coming to Britain, and learning Anglo-Saxon imperfectly. Then as now, things such as fiddly inflections are hard for adults to learn in a foreign language. Many adult learners would have neglected all those endings and relied on word order, raising children who heard their parents’ slightly stripped-down version. The children would then have used the endings less than earlier generations, until they disappeared entirely.

Once again, the grammar responded as a system. No civilisation can afford to leave the distinction between subjects and objects to guesswork. Word order was relatively flexible in the Anglo-Saxon period. Then the loss of case endings fixed it in more rigid form. The gradual disappearance of case signalling resulted in a potential loss of information, but the solidification of word order made up for it.

We now have a framework in which both the prescriptivists and the descriptivists can have their say. Sound changes can be seen as wrong, understandably, by people who learned an older pronunciation: to my ear, nucular sounds uneducated and expresso is just wrong. But in the long run, sound systems make up for any confusion in a delicate dance of changes that makes sure the language’s necessary distinctions remain. Word meanings change, by both type (a change in meaning) and by force (a change in how powerful a word is). To a six-year-old, everything is epic, which strikes my ear the way awesome must have done to my parents. A lunch just cannot be epic. But when epic is exhausted, his kids will press something else into service – or coin something new.

Even the deepest-seeming change – to the grammar – never destroys the language system. Some distinctions can disappear: classical Arabic has singular, dual and plural number; the modern dialects mostly use just singular and plural, like English. Latin was full of cases; its daughter languages – French, Spanish and so on – lack them, but their speakers get on with life just the same. Sometimes languages get more complex: the Romance languages also pressed freestanding Latin words into service until they wore down and became mere endings on verbs. That turned out OK, too.

Spontaneous order doesn’t sit well with people. We are all tempted to think that complex systems need management, a benign but firm hand. But just as market economies turn out better than command economies, languages are too complex, and used by too many people, to submit to command management. Individual decisions can be bad ones, and merit correction, but we can be optimistic that, in the long run, change is inevitable and it will turn out all right. Broadly trusting the distributed intelligence of your fellow humans to keep things in order can be hard to do, but it’s the only way to go. Language is self-regulating. It’s a genius system – with no genius.

Never has so much been crammed into one word.

Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.

Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. You feel numb. Perhaps the worst part is that you remember when you actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.

So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted – a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future, now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you do not have one to give.

Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Come to God with your suffering

You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn’t.

If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!

Here we see that love and suffering can coexist. And when you start reading the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, you get a sense that suffering is actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. You aren’t alone. If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

God speaks to you in the Bible

Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life.

  • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
  • Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
  • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
  • Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
  • Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
  • Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)


Try one step at a time

Granted, it seems impossible. How can someone live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible.

Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.

People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As you walk, you will find that it is necessary to remember to use every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

You will need to do this with your relationships, too. When you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.

Consider what accompanies your depression

As you put one foot in front of the other, don’t forget that depression doesn’t exempt you from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. Look carefully to see if your depression is associated with things like these:

Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Are you holding something against another person?

Do you want to stay in bed all day?Are there parts of your life you want to avoid?

Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What is at the root of your fear?

Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness?Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.

Do you struggle with shame?Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you. Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.

Do you experience low self-worth?Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.

Will it ever be over?

Will you always struggle with depression? That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, depressed people can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.

The true gospel of Paul.

This past year, I burdened the English-speaking world with my very own translation of the New Testament – a project that I undertook at the behestlllllll, but that I agreed to almost in the instant that it was proposed. I had long contemplated attempting a ‘subversively literal’ rendering of the text. Over the years, I had become disenchanted with almost all the standard translations available, and especially with modern versions produced by large committees of scholars, many of whom (it seems to me) have been predisposed by inherited theological habits to see things in the text that are not really there, and to fail to notice other things that most definitely are. Committees are bland affairs, and tend to reinforce our expectations; but the world of late antiquity is so remote from our own that it is almost never what we expect.

Ask, for instance, the average American Christian – say, some genial Presbyterian who attends church regularly and owns a New International Version of the Bible – what gospel the Apostle Paul preached. The reply will fall along predictable lines: human beings, bearing the guilt of original sin and destined for eternal hell, cannot save themselves through good deeds, or make themselves acceptable to God; yet God, in his mercy, sent the eternal Son to offer himself up for our sins, and the righteousness of Christ has been graciously imputed or imparted to all who have faith.

Some details might vary, but not the basic story. And, admittedly, much of the tale’s language is reminiscent of terms used by Paul, at least as filtered through certain conventional translations; but it is a fantasy. It presumes elements of later Christian belief absent from Paul’s own writings. Some of these (like the idea that humans are born damnably guilty in God’s eyes, or that good deeds are not required for salvation) arise from a history of misleading translations. Others (like the concept of an eternal hell of conscious torment) are entirely imagined, attributed to Paul on the basis of some mistaken picture of what the New Testament as a whole teaches.

Reading Equity

Many primary school teachers who works with economically disadvantaged schoolchildren, can be discourage to hear phrases like “significant achievement gap” or “30-million-word gap” in discussions of the reading and vocabulary development of our students. But research does bear those phrases out: There are clear trends of underachievement in academics for students of low socioeconomic status (SES).

I’ve taught in a Quintile 1school in Cape Town for six years, with experience in fourth through sixth grades, and year after year, I worked with students who are reading drastically below grade level. There are many things that affect my students that I can’t control, but research has shown that strong, intentional, and explicit instruction can positively impact the reading trajectories of all students, especially those with economic disadvantages.

Low SES status alone is not a strong predictor of reading achievement, but when combined with other factors such as a non – literacy – rich home environment, poor classroom instruction, or being an English language 2 learner, the chances of reading difficulties increase. This is often referred to as “double disadvantage”: The poorest students often attend schools with the fewest resources.

Teachers in these schools have been found to use less complex vocabulary with their students, hold them to lower expectations, and provide less explicit instruction. Without clear instruction and high expectations, how can students succeed


Teachers have the day-to-day responsibility of fostering a love of reading, providing meaningful instruction, and thus improving student outcomes. In fact, teacher instruction is one of the most important factors attributed to student success. By holding students to high expectations, asking challenging questions, involving students in their learning, and explicitly modeling good reading habits, teachers can help all students improve their reading outcomes. It isn’t only what teachers teach, but how they teach that ultimately matters.

Intentional and explicit planning is the backbone of literacy instruction. Teachers should be intentional with book choice, questions and prompts, student partnerships, and classroom environment. For example, when choosing a book, a teacher might consider whether it will catch students’ interest and whether it has relatable characters and experiences for their students, while also allowing for their teaching point. Being intentional with book choice can help increase student engagement.

When planning stopping points, we can give students opportunities to talk with a reading partner before a whole group share. Doing this multiple times throughout a lesson will allow all voices to be heard. After the reading and writing block, it’s a good idea to have students come back together to reflect on their learning—this allows the teacher to see how students took the learning objective and applied it to their reading.


School-wide programs should be put in place to give students more access to books and parents more knowledge about how we are teaching their children. Community literacy nights are a way to provide meaningful resources to parents and students. While it may be challenging to engage families in literacy nights, hosting such events in common community centers such as apartment club houses or the public library can increase participation.

Schools can can come incentivice attendance by providing food and holding raffles for books or practical needs such as gift cards or coupons from local grocery stores or department stores.

Community reading programs are another way to support home literacy for students. The public librarian could come to the school to advertise and get students excited for reading sessions as it might even be possible to sign them up for library cards while they’re at school. Another option is setting up a Recycled Reading program, in which students trade in their own already read books for another to keep.

By providing students with access to new books, these programs can help foster a love of reading.

The obstacles to student learning can seem endless. Poverty is often considered one of these obstacles, but it doesn’t need to be. Even when poverty is combined with other risk factors, effective interventions put in place by schools and teachers can positively impact a student’s reading trajectory.