Raising My Daughter To Be A Warrior Of Love And Justice

The Huffington Post

In my family, we ain’t raising no princess.

09/16/2016 

EVAN ZISLIS
JunoWarriorChild

My daughter started taking martial arts when she was five years old. I think it’s helped teach her confidence, self-discipline, and self-reliance. Life isn’t always cream puffs and unicorns. When dire circumstances warrant acute awareness, hyper-focus, and rapid response — kids trained in resilience are far more likely to endure hardship and advocate for peace with poise.

In my family, we ain’t raising no princess. We’re revolutionaries and unyielding warriors of justice. We do our research. We know where our food comes from. We’re intentional and informed with every purchase. We talk about environmental preservation, human rights and civil liberties. We look at labels and shop almost exclusively second-hand. We vehemently reject playground and corporate bullies seeking to profit on the backs of the little guy. In our house, we relentlessly root for the underdog and those doing the right thing. In our community, we show up with blood, sweat, tears, gluten-free chocolate chip banana bread, and baskets of homegrown organic veggies for those struggling to survive the day.

At our dinner table, no topic is taboo. We name the elephant in the room and promote discourse on all things controversial. We respectfully provide opportunity for everyone to express opinions, vet ideas, and workshop viable resolutions. When something makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up, we talk about it. We understand that safety is an illusion and control is a fairy tale; that on any given day, precious life is precarious, hanging in the balance like a feather on the wind. We reject hate-talk and dismiss fear-mongering. We embrace the practicality of living every moment — because life’s too short to pretend it’s not.

“Everybody dies” is a common mantra in our home. Not for fear of death, but as a compassionate reminder that in life there is no permanence. Our soulful six year old has given elaborate burials to expired honey bees found in our garden, respectfully thanking them for their invaluable contributions and wishing them safe passage to future endeavors. Living an active outdoor lifestyle in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, she’s become an avid student of wildlife biology, horticulture, and ethnobotany. True to her namesake, our astute Juniper is diligently learning the nuances of the food chain, life cycles, and the interconnectedness of all things.

We don’t have television. Juno’s exposure to cliché Disney princesses has largely been limited to the fiery, redheaded archer Merida from the movie “Brave.” Our favorite bedtime stories are about hardship, adversity and redemption, where the heroine needs no rescuing. Books like “The Paperbag Princess,” by Robert Munsch reveal protagonists’ inner strength and self-determination we want to nurture in our own daughter. Parents looking for inspiration can check this greatbook list (for older readers) with female characters who promote the kind of bravery and perseverance we should all seek to cultivate from an early age.

As a professional organizer and author, it’s my job to help people simplify, discover clarity, and become inspired by a rewarding life of purpose. You bet your ass my wife and I will be raising our daughter to be an independent thinker, a compassionate warrior, and a paragon of stewardship and integrity. Simon Sinek brilliantly reminds us, “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” In my home, we’re far from perfect and that means approaching every heart-felt effort with humility and a commitment to personal growth. Will Durant’s famous interpretation of Aristotle states, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

At six years old, Juno’s well on her way to understanding that intentional habits grounded in compassion, generosity, and getting after it like a warrior — will reliably deliver hard-won results now and for the rest of her life.

Can Teaching Spatial Skills Help Bridge the STEM Gender Gap?

For all the emphasis placed on science, technology, engineering and math instruction, not much attention is given to a skill set that’s closely related with success in STEM: spatial skills.

The ability to mentally manipulate objects is key to success in many fields, including physics and engineering. Spatial skills are an early indicator of later achievement in mathematics, they “strongly predict” who will pursue STEM careers, and they are more predictive of future creativity and innovation than math scores. In fact, a review of 50 years of research shows that spatial skills have a “robust influence” on STEM domains.

However, women generally score lower than men on tests of spatial reasoning — particularly measures of spatial visualization and mental rotation. Some researchers point to evolution as the culprit, while others have tied the discrepancies to hormone levels or brain structure.  As one researcher put it, “Sex differences in spatial ability are well documented, but poorly understood.”

Sheryl Sorby said she’s not interested in arguing about why the gap exists because training and practice can close it.

“A lot of people believe that spatial intelligence is a fixed quantity — that you either have good spatial skills or you don’t — but that’s simply not true,” said Sorby, an engineering professor. This misperception is particularly harmful to girls who may not be encouraged to engage in spatially rich activities that would set them up for later STEM success.

“We may start with this small biological difference, but it grows because of our environment,” said Sorby.  For example, starting at an early age, boys are more likely to engage in activities that boost spatial reasoning. Research shows that boys play with spatial toys more than girls do — and spatial toys are often marketed explicitly to boys. In addition,studies find that parents are “less likely to restrain the exploratory behavior of boys,” such as allowing them to roam further from home than girls their same age.

The Ripple Effects of Spatial Reasoning

Boosting girls’ spatial skills can have a positive effect on other domains. Sorby believes that the small but persistent gender gap in standardized math scores can be largely explained by differences in spatial reasoning: Girls tend to do worse than boys on test items that have a spatial component.

A 2014 review of middle school physical science exam scores found that the gender difference boiled down to a few specific questions that required mental rotation. According to one report, “after students’ scores on the mental rotation assessment were taken into account, there was no longer a gender difference in physical science scores.”

Early in her career, Sorby wondered if spatial skills training could help colleges retain female students in engineering, a field with an acute gender disparity. As of 2011, 19 percent of all undergraduate degrees in engineering were awarded to women, and 3 percent were awarded to women of color. Sorby said that at many colleges, the first engineering courses for beginning students cover design graphics, which is highly spatial. 

When Sorby taught at Michigan Technical University, she noticed that some female students — who otherwise excelled in math and science — would struggle with the class and choose to switch majors. “They assumed they didn’t have what it took to be an engineer,” said Sorby, “when the real issue was a weakness in spatial skills.”

Spatial-test.png

From “Educational Research in Developing 3-D Spatial Skills for Engineering
Students” by Sheryl A. Sorby. 

To help her incoming engineering students, Sorby developed a “short introduction to spatial visualization” class. The course is 15 hours of instructional time —  “a miniscule amount of time” in the scheme of things — but the payoff has been worthwhile. Sorby taught students how to sketch figures from multiple perspectives, look at cross sections of objects and create 3-D objects through paper folding exercises. Students who took the class not only improved their spatial skills, but also their grades in all STEM classes improved, and they were more likely to graduate with an engineering degree.

In ninth grade at the Columbus School for Girls, students can take a version of Sorby’s spatial visualization course as a spring elective. The course is nine lessons and is taught by Linda Swarlis, director of information services. Swarlis says she often hears from graduates about how this course helped them in their college STEM classes. One young woman described how she found herself the only female enrolled in an inorganic chemistry class at a competitive college.

“The professor introduced the concept of chirality, and she recognized the concept as the right hand rule in engineering, something that she learned in her spatial visualization course,” said Swarlis.

Given that spatial skills can be learned, what can parents and teachers do? Sorby offers these suggestions:

Encourage Block Play: Playing with blocks and puzzles correlates with spatial development. Lego kits are particularly good for strengthening spatial visualization because kids have to examine a 2-D diagram and turn it into a 3-D model, said Sorby. She also recommends trying out some of the new engineering toys that have hit the market, such asGoldiblox.

Involve Girls in Practical Spatial Tasks: When planning a road trip, hand a map to your daughters and ask them to plan the route, said Sorby. When putting together a piece of IKEA furniture, involve girls in reading the instructions and screwing it together. These types of activities build skills and confidence.

Hold, Build and Sketch 3-D Objects: Sketching 3-D objects improves students’ mental visualization and rotation skills. Have children build an object out of blocks and then sketch it. Then have them rotate the object and sketch it again. Recent research also suggests that “holding an object in your hand seems to help you visualize it,” says Sorby. For example, showing students a 2-D model of a molecule does not help them nearly as much as handing them a model that they can hold, turn and examine from different angles.

Play 3-D Video Games: One study found that a mere 10 hours of “playing an action video game can virtually eliminate this gender difference in spatial attention and simultaneously decrease the gender disparity in mental rotation ability.” The authors speculate that more exposure to 3-D video games “could play a significant role as part of a larger strategy designed to interest women in science and engineering careers.”

Remember the power of expectation:  “If we have a child with poor math skills, we don’t say, ‘That’s too bad — you’ll have poor math skills for the rest of your life.’ But with spatial skills we tend to do that,” said Sorby. “Instead we need to tell kids, ‘You can develop these skills just like you develop any skill.’ ”

Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute to Be Scared?

The New York Times

By CAROLINE PAUL FEB. 20, 2016

21paul-master675

Credit Lauren Tamaki

I WAS one of the first women in the San Francisco Fire Department. For more than a dozen years, I worked on a busy rig in a tough neighborhood where rundown houses caught fire easily and gangs fought with machetes and .22s. I’ve pulled a bloated body from the bay, performed CPR on a baby and crawled down countless smoky hallways.

I expected people to question whether I had the physical ability to do the job (even though I was a 5-foot-10, 150-pound ex-college athlete). What I didn’t expect was the question I heard more than any other: “Aren’t you scared?”

It was strange — and insulting — to have my courage doubted. I never heard my male colleagues asked this. Apparently, fear is expected of women.

This fear conditioning begins early. Many studies have shown that physical activity — sports, hiking, playing outdoors — is tied to girls’ self-esteem. And yet girls are often warned away from doing anything that involves a hint of risk.

One study focused on, coincidentally, a playground fire pole, is particularly revealing. It was published in The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology and showed that parents cautioned their daughters about the dangers of the fire pole significantly more than they did their sons and were much more likely to assist them. But both moms and dads directed their sons to face their fears, with instruction on how to complete the task on their own.

I spoke recently to a friend who admitted that she cautioned her daughter much more than her son. “But she’s very klutzy,” the mom explained. I wondered, wasn’t there a way even a klutzy child could take risks? My friend agreed there might be, but only halfheartedly, and I could see on her face that maternal instinct was sparring with feminism, and feminism was losing.

I had been a klutzy child, too. I was also shy, and scared of many things: big kids, whatever might be under my bed at night, school. But I pored over National Geographic and “Harriet the Spy.” I knew all about Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, who wandered the countryside swearing oaths of bravery and honor. None of these characters talked about fear. They talked about courage, exploration and exciting deeds.

So I biked down a steep country road (and hit a car). I sledded down an icy hill (and hit a tree). I don’t remember my parents freaking out; they seemed to understand that mishaps were part of childhood. I got a few stitches, and kept biking and sledding. Misadventures meant that I should try again. With each triumph over fear and physical adversity, I gained confidence.

I recently asked my mother why she never tried to stop me. She said that her own mother had been very fearful, gasping at anything remotely rough-and-tumble. “I had been so discouraged from having adventures, and I wanted you to have a more exciting childhood,” she told me.

My mom is an outlier. According to a study in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology last year, parents are “four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful” after mishaps that are not life-threatening but do entail a trip to the emergency room. It seems like a reasonable warning. But there is a drawback, and the researchers remarked on it: “Girls may be less likely than boys to try challenging physical activities, which are important for developing new skills.” This study points to an uncomfortable truth: We think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.
Nobody is saying that injuries are good, or that girls should be reckless. But risk taking is important. Gever Tulley, the author of “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” encourages girls and boys to own pocketknives, light fires and throw spears, arguing that dangerous activities under supervision can teach kids responsibility, problem-solving and confidence. It follows that by cautioning girls away from these experiences, we are not protecting them. We are failing to prepare them for life.

When a girl learns that the chance of skinning her knee is an acceptable reason not to attempt the fire pole, she learns to avoid activities outside her comfort zone. Soon many situations are considered too scary, when in fact they are simply exhilarating and unknown. Fear becomes a go-to feminine trait, something girls are expected to feel and express at will. By the time a girl reaches her tweens no one bats an eye when she screams at the sight of an insect.

When girls become women, this fear manifests as deference and timid decision making. We try to counter this conditioning by urging ourselves to “lean in.” Books on female empowerment proliferate on our shelves. I admire what these writers are trying to do — but they come far too late.

We must chuck the insidious language of fear (Be careful! That’s too scary!) and instead use the same terms we offer boys, of bravery and resilience. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous. And it’s not cute when a 10-year-old girl screeches, “I’m too scared.”

When I worked as a firefighter, I was often scared. Of course I was. So were the men. But fear wasn’t a reason to quit. I put my fear where it belonged, behind my feelings of focus, confidence and courage. Then I headed, with my crew, into the burning building.

Caroline Paul is the author of the forthcoming book “The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure.”