Tag Archives: education

“It Appears That”—I’m in Rather Good Company

NACD Bob Doman's Blog - Ben FranklinI chose this statement to be the title of my blog as a representation of my strong belief that, as a scientist, every statement or opinion I make is stated as, or assumed to be, preceded or qualified by the simple, but incredibly important modifier—“It Appears That”. As such, I am communicating that based on the information I have at this moment, it appears that such-and-such is accurate and I will act on that assumption until additional welcomed information indicates otherwise.

I just read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and in his discussion of virtues, he added “humility” to his list. Having admired Franklin as an incredible man with a very long list of virtues (and a rather large ego), I was amused by his statement in referring to humility:

“I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it…I even forbid myself agreeable to the old laws of our Junto,* the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix’d opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so and so, or it so appears to me at present.”

My education and involvement with “experts” has been littered with emphatic opinions stated as “facts” that I have often rejected out of hand. Not a few of these have had to do with what you supposedly can’t do. Not a few of these expert statements involved the “powers that be” declaring that something couldn’t be done. I spent years changing IQ’s when the experts said you couldn’t change IQ’s and decades changing working memory when virtually every “expert” said you couldn’t change and build working memory. One of my first, but many major conflicts with the system and the experts involved my getting in trouble with the State of Pennsylvania for educating trainable children in the early 70’s. It appeared to me that if I were in fact teaching children to read, write and do math that they obviously were educable. But, the brain-injured children, children with Down syndrome, autism, etc., who they proclaimed to be uneducable, and thus were denied an educational opportunity back in the 60’s and 70’s, were the victims of the “experts” self-fulfilling prophecies and not their lack of potential. I must admit it was then, as it is now, very fulfilling proving them wrong over and over again, as it was with the “blind” children who would “never see” who learned to see, the children who would “never talk or learn” who talk you ear off and academically do better than many of their “typical” peers and the countless number of children who would “never walk” who learned to run—not to mention all of the “average” children who became truly exceptional.

I was literally raised with my father, a renowned but very humble physician, teaching me that the foundation of all brain development is neuroplasticity and if you understand neuroplasticity there are virtually no limits to how you can grow and develop every brain.

Throughout my career, I have been rather astonished by how slowly things change; how it is that educators, psychologists, therapists, physicians and other “experts” are often so slow to question and challenge their beliefs and practices and accept limited expectations and often failure. If we could just accept that in all science, there really are no facts and accept that it just “appears that”.

* Junto refers to a club that Franklin established in 1772 for the purpose of debating morals, politics, philosophy and to discuss knowledge of business.




The Foundation of Education - Scissors? NACD Blog

The Foundation of Education—Scissors?

I just conducted a Skype evaluation with a parent who has a developmentally delayed, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) child from our Beijing chapter, one of NACD’s international hubs. This mom made a remark that I have heard probably thousands of times through the years, but realizing that the issue she brought up is international and not just a US issue has compelled me to comment.

This mother of a three-year-old who cannot not dress or undress himself, one of the foundational representations of independence and fine motor skills, commented that she was concerned her child may have a fine motor problem, not because her child couldn’t remove his sock, but because the preschool he attended was waving a red flag since this little three-year-old was not yet cutting with scissors. Really!

I have long wanted to ban scissors from preschools, but if we were to do that what would they do all day? Children can only eat so much paste. What criteria could they use for success, what would they use to validate their existence?

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am a bit biased on this subject. In 1951 I flunked cutting with scissors. Yes, I confess I flunked. It was my first and actually not my last academic disaster. I was shamed and humiliated. I never should have flunked cutting with scissors even though I was five, I really shouldn’t have been encouraged to use scissors. But beyond that, there was actually a reason why I flunked cutting with scissors. I was left-handed and back then they didn’t make left-handed or uni-hand scissors—which don’t really work with either hand.

Cutting with scissors can actually be used as a metaphor for a number of issues with education, that being just because we/they have been using it forever doesn’t make it right, smart or neuro-developmentally correct.

I am genetically predisposed to be left-handed and left-sided and as with many of us lefties, we do not clearly demonstrate which is our dominant hand as early as right-sided children. From the get-go the world encourages us to use our right hand like the majority of the population. Back when I was starting school everyone wrote with their right hand. Right was right and left was wrong. Even though we lefties know that only left-sided people are in their right minds. In countries like China that is still the case—everyone is taught to write with the right hand.

Children typically do not strongly and conclusively demonstrate a dominant hand until they are globally, neuro-developmentally about a 5*. For children with a developmental issue, that point is often not reached until years later than their chronological peers. So, should we really be encouraging and pushing one-hand, dominant-hand activities like writing and cutting before we even know which hand the child should be using?

If children must go to preschool, how about teaching them how to actually start becoming independent. Dressing and undressing themselves might be a good start, making their bed, or even cleaning up after themselves. Montessori schools often do a good job of teaching children how to manage self-help skills and household tasks. But cutting with scissors? I can often go from Christmas to Christmas without ever touching a pair of scissors. Since when was cutting a four-year-old’s survival skill or foundational fine motor function? Perhaps its a four- or five-year-old rite of passage that they need to cut their hair just that one time to see how they look with that bald spot in front.

Ranking right up there with “cutting with scissors” is writing and we really shouldn’t just blame preschool and kindergarten teachers, we need to throw in some occupational therapists as well. Teachers and therapists—please stop trying to make little children develop one-hand dominant skills like writing and cutting before they are neuro-developmentally ready. Not until most children are neuro-developmentally about a 5* can we accurately and safely determine which is their dominant hand. Prior to that time, they can swing back and forth. Besides, what is the rush? You are often not only teaching a child a one-handed skill and pushing them toward that hand, but you are probably doing it before their working memory, attention and motor planning are up to the task. The result being that you are only succeeding in teaching them that they can’t do it properly. Congratulations, they have learned to hate it! Our NACD cardinal rule of education is that step number one is teaching the child to love whatever it is you are trying to teach. Failure doesn’t teach them to love writing or cutting with scissors.

So much of education is based on perpetuating a list of things to teach children in different grades, regardless of whether or not it is meaningful, relevant, neuro-developmentally appropriate or if anyone really expects the student to understand, assimilate or remember it. We often take little children who prior to beginning their “education” love learning anything and spend the next twelve or more years teaching them to hate learning anything—brilliant!

Part of this tragedy is that there is so much that could be and should be done with all children, not the least of which is building a neuro-developmental foundation that actually gives them access to their innate intelligence and really affects not only their education, but their ability to learn, think and communicate—their futures. It’s the 21st Century and it’s about time that the educational system understood that children have these things they carry around between their ears that we call brains and that we have the ability to develop them all, not just try to push things into them. We can build a foundation of auditory and visual processing, short-term memory, working memory, executive function, visualization, and conceptualization and overall neurological efficiency. I would love to see our classrooms and schools receive report cards based on how well they are creating children’s foundations for learning, turning children onto learning and actually educating them. And please, let’s stop making a big deal about little children cutting with scissors.

 – Bob Doman

*We will generally acknowledge a child as being neuro-developmentally 5 when they have short-term and working memory that is commensurate with where we like to see five-year-olds. Specifically having short-term memory (auditory and visual digit spans of 5) and working memory (reverse auditory and visual digit spans of 4). Working memory is the foundation of executive function and determines complexity of thought and relates to global maturity.

Related Blog Articles:

Mila and Avery


Making Kids Smart Isn’t Tough

To learn more about how you can work on you or your child’s short-term and working memory, check out the following links:

The Simply Smarter System (Windows/Mac)

NACD Cognition Coach – Toddler to 3 (iPad)

NACD Cognition Coach – Ages 3 to 5 (iPad)

Note From Aliya

Today I’m in London—actually in Eton—next door to the magnificent and spectacular Windsor Castle. Eton is the home of the very historic and very famous Eton College, which is a vibrant, progressive, and exceptional school even today. My very wonderful and gracious hosts here gave me a tour of the school yesterday, and it was truly an amazing, profound, and rather humbling experience. Eton was established in 1440 by King Henry the VI, a teenager, and today’s students are not only learning in the same classrooms, but sitting on the very same benches as the first students who were here in 1440! I actually saw Shelley’s name carved into a wall, along with the names of centuries of past students. How cool it is that the students can carve their names into the buildings to mark their passage throughout history! An incredible school and an amazing historic and beautiful town.

Today was a day full of new families and new children. As always, it’s wonderful meeting new kids and starting them along a road to hopefully a bright future. As I meet with new families, they all to some degree feel like they are stepping off a cliff, and they hope they are going to float up on a cloud into new and wonderful futures with their children and are not falling into a great black hole—scary! For the parents of our NACD kids, the journey is often difficult, and working day in and day out they are often trusting that their efforts are going to pay off and their children will progress. But the day to day task of doing program with children who would often rather not is difficult, and the faith can wear a little thin at times.

As I was finishing up my evaluations for the day and was taking a moment to reflect on the day’s new batch of parents and children, I received an email from one of our moms with an attached note that her daughter, Aliya, had written last night and taped to her mom’s bathroom mirror.

As her mom said, “If you had told me a few years ago that I would have received a note like this, I would never have believed it! To initiate this on her own is amazing! School days are so pleasant around here now! Just so thrilled!” At the end she asked if I had noticed all the exclamation points. I not only noticed them, I felt every one of them!

Aliya’s mom gave me permission to share her note. I trust it will bring some of you hope and bring a smile to your faces and perhaps even a little tear to your eye as it did mine.

– Bob

Hi there,

This is the note I found taped to my bathroom mirror last night. Aliya is thanking me for chores and is thankful for this family!! Yesterday she told me, “You know the day goes much better when I obey.” Feeling blessed today!!

Thanks to your work and support—I’m receiving these nuggets!


The Road to Independence Starts with Short Journeys

Here is another video from Japan talking about how to help move children along the road to independence and become a successful adult. In my previous post I talked about how children learning to take care of their personal and self-help needs and learning to be responsible for chores is vital to their development and independence. Now let’s look a step further.

From everything I can discover, our country is a much safer place than it was 50 years ago; however, because of national media attention most people feel it’s getting more dangerous every year. We as parents are being pressured to feel and believe that the world is really dangerous and that our children shouldn’t be permitted to play alone in their front yards, let alone walk down the street to a park, or heaven forbid, walk to school by themselves. Times certainly are a-changing.

I grew up right outside of the city limits of Philadelphia in a rather typical 1950’s suburban neighborhood. Our house happened to sit on a highway, US route #1, a very busy road that happened to sit at the intersection of another busy road. I prided myself in my ability to wake in the middle of the night from a deep sleep at the sounds of tires squealing and get to my window in time to see the cars actually crash. My sister and I walked to school along and across that highway for one mile every day, starting with kindergarten, as did every other kid in the area.

At the age of eleven I started a snow removal business, having contracted with many of the families and a few businesses in the area and having hired a couple of my friends to work for me. On school nights if it was supposed to snow, I would stay up and wait for the snow and would hit the streets as soon as it started coming down, often working from two or three am until it was time to go to school. My parents were proud of my initiative, and if they had anxiety over my being out on the streets in the middle of the night, I never knew it. I suspect they might have had a twinge or two of apprehension; but if they did they kept it to themselves.

Before I start getting hate mail, let me say that I’m not suggesting that you let your kids go out by themselves and roam the streets in the middle of the night, or that you have your seven-year-old daughter take a couple of trains by herself though a busy city to get to school. But I am saying that as parents we need to look for opportunities for our kids to do things independently and take some journeys.

I’ve had a number of occasions during my meetings with kids and their parents to challenge and push the parents. When traveling to our chapters, I often do evaluations out of suites in hotels and more often than not, Embassy Suites hotels. Most of these hotels have fewer than ten floors of rooms built around a central atrium, with glass front elevators at one end. Riding the elevators is often the highlight of the child’s trip. While working out of these hotels, I have on many occasions encouraged a parent with a teenage child with perhaps Down syndrome or one on the autism spectrum or even learning or attention problems to let their child go down to the lobby and retrieve the other parent. Often the suggestion is met with shock. The child wasn’t shocked, the parent was. To put this into perspective, because of the layout of the hotel you could watch the child go down the hallway, into and down the elevator, and even look down and watch them in the lobby. It should also be mentioned that during the day when we are doing the evaluations, the hotel is pretty much empty. As many times as I have done this, I’ve never had a child have the least bit of an issue. They listened to the directions, followed the directions, and just did it. The problem wasn’t with the child; it was with the parent.

We need to give our children the opportunity to do things independently to teach them independence. Independence teaches confidence, self-reliance, and initiative, all very important, very necessary lessons for all children, whether typical or special needs.

Lest you think that I just talk the talk and don’t walk the walk, my son, Laird, who now at 27 basically runs daily operations at NACD, was hauling 40-pound bales of hay to our Scottish Highland cattle first thing in the morning, in the dark, through the snow, often at temperatures below zero by himself at the age of 5. He didn’t need to be pushed or prodded or given candy as a reward, it was simply one of his jobs and he was proud to do it. He is better for the experience.

As parents, each of us needs to look at our children and evaluate their capabilities, determine what challenges they can handle, and let them go. It’s part of our job.

Teaching Chores Better Than Teaching Algebra?

Why might teaching your child to clean toilets be more helpful than teaching them algebra?

I love this video. All schools and parents should learn from this school. I have been extolling the importance of teaching chores and giving children responsibilities for decades. Sadly, parents and schools seem to do a poorer job of this every year. Many parents and most schools don’t understand the importance of teaching their children to work and contribute and how to become what I like to call “highly capable.” If I could I would raise every child on a farm or a ranch or around a family business so that there were always plenty of chores and jobs to do–lots of opportunities for growth.

Most of today’s kids don’t have a clue about chores or real “work.” I can ask a parent about what chores their kids do and get blank stares as though the concept is completely foreign, or a reply like he helps clear the table sometimes and will take out the garbage if I ask him. It is extremely rare that I have a parent reel off a list of real chores and responsibilities that their child assumes responsibility for. The norm is more like Mom having to get her children out of bed and on the bus in the morning, and perhaps when pushed they sort of clean up their room or help with dishes. And, sadly, the list tends to get shorter as the kids get older.

Many parents appear to feel that the more they do for their children, the more they are demonstrating their love and support; with the net result that they are teaching their children that they are both dependent and entitled. The outcome is often conflict and negativity and children growing up with the belief that what you give them and what you do for them is the true measure of your love for them. The more they are given, the more they demand. Along with the entitlement comes more and more pushback so it becomes easier and easier to do everything for them and hope that some day they will learn to be responsible and not so self-centered.

I see high school students who can’t be responsible for even getting themselves up in the morning, let alone taking care of their personal space, fixing themselves a meal, assuming responsibility for and contributing to the family and the home–their home–and often even their school assignments. Parents who remind their children that they have assignments that need to be completed, that they have upcoming tests that they need to study for, are assuming the responsibility for their children and are shocked when their children do poorly and that their children don’t feel responsible for their failure. But why should they? They’re not responsible, you are.

Many parents think that what their children need to learn is centered on academics and skills taught in classes and on teams. The children need to learn to read, to do math, science, perhaps play the piano or kick a soccer ball, etc. Are there benefits to these things? Certainly. They’re critical; but it’s not enough–not close to enough. Could learning to clean a toilet and having the responsibility to keep that toilet clean lead to better outcomes than getting artificially good grades in algebra because your mother got you up every morning and helped you with your assignments and hounded you to study for tomorrow’s test and having a teacher who let you take the test over again because you blew it the first time? In the big picture, in the long term, could learning to be responsible for cleaning the toilet produce better outcomes?

Children need to learn how to be independent, to take care of themselves, to be responsible for themselves, to learn that the universe doesn’t revolve around them, and that they need to learn to serve and do things for the family and others.

Children who are given jobs and chores and are held responsible gain tremendous self-respect and self confidence, demonstrate maturity beyond their peers, learn to be independent not dependent, learn to look for what needs to be done, do it, and learn to be responsible.

Irresponsible children tend to become irresponsible adults.

Entitled children tend to become entitled adults.

I love watching children grow and develop into adulthood with a strong sense of who they are, independent, confident, and having the courage to push themselves, think for themselves and to have respect and compassion for others. These things don’t happen by accident. They happen when parents understand that they are raising their children to be adults, not self-centered, dependent, irresponsible, entitled, very large children.

Teaching your child how to do chores correctly and teaching them to assume the responsibility for doing those jobs and chores needs to be seen as a fundamental part of their education.

Many parents and schools have lost the vision. Perhaps this is why we are becoming more and more of an entitled society.