Sunday, 31 May 2015

Symptoms of being plugged in: TV and gaming

​Based on conversation with a pupil early...then developed into something wider.

With one to one tuition, my practice often runs like a doctor's office. Funnily enough, I explained to my pupil, I am a doctor (PhD in philosophy). People come in with similar symptoms all the time. So, imagine a medical doctor sitting there with patient after patient coming in with a runny nose and sore throat.

What would be the problem?

Cold, she says.

Great. Most probably.

Now, when student after student comes in who struggles with spelling and can't focus very well and whose attention span is very limited, there are similar symptoms. In this case screen-itis. Of course they may be playing mind-suck online gaming or just messing with the iPad or device, but basically they're plugged in.

Symptoms: difficulty concentrating; poor English skills (comprehension, listening, following instructions); weak analytical skills; a desire to rush to the answer and not think (just like clicking the game consoles); relatively low vocabulary; inability to think for themselves; looking at the tutor for the answer; creates confusion around them; eyes tending to jump around (looking for the artificially focused world of the flat screen); lethargy - mental and physical; an unwillingness to work for up to half and hour after arriving (especially if they've been playing on phones on their way to tutorial); easily frustrated; twitchy towards the end of the lesson, especially if I'm talking to the parent and they need to go get plugged in; fear of learning new things; lack of personal discipline.

It's a catalogue of vices really. Let's look at how the great 17thC educationalist John Locke, whom I wrote a book about, would have described these traits. John Locke is a virtue theorist: education should be more about character development and freeing in individual to pursue a morally wholesome life and we should train our younger charges in the virtues and to avoid the vices. These are words I garnered from his writings on philosophy and education:

Drowsy; indulgent (in their playing); emulatory (every one else is playing, so should I); excuser (usually doesn't get homework done); timorous (poor social skills); slavish (tell me what to do...); foolish (living in the now but not thinking about priority); perverse (hmm, often enjoys surfing for videos that will stimulate further - porn, violence - especially if playing 18+ games); ungraceful; sheepish (lack of confidence); ignorant (or manners and intellectually); sluggish; obstinate; rebellious; disobedient (refuses to stop playing); playful (in the sense of wants to do anything but focus); pedantic (again, used to avoid priority focus); dominating (after all, he/she dominates the game why not people around?); covetous (always needs the next game or watch the next series); elusive (finds it hard to provide a straightforward answer); careless (in work and thinking); negligent.

Would you hire your son or daughter if that were the description? 

That's the character that I see some children and young people converging onto. Ah yes, you may reply - they're very sporty, they're lovely to be around...sure, but why not offer them a cigarette to round them off? Huh? Well, why introduce them to gaming and dvds  to watch all night in their room or download movies or youtube videos on their iPad? What are they watching, do you know? Some tell me and I'm shocked. 9 year olds watching horror movies. Teenagers watching videos of cruelty and pornography. Then there are those who get addicted to the games side of life. No, they're not good for mental development.

There is a moving video on youtube - that most people think funny - of a father who has had enough of his son's gaming and mows over them with a ride on mower. The son is understandably anguished and it is painful to see him writhe in pain (while his brother filming it sniggers - nice). I'll not link it as I don't think it appropriate for us to wallow in another's misery - we need to turn away when we cannot provide a hug. The guilt though initially lies with the father: who bought the games? who put the tv and console in the kid's bedroom? who said nothing for years while the kid slowly got addicted? No doubt his school results were reflecting his addiction and if not then he wasn't being encouraged to strive harder and reach his potential. Reaching your potential on level 8 of a game is not real. That's not reaching potential, that's diving into the 8th layer of mental hell - a world far removed from the reality of social nuances and developing the mind.

Oh, I hear from defensive mothers, it's helping my son (usually son) learn how to manipulate objects and organise his mind by juggling lots of variables. Dad's tend to join in the gaming - even kicking their sons off so they may play with their friends. What's going on there? 

Do you smell the BS? Do you hear the rationalisations? What price the easy life? As Locke wrote, do not complain of undrinkable water if you've poisoned the stream.

Let's look at the rationalisation. Picking up a cigarette involves dexterity and coordination involves manipulation of fine objects. Real objects in this case rather than virtual. But not many parents of good intellect and moral standing are going to suggest providing their child with a cigarette is anything to be proud of. Buying cigarettes also involves jugglinh variables, especially for younger people - which shop to buy ciggies from, whom to ask, how many to buy, where to smoke them. All competencies in their own right but assuredly not healthy ones. 

Isn't it just easier to let the child plug themselves in to netflix, online gaming, collections of dvds than work with them. Oh, they scream, but life as a mother is so hard, you don't know what it's like in our house. I have to work, cook, clean, organise the kids...

- Yep. Choices you've made. You choose to continue working.
- Ah, you're against women working now?
- No, not at all. But don't gripe about it after choosing to have children.
- Well, we didn't really plan little Susie.
...? You mean you immaculately conceived? Wow! Have you told the church?
- No! Idiot! I didn't realise it would be this hard!
- So why not encourage the kids to help rather than plugging them in? Why not shut the screens off and let them howl for a couple of days and then explain how hard it is for a working mum (or dad) and how we all need to chip in. Or stop worrying about keeping an immaculate house when you've got children. Kids want love and parental support - not a show home...Why not talk and listen to them? You'll find them lovely...

Parenting is a juggle. It is hard. We're sacrificing so that we can home educate; We both work in the business and we have to work around and with our children. It is hard, it does get frustrating, and sometimes we do wonder whether we havee made the right move, but we have never considered buying ourselves the easy way out and putting them in front of the tv or a games console. We're raising children not zombies. 

I've played the games - and I've felt the addictive nature of them. Like tv, they draw us in and then pull us in for more. Sure, I'm like an ex-smoker who can't understand why people still smoke - I know that, but I keep up with the research and see the symptoms daily in my office.

That said, many of the pupils can handle playing and tv - we live in the country and there's lots for them to do, especially when they're young. It's when they hit 12 and suddenly exploring fields is no longer as cool as mind-suck games. They excuse their online gaming on the fact that they can't get to their mate's house and it's so much easier to hook up online.

Ever heard of a bike?

What next? School undermines our ability to choose so how do we learn to make a true decision?

One of the biggest issues we deal with in young people as they finished their exams is the sudden realisation that they are gaining control over their life - its direction and importance.

Not all 16-18 year olds realise this, and many adults have yet to realise it either! As we emerge from the constraints and conditioning forces of childhood, we are expected to rise to living a life of greater responsibility and know what we're supposed to be doing.

Most people run from the task. They hide from the need to grow up in various ways, but often in our tuition company we see it in young people and adults who remain in school and subject themselves to more exams. Note that it's not the love of learning that propels them forward or the sense of knowing their direction such as becoming a lecturer or getting the medical degree to share their love of health. No, they stay in because they're afraid of making choices and entering the market place of Choice, Action, and Responsibility - of getting in the CAR of life.

A side effect of eleven to thirteen years of formal schooling and being told what to do is a reduced ability to make choices. I hear it in my private practice regularly. The condition becomes gradually the norm until the young adult - or even older adult - finds it difficult to make a decision. And if you can't make a decision, it's impossible to take action.

Letting things happen is not taking action. Ignoring things is not taking action. That's taking inaction. We are either acting or being passive. Do we say yes to a partner because we're just going with the flow, or do we mean the YES? Do we say yes to the job offer because it's easy? Do we 'choose' to stay in school because it's the easy thing to do...Anything else would mean raising our consciousness and wouldn't that be hard work?

Of course. Action requires making a decision. Getting over some fears or at least pushing through them. Then doing something rather than just thinking about it.

Action is our means of improving ourselves and growing. When we 'do things' - such as a job or stay in college, we're not really taking action. We're following what other people tell us we should be doing or we just fall onto the path as it arises. That's not acting, that's not making a decision. Even if the pupil or adult says, "No, I really made a choice to go to university," we can ask why and check if there were any reasons or it was just something she thought she had to do. If we're met with silence, or "Why do you ask that?" we've encountered a lack rather than a direction.

Taking action means having a direction and for that direction to be authentic it must mean something to us. It must come from our heart - from our inner purpose. We're all here on earth for some reason. We were born to do something and each of us do something different from our peers - but what is it?

After so many years of being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it and being subjected to external critique in subjects and exams, our inner voice - our deeper purpose is often quietened. 

Few have the courage to do as Monty Roberts who was given an F for an essay on his life's dream by the teacher who said he should alter his dream: "You keep the F, I'll keep the dream." Wow. Few have that courage - but we can learn to listen to what we want to do and there are many techniques. My favourite is to ask myself at night, "What's my purpose?" Then the following day the answers come.

What's funny in my life though is that there are always many answers. Some people walk a clear path - they can see or learn to see how it unfolds and what they need to do: e.g., become a surgeon, accountant, or physiotherapist, etc. My vision is more of a multilane highway - several paths that reach outward: novelist, tutor, coach and mentor, academic writer, editor, public speaker. The highway is certainly headed in the same direction - to reach out and educate and help people. Each day, I have several lanes to choose from and this can be debilitating too for people like myself: we want to do it all and we want success from all at once. Which brings us back to - do ONE THING. What one thing can I do this year, this month, this week, this day, this hour that can help me fulfil my dreams?

That said, helping people rediscover their dream or to listen to their little boy or girl inside saying, "I don't want to be a vet, I want to be an actor..." and letting that voice get louder and louder until life matches purpose.

I asked a student not long after writing the first draft of this: in five seconds, tell me what you really want to do. Without hesitation: "Be a drummer." So be it. That was the subconscious speaking - then the look of concern flickered over his face - the years of conditioning, the stories of struggle and dreams not attained.

"What's the first hurdle you see in your mind?"

"What if the band I'm in is touring and the tour fails. We flop and break up?"

"You'll deal with that when it happens. But it won't happen unless you are a drummer. What's the next hurdle?"


"Sure. We all think about that. But what grows confidence?"


"Exactly. Putting in the time and getting out there. That's what I do. I have thoughts - so I write them up to share. My writing improved the more I did. My confidence is secure because I can do what I do. You will too. Listen to that dream and follow it."

Listen to the deeper voice, the quieter self, the purposeful self within. Remove the distractions and harken to the soul. Walk the silent woods, mellow in the calm bath, write and think without constraint.

See what dreams come forth and let the world listen.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Should rubbers or erasers be banned in schools? A positive reply to Guy Caxton's thoughts

In an article in May 2015, a cognitive scientist argued that rubbers (erasers) should be banned from the class room.

As reported by the Daily Telegraph: "Guy Claxton, visiting professor at Kings College London, has sparked arguments with his comments that the humble eraser is "an instrument of the devil".
Rubbers create "a culture of shame about error. It's a way of lying to the world, which says 'I didn't make a mistake. I got it right first time.'" It is better, Claxton argues, to embrace mistakes, because that's what happens in the real world...“Out in the big wide world nobody is going to be following you around, marking your work, organising your time for you, in the 21st century you are going to be the designer, the architect, the curator of your own learning.”

It's an interesting argument. As a libertarian, I'm not keen on the word "banning"  - persuasion based on rational argument is better for us to prosper and learn from our mistakes; or perhaps removing from sight those things which handicap us (call it banning if you will for media purposes - but it's a harsh term that echoes totalitarian or theocratic regimes).

Erasers (and delete buttons) have a role in helping to keep our work neat, but I do like Dr Claxton's philosophy - if we provide children with certain tools, they will use them. Are the tools appropriate though? Sometimes yes, sometimes no - along the inappropriate ones I'd argue are game consoles and smart phones and tvs in the bedroom: if you provide them, they will be used. And then you'll slowly create a zombie who "struggles with English" as I often hear from parents. Funny that.

Now rubbers...

In my private practice of working with students of all ages and abilities, I tend to keep the rubber at more than the pupil's arms length or hide it altogether for the young pupils (8-10) who tend to reach for the rubber and enthusiastically make a rubbery mess of their work, often spending more time rubbing out than thinking about the problem or spelling they were working on. The time spent rubbing out rather than just putting a line through it is a waste of time. It also makes a mess. Nonetheless, I agree with Claxton that there's something deeper going on with the eraser though: a covering up of our errors is potentially dangerous habit - one that leans into perfectionism, authoritarianism and narcissistic neuroses underpinned by a belief in infallibility.

(Image - Dr Alex Moseley; Southwell, Notts, private tuition for maths with Classical Foundations: the GCSE student is to my right, the eraser is behind the stapler, out of her sight. This was not set up - I instinctively 'hide it' before lessons).

Why not use the rubber to get rid of mistakes?

Well, it's good to know we've made a mistake - whether it's in forming our letters when we're young or solving an algorithm (a series of logical steps - a word, by the way, that the government thinks all children should know for some reason. I'd prefer then to know 'critical reasoning'...). Seeing our mistakes in retrospect shows where we went wrong and highlights the false paths - and the improvements we're making.

That's life - it's a series of challenges and wrong turnings and constant learning!

Indeed, showing the path of trial and improvement is an excellent way of teaching ourselves that sometimes we don't get things right - reaching for the eraser or dumping that file can be a rejection of the struggle as if the history (personal or academic) should be obliterated. Life is a struggle and a daily challenge (amidst our habits of things we do seem to be getting right) and we need to see the results as they unfold rather than reject them.

Hopefully, gone are the days when teachers pick up a piece of work and rip it to shreds in front of the pupil and the class. (Hmm, I have heard of instances though - what does that say to the pupil?)

Failing forward (the title of a book by John Maxwell) emphasises the forward movement of learning with its trips and falls and dead ends. We learn to walk by toddling and falling over lots until we get it. We learn to ride a bike by falling off before gradually learning a sense of balance. These things take time and patience - and plenty of mistakes along the way.

When working alongside a higher GCSE maths student, sometimes I go down the wrong logical path - it's good for the pupil to see that that the path didn't work out. I've had a couple of students remark, "Hey, you're my tutor, shouldn't you get this right...?" implying that if the tutor/teacher can't get it right, how are they supposed to learn.

Interesting implications for totalitarian thinking - that we acculturate our children into accepting the perfect dogma of the teacher. Frightening even, but it does explain why later a lot of pupils "don't know what to do in life." Cast adrift in a world of trial and error, they've been conditioned not to make mistakes. Creative and balanced minds this does not make. 

When I get something wrong, I laugh and say, "Well, that didn't, let's see what direction we could try you see that sometimes in life we don't get the answer first time?" Or some such message to provoke their mind a little.

I've also noted in our 11+ grammar school training that some pupils are indeed keen to remove any evidence of making a mistake. After getting something wrong, they rub it out, correct it and then say, "See, I got that right." This, I think, is the essence of Dr Claxton's point - too concerned with getting things right, they're not keen to accept that they can get things wrong. They are often relatively more stressed pupils to work with. "It's okay to get it wrong," I comment. Sometimes they shake their head.

I wonder what's going on in the home as well as in the school.

Now that leads to a connection I may be spotting in Dr Claxton's comments that the eraser is "the instrument of the devil."

Having recently read M Scott Peck's The People of the Lie, I saw a similarity in Dr Claxton's use of "the devil" with the psychology of not wanting to get things right of wanting everything to be perfect first time. This, Peck argues, is symptomatic of the psychology of evil: of keeping up appearances even though we are killing our own or our children's spirit. Quickly obliterating the mistake keeps up the appearance of invincibility and godlike omniscience, which, whatever theology you follow, we do not possess as mortals. Herein lies much evil, muses Peck.

 Narciciss at the pool falls in love with himself. The eraser would be his tool.

It's not just erasers though.

Many teachers - my pupils inform me - just read out the answers.

They don't show the children the working out or that they themselves can make mistakes. Accordingly, in the children's minds the answer is either right or its wrong - and sometimes in primary tests there's room to argue with the examiner or produce a different answer, but the answer that's given in the books must be right it is assumed.

It's somewhat reminiscent of Asch's peer group pressure study when the group chose the wrong answer to a simple questions about line length with the participant generally caving in to their choice rather than what he could see was right. If the teacher says it's right - it's right. Period. I'm having an on-going 'banter-argument' with a local primary teacher through a pupil; she insists that you can't have a triangle with more than 180 degrees internally. Yes you can if you break away from Euclidean two-dimensional space. Apparently she insists that I'm wrong - yet, she seems never to have looked it up - even googled it. Now that can be considered narcissistic...or dogmatic.

Here's a short video on taking us out of our flatlandish perspective of life and reality. All is not what it seems - and our path to understanding more is and always will be through trial and error / improvement: sometimes by ditching our mistakes, sometimes by reviewing the mistakes we made and finding something interesting in them: if we've rubbed them out - we would never know where it could have taken us. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Life in the hole - and why we need the light of consciousness.

An intellectual work in progress...

What I'm working on here:
Why do we put ourselves in holes? How do we get out of them? Do holes really exist anyway?

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham famously started off by saying that people follow two principles in life: avoid pain and pursue pleasure.

It's an okay starting place for us to begin thinking, but it's a bit basic and more relevant to plants and simple life forms than humans.

As a starting place though, it will suffice to lift us up from the plant-life-reactive mode that many folk end up in regarding some aspects of their lives: they end up in a hole supposedly without much clue as to how they got there. Indeed, much conditioning - habit - takes people into holes without them thinking about it...and therein lies the proverbial rub. A lack of thought can take us into some deep dark places. And then our thoughts become conditioned to those places and we screw ourselves deeply into the recesses.


Most of the time people fall into habits that preclude them from thinking about their lives. Perhaps if they thought about their lives, the pain would be too much - too much to realise about what they were not achieving and that they themselves were responsible for doing (or not doing) in the first place.

I work with young people who have yet to think. Thinking requires an effort and discipline - an awareness of self and results, but many young people's narcissism precludes a serious overview of their achievements. Fortunately, the self awareness of youth fades - it should be replaced with a maturing, strengthening mind. Instead, it is often replaced with thoughtlessness.

I see the same thoughtless habits in older people, who've not really progressed or mentally prospered since the age of x. It may be ten, it may be twenty. Each of us is unique in that regard. But at some point in their lives, they decided to enter a mental hole - a cave if you prefer - and not come out. Life on earth seemed better if it was dark and they were surrounded by darkness.

The thoughtlessness that slowly takes over can start at any age and gradually, imperceptibly, we find ourselves not going anywhere very quickly. We have slowly but surely dug a hole for ourselves  and we don't seem to get out. We like the dark crevices and the sweetness of immediate sensations of warm, womblike comfort. But just as a butterfly cannot return to being a chrysalis, we do not help ourselves by returning to the womb - to the dark.

A lot of young people extend their education to avoid the inevitable. School extends to college, college to university, undergraduate to postgraduate...and then post-doctoral research. Or the sideways move into work may have happened after school/college/university and then falling into a job (usually the first that comes along) and a relationship ... the growth ends. C'est ca. That's it, game over on many accounts.

The hole is dug. Here's a comment from someone on the web: "I'm in a hole, and I keep digging. I'm behind on numerous things, and I just bury my head until problems become unbearable." He then asks for advice and gets a lot of sympathetic comments and good pointers. Here's another: "I feel like I'm in a hole...I feel like I'm spiraling downwards every single day. All I want to do is sleep and sleep and never wake up...I have no energy for anything or anyone and I just don't want to be here..."

What's gone on here?

Sometimes people put us in a hole. These are people we need to get away from but when we're young, it's difficult to know who's good and who's bad. We just fall into line with everyone else - because that's what happens when we go to school or when our parents insidiously undermine our spirit with platitudes and thoughtless comments that slowly numb us to our potential.

Much that we've inherited from feudal society or even before is tacitly designed to keep us down. The hangover phrases that kept children and serfs in their place echo in parents' and teachers' flippant remarks that we can hear in the markets and playgrounds. It's as if people fear letting their children be who they could be, because they did not become what they could have been.

Fear is the basis of pain for many people - the pain itself only becomes real when we avoid who we are or that which we have to do. When we dig that hole, we enter it willingly because it seems so womblike and cosy - hence people's comments on 'not wanting to get up' or 'just want to sleep all day...' But the reality is that we have left the womb - we were destined to enjoy the placental comfort for only a short time. Then we try to get back in to avoid the bright light of reality. Like the prisoners in Plato's Cave, we seek darkness and habitual living - the light (of understanding) that the freed prisoner describes is just too incomprehensible for those stuck in the hole.

Yet to the light we must turn.

Afraid of reality, we dim the lights of our consciousness; we prefer not to see, not to look at our partner carefully, or our parents actions and words, or our friends, our bank accounts, the state of our home or our children's lives...too closely. Confusion in our upbringing may put us in a hole of our parents' or school's or peer group's making but as we get older, our mind subtly but surely tells us that we're in a hole...and that we're digging deeper.

We then do the digging.

And we like finding people in the hole. We enjoy their miserable company because that's what life is about to people in the hole. It's predictability in misery makes it apparently comfortable. The troll within rails at people in the light - calls them weird, geeks, losers, barbarians, heathen, whatever terms trolls decide to use in their pit culture.

Trolls love trolls. They hate the light and love the darkness. Light is goodness and clarity - it helps to energise us and empower us to greater things, but the trolls within fear the pain that comes with light. 

Our first step is to acknowledge that we're in a hole. We need to turn the lights on. Raise our consciousness to accept where we are. And accept how we got there and the actions and choices we made to keep us in there. For many, it's the fear of the pain that holds them back from switching on the light. And for many who are blinded by the dark caverns they inhabit, helping hands from therapists are critical. A torch shone into little crevices at a time can help let the eyes adjust - but ultimately the light is our inheritance and right.

Once we begin to illuminate our life - a little at a time or in one blast of a floodlight, then we need to begin to stop digging further. We need to change and become who were are supposed to be. Indeed - allow ourselves to become who we are supposed to be. We need growth but growth can only come from consciousness - consciousness of what we want and a learning of what we need to do to get it.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Academic labelling and its effects - personal stories

I had an interesting discussion with one of my younger pupils this week: her school have her down at a certain level that is below the level she's working at. Schools sometimes do this to ensure the pupil scores well at the lower grade. But her replies opened up a huge area in my mind.

"Sometimes" is a flexible word - some schools do this more than others when it comes to GCSEs: for instance, they may keep a student who is working at a B/C level on the foundation maths as they are more likely to secure the C grade pass. Is this all about maintaining a high ratio of passes? It does reflect human cum institutional nature when the personnel are given targets by the state or OFSTED to hit. I case you think I'm a cynic, there's plenty of evidence out there both anecdotal and historical - my position on it is to abolish the league tables and take the pressure off the teachers from having to perform against each others' classes and schools in the region. Education is not football.

It is just as wrong to compare two schools whose local cultures differ as it is to compare two individuals. And this was the point I was trying to make with my young pupil this week. Her responses were however saddening. When I pointed out that her ability was higher than the level her teacher had put, she defended her teacher, and then the school, and then the teacher: not with a reasoned explanation such as "Ah, but you see, when I'm in  the classroom, I cannot concentrate as well as I do here, so my teachers think I ought to do the lower level," which is fair enough and which I've heard before. I don't see the classroom side of my pupils, so I have to bow to the facts and then ask if she could take the exam in a quiet place such as the library.  Unfortunately, her response - typical as it may be at that age - was more thoughtless and just accepting the label provided. 

I found her retorts despairing, not just because she countered my perception of her but because her acceptance of what her school teachers had described was accepted as a dogma: a "label" as people now say. A sudden rush of understanding flooded my mind: an acceptance of what "they" say (a word she used several times) will leave her self-confidence fragile and low for many, many years. Her abilities are being defined by an authority figure and she has taken that authority, like most young people do, fully into her confidence. It creates a dependency on others' reactions and readings of us that is saddening and which needs to be countered by a healthy self-esteem and critical mind. 

In talking to parents, I may ask, "Have you got over school yet?" and many laugh nervously. 

Parents who were dyslexic in particular retain a fragility and host of fears about their children: to what extent this has held them back in their own lives may be difficult to quantify. Yet as we mature, we need to learn (and continue to learn) that other people's assessments and reactions are independent of our own.As an author,  I've been particularly sensitive to others' criticisms of what I've thought to be unassailable logic - partly from my schooling, that we become emotionally dependent on the 'report card' and partly from my personality type I gather (check out for some fun! I'm an INF ) and partly from some horrendous knock-backs in life that have reinforced a fear that "other people are going to damn what I'm doing..." It's quite common but it's not healthy. 

When I hear a pupil rest an assumption on another's opinion, I first ask  whether they think that the description is fair, which it often is. Sometimes it is well off the mark - such as one of my GCSE students whose predicted grades were set by her SATS results: needless to say, there's a lot of intellectual growth between the ages of 10 and 15 and while she was predicted Cs, she's scoring As and A*s. When it is a fair description, "Yes, I do struggle with doing exams under pressure," I then ask if past performance is any indicator of future performance (a phrase we always hear when finance companies are advertising a product).

A common analogy I then use is strength training. 

When I was first introduced to the dipping bar by Guy Baker, my personal trainer in Nottingham (yep, a plug - but I only recommend what I see as the best in the field), it was only after several weeks of strengthening the shoulders. I'd not done dips for many years and from what I learned from Guy was that I had been doing them incorrectly anyway. He used bands for the first few sessions as I learned the technique and gradually they went. And gradually the reps or the 'time under descent' increased. And then he introduced a belt upon which weights could be fixed. I've gone from supported dips to body weight to weighted dips - dipping an extra 20 kilos on top of body weight. Past performance was no indicator of future performance! I use the analogy with pupils who are struggling to read and write as well as pupils who are nervous about exams. Rarely, the damage is too deep - the pupil needs other intervention (we recommend hypnosis or acupuncture, for starters) to get over exam nerves: but when I've met such rabbits in headlights - it's not just school assessment and reports and labels that have left them nervous wrecks: it's their entire family! 

I recall one girl who was struggling mathematically but whose father loudly repeated every session when he dropped her off how great he was at numeracy, how he could do 12% of £3 11s 10d off the top of his head. 

Can you imagine what that did to her confidence? 

Her situation was rather extreme, but most of us are guilty of dropping implicit or explicit comparisons into our assessments which sound so stupid in the cold light: "Your brother loves French...why don't you? [because you're useless]" "Oh, I used to love maths, I did A-level and got an A...[you must get your innumeracy from your dad, because you're not like me at all]" "I hated English, I hated grammar school [shudders] we want our daughter to apply for the 11+..."

??!! - which translates as "I'm setting up my daughter to hate the interminable future...just like my parents did, and they didn't listen to me, so why should I listen to my daughter's fears?" 

I said to one 16 year old, "You're no longer dyslexic..." 
His reply: "What will my mum say?" 
"What has she got to do with it? Her fears and concerns are not the same as what you're capable of in your own right. Just keep it quiet then, and nod and smile, but now you know - you're not the label school and parents have imposed on you." 
Phew! That was a deep one - not massively uncommon though along the spectrum of life.

As teachers and parents, we always need to speak with care - we're human, we'll slip of course, and it's good to say to the kids, "Whoops, I made a mistake there."

It's best not to label, especially regarding ability and choices made in the past. Much better is to say: "You need to work on that area..." which implies that the pupil is capable of working on that area: rather than imposing a restriction on their ability: "You're dyslexic... [implying] so you'll always struggle...[which in turn implies] why not give up now?" 

As humans, we carry with us the immense ability to redefine ourselves and to step out on a new path - but that ability is so thwarted when authority figures and parents impose labels with no hope attached: "You're dyslexic, just like me, just like your grandparents..." or assess our future with a grandiose statement and no analysis of why grandfather John found it difficult to read (he was a farmer who 'had no use for schooling' and books were not in the house and his parents had told him that reading is useless...a culture he passed to his daughter...)

"Once a C student, always a C student" - that was reported by teacher of a head teacher's assessment of her daughter! 

What the heck?

We're flexible and adaptable - that, if anything, is what has enabled us to survive and flourish as a species. And when we are caught not fulfilling our potential or of being virtuous and thoughtful, it's usually because we've labelled ourselves or accepted the labelling and become dogmatic about who we are and therefore of our reactions and choices.