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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Getting Education Right — for a Change

"Teaching to the test" is the common format for K-12 education. But is it working? Very little improvement seems to result. SAT scores, the generally accepted metric for college readiness have been flat since 1970. In that same period, inflation adjusted federal funding has increased 375% and state funding increases ranged from 150% to over 200%. In that same period, we have gone through one educational “reform” after another (Goals 2000, New Math, Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, Charter Schools, and Head Start). Each new initiative, typically emphasizing new money, standards, curricula, and accountability policy, was needed because the prior programs did not meet expectations.  Where is the evidence that any of this works?
Robust learning only occurs when the learner takes charge of his or her own learning. To take such charge, a learner has to be motivated and has to know how to be an autonomous learner. Who teaches them how to become that?
I just had a book published that explains this remedy to teachers and parents (The Learning Skills Cycle. A Way to Rethink Education Reform). Teachers are one segment of the book's audience, because many teachers were not taught everything that is in the book. I know, because I give workshops on the subject to teacher groups. The book's audience also includes parents, who don't have to be an educational expert to learn the ideas in the book and transmit them to their children.
Another part of the problem is that teachers are usually not given the time and flexibility to work this kind of learning-how-to-learn into their curriculum, which is often driven by government edict and enforcement educrats. Having more "school choice" is not likely to help much either if charter- and private-school teachers aren't teaching learning-how-to-learn skills.
The right kind of reform of U.S. education is obviously important to the children and parents who are directly affected. But it should also be of concern to everyone, because we live in an interconnected and economically competing world. When other countries have more curricular flexibility and the knowledge and will to teach learning-how-to-learn skills, their populations become more competitive, in science, technology, economics, and military strength.
The compelling purpose for writing the book is that student achievement in the U.S. is not improving, despite all the government programs and enormous spending. As a man of medicine, I realize that if the treatment is not working there is a good chance the problem has been misdiagnosed. And the problem, as I see it, is that the learners do not have good learning skills, and that teaching such skills is not emphasized in the curricula. What these skills encompass includes: 1) wanting to learn, 2) ability for intense attention and focus, 3) knowing how to organize information, 4) strategic capabilities for reducing confusion when you don't understand new ideas, 5) using established principles and methods for making memorization easier and more reliable, 6) problem-solving skills, and 7) creativity. When students are taught these skills, they take charge of their own learning. Schools will start achieving their objectives.


Klemm, W. R. (2017). The Learning Skills Cycle.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Aging Well Can Be Simple

Most readers of this blog are familiar with assorted advice on how to age well. But if I asked you to name the two most important lifestyle influences on aging, in two words, could you do it?
The answer is (drum roll please): diet and exercise. Both animal and human research confirm the major role of diet and exercise. Fortunately, we have control over both of these factors, yet sadly neglect to eat and exercise as properly as we should.

A prime example is the popularity of fast-food meals. They are typically loaded with calories, saturated fat, preservatives, and salt. Mice fed on a fast-food diet developed nearly triple their amount of body fat in just four months. Other mice that were given access to an exercise wheel benefitted from the exercise. Those that were on a fast-food diet gained more weight and fat mass than their counterparts that could exercise. The exercise also reduced the development of senescent cells, which are cells that lose their ability divide and replace themselves. As impaired ability to divide happens in organs like the liver, lungs, immune cells, and gut, it promotes development of disease. Normally, the cell turnover time needs to occur:

·      every 10 days for immune cells in the blood and cells in the lungs and gut
·      every month for pancreas cells, skin, and certain bone cells
·      every year for liver cells

You might think that turnover could yield new replacement cells that are more healthy, assuming that a person improved their diet and exercised more. It is certain that precursor cells, once damaged, have been tagged with epigenetic changes that transfer the damage to new replacements.

So what makes a good diet? Eat more foods containing omega-3 fat (a special kind of unsaturated fat found in fish (especially sardines and salmon), shrimp, canola and soybean oil, walnuts, and to a lesser extent, green leafy vegetables. Pill-form supplements are widely available.
Eat a wide variety of foods high in anti-oxidants (most foods have different chemical varieties of anti-oxidants). This includes citrus fruits (vitamin C), brightly colored berries (especially blueberries), dark grapes, red wine (resveratrol), nuts, dark green veggies, beans, coffee, and tea.  Vitamin D supplements in moderate dose are probably a good idea too, because this vitamin confers many health benefits even though it is not a primary anti-oxidant. 

As for exercise, you don't have to be a marathon runner. In fact, some research shows that marathon-level exercise is actually harmful. Various recommendations have been made, but the consensus advice seems to be combined aerobic and strength building exercises at least three times a week, lasting 30 minutes to an hour.

Why exercise improves health is not entirely clear, but the evidence is consistently clear. Exercise certainly reduces emotional stress, which in itself is a major source of poor health. The effects on circulation and heart function are readily demonstrated. In my own case when I was 35, during the first weeks after I stopped smoking and started jogging, it would take a full 15 minutes to get my breath back to normal after a jog. Within a few months, I could recover in less than a minute. I no longer recommend jogging, because for some people it will damage joints. But plenty of aerobic forms of exercise can substitute (biking, rowing, use of ellipticals, swimming, singles tennis or handball, even vigorous walking).  Most commercial gyms have stationary bikes, treadmills, and elliptical and rowing machines.

So you only have to remember two words to know how to age well. The problem is mustering the will power to eat right and exercise.


Documentation and further explanation on aging well is found in Dr. Bill's inexpensive e-book, Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine. The book is available in all formats from