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What Unites People? The Real Moderate Agenda

By   Shlomo Maital

   It has been a long while since I wrote a blog about New York Times columnist David Brooks. Today’s NYT (Feb. 27) has a wonderful column, worth summarizing. The subject: What glues people together? And, based on this – what would a ‘moderate’ political agenda look like, neither extreme right nor extreme left?   In these days of vitriolic polarized toxic politics — moderate agendas seem either bland or non-existent.

   Here are Brooks’ four key elements of a moderate agenda – policies that bring us together.   The four super-glue elements that bind us together are: our children, our work, our communities, and our shared humanity.

  • Our children:   “Make sure children are educated by webs of warm relationships”
  • Our work: “Help people find vocations in which they can serve their communities”.
  • Our communities: “devolve power out of Washington (or your country’s capital city) to the local level”. All politics is local, it is said. But it is not. We can make it so.
  • Our shared humanity:   Let’s care about the elderly, the disabled, migrants, the ill, minorities…. People are basically good. Reject those who think and act otherwise. Reject politicians who seek power by appealing to base motives. Look for those who espouse good.


Can ‘left’ and ‘right’ unite under these ideas? Can this ‘center’ bring us together?

   It’s worth a try.


Shape Your Child’s Future

By Shlomo Maital

 Offir DaganOffir Dagan

Today’s New York Times has a lovely story about Offir Dagan, a choreographer and artistic director for dance training, in Tel Aviv.

   When he was 5, he recounts, his parents removed the insides from an old black and white TV set and turned the wooden case into a puppet theater for their son.

   That gift, he recounts, put Offir onto a career path. He is now 36. “My parents understood what I wanted,” he recounts. Because it was inside a TV set, it was more than a puppet show, it was inside TV, people wanted to watch what was inside it.

     Dagan acted out stories with puppets his grandmother made for him. One was a green cactus made from corduroy.  

   For his 10th birthday, Dagan got a real puppet theatre, made especially by a carpenter. He enjoyed putting on puppet shows at birthday parties.

   Today he still teaches puppetry and how to manipulate puppets, sometimes in theaters.

   “I thought my parents never really supported my artistic side,” Dagan says. “But now this makes me realize they did.”

     We parents and grandparents need to be attentive to our children’s and grandchildren’s true interests and passions, and foster them, offer them ways to develop those talents.   The result can be life-changing.


Read Stories to Your Kids – It Builds Their Brains!

By Shlomo Maital

childrens stories

   Among many “old fashioned” things now disappearing, are parents reading stories to their kids.  Dr. Parri Klass, writing in today’s Global New York Times, describes new research that shows we actually build kids’ brains when we read them stories.

    A year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement saying all pediatric primary care should include “literacy promotion”, starting at birth!  Babies need stories, not just vaccines. This month, Klass reports, the journal Pediatrics published a study using FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to study brain activity in 3-5 year old children as they listened to age-appropriate stories.  Children whose parents read a lot to them had more activity in a part of the brain that deals with integrating sound and visual stimulation.  Why?  “When kids are hearing stories, they’re imagining in their mind’s eye when they hear the story.”     Apparently, this will help kids make images and stories out of words later on.     It will also help stimulate creativity.

     “When we show them a video… do we short circuit the process [of imaginging things] a little?” asked a researcher. 

      A famous Kansas study found that poor children heard millions fewer words by age 3 than better-off kids.  They’re disadvantaged right from the start.

    Another study found that “children who are being read to by caregivers are hearing vocabulary words that kids who are not being read to probably are not hearing.” 

    A researcher, Dr. Hutton, concluded, “Early reading is more than just a nice thing to do with kids…    It really does have a very important role to play in building brain networks that will serve children long-term as they transition from verbal to reading.”

    But all this is a bit  beside the point.  Reading to kids and grandkids is simply a great source of joy and satisfaction.  And besides, when you do it, you get to read wonderful imaginative stories, like one I just bought, by Israeli author David Grossman, about “The Sun Princess”,  a little girl whose mother secretly makes the sun rise and set and who joins the process.    Now where can you find ‘adult’ books like that?


 Destroying Our Most Precious Resource – (It’s Not Air or Water)

By Shlomo Maital

creativity decline

98% geniuses, age 5;  2% geniuses as adults

  In an interview with the AARP (retired persons) magazine, Warren Buffett warns against investing in gold, and in doing so, informs us how much gold there is in the world:  170,000 tons, which if melted together would form a cube 68 feet on each side, worth $9.6 trillion (at $1,750 per ounce).  Wow…that’s a lot of cash, more than half America’s annual GDP.  

   Now – imagine reverse alchemy:  Irradiating that cube until it becomes…lead.  $10 trillion in value disappears instantly. Gone forever. 

  Insanity?  We are doing the equivalent every day to our children.

  Studies show that nearly all (98%)  3-to-5 year-olds score as creative geniuses, when measured by their divergent thinking skills (ability to envision multiple solutions to a problem – matching the definition of creativity as ‘widening the range of choices’).  [The test is used by NASA to measure creativity among its employees].  By age 10, only 32% scored at genius level. By age 15, 10%.  And by adulthood:  2% !    ***   [See Figure above].

    We can only blame the way kids learn in schools for this.  Rigid, regimented, this-is-the-right-way convergent thinking, my way or highway. 

    What is the value of this destroyed creativity?  Far far more than that cube of gold.  Imagine all the wonderful ideas we will never have, to enrich our lives and change the world, because our young geniuses have their creative sparks extinguished.   And we can never get it back.

    If only there were awareness of the problem. If only we could stop destroying creativity in our children, by a few simple ways to foster divergent thinking. 

    Is anyone listening?


***     Education researcher Y. Zhao notes, in a 2009 book:    “In their 1992 book Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future—Today, Land and Jarman (1992) describe a longitudinal study on creativity beginning in the 1960s. Land administered eight tests of divergent thinking, which measure an individual’s ability to envision multiple solutions to a problem.  NASA uses these tests to measure the potential for creative work by its employees.  When the tests were first given to 1,600 three- to five- year-olds, Land found 98% of them to score at a level called creative genius. But five years later when the same group of children took the tests, only 32% scored at this level and after another five years, the percentage of geniuses declined to 10%. Figure 0.1 illustrates the sharp decline in one measure of creativity as children get older. By 1992, more than 200,000 adults had taken the same tests and only 2% scored at the genius level.”

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital