Last Week’s Links

Why the most successful students have no passion for school

Jihyun Lee, associate professor in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Australia, reports on her research into students’ attitudes toward school:

My research has found that there is in fact no relationship between how well students do academically and what their attitude toward schooling actually is. A student doesn’t need to be passionate about school to be academically successful.

Lee continues: “research shows that students’ self-belief in their own problem-solving abilities is far more important than their perception of school itself.” She sees this as a problem because, she says, “Formal institutions [such as schools] shape the lives of a citizenry. They need to be upheld, bettered and strengthened.”

Her solution to this problem? “Adults responsible for making decisions about schooling need to be more cognisant about the long-term influences that the school experience can exert on students’ attitudes and beliefs. . . . Whether students are able to see the link between their present and future may have critical consequences for society.”

‘After His Death, I Didn’t Cook Anymore’: Widows on the Pain of Dining Alone

“Readers share poignant stories of the pain and comfort that food can bring after a loved one dies.”

After The Times published a Food article about how mealtimes can be difficult for widows (a gender-neutral term that bereavement counselors now use), hundreds of readers described the heartbreak and joy that food and cooking can bring after losing a partner.

Childhood trauma may do lifelong harm to physical, mental health

Here’s news from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC):

Traumatic experiences in childhood can do lifelong harm to physical and mental health, education and work, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Preventing traumatic childhood experiences — such as abuse, seeing violence or substance abuse in the home, or having a parent in jail — could reduce many problems later on, according to the CDC.

These later problems include suicide; chronic illnesses such as heart and respiratory diseases, cancer, and diabetes; and risky health behaviors such as substance abuse. “The CDC has several efforts to prevent childhood trauma and reduce the harmful effects of such experiences.”

Women of a Certain Age, Gail Collins Has Your Back

Lesley Stahl praises Gail Collins’s new book No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History:

So imagine a book about “non-young” women, written by Collins with her signature droll sensibility. “No Stopping Us Now” is a chronicle of the herky-jerky nature of older women’s journey to progress in the United States over the years. It’s eye-opening, brimming with new information and, as you’d expect from Collins, a lot of fun.

Grandparents Are Heroes, and Also Totally Normal People

Maria Russo reports on “the excellent new grandparent-centric picture books surging into bookstores and libraries [that] come from creators who grew up in other cultures.” The reason for this “may be because Americans are still catching up to Europeans — and to children — when it comes to realizing that older bodies can still be vital and attractive. And we can only hope the reverence and tenderness toward elderly people found in Asian cultures takes root here, too.”

Russo offers specific examples of the books she’s talking about here, in case you want some suggestions for upcoming holiday gifts.

Confirmation that the art of proofreading is dead

I include this one because we sometimes need a bit of levity.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links


The growing number of older people entering assisted living facilities is spawning an accompanying fear of elder abuse:

More and more states are passing laws and introducing regulations requiring nursing homes to let relatives set up webcams in the private rooms of elderly family members. Until 2014, only three states — Texas, New Mexico and Washington — had laws on such cameras in assisted living facilities. But over the past five years, five more states — Illinois, Louisiana, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia — have introduced statutes.

But the use of such cameras raise a whole menu of privacy concerns:

  • Who has the right to request such a camera, the patient or the patient’s family?
  • Is the patient mentally competent to either request or refuse placement of a camera?
  • Do caregivers in rooms with cameras have their own right to privacy?
  • Do roommates or significant others who live in the same space also have to consent?

These are significant questions that will have to be addressed in efforts to balance safety concerns with privacy issues.

The Decline and Evolution of the School Librarian

School budget cuts inevitably lead to reductions in support staff such as school librarians:

Between 2009 and 2016, more than 9,000 full-time equivalent school library positions were eliminated in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s about a 15 percent reduction in the country’s total number of school librarian positions. What’s at risk, advocates say, is not just children’s access to books, but also the development of their research skills, digital literacy, and critical thinking.


This article about the em dash—“possibly the most adaptable and intuitive punctuation mark there is”—just warms this former college composition teacher’s heart.

Engineers Sprint Ahead, but Don’t Underestimate the Poets

David Deming, director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, argues in The New York Times that, over time, liberal arts majors earn salaries comparable to their peers with scientific degrees.

Most of the Mind Can’t Tell Fact from Fiction

Most humans find intense pleasure in stories about universal themes of love, death, adventure, family conflict, justice, and triumph over adversity.

That may help explain why, when stories are done well, we love them so much. Just as artificial sweeteners fool our minds into thinking we’re eating sugar, stories—even weird ones like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—take advantage of our natural tendency to want to learn about real people, and how to treat them.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

What I Learned on My European Trip

My major reason for traveling is to learn about other people and their world. I learned a lot on our recent trip to Europe.

Build Your Fortress on High Ground

I knew that early people built their fortresses on high ground for two reasons:

  1. So they could see their enemy approaching
  2. So that they would defend their city by shooting down, not up, at their attackers

But it wasn’t until I saw with my own eyes so many castles built on high ground that I fully realized the truth of this dictum:

Castle 2Thanks to my husband for this photo, which well illustrates the advantage folks in the castle would have if invaders moved in, particularly if those invaders came by river.

European History, Culture, People

I didn’t know much about European history before this trip, and I learned a lot about how different cultures developed. I particularly enjoyed recognizing how people who we think today live near each other developed differently. Distances were much greater 500 years ago, and people who now live a short train ride apart developed different values, beliefs, and customs. Yet there are similarities, too, in language, religion, food, and culture.

I love “it’s a small world” stories, and this trip presented one after another.

Many Europeans Speak at Least Some English

In shops just about everywhere we stopped, someone spoke enough English for us to converse and do business.

My husband and I both caught a cold that ran through most of the people on our ship. In one German city we visited, we went into a pharmacy to get vitamins A and C to boost our immune systems. As soon as I asked the pharmacist if he had vitamins A and C, he said, in perfect English, “Oh, are you from the States?” He asked what I needed and why, then went over to a shelf and pointed to two packages. “This is what we take over here.” We left the pharmacy feeling we had gotten exactly what we wanted.

Most Europeans speak a second language because their schools start them early on studying another language in addition to their own. Although English isn’t usually their only option, some people we spoke to said that many choose English because it’s nearly universal. And it’s not unusual to come across someone who speaks at least a bit of three or four languages.

Our city guide in Budapest, Eszter (pronounced like the English name Esther), told us she speaks three languages. She also said that when she was in school during Russian rule of Hungary, students were required to study Russian. She and most others refused because it was the language of the oppressor, and their teacher let them sit in the back of the room and do homework while she worked up front with those who wanted to learn Russian. Eszter said that she now regrets not taking advantage of the opportunity to learn another language.

It is only here in the United States that we think learning a second language is unpatriotic. One of our fellow travelers said that his seven-year-old grandson attends a school in the U.S. where he’s learning Chinese along with English. I’ve always thought it extremely arrogant that we think everyone should learn our language while we make no effort to learn theirs.

Always Buy Travel Insurance That Includes Medical Coverage

I don’t know about other American health insurance, but Medicare is not in effect outside of the United States.

The old streets of many European cities are paved with very old, very uneven cobblestones. One of our shipmates, K., who is not particularly infirm, got wrong-footed and fell down, breaking a bone in her ankle. It can easily happen to anyone.

I did not ask K. about the details of payment for seeing a doctor and having her leg casted, but what happened to her did make me think about medical coverage. We recently booked a trip on a different cruise line. When I asked about medical insurance, the cruise line rep told me that they have two levels of travel insurance: one that includes medical coverage and one that doesn’t. We snapped up the one with medical coverage, even though it’s a bit more expensive. It’s comforting to know that if we get sick or injured and have to be helicoptered off the ship, we’re covered up to $10,000.

Three Things Thursday

Another week, another entry for Three Things Thursday, the purpose of which is to “share three things from the previous week that made you smile or laugh or appreciate the awesome of your life.”

Three Approaches to Travel

My husband and I have just begun a two-week Viking River Cruise through Europe. Since coming on board we have encountered people who exhibit three different approaches to travel.

1. Travel as Conspicuous Consumption

We met one woman, B., who said this is their fourth cruise this year. And when we disembark in Amsterdam, she and her husband will be staying there for four days before flying to some other city to pick up their next cruise. (I wonder how, where, and when she does laundry.)

When I asked if she had any advice for us less experienced travelers, she answered without any hesitation, “Get a suite.”

2. Travel as Opportunity for Self-Aggrandizement

There’s at least one couple like this in every crowd. The second night at dinner a woman came over to me at the dinner table, leaned down and put her face right next to mine, stuck out her hand, and said, “Hi, I’m S.” She then pointed out her husband, B. They both immediately began talking quite loudly about what they do and where they’re from. They overwhelmed everyone else at the table. These are the people who always have to have the last word: the best story, the funniest joke.

And of course they know everything about everything. After we had toured a Benedictine Abbey in Melk, Austria, that was built in the 16th century, B. sat across the aisle from me on the return bus ride. Here’s what he said to the person sitting next to him:

That was really something. Five-hundred years ago, when they were building this abbey, American Indians were still digging arrowheads out of the dirt. And in Africa they didn’t even have language yet. But look at what these Europeans were doing.

I swear I am not making this up.

3. Travel as Learning Opportunity

Fortunately we met many more of this variety of traveler than of the previous two. There was D., whose mother was an immigrant to the United States. He talked about how traveling in Europe was giving him insight into how his mother thought and why she was such a staunch supporter of the U.S. There was B. and another B., who both talked of how the 60 pairs of iron shoes along the riverwalk in Budapest, a tribute to the 60 Jews who were shot into the Danube River near the end of World War II, had moved them to tears.

The boat’s dining room was open seating, and these were the people we sought out during meals. I learned a lot on this trip, not only by seeing things for myself but also by talking with other people who were eager to discuss what they were learning as well.

35 Years Ago Today: Mount St. Helens Erupts

Today is the 35th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, a mountain in the Cascade Range, located in southwestern Washington State.

At 8:32:17 a.m. PDT on Sunday, May 18, 1980, an earthquake caused the north face of the mountain to slide away, producing the largest landslide ever recorded that moved at 110 to 155 miles per hour (177 to 249 km/h). The eruption column rose 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere. Strong winds carried ash east of the volcano at an average speed of about 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). In Spokane, WA, 250 miles away, visibility was reduced to 10 feet (3.0 m) by noon. Noticeable amounts of ash fell in 11 states. Some of the ash drifted around the world in two weeks. The eruption lasted about 9 hours.

Volcano Illustration
Volcano Illustration (click to enlarge) (photographed at the Washington State History Museum)

The U.S. Geological Survey reports the following data about the 1980 eruption:

  • 1,314 feet (400 m): elevation lost
  • 2,084 feet (635 m): depth of crater formed
  • 0.60 cubic miles (2.5 cubic kilometers; 3.3 billion cubic yards; 165 million large dump trucks): volume of landslide deposit
  • 80,000 feet (24,000 m): height of eruption column reached in less than 15 minutes
  • 0.26 cubic miles (1.0 cubic kilometers): volume of volcanic ash produced

Destruction caused by the eruption covered 150 square miles:

1. 57 people were killed.

2. More than 11 million animals died, including:

  • 1,500 elk
  • 5,000 deer
  • 12 million salmon fingerlings

3. More than 4 billion board feet of timber, 230 square miles (600 km2) of forest were knocked down, though some lumber was later recovered.

4. Also destroyed:

  • 200 houses
  • 27 bridges
  • 15 miles (24 km) of railways
  • 185 miles (298 km) of highway

The number of human lives lost could have been much higher. Because the eruption occurred on a Sunday, more than 300 loggers were not working in the area.

Eruptions since 1980

During the summer of 1980, five more eruptions occurred. Geologists also carefully watched incidents of volcanic activity between 2004 and 2008.


Dzurisin, D., Driedger, C.L., and Faust, L.M., 2013, Mount St. Helens, 1980 to now—what’s going on?: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2013–3014, v. 1.1, 6 p. and videos. (Available at

I used the PDF of this fact sheet for much of the information here. The web version includes videos.

Mount St. Helens Erupts

Because the May 18, 1980, eruption was preceded by more than two months of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes, people began to doubt that danger was imminent. This four-minute video from condenses the history of the eruption and gives a good idea of how people reacted, both before and after, the eruption. Be sure to notice the remarks of local Mount St. Helens resident Harry R. Truman, who is buried, along with his 16 cats, on the mountain.

Note: Music accompanies this video. You can turn it down or mute it, as you wish. You have been warned.

35 years after Mount St. Helens eruption, nature returns

This CBS News report covers the return of life to the Mount St. Helens area in the 35 years since the eruption. It’s an uplifting story to see after reading about all the devastation.

Retirement Lifestyle

Mean Girls in the Retirement Home

Here’s a sad story indeed. Jennifer Weiner writes about her 97-year-old grandmother’s entry into an independent living facility. The mean girls at the facility wouldn’t let Weiner’s grandmother sit at their table in the dining room. They talked about playing bridge but told Weiner’s grandmother that they didn’t need any new players.

Weiner uses her grandmother’s experience to ponder the question of how typical or atypical this treatment is among residents of independent living centers. She cites a recent study by Karl Pillemer of Cornell University that found aggression among residents in nursing homes to be widespread:

According to the study’s news release, one in five residents was involved in at least one “negative and aggressive encounter” with another resident during a four-week period. Sixteen percent were cursed or yelled at; 6 percent were hit, kicked or bitten; 1 percent were victims of “sexual incidents, such as exposing one’s genitals, touching other residents, or attempting to gain sexual favors;” and 10.5 percent dealt with other residents’ entering their rooms uninvited, or rummaging through their belongings.

Weiner also points out that age discrimination is rampant: “Even in a residence for the elderly, the 80-somethings will still be cold to the 95-year-olds.” This discrimination leaves people like her grandmother, now 99 and without cognitive impairment, with no one to talk to. Such is the pain of having outlived almost all of one’s contemporaries.

An Unexpected Bingo Call: You Can’t Play

Here’s another story that even goes beyond the experiences of Jennifer Weiner’s grandmother. Paula Span describes what happened to Ann Clinton, who is 80 and has Parkinson’s disease, at Redstone Village in Huntsville, AL. Redstone is a type of facility known as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Such communities offer a full range of care, from independent living through assisted living and then skilled nursing care. Many CCRCs promote their range of care as a benefit for potential residents.

Ann Clinton and her husband began their retirement life in an independent living apartment at Redstone. Her husband moved through the assisted living and skilled nursing continuum and died last fall. Throughout her husband’s decline Ann Clinton found companionship and support at the weekly bingo game held in the independent living area of the building. But when she entered the Redstone nursing wing after back surgery, she was told she could no longer participate in the Monday night bingo game, even though she could easily ride her motorized scooter to the game.

And thus began the bingo wars at Redstone. My heart sank as I read how the conflict has escalated. Both Redstone administration and some independent-living residents want to keep Mrs. Clinton out.

Read how lawyers from AARP and the National Senior Citizens Law Center are attempting to fight such discrimination as a violation of both the federal Fair Housing Act and and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Retirees Find Meaning Serving the Needs of Their Communities

Not all the news about retirement life is bad, though. This New York Times article describes how retired folks are volunteering to do “difficult and meaningful work” to give back to their communities:

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency that runs the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs, some 24 percent of older adults volunteered in 2013, providing nearly 190 million hours of service. Despite the disruption of a recession six years ago, that rate has held fairly steady over the past decade.

Read here about three people who

personify what Mitch Anthony, a consultant, speaker and author of “The New Retirementality,” calls the “legacy or mission phase” of life. At this point, people may be less concerned with paying bills and more interested in paying back.

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career

And there’s more good news in another New York Times article:

For many, a retirement of babysitting grandchildren, golfing and relaxing on the beach is passé. Older people today approach work as a pillar of a retirement lifestyle, planning ahead and adding skills even before leaving their current jobs.

Colleges and universities are trying to figure out how to tap into this growing population of potential students. According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2030 the number of Americans age 65 and older will reach 72 million, up from 40.2 million in 2010.

A Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, a research firm that focuses on aging, found that nearly three of every five working retirees said retirement was an opportunity to shift to a different line of work.

For some of those seeking to change careers, retirement offers an opportunity to pursue a calling that wasn’t economically feasible earlier. Still others, forced into earlier-than-expected retirement by health concerns or layoffs, need to keep working for financial reasons.

Read here how many colleges and universities, including community colleges, are working to develop both degree and non-degree programs for older adult students. Especially encouraging is the news that state universities in California, Texas, and Pennsylvania offer tuition-free enrollment for older adultls.

My Late-Life Journey: Part 1

Today’s Daily Post from WordPress asks us to describe a journey, “whether a physical trip you took, or an emotional one.”

Here, then, is Part 1 of the late-life journey that lead me to where I am today.

Quite a few years ago I went through a difficult time when my two closest friends died of cancer just 10 months apart. I was shocked and numbed. These deaths coincided with my own entry into midlife—-a time when women characteristically begin to redefine themselves and their purpose in life. Many people say, at a time like this, that they’re looking for answers, but I wasn’t at that point yet: I began by looking for the questions I needed to ask. In my search I turned to the two activities that have always informed my life: reading and writing.

I’ve always read on a wide range of subjects, but in my emotional and spiritual disarray I cast my reading net even more widely than usual. I consumed books on philosophy, spirituality, psychology, and feminism. Each book lead to many others; synchronicity kicked it, as Jung promises it will, once I began to pay attention. Of all the books I read during this period, two were pivotal:

1. Carolyn Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life. Heilbrun asserts that throughout history anyone who wrote about women’s lives shaped the stories to conform to societal expectations of how women should be. She calls for new ways of writing women’s autobiography and biography: “For women who have awakened to new possibilities in middle age, or who were born into the current women’s movement and have escaped the usual rhythms of the once traditional female existence, the last third of life is likely to require new attitudes and new courage” (p. 124). As older women, Heilbrun says, “we should make use of our security, our seniority, to take risks, to make noise, to be courageous, to become unpopular” (p. 131).

2. Daniel Taylor’s Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories. Taylor stresses that we shape the stories we tell about ourselves, but those stories in turn shape who we are. Taylor’s most compelling point is that, if the story we’re living is broken, we can fix it by retelling it: “When we envision our lives differently, we are capable of being different” (p. 127). This ability applies not only to individuals but to whole societies as well.

My reading lead me to explore narrative psychology, narrative therapy, and the narrative study of lives movement.

writingAnd through all this exploration, I wrote: pages and pages of journal entries, unsent letters to my dead friends, real letters gratefully acknowledging my living friends, fist-shaking diatribes hurled at The Universe, contemplative musings, questions—-and, finally, some tentative answers—-addressed to myself. For me, writing has always been a crucial part of the learning process. Ideas arrive in large format; writing—-the process of putting those ideas into words and making the words fit together—-is the way I refine ideas, and clarify and discover meaning. Along with reading, writing is a necessary component of thinking.

In a prime example of synchronicity, during this period I discovered Story Circle Network, an organization headquartered in Austin, Texas, that focuses on encouraging and enabling women to write the stories of their lives. Shortly thereafter I attended a Story Circle Network weekend retreat with about 30 other women. As we all read, wrote, and talked together, many women experienced emotional breakthroughs and were able to write and talk about aspects of their lives that they had never revealed to anyone before. That retreat was an epiphany for me, and during my two-day drive home I came to realize that everything I had been reading fit together and that I had finally discovered the purpose I’d been searching for.

That five-year journey was an intellectually and spiritually rejuvenating time for me. It caused me to apply to the doctoral program in humanistic psychology offered by Saybrook University, which back then was known as Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. I planned my instructional program to learn how to work with people, particularly women, in using writing as a means of telling their life stories, either as a record for posterity or as a means of self-discovery and personal growth.

And the journey continues…