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The Smithsonian Magazine ties two sixth century volcanic eruptions to the cooling weather in the middle of the century.
In the summer of A.D. 536, a mysterious cloud appeared over the Mediterranean basin. “The sun gave forth its light without brightness,” wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, “and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” In the wake of the cloud’s appearance, local climate cooled for more than a decade. Crops failed, and there was widespread famine. From 541 to 542, a pandemic known as the Plague of Justinian swept through the Eastern Roman Empire.
Scientists had long suspected that the cause of all this misery might be a volcanic eruption, probably from Ilopango in El Salvador, which filled Earth’s atmosphere with ash. But now researchers say there were two eruptions—one in 535 or 536 in the northern hemisphere and another in 539 or 540 in the tropics—that kept temperatures in the north cool until 550.
The revelation comes from a new analysis that combines ice cores collected in Antarctica and Greenland with data from tree rings. It shows that the sixth-century tragedy is just one chapter in a long history of volcanic interference. According to the data, nearly all extreme summer cooling events in the northern hemisphere in the past 2,500 years can be traced to volcanoes. …
Mother Jones asks whether everything we know about disciplining children is wrong.
Leigh Robinson was out for a lunchtime walk one brisk day during the spring of 2013 when a call came from the principal at her school. Will, a third-grader with a history of acting up in class, was flipping out on the playground. He’d taken off his belt and was flailing it around and grunting. The recess staff was worried he might hurt someone. Robinson, who was Will’s educational aide, raced back to the schoolyard.
Will was “that kid.” Every school has a few of them: that kid who’s always getting into trouble, if not causing it. That kid who can’t stay in his seat and has angry outbursts and can make a teacher’s life hell. That kid the other kids blame for a recess tussle. Will knew he was that kid too. Ever since first grade, he’d been coming to school anxious, defensive, and braced for the next confrontation with a classmate or teacher.
The expression “school-to-prison pipeline” was coined to describe how America’s public schools fail kids like Will. A first-grader whose unruly behavior goes uncorrected can become the fifth-grader with multiple suspensions, the eighth-grader who self-medicates, the high school dropout, and the 17-year-old convict. Yet even though today’s teachers are trained to be sensitive to “social-emotional development” and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out. Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.
How we deal with the most challenging kids remains rooted in B.F. Skinner’s mid-20th-century philosophy that human behavior is determined by consequences and bad behavior must be punished. (Pavlov figured it out first, with dogs.) During the 2011-12 school year, the US Department of Education counted 130,000 expulsions and roughly 7 million suspensions among 49 million K-12 students—one for every seven kids. The most recent estimates suggest there are also a quarter-million instances of corporal punishment in US schools every year.
But consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom. …
… Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?
That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.
His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.” …
… Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.
“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at IndianaUniversity. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.
If Greene’s approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?
Will was still wielding the belt when Leigh Robinson arrived, winded, at the Central School playground. A tall, lean woman who keeps her long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, she conveys a sense of unhurried comfort. Central, which goes from pre-kindergarten through third grade, is one of a few hundred schools around the country giving Greene’s approach a test run—in this case with help from a $10,000 state anti-delinquency grant.
Will, who started first grade the year Central began implementing Greene’s program (known as Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, or CPS), was an active kid, bright and articulate, who loved to play outside. But he also struggled, far more than the typical six-year-old, to stay in his seat—or in the room. When he couldn’t find words for what was bothering him, he might swing his hands at classmates or resort to grunting and moaning and rolling on the floor. A psychologist diagnosed him with a nonverbal learning disorder, a condition that makes it hard to adapt to new situations, transition between settings, interpret social cues, and orient yourself in space and time. At the beginning of second grade, Central designated Robinson as his aide.
Out on the playground, she approached the boy reassuringly, like a trained hostage negotiator. “Do whatever you need with the belt,” she told him gently. “Just keep it away from people.” Slowly, Will began to calm down. They walked over to some woods near the school, and she let him throw rocks into a stream, scream, and yell until, at last, he burst into tears in her arms. Then they talked and came up with a plan. The next time he felt frustrated or overwhelmed, Will would tell another staffer that he needed his helper. If Robinson were off campus, they would get her on the phone for him. …
… Will had graduated from Central and outgrown most of his baby fat when I arrived for breakfast at his home one Saturday morning. As he and his brothers helped prepare apple pancakes and fruit salad, he took a break to show me “Antlandia,” a board game he created to showcase his knowledge of insects. Now in fifth grade, he’d made friends at his new school and was proudly riding the bus—something he couldn’t handle before.
Between bites, Will consented to describe his experiences with the teachers and staff at CentralSchool. “When they notice a kid that’s angry, they try to help. They ask what’s bothering them,” he said, spiky brown bangs covering his eyebrows as he looked down at his plate. His mom, Rachel Wakefield, told me later that CPS had trained Will to be able to talk about frustrating situations and advocate for himself. Now, she said, he actually had an easier time of it than his big brother. “It’s a really important skill as they enter into adolescence,” she said.
From Greene’s perspective, that’s the big win—not just to fix kids’ behavior problems, but to set them up for success on their own. Too many educators, he believes, fixate on a child’s problems outside of school walls—a turbulent home, a violent neighborhood—rather than focus on the difference the school can make. “Whatever he’s going home to, you can do the kid a heck of a lot of good six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year,” Greene says. “We tie our hands behind our backs when we focus primarily on things about which we can do nothing.”
Panda Whale has a piece on the efficacy of fish oil.
For anyone wondering about whether to take a fish oil pill to improve your health, the Web site of the National Institutes of Health has some advice.
Yes. And no.
One page on the Web site endorses taking fish oil supplements, saying they are likely effective for heart disease, because they contain the “beneficial” fatty acids known as omega-3s.
But another page suggests that, in fact, the fish oil pills seem useless: “Omega-3s in supplement form have not been shown to protect against heart disease.”
“I can see how you might think that there is some inconsistency,” Paul R. Thomas, a scientific consultant in NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements wrote in response to questions about the NIH pages.
Few issues better reflect the American confusion over diet. …
… American consumers have long had to sort through confusing contradictions over what food is healthful to eat. And the trouble lies partly in the realm of science, where researchers sometimes have developed diet advice that, despite weakness in the supporting evidence, has been urged on the public.
This year, for example, a federal advisory panel recommended withdrawing the government’s long-standing warning about consuming foods rich in cholesterol, decades after scientists began to argue that the warning was wrongheaded.
Likewise, the long-lived admonition that Americans are using too much salt is facing a strong challenge from research published in prominent medical journals.
The dispute over fish oil and its fatty acids known as omega-3s, meanwhile, is part of a long and confusing debate about the role of fats in the American diet. As far back as 1977, the U.S. Dietary Goals, a forerunner of the federal government’s influential U.S. Dietary Guidelines, called for Americans to eat more carbohydrates and eat less fat. That position is now widely regarded as misguided.
A closer look at the fish oil recommendation shows how health authorities first recommended fish oil despite mixed evidence, then let the recommendation stand even as studies suggesting their worthlessness mounted.
The result can be confusion. …