Are Fathers Necessary?

What are some typical errors that a researcher should look for when reviewing journals?

One error I encountered recently was in a magazine article, “Are Fathers Necessary?” in Atlantic Magazine.  (

The article appears to be about an idea that is gaining more widespread acceptance: that a having a male present while raising children is statistically linked to better outcomes for those children.  I will not rehash the arguments.  Obviously, there is some inherent appeal to those of us who believe that the average male and the average female learn and, to a surprising extent, think and behave differently.  Not better or worse, but differently.  This idea that fathers are necessary is very important because fewer and fewer homes with children actually have fathers or adult males present.  Of course, it is simply not possible in many cases to have males present, but that is not the discussion.  Like so many difficult questions in science, the “problem statement” is about what happens when fathers are not present, for better or worse.

Anyway, this is very threatening for a lot of people, particularly some single mothers who feel this disrespects the herculean effort they make every day to be the best parent to their child they possibly can be.  Apparently, it also bothers some radical feminists and lesbians who believe in the old Wellesley College motto: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” and do not like to see themselves contradicted.

Therefore, this brings us back to the Atlantic article.  It purports to question whether the absence of fathers does statistically lead to poorer expected results for children, but what it actually argues is mostly that two lesbians can raise a baby successfully.  That is great info, but largely independent of the question the article claimed to address and claimed to debunk.  Unfortunately, in spite of the logical argument that one cannot be true if the other one is, in real life the two questions are largely independent from each other.  Proving one does not disprove the body of evidence in support of the other.

Therefore, one error to look for is articles that purport to disprove something but which instead simply prove a different point, leaving the inference but not the proof that the initial argument is wrong.

Instructional Strategies

What criteria would you use to determine developmentally appropriate instructional strategies?

The CalTPA handbook lists a series of developmentally appropriate instructional strategies. They are broken down into age categories: Grades K-3, Grades 4-8, and 9-12. They are included in TPE 6. Here are some examples from the CalTPA Handbook, Appendix A:

Grades K-3

  • understand how to create a structured day with opportunities for movement
  • design academic activities that suit the attention span of young learners
  • instructional activities connect with the children’s immediate world
  • draw on key content from more than one subject area
  • include hands-on experiences and manipulatives that help students learn
  • teach and model norms of social interactions (e.g., consideration, cooperation, responsibility, empathy)
  • educational experiences that help students develop more realistic expectations and understandings of their environment
  • special plans for students who require extra help in exercising self-control among their peers or who have exceptional needs or abilities


Grades 4-8 

  • build on students’ command of basic skills and understandings
  • provide intensive support for students who lack basic skills as defined in state-adopted academic content standards for students
  • teach from grade-level texts
  • design learning activities to extend students’ concrete thinking and foster abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • help students develop learning strategies to cope with increasingly challenging academic curriculum
  • assist students, as needed, in developing and practicing strategies for managing time and completing assignments
  • develop students’ skills for working in groups to maximize learning
  • build on peer relationships and support students in trying new roles and responsibilities in the classroom
  • support students’ taking of intellectual risks such as sharing ideas that may include errors
  • distinguish between misbehavior and over-enthusiasm
  • respond appropriately to students who are testing limits and students who alternatively assume and reject responsibility


Grades 9-12 

  • establish intellectually challenging academic expectations
  • provide opportunities for students to develop advanced thinking and problem-solving skills
  • frequently communicate course goals, requirements, and grading criteria to students and families
  • help students to understand connections between the curriculum and life beyond high school
  • communicate the consequences of academic choices in terms of future career, school and life options
  • support students in assuming increasing responsibility for learning
  • encourage behaviors important for work such as being on time and completing assignments
  • understand adolescence as a period of intense social peer pressure to conform
  • support signs of students’ individuality while being sensitive to what being “different” means for high school students

Being a “Charismatic Adult”

Brooks & Goldstein (2001) talk about the need for a “charismatic adult” in each child’s life.  They quote Julius Segal, defining a charismatic adult as “a person with whom children ‘could identify and from whom they gather strength'” (Brooks & Goldstein, 2001, p. 88).  They later quote Segal again, saying that “in a ‘surprising number of cases that person turns out to be a teacher'” (Brooks & Goldstein, 2001). This charismatic individual can be the difference between a resilient child who succeeds in spite of difficult circumstances and a non-resilient child who does not.

I think it’s easy to forget that the classroom just might be the best, safest part of a child’s day.  It’s easy to forget that many students are struggling in school because they’re not getting the right kind of support at home.  Going that extra step and the one after that might just make all the difference in a child’s future.  Teachers cannot save every child that passes through but they will not save any if they do not try.


Brooks, R. B., & Goldstein, S. (2001). Raising resilient children : fostering strength, hope, and optimism in your child. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Sullivan, R. (2001). What Makes a Child Resilient?. Retrieved from,9171,999479,00.html

Who We Are and Who We’re Not

Do you believe that their (sic) exists a problem with praise when it is constantly targeting only one narrow aspect of the ‘whole’ individual? Do you think it problematic when any individually relies heavily on a physical characteristic as opposed to an intellectual one?

I believe that all children have strengths and weaknesses. It does them no good to be taught that everything they do is perfect. Ten minutes watching the American Idol try-out episodes demonstrates the risks well. On the other hand, it is not ok to belittle a child’s attributes. We all need to understand that we are fully formed and wonderful in all our human weakness. Given any category, there is only one in seven billion of us who is the best. The rest of us are all some degree of worse. So it’s not really about some flavor of “winning” or being the best. Life is about each human recognizing “who they are and who they are not” and moving forward clear in that knowledge. Who we are may well be largely physical. Kinesthetic learners will most likely find themselves expressing themselves through their bodies, whether in the Joffrey, the NBA or something less dramatic. For some people, their beauty is their defining characteristic and they contribute with it. While it was not her only strength, there’s no doubt that Princess Di contributed from “beauty.”

Thus, for me, life is about truth. Each person’s ‘whole individual’ is enough because we all are. We each have different attributes that contribute to us and to others in different ways. Understanding what those are is something parents can help a child discover. These may be physical, they may be mental, they may be temperamental. There is wonderful diversity in what each of us can contribute. Allowing a child to explore the alternatives and helping them find their essences is a big part of parenting.

Lonely Jessica

Three-year-old Jessica lives in the country where there are no other preschoolers nearby. Her parents wonder whether it is worth driving Jessica into town once a week to play with her 1-year-old cousin. Based on the readings we have done for this course, what advice would you give to Jessica’s parents and why?

I would tell Jessica’s parents that, in all likelihood, once a week is hardly enough. I would tell them that the first five years of a child’s life set patterns that are very reliable and persistent. I would tell them that stimulation is all important during this time. I would tell them kindly and forcefully that Jessica’s future will most likely be heavily influenced by their decisions and actions over the next several years.

  • I would quote Ramey & Ramey (2004), “children’s experiences prior to kindergarten entry are correlated with degree of cognitive development and school readiness as measured by standardized assessments of cognitive and linguistic performance.”
  • I would show them studies that show that “children enrolled in Head Start or other enriched preschool programs show a gain of about 10 IQ points during the year of the Head Start experience compared to similar children without such experience” (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 197).
  • I would point them to studies of imprinting and baby ducks (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 6).
  • I would introduce them to the concept of “programmed plasticity” and tell them “this period of maximum plasticity is also the period in which the child may be most vulnerable to major restrictions on intellectual stimulation—such as physical or emotional neglect—making these early years a kind of critical period for brain development” (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 95).
  • I would point them to Wikipedia articles on “Critical Period” (“Critical period”, 2010) and “Sensitive Period” (“Sensitive periods”, 2010).

However, balancing the needs of Jessica and their living situation I would give them this advice as well:

  • Fill her life with stimulation: varied play environments, toys, tastes, textures, smells, and experiences.
  • Fill her mind with life: read to her, play music for her, show her nature and art and beautiful things.
  • Give her your love and attention and make sure she knows that she has both.
  • Make her know that she is special by always treating her as special.
  • Find her friends to play with. Ideally, many of these friends would be around her age, but interactions with any caring human are better than fewer.
  • I’ll repeat it, because nothing compares to human interaction: find her kids to play with… often.
  • If there are times when the lack of stimulation can’t be helped, let her watch educational television like Sesame Street. But be selective, TV is more bad than good and only the finest and best designed shows can overcome this to supply a positive outcome.

Then I’d recap and tell them that her brain is learning and developing at unimaginable rates. She needs as much varied stimulation and human contact as possible. It is not optional. It is not “nice to have.” It is their moral obligation to provide stimulation, attention and love, just as it is to provide food and shelter.


Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Critical period. (2010). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 5, 2010, from

Ramey, C. T., & Ramey, S. L. (2004, October). Early learning and school readiness: Can early intervention make a difference?. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 50(4), 471-491. Retrieved from

Sensitive periods. (2010). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 5, 2010, from