Mental Models and High School English

A mental model is the way we think about the world. They are beliefs, values, thoughts and feelings that we have about the world that have come from our society, our culture, our family and our friends. They are things that we don’t question because they have become part of who we are. This isn’t a bad thing. It is part of being human, however it is important to understand our mental models so that we can choose which models are the best for us. For example, I am Australian so I am very flexible about time. I am currently living in Japan which has a very rigid perspective on time. Since I am living in Japan I have found it essential to change my mental model knowing that if I don’t I will upset the people around me.

An amazing part of travelling is that you get a chance to question those mental models. When we visit another country we see a country with a different set of mental models. Some are similar to ours but there will always be differences. When we come into contact with another culture we can reflect on our own and learn more about ourselves and how we think about the world.

Not all of us can travel though, but we can still learn a language. A language is a form of mental model. It holds the way a group of people see and think about the world. In learning a language we can learn about different ways of seeing the world. In doing so we can understand our own life and upbringing. In this we can come to better understand our culture. We can appreciate the cultural ways of thinking that bring us a happier life and we can shed the ways of thinking that haven’t.

One of the interesting things about learning English is that it holds a wider range of perspectives than usual languages since it is truly a global language. Every nation with English as its national language has its own unique culture that changes the way English is used. Australians, people from the US, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Singaporeans to name a few all have their own mental models. You don’t just learn about one culture or one way of thinking. When you add that to the number of countries that learn English as a second language then you really gain a sense of just how many cultures are contributing to the mental modes available in English.

This brings me to the second part of this article’s title, high school English. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to observe the way English is taught in high schools in Japan. One of the things I noticed is that English language despite being a different way of seeing the world is being taught as a way of reinforcing Japanese perspectives. To repeat that, the subject English in Japan is used to teach Japanese moral education. I would not be surprised to find that that our countries treat language education the same way.  This means that a major benefit to learning a language, the chance to reflect on our own society and our own ways of thinking, has been removed.

To conclude, when you teach a language you should include the way that native users of that language think and why they speak the way they do. In doing so we can work towards creating a better way of living in which we combine the mental models of the world’s cultures.


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My Ideal Lifestyle Part 1: Playing with my Children

I was recently asked to write down my ideal lifestyle and ask why of it until I firmly understood why that was my ideal.

This is the first item; playing with my children. In my ideal lifestyle I spend time to interact and play with my children every day. I consider this important for their development. The main reason I want to do it though is because I want to be close to them and enjoy my time with them. This is important to me because I love them and want them to love me in turn. Which brings me to the crux of why I want to play with my children every day. Family is the closest relationship you will ever have. It should be one of love, friendship, trust and security. You have family for life.

Happy New Year in Japan

The year, 2014. The place, Shimane. As you’d expect it I was here because of a dame. Three actually. My wife and my three girls. The day was New Years or osougetsu as they call it here. We come to the same place every year. It’s tradition. There were no wild parties as you’d expect back home. New Years eve was as quiet as a mouse living with a crazy cat woman. In the big cities you could find something and the foreigners always huddled together with a sparkling remembering the old country. We weren’t in the big smoke though. Outside was nothing but cold and blistering wind.

We sat in watching the NHK New Year’s concert. They played all the hits of the year along with a bunch of oldies. Come 11 we had the traditional soba and sake. You’re meant to think about longevity when you were eating it. Me I was thinking about that guy that wears a black great coat white make up and claims he’s a one thousand year old devil. I guess that counts as thinking of longevity.

Jiji came as joined us after we ate all the soba missing out on his own. He wasn’t pleased about it. He joined us in front of the TV though quickly getting frustrated that he didn’t know any of the songs. I guess I can understand what that’s like. After all i don’t know any of the songs. When Jiji gets grumpy it kills the mood pretty fast. We all ended up retreating to bed before twelve. Usually we’d go to the shrine to ring the bell for the new year. It suited me fine. It was too cold outside and I was already in my pajamas.

The next day, 2015, we woke up to a cup of sake and pippy soup with rice cake in it. Since we didn’t make it down to the shrine at midnight we went in the morning. It’d been snowing for a few hours now but we thought it’d be OK. The wind was fierce blowing snow in our face making visibility difficult. We fought on to get to the shrine. We were rewarded with more sake and a bowl of soup. You know it’s fierce when they’re giving out soup. I felt like some vagrant begging at a church.  It’s true what they say. Soup  is at it’s best when you’re freezing your balls off. We went round to the all the shrines. Usually i clap and don’t think anything. Just stand there with my head bowed. This time though. Well maybe it was the cold but I asked whatever gods were at those shrines if they’d get people around the world to do something about climate change. While I was at it I asked the fox god to get rich people to spend the their money on making the world a better place for other people, not just themselves. I shrugged my shoulders doubting anything would happen. The wind picked up making it a frozen hell for us getting back. Our daughter couldn’t handle it and started screaming. We got back to the place as quick as we could. She was still screaming for a good ten minutes once inside as we desperately warmed her up.

Happy New Year

Different kinds of parent

Based on observation, thoughts and a little idealism

There is an amazing park near our house.    A good park makes me feel like I’m living in some Utopian society or at the very least like society is moving along in a positive direction.  A bad park though is a bleak and depressing place.  It makes you wonder what is wrong with the world that they can’t provide a nice playground area for children.  Fortunately I live in an area that has gone to the trouble to provide a good park.  I go to this park with my daughter regularly and enjoy people watching.  Since this is a nice park is seems to bring out the best in people.  By in large I see very happy families.

I live in Japan which is famous for its absent fathers so it really warms my heart whenever I see fathers spending time with their family.  It’s interesting to see the different types of father.  There is the father that has a one year old child and brings a soccer ball along.  The father who stands back and watches stopping the child every now and then if they are doing something dangerous.  Another father is playing with their kids.  Another one is there helping the children navigate the playground equipment.  Then there is the father on his mobile phone the whole time.  There are probably more but these are what I’ve observed at the park.

The soccer ball bringing father is the most curious one for me.  Maybe at home the infant goes crazy for the soccer ball so the father brings it along.  I guess I should clarify the situation.  There are two types of soccer ball bringing father.   One brings a soccer ball and other stuff and instead of being in the playground  are out on the ground.  That soccer ball bringing father has crossed over to the playing with their kid father.  So what about the soccer ball bringing father who isn’t playing with his kid?  For a long time I wondered why would they bring a soccer ball.  Then I realised that they aren’t bring the ball for the child.  It’s for them.  You can see these fathers doing ball tricks in the park while the child runs around doing something else with the mum.   No one seems to actually be watching these ball tricks.  The father is apparently just there at the park.  I have a number of theories about this father.  The first theory is that the father is being given some rest time.  A bit of unwind time to just chill and rehash his old hobby.  My second theory is that he was always in a soccer club growing up and doesn’t really know how to play with a child.  My third theory is that this father is overwhelmed and has no idea how to be a dad.

The get in there and plays with the kids father and the playground navigating father are two aspects of the same style.  These fathers are obviously motivated to interact with their children.  Perhaps it’s to show them the world or perhaps it’s just because they find it fun.  Maybe its just because there sure that’s what they are meant to do at the park.  The plays with their kids father is the most enjoyable for me to watch.  These fathers are clearly having fun.  You can see them pant and sweat.  You know that they are exhausted but the smile on their face is almost as big as the smile on their kids face.  This is the happy family ideal you see in commercials and TV shows.  This is the style of parenting I most idealise and aspire to.  Perhaps I’m a victim of mass media or perhaps I’m just the type of person to get in there and do it.

The stand back and watches father is the strangest to me.  Probably because it is the opposite to my style.  I wonder how they do it.  How do you become the parent that just sits back and has the children play?  I’m not asking in a critical way.  I’m genuinely curious.  My wife recently pointed out that I’m a 100% attention dad.  When I’m with my daughter I’m with her the whole time.  There is no break.  It’s exhausting and makes me wonder how do parents become the watchers while the kids do their own thing.  Perhaps that is the key.  Perhaps just watching is enough.  I actually tried to ease off the amount of attention I give my daughter.  I found that she could handle it some days but other days she’d just be grumpy wondering why her biggest toy wasn’t playing with her.  I just find standing back and watching boring.  Seeing these parents impresses me though. Their are obvious advantages to it for both sides.  The child learns to play by themselves, an extremely important lesson, and the parents can rest.  I wonder though at the cost.  How do those children see that father?  Do they see him at all?  Is it the same as being an absent father or is standing there enough.  Do they remember that as dad taking me to the park and think of their dad fondly?  Watching the interaction with one watcher dad and his child I noticed that he would say “No, that’s dangerous.” and the child would immediately say “No, It’s not.” and go ahead and do it.  So does this way lead to a more independent child?  Perhaps it just means that dad is going to have a tough time when the kids are teenagers.  Bringing it back to my way, am I raising a dependent child? One who won’t be able to just entertain herself.  I guess we are always trying to get the best outcome for our child playing fortune teller but making it up as we go.

The mobile phone dad is the least attractive to me.  The dad that isn’t really there.  Is this the same as the watcher dad though?  If just being there is enough to leave a pleasant and positive feeling towards the dad then perhaps this is perfectly justified.  Perhaps this is the busy dad that is making time for his child but can’t escape work.  Far more preferable to the dad that can’t make it to the park.  The one that makes the phone calls at home while the mum and child go off to the park.

In conclusion, there are many parenting models.  This isn’t an academic paper so I certainly haven’t talked about all the models or even presented it in an unbiased manner.  You may naturally fall into a model based on your own personality.  Really though I suggest to parents to think about the type of parent they want to be.  Discuss it with your partner.  Find out what each of you think parenting means.  Hopefully your ideas match.  Parents are instrumental in a child’s development.  It’s important to think about how you are influencing them and what you can do to feel at the end of the day you did a good job.

Parental Support in an Ideal World

One of the hardest parts of my day is going to work.  This isn’t because of work though.  It’s the hardest part because I have to leave my daughter behind.  Both my wife and I work meaning that at one point during the day we have to leave our daughter at day care.  While this is a reasonable solution its not the best case scenario for my daughter.  The best case scenario would be for both her parents to be with her full time.  She loves us both and her happiest times are when she is with the two of us.  This blog is about what society and the government should do for parents to create an optimum world.

My proposal is simple.  When you are having a child you should be given two years paid parental care to look after your child full time without worrying about money or work.  This may sound impossible but it’s not at all.  The whole thing would need paper work of course to ensure that the child is getting the care the service is providing and not just paying a drunk or gambling addict a living in wage.  There would need to be checks and measures the whole way through the process.  Most importantly though there would need to be advance parental education and counseling throughout the process.  During pregnancy or while awaiting the adoption papers future parent/s would sign up for the parental leave support network.  They’d begin parental education and for the next two years be full time parent/s.  After all we are already full time parents we should be recognised as such.  This programme would need far more than the baby bonus or parental pay that is in use at the moment.  Parent/s would need enough money so that feel comfortable but not enough to bring the government to its knees financially.  This money would have to come from taxes but given what the tax is for I’m sure there wouldn’t be much to complaint about it.

Possible arguments against this policy; it would create professional parents; the sheer amount of money it would cost.  it would destroy the day care industry; it would result in a population boom.  Starting with the first argument I would say that this isn’t such a problem if they are good parents.  After all, the reason for such a policy change would be to better educate and care for our children thus creating a better future.  However, if this is really such an issue in getting this kind of policy through then it can be limited to the first two babies and everyone after that is on your own time and money.  The second issue I have partly covered.  Money can always be found.  There are numerous ways enough money could be generated for this; have companies fund part of it; higher taxes; implement a mining tax, a fast food tax, commercial support, fundraising, funding cuts to the military, etc.  The third issue with the policy isn’t really an issue.  After all it is a small price to pay for a better world.  People in those professions can still be utilised though.  Parents would still need breaks.  Day care would just turn into a few hours care.  The need would still be there just the format would change.  There would also need to be people to teach the parenting education modules so a new industry would arise.  The final problem, that of the population boom. While it may create a temporary population boom the increase in focus on educating parents would eventually result in the population plateauing as educated people tend not to have so many children.  People would want to do other things with their lives.

So that’s my proposal.  A two year full time parental leave from work supported by the government and the people.  It would improve our society in more ways than I can imagine.

A Good Dad

What being a good dad should mean.

This is going to be a little ranty.  I’ll try and reign it in.

I am regularly told I am a good dad.  This is of course true.  I am a good dad.  However, the reasons I am being told that I am a good dad worries me.  The three reasons that I’m told I’m a good dad that worry me are;  I am able to hold my baby without it crying, actually even with her crying I’m told that me holding her at all is amazing; I am able to feed her;  I take her out of the house to do things on my own.  If these are signs of a good dad I would hate to see what an average or bad dad would be.

Let’s have a closer look at these and why they worry me starting with the first one.  Maybe I am being some dreamy idealist but being able to hold your own baby without it crying is a basic ability.  That’s just being a parent.  If you can’t do that as a dad you had better have a really good reason like not having any arms.  That’s a good reason.  “The baby has always cried whenever I’ve held it.”  is not a good reason.  Obviously you’re not actually being comforting if that’s the case since that is generally the purpose of holding your baby.  What’s even more worrying is the follow up statement.  So many times I’ve been told that men don’t hold babies.  This can’t be right.  This has to be a monumental error in generalising.  If not then I really feel sorry for the mums and the babies in those families and seriously wonder what is going on with society.

Onto the second thing I am often complimented on.   Being able to feed the baby is also a basic part of parenting.  You really don’t want your baby to become so reliant on the mother when it comes to keeping him or her alive.  If something happens to mum you want to be able to easily take up the slack and help out with the baby.  That’s what being a good dad is about.  Being able to feed the baby is just part of that.  The more you do it the better you get at feeding time and baby gets used to the idea that you are also a feeder.  As an added bonus it gives mum a chance to have a break.   The bottom line though is that It’s really just a matter of doing something that you have to do.  I honestly can not imagine being unable to feed my baby.  This would cause my wife so much extra unnecessary trouble and I would feel like a useless tit.

Onto the third worrying point.  This one actually really annoys me.  I honestly think this is more a problem with society than dads.  I’ll be out with my baby at the park or in the public baths or at a restaurant and someone will come up to me and ask “Oh is the mum just in the toilet.”  The reason this annoys me should be fairly obvious.  Are dads looking after their children on their own so rare that any dad with their child is automatically assumed to be just babysitting for a few minutes until the mum comes back?  I doubt it.  I’ve been out and about in Japan many times seeing dads looking after their kids on their own.  I strongly suspect although I can’t verify it that this is purely a problem of perspective.  People going around assuming that dads have nothing to do with child rearing.  This does nothing but propagate the opinion and leads some of the more easily socialised males to become useless dads.

It’s great that we are encouraging dads.  Giving a compliment when they are getting right into the thick of it.  It’s really about standards though.  Is the bar for dads so low that it’s amazing that the dad does anything at all?  This isn’t the message we should be sending.  If you see parents that you think are doing a good job say so but don’t propagate this image of dads as being some useless appendage to the family unit.  Our society still view mums as the ones that do everything.  What truly amazes me is that people’s eyes just glaze over when I mention that I’m that one that spends the most time with our baby.  Since this never seems to get any kind of reaction I assume people just think I’m bragging or they just can’t comprehend it and ignore it.  I’m happy to be called a good dad but say it for the right reasons and don’t forget to say that the mum is doing a good job too.  The bar for them is set so high that the smallest things can trigger condemnation.

Baby Competitions

Part Rant Part Adorable Baby Story Part Insight

Before having a baby I had no idea there were crawling races.  Now however I have been enlightened.  There are in fact crawling, walking, running and pushing a pusher races.  There are probably more but that’s what I know about so far.  Prior to having a baby I never thought I would put baby in one of these events.  However, we have put our baby in three of these so far.  You may wonder why.  It’s a good thing to wonder.

First up we entered our baby into two crawling competitions for the simple reason that she loves crawling.   The first time round she just sat their soaking up the attention.  Good on her though because she was very happy.   The second time round she even won the race.   For those who have never seen these races though you may wonder what it looks like.  The competitions are held in shopping malls to attract people with babies who would probably not have gone to the mall that weekend.  The course is usually five metres long.  There are five lanes and babies have to get from one end to the other.  There are onlookers all around the track cheering and generally having a good time.  Or just waiting for their baby’s turn.  Parents try to get their babies to crawl unassisted for the five metres.  This usually involves jiggling the baby’s favourite toy in front of them.  For us it was using the video camera because our baby loves cameras.  Tragically I did not press the record button.  Silly daddy.

You may think that this kind of event sounds cruel or exploitative.  I hadn’t really thought so until the weekend mainly because our baby always has a great time at these events.  We took baby to a pushing pusher race because she loves pushing pushers.  We arrived a little bit early so we had to wait for a few heats to finish before we could race.  The whole time we waited baby was desperate to get to the race track.  Next to the track was a playground area full of children but our baby quickly saw through this ruse and crawled straight for the tracks.  When it came to our heat I had to hold baby back from the pusher.  The announcer was going through the names and i was just thinking “Shut up and let us race.”  When she called go baby jumped onto the pusher and sped down the track to the finish line in less time then it takes adults to walk down.  I was tempted to turn her around and have her race back the other way since the rest of the group were no where near finishing.  She had a great time laughing and smiling the whole time.   Oh, there was no prize for coming first.  Just bragging rights and a cool video if you pressed the record button.  Purely for the fun of it.

Hang on though, I just mentioned that now I thought it was a little cruel.  My story sounds very positive.  Well for our baby it was but for the others there were tears and tantrums all round.  Why?  I couldn’t really figure it out at the time nor could baby.  She was looking at the babies enviously as they got to be on the track playing.  Don’t worry when the competition was over I let baby crawl all over the tracks.  As we watched a few more heats though I started wondering why the parents were here.  I knew why we were here but I didn’t know why they were here.  At one point I noticed one green shirted boy chucking a tantrum on the track and remembered him from earlier.  He had been playing in the playground area.  When I saw him he was crying his eyes out. I don’t know why but he was.  No one comforted him though.  He ran out of where he was and knocked his head on the doorway and cried more.  No one came.  He tried to get through the doorway again at the same time as three other kids did and he ended up on the ground crying.  Still no one came.  I was amazed though to see all the kids patting him on the shoulder saying it was OK.  However the parents were no where to be seen.  I was even tempted to go in there and comfort the kid but I knew the last thing the kid needed was some lanky white guy coming in and comforting him.  The mum eventually came after a good fifteen minutes of crying.  It may have been longer since he was crying when I had arrived.  So why did that parent bring her son to the race?  The kid didn’t have any fun at all.  He was balling in the playground and spent the race on the ground banging his fists.  I never asked the mum why she was there.  Maybe the boy was just having a bad day but he wasn’t the only one crying.

So why were the others crying?  Some stood there crying while their parents dangled toys in front of them.   In previous crawling competitions I’ve also seen the babies cry at the starter line.  It’s pretty obvious if you think about it.  There are a tonne of people around them and their parents just put them on the ground, walk away from them and sit five metres in front of them.   They probably feel abandoned in an overstimulating environment.  I don’t know about you but I find malls intense enough as an adult imagine what it must be like for a baby.

Other children that were crying were just lying on the ground not wanting to push the pusher.  When our baby pushes away a toy it’s usually because she’s playing with another toy, she’s getting sleepy or because she wants to do something else.  Of course I’ve never bothered trying to make her play with a toy she didn’t want to.  So what’s going on here then?  The kids probably wanted to keep on playing in the playground.  Or maybe they were just tired and overstimulated.  For me the point is really that if your kid doesn’t want to push the pusher don’t make them.  It’s meant to be a fun event.  In this guess pride or embarrassment obviously gets in the way.  You may wonder what i would have done in baby didn’t want to push the pusher.  I can’t imagine it happening but if she was there crying I would have given her a hug.

So overall what did I learn on the weekend.  I learnt that if your taking your baby to an event make sure you’re taking them because you think they’ll enjoy it.  More importantly though; if you’re taking your baby to an event that you think they’ll enjoy do what you can for them to help them enjoy it.  Play and interact with them.  Have fun with them.  It’s their day after all.