When you have run through your usual repertoire, and your relationship is still less than wonderful, don’t react. Act to change the context. It works with 3-month-olds, and it works with adults.



Can conflict be creative? My older brother and I fought a lot. “Fight to the death!” we said. It scared our mother, and scared me, too, I guess.

I remember at age eight fighting in our back yard with Bruce Keller, the son of the police chief who lived on the other side of the stonewall. Of course, manly pride required that I fight it out with him, but deep inside I didn’t want to.

So there we were wrestling on the ground when it came to me to say, “Hey, why are we fighting?”

I was afraid that Bruce would call me a “chicken,” but he didn’t. He laughed, and said, “Yeah. Why are we fighting?” and we stopped.

unnamedI learned a lesson. Or more truthfully, I should have learned a lesson. I have, of course, been in thousands conflicts. You can’t have friends, or neighbors, or a marriage, or children, or teach, or run a school without conflict. So you’d think that the strategy I learned when I was a child would have become a conscious strategy by now. But instead, I always felt moments like this were little miracles, or that I had just gotten lucky. Only in the last few years, as I think back on some of these little miracles, have I realized that there is an actual strategy. Finally, I’m ready to propose a name for it: Change the Game.

Once our amygdala has given us the fight or flight signal, we begin playing our conflict game. Of course, each of us tends to play the conflict game differently, (aggressive, evasive, submissive, combative, etc.), but regardless of the size of our conflict repertoire our choices are limited as our moves tend to be complementary to moves of the person who has become our adversary. Both of us are stuck in the adversary dance.

If, however, one of us does something surprising that communicates that we are playing a different game, it can be disarming. If we let our genius join the fun it will be more creative, more productive, and happier for both of us. All that energy that was preparing for battle can be transformed into more imaginative interactions. Often, but not always, you can get smiles rather than grimaces, laugher rather than growls. Often, we both come away having created a better moment by liberating our imagination.

I notice, now, that I have been writing about these little miracles (mine and others’) ever since I started this blog over six years ago. Here are a few. My mind files the stories according to the words that popped to mind at just the right moment to change the game:

“We belong to a mutual confrontation society, don’t we?”

“You’re kind of a comedian, aren’t you.”

“Yes. I’m worried about how he will do in 7th grade, too.”

“As your advisor, I suggest…”

“Then what would happen if you hit him back?”

“Look, a couple of your clients.”

So, all these stories do have a moral: if you are in a conflict, and you don’t want to fight, let your genius join the conflict and Change the Game. (I’m open to better names for it, and would love to hear your stories.)


Play is essential to optimize learning Language, Math, Science, as well as preparing the brain for collaboration, creativity and making valuable contributions to the world. Read More…


If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

–Rudyard Kipling

At lunchtime on the first day of fourth grade my best friend Jimmy stuck a deviled egg in my face and said “Eat it.” Back then, a deviled egg was a foreign substance to me, and I was not feeling adventurous.

“No, thank you,” I said.

“Eat it,” said Jimmy more insistently

“No. I don’t want it.”

“Eat it!!!” Read More…


Excellent short summary of the history of social unrest in America of the last 70 years & the origins of rising rage. Norman Rockwell_ The Problem We All Live With « AbagondOne critical piece is missing from the history and the analysis: a dysfunctional public school system. The American educational system, designed 150 years ago to prepare workers for the industrial age, is still preparing them for the industrial age. Read More…


Some say yes. Some say no. Come on, people. Could we please ask questions that help us get to useful truths about Education Reform. Article in the New York Times June 30, 2016: Read More…


How Will Education Reform?

by Rick on June 27, 2016

I never let my schooling interfere with my education.

—Mark Twain

Education Reform won’t succeed until schools do what computers can’t.

Because Sara was home sick for a week in October of her eighth grade year, her parents bought software so that she could learn algebra at home. When she got back to school she discovered that she was ahead of the class. When she told her parents, they said, “Well, good. That gives you more time to spend on other homework,” which she did, but she didn’t stop taking her online course in algebra. She liked it. Read More…


Alicia, early childhood educator extraordinaire, once told me the following story as we had lunch together in the faculty lounge:

“Yesterday, Helen was in the sandbox scooping sand into a bucket with a cup. I came by and (good constructivist teacher that I am) said, ‘So, Helen, how many cups do you think it will take to fill up your bucket?’ Read More…


The Myth of Self Acceptance

by Rick on May 24, 2016

Collaborate. Create. Contribute, and stop chasing after self acceptance. Read More…


“Do you use blocks in your classroom?” was an interview question we asked when searching for a lower elementary teacher. “Why?” was a follow up question. We didn’t hire someone until we heard a good answer.

Are there right and wrong answers to this question? Yes.  All right answers include something about “brain development.” Some examples: Read More…