Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

March 8, 2013

Primers, Priming, and Lessons of March Snows

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 7:14 pm
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I woke this morning to every branch, every fence post, every lawn chair, encased in white.  Driving early, with just enough snow on our street to quiet and slow everyone down, but not enough to have to dig out the cars, I was amazed at the unbelievably thorough coverage of whiteness.  Along a wooded expanse of road, the tangled branches were a web in endless shades of white and grey.  I thought of how hard it is for humans to achieve what nature manages, and of my limited but frustrating experiences at painting a bathroom, closet or bedroom and trying to get the paint to cover whatever horrendous décor I had inherited.

Whether you are painting new construction, or re-doing something, professional painters will wax poetic about the power of priming.  A prime coat of paint evens out the surface, and provides a good medium onto which the paint can bond.  The unseen priming, in essence, allows the paint to take hold, to have the appropriate shine and longevity.

Priming effects have been well documented in learning and behavior.  What enters our mind first, will effect how we think and what we do later.  In one classic example, priming people by having them read words about aging (elderly, walker, wheelchair, canes, retirement), resulted in slower walking speed!  The principle of priming cognitively is similar to that of painting.  Hearing, reading, seeing something, especially if it is repeated, will prepare our mind so that related ideas and behaviors are more likely to take hold.

Priming can work both for and against us as educators and parents.  Imagine a child who, unfortunately, hears day in and out, that he will never amount to much, is a slow learner, faces extreme challenges.  How will that young man approach his science test?  Consider the daughter who’s mother talks endlessly about thinness as ideal, who points to magazine pictures of the latest fashions, who criticizes friends who are not dressed to the nines.  What does that young woman think and see when she looks in the mirror?  And what do children who hear statements like “you have to look out for yourself” and “it’s a cruel world” and “good guys finish last” believe about their responsibility as friends, classmates and future citizens?

The fix for the above examples may seem straightforward.  Just speak to the challenged learner as if he is brilliant, stop talking about looks to the mirror-shy girl, and preach kindness and caring for all.  We are just as ineffective as parents and teachers when we attempt to “prime” with irrational and unreasonable statements.  It would be like using one coat of yellow paint to cover a black-walled room.  Our task is to balance the priming effects of what we say and do with a dose of realism, and to recognize that when we least expect our children, and their brains are listening to us.

Especially in the area of beliefs and values, we can be powerful primers of acceptance and activism.  To do this, we have to listen carefully to the sometimes subtle “hints” in our behavior and our words that reveal our biases and prejudices.  We have to notice not only what we say, but our silence response to the pain and needs of others.  This, too, primes our children. It lulls them into accepting that nothing can be done, nothing need be done, nothing should be done.

I want my lessons, those delivered as parent, and those given as teacher, to stick.  I want them to make an impact and bring out the best in those I am privileged to teach.  Today’s whiteness, already fading to the grey mush of a March snowstorm is reminding me to think about the words and actions before my lessons, to notice how I am smoothing the way, or sending the wrong message.

How did today’s winter wonderland prime my thinking?  Knowing that tomorrow’s 50 degree weather will erase all evidence of this crisp morning, and seeing my daffodils shooting up through the snow, primed me for Spring.  Renewal, fresh starts, and new chances for learning and growth, paints one of my favorite pictures.

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1 Comment »

  1. Once again, such a wonderful reminder, painted, (no pun intended), with a brush of beautiful words!!! These “readings” are my recreation as I take a break from crossword puzzles!!! Eand S.

    Comment by E and S Milch — March 9, 2013 @ 3:01 pm |Reply


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