Category Archives: Education

7 Things My 7 Year Old Learned From MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

If your kids are like mine, and don’t care for team sports, MMA is an excellent alternative.

My son does MMA training 3 nights a week at the American School of Martial Arts in Savage MN. When he chose to take Karate, we visited several different schools, and he decided on MMA. He liked the school, the instructor, and the structure. He can quit any time he wishes. But he knows, if he quits, it’s final, and I am never taking him back (just a little lesson about the power of decision).

7 Things My 7 Year Old Learned from MMA

Goal Setting – It started with learning a Kenpo technique called the Snapping Twain. He was determined to do it correctly. Then he began focusing on earning stripes for his belt, and later decided to earn his first belt. The goals he sets in MMA are not easy to achieve. They take months of focus and consistent practice. Now, without my prompting he sets financial goals and educational goals for himself, and I credit the things he’s learned in MMA training

Persistence – He’s been at this 18 months and still hasn’t earned his second belt. His first belt took 9 months. Some days he practices free grappling, which is Jiu Jitsu (the art of softness – no hitting or punching). He lost dozens of these matches, but improved with each loss. Previously, he avoided things that weren’t easy for him, now he accepts the challenge even if the odds are are against him. Why? He’s discovered that if he keeps trying, he will improve. Sometimes he sees improvement in an hour, other times it takes months. But with consistent effort, improvement happens. This is the same son that invented the word “Shandshowbo” when he was 4. It means keep trying even when it’s hard.

Confidence – There is no substitute for self-confidence. If you don’t believe in your ability to overcome obstacles, if fear of failure stops you, you will never reach your goals.

“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.”

Confidence comes from deep inside, and it is reflected in your posture, the way you shake hands, if you look someone in the eye when they speak to you. The kids at ASMA are taught to stand up straight, look each other in the eye, shake hands, and speak clearly and confidently. In my experience, very few kids have the basic social skills that come with confidence. Confidence comes from knowing you have the mental and physical strength to deal with adversity and challenge. MMA training fosters that confidence.

Nutrition – Look at a group of today’s youth and you’ll see that few kids understand the foundation of good nutrition. MMA training stresses the importance of eating healthy natural foods and avoiding sugar, HFCS, and processed foods. Each day, the instructor requires my son to name 5 fruits and vegetables he has eaten that day. If he can’t, he does 25 push ups. This method has been so effective, in 18 months, my son has never had to do those push ups. By 6 years old, he developed an obsession with eating healthy foods. He nags us to feed him healthy food. Today, he frequently says things like, “I’m not eating candy for the next 60 days.” He does this with no prompting from me or the instructors. He does it because he wants to be healthy and test himself. That is radical self-discipline for a 7 year old.

Physical Fitness – Each training session starts with a 10-15 minute run, followed by a routine of stretches and calisthenics. After about a year, he could do over 100 squats and 50 push-ups in near perfect form. Many mornings he gets up early and works out for 20 minutes on his own. One morning I awoke at 6 AM to sounds coming from the living room. There was my son doing squats. Physical fitness isn’t a goal, it’s a habit, and MMA training ingrains the habit young.

Frustration Tolerance – Trying something difficult for the first time is frustrating, especially if you’re around other people who make it look easy. The same is the case for MMA training. Many times my son grapples with bigger more experienced kids, they end up on top of him, and it’s frustrating and difficult to get out from underneath them. I’ve seen the frustration on his face after a difficult situation. A situation when he fails repeatedly. But in time, I’ve seen him turn that frustration from fear and anger, into determination, and finally achievement.

Focused Attention – Your strength and ability at any task, is directly related to your ability to focus your attention on your goal and the task at hand. The power of focused attention is the most powerful thing you control. The importance of focus can’t be stressed enough. I don’t care what you’re doing, writing, painting, drawing, speaking, running, or swinging a golf club, focus is essential.

As many of you know, children, especially boys, struggle with focus and attention, some more than others. Some kids just “space off” a little, others are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and are prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs. Putting a child on mind altering drugs is a huge decision, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Alternative treatments are possible, and Martial Arts training can and has worked as an alternative therapy for ADD/ADHD. (Please do not stop any medication without consulting with your child’s physician.)

Many kids show typical ADD/ADHD symptoms because they aren’t getting enough exercise. Parents and schools tend to discipline a hyperactive child by making them sit still for long periods of time (timeout). For most hyper kids, this only produces more hyperactivity. Instead, have them run laps or do squats or push ups. Exercise helps kids focus.

Sportsmanship – Have you seen a kid throw a fit when they don’t win? Have you seen him mock his opponent when he does win? Have you seen a child look for a weaker opponent simply because he didn’t want to lose? Have you seen him refuse to try when he realized he would probably lose? These are all issues of sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is a basic social skill we all should master. We all compete at some level, and good sportsmanship reflects strong character.

Trying challenging things and failing builds sportsmanship, and MMA training challenges kids. No one is a superstar on day one. Everything is earned and all bullying is shunned.

Why MMA?

My son loves it and he doesn’t like team sports. Maybe that will change, but until it does, MMA provides all the physical and mental benefits of team sports.

We hear a constant refrain about the dangers facing our children today – Obesity, ADD/ADHD, Stranger Abduction, and Apathy. We also hear about the entitlementality – kids growing up believing they’re entitled to things that must be earned – things that cannot be bestowed from the outside – things that must be grown over time in your soul. To build a strong future we need to help young men and women build a strong character. Unfortunately, for the most part, character isn’t being learned or taught in our schools.

Building strong character begins at home, but a child needs input for many sources, sources that may not be available in every home. As parents we are limited to our own knowledge and perspectives, and for me and Christine, that isn’t enough. Our kids need role models, who can share knowledge and experience, we as parents do not have.

Another Unoffical Lesson Taught in School

The lessons kids learn in school that aren’t part of the official curriculum are the most powerful lessons taught in these institutions. John Taylor Gatto wrote about the unofficial lessons he taught in school.

Today I have one to add to his list.

Respect can be achieved through the purchase and acquisition of status symbols.

Let me explain.

I work with a guy who has two teenage boys in a large suburban public high school. Parking in the school lot is by permit only and costs $180.00 per year.

However, students can park in the lot across street for free but few do.


Student culture has labeled the free lot the “loser” lot.

I would think that the intelligent kids, the entrepreneurial kids, and the healthy kids, would park in the free lot. It’s good exercise to walk a hundred yards more to school and you’ll save almost $200 a year. Why would you throw your money away?

Simple, kids believe having a parking permit makes them a ‘winner.’ Why? They, or more importantly, their parents, can afford to throw money away on a piece of paper. Only ‘losers’ can’t or won’t spend money on a piece of paper that gives them membership in a herd. The parking permit isn’t a parking permit at all, it is a social status symbol and a subtle symbol of conformity.

Free Range Learning

In 1984, during the 9th Grade I skipped 90 days of school, or about half the school year. I spent most of those days reading at the Penn Lake Library in Bloomington MN. The brilliant High School student in this video explains why my behavior wasn’t as stupid as you’d think:

Hat Tip to Dr. Scott McLeod and his outstanding education blog Dangerously Irrelevant. I wish him much success is his effort to revolutionize education.

There’s a lot of us that got absolutely shredded by the current school system. End it, please!

Learning from Brilliant Minds – Marc Andreessen

We have an unprecedented opportunity to educate ourselves today. The gatekeepers of knowledge have been swept away. When I find content like this, I have to share it with you.

Marc Andreessen is brilliant in this interview with Charlie Rose about the future of business.

  • The future will bring more opportunity than ever
  • How business will evolve over the next decade
  • Why hyper-connected kids will build a smarter society
  • How video games are making the life better
  • How to fix the banking crisis

I share my favorite content on twitter. Follow me on twitter.

I also discuss and share my favorite content on friendfeed. Follow me on friendfeed.

Are We Cheating Our Boys Out Of An Education?

Let’s explore the dysfunction of our education system.

The Last Psychiatrist writes about the lengthening of childhood and the damage it is causing our children and our society. The Last Psychiatrist specifically addresses the phenomenon of “Redshirting Kindergartners” which means starting them at 6 instead of 5. This gives them advantages in sports and in academics. It is especially popular with upper income white parents. “Kindergarten Redshirting” happens far more often with boys than girls.

I’m glad The Last Psychiatrist writes anonymously, she speaks heresy. From the post:

Why boys?

It’s obvious to anyone who has ever seen a boy that they appear, as compared to a similarly aged girl, completely retarded.  So it makes sense that affluent parents– any parents– who have the option, will redshirt their five year old boy and hope he gets another year of maturity under his belt so that– and this is my point– he can keep up with the girls. So the problem isn’t simply that boys mature slower than girls, it is that they are required to perform the same exact skills at the same exact time.  Any surprise boys hate school more, “ADHD” is more prevalent, etc?

What’s interesting and upsetting about the discussion of redshirting is that it is phrased in terms of class differences, which are the consequence; and not gender differences, which are a source.  The problem isn’t redshirting, the problem is the school.

Why else are parents doing it? Athletics and…

you have the problem of the parents themselves who are looking for every advantage to give their kids because they don’t know what else to do, they can’t judge what’s valuable or not.  So they look around at other kids and parents, and compete.  They don’t know what the point of an education is, so they say “get into a good college.”  That’s the goal of 18+ years of education.  That single outcome.

For what? They pretend that they have to do these things because the other kids do have these advantages, but they have no faith in the kids themselves– that their outcome will be largely independent of what college they go to or even if they go to college.

College is, in a word, a scam; everything that promotes that goal is therefore doubly so.

I’m a doctor– no one has ever asked where I went to college; no one has ever asked how I did in high school chemistry.   You can argue these things were important then, to get into medical school, but they really weren’t.  Getting Bs instead of As may have meant I went to a different school, but not that I wouldn’t have been a doctor, or a good one, or a bad one.  And since my real education didn’t come from the schools anyway, it’s moot.

Ah! A doctor who speaks the truth. Read the entire post here.

College Overrated? Dare I Say More?

Heresy, right?

The reason I write posts like this is not to trash college but to challenge the conventional mindset that college must be purchased regardless of any cost benefit analysis. I write to give you a different perspective and I write to ask these questions,

  • Is it possible that the current post-secondary educational system is causing social damage to our nation and our world?
  • Is it time to reinvent the entire concept of post-secondary education?

At the macro level most statistics point to a favorable economic outcome for college graduates. But at the micro level, there is little evidence college graduation will produce individual economic advancement. Many students leave college buried in debt without meaningful employment.

Money Magazine asks, “Is College Still Worth the Price?” Tuition is rising twice as fast as inflation while salaries for graduates are falling.

In general, college appears to be a good economic investment, but it may be a poor investment for you.

Charles Murray is one of the few who are saying this. In The Wall Street Journal he writes “For Most People, College is a Waste of Time.” From the beginning he makes a point which is difficult to counter:

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn’t meet the goal. We will call the goal a “BA.”

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that’s the system we have in place.

Is it also possible that the current system is injuring our moral foundation and our society as a whole?

I hope I don’t offend anyone with this analogy, but I believe it is entirely accurate. In fact, it isn’t just an analogy; these institutions (education and racism) were closely related through much of their history. Simply removing the racial laws and regulation has not solved the problem, because the institutions were designed to forcibly segregate and assign artificial value to groupings of human beings with the purpose of creating a manageable orderly society. They are still functioning as designed. At the top end we have the Ivy League, at the bottom the prison system.

When Mr. Murray says, “stigmatize everyone who doesn’t meet the goal” he is referring to what I call intellectual apartheid, a system which segregates vast swaths of our society, not by true ability or potential, but by their ability to perform for the bureaucrats who manage institutions designed to create artificial scarcity. Our current educational system was developed when scientific racism was the norm. It was a time when the elite believed (and some still do) in the scientific management of people and social interactions.

Mandela said,

The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity – Nelson Mandela

The greatest damage is done when the oppressed begin to believe they are inferior and when the oppressor believes they are superior. These beliefs are then reflected in our actions and persist for generations after the damaging institutions are removed.

Ergotron – Ergonomic Wellness Through Innovation

You guys out in the blogosphere spend a ton of time on your computers and you need to take care of your neck and your eyes and your back and your wrists and well… yourself, because hours in front of a computer can wreak havoc on your body.

We have some cool things going on at Ergotron (that’s where I work) that will help keep you well when you spend time at your laptop or desktop.

We just created this hilarious video (it’s funny – it really is – I swear – watch it) which clearly illustrates why you need to go dual with a laptop and monitor and get them off your desk and make them height adjustable:

Another cool thing is… we have a CEO who blogs! When Joel took the leadership position at Ergotron he created a set of expectations and behaviors he felt we must embrace to become a great company. #7 is We Will Accept No Walls or Barriers Between Us and Our Customers. His openness to blogging reflects our principles and is one the reasons I am proud to say I work at Ergotron.

Education vs. Schooling

A Guest Post by Sol Smith

The idea of institutionalized education is something that I have dedicated much of my life to. I have a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing and am a few short semesters away from a Doctorate of Education. While I teach students how to write for a living, there are aspects of education that I have major reservations about. As Mark Twain said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” There are, no doubt a myriad of advantages to be found in going to school and earning degrees; it is mostly to doing this that my family owes much of our livelihood. However, for many people who go to school, building up debt and spending valuable years, they will leave with a distinct disadvantage. I don’t mean to be disparaging. Certainly the degree will perform as it should on any resume and speak for the hard work of the owner. But for those who treat a college degree as an “education,” they will leave school more ignorant than when they entered.

The completion of school is not the completion of an education, it is simply a point of departure. If you take a literature class–or major in literature–and suppose that you now know what literature is, there is little that can save you. But if you see what you have learned about literature, and the books that you’ve read, as the topmost part of a mountain that sticks out of the ocean, with millions of works that you will never know no matter how long you continue reading after college under the surface, you’ve come a step closer to understanding what literature is. The same thing goes for all the subjects you can be taught–they can never be fully learned.

The danger comes when someone completes their schooling and makes the mistake of thinking they’re finished. Far from it. A degree comes with it a grave responsibility–to continue a quest for an education for the rest of your life. And this is a grave indeed, since the very awareness of this reality comes with the knowledge that your quest will be a futile one. Your quest is destined to fail, and as you learn more, you should only learn that there is so much more that you haven’t learned.

We don’t tell you this in school. We’re peddling a product. For you to earn your degree, you needn’t learn much. Even to get a doctorate, you don’t have to learn anything original. Instead what you really learn in college–or any other level of schooling–is how to navigate the system. Though you may be exposed to wonderful ideas, works, theories, and discoveries, these are simply side-effects of your primary mission in school: to conform. You will have proven to your educators that you can do everything exactly how they want you to. And that way, you have learned to think like they do. Without the gift of original thought, and armed with the notion that you are now an educated person, you cease to be a force of change and movement in the intellectual universe. In short, you’re not a threat to the status quo, but another cog in the mechanism that will keep the machine running. You will get a fine job, a fine credit card, and work your life to promote the thoughts, ideas, and passions of other people.

This starts in childhood. We are told what things are, and therefore what they are not. We are shown a world of black and white–of binary. But the expanses of our reality and of who you can be and what you can accomplish are not so clear-cut. As parents, we should encourage our children to question the reality we illuminate for them. We need to keep in mind that everything we think we know is hearsay, after all. Interpretations should be welcome and encouraged. As teachers, we should recognize that many of our most gifted students won’t do well in our classes. The general route of shaming them and giving them lower grades to denote their deficiency is a tool of conformity and little else. And as people who wish to be educated, we should realize that we know nothing without experiencing it ourselves. This experience, we should be striving to broaden, with enthusiasm every day. And with this in mind, we can hope that our children will do the same.

Sol Smith is a writer and professor of writing living in The Woodlands, Texas. He has two daughters, Solstice and Luna, and one lovely wife who is probably a much better blogger than he. He makes it a habit of riding his bike to work as often as he can, since he feels that this practice establishes ethos, even though most people don’t ride their bikes at all. He maintains a blog about engaged parenting as a guide to new fathers who want to be more than society feels they should be, at

The Joy of Reading

In a recent post, Rick Cockrum asked the question, Can You Spell Bibliophile? Rick, thanks for the question. 

My love affair with books goes back to my earliest memories. I can’t imagine a world without real tangible books you can hold in your hands.

Books are my DOC (Drug of Choice)

I cherish my memories of…

Sitting next to my mother, wafts of coffee and chocolate drifting through the air, while she read The Hiding Place aloud.

Long subarctic North Dakota nights, howling winds, swirling snow crystals sliding across the windows, and my mother’s voice reading me The Emancipation of Robert Sadler.

The Fargo Public Library where I sat alone on the floor with a pile of books for hours, lost in other worlds.

As a schoolboy, being left alone for entire afternoons at B. Dalton Booksellers in West Acres Mall. I could have gone to the arcade or the toy store but I didn’t. Instead I read.

Skipping school and spending the day alone reading at the public library.

Today, I’d say we have between 5,000 and 10,000 books in our house, most of which are for sale. I live in a book store and it is a dream come true.


I’m going to take this meme in a different direction and just tell you what I have been reading over the last month or so and then list some of my all time favorite authors.

Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I keep a copy of this book on my night stand and I read passages nightly.

The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy
This explores why people buy and how to sell to them. Brian says that all buying is emotional and every good salesman knows it. I concur. He also states that you never lose a deal on price. I disagree. I just watched a large deal come down to price. The salesman from the ‘expensive’ company performed as Brian Tracy coaches and he lost the deal on price. This book is worth the read because there is a lot to learn from it, but Tracy is dead wrong on price because price is the most emotional issue surrounding a purchasing decision. People think price is a simple unemotional math calculation, but it isn’t. If it was, all salaries in a corporation would be published on the corporate intranet, because after all, they are just numbers, right? But they aren’t published because people get emotional about the price they are getting paid for their labor. It is the same with all transactions. Most people use money to value themselves and others. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t care how much money they made relative to others. Differences over money results in more divorces than any other conflict, which should tell you something about our relationship with money. Our relationship with money is very similar to our relationship to sex. The wrong price can make people feel angry, hurt, insulted, afraid, or foolish. The right price can make people feel smart, happy, courageous, or wealthy. Have you ever been happy with a product until you found out someone else got a lower price? Then how did you feel?

Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble
This is the Bible on corporate business blogging by the best in the business. This book gives us a look inside the borg and how blogging helped Microsoft turn its image around. Robert Scoble is an inspiration. He beat the odds and won with integrity, innovation, and courage.

I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrerre
Philip Dick had an amazing mind; the kind that fascinates me. A mind that breaks the patterns of our mass media, government educated consciousness. I expected a fair impartial account of Philip Dick’s life, but some of Carrerre’s prose reads more like fiction than biography. He tells some accounts as though he witnessed them as an omnipresent consciousness, using details he couldn’t have known, like Philip Dick’s thoughts, which makes me suspect of Carrerre’s objectivity. The real “Dickheads” don’t like this book. I’m not a “Dickhead” but I am still suspect of Carrerre’s account. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the work and Emmanuel’s prose is among the best in the business.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff
The best three paragraphs I’ve read this year are from this book:

This purpose entails three and only three governmental functions. In Ayn Rand’s statement, these are: the police to protect men from criminals – the armed services to protect men from foreign invaders – the law courts to settle disputes among men according to objective laws. Any additional function would have to involve the government initiating force against innocent citizens. Such a government acts not as man’s protector, but as a criminal.

Government is inherently negative. The power of force is the power of destruction, not of creation, and it must be used accordingly, i.e. , only to destroy destruction. For a society to inject this power into any creative realm, spiritual or material, is a lethal contradiction: it is the attempt to use death as a means of sustaining life.

The above means, first of all, that the state must not intervene in the intellectual and moral life of its citizens. It has not standards to uphold and no benefits to confer in regard to education, literature, art, science, sex (if adult and voluntary), or philosophy. Its function is to protect freedom not truth or virtue.

Leonard translates Ayn’s philosophy into layman’s terms. I like how he brings much of her philosophy into the post Soviet world and uses the demise of international socialism/communism as an example of Ayn’s philosophy. At the root, our economic and social problems come from too much central management, not too little. Many people see a social or economic problem and think the government should solve it. This book illustrates the folly of this thinking. The forced government s
olution will
either make the problem worse or create a larger “blowback” from somewhere else.


A few of my favorite authors: Thoreau, Emerson, Twain, Orwell, Huxley, Rand, and Hill.

Child Creativity Linked With Outdoor Free Time

Are children today getting enough contact with the natural world? Do they still dig in the dirt, build forts, and observe the animals frolic in the trees? Do you remember the hours of fun you had in the woods with just a stick and your imagination? With all of our technology and entertainment it is easy for children to miss out on the natural outdoor free play that studies show is critical for developing creativity

Parents sometimes let their kids outside. But is it enough to just be outside? Isn’t it sometimes…well…a little…plastic? It’s better than nothing, but this playground stands in sharp contrast to what I am about to share with you.

Early this fall, at the University of Minnesota Arboretum, we discovered “under the oak,” a natural place for children. If you get a chance, visit it. It’s wonderful. We need more places like this.

When you approach the area you’ll see this sign reminding us about how important it is for children to have free time to develop in nature:


The massive oak tree beyond the sign looks like this. 

Here is a close up of the “Toad Abode” 

Under the tree, kids can build and play in natural tunnels… 

And forts… Watch Out! Ya might get poked with a stick! Don’t tell the safety nazis. 

Someone built this cool fort… Check out the canvas roof… 

I don’t think that stick was meant to be a weapon… but… well… boys will be boys.

This is the view from the inside.

You can build your own canvas tent… 

Or set up shop and pretend you’re a little entrepreneur… 

Or set the table. But my son wanted to make little paths out of the plates. 

Until he found something more interesting. 

We had hours of fun under that old oak tree… 

In the background of this photo you can see some cornstalks. That’s a garden with sunflowers and vegetables and other plants, where the kids are encouraged to touch everything. 

Next to the garden is a green house with a variety of things we can’t grow in Minnesota like cacti and citrus fruit. Again, the kids are encouraged to touch everything, even the cacti – ouch! 

I wish we had a playground like this in every neighborhood. Maybe… someday. Until then, I’m grateful we have this one. 

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This post is part of the Season of Gratitude at the Balanced Life Center.