Learning How to Learn

My daughter is studying for her SAT—her college admissions test. I never took the SAT because I got a D in Algebra in high school, twice. I took the class again, to advance to geometry, but got the same grade, forced to take it from the same teacher that didn’t explain anything the first time. No, it isn’t “just the way it is,” Mr. Mulvaney. Even algebra has a reason for why it works the way it does.

I didn’t take the SAT because I was afraid I’d fail it with no math background. In fact, every time I even thought of math, I felt anxious. I was a failure, stupid if I didn’t get it, as most of my classmates seemed to. I couldn’t apply to a California university, or any four year college worth attending without taking the SAT. Instead, I attended Jr College for two years before transferring over to CSUN. I studiously avoided math classes, as they were not required after high school.

Fast forward 5 years, and I want to apply to graduate school to study Education. Not only will I have to take GRE, which will have math, but before that, to apply to the best colleges, I have to have teaching experience, in a real classroom, which will require I pass the CBEST, which has math. Panic. How was I supposed to pass any standardized test when I never passed algebra, and never advanced to higher levels of math that was sure to be on these tests?

Enter my friend, Bert. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll teach you algebra, and geometry, and any other basic math you need. You’ll pass the tests.”

He had to be kidding. “I failed algebra twice! I’ll never be able to learn all the math I need to pass these tests.”

“Don’t be absurd. You are one of the smartest people I know. Of course you can learn math.”

The familiar terror was choking. Did he not hear me. I FAILED IT TWICE, and never advanced. I’m just not a math person. “I suck at math!”

“Not likely,” he said with confidence. “More likely, you got turned off of it by some careless teacher, and the gates in your brain shut down. All you need to do is get out of your own way. Open your brain back up, so you can learn what you need to know.”

“I’m an artist, a qualitative person, not quantitative. I hate math.” I was trying not to kill his delusion that I was smart.

“But you need to know it to pass these tests, to do what you want with your life. You have some worthy goals. Make them happen. I’ll help you.”

I didn’t want his help. I didn’t want to learn math, or, more likely not learn math, prove to him, and myself, how stupid I really was. He was being so kind it was impossible to keep defending myself. But I still did not believe him. I knew I wasn’t smart enough for advanced math.

“Here’s the deal,” he said, when I didn’t jump at his offer. “Remember the show Get Smart?”


“Remember the opening? Max enters that hallway with the thick metal doors that slide open one by one as he approaches them. And each slams shut behind him as he walks down the hall?


“Well, that’s what your brain is doing when you think of math. The doors, or gates to learning are shutting down in your head. You are so freaked out because some lazy teacher made you feel stupid, and you bought it, hook, line and sinker. Stop it! You’ll make a great teacher, or professor, or whatever you want to do with education. Learn math, and move forward.”

“You make it sound simple.”

“But it is. You just have to open the gates in your brain that make it possible to learn, well, anything.” He smiled. I did too, couldn’t help it. With his words, he’d just introduced hope.

We were sitting at Jerry’s Deli, in L.A., at the time. Bert takes the pen the waiter left to sign for our bill, and an unused napkin, and writes out a quadratic equation. I frowned, felt anxious. Here we go. Now he’ll see how stupid I really am.

“I can see by your face, you’re already freaking out.” He laughed. I scoffed. “This is good!” He was clearly excited. I felt pissed off, embarrassed. “Let’s explore that feeling. Talk to me about it, what does it feel like?”

“I feel scared, and stupid.”

“That’s your first two gates. Big, thick, metal doors shutting you out of learning. So, let’s start with feeling stupid, because that’s likely why you’re feeling scared, that I’ll see you, or you’ll see yourself, as stupid.”


“Do you think you’re stupid?”

“With math!”

“Our brains don’t work that way. You can’t just be stupid in one area. Either you have a functioning brain, or you don’t. Most of us have functioning brains. Are you telling me you don’t believe you do?”

I thought about that. Of course I have a functioning brain. I graduated college. I got good grades, even in high school, except for math. “I have an OK brain, I guess.”

He laughed. “So, there goes your first gate. Poof! It’s gone. It was bullshit anyway. Good riddance. Every time you think of math, or we work on equations, notice how you feel. Pay attention to how your brain is operating. Examine the messaging it’s feeding you, and the bullshit it’s telling you. Qualitatively break it down to check if it’s right. Every time your brain says, “I can’t do this. I’m not smart enough,” call BULLSHIT. YES, I AM SMART ENOUGH! Then go back to the problem, and work at figuring it out.” He took a sip of his tea, and smiled at me. “Work at it long enough, and hard enough, and you will.”

The gates in my brain…I could literally feel them all of a sudden. Bert was right. Every time I even thought of math the gates in my brain shut down. And not only with math. Every single time I found it hard to learn something, anything, I now could see it was me, getting in my own way, allowing my brain to convince me of bullshit. All I had to do was examine my own feeling more carefully, embrace the ones that supported my success, and reject those that didn’t.

I learned algebra and geometry in a three week refresher course offered through the CBEST testing program. I passed the test, and subsequently my GRE, and though I never followed through with my graduate degree in education, as my career, and having kids became my priority, I now teach at some of the top universities on the planet.

I now know, with enough hard work, I can learn, well, anything.

Thanks, B, for giving me the gift of learning how to learn!

What is SEXISM?

My father raised me to believe my mother was ignorant. “Your mother, (implying like most women) is irrational. Fickle. Full of love and lightness, but not really a [deep] thinker.”

All women were (are) not as…capable as men, as the woman’s primary job—her role in society of mom, caretaker, homemaker—doesn’t take much real work, or brain power, according to my father. (His ignorance is only surpassed by his arrogance, as he left the raising his children to what he’d deemed his nescient wife.) He actually said to me, “Isn’t it odd that women can’t walk and talk at the same time,” and stopped to tell me this, in all seriousness, while we were walking.

My father thought he was inherently smarter than my mother, or any woman. He was a MAN, after all. He was well read, had to be for business in the real world, unlike silly homemakers. (My mother read the newspaper daily, news magazines monthly, new non-fiction and fiction monthly. My father read only Scientific American and Popular Mechanics, and watched TV. Cop shows, like Magnum PI mostly, where the main, white male character was rescuing ditsy, busty women.)

My mother graduated high school at 16, and attended Florida State University two years before most of the classmates she left behind in New Jersey. My father has no degree beyond high school.

My father went through five or more businesses, several of which failed, none of which ended up in substantial wins. My mother started a pilot magnet program at Cabrillo Marine Museum for underprivileged East L.A . kids, to teach them marine science. For almost 20 yrs she touched thousands of lives, many of whom I met personally, in the store or gas station, when they stopped my mom to gush that they were now oceanographers and scientist because of her program. As a woman, she made 1/3 of the men whom she worked beside, offering comparable programs.

What is SEXISM?

Sure, most of us will agree equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender is an important step in ending sexual inequality. According to Forbes, the top paid actress of 2016 is Emma Stone, at $26M. Actor Mark Wahlberg, made $68 million. Women had only 28% of the speaking roles in major movies, and Emma is the first women, at #15, of highest paid Hollywood stars. (Women are half of the human population, yet no actress is even close to #2, 3, 4….)

In 2017, 54 years after the United States passed the Equal Pay Act, on average, a woman earns 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.

So, why, even today, are women fighting so hard for equal pay, which most of us agree is one obvious step to ending SEXISM?


My father was born in 1929, when MEN WERE MEN, and everyone ‘knew their role.’ His mother, my grandmother, was a homemaker. His father, my grandfather, was a pianist for the New York Philharmonic, and the breadwinner for his family. To make it through the depression years, and the harsh realities of being a Jew through WW2, each family member had a role, a function to fulfill to assure the family unit was maintained—literally stayed alive, however modest an existence.

Back then, many jobs required physical labor suited to a man’s physiology, as technology wasn’t here yet. There were no robotics building our cars or manufacturing our appliances. Go back further in time, all the way back to our caveman days, and you’ll find a distinct division of labor. It took the strength of many men to kill a mastodon, and they had to work as a group to do this. There is an adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and women naturally took on this role as the childbearing sex. But make no mistake about it, it took a community for both sexes to fulfill the often integrated tasks of their respective roles.

Fast forward to present day. Last Sunday my husband is reading me an article on the feminist #MeToo movement, in the New York Times, while I cook pancakes for him and our two teens. At the end of the article he sighs heavily, his ‘this is absurd’ sigh, and says, “It gets so tiresome hearing women complain how hard they have it. It’s equally hard on men, and always has been.”

I looked at him incredulously, and said, “How many times have you been sexually assaulted on the job?”

He didn’t respond to my rhetorical question. I already knew his answer. Zero. He didn’t turn my question around. He knew an investor in my very first startup tried to rape me in my office at our Christmas party, then fired me that night for not letting him assault me. He knew my second job out of college, as an Art Director for 1928 Jewelry Company, the CEO came into the empty conference room moments after me, introduced himself, and instead of taking my outstretched hand, squeezed my breast, as if checking the firmness of an orange. I’ll never forget, he said, “Mmm, Nice!” before I pulled away, shamed as others I’d yet to meet walked in.

My husband wasn’t at my housewarming party, when a relative accompanying an invited guest tried to assault me when I found him at my work-space on my Mac. I could go on, but you get my point. And even knowing all this, my husband is “sick of hearing women whine about how hard we have it.”

Can’t blame him, really. My father-in-law talked down to my mother-in-law, probably all their lives together, but clearly in the 20 years I’d been on the scene of their married life. He was cruel and cutting with a continual barrage of snide ‘jokes,’ if he listened to her at all. My husband tells tales of his mom going ballistic on his dad every few months, probably when she’d had enough of trying to communicate with him while he verbally slammed her, or, by and large, ignored her.

To this day, most men do not BELIEVE a woman is as ‘equal’ to them, as other men.

The problem is, most women BELIEVE this too. We do not feel ‘equal.’ Why would we? We get paid less for the same job. Our bodies are more valued then our minds (as most men can’t seem to get their brain out of their little head). Women are rarely taken seriously by the overwhelmingly male controlled business world, nor in our home environments.

How many women reading this post did most of the cooking and serving of your last holiday meal, even with a career/job? How many of you do most of the cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring of the kids, even working full time? The fact is, according to the 50 news articles I just read, women still do 80 – 90% of all domestic chores, including kid care, regardless of her job status. Equal pay for equal work, of course, but also equal WORK must be invested by both genders to reach sexual equality.

How do we get there from here? I honestly have no idea, other than to stand up, and say “NO! Not OK,” whenever you are a victim, or see the action of SEXISM.

Since the mastodons are all gone, and we can now buy packaged meat at Safeway, we no longer require the muscular physique of the male physiology to survive as a race. While most women have always brought to the table of any union equal intellectual, logistical and financial support, men are rapidly losing their position of strength, literally and figuratively. Our bodies and minds are adapting to the changing needs of our time. In fact, we are getting fat! Obesity is at an all time high, close to 40% of the population in some states now, and rising fast! (Think Pixar’s Wally.)

Men have dominated the business world from the beginning, and this too must change. They have created an ugly, psychologically and sociologically corrosive environment with their continual attacks against women, to keep us ‘in our place.’ It isn’t “locker room talk.” It is degrading, and women buy into it, thinking our value really is just in our breasts and vagina. At the very least, women are made to feel we must acquiesce to this humiliating behavior men dish out to be heard at all, at work or home.

This BELIEF, that women are lesser than men, by both genders must end, before SEXISM is a non-issue.

Humans, all of us, ACT as we BELIEVE. Change the BELIEF, and change the ACTIONS of SEXISM.



Why #DACA MUST STAY, and #Republicans MUST GO! U.S. #Dreamers are worth far more than ANY MEMBER OF CONGRESS: http://jcafesin.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-necessity-of-immigration.html






LOVE to hear YOUR thoughts on Trumpy killing DACA! Good or bad for U.S.?


Sick of Rejection because of Ageism?

Then start something! J. Cafesin: #StartUp @ 45: http://jcafesin.blogspot.com/2014/07/startup-45.html

…I responded to an ad for a Traffic Manager position at an ad agency in San Francisco a few years ago. Downtown, in one of those glass monoliths. Eighteenth floor. Made me nauseous being up there. I couldn’t help consider the notion of an earthquake as I sat in the lobby waiting for my interview to begin, staring out the floor to ceiling windows at the city far below me.
An older gentleman, at least 20 years my senior, sat in the lobby with me. Probably in his mid-50s, receding hairline with only a tuft left on top of his head, but the sides were still full and more salt than pepper. His bushy, though well-groomed mustache was equally gray. He wore a wedding ring, black slacks and a white shirt under his gray suit jacket which did not conceal his slightly protruding belly…
UC Berkeley

Summer Viewing 4 Kids

Put together an #educational #video viewing list 4 my kids, 4 summer. Feel free to add to it in comments: J. Cafesin: SummerViewing4Kids http://jcafesin.blogspot.com/2014/06/summer-viewing-4-kids.htmleducational