altThey're Your Kids:  An Inspirational Journey from Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate by Sam Sorbo (Reveille Press, 2016)

I usually ignore the suggestions my Kindle pops up for me to read, but I'm a sucker for homeschooling stories, especially at $2.99. This one both pleased me and was woefully disappointing.

The pleasure came in the second part of the book, which describes the family's experience with homeschooling. I love these personal tales, whether the author shares my own educational philosophies or not. Homeschooling stories are infinitely varied and, to me, endlessly interesting. The Sorbos' adventures are no exception.

The disappointment came, as disappointment usually does, through foiled expectations.

I had read that the inspiration for the family to begin homeschooling came because the parents' careers (acting, modelling, writing) took them on the road a lot. "Aha," I thought. This could be the solution to a problem that has been troubling me.

Because we were homeschoolers before that educational option became popular—indeed, before it became legal in many states—my lovingly amassed collection of homeschooling stories is very old. Not that anyone's personal experiences can really become outdated, but I know that those currently homeschooling or considering the option would like to hear voices from the current century.

Moreover, while homeschooling was initially primarily a left-wing, "hippie" kind of movement, it was later enthusiastically adopted by Christians who had their own reasons for distrusting government schools, and many of the more recent stories have an unabashedly religious base. Nothing wrong with that—but it muddles the issues in some people's minds.

Knowing that They're Your Kids was from a family of traditionally secular, left-wing professions, I anticipated that it would provide a much-needed, different perspective.

It doesn't. Far from it. The beginning of the book is filled with the kind of anti-public-school ranting that the more secular folks associate with right-wing extremism, and which embarrasses so many of us who still consider ourselves both Christian and politically more right than left. Especially painful is that the author, like so many others, fails to distinguish the Common Core standards from some of the highly objectionable implementations. It's the kind of diatribe that may pump up those who already agree, but will turn off nearly everyone else.

Despite all this, I certainly don't regret buying They're Your Kids. It costs more than $2.99 to buy a bag of chips!  What I'd recommend is skipping over the first part of the book and getting right into the Sorbos' story. Every homeschooler's story has a unique perspective and new ideas

I do have one more warning; it's for my readers who are trying to teach multiple levels and wrangle toddlers at the same time:  Just ignore the part where she says her three kids get everything done in three hours.  (We only had two and never finished in three hours.)

Herewith some of my favorite quotes:

“No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest - for it is part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.” — T. S. Eliot

As good a job as the educators [at the Classical Christian school] were doing, I realized Shane was no longer at liberty to pursue his mathematics to his heart’s content. Now he was on a treadmill, along with his entire class.

I realized that teachers are, in fact, traffic control cops, and so my son was simply good at being herded. “What about his academics?”

“He’s doing fine...”

“Fine” was an unacceptable accolade, when I’d seen him love learning at home.

[Schools] adopt a plan that levels the expectations, by slowing down the better performers. Although this approach may seem counter-intuitive, it’s much easier to hold back the advanced students than try to accelerate the less gifted ones.

If revered institutions don’t complete the textbooks, why was I holding myself to such a high standard? Because I’m a perfectionist… but that’s unhealthy for my kids and me. I decided that just because I have high standards doesn’t mean I must follow and complete an entire curriculum to find educational satisfaction.

Keep your eye on the ball. Learning is the goal, the textbook is just a tool.

[A]t the risk of losing them to boredom or frustration, I err on the side of caution—everything in moderation. We cover the basics until I see they understand, confident that review is coming. This way, the loves of my life aren’t burdened with my obsessive perfectionism, agonizing to complete tomes of structured learning. I’d rather we concentrate on enjoying the process instead.

Early in life I’d learned to choose the hard thing, because boredom was worse than hard work.

Sometimes, you have to do something that’s hard simply because it is hard—to practice, to build strength.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Edit
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Last year I had the privilege of reading and reviewing S. D. Smith's The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston.  I'm thrilled to report that a new episode in the adventures of #RabbitsWithSwords will be available soon.  The Kickstarter campaign for Ember Falls is almost over and has exceeded its goal—though I'm certain that if anyone wants to become a last-minute backer they will be as welcome as the earliest.

For some reason, the trailer isn't imbedding properly here and I can't find it on YouTube, but you can see it at the Kickstarter link.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Edit
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The headline of this article from the Orlando Sentinel sounds positive: Poor students faring better in Orlando than most cities.

Then you begin to wonder, what does that mean, faring better?  Are poor students in Orlando doing better than they once were?  Or has the achievement of poor students in the other cities declined at a faster rate than in Orlando?

The subheadline doesn't help: Gap between low-income and wealthier students is narrowing in Orlando.

This, it turns out, is the main thrust of the article, the reason the school system is patting itself on the back.

A new measure called the "education equality index," compares the performance of low-income and more affluent students on state standardized tests in cities and states across the country. ... Of the 100 cities included in the study, Orlando had the 16th smallest gap.

Oh, joy.

What is missing, entirely, from the article is any misgivings about how, exactly, this gap-narrowing has been achieved. Was it truly by raising the achievement levels of students from impoverished backgrounds, or have the other students slipped?  The latter is much more easily accomplished, and in all my research on the subject—schools in the North and the South, public and private, at every level—most administrators are far less concerned about actual achievement than they are that there should be equality of outcome in all their demesne. 

  • The principal who told a friend, who was concerned about her daughter's lack of progress, "Your daughter is smart, lives with both her parents, and has breakfast every morning. I don't have time to worry about anyone who has such advantages."
  • The administrator who announced, "The purpose of kindergarten is to get everyone to the same level."
  • Those in a large school district who strove to dismantle one school's highly successful Advanced Placement program, because it made the other schools in the district look bad.
  • Story after story of teachers who reached out to students others had given up on, and brought them to the highest levels of achievement, only meet obstruction at every step of the way from those who preferred an easy mediocrity.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Orlando's students are all achieving at increasingly high levels. But my experience leads me to be doubtful. And even more concerned about the reporter's own easy acceptance of this as good news.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 27, 2016 at 7:05 pm | Edit
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I still wonder why it's called snobbery to believe that language should have standards. But more so I wonder how I became a grammar snob, given that my own education in the subject was so bad. One year we learned about nouns and verbs, the next about Class 1 and Class 2 words, then something else, as educational fashions changed—and then I think the teachers just gave up. So nearly all I know about grammar came from French class, from reading good books, and from listening to my parents, who spoke well themselves. I still can't explain why something is right, but for the most part I know it when I hear it.

Come to think of it, maybe that's actually why I care about good grammar: if what we read and what we hear can no longer be counted on to help us intuit the rules of a language, what is to become of those whose schools fail them?

And on the point of the comic, school failed us almost at once. I can't imagine that "on accident" was actively taught, but I do know that Heather had not been in a school environment very long before the phrase became cemented in her vocabulary, so I doubt much effort was put into correcting it. Then again, maybe the teachers tried—but peer influence is so terribly strong. Certainly I tried. But as I said, I may (usually) know what's right when it comes to the English language, but I still lack the tools to be persuasive about it.

Anyway, this comic made me smile, because it gibes both ways.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 13, 2016 at 6:22 am | Edit
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I'm glad I discovered Kids Mode on my mobile phone: On my last visit Vivienne managed to change my display to greyscale. Kids Mode is somewhat protective.

Our grandkids are very good about taking "no" for an answer, but the question is frequent: Grandma, may I use your phone?

Joseph (5) wants to play PEAK brain-training games. Vivienne (4) is frustrated that most of the PEAK games are still beyond her but loves to watch videos, look at pictures, and use the Kids' Mode camera, sound recorder, and other features. Daniel (2) has but one desire: to watch the two videos I made of pictures of the U.S. states flashing by in sync with an excerpt from the song, Fifty Nifty United States. (Daniel is obsessed with states and loves to sing along, ending with a resounding, "WY-OMING!") Ellie (10 months) is too young to have a favorite app, but figures anything her siblings want so badly must be a good thing, and goes after the phone every chance she gets. My Samsung Galaxy S5 is supposed to be water resistant, but I'm not inclined to test it against saliva and her sharp little teeth. Her turn will come soon enough.

I'm not really complaining. The phone is an amazing educational tool and I so enjoy watching the kids learn. Hopefully they will recover quickly from any bad media-related habits, since Grandma's phone is only available when Grandma is around. I'll have to be careful, however. Eagle-eyed Vivienne watches closely as I enter the PIN that restores full control over the phone, and she's probably now beyond just changing the color of the screen. There are some games she'd really like to purchase....

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at 3:34 am | Edit
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Although our choir director might think me heretical, I'm not much of a fan of Broadway shows.  It's not that I don't like musicals; I loved playing in the orchestra pit of the Rosemont Rollicks community theater back in the 70's, and have even enjoyed watching the occasional live performance or movie version.  But I don't go out of my way to see them, and I can't imagine why people would pay outrageous prices to attend a show in New York City.

Maybe that's because whenever I've been in town, I've spent as much time as possible at the New York Public Library.  It's the same with Boston, where I'd skip most of the other sights to have more time at the New England Historic Genealogical Society's library on Newbury Street.  Crazy, I know.

Be that as it may, an Occasional CEO post about entrepreneurship has against all odds made me excited about a new Broadway show.  I'll be happy to wait for a production that is less expensive and closer to home, or on video.  But I want to see "Hamilton."  Check out the opening number (NSFG - language).

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 8:10 am | Edit
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I had a 325-day streak going on my DuoLingo language lessons.  I managed to maintain it through our long plane flight to the Gambia, and through the first couple of days there, even though Internet was spotty and difficult.  But then we went on a five-day trip up-country where there was No. Internet. At. All.  Nada.

DuoLingo allows you to "buy" (with credits) a "streak freeze" by which you can suspend your streak and restart.  That's the theory, anyway.  However, you can only buy such an extension one day at a time, so even though I have so many credits I could suspend for 137 days, that did me no good at all when I couldn't access the Internet for several days in a row.

I'm okay with all this, though I wish DuoLingo had a more useful "suspend" function.  Streaks can be motivating, and the daily reminders certainly helped me establish a good habit.  But while striving to keep up a streak can be a good servant, it's a bad master, and I threw it away without a second thought in favor of an invaluable experience.

My walking/running habit suffered a similar setback this trip.  Travel is great, but very hard on carefully, painstakingly built habits.  I gave myself four days of recovery once we returned, and there is still much that needs to be done before I can say we're settled back in.  But today is the deadline I've given myself for restarting my DuoLingo, exercise, and some other formerly-regular habits.  It's a small step, but if I succeed, it will be the soonest I've ever recovered from a trip.

The burden of important projects that have been neglected since before Thanksgiving (many of them for much longer than that) is likewise weighing heavily on me.  Travel is fun, and more importantly travel is valuable—ten times more so when it means spending time with family and friends.  But if I'm going to continue to enjoy it, I need to be more deliberate in budgeting for project time when we are home.

Plus, for me, the larger part of the travel iceberg lies below the surface:  the processing and writing time.  Not to mention over 1600 photos to sort, evaluate, and organize.

Ganbarimasu!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 1, 2016 at 6:04 am | Edit
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On January 28, 2016, we were preparing to land at the end of our flight across the Atlantic from Paris to Newark, the penultimate leg of a journey home from the Gambia that had begun with a take-off from the emergency Space Shuttle landing site that serves as the Banjul Airport runway.

Thirty years ago, that same Atlantic received the shredded remains of the Challenger and all her crew.

Five years ago I wrote about our own experience watching that disaster unfold, so I won't repeat it, except to add that in all the launches I watched before and since, the vapor trails were quickly dispersed.  That time the sky's tears streaked the cold blue for hours.

What struck me this time, thirty years after the fact, was something I didn't pay much attention to at the time:  President Reagan's speech in response, which he gave instead of his planned State of the Union Address.  It was written by the then relatively unknown Peggy Noonan, and delivered as only the Great Communicator could.

What Reagan (and Noonan) knew, as did Winston Churchill, was how to inspire people to be better than themselves.  You don't make children learn more by telling them how stupid they are; you don't make people love others better by insisting they are racist, sexist pigs; you don't encourage the weak to become strong by pointing out their failures.

Nor do you regale them with how strong and smart they are, and insist "you can be anything you want to be."  You don't imply that success should be easy or that love doesn't require sacrifice.  You don't suggest that the best way to fight terrorism is to continue buying and selling as usual (President Bush after 9/11) or partying on (some Parisians after the recent attacks).

A good leader is not afraid to insist that there is no gain without risk, no success without effort, and no victory without battle.  The way is hard, the road is long, and it is not safe.  A great leader goes on to encourage others to believe that they are the kind of people who will rise to meet the challenges; that the benefits will be worth the cost; and that the way, though difficult, will be sprinkled with joy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 10:15 am | Edit
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2015 turned out to be a good year for reading:  I set a new record (since I begain to keep track in 2010):  72 books, on average six books per month.  The smallest number of books read per month was two, which occurred in both June and August; between those two months, July had the most:  eleven.  By some standards that's not a lot of reading, but it's a good deal more than I was accomplishing before I made reading a priority, and started measuring.

Here's the list, sorted alphabetically.  A chronological listing, with rankings, warnings, and review links, is here.  It's a good mixture of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry; old books and new; short books and tomes.  I enjoyed most of them, and regret none.Titles in bold I found particularly worthwhile.

  1. 1066 and All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman
  2. Artemis Fowl (Book 1) by Eoin Colfer
  3. Artemis Fowl (Book 2): The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer
  4. Artemis Fowl (Book 3): The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer
  5. Artemis Fowl (Book 4): The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer
  6. The Bible
  7. The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman
  8. The Black Star of Kingston by S.D. Smith
  9. A Book of Strife, in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald
  10. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  11. A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
  12. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  13. Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin
  14. England's Antiphon by George MacDonald
  15. Exotics by George MacDonald
  16. Food Foolish by John M. Mandyck and Eric B. Schultz
  17. Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill by Gretchen Rubin
  18. The Gambia in Depth by the Peace Corps
  19. Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story by Ben Carson with Cecil Murphey
  20. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  21. Gutta-Percha Willie by George MacDonald
  22. It All Started with Columbus by Richard Armour
  23. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey
  24. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  25. The Kids from Nowhere by George Guthridge
  26. Legally Kidnapped by Carlos Morales
  27. Life of Fred: Goldfish by Stanley F. Schmidt
  28. Life of Fred: Honey by Stanley F. Schmidt
  29. Life of Fred: Ice Cream by Stanley F. Schmidt
  30. Life of Fred: Jelly Beans by Stanley F. Schmidt
  31. Life of Fred: Kidneys by Stanley F. Schmidt
  32. Life of Fred: Liver by Stanley F. Schmidt
  33. Life of Fred: Mineshaft by Stanley F. Schmidt
  34. Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra with Biology by Stanley F. Schmidt
  35. Love Does by Bob Goff
  36. Malcolm by George MacDonald (much Scottish dialect)
  37. Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James
  38. Manjiro by Hisakazu Kaneko
  39. The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
  40. The Marquis of Lossie by George MacDonald (some Scottish dialect)
  41. The Martian by Andy Weir
  42. Mary Marston by George MacDonald
  43. The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
  44. Old Peter's Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome
  45. Paul Faber, Surgeon by George MacDonald
  46. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
  47. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  48. The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
  49. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
  50. Pioneer Days by Laura Ingalls Wilder, annotations by Pamela Smith Hill
  51. The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
  52. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
  53. The Qur'an translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem
  54. St. George and St. Michael by George MacDonald
  55. The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  56. The SHARP Solution by Heidi Hanna
  57. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie
  58. The Six Fingers of Time and Other Stores from Galaxy Magazine
  59. Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald
  60. The Story of Western Science by Susan Wise Bauer
  61. Stiff by Mary Roach
  62. Thomas Wingfold, Curate by George MacDonald
  63. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  64. Tremendous Trifles by G. K. Chesterton
  65. The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal
  66. The Village on the Edge of the World by A.T. Oram
  67. Warlock o' Glenwarlock by George MacDonald
  68. Weathermakers to the World by Eric B. Schultz
  69. West Africa Is My Back Yard: Ex-Pat Life in The Gambia and Beyond (Part I: Where on Earth is The Gambia Anyway?) by Mark Williams
  70. Wilfred Cumbermede by George MacDonald
  71. The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum
  72. The Wise Woman by George MacDonald
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 7:32 am | Edit
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A friend shared this on Facebook. (Click to enlarge; you'll see later why I want to keep it small.)

alt

I'm not criticizing the sharer, nor the original post, because the ideas this image suggests are valid.  But I was inspired mostly to comment and to ask questions, beginning with:  Where do these facts come from?  I'm not going to answer that one yet, because what I found pretty much makes my other comments unnecessary, and I like them, so I'm going to give them first.

  • Since approximately two-thirds of high school graduates attend college (and therefore presumably read some books), this implies that the people who don't graduate from high school but later enjoy reading are very rare.  Whether or not it's true, it makes sense for the here-and-now, though not in other times and places.
  • That forty-two percent of college graduates never touch a book again I find less believable.  This is a population that presumably enjoys learning—unless they went to college solely because they bought into the fallacious idea that it would guarantee them high-paying jobs.
  • Fifty-seven percent of new books are not read to completion?  Hmmm.  I suspect that 57% of new books aren't actually worth reading to completion, so I'm not sure this is a bad thing.
  • Define "been in a bookstore."  I've read 67 books so far this year, but I can't tell you the last time I was in a bookstore.  When they closed our local Borders, that pretty much sealed my relationship with Amazon.com.  Even before that, the local bookstores almost never had the books I was looking for.  Now if they asked me how often I've been in a library in the past five years, that would be an entirely different story.
  • Define "buy a book."  Does that mean only physical books?  If so, it's disingenuous to leave out e-books.  Likewise, buying a book is not a particularly lofty goal in my mind (though I've spent a fortune on them); I'm a big fan of libraries.  On the other hand, this statistic says that 80% of families did not buy or read a book.  So there's another question:
  • Define "family." There are about 50 million children in American public elementary and secondary schools, which is more than 15% of the entire population, and a much greater percentage of "families" of even the most generous definition (i.e. including any two or more people living together, with or without children).  And it ignores all students in private and home schools, as well as college students.  No matter what they do at home, each of these students must have in the last year read not just one but several books (or been read to, for the non-readers).  So even stretching the definitions out of all reality, I can't make sense out of the 80% figure.
  • And the last one?  Reading an hour a day in one field makes you an expert in seven years?  I wish!  Seven years times 365 days per year is a mere 2,555 hours of reading.

Okay, I've said all that because that's what's currently going around Facebook.  But my first attempt at investigation—from squinting at the fine print at the bottom—led me to this page on Robb Brewer's website.  There he abjurs "any and all connection" to the statistics in the original graphic, and requests that if people are going to publish it, they use this one instead (again, clicking will enlarge the image):

alt

I didn't check these statistics, because Mr. Brewer clearly did.  Except for the last one, which he kept for its feel-good value.

And yes, I had a thousand better things to do than critique a Facebook graphic.  OCD takes many forms.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Edit
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Many thanks to my sister for finding this ray of hope from Oklahoma Wesleyan University after our depressing conversation about the state of higher education, inspired by my Victimizing the Victims post.  University preident Dr. Everett Piper's letter has since gone viral, as well it should have, but that won't stop me from adding my voice.  The letter is short and well worth reading in its entirety, but I will quote only the final two paragraphs.

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.

This is not a day care. This is a university.

Would that this kind of sanity would itself go viral.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 11, 2015 at 6:20 am | Edit
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altThe Kids from Nowhere:  The Story Behind the Arctic Educational Miracle  by George Guthridge (Alaska Northwest Books, 2006)

Jaime Escalante in Los Angeles, Marva Collins in Chicago, John Taylor Gatto in New York City, and George Guthridge in Gambell, Alaska, on the tip of Saint Lawrence Island, as remote as it gets:  What do they have in common?  A lot, it turns out.  Each saw potential in children the educational system had given up on, each led those students to levels of academic excellence that would be envied anywhere, and each ran up against the most unbelievable opposition from other teachers, administrators, and the system itself.    People who rock institutional boats are not generally well-liked, even if—maybe especially if—their results are outstanding.

In some ways George Guthridge reminds me of Bob Goff:  a bit of a loose cannon, initial trouble finding his way in life, an unconventional thinker with an emphasis on action.

(click the image for an interactive version in Google Maps)
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Guthridge, along with his wife and two school-aged daughters, moved to a small, isolated Alaskan Native village on an island near Siberia.  The school in which they were to teach was troubled, threatened with closure, and expected almost nothing of its students.  Teachers rarely lasted more than one year, sometimes less, and tended to give out good grades for any number of non-academic reasons:  not wanting to damage the students' self-esteem, to avoid being beaten up, or simply out of laziness.  The students were as unmotivated and disruptive as in any inner-city school written off by the educational system.

Out of this, despite very hostile colleagues and administrators determined to stop him, Guthridge created and coached teams for the Future Problem Solving competition, leading these children—to whom nearly nothing had been given academically and from whom even less had been expected—to two astonishing national championships.

More than just another testimony to the high capacity of children for excellence when they are respected and inspired, and to the criminality of a system that thwarts that excellence, The Kids from Nowhere is valuable for the thought processes by which Guthridge and the students learned to solve their problems.

Not until I was on sabbatical, working on a doctorate, did I start to understand what the kids and I had done ... the welding together of two ladders of learning.  We married Western culture's syllogistic, abstract, linear thinking to the holistic, nonlinear, realistic reasoning of indigenous culture.  The result is a communicator who addresses the world in a new way.

For that reason, and more, I highly recommend this book to any educators, but especially to homeschoolers, many of whom already have a desire to meld different ways of thinking and to look at the world in new ways.

This book was a Christmas gift back in 2013, and I picked it up recently primarily to make progress on 95 by 65 Goal #63 (Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshelves).  I couldn't put it down.  Part of my reasoning behind Goal #63 was to read books and then declutter them.  But too often after I read them I don't want to get rid of them!  This can't just go into the library book sale pile, though I'd be happy to pass it on to a good home—say to a homeschooling daughter?

Oddly enough, I have only three more quotes to add.  I wasn't initially planning to review this book, just to read it and check it off of my list....  That's okay, though.  You should read the whole story.

"[What can you do to] turn common ideas into original ones?" ... With a flourish I open the box and lift the funnel in triumph. ...  "You funnel down the ideas," I say, holding the thing before them like a chalice. ... "Make them smaller.  General ideas are almost never original ideas," I tell them.  "That's because almost everyone knows general information. ... To have any hope of having original ideas, you have to be very precise. ... In writing, it's the little things that are important, not the general ideas.  The same is true for Problem Solving.  You funnel down the general to the specific."

So many faculty fear disappointing students that each kid ends up with several Certificates of Achievement.  There seems to be little room for anything except success in contemporary education, as if no one fails in the real world.  The trashcan outside the gym ends up with most of the certificates.

When Bruce and I review what are supposed to be rough drafts, I am stunned at how much the kids understand about genetic engineering....  The depth of their learning is almost comical, were it not so impressive.  Because Bruce and I have made no distinction between the simple and the complex the kids don't either.  They accept as second nature concepts that other kids might groan over. [emphasis mine]

At least at the time of publication, all the royalties from The Kids from Nowhere were being donated to build a school in the Himalayas.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 6, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Edit
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Today is the commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.  I will set aside any worries over small details like calendar changes, and big details like historical accuracy, because Shakespeare's Henry V is a wonderful play, and his St. Crispin's Day speech one of the most inspiring and uplifting of all time.  Kenneth Branagh does it best.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 25, 2015 at 7:38 am | Edit
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Long ago, my friends who are university professors shared their frustration that their students were coming to college woefully under-performing in mathematics—even the math majors.  How could they teach the college-level math they were charged to impart to their students, when those students hadn't even grasped the math they were supposed to have learned in high school, or even earlier?

This article shows that non-technical fields have similar problems.  (H/T BJT)

When Michael Laser attempted to teach expository writing on the university level, he ran into a major glitch:  his students couldn't construct basic, readable sentences.

The teaching of writing has become an academic specialty with its own dominant philosophy, which argues against grammar instruction. But I believe that ignoring awkward writing will prove to be a mistake — an educational fashion that will handicap a generation, until someone shouts, Look at the clumsy writing our students are producing!  I’m not saying the current focus on constructing competent arguments is wrong. But many students arrive at college unable to write grammatically correct sentences, and we need to teach them that skill, too.

I commend Laser for his attempts to fill in the huge gaps in his students' educations, but the most important sentence of his essay is this one:  Their writing may improve with practice as they make their way through college — but they’ve already been practicing for twelve years!

Bingo.  School has swallowed thirteen or more years of these adult children's lives, and disgorged them incompetent in the very basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Colleges are wasting very expensive class time attempting to make up the deficit, but according to Laser, success is elusive.  Have we managed to inoculate our children against learning?  Have they developed a resistance to education over the years, like antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

I can't believe that so many American children have suddenly become stupid; I have to believe that the system is failing them.  Yet even if large numbers of children have started to come into the system without basic competencies—and don't forget, the system gets them younger and younger these days, so they haven't had much time to fall—isn't the end result ample evidence that the system has broken down and needs to be changed?  If they can't learn to add, why don't we give them calculators and train them to be plumbers, a profession that is necessary, can't be sent overseas, and almost certainly will earn them more money than they're likely to get upon graduating from college still incompetent in basic academics and with a mountain of debt besides?

And yet, attempts to require accountability from our schools are met with extreme resistance, not only from administrators and teachers and unions, but even from parents.  The last astonishes me.  What I wouldn't have given for a system that provided a clear measure of what my children knew going into a school year and what they knew coming out, coupled with the ability to make educational choices based on that information!  In all the kerfuffle over so-called high-stakes testing these days, I see with sorrow that administrators don't have sufficient faith in their teachers, and teachers don't have sufficient faith in themselves, to keep teaching as they've always taught.  Tactics such as teaching to the test, repetitive testing, and making a big deal out of the whole thing don't educate children—they only invalidate the results.  This is the equivalent of the college-student trick of pulling an all-nighter the day before an exam, and we all know how much education that engenders.

I'm not denying that there is gold that can be mined from the school system, but there is so much dross, and even the brightest kids are losing, especially when you consider their potential.  Laser writes,

A few bright students will quickly absorb the new concepts; the others will fill out their worksheets on subject-verb agreement almost perfectly, and then write things like, The conflict between Sammy and Lengel are mainly about teenage rebellion.

Note that the students he calls bright, the ones who picked up on what he taught them, found those basic skills to be new concepts.

Again, let me be clear:  I know there are great teachers—our children experienced several of them—and good schools.  I know teaching is a very difficult job, one I could not do.  (I'm a good tutor with students who want to learn.  Give me a whole classroom, however, or a student who doesn't care, and I'd run away, screaming.)  But look around:  How can a system with such a terrible time-and-effort to effectiveness ratio not be broken?  We have taken away the best hours of our children's childhoods, and given them what in return?  Proms?  Football games?  The chance to sit in the same room as their age-mates for hours on end?  A few crumbs of learning that should have been acquired in a fraction of the time?

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 14, 2015 at 6:47 am | Edit
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Today's Dilbert is for all the bright students frustrated by teachers who insist that they show their work.

alt

Don't overthink it; I just think the last panel is funny.

I know it's sometimes important to show the intermediate steps, and what I used to tell my students was that they didn't need to show their work, but that if they didn't, they wouldn't get any partial credit if their answer didn't agree with mine.  Too many teachers, however, don't understand that some students can no more explain the process by which they arrive at the correct answer to a math problem than a fluent reader can detail the steps by which he understands a paragraph.  "Showing your work" becomes a matter of reverse engineering, which is another skill altogether.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 11, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Edit
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