It's far too early to have figured out all the ins and outs of the recent Ohio State killings, but two lessons seem clear to me.
I wish we would not be so quick to label such acts as terrorism. The officials may be cautious, but that doesn't stop the public from making its own hasty judgements. We don't want to dilute the term, and I for one am tired of every act of violence toward more than one or two people being called terrorism. Maybe this was, but my own feeling is that terrorism has to have a broader purpose, such as an ideology or at least a campaign to gain power and intimidate a group of people through fear. Murder/suicide, mental illness, anger, and hatred have been around a long time, and calling them terrorism gives the actions a certain respect that could lead still more deranged people to express their feelings through dramatic forms of murder/suicide.
However he might have cloaked his actions, this attacker sounds more like a lone wolf with personal problems. Calling him a terrorist, no matter how much he may have played into the hands of certain terrorist organizations, is according him a dignity he does not deserve.
Empowering is better than cowering. This article from the Columbus Dispatch explains why Ohio State broadcast the message "Run Hide Fight" to their students during the attack. (Emphasis mine.)
“Run Hide Fight” has become this generation's “Stop Drop and Roll.” It stems from a public-awareness campaign used by the Department of Homeland Security. ... The message is meant to get people to go through a series of steps to ensure survival: Run if they can, hide in a secure place if they can't and, as last resort, fight for their lives.
Dr. Steve Albrecht, an expert on threat assessment in the workplace and schools, said the “Run Hide Fight” protocol has been an effective tool in helping people react in mass-violence situations.
“What I teach in my program is these (attackers) aren’t Navy Seals, they are dumb or mentally ill guys with guns who can be stopped,” said Albrecht, a former San Diego police officer who is now based in Colorado. “You have to give people the mindset that we can fight back, and that we have to wait around for someone to shoot people is wrong. And that’s why the 'Run Hide Fight' approach has worked and fighting back has helped save the day in many of these situations.”
That's pretty much the advice we were given when our homeowner's association had a program on what to do during an "active shooter" situation—which, by the way, the speaker pointed out is a misnomer that we should stop using. A rifle range is full of harmless active shooters, and the killer at Ohio State managed to do a lot of harm without firing a shot. "Active killer," or "active attacker" would be more accurate, though I don't expect the media to change their language anytime soon.
Our speaker had some other good advice, such as:
- When you walk into a room, note where the exits are. Active attackers may actually be rare, but that's good advice for many situations, including fires and having to take your toddler to the bathroom.
- Recognize that guns and knives are not the only weapons available. Chairs, tables, umbrellas, and other items in the room could save your life.
- Know the difference between cover and concealment (both make you more difficult to find, but only cover will stop a bullet).
- Run if you can, and keep running as far as you can. Don't stop just because you have gotten out of the room/building. Many dangerous things will stil be happening. And try to remember to run with your hands up, because the police don't immediately know who the dangerous people are.
- Remember that you won't necessarily know who the police are. In such situations, the police are called in from all over, and may not be in uniform.
- If you are a concealed carrier and have heroically saved the day by shooting the assailant, drop your gun, put your hands up, and step away from the scene. Remember that the police will enter the room intent on stopping a man with a gun in his hand....
It's high time we stopped teaching our children that they are helpless. We don't want them to be so confident they take unnecessary risks, but if we don't give them knowledge and skills and teach them to be courageous in the face of danger—even evil—we're lost.
I’ve created a new category, “Inspiration,” for collecting quotations. I’ll be gleaning from many sources, but at the start it will be mostly from George MacDonald, a consequence of my 95 by 65 goal of reading all of his books.
Can I say that I appreciate my Kindle more and more? I know that I hesitated to get an e-reader, because there’s nothing like the feel (and often the scent) of reading a physical book. I still believe that. And some of MadDonald’s books I’m reading from the delightful Johannesen complete set my father gave to me. MacDonald's book on Hamlet, for example, is much easier to read in physical form, with the text on the left page and his commentary on the right.
But the Kindle lets me bookmark, highlight, and take notes. Even when reading the physical book, I have the Kindle version nearby (easy, because of the phone app) so that I can do that. And then I can copy the quotations instead of transcribing them. It’s so much nicer than the sticky-note-type-it-all routine.
So on with this post’s quotation. The context is the process of restoring to health a severely ill young man. MacDonald wrote in the 19th century, when folks had to get well—if they ever did—without the help of antibiotics and other treatments we take for granted. Often recovery involved long stretches—weeks or months—in bed or with severely restricted activity. As unimaginable to most of us as that is, I think these exercises might still have educational value.
[Mr. Wingfold] began to set [Arthur] certain tasks; and as he was an invalid, the first was what he called "The task of twelve o'clock;"—which was, for a quarter of an hour from every noon during a month, to write down what he then saw going on in the world.
The first day he had nothing to show: he had seen nothing!
"What were the clouds doing?" Mr. Wingfold asked. "What were the horses in the fields doing?—What were the birds you saw doing?—What were the ducks and hens doing?—Put down whatever you see any creature about."
The next evening, he went to him again, and asked him for his paper. Arthur handed him a folded sheet.
"Now," said Mr. Wingfold, "I am not going to look at this for the present. I am going to lay it in one of my drawers, and you must write another for me to-morrow. If you are able, bring it over to me; if not, lay it by, and do not look at it, but write another, and another—one every day, and give them all to me the next time I come, which will be soon. We shall go on that way for a month, and then we shall see something!"
At the end of the month, Mr. Wingfold took all the papers, and fastened them together in their proper order. Then they read them together, and did indeed see something! The growth of Arthur's observation both in extent and quality, also the growth of his faculty for narrating what he saw, were remarkable both to himself and his instructor. The number of things and circumstances he was able to see by the end of the month, compared with the number he had seen in the beginning of it, was wonderful; while the mode of his record had changed from that of a child to that almost of a man.
Mr. Wingfold next, as by that time the weather was quite warm, set him "The task of six o'clock in the evening," when the things that presented themselves to his notice would be very different. After a fortnight, he changed again the hour of his observation, and went on changing it. So that at length the youth who had, twice every day, walked along Cheapside almost without seeing that one face differed from another, knew most of the birds and many of the insects, and could in general tell what they were about, while the domestic animals were his familiar friends. He delighted in the grass and the wild flowers, the sky and the clouds and the stars, and knew, after a real, vital fashion, the world in which he lived. He entered into the life that was going on about him, and so in the house of God became one of the family. He had ten times his former consciousness; his life was ten times the size it was before. As was natural, his health had improved marvellously. There is nothing like interest in life to quicken the vital forces—the secret of which is, that they are left freer to work.
— George MacDonald
There and Back
The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is — not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him ... to make him think things for himself.
— George MacDonald
There aren't many movies I'm so excited to see that I'll venture into a movie theater, but Hidden Figures is one of them. A movie about mathematicians and the early space program? I can't wait. The embedded YouTube trailer will probably not come out. Something has gone wrong and none of my embedded videos currently work in Chrome, Firefox, or IE—at least not for me. On the other hand, they do work on my phone, so I don't know what's going on. But this link will take you there in any case.
I started playing with Duolingo back when it was in private beta, though I didn't make it a regular habit for another year or so. I've been pretty regular since early 2014, however, and I think it's great. I've been doing French and German the longest. I'm at Level 24 in each of them, and have finished all the lessons available in French. I had been on track to finish German not much later, but suddenly the German lessons were revised to add a whole lot more material. I'm not complaining, and hope they will do so for the French at some point. For now, I'm still making my way through new German lessons while constantly reviewing the French. I chose French because that's the language I spent 3.5 years learning in school, and German because of our Swiss family. Sadly, Duolingo has no Swiss German lessons, so High German will have to do. High German is more generally useful, anyway, but I do find myself resenting having to type the eszett, which isn't used in the Swiss version of High German but is required by Duolingo.
At some point in 2015 I added Spanish (now Level 13), out of a feeling of obligation. I live in Florida, and that makes Spanish the most practical foreign language to learn. No doubt because I am learning it for duty rather than love, it is my least favorite of the languages. I'm hoping I'll like it more as I get better at it. It took me quite a while to start liking German....
This spring, when we travelled to Venice, I added Italian (now Level 9), just for fun. I'm enjoying it, especially when I note the similarities and differences with Spanish and French. I'm hoping we'll eventually manage a trip with friends to Cortona, where it will be polite to have at least a little Italian.
Am I learning anything? I'm certainly not becoming fluent. (I have yet to figure out how Duolingo does its calculations. It claims I'm 49% fluent in Spanish, a bald-faced lie if there ever was one.) And even though I practice speaking along with reading and writing, I know I couldn't carry out a decent conversation in any of the languages. Or even a halting, broken conversation.
However, that does not trouble me. What I am doing is increasing my familiarity with the languages, educating my ear and my speech, picking up some grammar and vocabulary, and preparing pathways in my brain for a time when I might have the opportunity to learn in a more interactive situation. I hope that by laying a foundation now, I will make faster progress at that hypothetical time. In any case, it's fun to understand a few things I did not before: When I saw a restaurant named Cena, I recognized the Italian word for "dinner."
It has also been interesting to note changes in my learning as I progress. At the beginning, I made sure to separate my language learning sessions. If I studied French in the morning, I'd tackle German in the evening. Otherwise, I'd get confused. Then suddenly, I didn't. And I really mean suddenly. All at once I could switch between languages with no interval in between. I don't mean that the German word won't sometimes come to me first when I'm working in French, or vice versa, but it doesn't happen often, and it no longer bothers me. The hardest, now, is between Italian and Spanish, because both are new to me and so many words are very similar but not identical.
I do Duolingo both on my laptop and using the app on my phone. The interfaces are different, and each is valuable in its own way. Right now I'm in a routine of using the phone most of the time, because I do my Duolingo lessons as part of my daily exercise (more on that later). For each language I generally do the suggested review ("strengthen") and then one additional lesson (except in French, where I've reached the end). The process is slower on the phone, but since I'm exercising at the same time, that's not a problem. Obviously I can't keep the same learning schedule when we're travelling, but as long as there's an Internet connection available, I can do enough that catching up is not difficult.
It's even more fun to share Duolingo with family members and friends!
The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople by Susan Wise Bauer (W. W. Norton, 2013)
Three years ago, when I finished reading Bauer's The History of the Medieval World, I wrote a brief review. With very minor tweaks it could serve just as well for a review of her history of the Renaissance. I'm still looking forward to her next installment, whenever that may be; I'm still tired of "kings and battles and political intrigue" factor and want to hear more about art, music, and everyday life; I'm still hopelessly confused by the endless repetition of the same names for European rulers and the unpronounceable names of rulers everywhere else; and I still love seeing the connections between European history and my genealogical research.
Slowly, slowly I am building up a historical framework in my mind. When I was in school, I didn't have the least interest in history. I had negative interest in history, actually. Math was important, science was important—but history? Boring and useless. Out-of-date. Now I know better. For all I know, history in schools may still be boring, but that tragedy doesn't diminish its importance. Without knowing where we've been, we don't know where we are, and we certainly don't know where we should go and how we might get there.
I would still put the ability to read well and excellence in mathematics at the top of my list of educational priorities, but a solid grounding in history would come next.
This clip about the German Forest Kindergartens showed up in my Facebook feed. (Thanks, Liz.)
It caught my attention because Janet and her kids visited one (Waldspielgruppe) and had a blast.
("What do you mean, 'had a blast'?" asked five-year-old Joseph. He speaks three languages, but misses the occasional idiom. He's also very literal, and was probably puzzling about pyrotechnics. I suggested that it means "an explosion of fun.")
Perhaps the most educational part of their visit was the revelation of do-it-yourself possibilities.
- Spielgruppe, whether this or one of the differently-focussed options available, is expensive, costly in both time and money. You could buy a lot of cool equipment for your home and still save money.
- Anyone can buy the special rain gear that allows a child to emerge clean and dry from a romp in the mud—once you know it exists and where to find it. ("There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.")
- The forests are open to the public, nearby, and free.
Who needs Spielgruppe? Who needs kindergarten?
Since then Janet has taken the gang, outfitted in their new rain gear, for their own fun in the forest. Once they even met up with the preschool group and they all had fun together.
Maybe the best advantage a formal organization gives you is that, after paying all that money, you work to find time for your child to participate. But if you have the self-discipline to make it happen, don't outsource the fun!
They'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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....
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).
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.
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.
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