• A chance to excel?  A school district in Colorado is eliminating both grades and grade levels in a radical attempt to help its students learn.  In theory, students assume more responsibility for their own learning, and take as long or as short a time as they need to advance from one level of the material to another.  This has enormous potential for good, though I’ll withhold judgement until I see whether or not it truly encourages students to learn more, faster, or if administrators will be content with results like a first grade classroom that took a year “to create—and refine—a classroom code of conduct…which includes items such as "don't hit people" and "we will not play with hair."
  • Food for thought.  From Percival Blakeney Academy, a thoughtful look at homeschooling through an analogy with home cooking.

    [Wh]at about a family eating a meal planned by the mom but cooked by a housekeeper or cook? Or a takeout meal served at home on one's own dishes? Or a frozen lasagna baked in your own oven with bakery bread and your own salad? Or a make ahead meal prepped in a commercial dinners-to-go kitchen by the mom from their menu card and then cooked up weeks later at home? Which of these is home cooking and which isn't? Is there a difference between home cooking and eating at home (and does the difference matter)?

  • The Great Homeschooling Divide (or one of them).  Here’s a mom who effectively voices the position of those who homeschool because they believe public/private schools aren’t good/affordable enough.  My gut reaction is, these people don’t GET homeschooling AT ALL.  But that’s unfair.  Finding no suitable alternative is a legitimate reason for homeschooling, as long as it’s understood that if every school were suddenly, magically perfect for everyone, many of us would still insist on home learning.  To borrow from the above-mentioned analogy, I don’t care how great the restaurant is, it will never replace the family dinner table.
  • In case you thought your state's homeschooling requirements were onerous.  Educating Germany, a website in English—though some links are to articles in German—in support of educational freedom in Germany, in which homeschooling your children is likely to result in having them forcibly removed from your home.
  • Legislation, sausage...and textbooks.  Did you ever thumb through your child’s textbook and lament, “Who writes these things, anyway?”  Turns out that’s a dangerous as wondering what went into the hot dog you just swallowed.  More so, maybe.  A former editor at a major textbook publisher tells what you don’t want to know.

    I got a hint of things to come when I overheard my boss lamenting, "The books are done and we still don't have an author! I must sign someone today!"

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Edit
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Today marks our Constitution's 222nd birthday, in honor of which I present another depressing civics quiz.  The questions are drawn from the test prospective U.S. citizens must pass, and if these standards applied to all, apparently 97% of Oklahoma's public high school students would be in danger of losing their citizenship.  I'm sure no one is under any illusions that the problem is limited to Oklahoma.  Here are the questions; for the answers, and what percentage of the students surveyed answered each question correctly, see the original article.

  1. What is the supreme law of the land?   
  2. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
  3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
  4. How many justices are there on the Supreme Court?   
  5. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
  6. What ocean is on the east coast of the United States?
  7. What are the two major political parties in the United States?
  8. We elect a U.S. senator for how many years?
  9. Who was the first President of the United States?
  10. Who is in charge of the executive branch?
What I find interesting about this quiz is that, although I did get answer every question correctly, I would say few if any of my answers were due primarily to what I learned in school, but rather to merely living life.  When it comes to history and politics, I admit to being abysmally ignorant; I wangled my way out of Pennsylvania's required semester of American Government by taking an extra year of independent study physics.  (Don't ask me why they let me get away with that, but I trust the Statute of Limitations covers it somehow.)  I loathe politics in general and other than voting am shamefully neglectful of my civic duties.  Yet even with my notorious lack of observational skills, I couldn't avoid learning enough to pass the test.  Perhaps my additional years on this planet do count for something.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Edit
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I don't expect most of my Loyal Readers to wade through the entirety of Paul Gottfried's Voices Against Progress: What I Learned from Genovese, Lasch, and Bradford at the Front Porch Republic, but I include the link for those of us who were students at the University of Rochester during those times.  I find it fascinating to glimpse the political maneuverings that were going on over the heads of mere students.  I knew neither Eugene Genovese nor Christopher Lasch; I stayed as much as possible in the science and engineering part of the school, and never set foot in that "hotbed of the New Left, the University of Rochester history department."  But everyone had heard of Genovese, whom we usually referred to as Our Resident Commie, and his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, the Resident Feminist.

Of even more interest is how the thoughts and ideals of these people changed over time.  I don't regret having avoided the U of R history department in the 1970's, but find myself wishing I had known these folks as friends.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Edit
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The future may belong to the Indians, or perhaps the Africans—or anyone who grows up in a multilingual environment.  Adding to the evidence of the benefits to the brain of speaking multiple languages is the research of Lera Boroditsky at Stanford University.  (Newsweek article by Sharon Begley.)

When the world's tallest vehicular bridge,* the Viaduc de Millau, opened,

German newspapers described how it "floated above the clouds" with "elegance and lightness" and "breathtaking" beauty. In France, papers praised the "immense" "concrete giant." Was it mere coincidence that the Germans saw beauty where the French saw heft and power?

 (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 9:27 am | Edit
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alt King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, by Roger Lancelyn Green (Puffin Books, 2008)

I bought this book for my grandson, who so enjoyed Roger Lancelyn Green's The Adventures of Robin Hood.  His mother reported that the Robin Hood book was "perfect" for him, but I wish I had read it myself, first, so I could compare it with King Arthur, since I'm having second thoughts.  King Arthur has been read by and to children for half a century, and there's nothing at all inappropriate about it, but there are not a few battles in which people's heads get lopped off, and a few babies conceived under less than ideal circumstances (Arthur in a scenario not unlike Solomon's), and—perhaps more disturbing for a child—a couple of examples of children raised by others instead of their own families. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 11:09 am | Edit
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  The Element:  How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson (Viking, New York, 2009)

I've written before about Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity, and Education, and put an order in with our library as soon as I heard about his new book.  It finally came through, as library books are wont to do, at a time when hours for leisure reading are scarcer than arts classes in a standardized-test-obsessed school system.  But unlike Last Child in the Woods, The Element is a quick and non-technical read.  Robinson's 2006 TED talk is a good summary of the ideas in The Element.  The book goes into more detail, with more examples, and expands a bit further. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 12, 2009 at 4:24 am | Edit
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As if I don't already have a huge backblog, Jon keeps posting things in Google Reader/Facebook that I think those who can't see them will be interested in.  In this case, since I can't comment at GeekDad, I'll comment here.

When GeekDad's son was 12 years old he entered his school's science fair, which called for inventing something new and useful.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 10:00 am | Edit
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A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family, by Mary Ostyn (Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah, 2009)

This book sounded useful to Heather, who wishes both to have a large family and to retain her sanity, so we bought it for her as a Mother's Day gift.  Naturally, I read it first.  (Book-gift recipients are accustomed to that behavior from me, I'm afraid.)

I recommend A Sane Woman's Guide to all families who aspire to sanity, even if their hopes don't include a large family.  Although I don't agree with all of Mary Ostyn's advice, it's a surprisingly useful collection of ideas in a slim 192 pages, amusingly presented. Here's the table of contents for a quick preview, followed by a few, rather random, excerpts. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 9:24 am | Edit
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I wrote a long comment to Mark Shiffman's Front Porch Republic article, Why we do not own a Television; not being one to waste an item on a single use if it can be recycled, I reproduce it here.  You'll have to follow the link to see the context (and other readers' comments), but I think what I wrote is pretty clear on its own.

To my total surprise and (almost) mortification, I write in defense of television.  I agree with some of the comments that DVD is the only way to go, but most if not all of the content I find valuable on DVD originated in the TV and movie media, so despising them completely would be a bit hypocritical on my part. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 9:55 am | Edit
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Here's a perfect funding opportunity for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundatation, or anyone else who is interested in both technology and education:  Sponsor grants—available to both universities and private video game companies—for the production of really good educational games.

Although video game technology has made tremendous progress in recent years, educational software is for the most part stuck in the past.  Entertainment is where the commercial money is, but with proper funding there's no reason why the best and brightest of our video game designers couldn't revolutionize gaming as a learning tool.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 10:02 am | Edit
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I awoke this morning to e-mails from two family members, each containing a link to a video.  They seemed as unrelated as can be...until I realized that each is a powerful statement of how we underestimate the abilities of ordinary human beings—from frumpy housewives to scruffy street children.

I'll admit it:  I did not get through Susan Boyle's Britain's Got Talent performance dry-eyed, her triumph over the sneering judges being overlaid on some pretty deep emotional memories associated with that song.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Britain's Former Empire's Got Talent, too.  I can't improve on Janet's introduction:

Sugata Mitra did a series of "Hole in the Wall" experiments in various remote places in India and found that children would discover, play with, and learn how to use a computer and touch pad he placed in their villages.  One of his early experiments was in a community that had no English knowledge, but when he returned to check on them they told him "we need a better processer and a new mouse."  They had taught themselves English relavant to computers and used (mispronounced) English words like file, back, and save, even in their normal communication.

The lecture could have been better organized, especially at the end where the speaker is clearly running out of time, but the autodidactic abilities of these children will astound you.  And maybe frighten you, when you consider what a double-edged blade the Internet is.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Edit
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SFSignal asked of several present-day science fiction writers, "What non-sf/fantasy books would you recommend to someone whose reading was predominantly in sf/fantasy?"  I found the responses notable for two reasons:

One of the respondents was John Kessel, whom I remember from the Science Fiction Society of the University of Rochester.  (I remember him as Jack, rather than John, but that could be either a no-longer-used nickname, or my own faulty memory.  In any case I'm sure it's the same person.)  Although an avid SF fan for much of my early life, I've been away from the genre for a long time and have read none of Kessel's books, but it was a pleasure to see that he succeeded in turning an avocation into a vocation.

The most delightful response to the question, however, came from John C. Wright.  It is neither typical of the responses nor what most people would expect from a science fiction writer.  I excerpt it here for those of my readers who care very little about science fiction but a lot about book lists and good reading.   (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 13, 2009 at 10:58 am | Edit
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A brilliant student, Marcus sailed through grade school. He completed his assignments easily and routinely earned As. Marcus puzzled over why some of his classmates struggled, and his parents told him he had a special gift. In the seventh grade, however, Marcus suddenly lost interest in school, refusing to do homework or study for tests. As a consequence, his grades plummeted. His parents tried to boost their son’s confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But their attempts failed to motivate Marcus (who is a composite drawn from several children). Schoolwork, their son maintained, was boring and pointless.

The story above is from a Scientific American Mind article entitled The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. (I've changed the name because in the original it is "Jonathan."  Apologies to any Marcuses who might read this.)  I insist that Marcus was probably right:  most seventh grade schoolwork is boring and pointless.  Be that as it may, the article investigates a question I have wrestled with for decades:  Why do so many bright students fail of their promise, surpassed sooner or later by their apparently average, ordinary classmates? (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 10:08 am | Edit
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Declining by Degrees:  Higher Education at Risk premiered on PBS in 2005; I watched it for the first time this week, intrigued by this Netflix summary.

Debunking commonly held notions about the rite of passage known as the college experience, this PBS documentary follows 30 students and their teachers along the path of higher education, from admission to graduation, and exposes the disappointment, disorientation and deflation many students feel—in both public and private schools. This revealing study also addresses the quality and readiness of America's future work force.

"Disappointment, disorientation, and deflation" fairly describes how I felt watching the show.  Here's what I learned: (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 10:06 am | Edit
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I've written often enough about threats to the fundamental right of parents to educate their own children:  the dreadful situation for homeschoolers in Germany, my concerns for Switzerland, and the unwarranted judicial intrusion in family life and education touched closer to home, in California.  California ultimately upheld the legitimacy of home education, but it appears North Carolina is the next battleground.

As with the Terri Schiavo case, it is family problems that allowed the court's nose into this tent.  It illustrates a serious problem with our "no fault" attitude towards divorce:  despite the husband's admitted, ongoing, adulterous affair, his desire to send his children to public school has been allowed to trump his wife's desire to continue homeschooling.  What is truly worrisome, as it touches homeschooling is the judge's power and attitude, as well as whatever precedent his decision may set. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 10:22 am | Edit
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