Weapons of Mass Instruction:  A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto (New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada, 2009)

A pastor I know was fond of quoting Martin Luther, who, when asked why he preached on justification by faith every week, responded, "Because you forget it every week."  John Taylor Gatto has no love for Martin Luther, but I can imagine him giving a similar response when asked why his books, articles, and lectures include so much that he has said before.  He has a critically important message to deliver, and is clearly compelled to repeat it as many times and in as many ways as he can.

In his desperation to make people understand what he has learned, from his research and 30 years on the front lines of teaching, Gatto has become more pointed, strident and radical as time goes on.  It's an understandable reaction—I remember noting the same effect in John Holt's writings, and I fall prey to it all too often myself—but for this reason I hesitate a little to recommend Weapons of Mass Instruction to anyone who is not already convinced of the dangers inherent in our pubic school system.  And yet...I do recommend it, highly.  Why?  Let me digress. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Edit
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Shakespeare:  The Word and the Action, by Peter Saccio; a Teaching Company lecture

For accessible, serious, high-quality, adult-level educational materials (DVD, tape, mp3 downloads) it's hard to beat The Teaching Company.  Tonight we finished the last lecture of Shakespeare:  The Word and the Action, a course which easily ranks as one of my favorites. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Edit
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Blame me, my parents, or my schools as you see fit, but after half a century as an American citizen, 13 years of public education, and a college degree, I couldn't name all of the presidents of the United States, much less in order.  The mystery is why no one ever tried to teach me, given how easily I learned them when I put my mind to it, and how handy it has been (and would have been in history class!) to have even a rough idea of who fits in where.

Actually, I did not even have to put my mind to the problem, only my ears.  I bought a copy of Sue Dickson's "Song of the U.S. Presidents," and after a few hearings it stuck.  It's not a great song, but as with many not-so-great songs, that seems to make it stick all the better.  (The link takes you to an updated version that I haven't tried yet (mine ends with Clinton), but the sample suggests it is basically the same.)  Of all the U.S. President songs, that one is my favorite, because it is short, simple, and easy to rattle off mentally when needed—such as when I'm playing the "put the pictures of the presidents in chronological order" game with my nephews.  However, it teaches only the order (no numbers) and gives last names but not first, so you have to know which Adams is which, and which Harrison, and that both Clevelands are the same person. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 9:52 am | Edit
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Where were you 20 years ago today?

My own journal entry is remarkably filled with the mundane details of life with two young children.  There is one exclamatory sentence, "Would that every day could be like this!" but it was referring to Heather's having awakened with her alarm clock, showered, dressed, made her bed, cleaned her room and finished all her chores before school.  Not as momentous as events on the other side of the world, but a personal triumph. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 9, 2009 at 7:47 am | Edit
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Studies showing that teachers will form expectations of a student's character and ability based on nothing more than his or her name are unfortunately nothing new.  Students with "traditional," common names are more likely to receive higher ratings on both academic performance and behavior than those with names perceived as odd.  What makes this article worth commenting on is not the results of the study, but the names themselves.

The study reveals that . . . traditional names such as Charlotte, Sophie, Marie, Hannah, Alexander, Maximilian, Simon, Lukas and Jakob are consistently linked to strong performance and good behaviour. Non-traditional names such as Chantal, Mandy, Angelina, Kevin, Justin and Maurice, on the other hand, are associated with weak performance and bad behaviour.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Edit
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School at the Daley household could hardly have been called normal, since Grandma was there as a distraction and Mommy was sick for the first part of my visit.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed my glimpse into the official, sit-at-the-table side of their 24/7 educational process.

Jonathan is not at the moment as excited about math as he is about reading—unlike his Aunt Janet at that age, for whom reading was all right but math was a bowl full of candy.  He's doing well, though, with basic addition and subtraction (and even some simple multiplication and division), and enjoys the "math paths" that Grandma sends him in the mail, problems like this one:

Both boys also like using their Cuisenaire rods, base-10 blocks, and bucket balance.  The Cuisenaire rods are from our own homeschooling days.  We also had a set of base-10 blocks that I had made out of cardboard.  They disappeared somehow, probably in one of our moves, and trust me, buying a commercial set is well worth the $16 investment.  I can't get over the resources available to homeschoolers these days!

The fun is the same, though.  There are few thrills more sublime than observing the "ah ha!" moment in your child's (or grandchild's) eyes.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Edit
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Our own homeschooling experiences were far shorter than I would have liked, so it has been fun watching other family members in their adventures.  (It has also been nothing short of astonishing to see what resources are now available, rather like the difference between a gas station convenience store and a Super-Wegmans grocery store.)

It is especially fun to watch the grandkids' schooling, since our own children were in public school at this stage.  On the one hand, school time is very short, even for kindergarten, when measured by organized, sit-at-the-table time, and Heather's still working on the best way to balance everyone's needs.  On the other hand, education, if not school, is clearly going on 24/7, and one cannot argue with the results.

Jonathan can read.  It is still laborious enough that he tires easily, but he has reached the stage where what he needs most is simply to read, which he is happy to do, whether to himself or to others. And not only books, but signs, maps, computer screens, anything and everything.

I think more reading goes on here than anything else.  Noah asks to be read to at any spare moment (or not so spare), usually the same books over and over and over again, until he knows the story well enough to "read" it himself.  It's a hoot to hear him tell The Three Billy Goats Gruff:  You wouldn't understand much if you didn't already know the story, but he has all the nuances and tones of voice down pat, from "It only I, the little billy goat," to "I coming to GOBBLE YOU UP!"

This post clearly isn't going to cover all I had planned, so I'll cut it short and post it anyway.  Being part of the adventure doesn't leave much time to write about it.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 17, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Edit
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  • 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?


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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