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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VPK

"What is VPK?" asks an article in our city's magazine.

Pre-math, pre-reading and social skills.  How do I teach my child all this information before she enters kindergarten?  Many parents used to ask themselves that precise question not too long ago.  However, for the past four years, concerned parents have decided to enroll their children in what is called VPK, or voluntary pre-kindergarten education....VPK is free [that is, tax-funded]...regardless of family income.

 (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Edit
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Jon provided the name; now all I have to do is figure out what "Classical Unschooling" is.  It could be confused with unschooling as it was practiced "in the good ol' days"—but for a great article on the "unschooling" label see Pat Farenga's post What's going on with unschooling?  (There's no permalink that I could find, so if you come to this post later you may have to search in his archives.)  What I mean for Classical Unschooling to be, however, is an approach to homeschooling—better yet, all of life—that combines the best of what I've gleaned from authors as divergent as John Holt and Susan Wise Bauer, a flexible plan that is low-stress yet high-expectation, creative yet disciplined, supportive yet challenging.

Liz at smithically schooled began the discussion, but it's a little hard to keep up with because if there's an an easy way to know when comments have been added there I can't find it.  (The Recent Comments feature is another reason I like LifeType on Lime Daley for this blog.)  It would be great if my highly intelligent and experienced blog readers would read and add to her discussion, which is why I'm making this post and sending you there.  I'll also post a comment here if I note that the discussion has progressed there (and hope others will do the same) so you can know more easily if there's been an update.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 23, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Edit
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The usual disclaimers, I don't usually do "memes," etc.  But when it's books, it's hard to resist.  I found this one over at Percival Blakeney Academy.  The instructions are:

  • Look at the list and bold those you have read—films don't count.
  • Italicize those you intend to read.  ("Intend" may be a little strong.  How about "Would like to read someday, sometime.)
  • Tag somebody if you like.  (I don’t like to tag people.  But I’d love to see other people’s lists and comments.)

I don't know who chose the books on the list, nor why.  It seems varied enough, with books old and new, and several I've never heard of.  And any book list that includes Swallows and Amazons gets big points as far as I'm concerned.  It could only have done better by including George MacDonald.  :)  My comments follow in parentheses. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Edit
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What do you expect to find in a public library?  I would like—though no longer expect—to find a large selection of old, unusual, and out-of-print books, music, and videos, the kind I am unable to buy from Amazon or borrow from Netflix.  Shouldn't that be a basic purpose of libraries:  to be a treasure store of valuable materials outside of whatever happens to be popular at the moment, especially those not otherwise easily obtainable?  Unfortunately, most libraries seem to be divesting themselves of these materials in order to make more room for the the latest favorites.  To be sure, this is also a function of libraries, and I appreciate being able to borrow a book when all I want to do is read it; I prefer stocking our own bookshelves with materials I already know are worthwhile.  (One casualty of the libraries' jettisoning old books is that our shelves are overflowing; I can no longer prune our collection of lesser books on the grounds that I can always borrow them from the library if needed.)  Most libraries, I believe, are out of balance in the way they address both functions, and our culture is suffering for it.

Thanks to my sister-in-law, who should have her own blog because she and my brother send me interesting ideas much faster than I can write about them, and to the Percival Blakeney Academy blog, I now know that this phenomenon is not limited to libraries, but has had a major impact on the Oxford University Press Junior Dictionary(More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 6:06 am | Edit
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A couple more quick takes, as I dig through the backlog.

Think Your Kid's Gifted?  You're Probably Wrong, from Geek Dad.  An unfortunate title, as is the similar title of the article on which he is commenting; I would have said instead, "You're Probably Right."  At long last parents are beginning to realize that children are not mindless lumps of clay, but are nearly all born brilliant.  (You doubt that?  Plunk yourself down in the middle of a foreign country and see how long it takes you to become fluent in the language.)  Finally people are realizing that what they do, or don't do, with their young chldren makes a difference, and that they need better opportunities than most of them get.  Why do some people feel it necessary to debunk the idea?  Probably because, being fallen humans, we tend to focus not on "my child is brilliant" but "my child is brighter than someone else's child."  Geek Dad catches the real issue, however. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 16, 2009 at 6:57 am | Edit
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Because I have often written about Germany's persecution of parents who believe the education of their children is best accomplished outside of the state public schools (this post will lead you to some of the other stories), it's a pleasure to be able to bring some good news as well:  Prosecutors are dropping charges against the Brause family, which had faced up to two years in prison and the loss of their children.  If this seems a "Well, duh!" kind of accomplisment, it is important to remember that it was not so long ago that we were celebrating such events as great victories in the U. S.

[T]he announcement came after the court received a detailed psychiatric report that there is no psychological harm to the children from homeschooling. The report also stated that the children have not been harmed [academically], which is evidenced by [the] exit exams [of the two oldest children] from high school

Lest we complacently conclude that the plight of homeschoolers in Germany is Germany's problem, not ours, American citizenship is not a sufficient defense if you live in Germany and want to teach your own children.  An American family living in Berlin was recently ordered to court because of their homeschooling, and under legal advice the mother and children have fled to the United States until the situation can be resolved.

I'm delighted to see evidence of progress anywhere in the world, and also for the reminder that "watch, work, and pray" never ceases to be necessary.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 6:53 am | Edit
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The History of the Ancient World:  From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome, by Susan Wise Bauer (W. W. Norton, New York, 2007)

Despite having some initial negative reactions to Susan Wise Bauer, I've continued to find her work delightful and invaluable.  (See my reviews of The Well-Trained Mind, The Story of the World, and The Well-Educated Mind.)  I haven't read more than a small part of The History of the Ancient World, but borrowed it from the library in order to determine whether or not to buy it for myself.  I've so enjoyed—and learned from—listening to Jim Weiss read The Story of the World, which was written for elementary-age children, that I wondered if Bauer could bring as much delight into a history book for adults.

Time does not permit me to read through the book, much less review it properly, but let's just say I wish I didn't have to take it back to the library as soon as possible to remove temptation.  The History of the Ancient World is delightful to read.  Much of the delight, I think, comes from the philosophy of her approach, which she explains much better in the introduction than I have time to write, or even to copy, here.  Bauer is interested in people:  their lives, thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, actions, and relationships.  She minimizes the general and the theoretical in favor of the personal, and includes the myths and stories of a culture as well as verifiable facts.  The stories that have come down with a people from before recorded time should inform our historical speculations as much as potsherds from an archeological dig.

This approach no doubt will anger many, some because she finds historical value in passages from the Bible, and others because she gives similar respect to the ancient stories of other cultures.  To me, it makes for great story-telling.  The History of the Ancient World has earned a place on my wish list, perhaps for the next time Borders offers me a 40% off coupon, and I certainly hope Susan Wise Bauer is working on a sequel.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 9:45 am | Edit
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I've known for a long time that the plight of homeschoolers in Germany is dire, as I've written before (for example, here, here, and here); I've also known that the situation in Switzerland is worrisome, legal in some cantons, illegal in others, and sometimes in between.  The Swiss are careful to point out that they are not German so I have hope that they will distinguish themselves by moving in the direction of more liberty.  It wasn't that long ago, after all, that homeschooling in the United States was similarly at risk.  However, Principled Discovery has discovered some alarming news.  (Thanks, DSTB.)

According to the Tages Anzeiger, one of the most widely read newspapers in Switzerland, homeschooling is about to become severely restricted in the Canton of Zurich.

Private Education: Parents threaten with disobedience

December 4, 2008

Beginning next summer at the latest, parents will only be allowed to educated their children at home when they have a teacher’s certificate.  Eight families are resisting—with all means.  Tages Anzeiger

The article goes on to say that this new regulation will affect fifty families, but apparently only these eight families have chosen to fight.  The Education Director has thus far rejected all offers of compromise.  If they continue and do not win their cases, the families face fines of up to 5000 Francs (about $4,100) and a possible citation for disobedience of official orders.

Read the whole story.  Those with a working knowledge of German may want to read the Tages Anzeige article directly; I can only hope it is the translation that makes the language sound strident and authoritarian.

The most chilling words are in the law that was not passed, so perhaps the Swiss will be more resistent to educational tyrrany than the Germans.

Private schools should teach the same world view as taught in public schools.

That, alas, is what many people, even in the United States, mean when they talk about the "socialization issue" with homeschoolers.  It's not that they worry that homeschooled children won't learn how to get along with other people, but that they will learn to think independently and not conform.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 9:41 pm | Edit
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Where there are tests, there will be cheaters, and if the teachers are being judged by the efforts of their students, there will be teachers who cheat, too.  In order to help their students on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for writing, some teachers are having them memorize stock phrases with which to populate their essays.  Formulaic writing to the nth degree.  The practice is common enough that exam graders are finding the same phrases—odd phrases, such as "one quintessential, supersonic day"—on exams throughout the state.

I'm not sure which is worse, that the teachers might be cheating, or that they might actually think this is what leads to good writing.  And to think I felt guilty when our previously homeschooled kids shocked their first high school English teacher by not knowing what a "five paragraph essay" was.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 8:57 pm | Edit
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There was an interesting column by Laura Vanderkam from Thursday's USA TodayTailoring school to the child.  From private tutors to online courses to hybrid forms, homeschooling is drawing in many who thought they never could or would.  Funny, though, how often the next generation mis-characterizes the ones that have gone before:

Once, people saw home schooling as a fringe religious or hippie activity. These days, many families see it as a way to challenge kids and give them time to pursue their passions.

[Ahem]  Excuse me, but "a way to challenge kids and give them time to pursue their passions" was exactly why we homeschooled more years ago than I want to admit.  Hippie religious freaks, hrumph.  The fringe is kinda fun, though.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 21, 2008 at 10:48 am | Edit
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