Equality means everyone gets to run the race. It does not mean everyone comes in first.

John C. Wright and I may not agree on Prince Caspian, but we saw the same message in The Incredibles: the loss of excellence, enthusiasm, and initiative that results when we foolishly favor equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.

The inspiration for Wright's post was a soccer trophy won by his five-year-old son.  Well, "won" is stretching quite a bit, and that's Wright's point.  Everyone on the team received the same trophy, just for showing up.  Or even not showing up; the coach also wanted to give a trophy to Wright's other son, who had quit the team mid-season! (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 11:12 am | Edit
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So. Studies have shown that length of life can be extended by eating a very low calorie diet, twenty to thirty percent less than a "standard diet." Whatever the standard diet is, you can bet it's significantly less than the average American diet, so we're talking severe calorie reduction here.

Thanks to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (my nephew's current college of choice), the National Institutes of Health, and DSM Nutritional Products of [ahem] Basel, Switzerland, there is a better way. Drinking red wine apparently has similar effects and works by nearly the same mechanism. (If you're ambitious you can read the full report.)

Let's see. To drink, or not to eat...is that a question? I don't care much for wine and even then I prefer whites to reds, but I could manage this.

The article doesn't say what happens when you combine the starvation diet with drinking red wine, though the picture it evokes in my mind is not exactly one of robust health....
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 10, 2008 at 8:33 am | Edit
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With all due respect for everyone's personal choices, and with free acknowledgement that in our diversity of educational options lies our strength, here's an excerpt from today's Frazz for a moment of homeschooling joy:

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 7, 2008 at 6:44 am | Edit
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While chatting with the dental hygienist yesterday, I learned about a science project that had been assigned to her fifth-grade son: Each student was assigned a "body system"—perhaps circulatory, digestive, respiratory, etc.; I didn't get the details—and told to make up a game using questions about that system.  At first glance that seems reasonable, perhaps even interesting. Games are not a particularly efficient way to learn facts, but they can be an enjoyable way of masking the repetition that is required to commit them to memory.  Certainly making up the questions is a good exercise.

However, the amount of time and effort required for this project was 'way out of proportion to the science knowledge gained, most being devoted to extraneous matters:  the game must have a well-made game board, with a detailed, typed instruction sheet, and a sturdy, well-decorated box.  Such a project might be a joy for some students but torture for their less-crafty classmates—and to what purpose?  Whatever one might think of the merits of training fifth graders in manual dexterity and design, it seems unfair to base a science grade on such work, and in any case one ought not to pretend that it is science that is being taught.

This assignment is yet one more example of how those who claim they don't have enough time to teach properly waste the students' time with busywork.  Craft projects instead of science, PowerPoint presentations instead of written reports, browsing the Internet for images instead of writing paragraphs, and tweaking fonts and backgrounds instead of improving sentence structure!  It's bad enough when a teacher allows a student to get away with such nonsense; to require it is ludicrous.

My theory is that the teacher in question is using her students as slave labor to create classroom materials for future years, so I encouraged the hygienist to make sure the project comes home after it has been graded. 
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 8:28 am | Edit
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Thanks to Tim at Random Observations for alerting me to this interesting commentary on John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.  The book and the movie derived from it have formed our national image of the Depression and the Dust Bowl.  The trouble is, that's a false impression.  Like Amadeus and Braveheart, The Grapes of Wrath tells a good story based on historical events, but without letting the truth get in the way of the narrative.

Someone with a solid knowledge of the historical situation might be able to imbibe the story without harm, but the rest of us, unfortunately the majority, are learning history through these media, and learning it wrong.  We're left with a mish-mash of fact and fiction we may never sort out, and upon which we will unconsiously base our philosophical, political, social, and moral decisions.

Whoever said (I've seen various attributions), "Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws," might just as well have been speaking about its popular books, television shows, and movies.  The only antidote besides a healthy (uncynical) skepticism is a solid grounding in history, preferably from several viewpoints.  Mea culpa; my own knowledge of history is abysmal, and I did not do much to help our children achieve more.  But if I were designing a home eduation program now, the tripod on which I would rest the entire academic program, beginning from the earliest stages, would be: language, mathematics/logic, and history.  Those who are strong in these three areas will not easily be duped.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 28, 2008 at 11:00 am | Edit
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Study Suggests Math Teachers Scrap Balls and Slices is a New York Times article about research at Ohio State University that may have profound implications for the teaching of mathematics to young children.  Unfortunately, just what those implications may be is completely obscure to me, as it is, I daresay, to the researchers.

I've written before (here, and here) about my belief that many children can learn abstract math concepts much earlier than is commonly supposed, and do not need to be limited to practical, real-world mathematics until they reach Piaget's magical age of abstract thinking.  So I suppose I should have been pleased to read about a study that purports to show that children actually learn mathematical concepts better through abstract symbols than they do through practical examples.  Not so; I'm also a fan of practical math, and believe both to be important.  In any case, it's hard to draw any conclusions one way or the other from this research—or at least from the Times report.

In the experiment, students were taught a mathematical concept either through abstract symbols or through concrete examples such as combining liquids in measuring cups.  They were then asked to apply that knowledge to figure out the rules of a game.  Those who had learned the concept abstractly did better at that application than those who had learned through the concrete examples, and also better than those who had been taught first the concrete examples and then the abstract ones.  Supposedly the real-world examples actually obscured the underlying math.

I'm going to break the post here, because some of you will want to look at the puzzle yourselves before reading about my experiences.  I strongly encourage you to read the article, but if you don't do that, at least follow the link and click on the link in the upper left under "Multimedia" that will show you the problems.  (It's a javascript pop-up, and I can't figure out how to insert it here without offending someone's copyright.)  Then click the "more" link after this paragraph to continue reading this post. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 25, 2008 at 11:27 am | Edit
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Okay, so it may not generate any cash income, but my status as a blogger has earned me a free, one-year subscription to the Encyclopedia Britannica online!  Many thanks to Groshlink for the alert.  I'm grateful for the existence of Wikipedia, the hare in the online encyclopedia race, because of its wide-ranging, rapid-response (if not necessarily dependable) fluidity, but the opportunity to be able to access, and link to, a steady, reliable tortoise like the Britannica is not to be missed.

The application site has been swamped, it is claimed, but my blog was approved for the free account in less than 24 hours.  Try it with your blog, before they change their minds!
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Edit
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Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer story about Diane Goslin is a good summary of, or introduction to, Pennsylavnia's home birth problems. Such struggles are not limited to Pennsylvania, but are a good example, like the recent California homeschooling crisis, of how rights and practices that we have relied on for years—centuries!—in our country can be stripped away in an instant if not specifically written into our laws. I don't blame midwives, like the one who assisted with the deliveries of Noah and Jonathan, for fearing that legislation will bring more restrictions rather than fewer. That's what homeschoolers feared 30 years ago, when the modern home education movement was going through its own birth pangs; in some ways they were right, but when society's attention makes it no longer possible to stay under the radar, the protection of the law becomes necessary.

The concern of the U.S. Supreme Court for the religious freedom of the Amish (Wisconsin v. Yoder) was a significant force in the eventual acknowledgement of the rights and responsibilities of all families in the matter of their children's education, though as California has proved, we must be ever vigilant. The wisdom of the serpent is a complement, not a contradiction, to the harmlessness of the dove.  May the Amish also succeed in establishing recognition of the parents' rights and responsiblities when it comes to the birthing of those children!
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 5:22 am | Edit
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The Story of an Experiment is another interesting story from Perla (see previous post), which she posted to support her contention that children should not be taught arithmetic, except as connected with real life experiences, until they are at least ten years old.  I write about it here, not because I agree with her, since I most emphatically do not, but because the story nonetheless makes some excellent points.

In the early 1930s the superintendent of schools for Manchester, New Hampshire tried an experiment—several experiments, actually.  Essentially, he abandoned math as it was taught in the elementary schools, and concentrated instead on language and logic:  reading, reasoning, and speaking, with arithmetic introduced only as it came up in the course of the rest of the studies.  The results, as he reports them, were spectacular, with the "new curriculum" students far exceeding the abilities of their traditionally-taught age-mates, even in mathematical reasoning, and where they were behind (in basic arithmetic manipulation) they caught up quickly when formal study was introduced in sixth grade. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 8:59 pm | Edit
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I can hardly count Perla Adams my friend, since we met online and I only visit her blog occasionally.  It's in my feedreader, but the posts and comments in Spanish get ignored.  I'm not proud of my monolingualism, but must deal with it.  Still, I'm not sure how to speak of her in this introduction.  "Internet acquaintance"?  "Fellow blogger?"  Nothing sounds quite right.  Anyway, this delightful person, of whatever label, recently wrote a post (in English) that provoked me to comment, and when I write that much I usually can’t resist sharing in more than one place, i.e. what I’ve written ends up here.  You can find Perla’s original post on her blog, The Classical Mommy.  (That's actually her main site, with all sorts of interesting things.  The post on math is here.)  My response, with a few modifications, is below. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 11:05 am | Edit
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Isamu Fukui doesn't make lemonade out of life's lemons, he makes the whole lemonade factory.  As a fifteen year old high school student, he vented his frustrations by secretly writing a novel about a dystopia in which the world is run like a school.  Unbeknownst to him, his father found out, and instead of sending his son to a psychiatrist (I'm extrapolating here), sent the manuscript to a publisher.  Three years later, Fukui is still in high school with a critically acclaimed, published novel and a contract for two more.

Write a book for yourself alone, so you can say just what you want, let someone else promote it, and have the publishers come begging you for more.  Works for me!  And a far better use of teen ambition than working for gender-blind college dorm rooms.

Thanks to Jon who directed me to the GeeK Dad article on Fukui's book, Truancy
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 4, 2008 at 12:16 pm | Edit
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My morning routine often includes the SAT Question of the Day; the mental exercise is not only fun (at least when your future doesn't ride on it), but also, I'm assuming, good for my brain.  But I've begun to worry about the system, because it's too easy.

Mind you, I didn't find the Scholastic Aptitude Test easy when I took it in high school; I did quite well but not close to a perfect score (which was 1600 back then).  What's more, I would expect to do better now, since I've had some 40 more years of experience since then.  So I'm not really complaining that the questions are rarely challenging for me; what I find concerning is that they don't seem to be much of a challenge, period.  The number of respondents who get the question right is almost always more than half, and often quite a bit more for the Verbal questions.  People don't do as well on the Math questions, but still far better than I would expect for an exam that's supposed to be challenging our brightest high school students.  I realize those who undertake the daily question are a self-selected population, which may explain their success.

Nonetheless, the level of difficulty still surprises me.  I recall the SAT being interesting and even somewhat fun, but not a cakewalk by any means.  It's true that I studied quite a bit more math after taking the test in 10th grade, but so far I've not seen a question requiring higher math—often they can be done with common sense and/or grinding through the multiple-choice responses

So, my questions:  Has the SAT really become that much easier over the years?  Is the Question of the Day deliberately taken from the easier parts of the test?  Is the idea that our faculties decrease once we get out of school just a myth?  Contrary to popular belief, is motherhood actually a challenging and stimulating profession that keeps the mind agile?  I rather like those last two ideas.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 4, 2008 at 5:40 am | Edit
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Not a proper post today, but I must keep my readers checking in.  :)  A post on Random Observations led me to this Boston Herald essay by Michael Graham: Campus "Activism" Redefined.  As one commenter remarked, it's too late to be an April Fool joke.  Not content with co-ed dorms on college campuses, the latest push is for gender-blind dorm rooms. Whoopee!

To be fair, I think they're actually talking about letting you choose your own roommate regardless of sex, rather than yet another big shock when a freshman meets his or her roommate for the first time.  Still, it remains a stupid idea. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 4:38 pm | Edit
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My teacher readers have permission to roll their eyes now, but I've finally figured out the reason for those stupid vocabulary exercises we did in school—look up the word, define the word (don't just copy the dictionary), use the word in a sentence ("XXX is a vocabulary word" doesn't count), test on Friday.  I dutifully complied, but don't believe I learned any new word that way.  I'm very good at remembering something long enough to pass a test, but what increases my vocabulary is reading, hearing, and using new words in context.

Having subscribed (thanks to my father) for many years to A.Word.A.Day, and recently extended my random vocabulary fun to Free Rice (thanks to my brother), I realized that the point of vocabulary work is not to learn new words!  The purpose is to increase one's awareness of new words.  Perhaps slower, more careful readers do not have this problem, but I devour books, and any word I don't know is glossed over, its general meaning derived from context and the word itself forgotten.  However, if my awareness of the word has been raised through seeing or hearing it before, even if I don't know the meaning it will begin to pop out of the page at me, and gradually become incorporated into my working vocabulary.

So for me, and I suspect many others, vocabulary lessons are useless outside of the context of an environment rich in words, but given that context they are a useful tool after all.  I wonder, however, if they are of any use at all to children who will not go on to encounter the words in real life.  Another example of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, I suppose.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 31, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Edit
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Thanks to the Prodical Kiwi(s) Blog for alerting me to this video of a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on nurturing (or not nurturing) creativity.  It wasn't as informative as I had hoped, but it hits some high points and is at least amusing.  Not everyone can take the time to read John Taylor Gatto's phone book sized The Underground History of American Education.  My apologies to all my teacher readers (who no doubt wish they had more freedom to nurture creativity) and epecially the university professors.  :)  I really like the story of dancer and choreographer Gillian Lynne.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 6:05 pm | Edit
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