With my interest in both children and education you knew it wouldn't be long before I commented on the latest "Baby Einstein" controversy.  A study (based on telephone surveys) published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that babies between eight and sixteen months experienced a significant decrease in language development for every hour spent per day viewing baby videos.

Now those who ridicule parents' attempts to enrich their children's early educational enviroments are having an I-told-you-so field day, and those who profit from the business are crying foul.  The responses that bother me most, however, are those of the defenders of baby videos.  They are giving answers to the wrong questions, and reassurances for the wrong concerns. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 16, 2007 at 11:13 am | Edit
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Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology), by Mitchell Stevens (Princeton University Press, 2001)

I've forgotten what led me to find Kingdom of Children, but from the reviews on amazon.com I knew I had to read it.  I have been trying to explain to our own family some of the homeschooling controversies of the late 80's and early 90's, and why I emerged with prejudices against certain people and organizations they are even now encountering, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association, even though we were members, and Josh Harris—though the latter is a case of visiting the sins of the father on the son, which I realize is unfair.  If they want to understand, this book would be a good starting point.  They won't get enough information to know much of the whys and wherefors of my concerns—the author is too objective, too nice for that—but they will get a general picture of the history of the era. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 11:22 am | Edit
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Television has long been called the "idiot box," but here is more evidence that being a couch potato harms the brain as well as the body.  Unfortunately, in this case reading is just as bad as watching TV.

The Swedish experiment was actually about depression.  Previous studies have shown that the hippocamus region of the human brain shrinks in depressed people.  In this study, exercise was shown to have a significant anti-depressant effect in rats, and promoted dramatic neuron growth in the hippocampus.  (If you, like me, wonder how on earth they can tell if a rat is depressed, read the article.) (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 8:39 am | Edit
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That's the subtitle of a Wired article by Edward Tufte.  My brother sent me the link.  I prefer to believe he didn't know I was in the middle of working on a PowerPoint presentation of pictures from our recent trip to Europe.

Tufte is not speaking primarily about education, but he makes this perceptive observation: 

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

PowerPoint isn't really the villain here, however. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 2:27 pm | Edit
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One of our nephews is a Boy Scout.

My father was for many years a Boy Scout leader, so when I joined the Girl Scouts I was mightily disappointed that we did so little of the camping, hiking, mountain climbing, knot-tying, fire-building, and survival skills work he did with his boys.  Thanks to some amazing (and somewhat rebellious) leaders and dedicated parents, we still had a good time, but the national program left me less than impressed. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 8:41 am | Edit
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If I'd known how big a project book cataloguing would be, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to start, but now that it's done, I'm quite pleased with it.  There's a link to it here, and on the sidebar, and on the Sursum Corda home page.  I'm not yet ready to leave it open to any and all web crawlers, so there's a small amount of security associated with it.  Family members can get in the same way you access the Family News page.  If you're a friend who happens to want to browse in this library, please e-mail me, and I'll be happy to open the door to you.

C. S. Lewis once quipped that the only books we will have in heaven will be ones we gave away or lent on earth. This is a lending library; if you see something you'd like to read that's not in your own public library, please ask(More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 7:30 pm | Edit
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Today's Frazz:

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 8, 2007 at 7:15 am | Edit
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Among the more bizarre stories of the day, here's a study that claims to be able to predict your child's future SAT performance based on the relative lengths of his fingers.  Those whose ring fingers are longer compared with their index fingers are statistically likely to do better on the math portion, and those with the reverse situation to do better on the verbal.  This supposedly reflects prenatal testosterone/estrogen exposure.

It's a lot harder to measure finger lenght than I thought.  I finally settled on measuring from the knuckle, and it seems my ring finger is a bit longer than my index.  It's true, I did very well on the math portion of the SAT.  But I did even better on the verbal, so I must have measured wrong.  :)

The researchers plan to expand their studies into "other cognitive and behavioral issues, such as technophobia, career paths and possibly dyslexia."
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 7:46 am | Edit
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My hearing is very good, probably better than that of many my age because I didn't ruin it in my teens with headphones and loud music.  But I still find that I can understand what people say better if I can see their faces.  Now I know why.

A Canadian study indicates that there is a signficant visual component of language understanding even amongst hearing people.  The four-month-old babies in the study were able to distinguish when adults in a silent video were speaking English and when they were speaking French.

The eight-month-old babies could do the same, but only if they were being raised in a bilingual French/English environment.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 7:23 am | Edit
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We have been blessed with a surprising number of very bright friends, their talents ranging from math to music, from business to origami, from computing to law.  It was with the last that we had a disturbing conversation recently.  The conversation itself was delightful; what we learned from it was not.

To begin, the background.  Most of my readers are familiar with the following story, which I told several years ago in our family newsletter.  But for the benefit of the one or two who meander over here from random places, I'll reproduce it here, sufficiently altered to protect the innocent and the guilty alike. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 2:52 pm | Edit
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Having written recently about my love of student recitals, I have to mention that we went to a Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra concert yesterday.  In my limited, and admittedly biased opinion, they are far and away the best student orchestra in the area.  Not perfect:  Depending on whose philosophy happens to be strongest at the time, the emphasis is sometimes more on education than on making music. As most of you know, I strongly believe that real learning more often takes place in an atmosphere of "let's do something wonderful and important together" than in a "Me Teacher, You Student" situation.

Be that as it may, the FSYO is the best game in town for a young person who wants to play good orchestral repertoire, and it's good listening, too. The only reason we don't attend more of their concerts is that there are so many other great things to do in life. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 7, 2007 at 7:35 am | Edit
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Not long ago, a friend was lamenting to me about how tedious elementary recitals are.  Little piano and violin students plunking and scraping away on the same, boring pieces, making the same mistakes you've heard hundreds of times.  I couldn't disagree more.

She has a different perspective, mind you:  she's a music teacher, so no doubt that makes a difference. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 5, 2007 at 3:20 pm | Edit
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Swordplay has always been a major part of my extended family's get-togethers, from plastic tube "swords" for the younger ones to realistic wooden swords as they grew.  No one has yet taken to fencing formally, but maybe they should.  This morning's Orlando Sentinel featured an article on how fencing improves mathematical skills.  Apparently it improves spacial awareness, geometric visualization, abstract reasoning and other mathematical concepts through physical action.

That doesn't surprise me as much as it once might have, since I have been hearing a lot lately about the critical importance of physical activity (such as crawling, creeping, walking, running, brachiation, and activities that stimulate the vestibular system) for mental and intellectual development.

En garde!
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 20, 2007 at 7:52 am | Edit
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Once again, Tim at Random Observations has provided post which I must pass on.  (Warning:  Yes, it's depressing, but worth reading, really.)  First, read his commentary, You're Just Another (Lego) Brick in the Wall... about an after-school program in Seattle, where teachers took over the children's imaginative Lego play and turned it into a chance for socialist indoctrination.  For a more direct view of the teachers' perspective, read their original article, Why We Banned Legos.

To Tim's insightful post I will only add this:  What about the parents?  Where were they when all this was going on?  Were they expecting childcare and maybe some help with math and reading from this afterschool program?  Did they know their children were getting a heavy dose of politics and indoctrination in values—politics and values possibly in direct opposition to the parents' own?  Certainly most parents would have a few issues with this part of the lesson:

[W]e explored questions about how rules are made and enforced, and when they ought to be followed or broken. We aimed to help children see that all rules (including social structures and systems) are made by people with particular perspectives, interests, and experiences that shape their rule-making. And we wanted to encourage them to consider that there are times when rules ought to be questioned or even broken....

The children were between the ages of five and nine, perhaps not the best ages at which to tell them that obeying their parents' rules is optional.  On the other hand, perhaps the teachers will eventually receive due retribution in the form of students who have decided that the school's rules are not worth following.  Alas, it's probably the high school teachers who will bear that cost. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 7:52 am | Edit
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In Arizona, the winning team in the kindergarten through sixth grade category of the recent state scholastic chess championship must know that their victory is tainted.

At least I hope so. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 11:33 am | Edit
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