Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000)

My nephew is going into seventh grade, and this was part of his required summer reading. He didn't have much to say about it, not surprising since it's hardly a title, nor a story, I would expect to appeal to most middle school boys. Or girls, for that matter. At that age, I would have picked up the book, assuming it was a science fiction story, then put it down in disgust when I discovered what it really was.

I'm not sure who the target audience is for this book, since the setting is high school and the themes adolescent, yet the intellectual level seems more geared towards elementary school.

Nonetheless, when I picked up the book recently to check it out, I became intrigued when I discovered that the title character was homeschooled before making her way into public high school—and definitely not fitting in. So when my nephew left for home, taking the book with him, I borrowed it from the library so I could finish reading the story. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 8, 2005 at 11:28 am | Edit
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Janet is currently in Japan, preparing to teach English. Perusing an old diary today, I discovered an inclination toward that profession appearing much earlier in her life than I had supposed. The incident took place in the fall of her third grade year.

[Her teacher] has been reading James and the Giant Peach aloud, a little bit each week. After she finished today’s reading, it was time to go outside. Janet asked her to continue reading out there, and she said no. Then, Janet asked if she could bring her own book out and read. Having received permission, she did just that, but instead of reading to herself, she read aloud. By the time recess was over, she had quite a group of kids around her, listening. She is reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 5, 2005 at 5:19 pm | Edit
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So today is National Teacher Day. (I know because Google told me so.) Since this blog includes rants against the terrible damage done to children and families by an inhuman and inhumane government-sponsored school system, and such private schools as seek (or are required) to emulate it, it is meet and right to make space today to recognize teaching as an honorable profession, and good teachers as incomparable treasures. The monstrosity that is school destroys teachers as well as students. In particular, today I honor: (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 3, 2005 at 10:55 am | Edit
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"Socialization"—the homeschooler's "s-word," the final recourse of opponents and skeptical relatives who, unable to discredit homeschooling in any other way, declare that if children don't attend school they will not be properly "socialized."

Homeschooling families puzzle over this concern, having observed that their children are much more at ease with people of all ages than are most schoolchildren, arguing that peer-socialization is unnatural and generally negative, and pointing to the vast array of sports teams, musical ensembles, church groups, and other associations to which they belong. Why this concern, they wonder, with something as natural and easily attainable as socialization? (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 30, 2005 at 10:44 am | Edit
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A friend sent me the following Frazz comic and I was immediately hooked. The setting is an elementary school, and the main characters are Frazz (school janitor and Renaissance Man), Caulfield (a genius who hates school because it bores him; he hangs out with Frazz a lot), Mrs. Olsen (Caulfield's teacher), Mr. Burke (the school's best teacher, and Frazz's best friend), Mr. Spaetzle (the principal), Miss Plainwell (first grade teacher).
alt
I've never been much of a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. fan, but his short story, Harrison Bergeron, has haunted me since I first read it, long before frustrations with our chidren's schools brought us head to head with its stunning reality. Written in 1961, Vonnegut's warning is yet more accurate and more frightening today. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 15, 2005 at 8:44 am | Edit
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American Sign Language to the rescue! In New York, a choking woman dialed 911, but was unable to speak. Her three year old daugher, whom she had taught some basic sign language, conveyed her mother's signed plea for help to the operator. This recent news story illustrates just one of many good reasons for teaching your baby as much ASL as you can manage.

Learning another language and culture is a huge benefit. Not only does it broaden your understanding and appreciation, it also increases your brainpower! It would be best, certainly, to teach your children (and yourself) to the point of fluency in ASL—and in several other languages as well. Even a little is much better than none, however. Children can sign before they can speak, and anyone who has experienced the frustration of not know what a screaming baby wants will appreciate this means of communication. Signing does not slow down speech acquisition, but rather accelerates it. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 1, 2005 at 12:00 pm | Edit
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When you walk into Heather and Jon's house, you can't miss the Periodic Table that takes up most of one wall. It was an extraordinary gift to Heather years ago from an extraordinary friend.

Science museums around the world should hope to have such extraordinary friends of their own so that they can acquire the new interactive Periodic Table displays produced through a partnership of Theodore Gray and the Red Green and Blue Company. If you can't wait until the exhibit is available at your local science museum, check it out online. If you can be deal with the relatively long download times, you can click on the individual elements and get a glimpse of how wonderful the physical display must be. I was most fascinated by how many of what I thought were unusual elements turn up in common use, something I first learned from The Radioactive Boy Scout(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 21, 2005 at 7:46 am | Edit
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My friend knew she would get a reaction from me when she sent a page from the Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin. She might not have expected a blog entry, but she knew I would be upset. Amy Blumenthal's Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Read should disturb every parent. As many children do, Ms. Blumenthal's daughter suddenly discovered, in the middle of her kindergarten year, that she could read. Initially thrilled, she suddenly stopped, saying, "I don't want to read." When asked the reason, she replied, "Because my teacher doesn't want me to." (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 24, 2005 at 4:52 pm | Edit
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That's the intriquing title of an article by Vigen Guroian, a professor at Loyola College in Baltimore, who warns that unsuspecting parents have been "persuaded that they must send their children to college with no questions asked, when in fact this [is] the near-equivalent of committing their sons and daughters to one of the circles of Dante's Inferno." That comment is only slightly less blunt than the title of a book I heard about but never read, I Spent $75000 To Send My Child To Hell!

The article is lengthy but valuable, and you can read it here. According to what I hear from my own campus spies, Dr. Guroian is unfortunately more accurate than not. I once laughed when I read about a college at which the lack of dormitories was a matter of principle; now I recognize a noble attempt to swim against the sweeping tide. Perhaps it is time to rethink the entire college experience, to heed John Holt's advice and ask ourselves, "Where are we trying to get, and are we getting there?"

Update 5 April 2009  The link to the essay on why the college does not provide dormitories no longer works, so I have removed it, but the school in question is New Saint Andrews in Moscow, Idaho. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 21, 2005 at 1:26 pm | Edit
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Yee-Ha! I just pushed Florida past Wisconsin to take over the #33 spot in the Geography Olympics. Pennsylvania (#31) here we come!

When I started keeping track, Florida was down at #45, so I feel that I (and many others) have made good progress. Currently Nebraska is #1 (Andy must be helping out.)  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 3, 2005 at 1:59 pm | Edit
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Homeschooling is legal in Pennsylvania, but the regulations imposed on homeschooling families are among the strictest in the nation. Recently, one family decided to sue the state on grounds that the rules impose an unreasonable restriction on their freedom of religion. Reading that article, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial in response, reminds me that we must never, never become complacent about our rights, nor take our freedoms for granted. The Post-Gazette wonders,

To us, the requirements seem rather minimal. Parents must submit an annual affidavit to the local school superintendent outlining their educational goals. They must turn in a log at the end of the year showing what subjects were taught and when. A neutral, certified teacher reviews the work and interviews the child. Standardized tests are required at several grade levels.

What is the problem with that?

One problem is that such an attitude betrays appalling ignorance of what homeschooling is all about. It is not about taking the philosophies, methods, systems, procedures, and materials of school and trying to squeeze them into one's living room. Rather, homeschooling liberates children and families to pursue learning in creative ways that are not possible when subjected to classroom-mentality restrictions. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 6, 2004 at 4:57 pm | Edit
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I can't find an official Baldo website to advertise with a link, but today's comic says a lot about some folks' attitudes toward grading:

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 8, 2004 at 11:25 am | Edit
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Today's For Better or For Worse comic strip, though it's talking about an actual school, expresses neatly the technique I used when required to produce a curriculum and transcripts for our homeschooled children. "Educationese" isn't hard to speak once you've read enough of it. There is one difference, however: In the comic, the teachers are fitting the material to the students' interests; with homeschooling, the interests generally come first, and when necessary one finds official words to describe the educational results.

comic
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 6, 2004 at 11:57 am | Edit
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The proper place and best place for children to learn whatever they need or want to know is the place where until very recently almost all children learned it—in the world itself, in the mainstream of adult life. If we put in every community…resource and activity centers, citizens’ clubs, full of spaces for many kinds of things to happen—libraries, music rooms, theaters, sports facilities, workshops, meeting rooms—these should be open to and used by young and old together. We made a terrible mistake when (with the best of intentions) we separated children from adults and learning from the rest of life, and one of our most urgent tasks is to take down the barriers we have put between them and let them come back together.

John Holt, How Children Fail

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 30, 2000 at 5:31 pm | Edit
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We adults destroy most of the intellectual and creative capacity of children by the things we do to them or make them do. We destroy this capacity above all by making them afraid, afraid of not doing what other people want, of not pleasing, of making mistakes, of failing, of being wrong. Thus we make them afraid to gamble, afraid to experiment, afraid to try the difficult and the unknown…. We destroy the disinterested (I do not mean uninterested) love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards—gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys—in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else…. We kill, not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is a good and admirable thing to be curious, so that by the age of ten most of them will not ask questions, and will show a good deal of scorn for the few who do.

John Holt, How Children Fail

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 20, 2000 at 3:10 pm | Edit
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