Is this the end of The Onion?  When it becomes impossible to tell the difference between serious news articles and satire, where's the humor?

You've probably heard the story enough times by now (except perhaps the overseas contingent):

A 7-year-old Anne Arundel County boy was suspended for two days for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and saying, “Bang, bang”— an offense the school described as a threat to other students, according to his family.

So help me, it gets worse.  I am so, so, so glad I no longer have anything to do directly with the public schools, and I'm beginning to feel guilty about the tax money I give them.  The following quotes are from a letter sent home to the parents following the incident:

Dear Parents and Guardians:

I am writing to let you know about an incident that occurred this morning in one of our classrooms and encourage you to discuss this matter with your child in a manner you deem most appropriate.

During breakfast this morning, one of our students used food to make inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class. While no physical threats were made and no one was harmed, the student had to be removed from the classroom.

...

If your children express that they are troubled by today’s incident, please talk with them and help them share their feelings. Our school counselor is available to meet with any students who have the need to do so next week.  In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices.

I am completely without (even minimally polite) words to address the important subject here.  I will for now restrict myself to three comments:

What was a subsidized breakfast program (funded by my tax dollars again, no doubt) doing feeding children Pop-Tarts?  And fake Pop-Tarts at that?

Any reasonable teacher would have taken the child by the hand and said, firmly, "Jimmy, food is not a toy; eat your pastry or give it to me."  (And enforced the action if necessary.)

Under no circumstances should people like this be responsible for the safety, mental health, and above all the education of children.  This is not just insanity; it is downright abuse.

(I found this so unbelieveable I checked with Snopes.com, which doesn't mention the incident.  Here's a Washington Post news article, and the letter to parents on the school district's own website.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Edit
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Most of those who know me also know that I don’t like the government being involved in our health care, for too many reasons than I can go into now.  More than once I’ve asked, “Do you really want to trust your health to the same folks who are mangling public education?” 

Important note:  I support the public school system, much as I find fault with it.  There are many teachers among our family and friends.  Our own children attended the local schools for a number of years.  We pay school taxes, and have voted in favor of most requested tax increases, including last year’s. Everyone in the family has put countless hours into (public) school volunteer work.

Another important note:  I agree that our health care system is in a big mess, and big messes invite government interference whether we like it or not.  Personal experience of family and friends has shown me that public health care can work very well (France, Switzerland) and very badly (UK, Canada).  (I know there are readers of this blog who are happy with Canada’s health care, but I’m going by the experiences of those I know personally, which, alas, are negative.)  I don’t like the way in which our government is approaching health care reform, but that’s not the point here.

The point is consistency.

In the battle over health care, the faction I will loosely designate as “pro-government-social-program” (PSGP) wins for consistency:  The same people who are pushing national health insurance are ardent advocates of public education.  Viewing education as a fundamental, essential right of every child, they make it not only available but compulsory, and not only for the poor but for everyone, and expect everyone to participate.  They frequently oppose anything (private schools, home education, vouchers) that would allow students to opt out of monopoly government schooling.

Having concluded that the cost of a (possibly large) uneducated segment of the population is greater than the cost of providing “free” education to all, they are consistent in applying the same logic to health care.

I, on the other hand, am not consistent, and neither, it seems, are many with better conservative credentials than mine.  How can I support public education for all and not health care?  Why is it considered acceptable, even admirable, for everyone—including the rich—to take government assistance in the form of public education, but lower-class, even shameful to be on Medicaid, accept Food Stamps, or live in public housing?  What makes education so much more important than health care, food, or housing?

And maybe the PGSP’s are not as consistent as I thought, because I don’t see them pushing for compulsory soup-kitchen and housing project attendance.

Although … when our kids were in school, the school breakfast/lunch program, which served a useful purpose for poor children who otherwise would not eat, was pushed on everyone.  It wasn’t exactly mandatory, but the schools used plenty of promotions and advertisers’ tricks to get children to pressure their parents to send money for their lunches rather than pack them better food from home.  In the case of breakfast, they actually kept the other students trapped on the school bus until the breakfast-eaters were finished.  So who knows what's next in the minds of the PSGP's?

I don’t know where we’re going and what we’re in for with all this, and I don’t know how I’m going to rethink my attitude in regard to public education and/or health care.  But it certainly was a revelation to discover my own inconsistency.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 8:48 am | Edit
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altThe History of the Medieval World:  From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer (W. W. Norton, 2010)

I am now caught up with Bauer's history series, at least until The History of the Renaissance World becomes available later this year.  The History of the Medieval World is as good as the first book, The History of the Ancient World, though I will admit to some disappointment, as I was hoping for a little less of the "kings and battles and political intrigue" factor and more about art, music, and everyday life.  But alas, the former provide the background on which the rest of life is played out—and the book is 667 pages long as it is.  I'll have to be content with building up my times-people-places framework, and look elsewhere for the rest of the story.

Although the history of China, Japan, India, the Americas, and a few other parts of the world are important, it's harder for my euro-centric brain to keep the names straight, so my knowledge of those areas is still weaker.  Not that it's easy with Europe:  Just because "Charles" fits better into my memory than "Suryawarman," that doesn't mean keeping all those Germanic kingdoms straight isn't mind-boggling.  I can't even manage the Wars of the Roses yet.

The sections on European history were the most interesting to me for a different reason:  Having genealogy as a hobby means that many of the names are familiar.  Recognizing Henry the Fowler as my 34th great-grandfather, for example, lends an unusually piquant flavor to the story.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Edit
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I Like Birds is a video story created by my cousin, D.B. McLaughlin.  The words, music, and photos are all his.

Think of this video as a children's book, read on a tablet by a caring adult to someone who is hungry to know more about their world. Pause the video or mute the music as you wish.

I hate to think of tablets replacing printed books, but that being said, this is great.  Perhaps some of his first cousins once removed would enjoy it.  (Update:  I see I wrote "once removed"; I had meant to say "twice removed," but no doubt the parents will enjoy it, too!)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 7:02 am | Edit
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DragonBox is just one of the reasons I feel myself being dragged inevitably toward the tablet world.  My reaction upon seeing my first tablet was that it was too big to be a phone but too limited to be a computer.  How can it be a real computer with what passes for a keyboard on a tablet?  Or without all my favorite software?  Who would want one?  But that's where all the cool new software is.  :(

Stop the presses!  The GeekDad article doesn't mention it, but DragonBox is now available for Windows!  (Linux coming soon, they say.)  And for only six dollars.  (Twice the price of the iOS and Android versions, but there's more to it.)  I already know algebra, but it's tempting to check it out.

I've been saying for years that educational software producers need to get together with gaming experts.  The potential for computer-aided learning is enormous, but most games are not written for their potential to educate and enighten, and most educational software is barely beyond the flash-cards-with-glitz stage.  Not that Joseph doesn't love my PowerPoints, of course.  :)

Jean-Baptiste Huynh is a Vietnamese Frenchman living in Norway, who taught math for several years and was frustrated with the way math is taught in schools. He wanted his kids to learn algebra in a way that made sense to them, and with tablets and gamification of education he thought that there must be some way to create an app that would make algebra easier to learn. So he started up a company called We Want to Know, aimed at creating some user-friendly educational games that are (1) really educational and (2) really games. If DragonBox is any indication, he’s on the right path so far.

[Huynh] sees tablet computers as a truly disruptive technology that can change the way we teach and learn.

Thanks to DSTB for the tip.  I can't wait to see what's next.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Edit
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A comment made by Janet to my Quick Tourist's Conversion between Fahrenheit and Celsius post inspired these thoughts, and it seemed better to give them their own post rather than to comment on that one.:

The Orlando Sentinel of January 31 contained an article by a pediatrician, highlighting the efforts of those in his field to combat illiteracy. It included the following sentence:

One in four children grow up without learning how to read.

I have grave doubts about that statistic.  If true, there should be rioting in the streets on behalf of the 25 percent, who, under our compulsory education system, have wasted at least ten of the most important years of their lives in school.  True, there are a few (very few) children who have handicaps that keep them from learning to read, but there is absolutely no excuse for confining children for most of their young lives if they can't read when they come out.  As certain as I am that the institution of school has serious problems, I simply don't believe that it can be doing that badly.

On the other hand, true literacy is more than the mere ability to read words on a page.  Understanding, and the ability to reason, are necessary for making sense of writing.  That we fail one in four school children that way is still unbelievable, but reading comments written to news websites and blogs (especially those where the subject is political, or controversial in any way) has made it a more credible failing.

I can't get out of my mind the question someone, alas long forgotten, once asked:  Is there any material difference between someone who can't read and someone who doesn't?  It's not surprising that the mantra among teachers and parents has long been, "I don't care what they read as long as they're reading."  But comprehension and logic are skills that must be honed with practice.  To that end, what we read is critical:  Garbage in, garbage out.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 8, 2013 at 6:30 am | Edit
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Once upon a time, we gave normal baby shower presents, like everyone else.  You know, crib sheets and diapers and cute little outfits....  As time went on, and as we became more experienced parents, we began to change:  we started giving books.  I suppose a copy of Dr. Spock would have been considered a normal gift, but the books we gave were different, the kind that most people might never run into.  They were chosen from a mental list of books, accumulated over the years, which we had found to be especially helpful in the adventure of childrearing.  I had quickly become fed up with all the popular parenting books, which seemed to be describing ... well, I don't know who they were describing, but it certainly wasn't our children.  These books, taken in toto, did a much better job of understanding the little ones in our care, and of addressing our own particular needs and concerns.  I hoped by the shower gifts to spare other parents my own long and confusing journey.  This was pre-Internet, remember, and information was harder to come by than anyone born after 1975 can fully imagine.

After a while we learned to be more cautious in our giving, as we discovered that not every new parent is excited about getting books, let alone ones that are ... odd.  But I kept the list, calling it The Things Dr. Spock Won't Tell You; over the years, it grew and changed a bit in content, though not in philosophy.

The version I'm publishing now is old, having not been updated since 2005.  There are other good books I should add, and perhaps one day I will.  It should probably get a new title, too:  Does anyone read Dr. Spock anymore?  But it is what it is, and I'm only posting it because (1) the blog is a good place to tuck away old writings, and (2) I want to reference it in a later post.

One thing that will become obvious to anyone who reads the books is that they contradict each other in places.  So what?  I don't agree with everything in any of them; the path of truth is strewn with paradox.  The point was never to push any particular view of childrearing, but that in each book we'd found something of great value.  Take what is useful, and leave what is not.

Despite their differences, these books tend to have two things in common that undergird our own childrearing philosophy.  One is a great respect for children, and a conviction that we as a society have underestimated them in many areas, from the physical to the intellectual to the spiritual.  The other is a great respect for parents, the belief that "an ounce of parent is worth a pound of expert." (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 6:35 am | Edit
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Mea culpa!  It's been nearly a year since my post about Stephan's Dots book (numbers in four languages), and I never did update it with Joseph's response.  It was an immediate hit, and is still one of Joseph's very favorite books.

Here are a few videos showing Joseph and the book in action:

The book arrives!

In German (Swiss German, that is) with a brief excursion into Japanese near the end of the video (5:30)

In English, with a brief excursion at the end into Russian, a language Stephan inexplicably left out of the book...

And finally, his most recent effort:  Japanese

The book has proved very durable under heavy use, and if the $70 cost seems extravagant, I'd say Joseph has definitely gotten his parents' money's worth already.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Edit
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My backblog has once again achieved unmanageable proportions, so it's time to bring back—ta da!—Casting the Net, in which I collect related—or unrelated—snippets of items that have caught my attention.  Today's post was inspired by a series of videos on math education in the U. S. sent to me by my sister-in-law.  (Um, back in March 2011; I told you I'm behind.)

First, Math Education:  An Inconvenient Truth, by M. J. McDermott, who is neither a teacher nor a mathematician, but with a degree in atmospheric sciences it's safe to say she has a pretty good grip on the kind of math elementary and secondary school students should be learning.  And she doesn't like what she sees being taught in schools today, in particular the approaches of Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (aka TERC) and Everyday Mathematics.  (duration 15:27)

This video provoked several responses by James Blackburn-Lynch, a mathematics professor at Berea College, who argues (prolifically) that there's a lot of good in the approach that McDermott doesn't like. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Edit
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Stone Soup today is worth highlighting.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 7:07 am | Edit
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Sporcle, my favorite technique for developing mental "hooks" on which to hang related information, now has a game for the Swiss cantons!  I still need to work on them, but I'm pretty happy to have gotten 20/26 on my first try—without looking at the Swiss map (thank you A&M!) on my wall.  All but one missed canton are in the eastern part of the country, with which I'm less familiar.  I am somewhat embarrassed at having missed Neuchâtel, but I still did better that I would do with Florida's counties....

There's also a quiz for Facts about Switzerland, on which I got 37 out of 50 on the first try.  I would have gotten two more had I not been interrupted twice in the middle of the game.  When will Porter learn not to interrupt when I am doing important work?  I also wasted too much time trying variations on "Confederation Helvetica" for the official name....  And their answer for the "Southern Mountain Range" is nitpicking, I think.  I'll never be able to remember the name of the president (Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf), but that changes every year, anyway.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 9:50 am | Edit
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Skip this post if you are tired of reading about our fabulous grandchildren.  :)

I was talking with Janet the other day, and as I usually do, I asked what new cute things our grandkids were doing.

"Well," she replied, "Joseph counted nearly to 50."

This puzzled me, as numbers are his passion and a month ago he had happily counted past 150 for me.

Then she added, "in Japanese."

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Edit
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"[W]hen I began this article I was dead set against homeschooling, as are many certified teachers. But, after doing research, I’m not so sure."

It's not the most ringing of endorsements, but it represents a big step, and Susan Schaefer's Homeschooling Goes Mainstream and Here's Why is postive about homeschooling from beginning to end.

I learned that homeschooling is way more organized than I thought and very in vogue at the moment.  In 1980, home schooling was illegal in 30 states. Now, it is legal in all 50 states with about 1.5-2 million children being homeschooled in the U.S., roughly 3 percent of school-age children nationwide.

This reminder of how far we've come gives me hope for the cantons of Switzerland where homeschooling is still illegal.  I pray they'll make progress a bit faster than we did, however—Joseph gets nearer to compulsory school age with every passing hour.

[T]he stigma associated with homeschooling is gone as it becomes more and more mainstream.

I thought the stigma was ancient history, although maybe that's because I rarely pay much attention to such things.  Our kids would know better.

The image of homeschooled children spending their days sitting at the kitchen table are long gone. Today’s homeschooled are out and about with many museums offering programs to homeschoolers as well as other hands-on activities, such as nature centers. There are endless websites dedicated to non-traditional learning opportunities in addition to websites offering support and resources for homeschooling families.

Hmmm.  Our kitchen table was dedicated to eating, not schooling, though I can't deny that a lot of education happened during dinner.  We certainly did our share of out-and-about!  All those "endless websites" would have been nice, though.  Hard as it is to believe, children, this was Before The Internet, though we did have the Education Round Table on GEnie.

According to the Homeschool Progress Report 2009: Academic Achievement and Demographics, homeschoolers, on average, scored 37 percentile points above their public school counterparts on standardized achievement tests.

Nothing new here, but it is nice to know that the advantage still holds as the homeschooling numbers have grown from "the few, the proud."

[H]omeschooled kids are far from isolated from peers, do well in social situations, and are more likely to be involved in their community. The education level of the parents had little effect on the success of their children, as did state regulations, gender of the student, or how much parents spent on education.

Again, nothing new.  In fact, there is little new in the article, but it was still encouraging to read.  If there's one thing I've learned in my more-than-half-century of life, it's that what's well known needs to be said again and again to each new generation, each new situation, each new demographic, or it is in danger of being lost.

What caught my eye about this article, above and beyond the homeschooling connection, was the paper in which it appeared:  The Middletown (Connecticut) Patch.  I thought the format and logo looked familiar, and indeed it was the obviously-related East Haddam-Killingworth Patch of a year ago April that mentioned my research on Phoebe's Quilt.  So it must be an important journal, right?

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Edit
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Until June of 2010, homeschooling was legal in Sweden, albeit within some onerous regulations.  But with the passage of a comprehensive revision of the education system, the right of parents to direct the education of their own children has been virtually abolished, in apparent violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Article 2:

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.

If you want to become depressed learn more, there are many stories, often heart-wrenching, at the Home School Legal Defense Association site.  (I may have some quarrels with the HSLDA's approach, left over from the early days of homeschooling, but that doesn't negate their importance as a source of homeschooling advocacy and information.)

As part of an effort to raise awareness of their plight, Swedish homeschoolers are staging a Walk to Freedom from Askö, Sweden to the Finnish island of Åland, to which many Swedish homeschooling refugee families have fled.  (No, they're not walking on water, but plan to secure the help of a ferry for the last leg.)  Their adventure begins tomorrow.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | Edit
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I have so many things to write about, but am feeling a time crunch at the moment.  Just so you know I haven't forgotten you altogether, you get someone else's comments on homeschooling, in the form of a First Things article by Sally Thomas.  (H/T Conversion Diary).  Warning:  it may be a little intimidating if you happen to be feeling a bit insecure about your own homeschooling days.  But it's worth reading for the inspiration.

In recent years, as homeschooling has moved closer to the mainstream, much has been said about the successes of homeschooled children, especially regarding their statistically superior performance on standardized tests and the attractiveness of their transcripts and portfolios to college-admissions boards. Less, I think, has been said about how and why these successes happen. The fact is that homeschooling is an efficient way to teach and learn. It's time-effective, in that a homeschooled child, working independently or one-on-one with a parent or an older sibling, can get through more work or master a concept more quickly than a child who's one of twenty-five in a classroom.

To my mind, however, homeschooling's greatest efficiency lies in its capacity for a rightly ordered life. A child in school almost inevitably has a separate existence, a “school life,” that too easily weakens parental authority and values and that also encourages an artificial boundary between learning and everything else. Children come home exhausted from a day at school—and for a child with working parents, that day can be twelve hours long—and the last thing they want is to pick up a book or have a conversation. Television and video games demand relatively little, and they seem a blessed departure from what the children have been doing all day.

At home we can do what's nearly impossible in a school setting: We can weave learning into the fabric of our family life, so that the lines between “learning” and “everything else” have largely ceased to exist. The older children do a daily schedule of what I call sit-down work: math lessons, English and foreign-language exercises, and readings for history and science. The nine-year-old does roughly two hours of sit-down work a day, while the twelve-year-old spends three to four hours. But those hours hardly constitute the sum total of their education.

[W]hat looks like not that much on the daily surface of things proves in the living to be something greater than the schedule on the page suggests, a life in which English and math and science and history, contemplation and discussion and action, faith and learning, are not compartmentalized entities but elements in an integrated whole.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Edit
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