I can’t quite bring myself to say directly that I’m thankful for television, because I believe it has done great harm in our society, but it would be wrong to ignore the enormous educational and cultural benefits this technology has conferred.  As strong a proponent as I am of the written word, some second-hand experiences are much better approached in a video format.  From African safaris to Wagnerian opera, video provides formerly elite experiences to the hoi polloi.  It’s not the real thing—but even the very rich cannot experience everything directly.

Thus I am also thankful for the technology that has enabled us to be masters of this medium.  In my early days we had no television at all, but it didn’t take long to become enslaved.  Life was planned around when favorite shows were on, because if you weren’t watching at that very hour, you missed it.  I remember (to my shame) being reduced to tearful anger because our babysitter wouldn’t change the channel from her favorite show to mine.

It's true that we are, as a society, still enthralled.  But we don’t need to be.  We have the tools to use the medium for good purposes and ignore all the rest.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 6:12 am | Edit
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You’re surprised I waited so long for this one, right?  I value home education so highly that my gratitude for that privilege almost goes without saying.  (But gratitude should never go without saying.)   Because my joyous thanksgiving for the legal protection that homeschoolers now enjoy cannot be overstated, I will understate it here.

Educational opportunities have expanded for everyone, not just homeschoolers, over the last 50 years. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 6:07 am | Edit
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MMG is one of my Facebook friends. I've known her since before she was born, so technically she's more the daughter of our friends than my own friend.  Yet thanks to Facebook, in recent years I've had more contact with her, and know more about what's going on in her life, than with her parents.

This is a particular blessing, not only because it keeps up a connection that would otherwise have been lost, but because I enjoy her perspective on life.  She and I differ and disagree in multitudinous ways, from thoughts about God to the importance of televised hockey games.  As Hercule Poirot is fond of saying, she "gives one furiously to think."  But best of all, she is adept at finding (and posting) links from all over the Web, some of which lead me down very interesting paths.  Here's a recent one: (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 7:32 am | Edit
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I am republishing my initial comments, made in December 2008, when I checked The History of the Ancient World out of the library then discovered I didn't have time to read it.  Now, nearly two years later, I have finally read the book, and my additional comments are added below.

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.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 3, 2010 at 6:43 am | Edit
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alt

How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, by Robert Greenberg; a Teaching Company lecture

I've said it before:  For accessible, serious, high-quality, adult-level educational materials (DVD, CD, mp3 download) it's hard to beat The Teaching Company.  Robert Greenberg is one of my favorite lecturers, and this—so far—my favorite of his courses. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 6:12 am | Edit
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Gabriel Kron. Of all the amazing people who have intersected with my life, he is probably the safest to write about, since he died more than 40 years ago.  So I will; he deserves to be better known.

I knew him as my father's friend and mountain climbing partner; my father knew him from their days together at the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York.  Dad, a Tau Beta Pi engineer (like his father, two of his children, and a grandchild), was no intellectual slouch, but he never pretended to understand anything of Gabe's work. 

It didn't matter.  I myself joined the Kron Klimbing Klub at age seven, and was mighty annoyed when I later learned that some other organization had usurped the acronym, "KKK."

One firm rule of the Klub I remember distinctly:  No eating until you reach the top(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 6:39 am | Edit
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Exposure To Two Languages Carries Far-Reaching Benefits  From this article at ScienceDaily, you can follow links to many other articles on bilingualism and language learning, some of which I'll also include below.

People who can speak two languages are more adept at learning a new foreign language than their monolingual counterparts, according to research conducted at Northwestern University. And their bilingual advantage persists even when the new language they study is completely different from the languages they already know. ... And they believe the bilingual advantage is likely to generalize beyond word learning to other kinds of language learning, including learning new words in one's own language and a very basic ability to maintain verbal information. ... Previous research already indicates that individuals who have formally studied two or more languages as adults more easily acquire a new language than monolinguals. New research even indicates that the onset of Alzheimer's disease in bilinguals is, on average, delayed by four years compared to monolinguals. ... The Northwestern researchers chose to study bilinguals who learned a second language at an early age and in a non-classroom study to avoid suggestions that their subjects simply were exceptionally talented or motivated foreign language learners.

 (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 6:08 am | Edit
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I'm attacking my dauntingly long backblog again, applying the delete key ruthlessly on articles that are merely interesting.  Whatever the inverse of to decimate is, that's what I've done, killing off nine of every 10, and putting Li'l Writer Guy to work on what remains.  Casting the Net—which I'm reviving after a layoff long enough to have taken a baby from conception to the time most obstetricians would insist on induction—will pick up the ones of heightened interest that aren't compelling enough to demand a full post.


The good news?  It's getting a lot easier to look good in school:  Be on time, dress neatly, look interested, interact with the professor, do the homework—and the professor will love you, if you don't shock him into a heart attack.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Edit
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Apology for homeschooling  No, not an "I'm sorry" apology, though there are some elements of adolescent shyness in this new homeschooling father's essay, but apology in the old sense of a defense.  Despite a slightly annoying "we're not that kind of homeschooler" attitude, it's an amusing presentation of "the best way to answer a curious stranger's questions" versus "the whole truth."

Mrs. GSP: Do you use a curriculum?
Me: Oh, sure! Absolutely.
Real answer: Give me a break! These kids are 5 years old. ... That said, you could argue that Leslie has developed a fairly demanding curriculum. But that word comes with certain expectations that don't fit here. It isn't written down, it doesn't run on a set schedule, and it isn't based on lesson plans, piles of worksheets or a fixed rotation from subject to subject....

Mrs. GSP: What do you do about socialization?
Me: Oh, we've got a nice support network. They have a circle of friends. They do lots of classes and activities. They go to birthday parties and stuff.
Real answer: My public answer is OK, as far as it goes. But hang on a minute, lady: What do you mean by "socialization"? ... Ordinary schools tend to socialize children by way of enclosed, age-homogeneous pods, while home schooling tends to socialize children through a wide range of interactions with older kids, younger kids and adults, as well as peers. ... Do we regret not exposing our kids to the intense cultural melting pot of New York's school system? Sometimes, sure. But we're also not exposing them to bullying, arbitrary systems of order and discipline, age-inappropriate standards of behavior, and the hegemony of corporatized kid culture. Desmond and Nini have never heard of "Transformers," and we're OK with that.

The follow-up article is better, a hilarious, yet serious look at the results of their homemade curriculum based on myths and other stories of the ancient world.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 8:04 am | Edit
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I'm working on getting Li'l Writer Guy home from Switzerland, but in the meantime, enjoy this wonderful story of a three-year-old who saved her father's life by walking to a nearby fire station and asking for help.  Note both that young children can be much more competent than we generally expect these days, and that this competence did not arise in a vacuum, but had been nurtured by her parents.  It doesn't have to be, in the words of the reporter, "very un-three-year-old-like."

I can't embed the video, but you can find it on the right of the above-linked page, or here.  (H/T Free-Range Kids.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 23, 2010 at 8:40 am | Edit
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altThe Dark Ages  (The History Channel, 2007, not rated)

Having worked for a number of months in New York City, Porter had the opportunity both to explore the History Channel on television and to observe throughout the city the advertising placards proclaiming, "The History Channel:  Where History Is Made Every Day."  If he were a vandalizing sort of person, New Yorkers would have soon seen a slight alteration in the slogan:

alt

With my expectations sufficiently lowered, I found The Dark Ages not to be too bad.  (Thanks, Netflix.)  It's not my favorite approach to a historical documentary—Ken Burns set a standard that is hard to beat.  The tone is unpleasantly sensationalistic, and the re-enactments almost painfully unprofessional.  But the facts are consistent with what little I know of the time period (as consistent as historians get, anyway), and without doubt the show packs an amazing amount of history into 94 minutes.

I believe history needs to be taught using many sources, and many approaches.  Not only does this help balance out the inevitable bias each historian brings to his work, but I'm sure I'm not the only person who needs to hear a fact at least three times before it sticks with me.  The Dark Ages is not a great show, but it works well in this context.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 7:01 am | Edit
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altThe Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge (Penguin, New York, 2007)

Neuroplasticity.

The idea that our brains are fixed, hard-wired machines was (and in many cases still is) so deeply entrenched in the scientific establishment that evidence to the contrary was not only suppressed, but often not even seen because the minds of even respectable scientists could not absorb what they were certain was impossible.  Having been familiar since the 1960s with the work of Glenn Doman and the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, the idea that the human brain is continually changing itself and can recover from injury in astonishing ways did not surprise me. In fact, the only shock was that in a 400 page book on neuroplasticity and the persecution of its early pioneers I found not one mention of Doman's name. But the stories are none the less astonishing for that.

In Chapter 1 we meet woman whose vestibular system was destroyed by antibiotic side-effects.  She is freed by a sensor held on her tongue and a computerized helmet from the severely disabling feeling that she is falling all the time, even when lying flat.  That's the stuff of science fiction, but what's most astounding is that the effect lingers for a few minutes after she removes the apparatus the first time, and after several sessions she no longer needs the device(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Edit
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Mom knows best:  if you want to learn, you need to sleep.

A new study shows that dreaming is an important part of that process(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 23, 2010 at 7:24 am | Edit
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Our greatest involvement in our children's public schools came during the heyday of the self-esteem movement, and I recall the frustrations of being a lone voice crying out that easy success is as much an inhibitor of learning as repeated failure.  Those who sail through their early educational encounters with too much ease are often surpassed by their supposedly less able compatriots later in life, because they've missed the important lessons taught by failure.

With a hat top to Free-Range Kids, here's a Wall Street Journal article on why that college rejection letter, that teacher's put-down, and even our own weaknesses can be agents that propel us to success.

Warren Buffett was devastated when Harvard Business School rejected his application.  Buoyed by his father's "unconditional love...an unconditional belief in me," he looked for Plan B, squeaked in under Columbia University's application deadline, and was accepted, later donating some twelve million dollars to the institution whose investment in Buffett turned out to be as savvy as Buffett himself.

"The truth is, everything that has happened in my life...that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better," Mr. Buffett says.

Columbia's current president, Lee Bollinger, grew up in a small town with limited educational opportunities.  He, too, was rejected by Harvard, and the shock taught him to take responsibility for his own education, to realize that "it was up to him alone to define his talents and potential."

His advice: Don't let rejections control your life. To "allow other people's assessment of you to determine your own self-assessment is a very big mistake," says Mr. Bollinger, a First Amendment author and scholar. "The question really is, who at the end of the day is going to make the determination about what your talents are, and what your interests are? That has to be you."

Success has many lessons to teach, too, and frankly I prefer that classroom.  But for grit, determination, perseverance, responsibility, and hard work, failure may be the better teacher.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 8:37 am | Edit
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The Gobblestone School: A Tale Inspired by the German Criminalization of Homeschooling, by Jacob Schriftman (aka Jokim Schnoebbe) (Moonrise/CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, California, 2009)

I wanted to like this book.

First, I wanted to read it, and for that I had to buy it, as it was not available in the library.  It languished in my Amazon "save for later" cart for a while, but I recently decided to indulge myself.  I'm glad I read it, but as indulgence goes, I'd rather have dark chocolate. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 10:05 am | Edit
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