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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Indoctrinate U (On the Fence Films, 2007)

Indoctrinate U has been on my "watch list" for a while, but I hadn't been able to make myself take the time. It's not available from Netflix, but I found it on YouTube, in nine parts of about 10 minutes each.  Today it came up on my "get this done today" list, so I thought I'd watch one or two of the segments. But they don't end in good places, and anyway I got hooked, so I watched the whole thing.

This documentary on discrimination, intolerance, and anti-diversity in American higher education is obviously not a high-budget film, though I'm sure it's better in the original format.  I agree with Janet's comment that "it only pointed out the problems and didn't discuss any causes or better yet, idea for fixing the problems," and fear she may be right that it might be more divisive than helpful.  Nonetheless, it's an important film to watch for anyone attending, planning to attend, or sending money to a college or university.  I am not advocating staying away from college; but do be aware of the larger picture.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 11:11 am | Edit
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It's not a topic I'd intended to blog about, even though I'd read the AP article, Top home-school texts dismiss Darwin, evolution.   But I wrote so much in a comment to a friend's Facebook post (thanks, Liz!), I figure it's a shame not to make a second use of the effort.

Our own homeschooling experience left me not particularly impressed with the efforts of specifically Christian publishers, beginning with the discovery that the A Beka kindergarten book I'd bought taught that winter is a time of snow, with no mention of the large part of the world where that isn't true.  I suspect most books at the kindergarten level are about as bad, but A Beka is based in Pensacola, Florida, and should have known better. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 9:37 am | Edit
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Homeschooling for the Rest of Us:  How Your One-of-a-Kind Family Can Make Homeschooling and Real Life Work, by Sonya Haskins (Bethany House, Minneapolis, 2010)

Sonya Haskins is a calm and reasonable voice speaking to the homeschooler—and potential homeschooler—who is overwhelmed and intimidated by the image of the "perfect" homeschooling experience:  "Matching outfits, polite toddlers, award-winning students, fifteen-passenger vans, and family Web sites."   (Raymond and Dorothy Moore did the same thing in the 1980s with Homeschool Burnout, which was updated and revised in the 1990s as The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook.)  There's a lot of hype, confusion, and contradictory information out there, and Haskins' practical, back-to-basics approach and helpful suggestions will reassure timid beginners that they can, indeed, safely navigate the homeschooling waters. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 8, 2010 at 8:15 am | Edit
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This article about the mathematics department at the University of Rochester credits much of their recent success to an online homework system developed by two U of R professors.

Any system that results in 80 percent of undergraduates taking calculus, without any requirement to do so, bears looking into.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Edit
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Weapons of Mass Instruction:  A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto (New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada, 2009)

A pastor I know was fond of quoting Martin Luther, who, when asked why he preached on justification by faith every week, responded, "Because you forget it every week."  John Taylor Gatto has no love for Martin Luther, but I can imagine him giving a similar response when asked why his books, articles, and lectures include so much that he has said before.  He has a critically important message to deliver, and is clearly compelled to repeat it as many times and in as many ways as he can.

In his desperation to make people understand what he has learned, from his research and 30 years on the front lines of teaching, Gatto has become more pointed, strident and radical as time goes on.  It's an understandable reaction—I remember noting the same effect in John Holt's writings, and I fall prey to it all too often myself—but for this reason I hesitate a little to recommend Weapons of Mass Instruction to anyone who is not already convinced of the dangers inherent in our pubic school system.  And yet...I do recommend it, highly.  Why?  Let me digress. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Edit
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alt

Shakespeare:  The Word and the Action, by Peter Saccio; a Teaching Company lecture

For accessible, serious, high-quality, adult-level educational materials (DVD, tape, mp3 downloads) it's hard to beat The Teaching Company.  Tonight we finished the last lecture of Shakespeare:  The Word and the Action, a course which easily ranks as one of my favorites. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Edit
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Blame me, my parents, or my schools as you see fit, but after half a century as an American citizen, 13 years of public education, and a college degree, I couldn't name all of the presidents of the United States, much less in order.  The mystery is why no one ever tried to teach me, given how easily I learned them when I put my mind to it, and how handy it has been (and would have been in history class!) to have even a rough idea of who fits in where.

Actually, I did not even have to put my mind to the problem, only my ears.  I bought a copy of Sue Dickson's "Song of the U.S. Presidents," and after a few hearings it stuck.  It's not a great song, but as with many not-so-great songs, that seems to make it stick all the better.  (The link takes you to an updated version that I haven't tried yet (mine ends with Clinton), but the sample suggests it is basically the same.)  Of all the U.S. President songs, that one is my favorite, because it is short, simple, and easy to rattle off mentally when needed—such as when I'm playing the "put the pictures of the presidents in chronological order" game with my nephews.  However, it teaches only the order (no numbers) and gives last names but not first, so you have to know which Adams is which, and which Harrison, and that both Clevelands are the same person. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 9:52 am | Edit
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Where were you 20 years ago today?

My own journal entry is remarkably filled with the mundane details of life with two young children.  There is one exclamatory sentence, "Would that every day could be like this!" but it was referring to Heather's having awakened with her alarm clock, showered, dressed, made her bed, cleaned her room and finished all her chores before school.  Not as momentous as events on the other side of the world, but a personal triumph. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 9, 2009 at 7:47 am | Edit
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Studies showing that teachers will form expectations of a student's character and ability based on nothing more than his or her name are unfortunately nothing new.  Students with "traditional," common names are more likely to receive higher ratings on both academic performance and behavior than those with names perceived as odd.  What makes this article worth commenting on is not the results of the study, but the names themselves.

The study reveals that . . . traditional names such as Charlotte, Sophie, Marie, Hannah, Alexander, Maximilian, Simon, Lukas and Jakob are consistently linked to strong performance and good behaviour. Non-traditional names such as Chantal, Mandy, Angelina, Kevin, Justin and Maurice, on the other hand, are associated with weak performance and bad behaviour.

 (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Edit
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School at the Daley household could hardly have been called normal, since Grandma was there as a distraction and Mommy was sick for the first part of my visit.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed my glimpse into the official, sit-at-the-table side of their 24/7 educational process.

Jonathan is not at the moment as excited about math as he is about reading—unlike his Aunt Janet at that age, for whom reading was all right but math was a bowl full of candy.  He's doing well, though, with basic addition and subtraction (and even some simple multiplication and division), and enjoys the "math paths" that Grandma sends him in the mail, problems like this one:

Both boys also like using their Cuisenaire rods, base-10 blocks, and bucket balance.  The Cuisenaire rods are from our own homeschooling days.  We also had a set of base-10 blocks that I had made out of cardboard.  They disappeared somehow, probably in one of our moves, and trust me, buying a commercial set is well worth the $16 investment.  I can't get over the resources available to homeschoolers these days!

The fun is the same, though.  There are few thrills more sublime than observing the "ah ha!" moment in your child's (or grandchild's) eyes.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Edit
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Our own homeschooling experiences were far shorter than I would have liked, so it has been fun watching other family members in their adventures.  (It has also been nothing short of astonishing to see what resources are now available, rather like the difference between a gas station convenience store and a Super-Wegmans grocery store.)

It is especially fun to watch the grandkids' schooling, since our own children were in public school at this stage.  On the one hand, school time is very short, even for kindergarten, when measured by organized, sit-at-the-table time, and Heather's still working on the best way to balance everyone's needs.  On the other hand, education, if not school, is clearly going on 24/7, and one cannot argue with the results.

Jonathan can read.  It is still laborious enough that he tires easily, but he has reached the stage where what he needs most is simply to read, which he is happy to do, whether to himself or to others. And not only books, but signs, maps, computer screens, anything and everything.

I think more reading goes on here than anything else.  Noah asks to be read to at any spare moment (or not so spare), usually the same books over and over and over again, until he knows the story well enough to "read" it himself.  It's a hoot to hear him tell The Three Billy Goats Gruff:  You wouldn't understand much if you didn't already know the story, but he has all the nuances and tones of voice down pat, from "It only I, the little billy goat," to "I coming to GOBBLE YOU UP!"

This post clearly isn't going to cover all I had planned, so I'll cut it short and post it anyway.  Being part of the adventure doesn't leave much time to write about it.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 17, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Edit
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