An article in today's Orlando Sentinel boasts this headline: Florida students make ‘substantial gains’ on state tests, new results show. I'm not going to say much about this happy headline, except to note that the joy includes the fact that only 22% of third graders failed to read at grade level, down from 27% last year. Other statistics are similarly dismal. This in a state that U.S. News & World Report ranked #1 in education.

But it's not the schools I'm taking issue with at the moment. It's the newspaper, which with the article ran this photo of middle school students learning math. (Photo credit Willie J. Allen Jr/Orlando Sentinel) (click to enlarge).

As near as I can figure out, the problem is to find the distance between two points on a Cartesian plane, (-3, -3) and (-3, -4). What's written is not the way I would have approached the problem, but—assuming scalar distance, since no direction was specified—the answer is, indeed, 1. I'm also assuming that some of the work was done in the student's head, and these are just notes taken along the way.

Nonetheless, instead of a room full of (possibly) eager math students, what stands out to me—in an article bragging about improvement in math scores—is the equation,

3 - 4 = 1

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 2, 2024 at 5:44 pm | Edit
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I can be a sucker for headlines like "Second grade math question has the internet fighting over the answer," and this time I was caught despite knowing it was click-bait.  Here's the question:

A mother posted what she said was her child’s second-grade math homework. Here’s how the question goes: “There are 49 dogs signed up to compete in a dog show. There are 36 more small dogs than large dogs signed up to compete. How many small dogs are signed up to compete?

I took it seriously, knowing there must be a trick or it wouldn't be controversial.  But I quickly dismissed questions like, "How do you draw the line between large and small dogs?" as being uninteresting, and decided to take the problem at face value.

It's one of the easiest, most basic algebra problems.  If you are wondering why an algebra problem was given to second graders—well, I've seen children even younger solve such puzzles through logic and an intuitive sense of the world that school hasn't yet had a chance to squeeze out of them.

So.  Simple algebra.  (It's a lot faster and easier than it looks, written out, but bear with me.)

  • Let L = the number of large dogs.
  • Let S = the number of small dogs
  • We know L + S = 49
  • Therefore L = 49 - S
  • We know S = L + 36
  • Therefore S = (49 - S) + 36  [substituting (49 -  S) for L]
  • Therefore S = (49+36) - S
  • Therefore S = 85 - S
  • Therefore 2S = 85  [adding S to both sides]
  • Therefore S = 42.5

That's where the Algebra I student stops.  The second grader knows better:  "Half a dog?  Are you crazy?  Math makes no sense."

Math makes plenty of sense.  All too often, math textbooks and tests do not.

The teacher whose homework assignment caused the kerfuffle admitted that the problem itself was wrong, casting the blame on the school district.  She confirmed, however, that 42.5 would be the correct answer, "if done at an age appropriate grade."

No.  Just no.

This is why bridges fall down.

Math word problems that purport to be about real-world situations should reasonably conform to reality.  If you want to use those numbers, maybe try something like, "Tom and Lisa shared a box of 49 Krispy Kreme donuts.  Tom ate 36 more than Lisa.  How many did Tom eat?" ("Enough for a massive stomach ache," would be my answer.)  Or just change the numbers!  (Maybe the error was a misprint.)

The only correct answer to the problem as stated is, "This question is not answerable."

If we teach our children that it's okay to plug numbers into an algorithm (or a computer model) and make decisions based on the results without considering whether or not the answers actually make real-world sense; if we teach them that giving a wrong answer is better than saying, "we don't know," or even "we can't know"; then bridges are going to collapse, windows are going to blow out of airplanes, economies are going to crash, countries are going to start wars, and people are going to die.



Although it made Tampa's NBC News affiliate only two days ago, the story is at least five years old, as you can see here (if you don't mind the language).

For what it's worth, this was my thought process once I realized that the problem was the problem.

  1. The total number of dogs, 49, is an odd number.
  2. The only way two integers can sum to an odd number is if one of them is odd, and the other is even.
  3. The number of small dogs and the number of large dogs differs by 36, which is an even number.
  4. The only way two integers can differ by an even number is if they are either both odd, or both even.
  5. (2) and (4) are mutually exclusive conditions.
  6. Since dogs must be counted by positive integers and not fractions, the problem is not solvable.



There's one more difficulty in this puzzling and disturbing report.

The Tampa news team ends the story with their own solution:

The digital team from Nexstar affiliate WTAJ took a crack at it, with their own Olivia Bosar determining the following:

“You first subtract the 36 to group them as small dogs since you need at least 36 small dogs. You then divide the remaining 13 into two categories: large dogs and small dogs. But you have to divide them in a way that would give you the ability to create a class that’s X and a class that’s X+36. It’s not possible in this equation because 13 is a prime number.”

As a prime number, once you try to divide 13, you end up with a .5 in your answer, and, well, obviously, you can’t have half of a dog.

I give them credit for recognizing that you can't have half a dog, at least not if you want him alive enough to compete in a show.  But what does the fact that 13 is a prime number have to do with anything?  If you make the total number of dogs 51 instead of 49, then after you subtract 36 the number of remaining dogs is 15.  Fifteen is not prime, but the problem is jut as insoluble.

Back in elementary school, I loved what was then called the "New Math."  Working with sets, and other bases—I ate it up.  (Tom Lehrer has a great song about it.)  But today's Newer Math?  I have my doubts.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 23, 2024 at 8:08 am | Edit
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I was wondering how I'd get a post out today, in which there is no time for actual writing. Then my grandson handed me this on a platter, which he dubbed, "The real reason I decided not to go to college." (This from one of the most learning-obsessed people I know.) Porter, you will love what he says about Economics.

Also, this is for all of my fellow Gilbert & Sullivan enthusiasts.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 9, 2024 at 5:32 pm | Edit
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I'm not particularly aware of what parents and teachers worry about these days, having long passed that stage of life, but I know that for a long time, parents have been concerned that kids are not doing the things that concerned my generation's parents and teachers because we were actually doing them. Case in point: Reading.

For decades, schools have found it necessary to push children to read books. And I can see why, given the number of adults who simply don't read books, once they are done with school. They weren't reading for pleasure back when they were captive students, but rather because books were assigned—so it's hardly surprising that they don't read now that they are free.

I hear responsible parents these days admonishing their children, "Put down your phone/iPad/Nintendo and go read a book!" Or so I'm told; maybe they've given up by now. But I'm sure the schools are still telling kids to read. Pretty sure, at least.

That's not what I heard growing up. My parents were both avid readers, but I was more likely to hear, "Put down that book and go outside!" That wasn't exactly onerous, at least not when we lived in Upstate New York with a large, undeveloped section of land just across the street from our house. I spent nearly as many happy hours exploring the woods and fields as I spent exploring the worlds of my books. "Put down that book and get your chores done" was not quite as welcome a call.

Side Note: Our parents may have had a point.  Here's something my dad wrote after I visited the eye doctor for a yet stronger glasses prescription.

Dr. O’Keefe never offers any advice for arresting Linda’s rapidly increasing near-sightedness except to make her get outdoors more and not let her bury her nose in a book.  I think that we really need some advice that is better thought out. [More than 20 years later, the doctors could do no better than this when our eldest daughter was experiencing the same problem.]

Teachers and parents these days (where by "these days" I'm referring to anything after about 1980) have been so desperate to get kids to read that they have lowered their standards and expectations almost as if this were a limbo contest. "I don't care what he reads, as long as he's reading."

Contrast this with my mother, who tried to enlist the help of our elementary school librarian to get me to read something more challenging than the horse stories and science fiction I was devouring. Or my sixth grade teacher, who solemnly advised my father that "Linda should improve the quality of her reading." I'm certain that he was correct; I'm equally certain that my father's attempts to encourage me in that direction, beginning with bringing home from the library a Jules Verne compendium, were not a resounding success.

Reading has always been my passion, and in my eighth decade I have not yet outgrown horse stories and science fiction. However, I think even my sixth grade teacher would be pleased with my much-expanded selections. It's possible that the most credit for my habit of reading should go to the fact that we did not have a television in the house until I was seven years old, nor a computer till after I was married.

One thing I know for sure: there will always be an X, a Y, and parents and teachers who will exhort their children, "Stop doing X and go do Y."

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 28, 2024 at 6:03 am | Edit
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Our second-oldest grandson, the Aviator (otherwise known as the Baker), made his first solo flight last week!

And today, Grace was cleared to take off from the hospital and move into their new apartment. Not home, but home-away-from-home. She walked off the floor and into the outside world for the first time in what? More than five weeks?

What does this mean? Here's what I think is right:

  • She will return to the hospital for "clinics" a minimum of three times per week, one purpose of which is to make sure the delicate dance between her healing body and her medications keeps on track. Another is to keep checking on her liver and all those other bodily systems that need to be working right.
  • She will be receiving nutrition and all her medications through her NG tube; the container's in her backpack, which looks mighty heavy for such a little girl.
  • Of course she will continue to be encouraged to eat food by mouth. The other day she managed a half a piece of bacon and some Skittles!
  • Her central line is still necessary for testing and other things that might come up.
  • Her parents are now responsible for administering a long and confusing list of medications. They're engineers, and probably have a spreadsheet or some such to help.
  • There will be a bunch of new rules and routines to get accustomed to.
  • Prayers are still very much needed!

Speaking of flying, Grace's two older sisters took advantage of the Boston connection to participate in MIT's Spark program this weekend!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 17, 2024 at 6:45 pm | Edit
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Since 2010, I've been keeping a record of the books I read. During this time, I've averaged 68 books per year; the smallest annual total was 33 in 2011, and the largest 108 in 2018. In 2023 I barely beat my lowest count, reading only 35 books. I really can't account for it, other than to say that life happens. We travelled a lot, family matters took up a lot of time and energy, and a couple of projects took priority (I'd like to say that one of those projects was genealogy, but that's another area that got neglected). However, nothing stands out as a reason to have read fewer than three books per month. Here's to a better 2024!

The stats from 2023:

  • Total books: 35
  • Fiction: 28 (80%)
  • Non-fiction: 7 (20%)
  • Months with most books: November (6)
  • Month with fewest books: October (0)
  • Most frequent authors: Brian Jacques and J.R.R. Tolkien each had four; Jeff Wheeler, Trenton Lee Stewart, and Zenna Henderson had three; other than that it was ones and twos. As I said, it was a slow year.
  • Interesting fact: Nine of the 35 books I read on the recommendation of grandchildren, six were recommended by an author friend, and many of the others were an indulgence in books/authors from my childhood. I'm not making much progress on my extremely long "To Read" list, but I am having fun.

Here's the list, sorted by title; links are to reviews. The different colors in the titles only reflect whether or not you've followed a hyperlink. The ratings (★) and warnings (☢) are on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest/mildest. Warnings, like the ratings, are highly subjective and reflect context, perceived intended audience, and my own biases. They may be for sexual content, language, violence, worldview, or anything else that I find objectionable. Nor are they completely consistent. For example, Brandon Sanderson's books could easily rate a content warning in all of the above categories, yet they are mostly not inappropriate to the context and could be considered quite mild—for a modern book. Your mileage may vary.

Title Author Category Rating/Warning Notes
Antifragile Nassim Nicholas Taleb non-fiction ★★ Really hard to rate this. Some very interesting ideas, but the style is as confusing to me as Joyce's "Ulysses," so I didn't get much out of it.
The Anything Box Zenna Henderson fiction ★★★  
The Art of Evil Blair Bancroft fiction ★★★★ ☢ Almost a must-read for visiting the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. Language and mild sexual references.
At First Light Barbara Nickless fiction ★★★ ☢  
Badger Hills Farm 0: Timothy of the 10th Floor Jenny Phillips fiction ★★★★ Good story, but intended for school so the format is annoying.
The Bible: Apocrypha   non-fiction ★★★★ Revised Standard Version
The Bible: New Testament   non-fiction ★★★★★ King James Version
The Bible: Old Testament   non-fiction ★★★★★ King James Version
The Black Stallion Returns Walter Farley fiction ★★★★  
Captain Cook Alistair MacLean non-fiction ★★★★  
The Christmas Train David Baldacci fiction ★★★  
Force 10 from Navarone Alistair MacLean fiction ★★★★  
The Guns of Navarone Alistair MacLean fiction ★★★★  
The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien fiction ★★★★★  
Holding Wonder Zenna Henderson fiction ★★★  
A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein non-fiction ★★★★ Lots of good, a small amout bad, some weird.
Is It Always Fun to Travel Abroad? Antonio Morales-Pita non-fiction ★★  
The Island Stallion Walter Farley fiction ★★★★  A huge favorite from childhood.
Jack Zulu and the Waylander's Key S. D. Smith and J. C. Smith fiction ★★★ Interesting story, weak in places, some very nice spots.
Kingfountain 1: The Queen's Poisoner Jeff Wheeler fiction ★★★★★ An absolute delight.
Kingfountain 2: The Thief's Daughter Jeff Wheeler fiction ★★★ Mostly great, but too much romance.
Kingfountain 3: The King's Traitor Jeff Wheeler fiction ★★★★ Not quite as good as the first book, but still excellent.
The Lord of the Rings 1: The Fellowship of the Ring J. R. R. Tolkien fiction ★★★★★ Always worth re-reading.
The Lord of the Rings 2: The Two Towers J. R. R. Tolkien fiction ★★★★★  
The Lord of the Rings 3: The Return of the King J. R. R. Tolkien fiction ★★★★★  
Maigret and the Apparition Georges Simenon fiction ★★★  
MBS 1: The Mysterious Benedict Society Trenton Lee Stewart fiction ★★★★★  
MBS 2: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey Trenton Lee Stewart fiction ★★★★  
MBS 3: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma Trenton Lee Stewart fiction ★★★★  
Menace at Lincourt Manor Blair Bancroft fiction ★★★★  
Poems and Uncollected Stories Zenna Henderson fiction ★★★  
Redwall 9: Pearls of Lutra Brian Jacques fiction ★★★★★  
Redwall 10: The Long Patrol Brian Jacques fiction ★★★★★  
Redwall 11: Marlfox Brian Jacques fiction ★★★★★  
Redwall 12: The Legend of Luke Brian Jacques fiction ★★★★  


Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 19, 2024 at 9:41 am | Edit
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I have heard that Harvard University is losing donors because of its perceived lacklaster response to the Hamas attacks, and its refusal to condemn the hate-filled actions of some of its students.

Likewise, the CEO's of some companies have asked to be given a list of those students who have supported the hateful statements and demonstrations, so that they can be sure not to hire any of them.

I make no apology for my own strong support of Israel, but a few things come to mind:

  • Colleges and universities should not be expected to take a stand on political issues. Their job is education, and they would do well to pay more attention to doing that well, and less to yapping about things that are none of their business.
  • It is the right—nay, the duty—of an individual, a company, or a foundation to make sure that the values of the organizations they support align sufficiently with their own. That's why we stopped supporting our own alma mater long ago.
  • I believe some students, not only at Harvard but all over the country, are willfully doing evil things, though most of those involved in the demonstrations are probably just guilty of unthinking peer-dependency. Like it or not, however, college students are renowned for doing stupid things. I know; I was in college in the early 70's. The leadership ranks of many, maybe most, modern organizations are filled with executives who did very stupid, even evil, things in college. Hence my suspicions that the wish to blacklist certain students might be a tad hypocritical.
  • Despite what I said above about colleges not getting involved in politics, I believe that the the opinions and actions of some of Harvard's students were so egregious that Harvard should have officially, strongly condemned the ideas while still supporting the rights of the students to hold wrong views and to make them public.
  • I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it:

If we don't believe in freedom of speech and the right of peaceable assembly for those whose ideas we hate, we don't believe in them at all.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 7:02 am | Edit
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We've all been there.

At some performance, or speech, the audience bursts into applause, and you join in, because, well, it's now time to clap, and that's what you do. Whether or not you actually like what you heard, joining the applause is what you do. You can at least salute the performer's courage in getting up in front of an audience and doing better than you could at whatever it is.

Then the audience rises for a standing ovation. "Wait a minute," you say. "It was good, but was it spectacular? I don't think so. But everyone else is standing, and I don't want to look like an old grump, so I guess I'll get up."

Maybe we shouldn't be so hasty.

It is popular now for leaders in Canada to wring their hands over the debacle that caused the speaker of their parliament to be thrown under the bus resign his position. I mean, what else can you do when you've singled out for special honor a Ukrainian "war hero" who courageously fought Russia during World War II, and Justin Trudeau and the entire parliament have joined Volodymyr Zelenskyy in giving him a double standing ovation, only to have the obvious brought to your attention: Um, sir, weren't the Russians our allies during WWII? Wasn't this man a Nazi, fighting on the wrong side?

Leaving aside the fact that life, history, and politics are complicated things, and our enemy one year may be our staunch ally a decade or two later, and that the Soviet Union was actually responsible for far more democide than Nazi Germany, and that maybe the man did act heroically for what he saw as the right cause—the point is that one does not speak positively about anyone who can be branded with the term Nazi, much less someone who actually was one. It is simply not done. Not without committing political suicide.

So all those politicians who stood up and cheered have my sympathy, in a sense. I can imagine them, half-heartedly paying attention to the speeches they are paid to pretend to pay attention to, all the while conducting political business with their near neighbors, or fantasizing about lunch, or wondering how they could have avoided the morning's fight with their teens. The signal to applaud comes, they clap, the people around them stand, they stand. It's understandable.

But one could wish, could hope, that somewhere among all those well-educated folks who were elected to lead the country and represent their fellow Canadian citizens, a few could have been found who paused and asked themselves, "If this hero fought the Soviets in WWII, doesn't that mean...?"

I'm not going to embarrass myself by wondering if I would have done better (I'd most likely have been writing a blog post in my head instead of paying attention to the speakers), nor if our children and grandchildren realize fully enough that Russia was our ally in World War II.

I will hope, however, that this event will at least make us stop and think before following the crowd in either its cheers or its jeers.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 15, 2023 at 11:22 am | Edit
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Ten years ago I asked for help in petitioning the government to grant asylum in the United States to the Romeike family, who were being persecuted in Germany for their homeschooling beliefs. After a surprisingly long and somewhat discouraging battle, they were granted

“indefinite deferred action status,” which allowed them to live, work, and remain safely in the United States without fear of deportation.

Until last month.

Then, in September 2023, the Romeikes were told during a routine check-in that their deferred status had been revoked. The family was given four weeks to apply for German passports, so they could be deported to Germany. The family had no prior warning, and was offered no explanation, other than that there had been a “change of orders.”

Homeschooling is still illegal and actively prosecuted in Germany. Two of the family's children were born here, and are American citizens. Another two are married to American citizens, and one of these couples has a child—also, of course, American.

As far as I can tell (acknowleding that I haven't been following them since 2014), they seem to have integrated well into life in Tennessee and are an asset to their community. I see no reason to tear this family apart, especially given that returning to Germany would put them at immediate risk of having the children forcibly removed from their parents for no reason other than their religious and educational beliefs.

If you feel similarly, here's a petition you can sign, and here's a link to more details of their story. Also, there's a bill in Congress, H.R. 5423, to help the Romeikes, so a note to your representative would be in order as well.

Thank you all for considering this small but vital case, and especially for your prayers.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 4, 2023 at 4:53 pm | Edit
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The same guy who brought you the 18-Minute Cabin had an old, broken down pop-up camper that he decided to renovate from the ground up. I know a few people who might find the work interesting; I know I did. (44 minutes, does well at 2x speed.)

I've really enjoyed his YouTube channel, black spruce. Perhaps it's the uncertainty of life these days that makes me especially appreciate people with these kinds of skills. Either that, or I just like watching other people work. :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 24, 2023 at 2:13 pm | Edit
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There's an Episcopal/Anglican magazine called The Living Church, which I'll admit I've never read and am therefore not endorsing nor repudiating. And the article I would point you to is behind a pay wall.

However, I here present to you the most important part of September's issue.

That's our church, our choir director, and one of our most important ministries. Resurrection Players draws children (and their families) from all over the area. Tim has an amazing talent for making children, from preschool through high school, comfortable with public speaking, singing, and dancing. (He's pretty good with adults, too.) If you ever want to meet a future Broadway star in his very beginnings, getting to know the kids in Tim's plays would be a good bet.

I wish this had been available for our children; at least one of them would have absolutely eaten it up. I'll bet several of our grandchildren would love it, too. But none of the grandkids is closer than 1300 miles away, and the program did not exist when our children were young.

However, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate this opportunity for those who can take advantage of it. It's not just about theatre and performing. It's about developing skills and confidence, and getting the whole family connected with a good community.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 12, 2023 at 5:49 am | Edit
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The builders in our family might enjoy this video.  I'm not a builder, but I loved watching this cabin-in-the-woods go together in 18 minutes.  That is, a 36-minute video watched at 2x speed.  The actual project took about a month.

If you liked this one, you can see more of the story here.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 28, 2023 at 5:31 pm | Edit
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Insist on answers to your letters in writing. "Come in and we'll talk" is never an acceptable answer.

I'm still cleaning out files, and finding gems. This one came from an article by Dale Berlin, "Tips for Parents from a Parent Who's Been There," published in NETWORK for Public Schools, Winter 1988 Vol. 13. No. 4. The author presents several tools of basic parental advocacy for ensuring that a child is not being treated unfairly in school.

Why did I choose this one to highlight? Because the "let's talk" tactic is on the rise, not only by schools but also by employers, businesses, government officials, and other authority figures. More and more people seem to be allergic to putting their words in writing. I'm dealing right now with a local government official who refuses to answer by e-mail some straightforward questions about our city's recycling practices. She'll be happy to discuss it on the phone, she says. Maybe that just means she thinks it will take less time than typing out a few sentences, or maybe she thinks she can explain the situation better orally, or maybe she wants to give an intentionally fuzzy answer (I've gotten a lot of that recently). Whatever the reason, what I want is facts, serious facts about a serious situation, and I find answers to be a lot less slippery when they're pinned down in written form.

I obviously trust our financial advisor, or we'd find another one. But he does have a significant strike against him: he doesn't like to communicate by e-mail. If we send him a question over e-mail, he will call us on the phone to answer, or if the question is complicated enough, schedule an in-person meeting. I suspect he's just more comfortable speaking than writing. I'm the opposite; f you want clarity and truth from me, ask me to write; my verbal answers are much less likely to be accurate. But I understand that some people are different.

However, in some situations it's not just a matter of preferred communication style. Words written down have been purveyors of serious meaning for millennia. Written words may no longer be literally etched in stone, but they're still more permanent than what is spoken. More importantly, you can go back and refer to the text if there is a question about what was said.  There's a reason secretaries take minutes during meetings, and the court reporter's job is critical.

Printed-on-paper communications have the advantage of being on a material medium. On the other hand, e-mails have the advantage of being easily searchable, so sometimes I prefer one, sometimes the other. Texts, social media messages, WhatsApp, and the like are also text-based, and useful in their own sphere, but much more ephemeral and difficult to search, especially since there are so many platforms. Video and audio formats are orders of magnitude less searchable; how much time is wasted going back over a recording trying to find out where in the two-hour presentation the speaker mentioned something you later want to refer to? Much too much, in my case.

And often, as in the above-mentioned situations of what someone is doing with our children, or our money, oral communication doesn't leave a record at all. Long ago I read the advice that every phone call and in-person meeting should be followed up by an e-mail to the effect of, "This is what I remember of our conversation; if you don't respond to this e-mail and correct me, I will assume you agree with my summary." Great advice, but also a time-consuming pain, and I'm not good at remembering to do it.

It's true that there are benefits to spoken communication that one doesn't get when the words are in writing, especially since the time-honored art of conveying and interpreting emotional content with letters has all but died out. Emojis just don't cut it. I love a good chat among friends. Bring back campfires, family meals, and tea parties!

But if you're my child's teacher, or my financial advisor, or my employer, or my government, nothing says "I will stand by what I say" better than putting it in writing. That won't stop you from going back on your word, or being wrong, or just changing your mind, but at least it will be clear that you did.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 12, 2023 at 8:07 am | Edit
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There's a place for professionals, and a time to enjoy the excellence that can only be attained by those who have dedicated most of their lives to a skill, a craft, or a subject. But be it music or sport or cooking or thinking, there's a special place in my heart for amateurs, where the roots are.

Take music. From church choirs to Irish seisiúns, from singing in the shower to singing your baby to sleep, amateur music has heart.

Our New Hampshire family, all nine of them, recently performed at a camp they were attending. Two French horns, two clarinets, two trumpets, a trombone, and a home-made cajón with multiple percussion sounds.  (The baby has a French horn mouthpiece.)  The eldest French horn player arranged a medley of music from The Pirates of the Caribbean for the group.

Last year they created, for the same camp, a moving video of a Lord of the Rings medley. This time they were confident enough to tackle a live performance. (And to share both with the world via YouTube, which takes a different kind of confidence.)

Decidedly amateur (root: "one who loves"). And decidedly fun. As I hear it, the months of preparation for this event provided a great opportunity for both musical and character growth. I can imagine.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 9, 2023 at 4:20 pm | Edit
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About a million years ago, when I was applying to colleges, high on my list was Harvey Mudd College near Los Angeles, California. At the time, it seemed like a really cool place for an aspiring physics major to be. Whether or not I would have been accepted into that elite student body was never determined, as it slipped off the list before I even got to the application stage. I no longer remember all the reasons why, but one factor certainly was that I had no desire to be that far away from home.

Harvey Mudd came to my attention again recently, thanks to this excerpt from a DarkHorse episode, which was inspired by a speech given by its current president at a White House summit on "STEMM, Equity, and Inclusion." (Yes, that's a double M; they've added Medicine. But dropped the A (Arts) that is often added. Pretty soon they're going to start including a "+" at the end.) The relevant line from her addres is this:

[On our campus] we also continuously celebrate our cultural value that every person, every student, every faculty member, every staff member, is responsible for the success of every other person on campus.

We can charitably hope that the full context of the quote lessens its inanity, but I'm not going to dig it out. It suffices to know that if Harvey Mudd's president did not know and mean exactly what she said, it has been said often enough by others for decades, probably at least a century. 

The good doctors Weinstein and Heying proceed to discuss the implications of that cultural value in this 11-minute video, which also does well at 1.5x speed if you want something shorter.

It's encouraging to hear people I respect calling out evils that I've been fighting for some 50 years, especially on a subject (education) so dear to my heart. Plus, I'm a sucker for anyone who appreciates Harrison Bergeron.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 6, 2023 at 4:02 pm | Edit
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