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.


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:


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)


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 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.

Although the film looks with some nostalgia on university life in the 1960's, there was plenty of intolerance for diversity of thought even then, though it was not, as now, enshrined in the bureaucracy, and the hard sciences (where I was) were mostly free of that, at least as far as the students were concerned.  Our professors had a hard enough time teaching us math and physics, and didn't feel that taking time for political discussion would help us understand differential equations any better.  I'm told by math professor friends that that has now changed.  One, who has taught both in the United States and in Africa, expressed frustration that her American university required her to teach her not only calculus, but also the importance of African mathematics.  I'm not sure what "African mathematics" might be that is important for a university math major to learn (I missed it in my classes), but I wouldn't be surprised if in the future the important mathematicians are African—because her African students are eager to learn the content, not the politics, of math.

The investigator for Indoctrinate U has been criticized for his confrontational approach, but while I do think one cannot expect to see a university president without an appointment, as journalists go, he was about as mild and polite as you can get.

Yes, the film is one-sided, and not only because they couldn't get anyone from the university side to talk seriously with them.  It presents, however, a side that is not usually heard—indeed, is often censored, mocked, threatened, and attacked—and can be forgiven for being a little strident.

Here is the first segment; from there YouTube will provide links to the remaining eight.  Be patient with the first couple, as at least I found the emphasis on affirmative action less interesting than the general topic of free speech on campus, which is more clearly presented in later parts.  (There is a small number of profanities—quoting from a threat to a student and from the title of a play—that are bleeped out if you get the "clean" version, but the download versions are unaltered.)

I wish they had made more of a distinction between public and private colleges.  To me, there's a huge difference between what a private school chooses to allow or forbid, and what a taxpayer-funded school does.  But in either case, if the school is presenting itself as a bastion of diversity, tolerance, and academic freedom, evidence to the contrary needs to be heard.  Caveat emptor.

Is there a solution?  Confronting the universities with their own stated diversity policies is a start:  Janet had some success at her school that way.  In the long run, I think the biggest difference will be made by India and the Internet.  American universities have long enjoyed near-monopolistic dominance in their field.  However, as it did for their manufacturing and information technology counterparts, that privilege is coming to an end.  When people have choices, change happens.
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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