I like my customized Google News page, the keyhole through which I see not only major world and U.S. stories, but also the latest news on specific topics of particular interest to me, such as home birth, home education, and Basel, Switzerland.  That's how I occasionally come upon little gems I'd never find otherwise, such as Homeschooling Grows Up, an article from today's Catoosa County News.  Have you ever  heard of the Catoosa County News?  How about Catoosa County itself?  Me, neither.  (It's in Georgia.)

Not that the article says anything spectacular or new to those already in the home education field, but it caught my eye because of a conversation I had recently with Janet, in which she noted that in her lifetime home education has gone from being considered extremely counter-cultural to being so common some people homeschool simply because that's what's expected of them, at least in their own circle of friends.  It's hard for me to imagine the latter, but apparently in places it's true.  I can't get too upset by that—I don't see it as being any worse than sending your kids to public school because "that's what's done"—but admit it does pose some risks as the pool expands.

Be that as it may, Homeschooling Grows Up struck me as a nice summary of the diversity of homeschooling experiences available today.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Edit
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I have over 200 e-mails in my inbox, and though sometimes I can deal with a lot quickly when I put my mind to it, progress came to a screeching halt when I'm confronted with one from my brother, alerting me to the FreeRice vocabulary game.  It's a simple, multiple-choice vocabulary quiz that adjusts to one's abilities, making it suitable for a wide range of players.  For each correct answer, 20 grains of rice are donated (funded by advertising on the site) to the United Nations World Food Program.  All at one site: good turn, mental workout, and addictive distraction.

This game is particularly useful when there are so many other things you need to be doing that your mind can't concentrate on any of them.  :)  In my introductory session, I spent about half an hour and got up to Level 49 (of 50) and 3300 grains of rice.  This is much better than the Reader's Digest "Word Power" for challenging me. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Edit
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[Part 3 will be the last, at least for a while, since the book must go back to the library.  Here are Part 1 and Part 2.]

[The best state of mind to promote if you want to encourage someone to be successful is] a fully realistic assessment of the difficulty of the challenge ahead of him, and, at the same time, an unrealistically optimistic belief in his ability to overcome it.

This one is suprising, and no doubt controversial, yet resonates so well with my experience that I am compelled to write about it. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 7:13 am | Edit
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The One Thing You Need to Know...About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2005)

[This is Part Two.  Part One is here.] 

The mediocre manager believes that most things are learnable and therefore that the essence of management is to identiry each person's weaker areas and eradicate them.

The great manager...believes that the most influential qualities of a person are innate and therefore that the essence of management is to deploy these innate qualities as effectively as possible and so drive performance. 

I find Marcus Buckingham's belief in the essentially unalterable effect of our genetic makeup on our abilities to be disturbing, to say the least.  However, that doesn't change my appreciation of his observation that we spend too much time and effort trying to shore up our areas of weakness, and not enough building on our strengths.  True, we can't afford to ignore our weaknesses, and well-directed efforts at overcoming them are often in order.  Spending the majority of our energy on our strengths, however, generally leads to the most progress, the most satisfaction, and the most achievement. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 16, 2007 at 8:41 am | Edit
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The One Thing You Need to Know...About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2005)

Reading, for me, is not a luxury but a necessity, like eating.  Ideally, meals should be eaten slowly, savored, and appreciated, preferably in the company of good companions and interesting conversation.  So it also should be with books.  All too often, however, under the pressures of the day, we gulp a hasty meal and move on. Alas, I have not done justice to The One Thing You Need to Know, but when I read about it on the Prodical Kiwi(s) Blog, I knew I had to grab what I could from it now, and hope to give it a better reading later. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 15, 2007 at 10:22 am | Edit
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I'm designing a playroom, and have been for years.  I don't ever expect to see it, since (1) our children are grown, and (2) my design takes no account of cost.  Nonetheless it's fun imagining what I'd do if I could, kind of like mentally spending lottery winnings (even though I never buy a ticket).

My playroom would be as much outdoors as it could be while still being usable in all seasons—lots of large windows or sliding glass doors with screens, perhaps, and an indoor/outdoor connection.  The latter could be a door, but wouldn't a tunnel be fun?  There would be a large art/craft section, and music (instruments for playing and a CD player for listening), and a brachiation ladder; well-stocked bookshelves and perhaps a sunken reading pit with comfortable cushions; a timeline all around the room and many maps and pictures on the walls.

The centerpiece of my imagined room has always been a structure of tunnels, ladders, ramps, and steps to encourage crawling, creeping, and climbing.  I was quite excited to discover that such a thing really exists!  However, even if Heather and Jon had room for it, and we could afford it, they wouldn't be getting it for Christmas.  This one was custom-made for a Hong Kong preschool.  Still, maybe the idea will catch on.

I had an interesting discussion yesterday with a man whose children graduated not long ago from our local Catholic schools system.  He mentioned that his son found his college classes much easier than the ones he took in high school.  This man believes that education in the United States in general, and textbooks in particular, have been significantly "dumbed down." As I've written before, I both agree and disagree with that statement.  I find it generally true even though there are notable, marked exceptions.

I'm not one to be overly awed by statistics purporting to show how much better other countries' educational systems are.  It wasn't that long ago that we were sending teams to Japan to discover why their children were learning so much more, yet at the same time the Japanese were sending teams here to learn why American students were so much more creative and innovative.  And yet the signs are screaming like downtown Tokyo, from this tiny preschool to the large population of foreign students on U.S. college campuses, particularly in the hard sciences and engineering:  Other countries take education, effort, and discipline far more seriously than we do.

So far we have survived on our creativity, our intellectual capital, and our tremendous natural and financial resources.  We've also enjoyed political and economic systems that are conducive to innovation and growth.  And we've been lucky.

Would I revamp our educational system to sponsor preschools such as this one all over the country?  No.  But I do wish Americans respected children, valued education, and encouraged self-discipline much more than we do.

And I'm going to keep my eyes open for play structures like that one.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 15, 2007 at 9:18 am | Edit
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I don't believe I was aware of the launch of the first Sputnik 50 years ago.  I do remember going outside with my father two and a half years later to watch Echo 1 traverse the sky.  That marked the first of many excursions with him to look at phenomena in the sky:  satellites, lunar and solar eclipses, comets.

When Sputnik aroused consternation in the United States and set off furious attempts at educational reform, I was a month into my kindergarten year, so I can't speak accurately about consequent changes in our public schools.  There are some comparisions I can do, however, looking at the three generations I know. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 7:23 am | Edit
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Throughout my school years, I hated the study of history.  Perhaps that's not quite accurate; I remember in elementary school enjoyable units on Indians and on Early Settlers, and a large and informative project on Ethiopia.  Progress after that was mostly negative, however.

A 10th grade World Cultures teacher was fairly inspiring, despite his other incarnation as a baseball coach.  Other than that I'd have to say that my history teachers could hardly have done more to make the study of history dull and tedious.  On top of that, I somehow picked up the idea that one was either a "math and science person" or a "history and English person," and it was not possible to be in both camps.  I staked my claim squarely in the math and science camp.

It was not till well after I graduated from college that I discovered that the story of our past is vital—in the sense of being full of life, as well as in the sense of critical importance.  I also learned the foolishness of limiting one's interests by someone else's categories. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 1, 2007 at 11:18 am | Edit
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Central Florida is the most dangerous place in the country, at least if it's lightning strikes that worry you.  The tragedy of a girl who was struck by lightning just after descending from her school bus is still fresh in our memories, so it's no wonder the Orange County school board policy errs on the side of caution:  No student is allowed outside until 30 minutes after the last lighning flash, if thunder follows the lightning within 30 seconds.

They are wisely reconsidering the policy, however, after a recent debacle.  A long-lasting storm coupled with rigid enforcement of the rules kept some 2000 students trapped at two schools until nearly 9 p.m.  Snacks were trucked in (the district apparently caring less about the safety of their employees), and no doubt many of the students thought the excitement high adventure—at least for the first hour.  But most of the children—not to mention the teachers—must have been anxious to get home to their families, with not a few kindergarteners crying for their mommies. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 8:23 am | Edit
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Mommy, It's a Renoir! was the title of a book about art appreciation for children that I fell in love with many years ago.  To my chagrin, by the time I decided we could afford to buy the set, it was no longer available.

Thus I was thrilled to discover that the program is back in print.  Once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler, especially when one has nephews and grandchildren to consider.  For reasons I can't imagine, the exciting title has been changed to How to Use Child-Size Masterpieces.  Could they have tried to make it sound more boring? (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 at 9:59 am | Edit
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With my interest in both children and education you knew it wouldn't be long before I commented on the latest "Baby Einstein" controversy.  A study (based on telephone surveys) published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that babies between eight and sixteen months experienced a significant decrease in language development for every hour spent per day viewing baby videos.

Now those who ridicule parents' attempts to enrich their children's early educational enviroments are having an I-told-you-so field day, and those who profit from the business are crying foul.  The responses that bother me most, however, are those of the defenders of baby videos.  They are giving answers to the wrong questions, and reassurances for the wrong concerns. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 16, 2007 at 11:13 am | Edit
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Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology), by Mitchell Stevens (Princeton University Press, 2001)

I've forgotten what led me to find Kingdom of Children, but from the reviews on amazon.com I knew I had to read it.  I have been trying to explain to our own family some of the homeschooling controversies of the late 80's and early 90's, and why I emerged with prejudices against certain people and organizations they are even now encountering, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association, even though we were members, and Josh Harris—though the latter is a case of visiting the sins of the father on the son, which I realize is unfair.  If they want to understand, this book would be a good starting point.  They won't get enough information to know much of the whys and wherefors of my concerns—the author is too objective, too nice for that—but they will get a general picture of the history of the era. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 11:22 am | Edit
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Television has long been called the "idiot box," but here is more evidence that being a couch potato harms the brain as well as the body.  Unfortunately, in this case reading is just as bad as watching TV.

The Swedish experiment was actually about depression.  Previous studies have shown that the hippocamus region of the human brain shrinks in depressed people.  In this study, exercise was shown to have a significant anti-depressant effect in rats, and promoted dramatic neuron growth in the hippocampus.  (If you, like me, wonder how on earth they can tell if a rat is depressed, read the article.) (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 8:39 am | Edit
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That's the subtitle of a Wired article by Edward Tufte.  My brother sent me the link.  I prefer to believe he didn't know I was in the middle of working on a PowerPoint presentation of pictures from our recent trip to Europe.

Tufte is not speaking primarily about education, but he makes this perceptive observation: 

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

PowerPoint isn't really the villain here, however. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 2:27 pm | Edit
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One of our nephews is a Boy Scout.

My father was for many years a Boy Scout leader, so when I joined the Girl Scouts I was mightily disappointed that we did so little of the camping, hiking, mountain climbing, knot-tying, fire-building, and survival skills work he did with his boys.  Thanks to some amazing (and somewhat rebellious) leaders and dedicated parents, we still had a good time, but the national program left me less than impressed. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 8:41 am | Edit
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