Today's Frazz:

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 8, 2007 at 7:15 am | Edit
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Among the more bizarre stories of the day, here's a study that claims to be able to predict your child's future SAT performance based on the relative lengths of his fingers.  Those whose ring fingers are longer compared with their index fingers are statistically likely to do better on the math portion, and those with the reverse situation to do better on the verbal.  This supposedly reflects prenatal testosterone/estrogen exposure.

It's a lot harder to measure finger lenght than I thought.  I finally settled on measuring from the knuckle, and it seems my ring finger is a bit longer than my index.  It's true, I did very well on the math portion of the SAT.  But I did even better on the verbal, so I must have measured wrong.  :)

The researchers plan to expand their studies into "other cognitive and behavioral issues, such as technophobia, career paths and possibly dyslexia."
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 7:46 am | Edit
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My hearing is very good, probably better than that of many my age because I didn't ruin it in my teens with headphones and loud music.  But I still find that I can understand what people say better if I can see their faces.  Now I know why.

A Canadian study indicates that there is a signficant visual component of language understanding even amongst hearing people.  The four-month-old babies in the study were able to distinguish when adults in a silent video were speaking English and when they were speaking French.

The eight-month-old babies could do the same, but only if they were being raised in a bilingual French/English environment.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 7:23 am | Edit
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We have been blessed with a surprising number of very bright friends, their talents ranging from math to music, from business to origami, from computing to law.  It was with the last that we had a disturbing conversation recently.  The conversation itself was delightful; what we learned from it was not.

To begin, the background.  Most of my readers are familiar with the following story, which I told several years ago in our family newsletter.  But for the benefit of the one or two who meander over here from random places, I'll reproduce it here, sufficiently altered to protect the innocent and the guilty alike. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 2:52 pm | Edit
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Having written recently about my love of student recitals, I have to mention that we went to a Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra concert yesterday.  In my limited, and admittedly biased opinion, they are far and away the best student orchestra in the area.  Not perfect:  Depending on whose philosophy happens to be strongest at the time, the emphasis is sometimes more on education than on making music. As most of you know, I strongly believe that real learning more often takes place in an atmosphere of "let's do something wonderful and important together" than in a "Me Teacher, You Student" situation.

Be that as it may, the FSYO is the best game in town for a young person who wants to play good orchestral repertoire, and it's good listening, too. The only reason we don't attend more of their concerts is that there are so many other great things to do in life. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 7, 2007 at 7:35 am | Edit
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Not long ago, a friend was lamenting to me about how tedious elementary recitals are.  Little piano and violin students plunking and scraping away on the same, boring pieces, making the same mistakes you've heard hundreds of times.  I couldn't disagree more.

She has a different perspective, mind you:  she's a music teacher, so no doubt that makes a difference. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 5, 2007 at 3:20 pm | Edit
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Swordplay has always been a major part of my extended family's get-togethers, from plastic tube "swords" for the younger ones to realistic wooden swords as they grew.  No one has yet taken to fencing formally, but maybe they should.  This morning's Orlando Sentinel featured an article on how fencing improves mathematical skills.  Apparently it improves spacial awareness, geometric visualization, abstract reasoning and other mathematical concepts through physical action.

That doesn't surprise me as much as it once might have, since I have been hearing a lot lately about the critical importance of physical activity (such as crawling, creeping, walking, running, brachiation, and activities that stimulate the vestibular system) for mental and intellectual development.

En garde!
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 20, 2007 at 7:52 am | Edit
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Once again, Tim at Random Observations has provided post which I must pass on.  (Warning:  Yes, it's depressing, but worth reading, really.)  First, read his commentary, You're Just Another (Lego) Brick in the Wall... about an after-school program in Seattle, where teachers took over the children's imaginative Lego play and turned it into a chance for socialist indoctrination.  For a more direct view of the teachers' perspective, read their original article, Why We Banned Legos.

To Tim's insightful post I will only add this:  What about the parents?  Where were they when all this was going on?  Were they expecting childcare and maybe some help with math and reading from this afterschool program?  Did they know their children were getting a heavy dose of politics and indoctrination in values—politics and values possibly in direct opposition to the parents' own?  Certainly most parents would have a few issues with this part of the lesson:

[W]e explored questions about how rules are made and enforced, and when they ought to be followed or broken. We aimed to help children see that all rules (including social structures and systems) are made by people with particular perspectives, interests, and experiences that shape their rule-making. And we wanted to encourage them to consider that there are times when rules ought to be questioned or even broken....

The children were between the ages of five and nine, perhaps not the best ages at which to tell them that obeying their parents' rules is optional.  On the other hand, perhaps the teachers will eventually receive due retribution in the form of students who have decided that the school's rules are not worth following.  Alas, it's probably the high school teachers who will bear that cost. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 7:52 am | Edit
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In Arizona, the winning team in the kindergarten through sixth grade category of the recent state scholastic chess championship must know that their victory is tainted.

At least I hope so. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 11:33 am | Edit
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I'm posting a link to this U.S. News and World Report short article on Japanese schools, hoping it will provoke commentary from one who can speak firsthand, rather than second, about the realities behind this rosy picture. (Not that she doesn't have dozens of much more important things to do.) Anyone else is welcome to comment as well! (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 24, 2007 at 12:25 pm | Edit
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Earlier I wrote about Melissa Busekros, the 15-year-old German girl who was taken from her family to a psychiatric ward and thence to foster care because of her desire to be tutored at home in some subjects.  This morning I learned that the five children of a second family have been ordered into state custody by a German court.

The parents reportedly can regain custody of their children only by placing them in public school.

In the order, which was based solely on the parents' decision against sending their children to public school, the family also was told to pay court costs estimated at $4,000.

The judge had concluded that the children were well-educated, but accused the parents of failing to provide their children with an education in a public school. The court noted that one of the daughters expressed the same opinions as her father, showing they have not had the chance to develop "independent" personalities.

 (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 9:40 am | Edit
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A friend sent me the following YouTube link.  WARNING:  Parts of the video are offensive, and if you go to YouTube and read the comments, many of them are extremely offensive.  Nonetheless, both are part of the point I want to make.  Since my commentary contains some spoilers, you have to click on the "more" link to read it.

My friend headed the link with "This nation's school system has created a nation of morons."  I couldn't agree more with her statement, but the video does nothing to prove it.  Selective editing can show anything, especially when combined with preconceived notions of what you want to prove.

It's the comments that are truly disturbing.  If the film was no doubt edited to show the stupidest responses, I'm pretty sure the comments are a random sample—though the group of people willing to comment on YouTube is not exactly representative of the world's population.  At least I hope not.  The venomous, virulent disgust and hatred they spew—often in the form of extremely foul language—is more disturbing to me than ignorance, though they display that as well.  Not that I've read all the comments, which numbered over 4000 as of this morning; a hundred or so was all I could stomach.

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens proclaimed Ignorance most to be feared, "for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."  Ignorance of facts about the world is bad enough, but ignorance of other peoples and cultures is appalling, and I find that there's as much ignorance of America in other countries as there is of other countries here.

The only hope I see for either side is more and more cultural exchange programs.  And everyone should read Why the Rest Hates the West, too.

A few comments on the questions and answers:   My first reaction to the challenge of naming a country that begins with "U" was "Uganda."  Most people would say our country begins with "A."  I doubt most of the French, which asked what letter their country's name begins with, would respond, "R" ("Republique francaise").  No matter how official "United States" is, and no matter how frustrating it is to Canadians, Mexicans, and South and Central Americans, "America" is too well entrenched as a name for our country for anyone to expect otherwise.  Though I did think "Yugoslavia" was a cute answer.

I also missed the KFC question, though I maintain that "Utah" as an answer is only partly right.  The first franchise may have been in Utah, but Kentucky really deserves credit as its homeland.

And I totally understand the guy who said Germany was part of the Axis of Evil.  He, perhaps more than anyone, shows that our school system has provided Pope's "a little learning."  He remembers "Axis" vaguely from his studies of World War II, and he knows Germany was our enemy then, so....
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 8:07 am | Edit
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I figured out why I am so impatient with sermons and generally find them the least important part of the church service:  I'm definitely a print person.  I'd rather read a story than hear it, and find written arguments more persuasive than spoken ones.  Still, I can't resist posting this homeschooler's speech, which Janet found.  The only quarrel I'd make with him is over his statement that community colleges provide "high level education."  Otherwise, he gives a good speech on the basic advantages of home education and counters some of the popular objections.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 11:00 am | Edit
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Everyone wants to "fix" our educational system.  But as long as most people have no choice over which school they attend, which teachers they sit under, and what they study, the system as a whole cannot be fixed.  At best we will continue to have an education lottery, because as long as schools are where people go to be taught, rather than to learn, everything depends on the teachers.

Today's Orlando Sentinel reports that although Florida's schools are being asked to place greater emphasis on the sciences, participation in county-wide science fairs is down drastically.  Some are blaming competition for students' time by other contests, such as Odyssey of the Mind; others bring out those customary whipping-boys, the pressures of standardized testing and of too many hours of employment. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 23, 2007 at 6:30 am | Edit
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I found this gem reading MacDonald's story, The Portent.  Not profound, but there are several readers of this blog who will appreciate it.

[part of a dialogue between a student and his tutor

"I am afraid you will despise me, when you find how badly I spell."

"There is no fear of that," I rejoined.  "It is a mere peculiarity.  So long as one can think well, spelling is altogether secondary."
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 4:50 pm | Edit
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