I have so many things to write about, but am feeling a time crunch at the moment.  Just so you know I haven't forgotten you altogether, you get someone else's comments on homeschooling, in the form of a First Things article by Sally Thomas.  (H/T Conversion Diary).  Warning:  it may be a little intimidating if you happen to be feeling a bit insecure about your own homeschooling days.  But it's worth reading for the inspiration.

In recent years, as homeschooling has moved closer to the mainstream, much has been said about the successes of homeschooled children, especially regarding their statistically superior performance on standardized tests and the attractiveness of their transcripts and portfolios to college-admissions boards. Less, I think, has been said about how and why these successes happen. The fact is that homeschooling is an efficient way to teach and learn. It's time-effective, in that a homeschooled child, working independently or one-on-one with a parent or an older sibling, can get through more work or master a concept more quickly than a child who's one of twenty-five in a classroom.

To my mind, however, homeschooling's greatest efficiency lies in its capacity for a rightly ordered life. A child in school almost inevitably has a separate existence, a “school life,” that too easily weakens parental authority and values and that also encourages an artificial boundary between learning and everything else. Children come home exhausted from a day at school—and for a child with working parents, that day can be twelve hours long—and the last thing they want is to pick up a book or have a conversation. Television and video games demand relatively little, and they seem a blessed departure from what the children have been doing all day.

At home we can do what's nearly impossible in a school setting: We can weave learning into the fabric of our family life, so that the lines between “learning” and “everything else” have largely ceased to exist. The older children do a daily schedule of what I call sit-down work: math lessons, English and foreign-language exercises, and readings for history and science. The nine-year-old does roughly two hours of sit-down work a day, while the twelve-year-old spends three to four hours. But those hours hardly constitute the sum total of their education.

[W]hat looks like not that much on the daily surface of things proves in the living to be something greater than the schedule on the page suggests, a life in which English and math and science and history, contemplation and discussion and action, faith and learning, are not compartmentalized entities but elements in an integrated whole.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Edit
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I've been experimenting with Memrise for several days—long enough to conclude it merits a mention.

Memrise is a vocabulary review system that specializes in languages, of which there are an incredible number, from French to Quechua to Klingon!  (Alas, no Swiss German, no doubt hampered by the lack of an official written form.)  There are other subjects, as well, but not many yet, and they are not well developed.  The Periodic Table course, for example, would do better not reversing the "o" and the "u" in fluorine, and settling on either of the two acceptable spellings of the element Al, instead of compromising with "Alumnium."  (Or is that a new element, named after all college graduates?)

I'm loving the Introductory German!  My favorite language course is still Pimsleur, which along with Hippo gets the correct sound and feel of the language and its structure into my brain.  But I also need a way to build up vocabulary, and Memrise is the best I've found so far.  The vehicle is a simple "garden" system:  new words are seeds, and through practice you sprout them, help them grow, "harvest" (more like transplant) them to long-term memory, and water them to keep them healthy.  E-mail reminders bring you back to your "garden" at varying intervals—short for recently-learned words, longer for ones you know better—so you don't lose what you've learned.

It's easy to use and kind of fun.  I find that I'm picking up vocabulary pretty well so far, though I do wonder who decided which words to introduce first.  I mean, die Bundesrepublik?  "Federal Republic" is not exactly a term I use every day.  Or how about der Mülleimer?  Dustbin?  Dustbin?  Dustbins are things people in the English novels I love to read are always "tipping" things into, but I'm sure I've used the term fewer times than Federal Republic.  And is blöd (stupid) really an essential vocabulary word?  Still, in addition to these oddities there are more useful terms, such as das Haus (house), vielleicht (maybe), and der Name (name).  And I've finally caught the difference between der Staat (state) and die Stadt (city).

Unfortunately, I can't make the audio work in Firefox, and so must use IE or Chrome if I want to hear the words pronounced.  That's something I find very valuable, not only for understanding and speaking, but because having heard the sound of a noun I'm much more likely to be able to remember whether it's die, der, or das, something I always have trouble with.  I'm beginning to think of the article and the word as one entity, which of course will get me into trouble when I have to worry about inflection, but I'll climb that hill when I get to it.

It's also German German, and so uses the Eszett instead of the Swiss double "s."  However, it accepts the double "s" when I have to type in an answer, so I'm fine with it.  Letters with an umlaut are easy to enter, via either a mouse click or the Windows U.S. International keyboard (which I prefer because it is faster).

Here's hoping I manage to stick with the program, and not lose everything when I go on vacation....

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Edit
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Florida gets all too much press for crazy happenings, so it's about time another state took the spotlight.  Was it another school shooting that put Cascade High School in Hendricks County, Indiana, in the headlines?  Nope.  The newsworthy offense was a senior prank involving the deadly ... Post-It note!  (H/T Free-Range Kids)  Actually, the offense was on the part of the school administrators, who so far have suspended over 50 students, either for participating in the prank or for protesting the school's draconian response.

For years, MIT and Caltech have known that inventive, harmless pranks are a sign of an intelligent, creative student body.  I think we can guess what schools the administrators did NOT graduate from—though maybe the helpful janitor (Frazz?) did. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Edit
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Celebrating a Simple Life has a perceptive post this morning.  Ostensibly, it's about giving meaningful praise to children's artwork, but I say her wisdom has a much wider application, for chldren and adults in all areas of life.  Read the whole thing; it's worthwhile, it's short, and it shows a great picture painted by her son.

When you give meaningless praise, your kid comes to expect it for every not-so-impressive act they perform.  It's exhausting to the parent, becomes meaningless to the child, and sets up a bad habit of being forced to praise mediocrity, with your child knowing full well that the praise is hollow.

When you describe what you see, you are telling the child your work is worth examining more closely.  You are encouraging language development through your description.  You are teaching your child to have a critical eye for their own work.  And then when you do offer praise, your kid knows they deserved it.

(Apologies, to those who care, for publishing the awkward gender-neutral but grammar-offensive language.  The content is worth getting past that.)

I'm convinced that non-specific praise in any area, for child or adult, usually does more harm than good.  It means we're not taking them or their work seriously.  It means we're too lazy (tired, busy, etc.) to do our own job right.  And it sets up children, especially, for failure in the long run: when praise is unrelated to the quality of the work, how can they improve? When a five-second scribble receives the same fulsome admiration as a 30-minute effort, how do they learn that persistence and hard work make a difference?

That's not to say that it isn't important to convey to our children (and others) that we love them because of who they are, not because of what they do.  I'm not advocating conditional love.  But when commenting on work done, specific and meaningful praise is what both feeds the heart and encourages more and better efforts.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 8:49 am | Edit
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The Stories of Emmy:  A Girl Like Heidi by Doris Smith Naundorf (Xulon Press, 2010)

Doris Smith Naundorf is known in upstate New York as The Story Lady.  The Stories of Emmy are taken from her one-woman play, Interweaving the Generations.  Emmy, Doris's mother, grew up partly in her Swiss village of Muttenz, and partly in Paterson, New Jersey, where her family moved when she was ten years old.  Her stories give a delightful glimpse into Swiss, American, and immigrant life in the early 1900's.  (Grandchild warning:  There is one sad incident requiring parental discretion; the stories are meant to be appropriate for chidren, but reality is sometimes harsh.)

Muttenz is near Basel (four minutes by train, a century later), and the stories are sprinkled with Baseldeutsch, the delightful Swiss-German dialect spoken there.  A glossary is provided for each chapter.

Driving the several blocks to the train station, Emmy excitedly chattered to her father.  "Will we get there in time, Vatti? she asked.  "Mutti says we must be there early, so we will not miss the train."

"Jo, jo," replied her father.  "In a country that makes such fine watches and clocks, of course the Zúúg runs on time.  It is up to the passengers to be there early so the conductors can keep their schedule."

"The Zúúg, the train, is never late?"

"Of course not!  We Swiss cannot even imagine such a thing!" her father assured Emmy.

I couldn't resist finding Emmy, age 20, and her family in the 1920 census.  (Click on the image to view a version large enough to read.  Their name, Lüscher, appears without its umlaut.)


Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 9, 2012 at 9:22 am | Edit
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Woo-hoo!  My copy of Dots: Zero to One Hundred arrived today!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Edit
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I can't be griping all the time.  Here's some great news for homeschoolers—and others who don't fit in the standard school model—who have suffered, as we did, from age discrimination by community colleges.  Here are some excerpts from the encouraging story in tomorrow's Orlando Sentinel.  (I know.  Don't ask me why a column dated February 19 is available on the 18th, but it is.)

Two years ago, [Lake-Sumter Community College] refused to admit as a dual-enrollment student a then-12-year-old Center Hill girl who was more than academically qualified to study at the two-year community college.  Instead of enthusiastically embracing Anastasia Megan, a brilliant young woman home-schooled by her parents, college administrators took the most backward stance imaginable and fought to keep her out.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in Atlanta, to whom Annie's family complained, recently closed the matter after LSCC eliminated its age requirement, trained employees to stop discriminating and offered Annie a chance to apply.

However, by the time LSCC offered to consider Annie in July 2011, it was clear that her course of study already had outstripped what the community college could provide.   Starting in August, Annie, now 14, and another of the triplets, her brother Zigmund, will attend Queens University in Ontario, Canada. She was among 300 successful applicants to the college of business and commerce from a field of 5,000. ... Annie's brother is entering the university's engineering school (Annie's second choice), and the third triplet, Elizabeth, is enrolled in a high-school International Baccalaureate program.

[S]uch a ruling by the Office for Civil Rights is likely to have an effect on community colleges statewide. It's all about access in community colleges, and that's the way it ought to be.  The Megan family neither asked for nor received a nickel in damages. The Megans didn't hire a lawyer.  LSCC, however, spent about $12,000 on attorney fees fighting to discriminate against a kid whose achievements were remarkable.  Asked why the college ever would fight to keep any student out, [College President Charles Mojock] said: "That was then, and this is now. We live and learn too."

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Edit
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Here's an interesting article from Newsweekon the popularity of homeschooling with "urban, educated" parents.

We think of homeschoolers as evangelicals or off-the-gridders who spend a lot of time at kitchen tables in the countryside. And it’s true that most homeschooling parents do so for moral or religious reasons. But education observers believe that is changing. You only have to go to a downtown Starbucks or art museum in the middle of a weekday to see that a once-unconventional choice “has become newly fashionable,” says Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford professor who wrote Kingdom of Children, a history of homeschooling. There are an estimated 300,000 homeschooled children in America’s cities, many of them children of secular, highly educated professionals who always figured they’d send their kids to school—until they came to think, Hey, maybe we could do better.

We've come a long way in the 25+ years of my experience.  (Not that "evangelicals or off-the-gridders who spend a lot of time at kitchen tables in the countryside" comes close to being an accurate description of the home education movement at any time that I remember.  It was always much broader than that.)

One consequence of the increasing popularity of homeschooling is that there is now enough collective knowledge that journalists are less likely to write utter nonsense.  I found the article to be fairly accurate.  An exception would be the section equating homeschooling with attachment parenting, which they define as, "an increasingly popular approach that involves round-the-clock physical contact with children and immediate responses to all their cues."  This bizarre description makes it sound as if mothers continue to carry their eight-year-olds around in slings all the time.  No normal one-year-old would put up with that, let alone someone of school age.

Other than that, it's a pretty fair article, considering it was written by someone on the outside looking in.  And considering the really clueless articles that have been written on homeschooling over the years.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Edit
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It's hard being a long-distance grandmother, whether the distance is 1000 miles or 4800.  Certainly I'd rather our grandchildren live just down the street!  But one compensation for the loss of frequent interaction is the joy of seeing how much the children change between visits.  As we await the time when I'll have baby news to announce, I'll share a few stories of life with Joseph, 18 months old and soon to assume the important role of big brother.

John Ciardi said that a child should be allowed to learn, "at the rate determined by her own happy hunger."  Joseph's current "happy hunger" is for letters and numbers.  He  has a wooden puzzle of the upper case alphabet that is the first toy he takes out in the morning, and again after his nap.  This was supplemented at Christmas by the nicest number puzzle I've seen, which includes the numbers from 0 through 20 and arithmetic operators as well.

alt (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 9:21 am | Edit
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Our son-in-law, Stephan, has an artist's eye, and it shows in this book he created for our grandson, Joseph.  He has published it, in three versions, through Blurb, so anyone may order a copy.

The inspiration was the absolute delight Joseph has shown, from a very young age, in the "math dot cards" from Glenn Doman's How to Teach Your Baby Math program, and his joy in reading books that show an object along with its name.  As you can see, on the left side of the page is the numerical form of a number, with the written form in four languages (English, German, French, and Japanese), while the right side shows the number respresented by red dots. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 7, 2011 at 12:35 am | Edit
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For the past week I have been reliving elementary school.

My inspiration was this TED lecture from Salmon Khan of Khan Academy.

As a concept, Khan's idea is at once important, brilliant and frightening.

Important—because he is part of a growing movement to put education within reach of everyone. Well, everyone with access to an Internet connection, anyway.

Brilliant—because he turns school upside down.  The teacher does not introduce the material; that's done via an online lecture, assigned for homework.  Class time, then, becomes available for what is traditionally thought of as homework—working problems, writing essays—and discussion.  Thus anyone who is confused or needs help has immediately at hand both the teacher and his fellow students.  The teacher's time is allocated more efficiently, being spent on those who need help rather than those who don't.  The time of the struggling student is also used more efficiently, because he can get problems cleared up on Exercise 1 rather than struggling uselessly through 2 - 20 or just giving up.  Potentially, this system also helps other students, who find the work easy, to advance quickly to work that challenges them.  Although experience has taught me that the last is not high amongst most schools' priorities, this system might make them more amenable to the idea.

Brilliant, also, is his insistence that everyone should be expected to master the material.  I never did understand why any grade less than A is considered passing.  In almost no subject in which I received an A did I feel I had mastered the material—how much worse is it for someone who earns a C?  Perhaps in some subjects it doesn't matter much, but if you "pass" a child with a C in reading, or in math, you handicap him for life.

Frightening—because the system Khan has developed, at least when applied to the classroom, strips the student of privacy in yet one more area of his already over-exposed life.  The teacher knows what videos he watches, what online exercises he has worked on, how he is spending his time, and where he is apparently struggling.  All with good intent, of course, but the potential for abuse is there. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 10:58 am | Edit
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If you can read this, thank a teacher.

I've seen it on bumper stickers for years, and just today at the bottom of my Penzey's Spices receipt.  Only now did I finally wake up to the outrageous insult implied by that platitude.

With all due respect to teachers, of which there are some who are great and many, many more who do their jobs very well, how is it that we presume that a child, who requires only a reasonably supportive environment to learn to eat, to crawl, to walk, to understand, to talk, to love, to manipulate his environment—in short to acquire the essential skills of a lifetime in just a few years—how is it that we presume he cannot learn to read—a minor skill compared with all he has already learned—unless someone teaches him?

That's crazy talk.

I'm grateful for all who are willing to share their knowledge with others, and especially for those who make the sharing enjoyable.  I suspect that those who do best, however, are the ones who realize they are not teaching so much as facilitating a child's natural learning.

But that turns out to be much too big an issue to write about just because I was annoyed by a bumper sticker, when I'm surrounded by vacation detritus, my husband is hungry, and I haven't yet managed that shower I promised myself after walking four miles in the 95 degree heat....

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Edit
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Don't ask me how I came upon Sporcle, but beware—it's addictive!  There are quick quizzes for a wide array of subjects, and I've found them useful for refreshing the ol' memory on things I should know, as well as learning new interesting facts and just plain trivia.  Not to mention spelling, as it doesn't matter if you do know the capital of Iceland if you can't spell Reykjavík, which I can't—yet.  But I'm learning.  Here are some of my favorites:

Countries of Europe  Also North America, South America, Africa (up-to-date with South Sudan!) Asia, Oceania, and—if you have more time than I do—the world) and other geography games.

Books of the Old Testament (oh, those minor prophets!)  Also New Testament, Apostles, Seven Deadly Sins, Roman and Greek gods.

U.S. Presidents:  easy version (in order), hard version (random, by term of office).

Elements of the Periodic Table (accepts either "aluminum" or "aluminium").

Here's one for parents:  can you name all the words in The Cat in the Hat?

Interesting trivia:  common U.S. street names.

There's lots more, some more interesting and useful than others.  I find the music category almost useless, although there are a few good ones if you dig, like Symphony Orchestra Instruments. Composers by Country was kind of fun.

Enjoy!  And please post a comment here if you find good quizzes I haven't mentioned.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 6:17 am | Edit
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altEats, Shoots & Leaves:  The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss (Gotham Books, New York, 2003)

A panda walks into a café.  He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit.  The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

I’m a panda,” he says, at the door.  “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda.  Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China.  Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Many thanks to DSTB for giving me this book, and thereby redeeming a past mistake on my part, made in response to a mistake on the part of our library.

I’d heard that Eats, Shoots & Leaves was a good book—though I knew little about it, as you will see—and so one day when I found it on tape at our library, I checked it out.  I obviously was not paying attention when I put the cassette in our player, because apparently the wrong tape had been returned to the Eats, Shoots & Leaves packaging.  What I heard was so uninteresting to me that I didn’t even finish the book, and don’t remember it now; it certainly wasn’t about punctuation.

“What?”  you ask.  “There’s something more boring than punctuation?”

Read Eats, Shoots & Leaves.  You’ll never call punctuation boring again.  You’ll laugh, and you’ll also learn.

One thing I learned is something I’ve suspected for a while now:  the rules change when you cross the Atlantic.  It’s not just the spelling (and pronunciation) of that metal out of which we make soda cans and “tin” foil.  Truss encourages us to be sticklers for proper punctuation (hear, hear!)—a difficult enough task when bad examples surround us—but also cautions that sometimes what looks incorrect may be merely a cultural difference.

Be that as it may, the only thing that annoyed me about this short and pleasant book—and only as much as fingernails on a blackboard—was this British author’s persistent use of the British way of combining punctuation and quotation marks.

Many words require hyphens to avoid ambiguity:  words such as “co-respondent”, “re-formed”, “re-mark”.

I would have called that plain wrong, but it turns out that putting the punctuation inside the quotation marks (<ahem> where it belongs!) is an Americanism.

Many words require hyphens to avoid ambiguity:  words such as “co-respondent,” “re-formed,” “re-mark.”

I see the logic of the British system, but it still grates.

I also learned that there’s a reason for another annoyance ; this one is found in my beloved collection of George MacDonald books : What ?  Colons, semicolons, question marks, and exclamation points ! find themselves preceded as well as followed by spaces.  Truss provided the answer to my puzzlement:  these books are facsimile editions, and that now strange punctuation procedure was at one time the Way Things Are Done.

Are you confused by the Way Things Are (or Should Be) Done Now?  Check out Eats, Shoots & Leaves for some seriously amusing enlightenment.

A headline recently provided by my Google News feed illustrates the importance of correct punctuation.

Ratko Mladic arrested, Hillary Clinton in Pakistan

Imagine it now, without the comma:

Ratko Mladic arrested Hillary Clinton in Pakistan

Punctuation matters.  So read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest—and enjoy!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Edit
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altOutliers:  The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown & Co., New York, 2008)

Malcolm Gladwell’s books always turn my mind upside down.  He may not always be right, but he’s always exciting.

What makes a superstar?  What differentiates Bill Gates from the average computer geek, the Beatles from a garage band, the top athletes from the wannabes?  Talent, certainly, and hard work—but Outliers reveals that the most critical factors are often surprising, even random.

The 10,000 hour rule  Talent, we generally believe, is something we are born with.  Intelligence, musical ability, athletic skill:  you either have it, or you don’t.  There is more excuse than truth there, however.  There is a threshold of talent required in any field, but beyond that, experience is the all-important key.

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good.  It’s the thing that makes you good.

Study after study has shown that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve world-class expertise in any field.  That’s 2,000 hours per year—the equivalent of a full-time job—for five years.  The opportunity to get those 10,000 hours, at the right place and time, makes superstars.  For Bill Gates it was a series of unusual circumstances, beginning in middle school, that gave him access to computers that even most college students did not have.  Before he dropped out of Harvard to make history, Gates had been programming for well over 10,000 hours.

Thanks to a chance encounter—and some illicit incentive—the Beatles found themselves in a set of gigs that required an extraordinarily long performance commitment:  up to eight hours per night, seven days a week.  It was the making of the group.  By the time they came to America in 1964, they had some 1200 live performances under their guitar straps.

Or, as Shinichi Suzuki said, “Skill equals knowledge plus 10,000 times.”  Another gem from the Suzuki world (though I’ve seen it attributed in several ways, most commonly to Vince Lombardi):  Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Only perfect practice makes perfect.  Clearly one must put more into those 10,000 hours than just time(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Edit
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