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The Mother Tongue:  English and How It Got that Way (first published 1991, reissued by Perennial 2001) and Troublesome Words (first published 1984, revised 1997, reissued by Penguin Books 2009), both by Bill Bryson

My father and my sister-in-law became hooked on Bill Bryson as a writer; perhaps it is now my turn.

For the first twelve chapters, The Mother Tongue is an accessible, page-turning look at the English language:  where it came from, why it’s so popular, and how it came to be simultaneously one of the easiest and one of the hardest languages to learn. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 25, 2011 at 11:43 am | Edit
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You may remember Michael Merzenich as one of the major researchers mentioned in The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.  Merzenich is no doubt a better researcher than a speaker; this lecture is not nearly as good—and certainly not as comprehensive—as the book.  But it will take less than 25 minutes of your time, and is worthwhile if only for his explanation of the dangers of white noise—continuous, disorganized sound—to an infant's brain, and for the hope he holds out to those of us who grew up with the depressing idea that once you reach adulthood (or perhaps early teens, or even age six, depending on who you believe), you are basically stuck with the brain you've got.

Michael Merzenich on re-wiring the brain


(Granchild warning:  I don't know if you consider "crap" objectionable, but there are a few instances between 17:00 and 18:30.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 10:04 am | Edit
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Unlike many people, I never dreamed of visiting foreign countries.  I like being home.  If I have family around me and good work to do, why should I go elsewhere?

Well, God clearly intended to broaden me a bit.  Between having family now living overseas and the opportunities provided by Porter’s job, I’ve done a whole lot more travelling than I’d ever intended.

That’s a good thing—and not just because some of that travel has led me to valuable genealogical research opportunities.  Most recently I was struck by how personal it makes world events.

The tragedy in Japan has more impact on me because we were there.  Janet and Stephan each lived and worked in Japan for a year; we met Janet’s friends, went to her church, walked the streets of her town.  That may be why this video struck me harder than the more spectacular footage.  This is not where Janet lived, but it feels familiar, particularly the voice calling over the loudspeakers.  That makes the impact hit home.

I used to wonder why churches sent youth groups on week-long missions trips.  Sure, the kids do some good:  painting, some minor construction work, brightening some children’s lives for a few days.  It’s not that they don’t do work that needs to be done—but wouldn’t it be more cost-effective, and better for the community, to take the money spent sending American kids to places in need and instead hire local people to do the work?

I still think that would be a better use of the money, short-term.  But who can analyze the future value of creating a personal connection between young people and another place, another culture, another way of life?

Study can help build that connection; I still feel tied to Ethiopia because of a mammoth project I did in elementary school on that country.  But study and travel—if we can make it happen for our children, they and the world will be better for it.  I know of nothing more likely to erase false images (both negative and positive) than actual interaction with real people in real places.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 8:12 am | Edit
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How to Be a High School Superstar:  A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out), by Cal Newport (Broadway Books, New York, 2010)

If I could recommend two books to help a 12-15 year old student prepare for college, it would be Alex and Brett Harris's Do Hard Things and this one.  Some of the political and religious views expressed in the former set my teeth on edge, but it's well worth the effort to get past that reaction, because Brett and Alex write well, and what they are saying is incredibly important, not just for teens who share their beliefs, but for everyone, of any age.

How to Be a High School Superstar is altogether different in focus, but I can boil the best of both books down to this:  Life doesn’t begin when you graduate from high school. or college, or grad school.  You can do hard things, good things, amazing things, now.  Or, rather, in a little while from now, if you are willing to put forth some effort in the right direction. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 7:02 am | Edit
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Don't you just love it when an otherwise obscure reference clicks in your mind?

First, one of my favorite non-family blogs, The Occasional CEO, has a post entitled Steampunk in Pictures.  Steampunk, Wikipedia tells me, is a subgenre of science fiction.  Wait—I cut my teeth on science fiction, and I'd never heard of it?  Turns out steampunk came of age during the 1980's and 90's, when our kids were cutting their teeth and I was too busy to keep up with that part of my former life. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Edit
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I can’t quite bring myself to say directly that I’m thankful for television, because I believe it has done great harm in our society, but it would be wrong to ignore the enormous educational and cultural benefits this technology has conferred.  As strong a proponent as I am of the written word, some second-hand experiences are much better approached in a video format.  From African safaris to Wagnerian opera, video provides formerly elite experiences to the hoi polloi.  It’s not the real thing—but even the very rich cannot experience everything directly.

Thus I am also thankful for the technology that has enabled us to be masters of this medium.  In my early days we had no television at all, but it didn’t take long to become enslaved.  Life was planned around when favorite shows were on, because if you weren’t watching at that very hour, you missed it.  I remember (to my shame) being reduced to tearful anger because our babysitter wouldn’t change the channel from her favorite show to mine.

It's true that we are, as a society, still enthralled.  But we don’t need to be.  We have the tools to use the medium for good purposes and ignore all the rest.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 6:12 am | Edit
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You’re surprised I waited so long for this one, right?  I value home education so highly that my gratitude for that privilege almost goes without saying.  (But gratitude should never go without saying.)   Because my joyous thanksgiving for the legal protection that homeschoolers now enjoy cannot be overstated, I will understate it here.

Educational opportunities have expanded for everyone, not just homeschoolers, over the last 50 years. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 6:07 am | Edit
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MMG is one of my Facebook friends. I've known her since before she was born, so technically she's more the daughter of our friends than my own friend.  Yet thanks to Facebook, in recent years I've had more contact with her, and know more about what's going on in her life, than with her parents.

This is a particular blessing, not only because it keeps up a connection that would otherwise have been lost, but because I enjoy her perspective on life.  She and I differ and disagree in multitudinous ways, from thoughts about God to the importance of televised hockey games.  As Hercule Poirot is fond of saying, she "gives one furiously to think."  But best of all, she is adept at finding (and posting) links from all over the Web, some of which lead me down very interesting paths.  Here's a recent one: (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 7:32 am | Edit
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I am republishing my initial comments, made in December 2008, when I checked The History of the Ancient World out of the library then discovered I didn't have time to read it.  Now, nearly two years later, I have finally read the book, and my additional comments are added below.

The History of the Ancient World:  From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome, by Susan Wise Bauer (W. W. Norton, New York, 2007)

Despite having some initial negative reactions to Susan Wise Bauer, I've continued to find her work delightful and invaluable.  (See my reviews of The Well-Trained Mind, The Story of the World, and The Well-Educated Mind.)  I haven't read more than a small part of The History of the Ancient World, but borrowed it from the library in order to determine whether or not to buy it for myself.  I've so enjoyed—and learned from—listening to Jim Weiss read The Story of the World, which was written for elementary-age children, that I wondered if Bauer could bring as much delight into a history book for adults.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 3, 2010 at 6:43 am | Edit
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How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, by Robert Greenberg; a Teaching Company lecture

I've said it before:  For accessible, serious, high-quality, adult-level educational materials (DVD, CD, mp3 download) it's hard to beat The Teaching Company.  Robert Greenberg is one of my favorite lecturers, and this—so far—my favorite of his courses. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 6:12 am | Edit
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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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