Monday, April 28, 2008
The nerve that Kim's post stuck had to do with the hostility at my alma mater between the "artsy" clique and the "brainy" one to which I belonged. The two cliques ought to have gotten along reasonably well since most of the artsy kids were bright and many of the brainy kids were talented in art, music, drama, or creative writing. But it didn't work that way in my high school.
Looking back now, I think a big problem was the atmosphere of the school that overemphasized certain types of achievements (athletic and academic) while pretty much ignoring the arts. It must've been frustrating for the artsy kids to see the brainy ones rewarded for "playing the game" at the same time their own accomplishments were overlooked. We received all kinds of honors and awards for our talents- everything from scholarships for the ten kids with the highest GPA's in the class to outside recognition like the National Merit program, Who's Who, and the National Honor Society to having the pennants from the prestigious colleges to which we'd been accepted placed on prominent display. They might get the occasional passing mention in the town newspaper for if they placed well in some arts competition but that was about it. If you're feeling like a square peg in a round hole, then you're likely going to resent the round pegs getting all the adult attention.
We brainy kids found the artsy ones to be pretentious; they acted like they thought they were soooo much cooler than the rest of us. They looked down their noses at us for hitting the mall and buying our clothes at J. Crew, Express, American Eagle, and the Gap instead of going to Harvard Square and shopping at Urban Outfitters or vintage clothing boutiques. They were vegans and ate organic food from the local co-op- which is fine except they then proceeded to lecture the rest of us in a completely obnoxious way about how enlightened they were. They would mock us for working our tails off in pursuit of conventional goals such as a 4.0 GPA, 1600 SAT, Ivy League acceptance, science fair or math Olympiad win, and so on. And they would whine whenever anything that had previously been "alternative" or "indie" became popular with the mainstream- grunge, ska, and Lillith Fair music, Doc Martens, Birkenstocks, henna tattoos, metrosexuality, etc.
This type of attitude is what I saw in Kim's post with its dismissal of homeschooled kids winning spelling bees or being accepted to Harvard as "b.s." and so on. To me, it seemed like she felt there is something inherently wrong with these things. And that took me right back to the old stupid artsy hipsters vs. brainy overachievers rivalry of my high school.
If my school had recognized a wider variety of accomplishments, I don't think the artsy kids would've felt the need to act this way. They could've felt unique and special by celebrating their own talents rather than putting the rest of us down for being "uncool". There's no reason why only academic and athletic achievers should've been valued. The system unnecessarily set up "winners" and "losers" with its emphasis on grades, test scores, and admission to "elite" colleges to the exclusion of other forms of achievement. It created division between cliques instead of fostering cooperation and learning from each other's strengths. Winning the Academic Decathlon competition isn't inherently superior to creating a beautiful work of art- but that's the message the school conveyed. No wonder there was such hostility between the two groups :-(
So, Kim if you read this- please accept my apology for my childishness the other day!
Saturday, April 26, 2008
So sorry to ruin your "cooler-than-thou" vibe when it comes to homeschooling. No longer will you be able to use it to feel superior to the rest of us now that we in the mainstream have discovered its benefits. You'll just have to find something else to reinforce your smug assurance that you are so much better than us peons.
Do you really think that people like to hear about how cool you think you are? Don't you know that people snicker about you behind your back? Oh, that's right, geniuses are never appreciated in their times. You just keep telling yourself that...
Friday, April 25, 2008
"significant positive behavioral outcomes...such as delayed onset of sexual activity, reduced levels of early sexual activity, and fewer sexual partners among adolescents."
None of the remaining 5 studies found any negative results (indicating that the effect is at worst neutral), and some reported positive findings that just fell short of statistical significance.
The Heritage Foundation report also discussed the methodological flaws of the much-publicized Mathematica study, which claimed there were no significant differences between students who received abstinence-only education and those in control groups.
The Centers for Disease Control also this week reported that share of all U.S. pregnancies accounted for by teens has declined from 15% in 1990 to 12% in 2004. The abortion rate for teens has dropped by 24% over the same time frame.
Unfortunately, critics of abstinence-only education such as Planned Parenthood are lobbying Congress hard to kill Federal funding for these effective programs :-( Of course, they have a financial conflict of interest when it comes to pushing contraceptives since 50% of all unplanned pregnancies are the result of contraceptive failure and nearly half of those will end in abortion. The more teens who abstain from sex, the less money PP will make from providing abortions...
A. One train leaves Station A at 6 p.m. traveling at 40 miles per hour toward Station B. A second train leaves Station B at 7 p.m. traveling on parallel tracks at 50 m.p.h. toward Station A. The stations are 400 miles apart. When do the trains pass each other?
B. 40 (t + 1) = 400 - 50t
If you're like me, you'd pick question B in a heartbeat. It's a trick question, however, since the two questions are actually the same.
Researchers at Ohio State University have found that college students learn math better from abstract equations like question B than ones incorporating "real-world" examples like question A.
Dr. Jennifer Kaminski told the New York Times:
"The motivation behind this research was to examine a very widespread belief about the teaching of mathematics, namely that teaching students multiple concrete examples will benefit learning. It was really just that, a belief.
The problem with the real-world examples was that they obscured the underlying math, and students were not able to transfer their knowledge to new problems. They tend to remember the superficial, the two trains passing in the night. It’s really a problem of our attention getting pulled to superficial information."
The researchers found similar results when they tested 11 year olds, and they are now testing even younger children. Dr. Kaminski wants to know whether the manipulatives used in so many elementary school math programs are counterproductive.
It's an interesting question, but from what I remember of Piaget, young children's minds are much more concrete than older children's and adults. It's the whole "concrete operational" (5 or 6 up to 11 or 12) vs. "formal operational" (11 or 12+) thing.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008
Glad to know that HSC and the other homeschooling groups are continuing to work on behalf of California's homeschoolers- their efforts are much appreciated!
" We can't talk a lot about our strategy, but all of the big statewide groups and HSLDA are busy working on amicus briefs [for the re-hearing of the Long case]. These are due by mid-May. After we file ours, we get to read all of the ones that others have filed, and we will have an opportunity to file reply briefs that argue against points in those other briefs.
The court had said that the hearing would be put on the June calendar, so we're expecting that. We don't know if the hearing will be open to the public, but if it is, those who are interested in the legal process and who can get to LA might find it
interesting. Courts can take several months to reach a decision and write a new opinion after the hearing, so it will probably be fall before we hear more.
ACR 115, Joel Anderson's resolution in support of homeschooling, is still alive. It has been assigned to the Assembly Education Committee. Right now, the committee is busy dealing with all of the bills that have a fiscal impact, as there is a firm deadline for either sending those to the full floor or killing them. The author's office thinks that a hearing on ACR 115 will be scheduled some time in the weeks after that April 18 deadline. We have asked if the author would like for homeschoolers to attend the committee hearing, and have not yet heard back. But if the author does want people to attend, we will be asking those who can come to Sacramento to do so (with their reasonably well-scrubbed and well-behaved children, of course)."
Thursday, April 17, 2008
The commenter goes by the moniker "Horacette Womann", a cute play on the 19th century education reformer. In a discussion about the recent study finding that the Teach for America (TFA) program participants outperform teachers at the same schools with traditional certification she writes:
"Could the presence of TFA'ers cause poorer performance in their non-TFA comparison group? I've worked in enough schools to see the subtle effects of 20-somethings, with freshly minted upper class degrees, unbridled idealism and enthusiasm, and voluminous vocabularies, who don't quite fit in with the general staff, many of whom graduated from Average Local College with a default degree in psych, $30k in debt, and may not have been immediately employable in any other field. TFA'ers are constant reminders that education is just a job in a dreary urban school, little more than a 30 year countdown to receiving pension benefits, with no hope to move to something more exotic as TFA'ers inevitably do."
This question of class conflict between different groups of teachers is discussed at length in Dividing Classes. Dr. Brantlinger's book is a case study the impact of class on the government-run schools in a socioeconomically diverse Midwestern city she calls "Hillsdale", presumably a pseudonym for Bloomington, IN.
Dr. Brantlinger contrasts the prevailing set of beliefs held by teachers at schools in Hillsdale's more affluent neighborhoods with those held by teachers at schools in Hillsdale's poorer neighborhoods. She calls the former "Already There" and the latter "In-the-Middle". Here's how she describes the "Already There" teachers:
"[They] largely came from out of state, were offspring of college-educated parents, had attended suburban and/or private elementary and secondary schools, and had gone to Ivy League universities or prestigious liberal arts colleges....The women were married to men employed in profession fields or business....[When asked about their own schooling,] they mentioned academic honors (salutatorian, valedictorian, honor roll, dean's list, earning a 4.0 GPA) and advanced track placements. They won spelling bees, placed first in science fairs, and were leaders in extracurricular activities."
Sounds reminiscent of the members of the TFA corps, no?
Here's Dr. Brantlinger's description of the "In-the-Middle" teachers:
"[They] had grown up in rural areas or small towns within the state, were first generation college, and had attended public universities or small religious colleges that drew mostly on a local population....Several directly used the term 'poor' to describe their parents' monetary status....Their spouses were not college educated and did not have professional careers. Some women were single parents with one salary to support their families...[When asked about their own schooling, they] generally describe less-distinguished personal academic and school leadership accomplishments. As they mentioned social rather than academic strengths, they conveyed that school was a place to be with others."
In Hillsdale, the two groups of teachers do not work side-by-side but rather are segregated into the schools predominated by students sharing their class. The TFA program, however, brings a small number of "Already There" teachers into low-income schools, creating the tension with their "In-the-Middle" colleagues described by Horacette Womann.
While Horacette Womann attributes the better comparative results of the TFA teachers to their presence demoralizing the non-TFA teachers, I suspect that different attitudes towards the purpose of education play a more significant role.
In Dividing Classes, Dr. Brantlinger compared the beliefs of the "Already There" teachers with the "In-the-Middle" ones. When asked about the purpose of school, the "Already There" teachers focused on academic achievement. Their ideal student had such traits as "intellectual curiosity", "drive", "high standards", and "high aspirations". By contrast, the "In-the-Middle" teachers stressed the social and nonacademic personal objectives of schooling and mentioned goals such as getting students to "enjoy life", "become enthusiastic and caring people", "get along with friends", and so on. Dr. Brantlinger notes that "In-the-Middle" teachers' ideal students "conformed to institutional routines and got along with peers and teachers." Specific traits mentioned included "good attitude", "respectful", "doesn't complain", "good sport", and "happy".
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with wanting children to be happy, cheerful, polite, considerate, friendly, etc. But academic achievement is important as well. As Dr. Brantlinger writes:
"I would tend to agree with the social and civic purposes of schooling named by the in-the-middle teachers. However, when this perspective is unique to teachers with low-income student populations, it must be seen as problematic. Such expressed purposes and goals are likely to correlate with less academic push of pupils than would follow from achievement-oriented perspectives....I am bothered that [low income schools'] curriculum is not as academically or intellectually oriented as those in affluent neighborhoods. In the long run, such distinctive orientations can account for the eventual class-related achievement disparities."
So the $64,000 question is this- how can traditional teacher preparation programs foster the type of achievement-orientation in their "In-the-Middle" graduates that the TFA'ers and other "Already There" teachers have?
Monday, April 14, 2008
"To minimize frustration, we focused my son on learning, not grades. If he could get a 100 on an exam without doing the homework, we believed his time was better spent doing another activity in which he actually learned something...My son received a C-plus in his chemistry class because he didn't do all of his assigned work and received zeros on many of the 18 assignments. The class didn't move fast enough to cover all of the material, so he did different work -- on his own -- and handed notes to his teacher and classmates to help them. He's the only student in the history of the school to get a 5 on the AP chemistry exam, but this type of result never gets fed back into the course grade."
Boy, does that remind me of my younger brother! He has an IQ that places him in the "highly gifted" range but just barely graduated high school. His grades were all over the place depending on whether he liked the subject and the particular teacher. He aced tests but rebelled against anything he considered to be "busywork". Whereas I hated all the stupid busywork but was willing to put up with it to get the "A", he refused to "play the game". He would rather take a low grade (even failing) than waste his time doing too-easy assignments. He did very well on the SAT's and was accepted to a specialized music college willing to overlook his uneven grades in favor of his musical talent. He excelled in a challenging audio technology and computer synthesis program that played into his strengths of math and music and is doing fine today.
The letter-writer regrets sending her son to a traditional government-run school and wishes that she'd homeschooled him. She writes:
"After paying considerable Virginia taxes for the past 36 years, I feel cheated that top Virginia state schools won't let him in because of his high school record. If he had been home-schooled, they'd have had to look at his same test grades and SAT subject test scores and let him in."
Her son is on track to graduate high school and has been accepted to college despite his lackluster GPA. Like my brother, he appears to come from a stable, middle-class family that values education. He'll presumably be able to overcome the underachievement of his secondary schooling years and go on to reasonable success as an adult.
A significant number of gifted kids are not so fortunate, however. An estimated 20% of high school dropouts have an IQ >120, even though only 10% of the population meets that cutoff. These gifted dropouts are disproportionately likely to be from low-income families. How many of them wind up using their talents in negative ways, such as crime? What is the cost to our society for our failure to help our brightest young minds reach their full potential?
Homeschooling is certainly an excellent option for gifted kids, but not all families are able or willing to homeschool. There need to be better educational opportunities for gifted students available in traditional schools. In many places, gifted students from families unable to afford the pricey tuitions for private GATE schools (our local one charges $23k per child per year for elementary) are plumb out of luck :-(
Thursday, April 10, 2008
School A: Yigael Yadin Academy shares the headquarters building of Hadassah, and a synagogue. The executive director, Seth Goldstein, is a rabbi, and the school is sponsored by the Jewish Relief Agency. Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves kosher food and "Jewish Studies" is offered at the end of the school day. On the blackboard list of assignments written by teachers, Jewish Studies is the last one- studying the Torah. The students are told to copy it into their planner, along with everything else. After school, no other extracurricular activities are offered- only Jewish Studies. 77% of the students participate in the Jewish Studies program. On Friday afternoons, a "school assembly" in the gym is held. At this assembly, a man in a yarmulke recites the traditional shabbat blessing of the children.
School B: Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy shares the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, and a mosque. The executive director, Asad Zaman, is an imam, and the school is sponsored by Islamic Relief. Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves halal food and "Islamic Studies" is offered at the end of the school day. On the blackboard list of assignments written by teachers, Islamic Studies is the last one- studying the Koran. The students are told to copy it into their planner, along with everything else. After school, no other extracurricular activities are offered- only Islamic Studies. 77% of the students participate in the Islamic Studies program. On Friday afternoons, a "school assembly" in the gym is held. At this assembly, a man in a prayer cap leads the children in Islamic prayer.
School C: Richard the Lionhearted Academy shares the headquarters building of Catholics United for the Faith, and a Catholic church. The executive director, Seamus O'Flannigan, is a priest, and the school is sponsored by Catholic Charities. Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves meatless meals on Fridays, and "Catholic Studies" is offered at the end of the school day. On the blackboard list of assignments written by teachers, Catholic Studies is the last one- studying the Bible. The students are told to copy it into their planner, along with everything else. After school, no other extracurricular activities are offered- only Catholic Studies. 77% of the students participate in the Catholic Studies program. On Friday afternoons, a "school assembly" in the gym is held. At this assembly, a man wearing a brown scapular leads children in praying the rosary.
All of these schools would appear to violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in recent decades. Whether or not one personally agrees with the strict prohibition of religion in government-run schools, it is clearly unconstitutional to allow the promotion of one faith by a government-run school but not others. We can't permit one religion to have a government-run school but then turn around and refuse the same right to other religions.
I'm sure that it will not surprise you to learn that the real school is B, the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy. While Mr. Zaman, the school's director, claimed to a reporter from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Tribune that TIZA is "not a religious school", its practices raise major red flags. From outward appearances, it seems to be a taxpayer-funded madrassah.
If this charter school faced accusations of being a Christian school (Catholic or otherwise), you just know the ACLU would be in court filing a lawsuit so fast that it would make your head spin. So why the silence from them about this alleged violation of the First Amendment?
It's time to end the pro-Islamic favoritism- either shut down TIZA or else allow Christians, Jews, and other religions their own charter schools!
UPDATE: In response to the Tribune article, it appears that the ACLU of MN has opened an investigation of TIZA. They discovered that the school's website solicits volunteers for "Friday prayers", and have received reports that prayers, though "voluntary", are organized by school officials.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
In case you're having trouble reading it, it says:
"Congratulations _______ (name)! Your new baby sister is like a [heart] and you love her. And even if she hogs up all the food, don't call her a pig."
Not quite the sentiment I had in mind for the card, even if it is a good idea to avoid comparing one's sibling to a farm animal! ;-)
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Q. How does a homeschooler change a light bulb?
A. First, mom checks three books on electricity out of the library, then the kids make models of light bulbs, read a biography of Thomas Edison, and do a skit based on his life.
Next, everyone studies the history of lighting methods, wrapping up with dipping their own candles.
Then, everyone takes a trip to the store where they compare types of light bulbs, as well as prices, and figure out how much change they'll get if they buy two bulbs for $1.99 and pay with a five dollar bill.
On the way home, a discussion develops over money.
Finally, after building a ladder out of branches dragged from the woods, the light bulb is installed.
"What are your goals for home education? What do you hope to instill in your children? Are you planning any changes to how you educate your children?"The first two questions I addressed in my inaugural blog post, which you can read here.
The third question is a timely one, as we will be starting week 30 of "official" homeschooling on Monday and I'm in the process of deciding which materials to order for the upcoming school year.
The major change I've noticed over the course of the past year has been a drift away from hands-on activities and towards workbooks. Based on my own school history, I'd assumed that DD would hate filling out worksheets and love the hands-on stuff. But her idea of "busywork" and mine turned out to be almost completely the opposite. This kid actually likes to do workbook pages and specifically requests to do them. But she has little patience for activities that look like fun to me. Lapbooking and History Pockets? Big flops. All those crafts in the Story of the World and Kaleidescope Kids activity books? With a handful of exceptions, her reaction was a big yawn. All the games used by the Right Start Math program? Again, she only liked a few of them. The only hands-on activities she seems to enjoy are science experiments.
So our homeschool is turning out to more closely resemble a traditional one from an academic standpoint at least than I'd envisioned when we started. Silly me- I'd been under the impression that home educators usually get more relaxed and use fewer and fewer traditional materials the longer they homeschool their kids...
Friday, April 4, 2008
My favorite subject in our homeschool is science. I like doing experiments. This year, we are studying biology. So far, we have studied the human body. We are almost done with the human body, and then we will study plants and animals.
I really liked the unit on microbes. I got a microscope for Christmas and Mommy just ordered some slides for me to look at.
I am really looking forward to chemistry because I'm curious about it. I want to do chemistry experiments.
I like my other subjects a bit but I LOOOVE science. My other subjects are religion, English, math, and history. We sometimes do art and music too.
In religion, we just started the second-grade book. We also read stories about the saints everyday. My favorite saint we've read about is St. Edward the Confessor. He gave an old beggar man his gold ring and it was St. John the Baptist in disguise.
In English, we have been learning about prepositions.
In math, we have been practicing adding and subtracting 9's. I also like to play with my fraction tiles when my little brother is napping.
In history, we have been learning about Stonehenge and the megaliths.
I think homeschooling is way better than being in a boring school all day. I don't have to sit and listen to stuff I already know. With homeschooling, I also get to go on a lot more field trips than I would if I were in a regular school. You know, the Magic School Bus is just a made-up story- real schools aren't like that!
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Things have gotten absolutely out of hand- it's high time these sought-after schools increase the size of their freshman classes. Demand next year is likely to be even higher given the recent financial-aid changes announced by many of the universities. If Harvard received 27,462 applications even before the new program was publicized, how many more are going to apply next year given the more generous aid?
The sad thing is, this admissions frenzy at the college level has a trickle-down effect because it ups the ante for each preceding level. High schools with a good college placement track record become more desirable, then middle schools with a good high school placement record, and so on down the line. You wind up with yuppie parents absolutely freaking out about nursery school acceptances for their toddlers who are often not even out of Pull-Ups :-(
"But it must have been difficult for ______ to entertain seriously the academic arguments of a _____ whose disdain for all ______ was so pervasive."
Tough one, huh? Any number of words might work in that particular sentence.
The statement comes from pg. 145 of Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason. The other day I discussed the difficulty I was having with Ms. Jacoby's arrogant and insulting tone when it comes to the subject of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Fill in the blanks in the sentence above with "Christians", "author", and "religion" and it perfectly describes my feelings about Ms. Jacoby's book.
P.S. In case you are wondering, the actual deleted words are "liberals", "professor", and "social protesters". It comes from Ms. Jacoby's discussion of the late Dr. Allan Bloom's book, The Closing of the American Mind. Dr. Bloom had been a faculty member at Cornell during the 1968 mayhem at that university and had vehemently opposed the administration's caving in to student rebel demands to drop traditional academic requirements.
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