Tuesday, March 31, 2009

College Admissions by Lottery of Qualified Applicants? Part II

Today is the last day of March, which means it's time for the annual ritual of high school seniors learning which colleges they've been accepted to and for my jaw to drop at how insanely competitive the process has become. There's good news and bad news for this year's applicants to selective colleges.

First, the good news: applications to certain of the liberal arts colleges were down, allowing a larger percentage to win acceptance. More fat envelopes are going out this year from the following: Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Pomona, and Grinnell.

Unfortunately, many more of the top schools are reporting record low admissions rates:

Harvard 7% vs. 8% last year
Stanford 7.5% vs. 9.5%
Yale 7.5% vs. 8.3%
Columbia 9.8% vs. 10%
MIT 10.2% vs. 11.6%
Brown 11% vs. 13.4%
Dartmouth 12% vs. 13%
Duke 17% vs. 20%
Penn 17% (same as last year)
Cornell 19% vs. 20.4%
Wesleyan (CT) 22% vs. 27%

Chad Aldeman had an iteresting blog post a couple weeks ago over at "The Quick and the Ed" calling for selective colleges to hold lotteries of all applicants who meet the school's minimum academic qualifications:
"What this becomes, more or less, is a lottery. And if it's a lottery, and everyone treats it that way except the students who invest their time, money, and emotions, maybe we should just start treating it that way. No more pretending it's about student activities, their essay, recommendations, or their devotion to the school. We've all heard about the perfect 4.0 student with excellent extracurriculars who gets rejected from their dream school. Instead, let's just institute a lottery. Schools set their baseline, kids submit their numbers, and then we run a giant lottery for the spots. Poof, like magic. Such a system operates in other fields that we're perfectly comfortable with--medical residency programs or coveted charter schools, for example--so maybe it's time to give it a shot for college applicants."

As I blogged almost two years ago, holding lotteries would go a long way in reducing the pressure cooker atmosphere at many of today's high schools.

There's a girl in our 4H club who is the valedictorian of her class at one of the local government-run schools. She was telling me at one of the recent project meetings about her crazy workload. She's currently taking FIVE (!) Advanced Placement courses. I took one AP course my senior year and thought that by itself was a lot of work. I can't imagine multiplying the demands of that by five!

If students knew that they did not need to try to impress an admissions officer, maybe they could stop obsessing over external markers of achievement like grades and standardized test scores- and start focusing on learning for its own sake. The current system encourages kids to "play the game" of school and often penalizes those who stretch themselves intellectually by enrolling in courses where they won't receive a high grade. Shouldn't we be discouraging students from settling for the "easy A" and rewarding those who challenge themselves?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Please Pray for our Neighbor

The elderly gentleman who lives across the street from us was just taken away in an ambulance. I'm not totally sure what happened, but when the paramedics arrived at his house they brought in one of those defibrillator machines. So I'm guessing that he may have had a heart attack. He was conscious when the ambulance left, which hopefully means that he'll be okay. Please keep him in your prayers for a speedy and complete recovery.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What's Up With the Adoption of "Fuzzy Math" in Silicon Valley?

A few weeks ago I ranted blogged about how my local district voted to adopt the notorious "Every Day Mathematics" program. As it turns out, my district is not the only one in the area making the switch. The "Kitchen Table Math" blog has an excellent series of posts on the battle over the adoption of EM in Palo Alto.

I just don't understand why the districts are pushing to switch their math programs now. Doesn't it cost a lot of money to buy new materials and train teachers to use them? Aren't the schools facing huge cuts to their budgets because of the state's economic crisis? Not that I think that they should ever adopt a "fuzzy math" program like EM or TERC Investigations. But it strikes me as a spectacularly bad waste of scarce resources at the present time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

3 Kids is a "Large Family"?

Opening up my email this morning, I saw an invitation to join a website called "Large Families Today". This struck me as just a bit odd since I only have 3 kids. Maybe because I'm Catholic and also have a number of Mormon friends, but I don't consider myself as having a "large" family just yet. It's only since the birth of our 3rd in January that I've even started to think of myself as having a medium-sized family. To me, a "large family" has 5 or more kids.

We may get there some day- I'm only 32 and taking it one baby at a time. DH has already started in about wanting baby #4 but I told him to check back with me in a year or two. Right now I'm still adjusting to having a 3rd! For me, being "open to life" does not equal "have as many babies as physically possible". It means seeing children as gifts from God and not setting an arbitrary limit on family size. It means keeping an open dialogue with God and DH about whether to try to conceive, try to avoid pregnancy, or something in between.

Large families are wonderful and I personally believe our society would be better off if there were more of them. It makes me sad when I hear others give materialistic reasons as justification for having only 1 or 2 kids. Wouldn't it be nice if children were again seen as blessings rather than burdens?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Would You Give Contraceptives to Your 14 Year Old Daughter?

Remember all that controversy a few years back over the New York Times article "Truly, Madly, Guiltily" by novelist Ayelet Waldman? In it, Ms. Waldman admitted that she'd rather all 4 of her kids die than her husband:

"What if, God forbid, someone were to snatch one of my children? God forbid. I imagine what it would feel like to lose one or even all of them. I imagine myself consumed, destroyed by the pain. And yet, in these imaginings, there is always a future beyond the child's death. Because if I were to lose one of my children, God forbid, even if I lost all my children, God forbid, I would still have him, my husband. But my imagination simply fails me when I try to picture a future beyond my husband's death."

The whole piece came off as rather creepy to me. I love my DH but I'm not obsessed with him the way Ms. Waldman seems to be with hers. My whole identity is not so wrapped up in our marriage that I would not be able to function should God forbid it end. Would I be devastated? Absolutely. Can I "imagine no joy without [him]" as Ms. Waldman puts it? The truth is that I believe I would be able to work through my grief in time; while I would certainly miss him, I'd still be able to find joy in other parts of my life. God has given me many blessings. The loss of one, even of a major one like my marriage, would not end my ability to appreciate the remaining ones. In fact, I would likely come to treasure them even more.

Anyways, Ms. Waldman has a new provocative piece on NPR.org and linked to by Lisa Belkin's New York Times "Motherlode" blog. In the piece, she relates how she decided to place a stash of prophylactics she'd received as a freebie in her kids' bathroom (her oldest is a 14 year old girl):
"I was about to throw them away, but after an internal debate that seemed at once to encompass every attitude, preconception, goal and belief I have about parenting, I took the bag and put it on the very top shelf of the cupboard in the kids' bathroom."
I had friends growing up whose parents put them on the Pill at 16 and allowed them to stay out all night with their boyfriends. They were clearly given the impression that teen sex was okay; not surprisingly they lost their virginity on the early side and had a high number of partners as teens. They are now in their early 30's and still single.

Compare their outcome with those of my friends whose parents held more conservative beliefs about teen sexuality. They were virgins at high school graduation and while most of them did not wait all the way until marriage, they tended to have few or even only a single partner. The majority of them are now married or engaged.

These are anecdotes, but research findings back up the notion that a lower number of premarital sex partners leads to better marital outcomes. People who marry their first sexual partners are less likely to cheat than those who have multiple partners before marriage. Also, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, women having no non-marital sexual partners had an 81% chance at a stable marriage. By contrast, when a woman had just one non-marital sexual partner that chance dropped to 54%. If a woman had five sexual partners outside of marriage she has only 30% chance of a stable marriage.

Which would you want for your daughter(s)- promiscuity as a teen or a better chance at a happy marriage when she's an adult?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is the New "Tween Dora" a Sell-Out?

Like many moms, I was a bit concerned when I read a few weeks ago that Mattel was going to be introducing a middle school aged version of Dora the Explorer. My 6 year old, Miss Scarlet, is a big Dora fan (though since we do not have cable/satellite her exposure is limited to books and the occasional DVD). As far as kids' entertainment goes, Dora is one of the better options in my book. She's kind, resourceful, brave, encourages kids to explore nature, and even teaches a few words of Spanish.

When I first heard of the "Tween Dora", I was afraid that she might resemble those awful Bratz dolls with too much makeup and too little clothing. A sexually provocative Dora would be about as welcome at our house as the infestation of 50,000 Africanized honeybees we heard about on NPR last week.

Today, I received an email from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood asking me to sign a petition to Mattel against "Tween Dora". This petition reads in part:

"We know that if the original Dora grew up, she wouldn't be a fashion icon or a shopaholic. She'd develop her map reading skills and imagine the places she could go. She'd capitalize on those problem solving skills to design new ways to bring fresh water to communities in need around the world. Maybe she'd become a world class runner or follow her love of animals and become a wildlife preservationist or biologist. We'll never know because the only way a girl can grow up in tween town, is to narrow that symphony of choices to one note. It's such a sell out of Dora, of all girls. "

I agree that the original Dora would grow up to be clever, imaginative, and want to use her talents to solve problems and give back to the community. But why does that mean she can't also enjoy fun girlie-girl stuff like fashion? Why does she need to be androgynous to be smart and successful in a career? Why can't "Tween Dora" like exploring AND shopping? Why, four decades after feminism was supposed to free women from gender-based stereotypes to make their own decisions are we still perpetuating the false dichotomy between brains & beauty?

Now that the look of "Tween Dora" has been revealed, I'm relieved to see that it's fairly innocuous. I'm not thrilled about the pierced ears and makeup, but they're on the subtle side. Her figure is slender, but not anorexic-looking nor Barbie's extreme hourglass. Her outfit is age-appropriate and I personally think it's cute.
I don't see this new "Tween Dora" as necessarily being a sell-out of everything that the original Dora stood for. She does have a more overtly feminine appearance than her preschool counterpart, but so what?

I had a pixie cut & tomboyish clothes as a preschooler and then wore my hair long and cute feminine-looking outfits when I got older and more into fashion. But I still was into science and speaking my mind and wanting to make this world a better place. The outside might look a bit different, but inside I was still the same person. I liked going to the mall to pick out a new lip gloss one day and playing hockey with my brothers the next.

Why can't "Tween Dora" be similarly multifaceted?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Case Against Breastfeeding or For Selfishness?

There are some fantastic comments over at Lisa Belkin's New York Times "Motherlode" blog about Hanna Rosin's anti-breastfeeding rant in the current issue of The Atlantic.

While I agree with Ms. Rosin that the scientific case for breastfeeding isn’t remotely as strong as “lactivists” would have us believe, I was extremely turned off by the selfish attitude so pervasive throughout her article. What her entire argument boiled down to is that moms should not feed their children the way God (or Nature if one prefers) intends because nursing requires the mom put her child’s needs ahead of her own desires. Hello, that’s called parenting! All the reasons Ms. Rosin gives for not breastfeeding are selfish ones- mom’s career, mom’s desire not to be “tied down”, mom’s discomfort with nursing in public (just wear a nursing top & coverup/blanket if modesty is a concern), mom’s desire to alternate night feedings with dad so she can sleep better, whine, whine, whine. It’s all about what SHE wants and not what’s best for the baby.

The most outrageous part of the article to me is that Ms. Rosin spins her anti-breastfeeding position as the "feminist" one. What ever happened to trusting womens' bodies to nourish their babies being the feminist position?

Here's an excellent comment on the NYT blog signed "MJ":
"Like many women my age, I blame the previous generation’s feminist movement’s focus on having everything for men and women be exactly the same. News flash–men and women are NOT biologically the same! We carry the babies, we nurse the babies, we are the mommies. My husband and I have what I call a more enlightened equal marriage. Instead of trying to divide every task exactly down the middle, like the author’s Canadian friend seemed to be doing, we realize that we have different abilities/strengths and divide the housework and childcare duties according to those. Yes, I feed the baby during the night, but that’s because I have the boobs! It’s ludicrous to think that men and women are exactly the same. We need society to realize this, and provide the kind of support for families that women are crying out for–laws mandating that employers provide maternity leave and the support new moms need when they return to the workplace. When you feed your baby formula solely because it is more convenient, you are giving up the fight for the rest of us. We need to stick together and demand that society supports us in our choice to breastfeed!"
Poster "Amanda" added:
"It’s articles like these that make me wonder whether or not I want to be affiliated with the feminist movement. I am empowered by the ability to create, grow, and feed another human being– not brought down by it as Rosin suggests. As others have said, I cannot understand why people are so hell bent on men and women being the same. We are different and I wish the feminist movement would focus more on those differences. Why should I be eager to make myself more like a man? Shouldn’t we celebrate the things that make us WOMEN?

For those who think that breastfeeding causes an imbalance in your marriage– you probably have problems that go far beyond breastfeeding. If your husband can’t pick up the slack in other places, then that’s something formula feeding cannot solve."
Here's another good comment signed"Soon to be Mother Mary":
"Rosin’s article is an example of the growing backlash against women who choose a more traditional approach to motherhood. Her response, 'We are in a time of incredibly intensive parenting,' 'Why now, when women have less time and more opportunity than ever before? You would think some other form of parenting would be thriving now.' is indicative of the disconnect between the two groups. As a woman who has taken up the banner of pregnancy and motherhood rights, I’ve discovered that more traditional feminists view me and my compatriots as confused at best and turncoats at worst. They don’t understand why, when we could be out there making money, we quit our jobs, clip coupons, and raise our children. Because of this, we have a situation where traditional feminist organizations like NOW will only lend token support to the issues of pregnancy rights.

The problem I had with Rosin’s article was that she attempts to do exactly what she accuses the lactivists of doing. Where they have tried to guilt her into breastfeeding, she tries to make them out to be air-head fad followers."
And here's a man who gets it, "Josh Hill":

"The notion that breast feeding is some kind of sexist plot to manipulate women into changing diapers is beyond ridiculous, almost a satire of 60’s era radical feminist chic. Men don’t breast feed because they don’t make milk. Evolution has equipped the sexes to have specialized roles in the raising of offspring. Her acquaintance should be glad she doesn’t have to sit on eggs.

I’m glad to express my support to those women who make the sacrifices necessary to breast feed. And at the same time, I unequivocally condemn those who make life hard for them, and those who, lacking a sound medical or economic reason, are too narcissistic to do the best thing for their children. The state of our knowledge may one day change, but as far as we can tell from the current evidence, they might as well drink or smoke during pregnancy."

Amen to that!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

If Shakespeare Used Facebook

Via the Core Knowledge blog, I discovered a hilarious spoof of Shakespeare's Hamlet written as if it were a Facebook news feed. Enjoy! (Note: I've slightly edited it to clean up the language)

Hamlet (Facebook News Feed Edition)
by Sarah Schmelling

Horatio thinks he saw a ghost.

Hamlet thinks it's annoying when your uncle marries your mother right after your dad dies.

The king thinks Hamlet's annoying.

Laertes thinks Ophelia can do better.

Hamlet's father is now a zombie.

- - - -

The king poked the queen.

The queen poked the king back.

Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.

Marcellus is pretty sure something's rotten around here.

Hamlet became a fan of daggers.

- - - -

Polonius says Hamlet's crazy ... crazy in love!

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet are now friends.

Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not.

Hamlet thinks Ophelia might be happier in a convent.

Ophelia removed "moody princes" from her interests.

Hamlet posted an event: A Play That's Totally Fictional and In No Way About My Family

The king commented on Hamlet's play: "What is wrong with you?"

Polonius thinks this curtain looks like a good thing to hide behind.

Polonius is no longer online.

- - - -

Hamlet added England to the Places I've Been application.

The queen is worried about Ophelia.

Ophelia loves flowers. Flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers. Oh, look, a river.

Ophelia joined the group Maidens Who Don't Float.

Laertes wonders what the h*** happened while he was gone.

- - - -

The king sent Hamlet a goblet of wine.

The queen likes wine!

The king likes ... oh c***

The queen, the king, Laertes, and Hamlet are now zombies.

Horatio says well that was tragic.

Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, says yes, tragic. We'll take it from here.

Denmark is now Norwegian.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Fuzzy" Math Coming to My Town, Ugh!

To stay informed, I make it a habit to read the summary published in the local paper of the school district board meeting. I may not enroll my own kids in the government-run schools, but I am very concerned about education especially in light of California's current budget crisis.

So last week I was checking out the summary from the recent board meeting when, buried among the numerous other items, I come across the following:

"Approved the Elementary Math Committee's recommendation of Everyday Math for the [district] math program."

The notorious Everyday Math? The one that eschews teaching kids traditional algorithms in favor of calculator use? The one that has students answering inane questions such as "If math were a color, it would be [blank], because [blank]", "If it were a food, it would be [blank], because [blank]", "If it were weather, it would be [blank], because [blank]". That Everyday Math? Seriously?

I went to the district website to see if I could find out any additional information on the school board's decision. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I could not find any information on the members of this math committee, nor whether there was any sort of parental/community input.

I smell something rotten in the state of Denmark. Why all this secrecy around the adoption of Everyday Math?

The next town over uses EM. Over the weekend, I bought some Girl Scout cookies there. The 2nd grader I bought them from struggled to figure out the correct change from a $20 bill for a $16 purchase. I don't think that 20 -16 = 4 should be all that difficult for a student seven months into 2nd grade, know what I mean? The Right Start Mathematics Level C that I'm using with Miss Scarlet (designed for 2nd graders) has students mentally subtracting a 2 digit number from a 3 digit number with regrouping (e.g. 103 - 58) in lesson 86. The table of contents for Saxon Math Grade 2 lists subtracting 2 digit numbers in lesson 109. Singapore Primary Math 2A also lists subtracting two and three digit numbers with regrouping. So 3 of the math programs popular with homeschoolers all expect 2nd grade students to solve even harder subtraction problems.

EDITED: I found a scope & sequence for Everyday Math Grade 2, and their goal is for students to do 2 digit subtraction "using manipulatives, number grids, tally marks, and calculators." It isn't until 4th grade (!) that students are expected to do subtraction with "automaticity".

I find it a bit ironic that just about the same time my local school board voted to adopt EM, a study for the U.S. Department of Education found that the traditional Saxon led to significantly higher student math achievement than the similarly "fuzzy" Investigations.

I predict there will be a surge in enrollment at the local Kumon tutoring center...