Monday, August 29, 2005

How Language Affects Personality

Forgive my sudden intellectual turn, but I just read an article by N. Ramirez-Esparza, et al. regarding bicultural individuals and how their personalities change depending on which language they are speaking. In this particular study, English-Spanish bilinguals responses to a personality test conformed significantly to expected cultural personality norms. For example, when they spoke English, participants tested as more extraverted, more open and more conscientious than when they took the same test in Spanish. [Please see the article for an indepth discussion of study design and results.]

This reminded me of a class on Japanese history I took in college and the concept of linguistic hegemony. As I understand it, the Japanese Emperor's control of his countrymen extended even to the words his subjects used. I believe the idea was that if there was no word for "treason," for example, then no one would think of it. It's a very difficult concept for Americans to grasp, since we're always coming up with new words to describe our new ideas.

But if you think of it in terms of this change in personality effect, it starts to make some sense. The way a language is constructed, the way it flows, the idioms that it uses, all are heavily laden with the expectations of the society that uses that language. For example, The author cites a study by Diaz-Guerrero which "found that Mexicans show an avoidant personality under stressful situations, whereas individuals from the US seek to confront them. (Ramirez-Esparza, p. 6). Similarly, while Americans lose their keys, in Spanish the phrase is "Mis claves se perdieron," i.e. "My keys lost themselves." Cool, huh?

This just happened to come up (on an email list) the day we dropped off the Korean University student we are hosting this semester. He spent the weekend between semesters with us--three very interesting days. Although Don swears he has very low English skills, he actually speaks English very well and we learned a great deal about South Korea from him (while teaching him to eat barbecue and make S'mores!) The study makes me wonder if his personality is more American now than it was before his intensive English seminar here over the summer. I'll certainly be aware of any changes between now and the next time we see him.

Planning for college

I was looking at an Ivy League (Duke, Harvard, Penn etc.) college fair to be held about five hours away from us next month. I mentioned it to Klaus (in front of his brothers), suggesting that it might be worth missing since he's not applying to college for a couple years and it's such a long drive away. He said he thought we should go anyway.

Wolfie said, "I want to go too!"

"Why? You're not going to college in four years," Klaus said.

"How do you know?" Wolfie answered.

Monday, August 22, 2005

They say gifted kids have a weird sense of humor

This is Wolfie's doing. It used to be a refrigerator magnet that showed whether or not the dog had been fed.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Homeschooling on Long Island-NYT

Another somewhat snooty NYT article, this one called "More School Bells Ring at Home" by Natalie Cavenor.

I was irritated at what appeared to be anti-homeschooling bias on the first page, i.e. "It is a legal option in New York..." (Duh!);

"Jennifer Dentry is the complete faculty for her children..." (A, if they're homeschooled, that's not true, and B, so what?);

[Dentry quote] "'He did fine, was learning, loved his friends and teachers," Mrs. Dentry said. "But I had that nagging feeling that I wanted to home-school." [italics mine]

"...homeschoolers say they don't think a lack of credentials mattered."

A definite "They're hurting their children for their own selfish reasons" kind of slant, supported by the head of the state teachers' union calling homeschooling parents "Well-intentioned but misguided."

But as I continued reading, I realized that the "officials", Iannuzzi from the teachers' union and William Brosnan, superintendent of the Northport-East Northport schools and president of the New York State Council of School Superintendent, were doing nothing but spouting party line. They want homeschooling parents credentialled. Of course they do, they they'll want them to join the union! For those who don't know, I used to be a teacher and I can tell you the pressure to join the union is immense, even before graduation. We can't expect them to accept non-union teachers at home or at school anymore than we'd expect Northwest Airlines Mechanics Union to accept non-union mechanics.

Mr. Iannuzzi's last quote is the one I find most ridiculous, since it goes exactly against my experience: "The stories [about homeschoolers beating public school students in spelling, science and math competitions] don't demonstrate that home schooling works, just that there are some really good students being home-schooled," he said. "They would probably perform even better in the public schools."

HA! I say to you, HA! Even if a student is lucky enough in their twelve years of public schooling to find a teacher who is really on their same wavelength and has their best interests at heart, that teacher is gone within a year. A homeschooling parent always has the child's best interests at heart and is there throughout school. A homeschooled student who finds a mentor in the community has a friend and ally for life, not just the duration of high school.

Yes, some students are brilliant and self-motivated and perform very well in high school but I believe this is despite the school, not because of it. Some students are brilliant and less self-motivated because they spend all their energy fighting the system at school and have nothing left with which to learn. And more and more teens turn their anger at the system against themselves because beating their heads against a brick wall doesn't hurt the wall. This is why I homeschool.

I'm not entirely sure how I got from the New York Times to Pink Floyd and teen suicide, but there you have it. Once you see the "official" quotes for nothing more than the same old union talking points, it's really not a bad article.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Where does all the money go??

Alina Tugend's recent article in the New York Times discussed the huge school supplies lists the public schools are handing out to parents. Wolfie and Chester's lists were easily twenty items each. Plus we're expected to pony up a $30 District Material fee to "cover expenses." Wolfie also needs $7 school t shirt for PE and a $4 magazine subscription and both boys need $4 for the "District approved" student planner. If they were playing sports, the fees would be $25 per child per sport "up to a family cap of $100." Well thank you very much! >:(

I'd complain to the teachers, but I know they are also paying out of pocket for my kids' education, as is mentioned on page 2 of the NYT article.

I happen to know that our state gives the school district $6,000 of my tax money per student. Could someone please explain to me how they can not educate my child for less than $6,000?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

This is why I started this blog

Wolfie was playing with one of the dog's squeaky toys a few minutes ago, getting louder and louder as he moved from the relatively large kitchen into the front hallway. Squeak, squeak, Squeak, SQUEAK!

"That's enough, Wolfie," I say.

"But I'm using echolocation," he protests. "And it's working!"

Wasting Time in School

Inge Canon on Carnegie Units at the transcripts seminar :

"36 weeks x 5 sessions x 45-50 min each =135 -150 hours. School administrators then assume that this will generate another 65-150 hours of "outside" preparation. So a Carnegie Unit is assuming 200 hours of work."

Mrs. Canon went on to say that homeschools should, rightly, adjust this time requirement since the tutorial setting is so different from classroom instruction. She then read this study done on "Time-on-task" in public high schools. The author of the study was invited to do it, and surveyed close to 2000 high schools. Here are the results:

Gross School Year = 1080 hours

subtract 15% absenteeism=918 hours

subtract 40% of the day allocated to non-instructional activities (lunch, homeroom, class switching) = 551 hours

subtract 12% of class time for administration = 485 hours

subtract 25% for students being "off-task" (various reason, most teachers said they were being conservative with this figure) = 364

After 1080 hours in a typical high school year, the average high schooler is getting just 365 hours of actual instruction time! Amazing, isn't it?

And they wonder why students feel high school is a waste of time...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Way with Words

We're working on redecorating Chester's room. He was three when we moved in, so he got the room with the pink wallpaper and pink carpet. Now he's ten and needs something more suitable.

We've been visiting every furniture store in the area. He desperately needs a new chest of drawers to replace Aunt Linda's old dresser, and perhaps a new bed, since his bed used to be a guest bed in my grandparents' house when I was young. While looking, a black tubular steel bunk bed with a futon couch on the bottom instead of another bed caught his eye.

Chester said the word "futon" sounded like an atomic particle to him, like electron or proton.

Wolfie said, "If it's part bunk bed and part futon, wouldn't that make it a funkton?"

I think it absolutely would. LOL

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Now we're cooking!

An update on our summer cooking class:

Klaus has started making recipes even I haven't wanted to try--fried chicken, for example. I always thought it was too hard and too messy, but he did a fantastic job. He's volunteered to cook dinner three out of the last seven days.

Wolfie much prefers to create his own recipes. We elaborated on a basic lasagna recipe that turned out better than mine do. One experiment--chicken drumsticks rolled in cooked rice like sushi and then deep-fried in tempura batter--didn't turn out so well (we couldn't get the rice to stick) but at least he's trying--and raising the bar himself.

Chester is less ambitious--he's always been a picky eater. But I bought the Better Homes and Gardens Kids Cookbook and he quickly found three recipes that sounded both easy and fun. In fact, the day the cookbook came, we also happened to have company from out of state. Sam insisted on making the "Pick Pockets" (calzones) for the company, even though it wasn't his usual day to cook. They turned out terrific, by the way. ;)

As an aside, the link above for the cookbook is through It's an online branch of Book-of-the-Month club that I've been a member of for almost a year. Every single book is $9.95, no charge for shipping, even Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, which retailed for $35. Their selection is limited to recent books, particularly bestsellers, but I highly recommend them for bibliophiles. :D

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

And yet it is possible to be both

From The New York Times:

_New York Times_, "Education Life", p. 10

July 31, 2005

How to ... Identify a Gifted Child


DISCERNING gifted children, long an imperfect science, is even tougher in today's label-prone culture. James T. Webb, a clinical psychologist and author of "Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults," explains what can go wrong.

Q. Parents throw the word "gifted" around. What does it mean, really?

A. Gifted comes in different forms and degrees. Gifted children excel in such areas as general intellectual ability, specific aptitudes like math, creative thinking, visual or performing arts. Most have I.Q. scores between 130 and 155. Above that range are the profoundly gifted - a tiny fraction of the group. Over all, the gifted represent about 3 percent of our population.

Q. Why would gifted children be tagged as having psychological disorders?

A. Behaviors of many gifted children can resemble those of, say, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Most teachers, pediatricians and psychologists aren't trained to distinguish between the two. Most gifted kids are very intense, pursuing interests excessively. This often leads to power struggles, perfectionism, impatience, fierce emotions and trouble with peers. Many gifted kids have varied interests, skipping from one to the other - a trait often misinterpreted as A.D.H.D.

Q. You write that these misdiagnoses are common.

A. About a quarter of gifted children have their giftedness misinterpreted as a disorder and aren't recognized as gifted. Even when flagged as gifted, another 20 percent are misdiagnosed. Among children referred to me with a bipolar diagnosis, almost 100 percent have been misdiagnosed, as are 70 percent of those with obsessive-compulsive diagnoses and 55 percent of those with A.D.H.D.

Q. What's a parent to do?

A. Parents should educate themselves about the characteristics of gifted children: intense curiosity, unusually good memory, a remarkable sense of humor, exquisite sensitivity to others and extensive vocabularies. And identify them early. Children's attitudes toward learning get set before age 10. Preschool and the early grades generally turn off gifted kids: they are told to stop asking so many questions and wait their turn. They need an appropriate learning environment. If not, seeds for underachievement are sown.

While I agree that gifted kids share characteristics with ADHD kids, it is possible to be both gifted and have ADD. The giftedness will mask the attention problems to such an extent that some people insist there's no such thing as ADD--All kids with attention problems are "only" gifted. I'm here to tell you, it just ain't true. I've seen how much easier life is for Klaus since he's been medicated. He's not a "zombie" and hasn't been "drugged into compliance." If anything he's been drugged out of compliance. He used to do whatever it took to get along and stay under the teacher's radar. Since he's been able to concentrate, he's become much more independent and ambitious. I think that's because he trusts himself now. He knows he can make a decision, set a goal and follow through.

I read somewhere that low self-esteem is a result of not keeping your yourself. You set a goal (promise), can't follow through, and start telling yourself that you're worthless. If the goal affected someone else, their reaction doesn't make you feel any better. It's not until you can make promises to yourself, follow through, and learn to trust yourself that your self esteem begins to rise. It's an interesting way to look at the phenomenon.