Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Are you smart enough to work for Edison?

Fun test on a National Park Service site: 150 questions from Thomas
Edison's test for applicants
who wanted to work for him. Only 6 % of
applicants were able to pass his test.

Edison was quoted in the New York Times in 1921 as saying, "Men who
have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant. They don't seem
to know anything."

The test is part of the virtual experience at the Web site for the
Edison national historic site in West Orange, NJ (the physical site
is currently under renovation). Another fun aspect is the virtual
Edison "invention factory."

In case anyone is interested, I scored 69% on the 30 question test and 76% on the 150 question test. Neither result was good enough for Edison. ;)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dare we ask what education is for?

As I've said before (maybe not here, but I have said this before), free public education was instituted by the founding fathers because a literate populace is necessary for a democracy to work effectively. In the 21st century, voters need to be able to read, understand basic mathematical concepts (which should include knowledge of statistics so we can properly interpret opinion polls) and understand how our government works and America's place in the world in order to make good decisions about who should lead us. This translates into reading/English, math, civics/government and social studies/foreign language. Yet, in the public schools, these basic educational needs are being pushed aside for "mulitculturalism", which should contribute to social studies but in practice does not impart any meaningful information, "emotional literacy," "self esteem", sex education, "stranger danger", "character education" and "drug abuse resistance education."

Drug Abuse Resistance Education is the DARE program, run by the police department to program 5th and 6th graders to "just say No" when they are offered drugs, tobacco or alcohol. At the end, they are required to write what I consider a straight regurgitation essay, i.e. there is only one answer, no critical thinking allowed.

The DARE program does not work. Study after study says DARE has no effect on graduates' alcohol, tobacco or other drug use, even nine months after the program ends. Chester will "graduate" from DARE next week--he's all excited about getting the t-shirt. So is this not a waste of valuable instructional time?

Teachers say "Emotional literacy" education, including anger management lessons, is not, nor should it be, the province of the public schools. Like building self-esteem and the other feel-good curricula I've mentioned above, it's the responsibility of the parents, not the schools, to teach. How can we complain about the way the schools are parenting our children (teaching or not teaching sex education and so forth) when we have abdicated the responsibility to parent them ourselves?

This goes back to the Kids Gone Wild post from yesterday, but it really ticks me off when parents complain that they're "too tired" or "don't know how" to parent their own children. Never mind the fact that if you can't or can't be bothered to parent your children, you shouldn't be having them in the first place. There they are, loving and needing you with every fiber of their little beings and what do you do? Ignore them under the guise of "allowing free expression" or "being their friend." Or schedule them into a million activities so you don't have to pay attention to them.

Here's the thing--they are children. They are new to this planet. They don't know how it works or how they're supposed to behave. It is your responsibility to teach them this, not the school's, not the teacher's, not the coach's, not the babysitter's. Yours. If they have problems or worries, they should come to you, not wait for "circle time" at school. You need to be aware of what is going on in their world and you need to tell them what you think about it and what they should do. You need to teach them how to play sports, how to solve conflicts and how to clean bathrooms. I understand this is unpolitic of me, but if you have to make major life changes in order to be available for your children, then do them. Live in a smaller town, a smaller house, get a smaller job. They know better than to interrupt you when you're busy.

Your children get older every single day. Every hour you say "Not now, later" is an hour of their childhood that you can't get back. If you are lucky, you have twenty years to teach your children how to be happy, productive citizens. If you live to be 80, that leaves you 60 years to focus on yourself and your needs. Don't let the village raise your child. They need you, Mom and Dad.

Some Groovy Christmas Gifts

American Science Surplus has some great little gifts, from stocking stuffers to larger gifts. I loaded up on $2 Harry Potter science kits (search for Harry Potter) and got Wolfie an Ancient Roman Coin Kit that includes ten actual Roman coins (you can also get these on ebay), cleaning instructions, information on Roman emperors and others who appear on coins and a cd-rom database of images so you can identify your coins. Archaeology buff that I am, I'm really jazzed that he would be interested in such a thing. ;)

Anyway, check them out for all kinds of stuff you didn't know you needed at really good prices.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Kids Gone Wild

Recent article in the NYT suggests a number of reasons for the explosion of rude children. "Last month, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans said they believed that people are ruder now than they were 20 or 30 years ago, and that children are among the worst offenders. (As annoyances, they tied with obnoxious cellphone users.)" LOL

""Most parents would like their children to be polite, considerate and well behaved. But they're too tired, worn down by work and personally needy to take up the task of teaching them proper behavior at home," says Dan Kindlon, a Harvard University child psychologist. "

Amen on the personally needy part, although this sounds like it's apologizing for parents' lack of responsibility, which I absolutely don't agree with. Children need two things to learn how to behave in society: They need to be treated with respect and they need to know what the rules are. You don't let the little darling hit you four times with a roll of wrapping paper and then yell, spank and send to time out the fifth time. What does that teach her? You can hit Daddy four times, but not five? Dad's got a hair-trigger temper and you never know what's going to set him off? Does it depend on what she's hitting with and what Daddy is doing when she's hitting him? You bet it does, but a two-year-old can't keep track of that many variables in the behavior equation. Nor should she.

If the rule is "no hitting", then one is too many, not matter what the implement or the social situation. Yes, this requires some active parenting at the very beginning. But if the first time she hits, you say, "No hitting" and gently take the wrapping paper roll away then go back to what you're doing, you don't need to progress to yelling, spanking (aka hitting back), and time outs. (And yes, for those of you who were wondering, I am referring to an actual event during my Thanksgiving.)

If the rule is "When Mom asks you to do something, you do it right away," then Mom needs to be ready to enforce that no matter what the child is doing at the time she asks. This kind of rule is where the treating children repectfully part comes in. Yes, I expect my boys to do what I ask them when I ask them. But I don't abuse this power by giving orders left and right or by interrupting whatever they're doing at my whim. Unless I need them to drop everything (i.e. an emergency, not a power trip), I tell them, "When you get to a stopping place I need you to..." or "When this show is over, I need you to..." I'd be mad if someone came in and demanded I drop whatever I'm working on for someone else's whim. Just because they're children doesn't mean their time is less valuable than mine.

[Sorry, I lost my train of thought here. I had to stop to take Klaus to work and then meet with the other Webelos leader to plan the next two months of Cub Scouts meetings.]

The article makes the point that we get mad at kids for behaving like kids and that's when we think they're rude and obnoxious. I'll admit that sometimes I have to remind myself that they need to run around screaming and shooting each other. But at home, not out in public. The example given in the article of a child roller-skating around the table at a four-star restaurant is a failure of the parents to control their children, not a failure of the children to control themselves. After all, what kind of parent can't prevent a child from bringing roller skates to dinner?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I Love Lego!!!

Check this out! Lego makes science kits for teachers that cover DNA and Chromosomes and astronomy and robotics and simple machines, etc. The Teacher kits come with lesson plans and a "demonstration pack" of the specially made Legos for each topic--perfect for homeschoolers with one or two students at a time, plus they're reusable for homeschool groups teaching resource libraries or families who will need to teach the unit more than once. The lessons are written on the middle school/high school level.

I'm just so excited that they offer manipulatives for these very spatial concepts. It may even make sense to DH who was completely mystified by my famous "Thumbs" demonstration of dominant and recessive genes. You see, the thumbs are the dominant genes and the pinkies are recessive genes and the thumbs can obviously beat the pinkies in thumb wrestling so their trait is the one that is expressed. It's only when the pinkies work together that they can have their way... (Anyway, the boys thought it was hilarious.)

ADD: Meditation, not medication?

Very interesting article in The New Scientist. Apparently meditation, even if you've never done it before, restores your reaction time even faster than a nap does, and also alters the structure of the brain.

"What effect meditating has on the structure of the brain has also been a matter of some debate. Now Sara Lazar at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, US, and colleagues have used MRI to compare 15 meditators, with experience ranging from 1 to 30 years, and 15 non-meditators.

They found that meditating actually increases the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula.

“You are exercising it while you meditate, and it gets bigger,” she says. The finding is in line with studies showing that accomplished musicians, athletes and linguists all have thickening in relevant areas of the cortex. It is further evidence, says Lazar, that yogis “aren’t just sitting there doing nothing".

The growth of the cortex is not due to the growth of new neurons, she points out, but results from wider blood vessels, more supporting structures such as glia and astrocytes, and increased branching and connections.

The new studies were presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, in Washington DC, US."

The article does not mention attention problems, but it certainly begs the question. Many researchers have gotten good results with biofeedback treatment for ADD, another type of meditative state. Click here for a menu of articles from EEG Spectrum International, a clinician-run research institute.

Somewhat tangentially related is an article in the New York Times, This is Your Brain Under Hypnosis, which discussed top-down brain processing and how it can override sensory input in states of hypnosis or meditation. Personally, I find "self-hypnosis" very similar to meditation. In both states, one becomes detached from current physical reality to contact the subconscious. The ironic thing is that Klaus, my ADD boy, is also highly susceptible to that hypnotic state. He sleeps with his eyes open frequently and has done since he was a baby. I wonder if that means his prefrontal cortex is overdeveloped, which is why he pays attention to too many things at once? Or is it underdeveloped because his hypnotic state is less controlled by his conscious brain, as a meditative state would be?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is there such thing as too competitive?

From the Wall Street Journal:

The New White Flight

In Silicon Valley, two high schools
with outstanding academic reputations
are losing white students
as Asian students move in. Why?

November 19, 2005; Page A1

CUPERTINO, Calif. -- By most measures, Monta Vista High here and Lynbrook High, in nearby San Jose, are among the nation's top public high schools. Both boast stellar test scores, an array of advanced-placement classes and a track record of sending graduates from the affluent suburbs of Silicon Valley to prestigious colleges.

But locally, they're also known for something else: white flight. Over the past 10 years, the proportion of white students at Lynbrook has fallen by nearly half, to 25% of the student body. At Monta Vista, white students make up less than one-third of the population, down from 45% -- this in a town that's half white. Some white Cupertino parents are instead sending their children to private schools or moving them to other, whiter public schools. More commonly, young white families in Silicon Valley say they are avoiding Cupertino altogether.

Whites aren't quitting the schools because the schools are failing academically. Quite the contrary: Many white parents say they're leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests.

The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.

Cathy Gatley, co-president of Monta Vista High School's parent-teacher association, recently dissuaded a family with a young child from moving to Cupertino because there are so few young white kids left in the public schools. "This may not sound good," she confides, "but their child may be the only Caucasian kid in the class." All of Ms. Gatley's four children have attended or are currently attending Monta Vista. One son, Andrew, 17 years old, took the high-school exit exam last summer and left the school to avoid the academic pressure. He is currently working in a pet-supply store. Ms. Gatley, who is white, says she probably wouldn't have moved to Cupertino if she had anticipated how much it would change.

In the 1960s, the term "white flight" emerged to describe the rapid exodus of whites from big cities into the suburbs, a process that often resulted in the economic degradation of the remaining community. Back then, the phenomenon was mostly believed to be sparked by the growth in the population of African-Americans, and to a lesser degree Hispanics, in some major cities.

But this modern incarnation is different. Across the country, Asian-Americans have by and large been successful and accepted into middle- and upper-class communities. Silicon Valley has kept Cupertino's economy stable, and the town is almost indistinguishable from many of the suburbs around it. The shrinking number of white students hasn't hurt the academic standards of Cupertino's schools -- in fact the opposite is true.

This time the effect is more subtle: Some Asians believe that the resulting lack of diversity creates an atmosphere that is too sheltering for their children, leaving then unprepared for life in a country that is only 4% Asian overall. Moreover, many Asians share some of their white counterpart's concerns. Both groups finger newer Asian immigrants for the schools' intense competitiveness.

Some whites fear that by avoiding schools with large Asian populations parents are short-changing their own children, giving them the idea that they can't compete with Asian kids. "My parents never let me think that because I'm Caucasian, I'm not going to succeed," says Jessie Hogin, a white Monta Vista graduate.

The white exodus clearly involves race-based presumptions, not all of which are positive. One example: Asian parents are too competitive. That sounds like racism to many of Cupertino's Asian residents, who resent the fact that their growing numbers and success are causing many white families to boycott the town altogether.

"It's a stereotype of Asian parents," says Pei-Pei Yow, a Hewlett-Packard Co. manager and Chinese-American community leader who sent two kids to Monta Vista. It's like other familiar biases, she says: "You can't say everybody from the South is a redneck."

Jane Doherty, a retirement-community administrator, chose to send her two boys elsewhere. When her family moved to Cupertino from Indiana over a decade ago, Ms. Doherty says her top priority was moving into a good public-school district. She paid no heed to a real-estate agent who told her of the town's burgeoning Asian population.

She says she began to reconsider after her elder son, Matthew, entered Kennedy, the middle school that feeds Monta Vista. As he played soccer, Ms. Doherty watched a line of cars across the street deposit Asian kids for after-school study. She also attended a Monta Vista parents' night and came away worrying about the school's focus on test scores and the big-name colleges its graduates attend.

"My sense is that at Monta Vista you're competing against the child beside you," she says. Ms. Doherty says she believes the issue stems more from recent immigrants than Asians as a whole. "Obviously, the concentration of Asian students is really high, and it does flavor the school," she says.

When Matthew, now a student at Notre Dame, finished middle school eight years ago, Ms. Doherty decided to send him to Bellarmine College Preparatory, a Jesuit school that she says has a culture that "values the whole child." It's also 55% white and 24% Asian. Her younger son, Kevin, followed suit.

Kevin Doherty, 17, says he's happy his mother made the switch. Many of his old friends at Kennedy aren't happy at Monta Vista, he says. "Kids at Bellarmine have a lot of pressure to do well, too, but they want to learn and do something they want to do."

While California has seen the most pronounced cases of suburban segregation, some of the developments in Cupertino are also starting to surface in other parts of the U.S. At Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Md., known flippantly to some locals as "Won Ton," roughly 35% of students are of Asian descent. People who don't know the school tend to make assumptions about its academics, says Principal Michael Doran. "Certain stereotypes come to mind -- 'those people are good at math,' " he says.

In Tenafly, N.J., a well-to-do bedroom community near New York, the local high school says it expects Asian students to make up about 36% of its total in the next five years, compared with 27% today. The district still attracts families of all backgrounds, but Asians are particularly intent that their kids work hard and excel, says Anat Eisenberg, a local Coldwell Banker real-estate agent. "Everybody is caught into this process of driving their kids." Lawrence Mayer, Tenafly High's vice principal, says he's never heard such concerns.

Perched on the western end of the Santa Clara valley, Cupertino was for many years a primarily rural area known for its many fruit orchards. The beginnings of the tech industry brought suburbanization, and Cupertino then became a very white, quintessentially middle-class town of mostly modest ranch homes, populated by engineers and their families. Apple Computer Inc. planted its headquarters there.

As the high-tech industry prospered, so did Cupertino. Today, the orchards are a memory, replaced by numerous shopping malls and subdivisions that are home to Silicon Valley's prosperous upper-middle class. While the architecture in Cupertino is largely the same as in neighboring communities, the town of about 50,000 people now boasts Indian restaurants, tutoring centers and Asian grocers. Parents say Cupertino's top schools have become more academically intense over the past 10 years.

Asian immigrants have surged into the town, granting it a reputation -- particularly among recent Chinese and South Asian immigrants -- as a Bay Area locale of choice. Cupertino is now 41% Asian, up from 24% in 1998.

Some students struggle in Cupertino's high schools who might not elsewhere. Monta Vista's Academic Performance Index, which compares the academic performance of California's schools, reached an all-time high of 924 out of 1,000 this year, making it one of the highest-scoring high schools in Northern California. Grades are so high that a 'B' average puts a student in the bottom third of a class.

"We have great students, which has a lot of upsides," says April Scott, Monta Vista's principal. "The downside is what the kids with a 3.0 GPA think of themselves."

Ms. Scott and her counterpart at Lynbrook know what's said about their schools being too competitive and dominated by Asians. "It's easy to buy into those kinds of comments because they're loaded and powerful," says Ms. Scott, who adds that they paint an inaccurate picture of Monta Vista. Ms. Scott says many athletic programs are thriving and points to the school's many extracurricular activities. She also points out that white students represented 20% of the school's 29 National Merit Semifinalists this year.

Judy Hogin, Jessie's mother and a Cupertino real-estate agent, believes the school was good for her daughter, who is now a freshman at the University of California at San Diego. "I know it's frustrating to some people who have moved away," says Ms. Hogin, who is white. Jessie, she says, "rose to the challenge."

On a recent autumn day at Lynbrook, crowds of students spilled out of classrooms for midmorning break. Against a sea of Asian faces, the few white students were easy to pick out. One boy sat on a wall, his lighter hair and skin making him stand out from dozens of others around him. In another corner, four white male students lounged at a picnic table.

At Cupertino's top schools, administrators, parents and students say white students end up in the stereotyped role often applied to other minority groups: the underachievers. In one 9th-grade algebra class, Lynbrook's lowest-level math class, the students are an eclectic mix of whites, Asians and other racial and ethnic groups.

"Take a good look," whispered Steve Rowley, superintendent of the Fremont Union High School District, which covers the city of Cupertino as well as portions of other neighboring cities. "This doesn't look like the other classes we're going to."

On the second floor, in advanced-placement chemistry, only a couple of the 32 students are white and the rest are Asian. Some white parents, and even some students, say they suspect teachers don't take white kids as seriously as Asians.

"Many of my Asian friends were convinced that if you were Asian, you had to confirm you were smart. If you were white, you had to prove it," says Arar Han, a Monta Vista graduate who recently co-edited "Asian American X," a book of coming-of-age essays by young Asian-Americans.

Ms. Gatley, the Monta Vista PTA president, is more blunt: "White kids are thought of as the dumb kids," she says.

Cupertino's administrators and faculty, the majority of whom are white, adamantly say there's no discrimination against whites. The administrators say students of all races get along well. In fact, there's little evidence of any overt racial tension between students or between their parents.

Mr. Rowley, the school superintendent, however, concedes that a perception exists that's sometimes called "the white-boy syndrome." He describes it as: "Kids who are white feel themselves a distinct minority against a majority culture."

Mr. Rowley, who is white, enrolled his only son, Eddie, at Lynbrook. When Eddie started freshman geometry, the boy was frustrated to learn that many of the Asian students in his class had already taken the course in summer school, Mr. Rowley recalls. That gave them a big leg up.

To many of Cupertino's Asians, some of the assumptions made by white parents -- that Asians are excessively competitive and single-minded -- play into stereotypes. Top schools in nearby, whiter Palo Alto, which also have very high test scores, also feature heavy course loads, long hours of homework and overly stressed students, says Denise Pope, director of Stressed Out Students, a Stanford University program that has worked with schools in both Palo Alto and Cupertino. But whites don't seem to be avoiding those institutions, or making the same negative generalizations, Asian families note, suggesting that it's not academic competition that makes white parents uncomfortable but academic competition with Asian-Americans.

Some of Cupertino's Asian residents say they don't blame white families for leaving. After all, many of the town's Asians are fretting about the same issues. While acknowledging that the term Asian embraces a wide diversity of countries, cultures and languages, they say there's some truth to the criticisms levied against new immigrant parents, particularly those from countries such as China and India, who often put a lot of academic pressure on their children.

Some parents and students say these various forces are creating an unhealthy cultural isolation in the schools. Monta Vista graduate Mark Seto says he wouldn't send his kids to his alma mater. "It was a sheltered little world that didn't bear a whole lot of resemblance to what the rest of the country is like," says Mr. Seto, a Chinese-American who recently graduated from Yale University. As a result, he says, "college wasn't an academic adjustment. It was a cultural adjustment."

Hung Wei, a Chinese-American living in Cupertino, has become an active campaigner in the community, encouraging Asian parents to be more aware of their children's emotional development. Ms. Wei, who is co-president of Monta Vista's PTA with Ms. Gatley, says her activism stems from the suicide of her daughter, Diana. Ms. Wei says life in Cupertino and at Monta Vista didn't prepare the young woman for life at New York University. Diana moved there in 2004 and jumped to her death from a Manhattan building two months later.

"We emphasize academics so much and protect our kids, I feel there's something lacking in our education," Ms. Wei says.

Cupertino schools are trying to address some of these issues. Monta Vista recently completed a series of seminars focused on such issues as helping parents communicate better with their kids, and Lynbrook last year revised its homework guidelines with the goal of eliminating excessive and unproductive assignments.

The moves haven't stemmed the flow of whites out of the schools. Four years ago, Lynn Rosener, a software consultant, transferred her elder son from Monta Vista to Homestead High, a Cupertino school with slightly lower test scores. At the new school, the white student body is declining at a slower rate than at Monta Vista and currently stands at 52% of the total. Friday-night football is a tradition, with big half-time shows and usually 1,000 people packing the stands. The school offers boys' volleyball, a sport at which Ms. Rosener's son was particularly talented. Monta Vista doesn't.

"It does help to have a lower Asian population," says Homestead PTA President Mary Anne Norling. "I don't think our parents are as uptight as if my kids went to Monta Vista."

Write to Suein Hwang at suein.hwang@wsj.com

Monday, November 21, 2005

Gamers Rejoice! Christmas comes early this year!

Klaus is having school at Wal-Mart today because the Xbox 360 comes out tomorrow. Wal-Mart is going to start selling them at midnight. When Klaus called this morning there were already 7 people in line. So at noon, I drove him over there with a lawn chair, his iPod, his Biology book and notes and a double quarter-pounder with cheese so he could join the line, which starts at the layaway department and now snakes past the little girls' pink plastic shoes toward housewares. He calls me about every hour just to say hi. Poor little thing is so bored, he actually worked on his honors essays for Biology. But to him, it is totally worth sitting in line for twelve hours just to get one of these consoles. I hope it lives up to all the hype because he has been looking forward to its release since last summer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mommy's Book Club-the school year so far

Move over Oprah! In my continuing efforts at stealth homeschooling, I've been reading at bedtime again to Chester and Wolfie. I'd stopped a year or so ago when their bedtimes crept up to 9pm because that impinged on "grownup time." Now, we impinge (and I don't miss my shows. Thanks, TiVO! :D ) I'm glad because it lets me introduce some literature they wouldn't ordinarily read (particularly Chester).

We started with Lad, a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. The floweriness of the turn-of-the-century language took some getting used to, and I ended up skipping the parts where he reintroduced characters over and over in every new chapter (a relic of being originally serialized in a magazine.) It was quite exciting, though and we ended up in tears at the end. I would not recommend this book for very young kids or the tender-hearted. The climax involves Lad's own son viciously turning on him. It was nearly too much for Wolfie, even at the age of 11.5.

Next was Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. We started with a picture book version which included "Growltiger's Last Stand", "Of the Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles..." and "The Song of the Jellicles" that I'd bought when Klaus was little. They were so excited that I downloaded as much of the cast recording of Cats as iTunes had (about half, not including Growltiger, unfortunately) and bought another copy of Old Possum since our copy has since disappeared. Chester especially liked the songs (as did I) and he was able to do his first book report of the year on Old Possum.

When October started, we read Bernard Evslin's Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths. This was a bit of a slog in some parts, but the boys enjoyed the stories, particularly of the demi-gods like Perseus and Theseus. It helped them make sense of a lot of the references they've heard in other stories and even on cartoons. I had taken care to include the constellations related to the story of Perseus and a couple others when we put up the glow-in-the-dark stars on their ceilings, so that was very exciting.

Unfortunately, the October book report had to be a mystery story. We picked out The Hound of the Baskervilles. This took us a long time to get through for many reasons, not the least of which was that I had to go through and change all the three dollar words into two dollar words. Once I got rid of all the Victorian circumlocution, we all enjoyed the story and it sparked some discussions and research into Sherlock Holmes and English Mastiffs.

My next choice was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, one of my all-time favorite books. I thought it would be a good fit for the boys with a child narrator and more contemporary language, but it put them right to sleep, both nights. Granted this is not such a bad result for me, because I got done reading about a half hour sooner than usual, but it wasn't for them. At least not at this time. Maybe we'll try again when they're a little older.

To Kill a Mockingbird was a bust, so I let them choose the next book, Andrew Clements' A Week in the Woods. Andrew Clements has written a number of kids' books starring brighter than normal kids. The most popular is probably Frindle, about a boy who decides to change the word for pen to...well, to frindle and the conflicts this brings up with the establishment (teacher, principal, etc.) because "you can't just go around changing words."

I really liked Frindle but A Week in the Woods just makes my blood boil! The story is told from the point-of-view of both a gifted fifth grader and his science teacher. The boy is transferred to this new school in the middle of fifth grade and has a bad attitude about it for awhile, not surprisingly. So the teacher decides to write him off completely--won't call on him in class etc, even after the boy sort of apologizes. (He's an 11 year old boy after all. You can't expect him to get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness.) Apparently two months of being a model student cannot negate two weeks of bad attitude according to these teachers. I'll tell you, Mark (the student) has much more patience with his teachers than I would. I'm so upset partly because this is exactly what happened to Klaus when he crashed and burned in sixth grade, but really I think the entire faculty in this book should be slapped. The only way I would recommend this book is as the starting point to a conversation with a gifted child about how he is really treated in school.

NY Parents Up in Arms about Gifted Test

An article in today's New York Times says that the city's public schools will introduce one standardized testing regime to qualify students for gifted and talented programs in the city. This plan will abolish sibling preference for gifted programs. Mariela Calleja, an Upper West Side resident, has one son in the gifted program at P.S. 9 and had hoped that her younger daughter would join him next year.

"I don't know what I'm left with at this point; I'm crossing my fingers," she said. "What if my daughter scores well enough to get into a gifted and talented program, but not her first choice? Do I then send her to a G and T program at another school, or do I choose to deprive her of the enriched education and send her to the general education program in the same building?"

Granted, it would suck to have to send my kids off to three different schools every day. (Actually, my boys do go to three different schools this year. And it does suck.) What bothers me most about this article is not the program it's describing but the assumptions it makes about educating gifted kids.

For example, "Some parents said they feared that the changes could make the lack of socioeconomic diversity at some programs worse, as the top-scoring children, who most likely would have had the benefits of excellent preschool preparation, gravitate toward the two or three choice programs." (Boldface mine)

A gifted child does not need an excellent preschool to be gifted. An excellent preschool can teach numbers, colors, etc. but it can't make you gifted if you're not. The advantage Head Start students have in kindergarten disappears by third grade. Giftedness does not disappear. (Yes, you can hide it, but it does not disappear.)

The issue here is achievement vs. aptitude. Head Start students achieve a lot in their first years, because they are taught the same information through that program that the middle-class white children would be taught in an excellent preschool program or by interested parents. It evens the playing field. That's a good thing. But Head Start does nothing to increase aptitude, how able the learner is to try to understand and apply their knowledge to the world around them. A four-year-old is not going to question how life began on Earth--and insist on getting what they consider to be a reasonable answer--simply because he or she went to preschool. But a gifted child might.

The problem comes in when achievement rather than aptitude is the criteria for admission to the gifted programs. It's much easier to measure achievement than aptitude. When did she talk? How high can he count? What grade level does she read on? Very clear cut. Wolfie's super-challenge math program is based on "achievement and responsibility" according to his teacher, which is why if he gets less than a B+ in the class, he's bumped back down to regular sixth grade math. Which is asinine, but that's a topic for another entry. My point here is that if the tests in NYC are measuring achievement, then the parents' fears will likely come true--the GT programs will become an island of middle-class white kids from excellent preschools. Let's hope the real qualification is aptitude.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Quick and Dirty IQ Test, just for fun

Your IQ Is 130

Your Logical Intelligence is Below Average

Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius

Your Mathematical Intelligence is Genius

Your General Knowledge is Exceptional

I should mention that this result was DH and I working together. My original result (after one can of beer) was 105. "Amazingly Accurate" my foot!

If you want a pretty close result, use the Tickle IQ test.

No One Cares if Johnny Can Read

The California schools have failed these kids in the most reprehensible way possible, and nobody cares, so long as they get to march at commencement. Apparently 100,000 high school seniors have failed the high school graduation test, but the schools are making provisions to graduate them anyway! These are children who have spent twelve years in school and still not learned enough to pass a basic skills test. But they've "put in their time" so they get to leave now. Does this not prove that high schools are essentially prisons rather than educational facilities?

Gerald Benson, superintendant of the Tulare Joint Union High School District in Central California, said, "It's pretty hard to tell them, 'You can't pass one test, you can't go through the ceremony.' [It] might cause a lot of kids to drop out."

Might cause kids to drop out. Well, we wouldn't want that. If they dropped out, they wouldn't learn anything. Wait, they're not learning anything in school already! Why are these schools not being beseiged by angry parents, demanding that their children be educated? Is it okay if their kids are illiterate, so long as they're kept off the streets until they're 18?

If I were the parent of a high school student (or any student actually) in California, I would be outraged. In fact, I am outraged anyway. Someone should be.

The Animal School

Oh, my. I have nothing to say that is better than this! You can find the original (plus lots of other stories) at The Story Bin

The Animal School

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a "new world," so they organized a school.

They adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, ALL the animals took ALL subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming -- in fact, better than his instructor; but he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his web feet were badly worn, so then he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school, so nobody worried about that except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running, but he had a nervous breakdown because of so much make-up work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class, where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed "Charlie horses" from over-exertion and then got a "C" in climbing and a "D" in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class he beat all others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well and also could run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was named valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their child to a badger and later joined the ground hogs and the gophers in order to start a successful private school.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Which counts at school--Nature or Nurture?

Interesting article in The Australian:

Genes have it over means in determining academic performance
07 November 2005

LONDON: Nature, not nurture, is the main determinant of how well children perform at school and university, according to a study to be published this week.

The researchers came to their conclusion by comparing how well adopted children did at school when they were brought up alongside parents' biological children. The relative effects of genes and the home environment were then separated out. Previous studies have suggested that the home environment, and in particular the level of family income, is the most important determinant of educational attainment.

But the new study, to be published in the Royal Economic Society's Economic Journal, will argue that while income and home environment account for about 25 per cent of educational attainment, inherited intelligence is responsible for the rest.

Doubling a family's income would have only a small effect on educational performance, say the researchers, who examined more than 15,000 children, 574 of them adopted.

It found that, on average, the adopted children performed less well. This, of course, need not be a bar to success in life. Many adopted children enjoy spectacular careers.

The research may lead some to question government policies aimed at improving the performance of poor children at school and university.

Such policies, it suggests, will work only if targeted at able children.

The study, Does Family Income Matter for Schooling Outcomes?, by Wim Vijverberg, professor of economics at Texas University, and Erik Plug, an economics researcher at Amsterdam University, concludes that previous studies suggesting a strong link between family income and educational performance were flawed.

"Children of higher-income parents probably do well in school because they inherit superior genes, not because they can afford to buy their children a better education," Professor Vijverberg said.

Adoption experts said the research failed to take into consideration other factors. Jonathan Pearce, director of Adoption UK, said: "A lot of adopted children have faced previous trauma or abuse."

The Sunday Times

My questions:

1) Were these children adopted as infants or as older children who knew they were "different" than the biological children?

2) Is it correct to assume that adopted children necessarily have "worse" genes than their biological siblings? I have a biological sister who dropped out of high school and gave up a baby for adoption, and an adopted sister who has a bachelor's degree in Biology from a Big Ten school. Mine is an anecdotal case, obviously, but it seems to belie the "average" shown in this study.

The study is not yet published, but I'll try to track it down when it is. I'd like to see how these variations have been controlled for.

P.S. I apologize if this is double-posted. My blogging widget doesn't seem to have actually posted any of the entry I've written this month, so I thought I'd try both ways.