Saturday, April 29, 2006

Set your Tivo

Our favorite shows to watch as a family, courtesy of the Discover Channel:


Hosted by a former SEAL, this show covers all the super cool stuff the military is working on. Wednesday nights at 10 pm and 2am (Eastern) What can I say, I have teenaged boys. :D


The perennial favorite, still as good as ever. Even cooler since we found out that hosts Adam and Jaime (and "Mythtern" Grant) are all former BattleBots champions. And we incorporated one of their segments into Wolfie's winning science fair project. Thank you, Mythbusters!

Sunday night at 9pm and 10pm, repeated at 1am and 2 am. TV Listings here.

How It's Made

This series, from Discovery Canada, shows how every day items are made. Think Mr. Roger's Picture Picture (if you're old enough to know what I mean!) A recent episode showed how baby chick are "made" and how phyllo dough is made. Totally amazing. The only TV listings I can find are Discovery Channel.CA, but I think it's on on Sundays. Check your local listings.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Berkeley on iTunes U: Open to the Public

From Playlist via Yahoo Tech News:

Apple’s iTunes U program enables colleges and universities to post audio and video educational content online. While some universities restrict access to posted content specifically to their students and faculty, the University of California, Berkeley has done one better — it’s announced that Berkeley on iTunes U is available to the public, as well as all UC Berkeley students.

“As a public university, UC Berkeley has a tradition of openness,” said Obadiah Greenberg, product manager for webcast.berkeley in a recent statement. “It really speaks to our motto - ‘Fiat Lux,’ Let there be light.”

Read the complete story here.

Astronaut postponed college for life experience

A story in today's St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press about Duane Carey, an astronaut/shuttle commander returning to his alma mater to talk to the math and science students.

"He grew up in public housing in St. Paul, and he and his two siblings moved to the Highland neighborhood after their mother married when Carey was in grade school. He wasn't a great student until 10th grade, when he realized that even though he didn't intend to go to college, "I might change my mind someday."

After high school, he traveled the country on his motorcycle for a couple of years trying to find work but discovered he would need higher education to have the kind of life he wanted. He returned to Minnesota to study aerospace engineering at the U and went on to fly planes for the Air Force and to pilot the space shuttle Columbia on a 2002 mission."

Although the story is headlined: "School is the Key," Astronaut Tells Kids, I think his life is more a story about how you can still be successful without "Going directly to college. Do not pass Go. Borrow $20,000." Could the admissions counselors be wrong? ;-)

Free Science Supplements from the NIH

Anyone with kids looking for science info? The NIH (National Institutes of Health) has curriculum supplements for elementary, middle and high school ability children. These units are free to educators, including home educators. (Homeschool is one of the choices under "institution".) There's a middle school unit on the scientific method which might also be helpful to Webelos Leaders working on the Scientist badge/belt loop/pin. Units can be ordered in hard copy or downloaded from the web in multimedia.

Eagle Cam

Check out the live feed Eagle Cam from the Hancock Wildlife Channel. The camera is trained on the nest of a female Bald Eagle sitting on her eggs. The eggs are due to hatch any day. I had a little trouble with the streaming video but it's still way cool. There's also a link to an eagle discussion forum.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Marco! (Fabulous curriculum resource)

Check out MarcoPolo, a website full of lesson plans and weblinks on tons of subjects. MarcoPolo was recently voted the top site for free educational resources online by Wisconsin teachers.

"MarcoPolo is a partnership among leading educational organizations and the Verizon foundation. MarcoPolo is a gateway to seven discipline-specific sites, with resources furnished by the

* John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,
* National Council on Economic Education,
* National Endowment for the Humanities,
* National Council of Teachers of Mathematics,
* International Reading Association,
* National Council of Teachers of English,
* American Association for the Advancement of Science and
* National Geographic Society."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New EPGY High School

Looks like they'll want $12K for two semesters, full time. Ouch! Is it worth it? Click here for the Academic Program FAQ.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Advocating for your Gifted Child

First some provisional good news: I heard back from the principal of the charter virtual middle school that Wolfie and Xavier are considering for next year. He had had some reservations about the boys taking GOAL classes from the University of Missouri-Columbia. These are essentially high school classes offered to 4-8 graders. He was concerned, and rightfully so, that the boys might be in over their heads if they took high school classes in 6th and 7th grades. After I sent him the boys' test scores, grade reports and information on their current accelerations, he said he could see no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to take the advanced classes. Yippee!

He also wanted to run the idea past the guidance counselor who is due to start May 1 for a second opinion. Hence the "provisional" good news. However, their test scores (ACT and EXPLORE) clearly show they are capable of doing high school level work in at least one subject, and since the school has a policy of allowing students to change classes during the first 20 days if they're not a good fit, I am not anticipating any problems.

Julia Osborn's article How to Advocate for your Gifted Child, published on GT-Cybersource, is an excellent summary of the experiences of the parent-advocates of twelve exceptionally gifted students. (Are there enough prepositional phrases in that sentence?) From the article:

A list of very specific do's and don'ts were offered by the parents:

1. Get a professional evaluation. Don't demand a specific test; look for information on strengths and weaknesses.

2. Use tests that the schools understand and respect so you can talk their language. (SAT, the WISC-III, the SB: IV)

3. Be cautious about using tests that are less familiar and well respected (SB: LM).

4. Learn everything you can about your child. Pay attention to what your child loves to do. Study standardized scores for signs of your child's strengths.

5. Study the school. Learn everything you can about the programs and the key decision-makers.

6. Study other programs.

7. Read the district policy statement.

8. Make an educational plan for your child.

9. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

10. Stay calm: don't act belligerent, don't act entitled, don't talk when you are angry.

11. Document everything.

12. Practice your responses to false or misleading statements.

13. Anticipate objections, have ready responses.

14. Think about how the school fits into your child's life rather than how your child fits into the school.

I would like to add: 15. Find a parent support group. I have learned just about all I know about advocacy from the BTDT (been there, done that) parents on the Mensa Bright Kids list (link at right). The list is open to everyone, Mensan or not. I know there's a stereotype of Mensans being elitest and competitive, but I have not found that to be true of anyone on the Bright Kids list (and I've been a member for more than a year). We are a bunch of parents of gifted kids who are sharing information and ideas about how to help those kids feel comfortable in their own skins.
[Full disclosure: I've recently be appointed to Mensa's Gifted Children Program Team, but I'm going to have to assume y'all don't think I'm snooty or else you wouldn't be reading this!]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Love the Middle Ages?

Story from today's St. Paul Pioneer Press about a new class at Augsburg College, called Medieval Connections.

"They wear dark robes, gather around a wide oak table in a paneled room and study the lives of monks, rogues and poets of the Middle Ages.

Sometimes you can spy them in the Augsburg College library, scrawling their views in the margins of a "secret" book chained to a podium. When their teacher — a hulking, buoyant, bearded fellow — bounds into class, they greet him with a hearty, "Salve, magister!" He responds genially, "Salvete, discipuli!"

It may be one of the most unusual classes in the Twin Cities — a medieval course taught at a Lutheran college with seven professors and 22 students who, for a few hours each week, lock out the modern world to pretend they live in 12th century Europe. ..."

This sounds totally cool to me, historian and former theatre-major that I am. Costumes aside, my favorite classes when an undergrad at Northwestern were team taught by professors from different departments. The Renaissance, taught by an English Lit professor and an Art Historian was the best class I ever took.

"... "I think we have a group of faculty increasingly thinking about what can we do that's not just the traditional lecture/small group discussion. What can we do that will wake students up a little bit?" said Joan Griffin, Augsburg's associate dean for general education and an English professor who also helps teach Medieval Connections. ..."

Yay! This is what we need more of--experiential learning--and less traditional lecture/small group discussion. If only the idea would catch on in more colleges...and high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.

Clearing Off My Desk

A bunch of random articles I've been meaning to post:

The Coloradan on acceleration: Accelerate Our Brightest Students
"Terman's research reported that: Those gifted who graduated from high school at age 15 were more likely to have a superior career than those who graduated at age 17. There was little difference in IQ. Advanced grade placement was an advantage."

Lots of fun stuff from The Human Genome Project

Yet another evolutionary link between fish and land animals: Tiktaalik
"Tiktaalik lived approximately 375 million years ago. Paleontologists suggest that it was an intermediate form between fish such as Panderichthys, which lived about 385 million years ago, and early tetrapods such as Acanthostega and Ichthyostega, which lived about 365 million years ago. Its mixture of fish and tetrapod characteristics led its discoverers to characterize Tiktaalik as a "fishapod"."

From Voice of America News: Anthropoligists Discover a "Missing Link" in Human Evolution
"An international team of anthropologists has discovered fossils in eastern Ethiopia that they say may be a missing link between our earliest and more modern ape-man ancestors. Scientists say the discovery fills a major gap in human evolution."

And Wolfie's "Fun with Static Electricity" won his Middle School Science Fair with a score of 193/200. Way to go, Wolfie! :D

Fibonacci poems from the New York Times: Fibonacci Poems Multiply on the Web After Blog's Invitation
and rumor
But how about a
Rare, geeky form of poetry?"

Math quotes from Furman University
What About Memorizing Math Facts? from Living

From the University of Minnesota News (if you're in the Twin Cities on 4/19/06, check this guy out!):
"The math behind the curtain A talk by 'Magic Man' Persi Diaconis reveals the mathematics behind magic tricks-and its more serious applications

Stanford's Persi Diaconis, one of the world's great mathematicians, left home at 14 to live as a traveling magician. His talk on April 19 will reveal the math behind magic.

Photo by L.A. Cicero, from the Stanford Report
By Deane Morrison
April 14, 2006

A career as a mathematician didn't seem to be in the cards for young Persi Diaconis. As a child, he studied violin at Juilliard, but he left home at 14 to begin a life as an itinerant magician. Still in his teens, he landed in a shady Caribbean gambling house, where he tried to find ways to keep himself and other traveling magicians from getting fleeced. For that, he needed mathematics.

The next thing he knew, he was studying math at City College of New York and then, at age 26, heading to Harvard for graduate school in statistics.

On Wednesday, April 19, Diaconis--now recognized as one of the world's great mathematicians--will reveal some of the amazing mathematical underpinnings to magic, using performable tricks that can even fool magicians. His free talk, sponsored by the University's Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), will begin at 7 p.m. in 125 Willey Hall, 225 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis.

But the math behind magic has its serious side, too. Diaconis, a professor at Stanford University, will perform several card tricks and show how the mathematics of such feats applies to situations like breaking and entering, robot vision, cryptography, random number generation, and DNA sequence analysis.

Take, for example, a door that can only be unlocked by punching the correct three-digit code, entered via punch pads numbered one through five.

"When I was at Harvard, one of the rest rooms had a lock like that," says Diaconis. "One Saturday night, I went there and found I'd forgotten the three numbers." There were 125 possible combinations, and he had no way to breeze through them. But, he says, thieves made short work of such a lock at the Baltimore Hilton by using mathematics.

"When you punch in numbers, the machine remembers the last three you entered," Diaconis explains. "So if you punch 1, 2, and 3, and it doesn't open, and then you punch 4, the machine treats it as 2,3, and 4. Then if you punch 5, it registers as 3, 4, and 5, and so on. That means that after you've entered three numbers you can punch just one number for each new try, but in what order? There is a mathematical way to find the sequence to punch that will run through all the possible combinations without repeating."

"He is one of the world's most original thinkers in statistics and mathematics," says Doug Arnold, director of IMA, of Diaconis. "He is also one of the greatest expositors and communicators in those subjects." Diaconis is no stranger to the IMA, having already visited the institute for scientific work. His lecture meshes well with the mission of IMA, which is to bring mathematics to bear on all sorts of real-world problems, from scheduling airlines to beefing up computer security. Last year, the National Science Foundation recognized its contributions with a $19.5 million grant. Nor is Diaconis' lecture the first time the IMA has been associated with a fun topic.

In the realm of magic, no problem is too hard for Diaconis to tackle. He is well known for finding that it takes seven shuffles to randomize a deck of cards and that if a deck is shuffled eight times in just the right way, the cards will return to their original order. And coin tossing, that paragon of fairness, turns out not to be entirely random. After observing numerous half-dollar flips, Diaconis found that it landed on the same side as it started about 51 percent of the time. But if you balance a penny or nickel on edge and spin it, it will land tails up almost 80 percent of the time. Diaconis is also a prominent debunker of tricks by psychics and scam artists.

Among his colleagues, Diaconis is known for his willingness to talk about some of the difficulties of mathematics. One example is his effort to find out whether shaved dice, thrown over and over by a team of graduate students, would land in a nonrandom manner. Using specially manufactured shaved dice and a specially constructed craps table, he uncovered a mathematical truth: that finding a bias in the way the dice landed would require so many throws that human counting error would mask any bias."

Homeschoolers in the Ivy League

There are few, but they're there. Check out this article from the Daily Princetonian: Homegrown Scholars; and from the Harvard Crimson: Homeschoolers a Small but Growing Minority.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Best Years of Your Life?

Common wisdom holds that high school is the best four years of your life. Whose stupid idea was this? Even twenty years ago when you didn't have to walk through a metal detector to get to class, there was still bullying, ostracism and way too much mindless homework. I have even read a theory that teenagers are more likely than any other age group to commit suicide because "if this cr*p is the best year of my life, what do I have to live for?"

The bigger question is whether high school should be the best years of your life. Even if you're the captain of the football team, dating the head cheerleader and the whole student body loves you, do you want your life to peak at age 18? Keep in mind that peaking early implies the next seventy years will be all downhill. Is that a good thing?

I bring this up not only because I think the "best years of your life" mantra is a lie we use to try to keep kids in school, but also because it is frequently the first objection you encounter when trying to provide appropriate acceleration for a gifted child or when deciding to homeschool. "What about prom?" "You don't want to put a twelve-year-old in class with high schoolers--they'll eat her alive." (This is the other HS stereotype--the House of Horrors--not at all compatible with the Best Years of Your Life scenario!) "If he goes to college early, he'll miss the best years of his life!"

Bollocks. I'm devoted to my high school, still keep in touch with a couple friends from those years, the music department and honors classes were first rate, but they were not the best years of my life. I hadn't yet met my husband, had no children, no sense of who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. (Still haven't completely figured out the last one!) And I definitely do not want my boys to think of high school as their golden years. There is too much to do, see and be to have done it all by the age of 18. Keep growing and evolving. Make next year your best year.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bill Gates on Oprah

Here are links to the two segments Oprah aired on April 11-12 concerning the crisis in American schools:

What Bill and Melinda Gates Want You To Know

Oprah's Special Report: America's Schools in Crisis

The Gates Foundation knows that smaller schools work, but I don't think they know why. They behave as though the competition of the free market improves the schools. I think it's the long term relationships that can develop between teachers and students in a smaller school that makes it better. The teachers understand the students--how they think, what is important to and relevant for them--and the students respond because they're treated like capable, worthy individuals. The free market does the complete opposite--focuses on the ends, rather than the means.

Education should focus on the means of learning: how do you figure change at a store? How do you analyze a political speech? How does the world work? Where can you find the answer to a question?

To be fair, current educational policy does a lot of talking about becoming life-long learners. Our school district even goes so far as to grade the kids on how well they fit the "characteristics of life-long learners," which misses the point completely. Grades (both letter grades and grouping kids by birth year) and efficient methods of instruction (lectures to 40 students at a time, drill and kill worksheets, bell schedules, etc.) suck the joy of learning out of kids before they hit third grade. A paradigm shift is in order--this much we're agreed on. Unfortunately the corporate leaders of educational reform just don't get it.

News flash: Bill Gates on Oprah this afternoon!

For anyone who might be interested, Bill Gates is supposed to be on Oprah today and tomorrow discussing what's wrong with the public schools. I already have it Tivoed and will report back tomorrow if he says anything of interest.

Here's an article from the Seattle Times about how the Gates Foundation is trying to reform schools.

Announcing the Stanford University Online High School

Press Release: The EPGY Online High School at Stanford University

Stanford, California, April 2006 – "Through a generous gift from the Malone Family Foundation of Englewood, Colorado, Stanford University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) announces the creation of the EPGY Online High School at Stanford University. The EPGY Online High School (EPGY-OHS) will be a three-year, fully-accredited, diploma-granting, online, independent high school. Formally a part of Stanford University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth, and building on EPGY’s fifteen-year history of providing online courses to gifted students, the EPGY-OHS will provide gifted students with a course of study designed expressly for them in an educational environment ideally suited to helping such students realize their potential and develop their abilities. Through the EPGY-OHS, students everywhere will have the opportunity to receive an education comparable to that offered by the best schools in the world. ..."

Read more by clicking the link above. Click here to get on their mailing list.

This is very exciting for gifted students as well as for homeschoolers looking for academically rigorous online coursework. EPGY is the standard for online accelerated classes. EPGY-OHS also offers up to 8 weeks of residential programs at Stanford in the summer for its students. More info coming soon!

Monday, April 10, 2006

More Thoughts about Gatto's College Advice

With due respect to Gatto, I don't believe that dropping out of college is really the only or even the best way to change the world. From Cradles of Eminence, a book that examines the childhoods of between 400-700 famous men and women:

"The authors found that these 400 eminent people did have many childhood experiences in common. They grew up in homes where excitement and love of learning were present, though they often disliked formal schooling and some were schooled at home. The homes they grew up in were full of books and stimulating conversation and strong opinions, so that as children, they learned to think and express themselves clearly. They had at least one strong parent, usually the mother, who believed in them." (Introduction)

It has been suggested that to achieve greatness, a person first has to overcome adversity:

"Three-fourths of the children were troubled--by poverty; by a broken home; by rejecting, overpossessive, estranged, or dominating parents; by financial ups and downs, by physical handicaps; or by parental dissatisfaction over the children's school failures or vocational choices." (p. 282)

On the other hand:

"The homes of the Four Hundred were exceptionally free of mental illnesses requiring hospitalization."

To be fair, only Faulkner, Bill Gates, Ray Kroc and Ted Turner are mentioned in both this book and Gatto's article. I'm sure there are just as many successful entrepreneurs who did go to B-school, Donald Trump for one.

The authors do devote two introductions and an entire chapter to how crummy school was for these people. Those who weren't homeschooled were after-schooled (house full of books, family love of learning) and flourished primarily under mentors and tutors. It also mentions that "One-half of the parents were opinionated about a controversial subject, which set them apart in their own time but is accepted with little or no animosity today." Sounds like homeschoolers to me!

Chemistry Card Game: Fun for the Whole Family

Chemistry Trumps Top Card Game plays like War, except you compare atomic weights, dangerousness, usefulness, melting point, year discovered of particular elements. Our cards came today and we played for two straight hours! Easy enough for younger kids, they work like flash cards. The only drawback is that there are only 32 cards.

While you're there, check out the other webelements products. The "Periodic Noir" t shirt features the periodic table--the radioactive elements glow in the dark! Youth size large to adult XL

(I get no kickback for recommending these products. We're just having such a good time with them, I thought I'd pass them on.)

It's Charter Schools Day!

Full disclosure: Klaus is attending a public virtual charter high school next year. Wolfie and Xavier are considering public virtual charter middle school. While I think Wolfie would be better served by fully homeschooling and cobbling together our own system of virtual, community college and middle school classes, he definitely does not want me as a teacher. I can't imagine why not. I think he's afraid I'm going to turn into Galadriel when Frodo offers her The One Ring: "In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night!... Look on me and despair!" LOL

Found another virtual school in Wisconsin in the Kiel Area District:
Unfortunately Open Enrollment is over for next year. They also offer information for people wanting to start their own charter school.

Some other links about charter schools generally:

Charter Schools about Social Justice, says Fuller --

What is Chartering and Where Did It Come From? --

Teachers' Unions vs Public Charter Schools

Virtual Schools, Real Innovation

New York Times, April 7, 2006

A WISCONSIN court rejected a high-profile lawsuit by the state's largest teachers' union last month seeking to close a public charter school that offers all its courses online on the ground that it violated state law by depending on parents rather than on certified teachers to educate children. The case is part of a national trend that goes well beyond virtual schooling: teachers' unions are turning to the courts to fight virtually any deviation from uniformity in public schools.

Unfortunately, this stance not only hinders efforts to provide more customized schooling for needy students, it is also relegating teachers to the sidelines of the national debate about expanding choice in public education.

Virtual charter schools grab headlines, but they are actually relatively minor players. The Center for Education Reform reports that there are 147 online-only charter schools in 18 states, with 65,354 students. In other words, virtual schools make up just 4 percent of the entire public charter school sector. And a third of them can be found in just one state, Ohio.

Still, they are valuable for many students. For example, a student in a rural community with few schooling options who finds the curriculum in her school too limiting might be better served through an online program that allows her to learn at her own pace. So, too, might a ninth grader who finds unbearable the jock-and-popularity culture that still largely prevails in our high schools. And some parents may want to be more involved in their child's education than is possible in traditional public schools but don't have the time or resources to do fully independent home schooling.

To be sure, virtual charter schools raise some accountability problems. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Ohio's largest virtual school, and two online charter schools in Florida ran into trouble recently for such practices as enrolling ineligible students. The schools clearly need better state regulation and oversight.

What they don't need is reflexive opposition from the teachers' unions. And virtual charter schools are just part of a larger debate about public education. There is a universal American desire for customization and variety in goods and services, and education must respond to that demand, whether the unions like it or not.

The two main issues, of course, are giving vouchers to students who switch to private schools and offering more choices through public schools in an effort to improve quality. While there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of school vouchers as a remedy for our educational problems, it makes no sense for teachers' unions to continually fight against the idea of more choices for parents even within public education.

Public charter schools, in particular, are a worthy effort to provide non-standard students with non-standardized options. On average, charter schools are smaller than traditional public schools and often have longer school days and more intense curriculums; they also experiment with using instructors without traditional teacher training or having the teachers collectively manage the school themselves without a principal. This sort of variation should be welcomed, not tamped down.

America's teachers are ill served by the unions when policymakers and politicians are increasingly forced to work around them rather than with them; and the important contributions teachers' unions can make are lost. In an era of strained budgets and competing priorities, it is politically foolish for the unions to alienate parents and essentially encourage families to leave public schools. [emphasis mine]

This debate, like the ones over many other education issues, is fundamentally about who gets to have power. Yet the power the teachers' unions now wield will be fleeting if public schools do not become more responsive to parents.

An industry cannot survive by rushing to court every time a new idea threatens even a small slice of its market share. Instead, maintaining, and even broadening, support for public schools means embracing more diversity in how we provide public education and who provides it.

Andrew J. Rotherham is the co-director of Education Sector, a nonpartisan education policy group, and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Some Advice about College by John Taylor Gatto

The Richest Man in the World Has Some Advice for Us about College . . .
(P.S. He didn't take it himself)
by John Taylor Gatto

1. William Faulkner

On April 12, 2005, the August "New York Review of Books" pronounced William Faulkner "the most influential innovator in the annals of American fiction," a man well-deserving of his Nobel Prize.

Faulkner, a high school dropout, was later able to enter the University of Mississippi on a special waiver for ex-WWI servicemen. After a single year there he dropped out with a 'D' in English. Between that time and his Nobel Prize he never returned to college.

2. Bill Gates and China

On February 28 of this year, Bill Gates of Microsoft, told a gathering of the 50 American state governors that the United States has reached a competitive crisis which we were losing. This could best be combated by making college prep the sole function of secondary schooling, college prep for everyone, and college, too.

Those who couldn't afford it should be subsidized by the states. In Erving Goffman's chilling locution, college was to become a "Total Institution," controlling all work in the economy.

Gates' speech was headlined in the European press, where I read about it the following day at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, which I was leaving for Guangzhou, China. When I landed there, it was big news in China, too, if the English language "China Daily" can be believed.

It was the first thing my Chinese hosts wanted to talk about -- this radically utopian idea of college for all.

3. But ... Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I asked my hosts to consider this: If Gates' proposal was such a great idea, then how was it that Gates, like Faulkner, dropped out of college his freshman year? And why didn't he ever go back? And how was it that from among millions of college-trained techies, Gates decided to hook up with another dropout, Paul Allen, to found Microsoft?

That could have been a million-to-one coincidence, of course, except for the fact that Steve Jobs, the brains behind Apple, dropped out of Reed College after one semester. And never went back to college, not for a single day! Was it only an accident that Jobs chose to partner with another dropout, Steve Wozniak, in the founding of Apple?

Michael Dell of Dell Computer didn't bother with college either. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, said he didn't have the time to waste on college. Is the penny beginning to drop? These multi-billionaires, who've changed the face of the global society in technology, were all dropouts. What do you make of that?

Ted Turner, founder of CNN was pitched out of college on his ear, flunked out just like Al Gore did at Vanderbilt. Ray Kroc of McDonald's told his mother at age 15 that he didn't have time to waste on high school, dropping out at almost the same age that the female auto-racing phenomenon, Danica Patrick did. Danica dropped out at 16, went to London on her own (just like Benjamin Franklin did two and a half centuries ago) and signed herself into a course on how to sustain speeds above 200 mph on a racetrack!

A few years later she almost won the Indy 500 and would have except for an error by her pit crew.

4. A Mass of Clerks

In his monumental history of civilizations, Arnold Toynbee said that institutionally forced schooling was always about creating a mass of clerks for the prevailing bureaucracy. Not educated people who can think for themselves, but clerks - parts of a social machine. In your heart, you knew that, with or without Toynbee, didn't you?

Over in Guangzhou, I witnessed the largest society on earth undergoing phenomenal, dynamic changes that were intended to make China over in the model of Western industrialization, which steam-rollered the global economy between 1800 and 1960.

China has mastered the techniques of the West and has gone far beyond them. It employs the ruthless logic of financial capitalism with a discipline it would be impossible to achieve in the soft-hearted management systems of the United States and Canada.

They don't make things better than we do, but they do make them just as good and cheaper, by a factor of from six to thirty. It is fanciful to say, as Mr. Gates did, that if we just have more schooling, we'll be okay. In the next 10 years, China and India, et al., will release ten million well-trained engineers in excess of domestic needs on the world's skilled labor markets.

These men and women will bid for work against your own techie sons and daughters.

At sixteen cents or so on the dollar, the effect on wages will be a catastrophe for this important segment of middle-class life. Mr. Gates didn't bother to tell his audience that Microsoft has already opened large colleges in China and India to train young people in those nations to its own specifications.

That puts a new spin on his appeal for universal college training doesn't it? Perhaps you believe the corporate policy of Microsoft will prefer to continue to pay high wages when a stream of its own foreign graduates becomes available.

Unless you do believe that, it becomes a duty for all of us to wake up and warn our children because one thing is certain: Schools won't.

5. The Answer Is Jazz, Not Schooling

Saturation schooling, kindergarten through college, was a leadership response to the demands of a centralized corporate economy that replaced American/Canadian entrepreneurialism between 1880 and 1920.

What corporatism required was two things: A laboring mass - including a professional laboring mass of doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and schoolteachers - who did what they were told without question, and a citizenry in name only, one which defined itself by non-stop consumption, one which believed that choosing between options offered by management was what democracy was all about.

Lockstep schooling, driven by standardized testing, testing not to measure learning but obedience, was the mechanism used to drive out imagination and courage. It worked and still works superbly, but, like the little mill that ground salt when salt wasn't needed, this brilliant utopian construction is about to kill us.

North American economies dazzled the world for centuries because they encouraged resourcefulness, individuality and risk-taking to dominate the marketplace, and these qualities were encouraged in everyone, not just in the elites.

Three North American commercial juggernauts are currently blowing away competition all over China: computer hardware and programming, fast food franchising and commercial entertainment (singing, dancing, story-telling, games and all the rest).

Each of these businesses is almost exclusively the work of dropouts, from college, high school and elementary school. They are erected from imagination. Our fast food franchises don't really sell "food" at all, but two intense tastes - salty and sweet - surrounded by clean, well-lighted places and spotless toilets and primary colors. They sell a return to early childhood and its simplicities.

Our computer world is built upon imagination inscribed on silicon chips on grains of sand. It's magical. And our entertainment industry, which dominates China and every place else? Assembled from the raw material of people pretending to be who they aren't and singing their hearts out about emotions some writer made up.

We need to realize what all this means. We need to follow the path opened by our unparalleled jazz domination of the planet.

Over in China, at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music (the oldest continuous music school on earth) they have a hard time believing that jazz can even exist, that with imagination and courage you can hear a piece of music once and ring dazzling changes on it forever.

Jazz writ large has always been the key to North American genius. As David Richardo, the great philosopher of capitalism often said: The road to wealth comes from understanding what it is that you do best, then doing it. It's time we abandoned the cowardly path of imitating what China and India will do best in the future, realizing that our own security can only be preserved by encouraging imagination.

6. Stiffening the Backbone

Not long ago, I got a letter from Ed Hamilton, the largest mail-order independent book dealer in America, in which he disclosed that he had taken three college courses long ago before he realized that the time and expense was largely a waste and struck out for himself on the course that made him a multi-millionaire and, for what it's worth, one of the most influential purveyors of self-education in the country.

Hamilton admitted to delight in the fact that most of his potential competitors did so waste their time, thus leaving the field much less difficult for him to negotiate.

Chris Paolini, a real-life homeschooled kid from the remote Absaroka Mountains of Montana wrote a fantasy novel at 15, "Eragon," self-published the book with his parents and drove from school to school, library to library, with mom and dad who quit their jobs to help him so, so much did they believe in his book!

So far "Eragon" has sold 2.5 million copies - earning enough so mom and dad and Chris won't ever have to work for strangers again - and Knopf is bringing out a sequel called "Eragon, The Eldest" with a first printing of 1.3 million copies. "Eragon" is scheduled for Hollywood release in 2006 starring Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich.

Chris is 21 as I write and, like Danica Patrick, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, has no plans to go to college.

Or, how about the boy who flunked out of second grade, the kid labeled with dyslexia and ADHD who was fired from his job at a gas station for writing illegible receipts? In 1970, that dropout, Paul Orfalea, founded Kinko's.

And how about the dropout Richard Branson, who at the age of seven, was treated to this lesson in self-reliance by his mother: Miles from his London home on a drive with mom, she pulled over and asked little Richard, "Do you think you could find your way home from here?" He said he thought so, whereupon, she opened the car door on his side and said, "Well, get out and do so."

Whatever education is, one thing is certain: It doesn't take place locked in seats following the commands of total strangers, your obedience measured regularly by short answer tests. And it's education we need to meet the future, not schooling.

7. Let the Past Go

Mass college attendance once served America and Canada very well, but that time is gone and good riddance. It dampened down the inventive, entrepreneurial spirit in the interests of habit-training and attitude-adjustment.

We have the most efficient management in the world at a very high price: Mutilating the public imagination, vesting it in a handful of corporations. School was the factory producing incomplete human beings who were easy to manage. It worked for a century to produce national riches and a citizenry increasingly poor in spirit.

Gates is correct: North America faces an emergency. Vested interests will have to be set aside for the common good. The biggest obstacle blocking progress is the shape of our forced institutional schooling and its weapons of mass destruction.

As Pope Paul once said to the Poles: "Young people, don't be afraid. The future depends on you."

Let me add, parents, don't be afraid, either. Take your lead from Herman Melville's immortal Bartleby, the Scrivener, and say to Mr. Gates and his ilk: "I would prefer not to."

Copyright © 2006 by John Taylor Gatto,, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Some Thoughts on Vouchers and School Choice

There's an article in today's NYT about the voucher program in Washington, D.C. and many of the minority students the program is benefitting.

"Last year, parents appeared lukewarm toward the program, which was put in place by Congressional Republicans as a five-year pilot program, But this year, it is attracting more participation, illustrating how school-choice programs are winning over minority parents, traditionally a Democratic constituency.

Washington's African-American mayor, Anthony A. Williams, joined Republicans in supporting the program, prompted in part by a concession from Congress that pumped more money into public and charter schools. In doing so, Mr. Williams ignored the ire of fellow Democrats, labor unions and advocates of public schools.

"As mayor, if I can't get the city together, people move out," said Mr. Williams, who attended Catholic schools as a child. "If I can't get the schools together, why should there be a barrier programmatically to people exercising their choice and moving their children out?"

School-choice programs have fervent opponents, and here, public school officials worry that the voucher program will diminish the importance of the neighborhood school, though the program serves only a relative few of the district's 58,000 students. National critics of school choice like Reg Weaver, president of the country's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, accused voucher supporters of "exploiting the frustration of these minority parents to push for a political agenda" intended to undermine public schools."

Common rhetoric from the opponents of school choice/vouchers goes like this (I've put my response in italics to be clear.): "If vouchers and "school choice" are allowed in the USA, it will spell the end of public education. The rich and the privileged will be placed into the "good" schools, parents will have MORE pressure to make more money finacially, (assuming the vouchers will not cover the complete tuition to the most expensive schools) the best teachers will be funneled into the few schools which pay the most, and the poor and those who need more help learning will be left in poor schools with virtually NO money for what they need. Vouchers are reactionary and elitist and will not be a benefit to anyone whose family makes less than middle 6 figure income, AND will be the end of any decent public education."

But we already have school choice, in the form of open enrollment, and none of these dire predictions has come to pass. My state's virtual schools are free, include computer and modem and a stipend to pay for internet access, and offer, at the high school level, a plethora of AP classes so students can accumulate college credit for free. They are open to anyone who signs up in February. This seems neither reactionary *nor* elitist, nor does it only benefit kids whose parents make more than a middle 6 figure income. The New York Times article shows that it is the poor and minority families who are taking the most advantage of the voucher program in D.C. and benefitting the most from it.

"Poor and poorly performing students, as well as minorities will be corraled into virtual day care center, with little or no money for materials, books and repairs to buildings, no good teachers and graduate with little or no usable education."

I'd suggest that this is already the case in public schools all across the country. This is exactly why we need school choice, so poor, poorly performing and minority kids, as well as middle class, high performing and non-minority kids, can choose to go to a school that actually teaches them something worthwhile. Right now, most have no choice.

America was founded on the freedom to choose: which religion (if any) to believe in, which political party (if any) to join, where to live, where to work. So why should I not be able to choose what school my children attend (if any)? Why shouldn't everyone have that choice?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Do Kids Need "Friends Their Own Age?"

There is a long-standing myth in the gifted education community that gifted children should not be accelerated so they can "make friends their own age." Even educators who have had a considerable amount of experience with gifted children who have been accelerated successfully still believe children will only find playmates among those of their own chronological age.

I beg to differ. It's very common for gifted kids to play with older *and* younger friends, as well as friends of the opposite gender, even when the other kids would never dare. I've seen it in my children as well as myself. I've never had more than one or two friends who are the same chronological age as me. Still don't.

Friendships are based on mutual interests (social) and understanding (emotional), which have little to do with birth year. One of the signs of giftedness is a dry or adult sense of humor. Can you make deep and lasting friendships with kids who don't get your jokes? Or, worse yet, who only think bathroom humor is funny?

We've been grouping children into grades according to birth year for so long, the practice is no longer questioned, even though it makes about as much sense as grouping them into grades according to astrological sign. At least all the kids born under the same sign should have the same personality, right?

New NASA Kids Club

NASA has created a new online 'Kids'Club' serving up games, activities and plenty of action for future explorers. NASA will rollout the Web site Thursday, April 6, from 8 to 9 a.m. PDT in the Redondo Room, Hilton Anaheim Hotel, 777 Convention Way, Anaheim, Calif. The event is part of the National Science Teachers Association national conference, and it is open to the media.

The new site will feature animated, colorful, entertaining and educational activities for children in kindergarten through fourth grade. Interactive games include exploring and learning about space, building and launching rockets, exploring Mars, keeping airplanes on schedule and helping a comet travel through the solar system.

The Kids' Club site serves a dual purpose. Children can play the games at home for their pure entertainment value. Educators can use the activities as a fun way to reach students in the classroom, the library, during after school programs or anywhere children and computers are together.

NASA's education programs motivate and engage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The programs support activities in the nation's schools and distribute information through instructional and outreach products. For information about other NASA education programs on the Web, visit:

For information about NASA and agency programs onthe Web, visit:

NCLB and the Gifted

From today's NYT: "No Child Left Behind? Ask the Gifted"

Mostly a fluff piece about an immigration field trip by a group of NJ fifth-graders, it mentions how NCLB has forced districts to refocus their budgets on the low end of the educational spectrum, leaving kids on the other end to fend for themselves.

"A new study by the Center on Education Policy found that the federal law put so much emphasis on reading and math, there has been a reduction in teaching history, science and the arts. And that appears to have affected field trips.

Peter O'Connell, who runs the educational program at the national park in Lowell, Mass., just completed a survey of school visits to 10 history museums in New England, including Old Sturbridge Village and Plimoth Plantation. He found a 20 percent decline in student visits in the last few years. "Schools aren't devoting as much time to history, especially urban districts," Dr. O'Connell said."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tool-Using Orangs: Implications for the Gifted Child?

From the April 2006 Scientific American:

Scientific American: Why Are Some Animals So Smart? [ INTELLIGENCE AND EVOLUTION ]
The unusual behavior of orangutans in a Sumatran swamp suggests a surprising answer

In this article, author Carel Van Shaik, director of the Anthropological Institute and Museum at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, proposes a new, culture-based theory on the development of intelligence. His observation of wild, tool-using orangutans in Sumatra suggests that "even though infants learn virtually all their skills from their mothers, a population will be able to perpetuate particular innovations only if tolerant role models other than the mother are around; if mom is not particularly skillful, knowledgeable experts will be close at hand, and a youngster will still be able to learn the fancy techniques that apparently do not come automatically." Sounds like school, huh? Also apprenticeships, mentor relationships, etc.

Van Shaik goes on to apply his theory to the so-called "enculturated apes," those great ape infants raised as human children, who display the ability to imitate and understand complex behaviors like language, art and practical jokes. He asserts these cases reveal "the astonishing potential that lies dormant in great apes", suggesting "an ape growing up like a human can be bootstrapped to cognitive peaks higher than any of its wild counterparts."

The theory also seems to resolve the question of why apes in captivity readily use and make tools where wild animals of the same species do not. "The conundrum is resolved if we realize that thwo individuals of the same species can differ dramatically in their intellectual performance, depending on the social environment in which they grew up."

This sounds suspiciously like "all children are gifted, some are just more fortunate than others." If Van Shaik's theory becomes the accepted model of the development of intelligence (as could be likely since I found this in a mainstream, rather than a scholarly, journal), it might have serious repercussions in the way intelligence in human children is viewed and researched. Gifted children generally have gifted parents, who create an intellectually rich environment for their kids, but is nurture the only explanation for differences in measured intelligence?

I say no, for a number of reasons, but the basic one is this: some children learn things quicker than other. A gifted child may need 1-3 repetitions of a concept to master it. A high achieving non-gifted child needs 6-8 repetitions for mastery.* An average child needs even more repetitions.

No matter how rich the environment is, different children are going to need different amounts of time to experience all it has to offer. Teach each of the three learners above the same completely-new concept and the gifted child is bored already by the time the high-achiever "gets it." To my mind, that is the fundamental difference and the fundamental reason why gifted children are different and why they do need accomodations in the classroom.

*From Understanding Our Gifted, Spring 2003

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Dihydrogen Monoxide and You

It kills thousands each year.
Inhaling it can kill you.
It improves athletic performance.
It is found in every lake, river and ocean.
It's a major component of acid rain.
It corrodes metal.

You owe it to yourself to find out more...
The Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division