Tuesday, July 25, 2006

IQ Ain't Nuthin' But a Number

Klaus took the Stanford-Binet V (SBV) last week as part of our ongoing effort to convince him he's not an idiot. "That boy, he has no idea how smart he is." (Any Dirt Band fans in the house?! LOL) He's had very uneven scores on various tests over the years. That along with the ADD and his generally pessimistic world outlook have always given him doubts.

Anyway, we got a preliminary score report from the assessor, Dr. Deborah Ruf, who is marvelous and I highly recommend anyone in the Twin Cities area looking for a gifted assessment to contact her. He came out 98th percentile, which was lower than we expected.

Now I can hear you all, "98th percentile is great! What do you want from the poor kid? Lighten up!"

Which I would, if I didn't know how his brothers scored on the same test and what Klaus is capable of that his brothers aren't. I talked with Dr. Ruf last night and she confirmed that his test score does not tell the whole story. This is why she has come up with a different way of assessing gifted kids that she calls "Levels of Giftedness." It's based more on what the child has achieved and shown himself capable of than on how he performed on a given test on a given day. The level she assigned him is much more in line with what I know about Klaus than his test score is.

You can find out more about levels of giftedness from Dr. Ruf's website or in her book, Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind. The book also gives recommendations about school placement, how one's needs compare to others in his or her classroom and other educational options for gifted kids based on level. I high recommend Dr. Ruf's book to anyone looking for a more "whole child" assessment of giftedness.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Circle of Life, In My Livingroom

I haven't blogged about my crab tank in awhile. Since the last entry, we added two new ghost shrimp to the tank, Bezu and Fache. (Da Vinci Code, anyone? DH liked the police inspector's name.) I know, can't tell the shrimp apart without a program. LOL

Fache was pregnant and died soon after giving birth, just like Medea had. None of Medea's babies survived, though, and Fache left four. (Maybe I should have named Medea something else?) We named the babies Arania, Nellie, Joy, after Charlotte's (the spider) daughters. Wait, didn't I say there were four? I did. We didn't realize Wilbur was there for the first two weeks. Hey, newborn they're the size of a comma, not to mention see-through!

Anyway, Bezu died a couple weeks after Fache did. Clark was still holding on from the previous batch of shrimp and we still had the babies, until this week.

Harriet died last Tuesday, the day after we realized Clark, our longest lasting ghost shrimp, was missing. It appears we're down to two babies as well. Mind you, I've never seen a dead shrimp. They just seem to mysteriously disappear. DH had been blaming Harriet for eating the shrimp, but I think he may have been wrong.

We got a new female crab today, Charlotte (natch). Just introduced her to the tank. It took Ozzie not two minutes to track her down and try to eat her. We broke them up with a ruler and made sure there was ample food in the tank, but I won't be too surprised if she doesn't last the night, poor thing. I don't mind the circle of life--these things just don't live very long--but does he have to do it while I'm watching?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

World eBook Fair

Now through August 4, you can download thousands of copywritten books from Project Gutenberg though the World eBook Fair. Books are text-searchable and free to the public for this limited time only. From their website:

"Welcome to the home of the World eBook Fair, the largest showcase for eBooks, eBook publishers, editors, and others working in the new world of eBooks.

July 4th to August 4, 2006 marks a month long celebration of the 35th anniversary of the first step taken towards today's eBooks, when the United States Declaration of Independence was the first file placed online for downloading in what was destined to be an electronic library of the Internet. Today's eBook library has a total of over 100 languages represented.

The World eBook Fair welcomes you to absolutely free access to a variety of eBook unparalleled by any other source. 1/3 million eBooks await you for personal use, all free of charge for the month from July 4 - August 4, 2006, and then 1/2 million eBooks in 2007, 3/4 million in 2008, and ONE million in 2009.

Ten times as many eBooks are available from private eBook sources, without the media circus that comes with 100 billion dollar media mavens such as Google. The World eBook Fair has created a library of wide ranging samples of these eBooks, totaling 1/3 million. Here are eBooks from nearly every classic author on the varieties of subjects previously only available through the largest library collections in the world. Now these books are yours for personal use, free of charge, to keep for the rest of your lives.
This event is brought to you by the oldest and largest free eBook source on the Internet, Project Gutenberg, with the assistance of the World eBook Library, the providers of the largest collection, and a number of other eBook efforts around the world. The World eBook Library normally charges $8.95 per year for online access, and allows unlimited personal downloading. During The World eBook Fair all these books are available free of charge through a gateway at http://www.gutenberg.org and http://WorldeBookFair.com."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

PS Kids Are Crying Out for Rigor--Will Their Teachers Listen?

This follows along with the previous post about the valedictorian complaining that high school was a waste of time. In the name of self-esteem, we have dumbed down the curriculum so far for so long, that current teachers now think the low standards are the kids' idea. From yesterday's NYT:

Bronx Sixth Graders Master Mysteries of the Biology Regents

Published: July 5, 2006

High school students statewide struggle to pass the Regents exams required for graduation. But at a small Bronx school, a group of sixth graders passed the biology Regents last month, surprising their teachers, although not themselves.

"It wasn't as hard as I thought," said Jose Castillo, 12, who earned an 80, the group's highest score. Passing is 65. "I have taken practice Regents, and they were harder than that."

Jose's school, the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, opened two years ago with one sixth-grade class. Adding a grade each year, it will eventually serve the 6th to 12th grades. It is one of dozens of small, theme-based public schools that are central to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's education policy.

Although the biology Regents is usually taken in ninth grade, teachers at this school felt that their students needed a challenge, so they essentially started teaching ninth-grade biology and added test preparation.

Ten of the 23 students who took the exam (known formally as the Living Environment test) passed with marks between 65 and 80 on a 100-point scale. Of the 51,000 students who took the exam citywide in the 2003-4 school year, 58 percent passed.

"Our idea is that if we can make math and science fun and engaging and rigorous, then children will want to do it and achievement naturally follows," said Kenneth Baum, the principal.

Keith Sheppard, an assistant professor of science education at Teachers College at Columbia University, said that for sixth graders to pass the Living Environment Regents was uncommon, but not unheard of. "Some of the Westchester districts have noted that their life science curriculums are similar to the ninth-grade Regents," he explained.

Still, he said he disapproved of encouraging sixth graders to study for the Regents because they do not develop "an understanding of scientific ideas."

But at Urban Assembly, officials said they were thrilled to see what their students could accomplish. "We didn't know that 11-year-olds were sponges that large for knowledge[emphasis mine]," Mr. Baum said. "It really opened us up to their possibilities."

The school was created with the help of Urban Assembly, a nonprofit group that has established other theme-based schools. It is housed in the basement of a condominium building in Riverdale, awaiting a permanent home in September in the South Bronx. Most of its 155 sixth and seventh graders are from west Bronx neighborhoods and are poor, according to school officials.

Recently, the sixth graders had their final lab of the year, in which they focused on dissecting a three-foot-long pig. Each student drew a diagram of the animal's inner organs and answered teachers' questions.

When Mr. Baum observed a group cutting the skin around the pig's head, he covered his eyes and turned away, but the children did not flinch.

Dhurata Dobraj, 11, pointed at the cranium with a gloved hand: "It's really hard, because when you cut through the skull, you can cut through the brain at the same time, so you have to be very careful." Dhurata earned a 67 on the exam.

It was the culmination of months of hard work. Since February, the students have attended 17 Saturday classes during which they dissected earthworms, frogs and the class favorite, sharks. Jennifer Applebaum, who teaches math and science, assigned extra work from high school and college textbooks, supplemented with magazine articles. Ultimately, the students completed 20 hours of high school lab work. They also received help from English teachers in understanding test questions.

St. Joseph Hall, 11, who earned a 67, attributed his success to rigorous preparation. He now believes that with enough drive, he can pursue his dream: curing AIDS.

"When you get that inspired, that motivated, you feel like you can do anything," he said.

I'd like to point out that these are not gifted kids. They attend a small magnet school, but nowhere in the article does it mention that these are high ability or high intelligence kids. Imagine, regular kids from poor families took the 9th grade biology test as 6th graders and nearly half passed. That's only slightly below the pass rate for 9th graders. Not only did they pass, but they are excited about the material, and attended intensive Saturday classes because they were so excited to learn.

And the teachers didn't know that 11-year-olds were capable of understanding the material. It's not only gifted kids who are suffocating intellectually in the classroom. The cult of positive self-esteem has done disastrous things to our educational system. Teaching to the lowest common denominator is bad for everyone's kids.

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Insulted His Classmates or Told the Teachers How They Really Feel?

This is a long one, so I kept the editorial comments to a minimum. I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts!

Principal interrupts valedictorian's criticism of Mainland

By REGINA SCHAFFER Staff Writer, (609) 272-7211
Published: Thursday, June 22, 2006
Updated: Thursday, June 22, 2006

Kareem Elnahal learned a lesson Tuesday night - even in graduation, the school still rules.

The class valedictorian surprised administrators and his fellow 2006 graduates at Mainland Regional High School when he opted to give an unapproved speech criticizing the school. Mainland, Elnahal said, does not encourage intellectual thought and the exchange of ideas. The senior, in a detailed speech that referenced philosphers and ethics principles, referred to his education as "entirely hollow." The speech was interrupted by the principal, and Elnahal cut his remarks short and left the ceremony. Mainland principal Robert Blake said the speech insulted Elnahal's classmates. "That was so hypocritical of him to make that statement," Blake said. "It was an insult to everyone here at this school ... he made inflammatory comments about the school in general."

Reached at his home Wednesday, Elnahal said he regrets the way the situation unfolded. He was embarassed and apologetic. "I put the principal in a very uncomfortable position - he's a very nice guy, actually - I feel bad," Elnahal said. "I feel bad that he had to deal with this."

"I just wanted to finish up, I felt pretty guilty," he said. "I felt embarassed that the ceremony had to happen this way. It's supposed to be a day of celebration."

At the same time, Elnahal said he is glad he had the opportunity to make his point. "I went to two parties last night, and I'm their hero now," he said.

"I felt like this was the right thing to do," Elnahal said. "I couldn't show the speech (to officials) beforehand because they would have rejected it. I could tell by the reaction from students that they felt the same way. I had to express it or I felt that nothing would change."

In Elnahal's original approved speech, he was to touch on the high and low points of school and the experiences that moved the class to maturity. But once he took the podium, Elnahal changed gears and began to speak about the shortcomings of the American education system - specifically, at Mainland, a school that prides itself as being one of the premier area high schools.

"In my reflection ... and I have reflected on this a great deal, I found that many of life's important questions are ignored here," Elnahal said, according to a copy of the alternate speech he provided to The Press. He went on to say, "I speak today not to rant, complain or cause trouble ... rather, I was moved by the countless hours wasted in those halls."

Blake said he and other administrators realized after a few moments that Elnahal's speech was different than what was approved. Blake said he approached Elnahal, let him know he was disappointed with what he was saying, and asked him to wrap up his speech. Elnahal described the incident the same way. After he finished the speech, Elnahal walked off the stage and left the school grounds by his own choice. "I thought it would be better for the ceremony to go on without me," he said.

Blake noted that the very education system Elnahal criticized helped him get into Princeton University. "He conveyed that he felt his education was worthless," Blake said. "We have an outstanding education system here."

Blake said the audience had a mixed reaction to Elnahal's comments. Some yelled comments regarding freedom of speech after the speech was interrupted. Blake said he heard some students cheering and applauding Elnahal's comments.

"I truly don't believe they understood what he was saying," Blake said [emphasis mine--because it proves Elnahal's point. The administration has no idea what teens are actually capable of]. "My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying. Whether it was intentional or not, he was belittling the diplomas of every one of those kids."

Blake said that as with every valedictorian's speech, there is a process of review to make sure the speech is appropriate. Elnahal's original speech was approved. "This is a school (sanctioned) program," Blake said. "We give them latitude. However, to say inflammatory things - no, I won't allow that. We have several thousand people in the stands."

"He has a right to his comments, but he shouldn't have been using that pulpit to put forth his limited viewpoint," Blake said. "Hopefully people kept it in context."

David Hudson, a research attorney at First Amendment Center, said it is difficult to say in a situation like this who is right and who is wrong. "The question becomes whether (the student's) speech is student initiated or school sponsored," Hudson said. "It's a hazy issue." Hudson noted that students do not have full First Amendment protection, and do not have the right to say whatever they want at a school event.

But at the same time, disliking a student's speech is not a reason to stop it, Hudson said. If there was substantial concern that the student's words could cause a problem, then someone has a right to step in, Hudson said. Blake said that Elnahal's diploma still is at Mainland. He has not yet contacted the school about obtaining it. "I guess I have to go pick it up," Elnahal said.

The Press of Atlantic City chose to run the young man's speech following the above article:


Four years ago, we gathered here for an education. Today marks a milestone in that pursuit, a culmination of four years of learning, growth and shared memories. At such times, it is appropriate to reflect on years past, to examine what we have done and what we have learned. Today I am charged with that difficult task, and I would like to thank the school for the opportunity to stand before my peers and reflect on our time together.

Education can be defined a number of different ways. For me, it is the product of human curiosity. Intellectual thought, as far as I can tell, is nothing but the asking and answering of questions. In my reflection, however, and I have reflected on this a great deal, I found that many of life's most important questions are ignored here. What is the right way to live? What is the ideal society? What principles should guide my behavior? What is success, what is failure? Is there a creator, and if so, should we look to it for guidance?

These are often dismissed as questions of religion, but religion is not something opposed to rationality, it simply seeks to answer such questions through faith. The separation of church and state is, of course, important, but it should never be a reason for intellectual submission or suppression of any kind. Ethics - it is what defines us - as individuals, as a society - and yet it is never discussed, never explained, never justified. Rousseau, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Aquinas, nearly every major writer I've encountered devotes time to the subject.

And it's not as if these questions are without practical concern, that they are less immediately relevant than science for instance. Our laws, our institutions and all our actions are a reflection of our ethics. Our own society owes itself to the writers of the enlightenment, but we never probe their work - we fail to espouse the movement's central principle, doubt -doubt everything. We study what is, never why, never what should be. For that reason, the education we have received here is not only incomplete, it is entirely hollow.

What's more, this same lack of focus can be found in many of the subjects we do study. We approach history as though it were a story, endlessly cataloging every major character or event. But the details of that story are insignificant - what is significant is the progression of ideas. A study of history should get some sense of how the society he sees around him developed from those built thousands of years ago, what ideas changed and what changed them. When humanist scholars looked into ancient Rome during the Renaissance, they searched for moral examples, for ideas. They didn't mull on every single daily event. They were inspired, and they transformed society. History is not an end in itself; it should act as a tool for greater thought.

But it's not only history. I've taken a literature class nearly every year of my life, but never has a question so basic as "What is good writing?" come up. Literary technique, what should be the focus of the class, is never discussed. How does an author develop plot? How can an author control mood or tone in his writing? What is the advantage of one author's methods over another's? Such matters are never discussed. We read for the sake of reading, to talk about our interpretations in class as though we were in a book club. But no attention is paid to why we read the books we do, what makes them so special. And this pattern, grade for the sake of a grade, work for the sake of work, can be found everywhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, the spirit of intellectual thought is lost. I speak today not to rant, complain or cause trouble, and certainly not to draw attention to myself. I have accomplished nothing and I am nothing. I know that. Rather, I was moved by the countless hours wasted in those halls. Today, you should focus on your child or loved one. This is meant to be a day of celebration, and if I've taken away from that, I'm sorry. But I know how highly this community values learning, and I urge you all to re-evaluate what it means to be educated. I care deeply about everyone here, and it is only our fulfillment I desire. I will leave now so that the ceremony can go on. Again, my deepest apologies, God help me.

The following article is from today's Press of Atlantic City's (New Jersey) Editorial Section:

He proved his point

Published: Friday, June 23, 2006
Updated: Friday, June 23, 2006

Imagine the nerve ... a high-school valedictorian, on his way to Princeton next year, daring to speak about a topic he obviously has given much thought to - the American education system.

It beats the more typical "We are all astronauts on the spaceship to tomorrow" speech, if you ask us.

In fact, the unapproved speech that Mainland Regional High School valedictorian Kareem Elnahal tried to deliver before he was hustled off the stage by Principal Robert Blake was rather thoughtful and quite interesting.

Yes, schools have a right and a responsibility to screen graduation speeches. But Elnahal's speech wasn't a puerile rant filled with expletives- it was an on-the-money critique of the public education system. In fact, both Mark Twain ("I have never let my schooling interfere with my education") and, slightly more crudely, Paul Simon ("When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all") have offered similar critiques.

Mainland officials simply proved Elnahal's point by not letting him give
this speech. Listen to what he said.

And the principal's reaction? He said Elnahal's speech was "hypocritical" and "an insult." Speaking of the other students in the audience, Blake said, "My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying. ... He was belittling the diplomas of every one of those kids."

Nonsense. Elnahal was making those kids, and everyone else, think.

School officials should be asking themselves why they wouldn't have approved this speech in the first place. Elnahal's fellow graduates and Mainland's teachers and administrators shouldn't be embarrassed by him. They should be proud of him.

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