Friday, August 29, 2008

Is Your Child Gifted?

Parenting Magazine is running a cover article this month called Is Your Child Gifted? Author Paula Spencer dispels the myth that all kids are gifted and even that all kids who walk and talk early are gifted.

""Gifted" has become one of the most tossed-about words in the parenting lexicon. Unfortunately -- sorry, but let's get this out of the way right up front -- it's also one of the most misused. The vast majority of children are not gifted. Only 2 to 5 percent of kids fit the bill, by various estimates. Of those, only one in 100 is considered highly gifted. Prodigies (those wunderkinds who read at 2 and go to college at 10) are rarer still -- like one to two in a million. And despite the boom in infant-stimulation techniques, educational DVDs, learning toys, and enrichment classes, those numbers haven't been increasing. You can't build giftedness; it's mostly built in. ..."

Their Ask Dr. Sears column also touches on gifted toddlers. Although he begins by writing "all kids are gifted," he writes: "...Homeschooling a preschooler can actually be better for a gifted child for a few reasons: First, you know your child. You are the perfect student-teacher match. You know what holds her attention and what doesn't. Second, for toddlers and preschoolers, learning is mood-dependent. There are times they need to rest, and times they need to be stimulated. At home, you can follow your child's natural rhythms instead of requiring her to stick to a pre-set schedule.

In her excellent book, Top of the Class, author Arline Bronzaft discusses research on academic high achievers (AHAs), gifted children who went on to achieve academic success. The number one key to nurturing an AHA is to instill a love of learning early on, and you can do that better at home. Since you can easily match your teaching skills with your child's learning skills, you are more likely to instill a love of learning in her, and you're more likely to focus on the journey rather than the outcome. Homeschooling moms are also apt to place more emphasis on creativity and enjoying learning than on a grade. ..."

They're great articles. I highly recommend you check them out, print them out, pass them out, etc. etc. ;-)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fantastic Fysics Fun

Just wanted to share this online game/puzzle with you since Wolfie has been playing it non-stop for the last five hours (seriously). Fantastic Contraption asks players to build a machine that will move a red ball from the left side of the screen to the goal on the right using directional wheels, wooden poles and caterpillar tracks, among other things. You can save your contraptions and look at others' contraptions for ideas. Way cool!

Leveling the Playing Field

Lest there be any confusion, my thesis is this: There is no level playing field. And their shouldn't be.

This is America. We're a meritocracy, a land of individuals governed by capitalism. All this means that to the victor go the spoils. We're workers, not "wait for someone to level the playing field for me" victims. At least we shouldn't be. But I'm afraid that we're raising a generation of "nobody tries hard, everybody wins" couch potatoes.

It is not okay to hold a competition in which everybody wins. What is the point of that? "The people who don't win might get their feelings hurt," some say. And they're right. And getting their feelings hurt might spur them to try harder next time. If everybody wins, what's the point of trying? Where's the incentive to spend three weeks (or months!) collecting data for the science fair, when the kid who put his display together two hours ahead of time gets the same recognition? What's the point of judging said science fair and awarding scores but not telling anyone who got the best score? Why bother holding a science fair at all?

It is not okay to brand entire groups of people as "physically-challenged." If a kid has cerebral palsy, he has cerebral palsy. Big deal. He may also speak fluent French, love baseball and kick ass at Halo III. Does this mean physically-challenged kids speak French and love baseball, etc.? No. John has that constellation of traits. Fred may be an above-the-knee amputee, a competitive swimmer and collect rocks. Nothing in common with John but his gender. So where do we get off calling them both "physically-challenged?" It's completely meaningless in terms of describing anyone but the people it does not describe, that is, those of us who are able-bodied. But then again, I have about as much in common with the able-bodied teenaged girl next door as John and Fred do. "Gets around on two legs vs gets around on less than two legs" Now there's a useful distinction!

Here's another Newspeak distinction for you: "African-American." Surprising enough, Barack Obama, with his African father and American mother, does not call himself "African-American." According to the Wall Street Journal, American citizens born in Africa do not refer to themselves as "African-American." Actress Gloria Reubens once corrected a reporter who referred to her as "African-American." Apparently Ms. Reubens' heritage is actually Jamaican-Canadian.

I understand the reasons behind the change from Black to African-American. Black was considered a perjorative. Surprisingly enough, after twenty years, African-American seems to have become a perjorative, too, at least for more recent immigrants. (ref: WSJ) But this is not my point. My point is, that the term African-American is meaningless. I had a reading group of fifth-grade boys several years ago, which included one African-American boy. We were reading a story about prejudice against Americans of Japanese descent in Hawaii at the time of Pearl Harbor, so we got into a discussion about heritage. Every single white boy at that table knew which Western European country or countries his ancestors had come from, some of them down to the 1/8 and 1/16th.

When I asked my Black student (who had an Arab first name and a Scottish last name) where his family was from, he said, puzzled, "I'm African-American." I nodded and asked him if he knew where his last name had come from, if he had a Scottish grandfather or great-grandfather or if he knew how long his family had been in the country. He repeated, "I'm African-American" as if that was all that was worth knowing. Sure his heritage has got to be an intriguing a puzzle as everyone else's, even if it only goes back to slavery times. Why should he be robbed of his individual heritage by being lumped in with all the other African-Americans?

Here's my point--lumping people into giant PC categories robs them of their individuality for the sake of "not hurting anyone's feelings." For the last twenty years, schools have been "celebrating diversity" by refusing to treat people as individuals, with their own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. What they should be doing is celebrating individuals, and teaching them according to their needs. Instead of leveling the playing field, we need to change it altogether. I'm imagining a Venn diagram where playing fields called "math," "science," "World of Warcraft," "literature" and "football" can all stretch out from a center called "Pam." To really do this, we need to be open-minded and flexible in terms of time and space.

Yes, when there is competition, some will do better than others. The others might get their feelings hurt. Those hurt feelings might spur them on to greatness, or it might encourage them to find something else they love enough to work on. Our kids will not learn the value of hard work unless we let them find something worth working hard on. And that's should be our schools' mission.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

If You're Planning to Leave the House, Vaccinate!

From Yahoo Health via AP: Jump in US Measles Cases Linked to Vaccine Fears

"ATLANTA - Measles cases in the U.S. are at the highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of those involving children whose parents rejected vaccination, health officials reported Thursday.

Worried doctors are troubled by the trend fueled by unfounded fears that vaccines may cause autism. The number of cases is still small, just 131, but that's only for the first seven months of the year. There were only 42 cases for all of last year. ... {Ed note: That's more than three times the number of cases in only seven months]

"In Washington state, an outbreak was traced to a church conference, including 16 school-aged children who were not vaccinated. Eleven of those kids were home schooled and not subject to vaccination rules in public schools. It's unclear why the parents rejected the vaccine.

The Illinois outbreak — triggered by a teenager who had traveled to Italy — included 25 home-schooled children, according to the CDC report.

The nation once routinely saw hundreds of thousands of measles cases each year, and hundreds of deaths. But immunization campaigns were credited with dramatically reducing the numbers. The last time health officials saw this many cases was 1997, when 138 were reported."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: vaccinate your children! Mine have all their shots, not because they attended school but because we value their lives. These diseases kill children--the vaccinations keep children alive. They do not cause autism and they really work. Measles is no longer endemic to the US because we Gen-Xers were thoroughly vaccinated.

But clearly measles has not disappeared from the face of the planet. Foreigners immigrate or just come for vacation from places where measles (or mumps or diphtheria or polio or TB) is still a threat. US tourists visit these areas and return home unknowingly infected. Then they handle produce at your local grocery store and you or your child is the next one to pick up that piece of fruit. Or a family comes home from a mission trip and the 6yo comes to church with what they think is a little cold. Either one of these innocent scenarios could lead to serious illness or death for your child if you allow rumor and well-meaning ignorance to keep them unprotected. Get the info. After all, what's a little jab between friends, eh?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Homeschooling Memorial

Quote posted on New Mexico Homeschool Community (NMHSC) website:

Did you know that we have our own homeschooling memorial???- ---

Mount Rushmore, the world's largest stone monument, is a tribute to four Presidents - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt - who stood for the most honorable principles and highest ideals of America. Besides being great Presidents, what does each of these men have in common? As children, none of them had any regular, formal schooling. They were all self-educated and learned at home! ~Unknown

Here's another one (that isn't exactly true):

"Home schooling is a very old way of doing things. If you look at any of the bills in your wallet or the coins in your pocket, they all have a picture of a homeschooler on them." ~William Lloyd

While I think it's true all the bills have homeschoolers on them, FDR was only homeschooled through the age of 14, and Eisenhower and JFK were not homeschooled at all. In the scheme of things, though, these three are very recent presidents, so I think the argument remains valid.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ed Week Profiles a Homeschooling Gamer--Positively!

I don't know if this is a sign of the apocalypse or not, but Education Week, which bills itself as the "American Education News Site of Record," has just published an article about Blake Peebles, a 16yo homeschooler who left high school to become a professional gamer. Although they referred to him as "home tutored" rather than home schooled, the article actually pays little attention to his education:

"Mike and Hunter [Blake's parents] do not believe in one-size-fits-all parenting.

That is not to say that it was an easy decision for them to let Blake leave school last September. They would have preferred that he stay in high school with his brother. But he bugged them until they let him quit.

"We couldn't take the complaining anymore," says Hunter. "He always told me that he thought school was a waste of time."

Blake never gravitated toward sports or drama or any of the other traditional school-based activities. Just gaming.

So they made a deal. Blake could leave school but would have to be tutored at home. In one respect, the arrangement is similar to what parents of gifted child athletes and actors have done for years."

I'm not sure how this fits into Education Week's mandate as "education news site of record" but I think it's a breath of fresh air.

A Guy Walks into a Bar and Says, "Ouch!"

Stop me if you've heard this one: the world's oldest recorded joke has been traced back to 1900 BC, ...and it's a fart joke. I know, I know, the last time you heard that one, you laughed so hard you fell off your dinosaur.