Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Why haven't newspapers morphed yet in a way that allows them to make a profit while using the internet? Most of the people who would read newspapers seriously are probably using the internet--either mainly or as a supplement--to find their news these days. I don't need the TV guide (no TV), my supermarket ads are online, and I don't even miss the comics page now that I have lolcats to view. Classified ads are also no longer going to be a great revenue generator; we have craigslist. I have noticed that many newspapers websites are getting better at forcing me to glance at their advertising. Good for them! I should have to do something to get my news. The only news I would expect to get completely for free would be indoctrination (and that, I'd rather not pay for! Hence my unwillingness to subscribe to a paper to help pay for editorials...) or information from government organizations complying with their public service obligation (which isn't really free since we pay for it through taxes).
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
One of the most obvious reasons for which children are judged wanting by their peers and society at large is their appearance, specifically their clothes. At present, my children are perfectly happy wearing whatever gifts or castoffs relatives and friends send. The four year old would just as soon wear the same outfit for a week, and everyone else is just fine with that. However, this pleasant state of affairs will not last. Based on my own experience, regular vicious insults about clothes will begin around fifth grade and possibly continue all the way through high school. I feel I would be an unkind parent to cause--either on purpose or ignorantly--my children to wear clothing that will result in their being singled out for ridicule when they interact outside the home.
As an aside, I have been so disappointed with the inordinate focus on clothes I've seen by some teenagers in my extended family and at church. When you move from a poverty-stricken country to the USA, it seems so trivial and cruel that teenagers here mock and discount others based on whether they dress according to some fickle standard. Americans in general have a variety of clean clothes, right? How much luckier are they than half the world!
Contrasting approaches to clothing children were showcased recently in the Jones-Martinson episode of "Wife Swap" (I posted about that here.). The public school employee mother dressed her daughters in designer clothes (not exactly modest ones, either); the unschooling mother looked like she let her boys wear whatever suited them. The boys looked inappropriately dressed for their family's publicity photo; yes, they are boys, but they still could have worn something better than T-shirts. Where on the spectrum of clothing awareness and appearance do I want our family to be?
I take my primary guidance from scripture and wise leaders and authors:
Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. ~Jane Austen
If one's life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements. And finally there is an intense delight in abandoning faulty states of mind and in cultivating helpful ones in meditation. ~Dalai Lama
For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?...If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. ~James 2:2-4,8-9My goal will be to have our family dressed attractively, modestly and simply. I want to avoid extremes of faddishness, sloppiness, and antiquatedness (there's nothing inherently more modest about a skirt than a pair of pants, and we're not Amish :) ). The people whose appearance I have most admired dressed nicely but with only moderate attention to fashion's vagaries. Their clothes were generally clean, well-matched, flattering, and yet not a focus of their lives; instead these people tended to use their valuable time to learn and to serve. This approach to clothing is what I choose to emulate and teach our children. I hope it will help my children find acceptance and appreciation for what lies inside them when they venture outside our homeschool environment.
And I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and cloth of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land—thus we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years. ~Mosiah 10:5
They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. ~2 Nephi 28:13
In what is a thoroughly-justifiable move by Colorado Springs City, they are going to start charging hikers who call 911 to get down off Pikes Peak.
Because I have a nephew with autism who is now mainstreamed and no history of neural tube defects, I have consciously chosen to take prenatal vitamins sporadically to lessen my suspected risk for autism in my children. I already consume orange juice; folic acid fortified breakfast cereal, flour, bread, pasta, and tortillas; and a variety of fruits, vegetables, meats and nuts. It just seems like overkill to give my body 800 mcg (seriously, that's how much folic acid is in my Kroger prenatal vitamins) more folic acid everyday when 400 mcg is the amount deemed necessary to cut the risk of a neural tube defects (600 mcg for pregnant women). However, if I lived off diet soda and fish and chips, I don't doubt that I would need a prenatal vitamin everyday to have a chance at growing a healthy baby in me.
Because of the proof that folate lessens the chances of a neural tube defect, I do sometimes wonder if I'm doing the right thing by not popping a vitamin pill every day. Then I come across a scientific article like this one in Medical Hypotheses showing that I'm not completely off my rocker. Here is an excerpt from the article's summary:
Summary The inverse association between maternal folate status and incidence of infants born with neural tube defects (NTD’s) was recognized over twenty years ago and led the US health agencies in the early 1990s to recommend that women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid each day. The FDA followed by mandating that certain foods be fortified with folic acid and this has resulted in a significant enhancement of maternal folate status to levels that are often difficult to otherwise achieve naturally. At least one study indicates that this has decreased the incidence of NTD’s. However, this same time period directly coincides with what many feel is the apparent beginning and continuous increase in the prevalence of Autism and related Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD’s) in the US. [I wasn't just imagining the coincidence!] Are these similar time frames of changes in maternal folate status and possible Autism prevalence a random event or has improved maternal (and fetal) folate status during pregnancy played a role? It is not only plausible but highly likely. A particular polymorphic form to a key enzyme required to activate folate for methylation in neurodevelopment, 5- methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), demonstrates reduced activity under low or normal folate levels but normal activity under conditions of higher folate nutritional status. A consequence of the presence of the polymorphic form of this enzyme during normal or reduced folate status are higher plasma homocysteine levels than noncarriers and the combination of these factors have been shown in several studies to result in an increase rate of miscarriage via thrombotic events. However, the incidence of hyperhomocysteinemia in the presence of the polymorphism is reduced under the common condition of enhanced folate status and thereby masks the latent adverse effects of the presence of this enzyme form during pregnancy. Of great importance is that this polymorphism, although common in the normal population, is found in significantly higher frequency in Autisic individuals. It is hypothesized here that the enhancement of maternal folate status before and during pregnancy in the last 15 years has altered natural selection by increasing survival rates during pregnancy of infants possessing the MTHFR C677T polymorphism, via reduction in hyperhomocysteinemia associated with this genotype and thereby miscarriage rates. ["Natural selection" is certainly sad in this context.] This also points directly to an increased rate of births of infants with higher postnatal requirements for folic acid needed for normal methylation during this critical neurodevelopmental period. If these numbers have increased then so have the absolute number of infants that after birth fail to maintain the higher folate status experienced in utero thus leading to an increased number of cases of developmental disorders such as Autism. [Intriguing--had my nephew been on large doses of folate as a toddler, would he have not developed an autism spectrum disorder?]I am emphatically not saying that women should never take prenatal vitamins. And if they have had a child already with a neural tube defect, I'm all for them taking lots of folic acid! On the other hand, if a woman is already getting needed nutrients from her diet, she might want to consider whether she's willing to mess around with nature by taking regular vitamin megadoses. After all, up to 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage--there's got to be a good reason for that.
Update: Please see my updated post on this subject at http://petticoatgovernment.blogspot.com/2011/11/my-updated-theory-on-autism.html.
!! Further update!! : A recent study out of Norway, where they do not enrich the food supply with folate, indicates that taking folic acid just before and after conception markedly decreases the probability that the child will have autism. In light of it, I revise everything I've ever said on this issue to include a recommendation that women trying to conceive take folic acid supplements from 4 weeks pre-conception to 8-weeks post-conception. Here's the abstract for the Norway study on the JAMA website:
Friday, February 20, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
So, yet again, fruit and tobacco and alcohol avoidance are shown to contribute to a healthier life. I love the Word of Wisdom.
And lest I appear unfairly selective in my roundup of diet-related articles from the web today, here's an article saying that coffee drinking cuts risks of stroke in women. However, the benefit is only for healthy women; smoking, having high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol neutralized the coffee effect. Also, note that the benefit comes from something in coffee besides the caffeine; Mountain Dew and iced tea won't provide a woman with a similar benefit. The lead author of the study states: “Antioxidants in coffee lower inflammation and improve blood vessel function." I'll stick with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, meats, poultry, fish, and chocolate for my antioxidants, thank you! Even if I weren't LDS, I think I would hesitate to acquire a messy habit like coffee drinking.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Nor am I the type to teach my children various obscure phonetic symbols. Long and short vowel sounds symbols are as far as I will go in that direction for the foreseeable future (who knows, they might decide to be teenage philologists ;) ).
Thursday, February 12, 2009
"Telling a woman she is pregnant will often cause her to immediately stop or cut down on smoking, drinking and other behaviors that can hurt the baby," [Dr. Mary Nettleman] said. "The problem is that many women do not recognize they are pregnant for several weeks, which is all it takes for the heart and brain to form. Earlier pregnancy recognition could have a huge impact on the health of newborns in this country."Now I feel justified in having a pregnancy test from the dollar store stashed away in a drawer at all times. Before I felt like I was just indulging in wishful thinking! I love babies. :)
Seeing these two items together made me wonder whether analytical thinking, quantitative skills, reading abilities and good study attitudes are considered conservative these days? After all, I think most homeschoolers will tell you that they doubt the public schools would do an adequate job in developing these attributes in their children. Hence, the homeschooling by both conservatives and liberals.
Once I was able to get the alternet.org website to load, though, I found out from the comments that the article itself (written originally in French and actually titled "American Families That Defy the Public School") wasn't focused on conservative zealots isolating their children after all. It seemed a fair depiction of both rightwing and leftwing homeschoolers' motivations and circumstances. It's just alternet.org, I guess, that felt they needed to scare readers about parents teaching their own children *gasp* their own values (Merriam-Webster's definition of conservative: "tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or insitutions; traditional; marked by moderation or caution; marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners").
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
“Your approach to learning is an excuse to be lazy,” Kerry tells the Martinsons. Harrison and Riley are going [at her behest] to real school with a real teacher. Lee, a college dropout, has to take an accounting class at the community college to show how wrong it is to avoid college. Also, they’ve got to declutter and clean the house.
“You’re an overcritical nag,” Lee tells Kerry. The kids aren’t very excited about going to school. “It’s boring and a waste of time,” Riley says. The boys can’t keep up with the academics. Lee has to be more involved in the boys’ activities, and he has to take them to gymnastics. Lee skips class, and Kerry confronts him. “Don’t raise your voice,” he warns her. “I can’t imagine that Lee knows so much that he can’t go to class and learn something,” she says.
Of course the boys in the unschooling family had difficulty keeping up with the academics when put into regular school with no preparation. Unschoolers don't exactly follow the local district curriculum. I personally plan to require more from my children as I homeschool, but after reading this summary, I'd much rather be a child in the unschooling family. They seem happy and relaxed and hardly stupid (see the unschooling mom's defense of her sons here). The Colorado daughters, on the other hand, already believe firmly that they need their makeup and designer clothes because they will be judged on their appearance--sounds like a recipe for eating disorders and materialism.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
We are living in an information age. Today's children are exposed to much information, but they come away with little knowledge. Why? First, most schools use books that are purely factual. Such books can actually be an obstacle to acquiring knowledge because they are not the kind of book children naturally "take to,"or can narrate from. Children need books written in literary language to narrate from. Secondly, children are persons, not parrots. Workbooks obligate children to parrot back information. Knowledge is not attained through these means because the child really hasn't narrated (or thought the ideas through and made them his own). Narrating invites children to meditate, that is, to think ideas through to their conclusion. Charlotte Mason observed that what the child digs for himself becomes his own possession. Narration develops the power of self-expression and forces the child to use his own mind and form his own judgment.I was always a good little parrot of a student. I excelled at worksheets, multiple choice exams, and fill-in-the-blank questions. But I never liked or felt I did well at creative writing and essay assignments. My powers of deliberation and self-expression were limited for most of my youth. I was told once by one of my professors that she and her co-teachers in a colloquium course had discussed together the problem of how "to get [me] to think." Now I know that teenagers in general are rarely accused of being "deep thinkers", but surely with my adolescent academic performance in recalling and synthesizing facts, I should have developed some intellectual curiosity and meditation skills before I reached the university! I want a better early education for my children than I had. I want them to be able to sift ideas for themselves and clearly express their conclusions before they become adults; if narration will help me develop these abilities in my children, I will implement it as a central method in our homeschool.
However, in spite of all the positive good that narration is said to accomplish, I fear that my children will struggle with narration, leading me to try to force them to do it, and they will end up hating narration and, by extension, Mommy's teaching. My oldest child, now 4-1/2 years old, was quite slow to begin speaking because she was in a trilingual environment. She still has difficulty composing answers to questions like "What did you do today?", so I worry that she in particular will not be able to narrate effectively. I was halfway relieved from my narration-related anxiety to read on page 116 of A Charlotte Mason Companion that Charlotte Mason said "formal telling should be required of children only after the age of six." My daughter should be much better at coherent sentences a year and a half from now. (Poor first children--we parents can get so hyper about their development!)
Readers, do you use narration with your children? At what ages/ability levels did you start to do it formally? How do you avoid narration becoming something your children dislike?
Saturday, February 7, 2009
About the time they were producing The Golden Compass, I came across the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman and decided to read it since I had once heard a girl say they were some of her favorite books. By the time I finished them, I had to wonder why she liked them so much, for she seemed well-read and faithful. Not only does Mr. Pullman amuse himself by killing off God and obliterating the soul after death, the trilogy doesn't even tell a satisfying story.
The trilogy's plot meanders all over the place. Philip Pullman has said repeatedly "There are no rules." Apparently, he feels that way about fantasy writing, too, and in a genre where authors generally put great effort into building internally consistent worlds, Philip Pullman gives us a trilogy that hops dimensions at his will (despite a first book in which such dimension travel is so difficult that it takes a young boy's murder to accomplish it) and is full of illogical and unexplained actions and circumstances. Also, I found His Dark Materials guilty of having some very tedious parts, introducing new and rather irrelevant characters at odd places, killing off some characters in shocking (for the sake of shock) ways, and reaching a climax that is insipid* and not worth all the pages that led up to it. I really liked his Ruby in the Smoke, but I think in that book, he actually did follow rules because he was stuck in Victorian England. How unfortunate that the author espouses the philosophy that "[w]e don't need lists of rights and wrongs" because he would write better books if he paid more attention to some basic guidelines for fantasy writers. At the very least, he could give the readers a happy ending! Why does he think we're reading "fantasy" in the first place?
*Spoiler: The climax of the trilogy is that young Lyra and Will (ooh, I wonder if his name is significant!) share a sort-of romantic moment in a grove where she feeds him berries. It is obviously a parallel to the Garden of Eden story, yet while the incident is short and childish, their new *love* somehow results in saving everyone in all dimensions...until death, of course, at which point all souls will happily disintegrate. As for Lyra and Will with their oh-so-significant budding love, they quickly experience a wrenching farewell when cruel necessity parts them forever.
How is Colorado Faring?I am surprised that there is no additional compensation provided for relevant prior work experience. Surely that should be a factor in setting teacher pay if we want more to attract and retain more experienced teachers in Colorado.
Area 1: D- [Note: Most grades in the report are low. Only one A was given out of 151 grades.]
Identifying effective teachers
Colorado’s policies regarding the identification of effective teachers are sorely lacking. The state has only two of the three necessary elements for the development of a student- and teacher-level longitudinal data system, and Colorado’s requirements regarding teacher evaluations are too ambiguous to ensure the use of objective measures such as standardized tests as evidence of student learning. Colorado’s probationary period for new teachers is just three years, and the state does not require any meaningful process to evaluate cumulative effectiveness in the classroom before teachers are awarded tenure.
Area 2: C-
Retaining effective teachers
Colorado requires that all new teachers receive mentoring. The state’s requirements for a nonprobationary license are more reasonable than those in many states; however, Colorado does not base advancement on specific evidence of teacher effectiveness. The state gives districts authority for how teachers are paid and has differential pay for teachers working in high-needs schools, but its other policies regarding teacher compensation need improvement. Colorado does not support retention bonuses, compensation for relevant prior work experience, differential pay for teachers working in shortage subject areas or performance pay. In addition, the state provides only a defined benefit pension plan for teachers. While Colorado offers teachers leaving the system more flexibility than most states, its pension policies are not fair to all teachers. Further, retirement benefits are determined by a formula that is not neutral, meaning that pension wealth does not accumulate uniformly for each year a teacher works.
Area 3: B
Exiting ineffective teachers
Although Colorado requires new teachers to be formally evaluated only once a year, it does require that teachers, regardless of employment status, who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation be placed on an improvement plan and then made eligible for dismissal if they do not improve. Commendably, the state also requires that all teachers pass all required subject-matter tests as a condition of initial licensure.
Overall Performance: C-
Friday, February 6, 2009
In a world of increasing complexity, many people feel the need for a short-hand way of knowing who to trust. This is especially true when it comes to investing money. Unfamiliar with how our financial markets work, too many people don’t know how to thoroughly research an investment and its salesperson. So, many fall prey to affinity group fraud in which a con artist claims to be a member of the same ethnic, religious, career or community-based group.
"You can trust me," says the scamster, "because I’m like you. We share the same background and interests. And I can help you make money."
Group affinity can cause people to be led into bad investments by a coreligionist, such as Bernie Maddoff or Val Southwick. Or by someone of the same racial or ethnic group, like Filipina Liza Bautista, Hispanic Lazaro Rodriguez or African-American Ronald Randolph. There are even more examples at www.crimes-and-persuasions.com.
LDS Church leaders have warned Mormons about affinity fraud, saying that they should keep three principles firmly in mind when investing money:
“First, avoid unnecessary debt, especially consumer debt; second, before investing, seek advice from a qualified and licensed financial advisor; and third, be wise.”Sounds like good advice to me.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
I'm really worried about people who think any news organization or talk show host is giving them an unbiased report or analysis of events. It is essential that all realize that everyone has conscious and unconscious biases and then evaluate any information they receive in light of the source's apparent and probable biases.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Samuel L. Blumenfeld blames whole-word method reading instruction for the dyslexia that afflicts many basically normal children in his book Homeschooling: A Parents Guide to Teaching Children.
Dyslexia is caused when the teaching method requires that the child develop a holistic reflex when looking at our printed words. A holistic reflex is developed when the child is taught to look at each printed word as a whole configuration, like a Chinese character. The child is expected to look at the word and see a picture. This is done in the classroom before the child has been taught any phonics [I would add "or before he's been taught enough phonics".]. Children are taught to read by using such strategies as looking at pictures on the page, guessing the word on the basis of its configuration or context, skipping the word, and substituting words. For example, if the word says "horse" and the child reads it as "pony" the teacher will be quite satisfied.....
Does anyone in his right mind believe that a child who reads the word "father" as "daddy" knows how to read? The child who reads "daddy" for "father" is looking at a picture, not a sequence of letters that stands for a specific sequence of speech sounds. This child is being taught to develop a holistic reflex, that is, a habit of automatically looking at all words as whole configurations. Once the child has developed this holistic reflex, he or she has also acquired a block against seeing the phonetic structure of our alphabetically written words. This block is what causes "dyslexia".I've seen the block now, thanks to the inappropriate teaching inflicted on the eight-year-old boy I tutor. He guesses all over the place, reads words backwards ("saw" is nearly always "was", even though when forced to look at letter order he can sound out even short words properly), and substitutes words similar in meaning for other words that are quite easy to sound out. His default method of attacking text is not one that is helping him read the words that are actually in front of him. Blumenfeld has some ideas for helping children in his situation, so I'm going to try them out. Does anyone else have some helpful ideas that will help me reformat his reading skills in the forty minutes per week I spend with him?
One of the things I've become convinced of recently is that my mother was very intelligent on the subject of reading instruction. Another is that I am never subjecting a child of mine to public school reading instruction until he or she can already read fluently.