Archive for October, 2010

Book Discussion: The Underground History of American Education – Chapter 1

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

This evening we took a drive and I read aloud from The Underground History of American Education.  The kids seemed to enjoy it, even if the concepts were far over their heads.  If nothing else, this submerses them in language and they find the cadence of my voice relaxing as I read aloud.

As promised, I have developed a few questions to spark discussion of Chapter 1.  These are just a jumping-off point.  If you have other questions to raise, we’d love to hear them.  Now, ready … set … discuss!

1. Gatto writes: “Something in the structure of schooling calls forth violence.” He gives modern-day examples of “slurs, aspersion, formal ranking, insult, and inference,” which he believes are “more deadly” than physical violence?  Does this match your experience with schooling?  Which do you believe is most detrimental: physical violence or emotional violence?

2. Throughout the chapter, Gatto uses the analogy of driving a car to illustrate attitudes about compulsory education.  He points out that very with few hours of training or experience, we allow practically anyone to operate a massive deadly weapon full of an explosive liquid.  Why, then, do governments require people to attend schools to learn skills such as reading and math?

3. In ancient Rome, a pedagogue was a slave trained as a drill master for young students.  Despite the negative connotations of its etymology, the word “pedagogy” is often used to describe modern school science.  Do the origins of the term reflect current educational practices?  If so, how?

4. Gatto argues that the public education system is based upon a Hindu model, which was used to keep the lower castes in place.  Andrew Bell, who is largely responsible for bringing this method to the West, called it an “impediment to learning writing and ciphering, an efficient control on reading development.”  Do you think that compulsory education has any effect on class relations today?  If so, what effects does it have and what are their causes?

5. Lincoln, Farragut, Edison, Franklin, Washington … Gatto lists self-educated people who did great things at a young age.  Today, some of these people would still be in middle school at the age when they accomplished their crowning acheivements.  Why does our society shelter children well into their teens or twenties?  What might be the effects of allowing teens more responsibility?

If you missed the first installment in this series, you can catch it here.

You can read the full text of Gatto’s book online.

Isaac and an Innate Curiosity

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Isaac sitting on a park bench

Isaac is almost 3 years old.  He is very curious about how things in the world work, sometimes to our chagrin–especially when it involves water or a piece of electronics.

Still, even through the headache and expense, his curiosity and interest is amazing.  He can operate either Mandi’s iPhone or my HTC Droid phone and get what he wants.  He can even remotely control (as can his older brother) our Mac Mini that runs our TV.  This is our second Mac Mini since Isaac helped the first one bite the dust.

Isaac repeatedly asks for  the”Alphabeta” video lately.  Here it is.  The pronunciation is off in a few places, but it is still fun (sounds a little like the 80s pop song “I’m Too Sexy”).  We are working to insure this curiosity is preserved.

Book Discussion: The Underground History of American Education – Intro

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Lately, I’ve been listening to speeches and interviews of  John Taylor Gatto, a champion of school reform.  During one radio segment, he mentioned that he offers one of his several books for free on his website!  Sure enough, I visited his site and found the full text of The Underground History of American Education there.  I am excited about Gatto’s ideas and would love to start writing about the book right now.  Unfortunately, I haven’t read enough to make an informed analysis.

Instead, I am going to extend an invitation.  Read along with me!  Each week, I will read one chapter and throw out some questions for discussion.  Now, here’s where you come in: please use the comments section to share your reactions to the text.  Nate and I will jump in and chat with you.  Hopefully we will start an interesting and informative dialogue.

A week from today, I will post questions for Chapter 1.  For those who prefer to read from a printed page rather than a screen, the print version is available from Amazon.

Free Resource: Videos Teaching Greek, Latin and Other Ancient Languages

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

We were searching on YouTube for more “alphabeta” that Isaac wanted.  I ran across a YouTube channel by a gentleman named Kleber Kosta.  He teaches Greek (both modern and ancient) as well as Latin and a few others.  It is really interesting and very comprehensive.

A Holy Curiosity

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Levi found my middle school yearbook yesterday, and managed to color several photos fuschia before I caught him. As I flipped through to survey the damage, I paused to reminisce.  One page spread showed pictures from various classes: physical education, math, science, social studies.  Aside from the captions, I couldn’t tell most of them apart.  Here, I’ve shared the picture labeled “Science.”  Pardon me, but I don’t see much science happening in this picture.

Contrast this with yesterday’s outing with the kids.  We took a nature hike, snapped some family photos, and took in the beautiful fall day.  They experienced firsthand the flora and fauna of a temperate forest, our local biome.  They experimented with physics by throwing small rocks over a ledge and widely missing the lake below.  They collected pods from locust trees and shook them, listening to the seeds rattle inside.  True, there is something to be said for systematic learning, and some science facts (e.g. the periodic table) must be memorized.  We’ll do plenty of both over the next several years.  Still, there is no replacement for observing one’s world, guided by innate curiosity.  Perhaps Albert Einstein said it best when he said:

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

As Nate and I educate our children, one of our goals is to preserve and enhance that curiosity.  I am concerned that the type of “science” occurring in this yearbook picture would stifle it.

Sweetest of Gifts

Friday, October 15th, 2010

The kids playing at the park

“Of all nature’s gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children?”
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

We apologize for the lack of posts the last few days.  We had a power outage among other things.

Cicero is right, children are sweetest of gifts.  They can be frustrating and annoying, reminding us that the apple didn’t fall far enough from the tree.  They are also amazing and worth the time and effort.  My 2-year-old (almost 3) recites the English and Greek alphabets with the phonetic sounds.  Children are full of surprises.  On the other hand, pieces of wallpaper have been ripped from my living room wall.

Most parents in my experience do believe their children are gifts, and that gift should be cherished.  We are going to go on a picnic with the kids and enjoy this lovely weather.  Have a good day.

Fun with Sorting

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Today was “math day” according to our schedule, and I wanted to try something fun, so I went out to YouTube looking for math games to play.  Levi and I surfed through several videos.  We chose an activity to try today, and put a few others in our mental file for later.  While Isaac napped and Naomi played contentedly in her high chair (you can just see her head in the first picture), I spent some quality time playing a sorting game with Levi.

Today’s activity was based on a video by Courtney at Expert Village.  I started by tracing three circles on a sheet of paper.  At first, I tried to have Levi do the tracing, but he’s quite the perfectionist and didn’t like the looks of his.  I dumped out the contents of my button box (mostly white, red, brown and black) and placed a few of the red buttons in one of the circles.  He did the same.  Then I asked what color he could put in the second circle.  He chose white, and continued to sort.  We did the same with brown.  Then he came across a black button.  He realized that there was nowhere to categorize it.  We drew a fourth circle, which was too big to fit entirely on the page.  As he came across a few blues and some scattered beads, he also placed those in their own corner of the paper.

I tried to have him sort them by the number of holes in each button, but he was stuck on the color thing, so I didn’t interfere.  That just leaves us more options to try another day.  I went about some of my own work and let him continue.  Before long, he had abandoned the sorting game and was doing what he loves best: playing with letters.  This time, he got all but two of the letters in the correct order.  One thing that Levi knows well is that “love” is a verb, and after he spelled it, he demonstrated that by giving me a kiss on the cheek.

I enjoyed this time spent with just Levi.  We haven’t had much of that since Isaac came along.  I dearly love the other children, and I’m glad that Levi has siblings to play with, but sometimes I do miss hanging out one-on-one with my little man.  Perhaps “doing school” will turn out to be beneficial to me, too.

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Levi and Isaac Picking Pumpkins

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Levi and Isaac walking through pumpkin patch

On Friday we took the boys on a trip to get apples and pumpkins.  We ate lunch at McClure’s Orchard and then visited Doud’s Orchard.  One could call it “life sciences” or “nature studies.”


Isaac with a pumpkin

I call it a day of family fun.

We prefer to use a you-pick-it pumpkin farm.  That lets the kids get out and play.  They can pick their own pumpkins and see how they are raised, not simply purchased from a store.  Isaac loves his pumpkins.  He enjoyed picking them up and stacking them in an organized pile.


Levi with a pumpkin

Levi, on the other hand, loved running through the field and picking up the different pumpkins.  It was good exercise and they enjoyed it, more than walking through the orchard store to sample apples.  Even Mommy and Daddy got a bottle of semi-sweet apple wine.

The trees are beautiful this time of year.  Today it is projected to be 86 degrees, but there aren’t too many warm days left in the year.  Soon winter will be here and the cold and snow with it.  For this weekend, it’s nice that the boys were able to enjoy playing in the fall weather.  All-in-all, its been a fun weekend.