Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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.

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.

Levi’s Glasses

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Levi is not so sure about his new glasses.

About two weeks ago, Nate wrote about Levi’s eye appointment.  We picked up his glasses on Monday.  So far, he’s only been wearing them in short bursts, but we’re working on it.  Even though they help him see better, he seems to have trouble with the feeling of them on his face.  You will see in the picture that he’s wrinkling his nose (this looks different from the squinting he was doing).  I imagine it will take him some to get used to them.  Also, Isaac is used to playing with cheap sunglasses and the like, so he makes a game of grabbing them from Levi’s face.  Thank goodness we got carbide lenses and bendable frames!  It was an investment up front, but it will save us replacement costs.  Another sound investment might be a pair of cheap nonprescription glasses for Isaac.

Today, Levi wore the glasses for several minutes while watching e-books on Tumblebooks (this is an awesome database offered by our local public library that I plan to highlight in a future post).  We read (or rather, watched) I Wish I Had Glasses Like Rosa by Kathryn Heling.  The story is  narrated by Abby, a little girl who longs to have glasses, and tries in vain to obtain them in a variety of funny ways.  Levi likes to play along, so each time Abby tried on a new pair of glasses, he would put his on too.  Pretty soon we had moved along to another story and he forgot he was wearing them.  That was when Isaac showed up.

Despite a few setbacks, we’re off to a good start.  Hopefully now that he can see better, he’ll be able to learn and express himself better.  He’s right on the brink of reading, and this could be just the nudge that he needs.

Thoughts About Slow and Steady Get Me Ready

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

I have a confession to make: I got so excited about being about being able to download Slow and Steady Get me Ready for free that I failed to thoroughly read through the text before sharing the link.  I think that by posting a progress chart, I may be misrepresenting the way in which we plan to use the book.

Let me emphasize that we do not intend to precisely follow each week’s activities.  I created the chart as a concrete record that Levi is receiving instruction long before it is required by law.  It will also help me develop the habit of tracking his progress so that by the time school is legally required, it will come easily to me.  As with any curriculum resource, I plan to draw upon its ideas and adapt them to each child’s needs and abilities.  I will share my adaptations so that others may use what they find helpful.  I will leave the chart in the Resource Center, but please understand that I am not encouraging anyone to follow the book perfectly.

Nate and I are also slightly concerned with the author’s tone.  For example, in one place, she spoke of having to “unteach” what she called “improper printing” (I would argue what she calls “improper” is more a developmental stage on the way to “proper” printing.)  While the author may not have intended it so, I sense a condescending undertone toward parents.  I will not reject the entire book because of this.  The author does present some interesting activities, and overall, the book makes a good reference.  After all, it was free!

Book Review: Real Education by Charles Murray

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Nate and I have resolved to post every day, but alas, it is 11:45 p.m. on “my” day and the meaty, philosophical piece that I started is saved as a local draft on his iPhone.  Instead, I thought I would share a review of a book that I posted a little over a year ago on Visual BookshelfReal Education by Charles Murray fits well with my educational philosophy, which I will be discussing in more detail in posts to come.  So without further ado, my review:

In Real Education, Charles Murray steps out on a limb by criticizing many of the conventions of today’s public education system. For those with idealistic views of education, beware: although Murray’s criticisms are fair, his ideas may seem abrasive.

He comes down hard on what he calls “educational romanticism,” or the assumption that any child can do anything.  For example, he points out that half of students are below average (statistically there is no way around this). And it’s true! Too many people are going to college, yet high schools seem to be pushing harder than ever to have more students go in that direction.

His proposal to emphasize technical/vocational education makes perfect sense, since only 20% of jobs require college degrees. As someone who has a Master’s degree and would probably be [financially] better off working at McDonald’s, I can attest that many of his criticisms of the college system are valid.

I could go on forever listing points where I agree, but I will leave it to the reader to agree or disagree. He lists an impressive bibliography, yet writes in an engaging style that feels as if he is having a personal conversation with a reader. Highly recommended for educators, parents, or anyone interested in (particularly those frustrated by) the state of education.

May I add to the list of recommended readers: homeschoolers and potential homeschoolers.  Although we had already decided to homeschool when I found the book, it helped me cement my decision.  And with that, it’s nearly midnight.  Farewell!