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It’s not rocket science

October 25, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:06 AM


My son Aidan is 11 years old and in grade 6. The first picture here is his recent math test and it looks like he got 100% ... so why am I so annoyed right now?

Look at the second picture. That's Aidan's Kumon. He just started level J, which I'm told roughly corresponds to grade 10 math. I haven't marked it yet, so it could be right or wrong, and please disregard his almost-illegible printing - he comes by that naturally. Maybe Aidan is some kind of math genius, but I don't think so. As far as I can tell, he's a pretty average 11-year-old boy. In fact, all three of my boys seem pretty average to me.

I'm annoyed because I believe that most children are capable of this, and yet our public education system caters to the lowest common denominator in a way that is unhelpful to all children, regardless of their ability. I don't say this to disparage teachers. I believe some teachers are amazing, some are terrible, but that the vast majority go to work each day and do the job they're paid to do just like the rest of us. The problem is they're not paid to educate, not really. 

Take a look at your children's last report card. Perhaps you're satisfied that they got enough E's, G's, and S's and, if you're able to wade through the mind-numbing edu-babble that is the comments section of a modern report card, maybe you have some idea of where they are succeeding and where they need to improve. But so what? Even if your children are straight-E students, what have they actually learned?

No doubt they've had their awareness raised about any number of issues from climate change to bullying, they've learned the importance of fund-raising, and of course all the correct social values as approved by the Ministry of Education. When all those things are covered, I guess they make a little time for some reading and math. Too bad, because these are the basic skills required for all other subjects except for maybe phys ed.

So I've put my children in Kumon. I'm not here to promote them specifically, but it does seem to work, and when you understand how low-effort Kumon is (they barely "teach" anything), you start to realize how worthless our public education system really is.

The school system is incapable of change. The bureaucrats and the unions are too invested in maintaining the status quo. As long as the public has the perception that their children are receiving a quality education, there is no need to change or adapt.

Since the school system can't and won't help, you have a few options.

  • If you can affod it, put your children into some kind of extra-curricular education program. It's expensive, and for me putting my children into Kumon has forced me to make a lot of personal sacrifices.
  • You can do it yourself. Teaching kids to read is easy. Really easy. Start when they're three years old, and by the time they're four they will be able to read pretty much anything you put in front of them. There are a lot of great workbooks out there for math that you can do at home on your own time. It takes a little more discipline but if you can't afford some form of tutoring, this is a good option.
  • Or you can do nothing and hope for the best. Understand, however, that the meat grinder that is public education will push your chidlren through to high school graduation regardless of whether or not they have learned anything.


Anti-Social Promotion

October 24, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:39 AM

Common-sense educator Michael Zwaagstra says that most students shouldn't be promoted to the next grade if they haven't mastered the work of the present grade. more

As a high school teacher himeself, Mr. Zwaagstra knows up close and personal how difficult it is for the teacher in the next grade to help lagging students catch up. If the teacher teaches a remedial curriculum, then the rest of the class is denied grade-level learning and the whole class gets behind. If the teacher teaches grade-level curriculum, the lagging students can't hope to keep up. And education leaders who say teachers should individualize their lessons are dreaming in Technicolor.

Adding context to this theoretical issue is the fact that only about half of Ontario students have mastered the provincial math curriculum, according to the provincial tests. Because of its sequential nature, math is especially problematic when it comes to social promotion. It's no wonder we have a shortage of students able to envisage careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

How to make your kids smarter

October 23, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:41 AM

Here is a research-based article about what you can do to help your kids do well at school (and in life).

And here is the Reader's Digest version.

  • The Dumb Jock Is A Myth
  • Don’t Read To Your Kids, Read With Them
  • Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid
  • IQ Isn’t Worth Much Without Self-Discipline
  • Learning Is An Active Process
  • Treats Can Be a Good Thing — At The Right Time
  • Happy Kids = Successful Kids
  • Peer Group Matters
  • Believe In Them

One final note: Intelligence isn’t everything. Without ethics and empathy, really smart people can be scary.

There’s a simple solution to the public schools crisis

October 22, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 04:58 AM

Here's a well-expressed argument in favour of a total ban on private schools. It argues that the ability to send their own children to private schools takes the pressure off political and educational decision-makers to improve public schools - and that the existence of private schools is unfair to poor families who can't afford them.

Of course, another possible solution is to make it possible for poor families to send their children to private schools too....

Hack Education

October 21, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:35 AM


Recently, I noted a couple of suggestions to "hack education". No one seemed to pick up the reference.

This article puts the idea into a context which might be better understood. I am not fully confident that "whiz kids can solve the problem" but the outcomes could be very interesting.  Perhaps worthy of finding some sponsors and money to incent the "kids" to come up with some innovation. There is the little problem of defining the problem(s) to be solved.  :-)

Such an approach would put the problem into a different context. One clearly does not want to be slavishly on the side of technology but using the metaphor and the "progressive" association of the practice places the problem into an objective laboratory setting where irrationality will have a harder time standing up to the pressing need for a solution.

What a potentially interesting approach to crstyllizing a range of solutions which may or may not include the "rump" stakeholders! Methinks that the educational impasse cannot be much more profound than the border conundrum.

Parent-Baby Dancing

October 20, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:01 AM

Acknowledging the importance of early vocabulary development, the Bill, Hilary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation have launched Too Small to Fail, an initiative "with the goal of getting more parents talking, singing, and reading to their kids starting from birth". more

This is very good, as far as it goes. However, it's not clear from the news article whether those in charge of this initiative realize that, while talking to babies and toddlers is very beneficial, it is even more beneficial if the parent is interacting with the baby/toddler - reacting to something the baby/toddler does or says - being engaged and interactive. It's also very important that the interactions be positive and reinforcing (as opposed to telling the baby/toddler to stop or that's he's being a bad boy). more  

Sunday at the Movies (System Reform)

October 19, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:55 AM

This clip shows just how hard (and expensive) it is to reform an entire school system.

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In the words of Frederick Douglass:  No Struggle No Progress

October 18, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:47 AM

In the words of Howard Fuller: "One day in 2001, I was sitting alongside the new President of the United States of America, George W. Bush, in the Oval Office. Once the word spread that I was working with the Republican President on education, people immediately began making assumptions about me. Some former friends called me a sellout and Uncle Tom - charges that were not new to me. Even though I knew such accusations to be completely off base, I understood the perception. Who knows what assumptions people like the President were making about me. But as I left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that day, it occurred to me: This man has no idea who I really am. And neither do the people who've been so quick to pass judgment on me my entire life. At long last, this book is my answer."

This is a man who grew up poor and black in Louisiana at a time when black men were still being lynched by the Ku Klux Klan. Dr. Fuller has dedicated his entire life to changing the life chances and conditions of society's poorest citizens. After working extensively with civil rights and black power organizations, he came to the conclusion that "the only way for poor people to gain access to the levers of power dictating their lives is to give them the power (and the money) to make choices about the schools their children attend. This will not only revolutionize education but also provide the compass to a better life for the many poor, black children stuck in failing systems. Education reform is one of the most crucial social justice issues of our time, and I will spend the rest of my days fighting for my people, most especially those without the power or the resources to fight for themselves."

Comprehending reading comprehension strategies

October 17, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:20 AM

Today, a longish - but compelling - article about teaching reading comprehension strategies by Daniel Willingham and Gail Lovette. Here's the Reader's Digest version.

A great deal of time is currently being spent in classrooms teaching reading comprehension strategies - using contextual clues to guess the meaning of unknown words, monitoring comprehension, and making inferences. This kind of instruction can be beneficial, but a very limited amount of time should be spent on it - say 10 lessons, tops. The freed-up time should be devoted to "generative vocabulary instruction, deep content exploration, and opportunities for reading across genres and content areas".

Remember This

October 16, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:21 AM

Most people think that certain people rise to the top because they're lucky enough to be more talented than other people. This is demonstrably false, never more so than in the case of Winston Churchill, gifted orator and politician. For example, like Cicero, Mr. Churchill had to overcome a speech impediment. 

This article focuses on another way that Churchill's hard work and determination enabled him to become an effective speaker. It seems that his early education "included a fair chunk of rote memorization", something which Churchill embraced and recommended. But his ability to call upon a wide range of witty sayings and jokes was also due to his lifelong habit of intently studying books of quotations, as well as "books, film, media, and anywhere else he read, heard, or saw a line worth repeating". 

It seems that rote learning and memorization served Winston Churchill (and England) well.  H/T GG

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