Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

I decided on chocolate icing for this year's lamb cake.  There's a long tradition of cigarette-smoking lamb cakes, and some controversy over their meaning.  My favorite explanation is that smoking is one of those luxuries you might have given up for Lent; once Easter comes, Lent is over, and everybody can light up again, even the lamb!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Swing of the Pendulum

In the NYTimes today, Parental Involvement is Overrated.  I liked this article, not because I think it's intelligent or well-written (I don't), but because, with any luck, it's an early sign that the parental-involvement pendulum is starting to swing back.  That's good news for me.  As regular readers will know, I resent the schools' ham-handed attempts to get me involved, from homework assignments my child can't possibly do on her own to pointless parent-teacher conferences.

As to the article itself, what a mess.  The writers performed a longitudinal study, going back to the 1980s, of surveys of parent involvement.  Schools have changed enormously over the past 30 years, not least in the requirements made of parents.  You can't make a meaningful comparison of parental behavior in 1980 and parental behavior today without taking these changes into account.  Besides, surveys are notorious in their ability to bring out whatever the subjects think the survey-taker wants to hear.  They're rarely an accurate measure.  (Alfie Kohn points out, for instance, that children and their parents report different amounts of time spent on homework;  it's not clear that either report is accurate.)

The writers don't even mention an important form of parent involvement that's become very common; parent re-teaching and tutoring.  These efforts have become a normal part of childhood, from the middle class on up the economic scale.  Parents don't trust the schools to ensure their child has learned the material, so they find their own resources.   It's terribly inefficient, but we're stuck with it.  As I remarked to my employer at the after-school math club where I've been teaching, wouldn't it be great if we could get this done during the school day?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dismissing a Child's Complaint

Jessica Lahey, a fertile source of blog posts, has a column in the New York Times:

My Son calls School a Waste of Time

A parent writes in saying that her son calls school "too easy" and says it's a waste of his time.  What to do?  Here's the opening of Ms. Lahey's reply:
In my experience, two things could be going on here.
Your son could be a typical young adolescent, whining about the irritating and less than thrilling details of middle school life.
Why does anyone think it's OK to write this way about kids?  It used to be normal to speak this way about women ("oh, those little ladies, complaining about the right to vote!"), but feminists, quite rightly, put a big dent in it. We need a similar campaign for kids.  It's outrageous to propose as the first option that the child's complaints should be belittled and ignored.

Lahey goes on to give really terrible advice:
If, however, he really does yearn for more intellectual and educational challenge, congratulations. You have a motivated kid on your hands. Assuming he is completing the work he is being assigned and meeting the expectations of his teachers, you can go ahead and start talking with him about how to move toward a solution.
This is a familiar catch-22 to gifted kids and their parents; teachers won't allow a child to be considered "gifted" unless he's performing well on the work he's being given now.  The teachers are confusing "gifted" with "good student."  Many gifted kids are not good students, because, like this boy, they find schoolwork pointless and aren't interested in getting a good grade on work that they detest.  It's obnoxious to tell a child he has to perform correctly on tasks that he finds pointless before he'll have a chance to do something he might find meaningful.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Going to School Teaches You How to Go to School

Two interesting articles in the Atlantic:

My Daughter's Homework is Killing Me, in which a father attempts to do his 8th-grade daughter's homework for a week.


My Insane Homework Load Taught me How to Game the System, in which a high school student realizes that the objective of high school is not to become a good learner, but a good student. 

I liked this comment (from dantes342, on My Insane Homework Load):
I've got two high school juniors, each taking a couple of the de rigeur AP courses. The workload is insane, they're hitting the books from when they get home in the afternoon until 10-11 at night and always at least one full weekend day. It's just sadistic.
College GPA requirements are in the realm of fantasy, as is described in the piece.
It's not about a failure of students to buckle down and structure their time. It's about a broken system running on hysteria and disregard for actual learning, and it breeds gaming the system and cheating just to stay afloat.
I see a lot of this in the "good" school district of Upper Tax Bracket.  This is how our kids are overworked and undereducated.

Monday, September 23, 2013


It turns out that in our district, home-schoolers have access to the public schools' extracurricular programs. In our case, this means that Older Daughter has joined the local high school's drama club, which meets 4 afternoons a week. OD already had a friend in the club (actually, that's how we first heard about it.)

So, right off the bat, that's solved my biggest dilemma; getting OD out of the house, doing something she enjoys, with kids her age. Hooray! The depression has lifted. Now I see that we will not evolve into some horrible mother-daughter Howard Hughes phenomenon. (I have also taken on a couple of part-time jobs; one teaching math to small groups of kids, and one working on a computer program. I need to get out of the house too!)

In the meantime, Sainted Husband has been working on the academic angle; they've done some geometry, some writing, and some chemistry (not a whole lot, I'd have to admit.) SH has been reading aloud from Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" at night.

And that's where we are now. We have a teenager who isn't depressed, which is a huge improvement already. We could do more with academics, but the year has only just started.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Math for English Majors

Investigations homework from Younger Daughter's backpack:

If it's hard to read, the instructions say:
Explain why the image below is or is not an array using 4 or more lines and the following words
  • Array
  • Dimension
I don't know what the right answer is here.  Is it not an array because the items are not all the same size and shape, as YD wrote?  Or is it an array because it's arranged in a 3 x 5 grid?

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to teach YD the times tables, or "Multiplication Combinations" as Investigations calls them.