Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sisters and Squash

Houston Chronicle garden columnist and blogger Brenda Beust Smith posts on a community garden run by Dominican Sisters.

Click here to read.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

No Literacy Gap in Homeschooled Boys and Girls

Let's face it. Boys and girls do not always have the same taste in literature.

Take Pride and Prejudice for example. Girls love it.

Boys often lament that it is boring and frightfully lacking in explosions. Even one or two good sword fights or a duel would be nice. Where's the blood?

The differences between boys and girls have been an issue in classrooms for some time now. For awhile, the issue was getting girls to catch up with boys. Lately, it has been the other way around.

This does not seem to be a problem for homeschoolers, however. Something for California courts and lawmakers (and the rest of us) to consider:

Why Johnny Can't Read: Schools Favor Girls

By Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience Managing Editor

The article makes two interesting points:


The research, by psychology professor Judith Kleinfeld at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, finds that nearly one-quarter of high school seniors across the United States who are sons of white, college-educated parents have woeful reading skills, ranking "below basic" on a national standardized test.

"These boys cannot read a newspaper and get the main point," Kleinfeld told LiveScience. "These boys cannot read directions for how to use equipment and follow them."

And the problem is getting worse.


In separate research that Kleinfeld is also preparing for publication, she has possibly gotten to the root of the problem.

"Here's a fascinating fact," she said. "There is no literacy gap in home-schooled boys and girls."

"Why? In school, teachers emphasize reading literature and talking about character and feelings," she said. "This way of teaching reading does not turn boys on. Boys prefer reading nonfiction, such as history and adventure books. When they are taught at home, parents are more likely to let them follow their interests."

English educators, incidentally, are now being trained to make their classrooms more flexible in terms of literature content, allowing student interests to play a role. Some teacher educators (i.e. people who teach other teachers how to teach) are also emphasizing methods other than "reader response" (the method Kleinfeld describes above), and encouraging deep thinking and serious literary criticism.

While it is tempting (especially if one is dealing with a classroom full of barely literate high schoolers) to stick to reader response because it is "easier", I find that kids often respond better when they feel like their teachers are actually teaching them something different and interesting. Even students whose reading skills are below grade level can benefit from instruction on various approaches to literary criticism. The benefit is that when they master these new skills, they have the psychological reward of "feeling smart" and this tends to create greater interest in the curriculum. Kids want to be challenged.

The beauty of homeschooling is that children get customized instruction from their parents, who in most cases are devoted to their education and work very hard to give them the best instruction possible. While there are also advantages to the regular classroom, even small classes do not allow for the level of individual attention that students can receive in a homeschool setting, which means boys who are falling behind can be re-engaged.

So should we stop teaching Pride and Prejudice? I'm not ready to go that far yet. Classics must be read. However, perhaps it is worth changing our approach to it, to allow boys to see merit in books that possess few of the qualities one might find in an action movie.

Tip of the schoolmarm ruler to: Amy at Real Catholic

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Natural results vs. Punisment.

Barack Obama has the following to say about Sex Education:

When it comes specifically to HIV/AIDS, the most important prevention is education, which should include -- which should include abstinence education and teaching the children -- teaching children, you know, that sex is not something casual. But it should also include -- it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I've got two daughters. 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby. I don't want them punished with an STD at the age of 16. You know, so it doesn't make sense to not give them information."

Other than my disgust with the fact that his rhetoric equates childbearing and disease, I have another problem with his choice of words:

The notion that pregnancy is somehow an imposition upon a woman who consented to the act which produced it.

Time for your English Teacher to get out the American Heritage Dictionary:

pun·ish (pŭn'ĭsh) Pronunciation Key
v. pun·ished, pun·ish·ing, pun·ish·es

1. To subject to a penalty for an offense, sin, or fault.
2. To inflict a penalty for (an offense).
3. To handle roughly; hurt:

All of these definitions require a deliberate, willful imposition upon the offender by an outside force--a penalty which would not otherwise exist without such a willful imposition. For example, if one commits murder, one is (hopefully) sent to prison.

Then there are the natural consequences of our actions. Eating ice cream too fast leads to brain freeze. Touching fire means getting burned. Excess sun exposure can lead to skin cancer.

Let us turn to literature for a more relevant example.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne commits adultery and finds herself pregnant. She is punished for her crime with endless hours standing upon a scaffold, and afterward a scarlet letter A (for adulteress) which she must wear on her clothing for the rest of her life.

Her daughter is not a punishment. Her daughter is a fact of life. One which helps her to endure her punishment I might add.

Nobody gets put on trial, and given an STD by the court for having promiscuous sex. Parents do not give their daughters babies the same way they might ground them or take away the car keys.

Obama's language is very telling. To say that he doesn't want his daughters "punished" with a baby if they make the mistake of having sex as teens is like saying he doesn't want his daughters to be "punished" with ignorance if they choose not to go to school. It is like saying he doesn't want them to be "punished" with hangovers if they party too hard in college.

In my professional experience, parents who try to keep their kids from being "punished" with the natural consequences of their actions often raise spoiled children. Not only are these children spoiled, they are almost entirely incapable of taking care of themselves in real life situations. Why? Because they have never had the benefit of learning from experiences. It starts with smaller things usually. Think about the kinds of behavior we see in an episode of Supernanny. Have a tantrum, and get your way. Break a toy? Mom and dad replace it. Don't do your homework? Blame (and even sue) the teacher for your failing grades. Can't manage your money? Don't worry, your parents can always send you some. Flunk out of college? Live with mom and dad, rent free at the age of 35. Get arrested for drunk driving? Mom and Dad bail you out.

You get the picture.

Now I am not saying that this is Obama's parenting style. I hope it isn't. While it is wonderful when parents can raise their children to avoid mistakes, even the best parents have children that go astray. Fortunately, it is how we respond to the natural consequences of our mistakes that allows us to become better people.

An immature teenager who becomes pregnant as a result of a stupid decision has an occasion she can rise to. Becoing a mother can even help a teenager to become more mature. Believe me, it is possible. I have seen it happen. Sheltering kids from the natural consequences of their actions instead of teaching them how to deal with those consequences deprives them of an opportunity to grow.

But, Senator Obama is probably the most pro-abortion person in the senate (even voting against medical care for infants accidentally born alive during an abortion). If that does not convince you, have a look at this speech, which he gave before the Planned Parenthood action fund in July of 2007.

Taken together with his record, the subtext of his comments is that if his daughter does make a mistake, and ends up pregnant as a result, he still will not want her "punished" with a baby. It would appear that his faith in his daughters' capacity to learn from mistakes, as well as his faith in any of our daughters, is ultimately limited.

I also wonder, would he want his daughter to get information like this? Or this?