Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Check the latest news in this week's Carnival of Homeschooling

Natalie, of The Homeschool Cafe, has formatted this week's Carnival of Homeschooling as a fictional newspaper. Pretty cool, well worth checking out.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, children, education,

Today my youngest and I went to McDonalds

Today for a daddy-daughter date, my youngest daughter wanted to go to McDonald's.

Our youngest is a real carnivore. She picks restaurants depending on which she thinks has the best sausage or bacon. I’ve been able to get her to try other restaurants. She also likes Denny’s, but she thinks McDonald's has the best sausage.

At breakfast my daughter asked some questions about what did I do when I was a child. She wanted to know what kinds of games I played, where I lived, and what I liked to do.

When I was about three my parents moved the family to update state New York. My parents found a house out in the country, hear some cow farms. There was one farm directly across the street from us. My daughter thought it was cool that I got to milk cows.

It was fun to chat with just my youngest.

First daddy-daughter date. Third daddy-daughter date.

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The Carnival of Education is up

Dr. Homeslice is hosting this week's Carnival of Education.

I had not paid attention to who was hosting this week. I submitted a post asking what good are teachers' unions? I had not meant to offend. Dr. Homeslice was very gracious.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Another carnival to check out

Natalie is struggling with Blogger (check the comments) to get this week's Carnival of Homeschooling up.

While you wait, you might want to check out the third Digital Scrapbooking Blog Carnival hosted by Christine Smith.

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I have introduced my daughter to "The Forgotten Man"

Last month I mentioned that my daughter had started reading The Law by Frederic Bastiat. It is now a month later and we have only gotten about half way through it. She found the writing difficult to understand, and she really is not interested in politics. At some point I expect she'll start to have more interest in politics. There is a saying that even if you don't pay attention to politicians, politicians will be paying attention to you. One of our goals is to raise our daughters so they understand politics and can be effective in influencing politics.

I try to have a monthly "daddy-daughter date" with each of my daughters. There are several things I am trying to accomplish. One is to strengthen my relationship with each child. Another goal is to give them a chance to talk about what is on their mind.

The very first reason I had for starting these dates was to have a regular forum for praising our daughters. I think it is easy and normal to be critical of children. On our dates I'll review some of the specific things I've noticed. I also gather input from my wife and ask each daughter for things they are aware they are doing well.

Here are the items I had for my youngest daughter last month:
From me: You were well behaved when we spent the night at my parents. You are learning to play a new piece of music. You can now play Uno.
From my wife: You are reading new books for school and doing math worksheets. You have progressed on the violin and practice the piano without fussing. You were reverent at church.
From my daughter: I can tell time better. I like playing the violin. I can eat cookies at church and not be messy.

I write all of these down in my planner. My plan is when the girls turn 18 I will give them the complete history of our daddy-daughter dates.

This morning as I was getting ready to take my oldest to Marie Calendars I decided it was time to move on from The Law. One of the points Mortimer J. Adler makes in How to Read a Book is that you don't have to read every book. With books I tend to be a perfectionist. If I start a book I feel a compulsion to finish it. Today I told my oldest that we'd put The Law for a year or two and then pick it up. But I did want to talk a bit about politics.

I had printed off The Forgotten Man by William Graham Sumner written back in 1883, which was recently posted on This is a short essay on politics, government and philanthropy. There are a number of good points and through provoking ideas. The opening paragraph starts with

"The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man."

The essay talks about the morality of helping people out. Sumner is strongly opposed to government getting involved with helping out people, and to some extent even individuals helping out the poor. There are a few things I disagree with, for example I do think there are times when it makes sense to help people out, on an individual basis. Sumner seems almost detached and might be willing to let people die from their folly. I thought Nancy Kress made an insightful point in a Science Fiction novel called Beggars in Spain. Often we can spend a little effort to help out a person in need, making a huge difference in their lives. Then later we may be the beggar, and someone else can help us out in our time of need.

One the way to Marie Calendars my daughter read most of the first page of The Forgotten Man. We then ordered breakfast, and we read almost another third. We finished it on up the way home. We had some good discussions. We talked about how most (all?) government programs are designed to help person D, and rarely take into account the impact the new program will have on person C.

Now my daughter has meet "The Forgotten Man."

The next book my daughter is going to read and mark up is John Adams by David McCullough. I am expecting that she'll go through this one a lot faster.

Second daddy-daughter date. Third daddy-daughter date.

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More on Steve Jobs, Public schools, and Teachers' Unions

As we mentioned last week Steve Jobs recently said what many parents believe with:

I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.

His main point is teachers’ unions are overly protective of bad teachers. He, like many parents whose children have suffered from a bad teacher, says principals need to be able to fire bad teachers.

The attack:

It has been fascinating to me that many of the arguments against Steve Jobs don’t address his central point, that teachers’ unions are defending bad teachers and thus the children suffer. Instead they attack Steve Jobs, or change the focus of the debate.

The California Federation of Teachers attacks Steve by saying that Apple has used pictures in the “think different” marketing of people who were pro-union. Think about the logic of this attack. Because Apple used a picture of Cesar Chavez, some how what Steve Jobs said isn’t true. Or because Albert Einstein was a member of a teacher’s union, some how we are suppose to disbelieve that modern day teachers’ unions don’t protect bad teachers. I must have missed the day this type of logic was taught in public school.

Leander Kahney dismisses Steve’s claim by saying:

The issues are many and complex, and yes, there is a problem with firing incompetent or indifferent teachers, but it is not the No. 1 reason schools are failing. It's not even in the top 10.

He then goes on to say:

In California, the most pressing problems are schools that are too big, too bureaucratic and chronically under-funded. Teachers are criminally low paid and under-trained. Education -- and school funding -- has become solely about test scores.

In many ways saying that schools are too bureaucratic is acknowledging that in dealing with unions public schools have been forced to have thousands of rules. To get rid of a bad teachers takes dozens of forms, and thousands of hours.

As has been pointed out recently, teachers receive a decent salary. So I have to wonder if Leander really understands the current state of public education.

This was one of my favorites, ignore what Steve is saying, because he is a billionaire and sends his children to private schools. Think about the logic in that. You are not allowed to speak the truth, because you don’t allow your children to suffer in a public school.

The defense:

My impression is that about two thirds of the comments from average citizens are in support of Steve’s comments. A lot of the news coverage is fairly supportive.

For Everything Alabama had a recent report on the declining state of public education: National test results tell the same old story. The article concludes with the quote from Steve Jobs on teachers’ unions and says:

He's right: Powerful teachers' unions like the Alabama Education Association are a major obstacle to reform. They defend the mediocre status quo by fighting off proposals for merit pay and other measures that would truly put children first in the education system.

Another Arik Hesseldahl says that Steve deserves a huge “atta boy” and goes on to explain that Steve and his wife are very involved in education. They are on various boards. Steve is speaking as one who is informed.

And one comment we’ve gotten so far agrees that Steve is dead on.

The Future:

It has been a week since Steve Jobs pointed out that the Emperor has no clothes. Most people agree that keeping bad teachers in public schools is bad for the children, and that the biggest reason bad teachers stay is because of teachers' unions.

My prediction is this will die off. Steve Jobs is focused on running Apple Inc. I doubt he will spend a significant amount of time, at least at this point in his life, trying to fix public education.

The Teacher’s Union has responded, but I think they’ll be careful about following up. It could stir up a hornet’s nest. There are tens of thousands of loyal Apple users; many of them support Steve Jobs. A majority of parents recognize that keeping bad teachers in public schools is wrong. And even many teachers are frustrated with how unions protect bad teachers.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Links to interesting posts - 26 Feb 07

My mother has been eagerly awaiting the movie Amazing Grace. This is based on the book Bury the Chains. Both are the story of how a small group of people, mostly Quakers, lead the movement in English to abolish slavery. They were successful, and Great Britian peacefully got rid of slavery in 1837. (I once heard the United States was the only nation in the Americas that went to war to get rid of slavery.) Christine, of a little perspective, recently saw the movie and gives it a positive review.

Years ago I heard The Bridge Builder by Will Allen Dromgoole. If you haven't heard of the poem, pop over to Random Contemplations and check it out. It is a quick read. Much of what we do as parents is to build bridges for our children, until they are ready to build bridges for others.

I am afraid I woke up at least one of my daughters when I read Ramona, overheard. I laughed pretty loud as I read about Karen Edmisten's daughter.

Over at Key Words Daniel Macintyre has another reason for homeschooling.

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Ventura Country Star has a basic introduction to homeschooling

I thought this was interesting. The Ventura Country Star has a basic introduction to homeschooling: Web offers lessons for home schooling. Maybe as more people ask questions about homeschooling, the news organizations will start providing help to parents wanting to get started.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education

Diane Ravitch has a blog

For several years Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier have been discussing and debated education related issues.

They are now blogging together at Bridging Differences.

I am looking forward to reading their blog.

(Update I)
Bummer. This evening when I went to read Diane Ravitch's blog, I get a "Register FREE on" Ugh. These are a pain. I won't register. Too bad. I would like to have read the blog.

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The Carnival of Family life is up

This week's Carnival of Family life is hosted by Practical Living Blog.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Federal judge says public schools can teach views opposite the parent's views

I think this is going to be a big deal.

Back in 2005 Tonia and David Parker of Lexington, Massachusetts, were upset to find the public school giving their 5-year-old son books promoting gay families.

Recently U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that schools are “entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens." The judge explained that other federal courts have decided that parents' rights to exercise their religious beliefs are not violated when their children are exposed to contrary ideas in school.

MassResistance! is an organization which has been working with the Parkers. They put the judge's complete ruling up on the web. MassResistance! makes the point:

"Wolf makes the odious statement that the Parkers' only options are (1) send their kids to a private school, (2) home-school their kids, or (3) elect a majority of people to the School Committee who agree with them. Can you imagine a federal judge in the Civil Rights era telling blacks the same thing -- that if they can't be served at a lunch counter they should just start their own restaurant, or elect a city council to pass laws that obey the US Constitution?"

Sarah Wunsch, an attorney for the ACLU, said:

"This is not a case about teaching about homosexuality. This is a case where Lexington sought to teach about diversity and about having respect."

I agree with Sarah on the first point, this case is not really about teaching homosexuality. The really important issue here is what are the rights of minorities and the rights of parents. In the past public schools have stayed away from teaching doctrine or pushing agendas. But now based on the ruling of Judge Wolf if the majority wants to teach that all Jews will go to hell, the minority can send their children to private schools, or homeschool, or try to elect a majority of people to the school committee. If the majority wants to teach that communism is good, the minority has little recourse. If the majority wants to teach creationism, the minority has no say what their children are taught.

The judge said in his ruling that:

"In essence under the Constitution public schools are entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy."

I have read the Constitution several times. It says nothing about public schools. At the time the Constitution was written there were no public schools like we have today. Public schools as they currently exist go back to a movement lead by Horace Mann. It is a huge reach to say that the Constitution supports teaching children concepts against the wishes of their parents.

I thought this was interesting - VirtueOnline reported "that the judge concluded that even allowing Christians to withdraw their children from classes or portions of classes where the religious beliefs were being violated wasn't a reasonable expectation." The judge wrote that

"An exodus from class when issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage are to be discussed could send the message that gays, lesbians, and the children of same-sex parents are inferior and, therefore, have a damaging effect on those students."

A better answer to this whole problem is public schools should not be teaching about homosexuality to 5-year-olds. And if public schools do address issues like this, parents should have the right to decide what their children are taught.

It is kind of ironic that this started in Lexington, a place where a shot was heard around the world.

The ramifications of this ruling will be felt for years.

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You need to come home! Ryan is dead!

The St. Albans Messenger has a long sobering article. You need to come home! Ryan is dead! starts off with:

"Oct. 7, 2003, was the day that split John Halligan’s life in half. He was in a hotel room in Rochester, N.Y., away on a business trip for IBM in Essex Junction. His cell phone rang. He knew the number. It was home.
"'John! John!' his wife cried on the other end. 'You need to come home! You need to come home! Ryan is dead! He killed himself!'"

It is painful that Ryan was persecuted for so long. He was teased at schooling and harassed on the internet. It went on for a couple years. He couldn't take it any more and he committed suicide.

His parents sound like parents who were involved and trying to help him. They were not checked out or ignoring him. They took some action, action that wasn't effective, but they were trying.

Bullying is a big problem in public schools. For every student who kills himself, or tries to kill others, there are dozens and hundreds of students who are picked up, harassed, and mocked. Part of the problem with public schools is the administration's hands are partially tied and they can not take effective action.

I am reminded of Willy Wanka who several times says "Please stop that." He says it without any power or force behind his words. He lets the visitors get hurt by the consequences of their actions. Public school officials are often about as effective. They try. They ask the bullies to stop. But they don't step in and punish bullies.

In public schools the victims suffer the consequences of the actions of bullies.

My prediction is the lack of control will drive more parents to homechool their children.

(Hat tip: Google alert)

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California Teacher Union blasts back at Steve Jobs

Dave noticed that a California Teacher Union is angry that Steve Jobs said that teacher unions are part of the problem with the public school system:

"The California Federation of Teachers has invited Apple CEO Steve Jobs to either attend an annual CFT convention next month or offer a public apology for his "insulting comments" to California's teachers."

In California Teachers' Union Fights Back Dave shows how the arguements Mary Bergan (CFT President) puts forward are hollow.

The MacDailyNews has a good response:

"See, if you're not with the union, you're part of the problem. Unless you agree with the unions' point of view, you're not thinking correctly."

On the MacNN the comments are very supportive of Steve Jobs. Right now I think the average taxpayer sees teachs' unions as part of the problem and agree with Steve Jobs.

It will be interesting to see how Steve Jobs responds.

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Is being a homeschooler as expensive as private school?

The second paragraph in recent article in Kiplinger Personal Finance brought me up short:

"Whatever the advantages of home-schooling, saving money isn't necessarily one of them. Add up what you spend on books, curricula, tutors, field trips -- not to mention the loss of a second income if one parent becomes the full-time teacher -- and the cost of home-schooling can easily rival paying private-school tuition."

The article goes on to list ways that parents can spend money when homeschooling in Finance Lessons for Home Schoolers. But in adding up the books and stuff mentioned in the article I still have trouble getting to the $5,000 to $10,000 a year per child that many of the private schools in our area charge. There is even one private school in our area that charges almost $30,000 a year!

I don't know any homeschoolers who spend even $5,000 a year per child. I have read of children who were going after a particular sport or skill who were being homeschooled. Maybe their parents are spending several thousand a year paying for tutors to help with golf, tennis, or chess, but most of us get by just fine for a fraction of what a private school charges.

Last year I made the claim that homeschooling can be cheaper than sending children to public schools. Public schools are "free" but they come with a variety of costs, some explicit, and some hidden.

On one extreme end parents can homeschool for almost nothing. With frequent trips to the public library parents can give a good education to children.

Most of the people we know who homeschool have one of the parents stay at home with the children during the day. If they had had both parents working, the lost of the two income can be a challenge. Parents typically homeschool to provide a better education. It can be a financial challenge for some. But homeschooling is not as expensive as private schools.

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Saturday Review of Books - 24 Feb 07

Sherry, who blogs at Semicolon, hosts a dynamic list of book reviews each Saturday.

If you have been looking for a good book to read, drop in and check it out.

If you have just blogged about a good book, drop in and add it to the list.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

I enjoyed Paul Graham's essay: Is It Worth Being Wise?

Paul Graham shares his thoughts about Wisdom and Intelligence in Is It Worth Being Wise? He has a number of thoughtful points.

Paul sets the stage by making a distinction between being wise and being smart. He says:

"The difference is that 'wise' means one has a high average outcome across all situations, and 'smart' means one does spectacularly well in a few."

Later he writes that wisdom and intelligence are diverging:

"In the time of Confucius and Socrates, people seem to have regarded wisdom, learning, and intelligence as more closely related than we do. Distinguishing between 'wise' and 'smart' is a modern habit. And the reason we do is that they've been diverging. As knowledge gets more specialized, there are more points on the curve, and the distinction between the spikes and the average becomes sharper, like a digital image rendered with more pixels."

This was very provokative:

"Another sign we may have to choose between intelligence and wisdom is how different their recipes are. Wisdom seems to come largely from curing childish qualities, and intelligence largely from cultivating them."

There were many other interesting thoughts and ideas. It is worth reading the whole essay.

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Are teachers' unions in the news more now?

Last week Steve Jobs slammed teachers' unions.

Yesterday I got a Google alert that Diane Ravitch was hoping teachers' unions would to more to help public schools.

Just now I noticed that Mike Antonucci has two good posts on problems with teachers' unions.

A post today called Education and the True Conservatives was by Birch Walker. Birch writes about that teachers' unions are the ultimate conservatives and "are highly skilled at preserving the status quo." He gives some of the key details on how teachers' unions fight change. Unfortunately the tatics are effective.

In Where Do the Unions Go from Here? Ryan Boots writes that some of the teachers' unions traditional allies are now attacking teachers' unions. Ryan claims that "it's a sign that the nation's biggest organized labor organizations are fast wearing out their welcome." I don't see any real change in how teachers' unions operatein the next five years. There is too much inertia.

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What is a catchy way to remind bloggers to submit to the Carnival of Homeschooling?

Each week I put out a gentle reminder and give encouragement to our readers to send in an entry for the next Carnival of Homeschooling. I try to vary the post; I don't want to be a nag.

I encourage homeschooling bloggers to send in a submission. This is a good way to get some additional exposure.

Natalie will be hosting the Carnival of Homeschooling next week at The Homeschool Café.

Entries are due Monday evening at 6:00 PM Pacific Standard Time.

Here are the instructions for sending in a submission.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education,

What good are teacher unions for public education?

The main problem with public education in America is there is no single problem. There are several problems, maybe dozens, of reasons why public education has declined over the last fifty years.

One big contributing cause is the increasing variety of goals given to public schools. Jim Collins says in Good to Great, that great organizations are great because they have focus. Great organizations don’t try to walk the dog, build a house, raise a child, explore the frontier, and run a factory. They focus. By focusing they can improve their ability to do a specific function very well.

Public schools use to focus on just reading, writing, and arithmetic. Over time they were asked to teach a trade, prepare for college, teach physical education, give children exposure to the arts and drama, provide sex education, teach them about the environment, provide death education, feed lunches to the poor, and on, and on, and on. There are a few teachers who might be able to do many of these tasks well, but most teachers can not. This lack of focus makes it hard, if not impossible, for public schools to do well.

Another problem with public school is we don’t hold the students responsible for learning. We hold teachers. As Paul Zoch points out in his book Doomed to Fail: The Built-in Defects of American Education, but holding teachers responsible for learning, the students can take a passive attitude of “Go ahead and make me learn, I dare you.” If there were serious consequences to the students for not learning the students would be more engaged and more active in the learning process.

Steve Jobs recently said, and I agree, that teach unions have also contribute to the problems with public education. Teacher unions are focused on protecting the teachers. (Remember Albert Shanker’s line about “When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”) For public schools to be good, let alone great, the schools have to be able to fire bad teachers.

The problems with Public Education have become a Gordian Knot, with so many causes that it may now be impossible to solve with out changing the basic nature of public education, for example going to vouchers.

I was surprised when a recent Google alert implied that Diane Ravitch was in favor of teacher unions. I have great admiration and respect for Diane Ravitch. Her book Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform explored how about every three to five years public schools were asked to do another task. This book is well written, well documented, and well worth reading. Her book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn shows how the process for picking textbooks is broken. The book reminds me of Richard Feynman's experience with the textbook review process.

The google alert led me to an interview of Diane Ravitch in which she says teacher unions are important in improving public education:

"The public interest is served when teachers are able to do their jobs without fear of intimidation by uninformed, non-professional administrators. Teachers are the front-line workers of education; they are the ones who are in daily contact with children. It is they who must make minute-to-minute, on-the-spot decisions about the best interests of children. When their knowledge and wisdom are discounted and disregarded, we cannot expect education to improve.

"These days, there are many superintendents who have no experience in education and many principals who went through quickie training programs. These inexperienced leaders demand higher test scores because their jobs are on the line. Many of these inexperienced leaders think that testing is synonymous with instruction, and they insist on constant testing. Wise teachers know better. They know that achievement growth is necessarily incremental for most children. Wise teachers know that they cannot produce overnight miracles. If teaching becomes a job (not a profession) where administrators are free to bully teachers and where teachers are not permitted to exercise their judgment and experience, then the turnover rate (and the quality) of classroom teachers will decline, and that is certainly not in the interest of children or the public."

I totally agree that teachers are important in education. A good teacher can make a great difference in the life of a child.

Diane Ravitch goes on to say:

"The unions will, I hope, become champions of sound educational principles (such as the conditions I listed above, including a rich, sequential curriculum and appropriate student conduct and dress). They must also become engaged in making sure that the accountability programs are valid, reliable and fair, and that accountability measures do not take the place of instruction. In some districts, the overwhelming emphasis is on test-preparation, endless test-prep. Hours on hours of test-prep may lead to higher scores, but not to a good education."

This seems to be wishful thinking. Going back to Albert Shanker’s comment, there is no motivation for unions to focus on doing a better job of educating children. It would be nice if unions tried provide support to helping children learn, but unions are not motivated to really be involved with what happens to the students.

Diana Ravitch is asked:

"What are the priorities of teachers’ unions today?"

She replies with:

"Teachers' unions have been focused on salaries and working conditions, which is good but not enough any more. They must see that part of the working conditions that must be improved are the ability of their members to teach, their right to have a sound curriculum, and their right to act as professionals rather than automatons who produce this odd combination of higher test scores but not educated students."

Diane Ravitch is hoping that unions will change their very nature. For decades teacher unions have been focused on what is best for the teachers. They have worked to get higher wages, make it harder to fire teachers, and other job environment issues. Teacher Unions have not, and are not motivated, to focus on improving the education process for students.

Teacher unions may be good for teachers, but I still don’t see how they are helping children get a good education in public schools.

(Update I)

Alexander Russo says that Diane Ravitch will soon be blogging.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Comentary on the Astronomy Picture of the Day from my youngest daughter

I talked with my youngest daughter, who is six and a half, about selections from the Astronomy Picture of the Day web site. Below are the links to the pictures, with her comments.

The Witch's Broom Nebula looks more like a snake to my daughter.

NGC 602 looks like a jaw is about to bite the galaxies.

My daughter says the Eagle Nebula in Infrared is perfect!

The Sombrero Galaxy looks like a wedding ring.

The Star Clusters of NGC 1313 looks like an island in the middle of the ocean.

Thor's Helmet from CFHT looks more like a bird.

The dark spot near the top center in Flame Nebula looks like bunny ears.

It looks like there is fire in the nighttime in the Stars of the Galactic Center.

My daughter doesn't have any thoughts about Vela Supernova Remnant in Visible Light.

She thinks the The Rosette Nebula looks like a strawberry ice cream. (Well it is just before lunch.)

My daughter says she loves to look at the pictures and talk about them.

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Book Review: Parkinson's Law by C. Northcote Parkinson

Parkinson’s Law, written by C. Northcote Parkinson, is a wonderful book which explores the realities of human behavior within a bureaucracy. The author doesn’t pay attention to theories or the idealized world, but instead writes about how people really function in organizations.

The title of the book is from Parkinson’s statement that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He explains that “an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and dispatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis.” In contrast if all you have is five minutes to write a postcard, it takes just five minutes to write the postcard.

At a higher level this idea applies to many situations. For example people’s stuff expands to fill their house and use up their income. Or in the computer world: Data expands to fill the space available for storage

Parkinson writes that it takes great discipline to fight the tendency to use up all the time available to do some job. And likewise it takes great discipline to save some of your income, or to avoid buying stuff just because you have room for it.

Parkinson has a number of other interesting observations. For example in his Law of Triviality he explains how a group of managers might spend hours on selecting a coffeepot and minutes on deciding matters of much greater importance.

I also appreciated his explanation on the effective size of a governing group. He says that the right number of people to lead an organization, like a business or a country, is about five. As the group gets larger, it takes longer and longer to get together and to agree on matters.

There are many other insightful comments on a variety of topics related to organizations. This is a great book to have teenagers read, and then to be reread every couple years. Just over a hundred pages it is a quick read, as well as being enjoyable.

If you haven’t read Parkinson’s Law before, I encourage you to read it this week.

(A version of this was also posted on Amazon.)

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Cool links from reddit - 22 Feb 07

The following are some cool selections I found via

A few general items:

This is way cool: a personal submarine. The price tag is a bit high for me: £65,000.

From the Boston Globe is an article on Too much medication. It makes a valid point that too often our society uses mind altering drugs to "fix" children.

In Capitalism and the Common Man Walter E. Williams makes an interesting observation: a hundred years ago you could tell who was rich by how a person dressed. Today you can't pick out the rich just by their clothes.

25 Rules to Grow Rich By would be a good list to review with your children.


Do you ever wonder what other people are reading at Wikipedia? WikiCharts shows the articles from the English Wikipedia with the most views.

Nine Cool Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Wikipedia, enough said.

I wish the List of countries by life expectancy chart had some ability to factor out small nations, or to have life expectancy correlated with the average income. Still pretty interesting.

On the education front:

Do you have a Beginner's Mind? Darren Henson makes the point that to learn we first have to be ready to learn.

From the Ririan Project is a list of 13 Rock-Solid Ways To Build Knowledge For Lifetime. The first one is to Nurse your hunger of knowledge. I think as parents often it isn't so much nurse a hunger of knowledge in our children as to not destroy the hunger they are born with. has an interesting article on Bright Children. The article explores the concept of what contributes to genius and focuses on Laszlo Polgar who set out, successfully, to train his three daughters to be chess masters. The three daughters were homeschooled! The Economist article concluded with: "Some say the key to success is simply hard graft. Judit, the youngest of the Polgar sisters, was the most driven, and the most successful; Zsofia, the middle one, was regarded as the most talented, but she was the only one who did not achieve the status of grand master. 'Everything came easiest to her,' said her older sister. 'But she was lazy.'" My understanding is it helps to have some native ability, but it is also very important to work hard.

Ever time I read something like GWU Raises Tuition to More Than $39,000 I think homeschooling may not stop at 12th grade.

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Some fun stuff from the Cool Digest - 22 Feb 07

The following are some cool selections I found on the Cool List Digest:

YouTube has a short video of a Bunny Show Jumping contest from Denmark. Wikipedia says Rabbit Jumping got started in Sweden in the 1970s and there are now "fifty rabbit show jumping clubs throughout Scandinavia." National Geographic reports that there is an attempt to bring this sport over to America.

When I saw a title of starting a Fire from a Can of Coke and a Chocolate Bar, I thought no way! But after reading the article I plan to give it a try the next time we go camping.

Did you ever wonder how popular is your name? At How Many of Me you can enter your name and see how many other people in the United States have the same name. It appears there are 13 people in the US with the name of Henry Cate. There is only one Janine Cate, and I got her!

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The last post for this evening - The Carnival of Education is up

I am about to head for bed, but I wanted to make sure to mention that this week's Carnival of Education is up at History Is Elementary.

If you have blogged recently about education, consider submitting your post for the next Carnival of Education. Entries are due Tuesday evening. You can submit them via Blog Carnival by clicking here.

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You have six days to submit an entry to Unschooling Voices

Joanne, who blogs at A Day in Our Lives, hosts Unschooling Voices, a blog carnival of unschoolers.

She has put out the call for submissions to the March edition:

"There are two topics this month. Answer both, one...or neither and blog about something else (#1) Use the letters U-N-S-C-H-O-O-L to write about unschooling. Use what ever method you want, for example you can use each letter like "U is for..., N is for..". Or you can have each letter start a new sentence or paragraph or try writing an acronym. (#2) A topic that comes up on the unschooling e-mail groups a lot is TV/computer/video games and how hard it is for parents to let go of control in those areas. What has been your experience?"

Send entries to:, and put "unschooling voices" in the subject.

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Self help online

Several years ago the self help book industry had a major change with the Dummies Books. Each book had a basic pattern of explaining some concept or skill to the reader. Customers felt comfortable with the name brand. Sales were good. Others copied this approach, for example the Complete Idiot's Guide.

This approach has moved online. I've come across the Beginner's Guide. They have sections on horseback riding, snowmobiles, and even homeschooling. The sections are not as long as a full fledge book, but maybe over time more content will be added.

I am often amazed at how technology prompts change in the business world. Decades ago it was almost impossible to get specialized information. Years ago it was merely expensive or time consuming. Now we are overwhelmed with information, and it is free.

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Did you need some homeschool supplies?

You might want to consider checking out Discount Homeschool Supplies. Tami, who has twice hosted the Carnival of Homeschooling, is having some specials. We've order a few things from her before and were pleased with the price and service.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education

Steve Jobs gets it right on teacher unions

The Houston Chronicle reported last week on some remarks Steve Jobs (Apple Inc. CEO) had about public education. Steve said that no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers.

Steve Jobs explained that "I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way."

A couple years back some friends of ours had a child in a local public elementary school. The teacher was bad. We're talking bad like evil. The teacher picked on children, and told them horrible lies designed to frighten a particular child. For years the administration had tried to get rid of the teacher. Students from decades ago who had had this teacher came to testify about how bad the teacher was. The school had trouble firing the teacher. Finally a new principle was able to convince the teacher to take early retirement.

This took way too much effort. Hundreds of children had a poor education. Dozens of children were emotionally scarred. My understanding is the school district spent over a million dollars, just to fire this one teacher.

Public education would improve if bad, and even marginal, teachers could be fired. Other teachers would be more motivated and the students wouldn't suffer.

(Hat tip: Goldwater Institute)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Carnival of Homeschooling and Presidential Trivia

Shannon of HomeschoolHacks is hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling.

She drops in some fun facts about the presidents of the United States into the carnival.

There is a large collection of posts. Drop in and browse for awhile.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Remember, it is important to say thanks

From the mailing list A Word A Day:

Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone.
-Gladys Browyn Stern, writer (1890-1973)

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Words of Wisdom from Reader's Digest

We recently started checking out old Reader's Digests from the library. My 12 year old daughter found the following joke in the January 2006 edition, "Laughter, the Best Medicine" section.

I wonder if it should have been put in the true story section:

Twenty percent of this year's high school seniors in California flunked the state's graduation exam. Educators are still trying to calculate how many passed.

Ben Walsh

In a recent article, Fremont Bulletin reported the following:

Extension granted for exit exam requirement

Fremont's Board of Education unanimously but reluctantly approved a policy extension at its Jan. 31 meeting that allows students to participate in graduation ceremonies and receive a certificate of completion in 2007.

"I'm supporting this proposal, however, it's reluctantly, because these kids have six chances to pass a two-part test that consists of ninth- and 10th-grade English and math," trustee Larry Sweeney said.

During a January 2006 board meeting, trustees made a motion to give a certificate of completion to those special education and regular education students who complete all high school requirements, but do not pass the exit exam.

Those students are allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies, walking across the stage with students who receive high school diplomas. The school board made a request to revisit this issue in one year, with information on the number of graduates in August 2006.

Last May, 63 high school seniors took the exit exam. Only six seniors passed. However, they received their diplomas in August.

Last Wednesday, other trustees echoed Sweeney's concerns about permitting students to participate in graduation.

"I'm having a lot of difficulty with this, and giving a waiver to students when this is a requirement," trustee Lara York said. "The graduation ceremony is for people graduating, getting a diploma and meeting all the requirements. I feel they should have completed all the requirements their classmates have."

Trustee Peggy Herndon suggested the district collect additional numbers to see how many students still have not passed the exit exam by June.

To clarify one point: The seniors who took the test were the seniors who had most likely failed the test multiple times in the last 2 years. The over all failure rate for 10th graders taking the test for the first time was 13% in English and 12% in math, which is really not that bad. However, keep in mind that to pass the test a student need only score 60% in English and 55% in math. Students may also take the test 6 times.

I couldn't find the pass/fail rate for seniors or an explanation of why English is 60% and math is only 55%. I also read that they recently removed a few questions from the math portion of the test to make it easier.

Wow. Fremont, California is only 30 miles from where we live. We homeschool for many reasons, but results like this strengthen our resolve. The sad part is that Fremont Unified School District had better results than my local school district.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fifty hours and counting

You have just fifty hours to get in a submission to the next Carnival of Homeschooling.

Shannon will be hosting it at HomeschoolHacks.

Entries are due Monday evening at 6:00 PM Pacific Standard Time. Send your entry to:

Here are more instructions on sending in a submission.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How do you praise your children?

Danny Carlton posted on his blog, Jack Lewis, a reference to a study on Raising kids and praising kids. The study found that children who were praised for working hard were more likely willing to try harder problems. Children who were praised for being smart were more likely to select easier problems.

As parents we need to praise our children. We need to be thoughtful in what we praise them about.

Michael LeBoeuf writes in GMP: The Greatest Management Principle in the World that which gets rewarded gets done.

If we ignore our children when they clean the room, and fuss at them when they have a messy room, most children will tend to have a messy room. They want our attention.

We need to give our children positive, honest acknowledgement for the good things they do, and praise them in a way that will help them to stretch themselves.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Romance in Middle School

A User's Guide To Middle School Romance was published in the Washington post two years ago. I think the author was trying to be cute. As a mother of a 7th grader, I find it anything but cute.

Here are a few excerpts:

Ask a group of seventh-graders how to conduct relationships, and much of their advice could apply just as well to adults: "Don't dance with another girl if your girlfriend isn't at the dance." "Don't hold hands with your best friend's boyfriend." "Tell your parents as little as possible."

Relationships sometimes only involve two clumsy conversations: the asking out and the breaking up.

These maladroit transactions are the training wheels of love, explains Bradford Brown, a human development professor at the University of Wisconsin, ....

That's the scary part. What are children learning about relationships that will actually benefit them as adults?

"They could be playing a joke on you," says Lime Kiln seventh-grader Shannon Bishoff. It's painfully common for a group of boys to pay someone to ask a girl out; $20 is the going rate.

In high school, kids begin to go out with whom-ever they find attractive. But in middle school, relationships are a form of currency among peers, a way to jostle for position.

From what I've read, it is the same in high school. Relationships are about moving up your position in the pecking order.

"Because romance at this stage is such a public affair, you really are essentially creating headline news," Brown says. Sneaking a kiss in a little-traveled spot by the buses after school is dismissed is okay, if you're up for it, which some kids are by eighth grade. And, of course, during Spin the Bottle at boy-girl parties: Making out there is fine, because, hey, you have to. That's where the bottle landed. Nobody can question your judgment, call you a slut. You were just following the rules.

Yuk. Boy, that's so ugly.

This article got me thinking about what my daughters are learning at home about love and relationships. I don't think it resembles anything they would learn at school.

So, on this Valentines day, I ponder on something from the Good Book about charity which is another word for love.

I Corinthians Chapter 13

1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity denvieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth...

I hope this is what our children will learn about love at home.

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How public education reacts to people who try to fix it

Monday Tom Patterson wrote a column called: Chopra on the Chopping Block.

Dr. Raj Chopra was hired to turn around the Phoenix Union School District. He said the key was “changing the culture of this district from an adult-centered district to a child-centered district.”

Over the last five years he has done an impressive job.

The Arizona Association for Bilingual Education (AABE) reports that:

* Test scores and the graduation rate are up.
* Teachers are among the highest paid in the state.
* New schools are opening nearly every year, including specialty schools in bioscience and law enforcement.

Both Tom Patterson and the AABE say that Dr. Chopra has upset the teachers union. The teachers union has backed several of the new members to the school board. It appears that Dr. Chopra will probably be let go.

It is clear the teachers unions are not concerned about the children, but about their jobs.

This is one of many reasons why public schools are failing and why it will be hard, if not impossible, to fix the public schools.

Year, after year the children continue to suffer as they get a poor education.

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Spanish Word of the Day

A friend at work recently sent me a link to a Spanish Word of the Day mailing list. To join go to this web site. I signed up yesterday.

I took a couple years of high school Spanish and every now and then I think it would be nice to improve my vocabulary. This mailing list may be a good way to expand it.

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The Carnival of Education, week 106, is up

The Education Wonks is hosting this week's Carnival of Education.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A fun thought from A Word A day

From the mailing list A Word A Day:

It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way. -Rollo May, psychologist (1909-1994)

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The Carnival of Homeschooling, week 59, is up at Nerd Family

As an engineer I often smile when I read the tagline for the Nerd Family blog: Pro-Nerd. Pro-Family.

The NerdMom sorts the posts for the Carnival of Homeschooling this week by walking around her home.

Drop by her home and see what homeschooling bloggers are writing about these days.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education,

Monday, February 12, 2007

Eating and Education

Steve McConnell makes an interesting point in Code Complete. In chapter two he writes about how metaphors help in providing insight and understanding. A good model can help us solve a problem. For example Steve McConnell writes about how scientists use a wave model, to better understand light, and how this model pointed scientists towards new experiments. A bad model can be misleading.

There are a number of similarities between eating and education. Good food provides nutrients for a healthy body. A balanced diet gives the foundation needed for a body to grow. A bad diet will hurt, or even destroy a body. One of the hazards of sailing hundreds of years ago was running out of the right types of food. Scurvy could lead to death.

Likewise education can provide a foundation for a healthy life. Giving children exposure to a wide range of information and ideas will prepare them for the challenges of life. If we focus only on history, or literature, or science, we would greatly handicap a child.

Recently I was thinking about poor and toxic educations. At the basic level some times children are little more than babysat at some schools. The children’s time is being wasted. At the extreme there are times when children are taught things which are harmful lessons. I’ve struggled much of my life with being a bad speller. A large part of this was because I wasn’t taught phonetics.

It is sad to see parents react so strongly to children taking something bad for the body of their children, like poison, but to tolerate years of a poor education.

If you wondered about the education of your child, and I’m mostly thinking of parents who have children in public schools, think about how you would react if your children were eating similar food. If your child is being fed a poor diet, or worse a toxic one, then you need to take action, and not allow you child to continue getting a bad education.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education