Friday, November 30, 2007

"the ship sank/we’re alive"

You may have seen the news story about the cruise ship, Explorer, that sank of the coast of Chile.

My Aunt Lynn and her husband, Pete, were on board.

Here's the email Pete sent the family describing their adventure:

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday (Tuesday) when we went through immigration in San Francisco, the immigration agent asked us the usual question: occupation, what did you like best/least about your trip? To the former we replied retired/dietitian. To the latter we replied: the ship sank/we’re alive. Suddenly this lethargic civil servant woke up. He wanted to hear all about what happened.

Before I go on, you must understand one thing. While we went through the same experience, shoulder to shoulder and often hand in hand, we have different feelings about it. Indeed, everyone who went through it with us has their own unique and personal feelings. While I was cold, wet, shivering, and throwing up, it never occurred to me that I could die. Lynne however was thinking about: what if the weather suddenly changed, if we hit ice or took a big wave and were swamped, if we would capsize. Therefore, in writing this I can only write for myself. Whatever I write is filtered through my perceptions which could be quite different for Lynne.

Thursday night we were tired. Instead of watching the 9:15 movie we showered and were in bed by 10:00. I fitfully tried to go to sleep. We were going through brash ice – little pieces of ice. Since we were on the third deck, as low as you could go, half our cabin was below the waterline. I could hear the pieces of brash ice scraping against the hull, which was only a single hull. Once and a while a more sold piece would strike. I finally fell asleep.

About 12:30 I was roused by what sounded like the gang plank slapping against the hull. Then I heard what sounded like water pouring down a drain. In my sleep I was thinking to wake Lynne and ask her about the sound. I didn’t remember hearing it before. I touched the bulkhead. It was dry. I put my hand on the floor.

From half asleep I went to full awake. I bolted up and pushed the emergency button and woke Lynne. I threw on some clothes. We pulled the suitcases out from under the bed; I took my laptop out from the low drawer it was in. The water continued coming in. I decided I should move things up to the second deck. I started with my laptop.

The people in the next cabin had also notified the ship. By the time I stuck my head out of the cabin a crew man was coming down. A few minutes later he was followed by the captain. The captain was a solidly built, forty-ish Swede. When he came down the stairs his comment (in English) was: “My god; We’re sinking.” The alarm sounded.

When I returned to the cabin I quickly opened up the drawers of the nightstand between our two beds. I scooped out my wallet, the recently filled 2 gigabyte memory from my camera, the backup flash drive with my journal on it and Lynne’s hand cream. I tossed clothes and camera into the suitcase and took them up to the second deck.

By the time I returned to the cabin, the boat was listing and the water was ankle deep in one end of the cabin. I picked up one of my tennis shoes and put it on a stool. I watched the other float under the bed. It floated back out and I grabbed it. The word came down: “get warm clothes.” I grabbed some of our clothes that were on the bed. Lynne had gone up to our muster station in her night gown carrying our Wellington’s (high rubber boots) and some clothes. I also grabbed our Gore-Tex jackets and fleece liners and made my way to our muster station in the lecture hall.

When everyone was assembled in the lecture hall they took roll. Periodically the captain would come on the intercom and tell us what was happening. We knew that a mayday had been sent, and that there were two ship coming but they were 10 and 6 hours away. At first there was hope the leak could be fixed. Then the mood in the lecture hall became somber and quiet. At the end of hour one the captain lowered the lifeboats into position. At the end of hour two the captain said that we were coming into ice. The lifeboats could not be lowered in the ice. Therefore, he decided to abandon ship. Then we heard those words that no one on a ship ever wants to hear the captain utter: “abandon ship; abandon ship; abandon ship.”

At 2:30 in the morning we quietly filed out of the lecture hall. There was no crying; there was no pushing; there was no panic. One of the staff members directed us to the port (left) or starboard (right) side to go the life boats. Initially we went to the port side. When the word went out that they needed 8 people on the starboard side we went there. I didn’t appreciate how much the ship was listing, perhaps 30 degrees, until I had to walk down across the fantail.

I was the last one into number one life boat. It was at this point that I was most anxious. I felt that once I was in the lifeboat I would be safe. However, there was only enough room for my feet! I stepped in, sat on the gunwale for a moment, and then wiggled my bottom onto the seat, my back against the hull. There was a problem with the engine, but it got started.

They lowered us away. Once in the water we pushed away from the ship. Our boat was overloaded! Fortunately the seas were relatively calm and there was no wind. We were very far south where it gets dark very late and light very early. It was not dark out, but twilight. Fortunately we had zodiacs – rubber boats with outboard motors. While the electric generators had stopped working we had emergency power so they were able to use it to run the winches to lower the zodiacs. After a while they off loaded people from our lifeboat to a zodiac

Once in the lifeboat Lynne and I sat huddled together. While the Gore-Tex jackets kept our topsides dry, our bottoms were wet and there was water in our Wellingtons. There was little talking in the boat. People were somber and cold. The only sound was from the two cylinder engine and an occasional order from the first mate, who was in charge of our boat.

At 3:41 I watched the sun rise. It was a small, round, golden orb that came out of a gray sea and disappeared into a gray sky.

Several times I threw up as the result of the fumes from the engine that I was sitting next to and the motion of the lifeboat. At times I started to shiver, sometimes violently. The though of hyperthermia crossed my mind, but I knew from my Boy Scout training that as long as my upper body was dry and warm I was okay. Through out this my mind was a blank, thinking on the cold, listening to the engine, always concerned that it would stall.

After about two hours in the boat the first mate told us that the rescue ship was about 2 hours away. (The first mate had a radio.) About an hour after that a helicopter flew over head and circled us. Even thought we knew that people around the world knew exactly where we were, our spirits were greatly lifted. Somewhere between hour four and five someone spotted a glint of light in the distance. Soon after that we could see it was a ship bearing down on us.

We got not one, but two rescue ships: the National Geographic’s Endeavor, and the Nordnorge. The former ship was small, the size of the Explorer; the latter ship could hold 600 passengers though there were only 229 on board.

What a wonderful sight it was when the Nordnorge removed the covers from its gigantic lifeboat and lowered their lifeboat down to us. After four or five hours we were stiff. Hands reached out to us and help us into Nordnorge lifeboat. When everyone was transferred we were raised up to the forth deck. When we went into the ship we were greeted by a crew member giving each of us a blanket. We were sent up to the seventh deck were we were given a hot drink and then pointed in the direction of the lounges. The call went out over the ship’s intercom for clothes. Soon the couches and chairs in the lounge were covered with wet clothes that we exchanged for dry ones donated to us. Both the ship and the passengers of the Nordnorse were unbelievably generous. From large deck to ceiling windows of the seventh deck lounge we could watch our ship as it listed. (Unlike the pictures you have probably seen, there was no ice surrounding the ship – that happened later.)

We were served breakfast and lunch on the Nordnorse. The Nordnorse tried to offload us at the Chilean Frei Base. Due to the weather, blowing snow and high seas, it couldn’t. We had to wait offshore several hours before we could finally be landed.

Why did the boat sink? While it is true that there was a hole in the hull, the water tight doors were shut. The compartment where our cabin was should have filled up with water, but the boat should have continued to float. My understanding was that the problem was with the toilets. The water went into the toilets and then into the holding tank. When the holding tank filled up the water backed up into the other cabins thus bypassing the watertight doors.

Why was this not another Titanic? Relatively speaking we had good weather and a calm sea. The captain launched the lifeboats at the right time. We had the zodiacs. We were all fit people: there were no children or infirmed. We were used to being out on the sea in the cold. We had good leadership. We were dressed for the cold. And, above all, we were lucky.

This had been a truly amazing week. I could go on and on. How wonderful the Chilean government was. What it was like flying in a C130 (a military cargo plane) where our knees were intertwined with the knees of the person opposite us. How helpful Debbie, the US Consul from Santiago was. How well we were treated by GAP, the company that ran the tour. What it was like to give interviews to the world press. How basically everything we brought with us is now 1500 meters under the sea. Above all we are thankful to have the most important thing of all, our lives. We appreciate all the e-mails you have sent as they have brought us comfort and support.

Your friend


Pete and Lynn were also on our local ABC News.

That sure is an adventure!!

The secret to success? Being smart? Or working hard?

Ever so often Google send a visiter to my post on The Importance of work. This was in response to a post by Joanne Jacobs on the achievement gap in education.

One of the points I made two years ago was success in life depends both on what skills and talents we start with and how we use them. I likened this to investing:

"A couple years after my wife and I got married we spent did some research into investing, trying to improve our financial education. One point has stuck with me over the years. When trying to build a nest egg there are two very important factors. The first is related to the size of how much is invested. Someone who puts aside 10% of their income will, all other things being equal, have a better end result than someone who only saves 5%. But the second important factor is the growth rate of the investments. If the person saving the 10% puts all of his money in the bank and gets a low rate of return, after 40 years he won't have that much more money. In contrast if the person who saves 5% is wise and looks for investments with growth potential, like stocks, then over time he will get several times the return on his money, and by 40 years later will have a much bigger nest eggs, several times bigger."

Joanne Jacobs posts today on the same topic in Learners try harder. She references an article in Scientific American. In The Secret to Raising Smart Kids Carold S. Dweck writes about her findings in study successful students. She says it is important not to tell your children that they are smart.

"... our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life."

As parents we want to help our children recognize that hard work is an important part of success.

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Throw a crayon at school and you face third degree battery charges

From Florida:

"A north Florida teenager is facing serious charges Friday morning for throwing a crayon at his teacher.
Taewon Little, 14, admitted he threw the crayon at his teacher at the Philip Randolph Academy in Jacksonville, but doesn't believe he should be charged with a crime. Little faced a judge for third degree battery charges and has been kicked out of school.

There isn't much to say about how the school reacted. It seems like another obvious case of zero tolerance gone bad.

(Hat tip: The Education Wonks)

Technorati tags: public school, public education, children, education, zero tolerance, zero intelligence

As politics heats up a bit over the next year ...

With the Presidential elections next year politics will often be front and center in the media. I like the thought in the A Word A Day mailing list today:

A politician is a man who thinks of the next election; while the statesman thinks of the next generation.
-James Freeman Clarke, preacher and author

Technorati tags: politician, statesman

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Not, again

Calif. Teachers May Get Racial Sensitivity Training

Teachers in California may be required to take racial sensitivity training next year. The training would help close the "achievement gap" between students of different races; white and Asian students score higher on tests than their black and Latino classmates.

If you click on the article title, you can listen to the 3 minute news story.

Basically, they blame the racial divide on racism. While racial bias does exist, it doesn't explain the divide. For example, black immigrants don't have the same achievement lag. Even with a language barrier, the black immigrants are measurably more successful than their American born counterparts. If racism was the ultimate cause, why would it only effect the American born minorities? [John Stossel did a story on this. I'm looking for the reference.]

Children of all races in an intact two parent home do better academically. Fathers have a huge influence on academic achievement. It has been estimated that 70% of black children are born out of wedlock. That is a huge number. With the high divorce rate, very few of the 30% of children who are born into a two parent home, will spend their childhood in a household with both biological parents. That is a true disadvantage.

It is well documented that the disintegration of the family negatively influenced children. That is not to say that nobody should ever get divorced or the step-parents are bad. But, you can't get away form the data. Kay Hymowitz's does a good job of document this trend in her new book, Marriage and Caste in America. She postulates that marriage has become the great dividing line.

While I'll be the first to say that we need changes in our government run schools, racial sensitivity training for teachers is not going to make a positive difference.

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Children have little privacy in public schools

Every so often a company will get in trouble when it accidently releases information about individuals. In contrast Mary of the Home Education Magazine writes about how children in public schools have little privacy. I was surprised to find that public schools release name, address, phone numbers and grade levels to pretty much anyone who asks for the information.

Technorati tags: public school, public education, children, privacy

The homeschooling attitude we're working towards

Karen Edmisten says That's why we homeschool.

That is the attitude we're trying to develop in our daughters.

(Hat Tip: Here in the Bonny Glen)

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

I enjoyed Susan's post on the questionable benefits of Universal Preschool

Susan quotes a few selections from a good editorial about preschool in No Universal Preschool≠More Incarceration.

You do have to have doubts about the great claims of Universal Preschool when the public schools are not performing.

Technorati tags: parenting, children, preschool

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Basketball and parenting

A little bit of humor:

Years ago a friend told me that parenting is like basketball:

When you have the first child you can double team them.

With two children you go to man-on-man.

But with three children you have to use a zone defense.

Technorati tags: parenting, children

Would you like to read a book?

In the news:

"Nearly a decade ago, computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University embarked on a project with an astonishingly lofty goal: Digitize the published works of humankind and make them freely available online.

The architects of the project said Tuesday they have surpassed their latest target, having scanned more than 1.5 million books - many of them in Chinese - and are continuing to scan thousands more daily.

'Anyone who can get on the Internet now has access to a collection of books the size of a large university library,' said Raj Reddy, a computer science and robotics professor at the university who spearheaded the project."

Here is the main entry point to the Universal Digitial Library.

The current status report shows a surprising mix. They have 9 books on commerce, 67 autobiographical books, but 152,885 on education.

I found the User Interface weak. I had trouble finding books by author. Some times when I tried to read a book I was told I was not authorized to read that book.

I think this is a fun project, hopefully they'll clean up some of the problems.

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The Carnival of Education is up

This week's Carnival of Education is being hosted by Matt at Matt-a-matical Thinking.

If you would like to submit to the next Carnival of Education, go here.

Technorati tags: education,

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In the news - homeschool co-ops

There is an article about homeschooling in the Washington Times that explores the homeschool "co-op" phenomenon.

Teach Your Children Well

Tim, Liam and Eden grabbed their backpacks, piled out of their mother's car and headed for the school doors to take classes on "backyard science," "folktales and fairytales," art, history and music.

Their school is the Grace Homeschool Co-op in Fredericksburg, Va., and it meets only once a week. The rest of the time, the children — ages 10, 8 and 6 — receive lessons in math, English, reading, spelling and Latin at home in Spotsylvania County from their mother, Rachel Wilhelm.

Highly organized co-ops like Grace — a Christian organization that doubled in size this year and offers about 35 classes each Monday to children from kindergarten through high school — are among the many sophisticated resources now available to home-schooling families.

Our children have been involved in a small co-op for the last 5 years. The emphasis and approach has changed every year. The first year we met in a cottage in a homeschooler's back yard. The next year we met in a homeschooler's converted garage. The following year we met in a local church. The last two years we have met in a community recreation room at a local park.

The small co-ops are a lot of work. We've struggled to find the balance between too much and not enough. We've done everything from three hours for three times a week to three hours for once a week. We found that the "school" model didn't work very well for us. Instead we only do activities that need a group, such as Lego League, Chess Club, Science Fair and "sharing time" in which students can perform or make presentation.

The larger organizations offer wider variety of classes, but it can get expensive and require more driving time.

Some Christian co-ops have reputation for being a bit "prickly" by requiring the endorsement of a ridged statement of faith that exclude Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and even some Christian denominations.

Either way, I'm glad that homeschooling is in the news. Still, it seems that homeschooling only becomes acceptable the more it looks like "school."

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

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up - week 100

Wow, the carnival has made to the 100th edition!

Summer is hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling at Mom Is Teaching.

Summer lives in Oklahoma, which recently had its centennial anniversary. She sorts the entries this week according to aspects of Oklahoma's history.

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blogging is a little slow because....

.....5 children are harder than 3.

We have two foster children in our home for now. Both children are well behaved, so I was surprised how much more work there is to do. Things like laundry and dishes really multiply. Hopefully by next week we will have a routine established and things will go more smoothly.

I would expound further, but my list of things to do is far from done.

Technorati tags: parenting, children, foster, care

Are your neighbors educated?

From MSN Encarta is an article on the Most-Educated Cities in the United States. A study of the Census Bureau data is used to rank the most "educated" cities in the United States. The criteria the study uses is what percentage of those older than 24 in a city have at least a bachelor's degree. The study found:

"... that 52.7 percent of 25-and-over Seattleites have a bachelor's degree or higher, closely followed by San Francisco (50.1 percent), Raleigh, North Carolina (50.1 percent), Washington, D.C. (45.3 percent), and Austin, Texas (44.1 percent). These same cities ranked--in the same order--as the top five most educated cities in last year's Census Bureau data as well."

The article lists the top 20 most-educated cities. Many of these have many technology companies.

(Hat tip: Reddit)

Technorati tags: education

Are you looking for a good art resource?

The Metropolitian Museum of Art, New York has put together a Timeline of Art History. I think I could spend hours wandering around the timeline.

(Hat tip: Wide Open Education)

Technorati tags: Art history, education

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The 30th Carnival of Space is up

This week's Carnival of Space is up at Bad Astronomy Blog.

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Elizabeth Edwards on homeschooling

Christine Escobar interviewed Elizabeth Edwards about homeschooling. This post of the interview comes up easier for me.

Elizabeth Edwards talks about the decision to homeschool. Four years ago when her husband, John Edwards, ran for president they found it was hard on their children. They decided to go with homeschooling during the 2008 campaign as a better option for their children.

"Well, we knew that from our previous experience campaigning was going to require a lot of time away from home. And taking several months for campaigning and seeing the children only every few days, it was not ideal for us. And the way we'd be able to see them more, include them more, let them be part of the experience..., you know they were young the last time, it was easier to pull them out, but in public school, in 2nd grade and 4th grade, you shouldn't be pulling them out willy-nilly just because that's a convenient time for you, even if we could get away with it, it would leave the impression that our children were entitled to special treatment and we do not think that."

They are using a tutor. The children go over to a specific room at their house which sounds like it is set up as a school at home. Elizabeth says the children get to choose if they want to attend an event for their father.

The interview is long. Elizabeth says they like homeschooling but they are very supportive of public schools.


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

Reminder - send in a post for the next Carnival of Homeschooling

The next Carnival of Homeschooling will be hosted by Summer Minor at Mom Is Teaching.

You have about 58 hours to send in an entry.

As always, 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,

Mark your calendar for December 3rd

The nominations for the 2007 Homeschool Blog Awards are in. Janine and I are flattered to be in four categories. There are a lot of new and interesting blogs. One of the things I find overwhelming about the blogosphere is just has fast it keeps growing.

Voting starts December 3rd.

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

Student Suspended For Talking About Nooses

This is a pretty bad case of zero intelligence.

Several kids in a high school band at Lee's Summit High School in suburban Kansas City, Mo. were talking with each other. In Students Suspended For Talking About Nooses we are told:

"Some kids on the drum line said they were talking about the best knots to use to tie up the drum equipment. 'Someone asked if anybody knew how to tie a noose and Travis did admit he knew how to tie a noose,' Kim Grigsby said."

The boy, Travis Grigsby, is almost an Eagle Scout and knows his knots. He explains that you should not tie this knot, because you could get in trouble. Little did he know that you could get in trouble for just admitting you knew the knot.

A black boy in the drum line complained saying he was offended. The school decides to give Travis a ten day suspension. The parents complained and the school reduced the sentence to five days. It is still enough to affect their grades.

The schools are teaching the children that there is no justice, that there is no rule of law and they could be punished when those in authority take a whim.

I wonder how many parents will start homeschooling as a result of this incident.

(Hat tip: : Opinion Journal)

Technorati tags: public school, public education, children, education, zero tolerance, zero intelligence

The collection from a couple years ago

Before Janine and I started blogging I use to print off interesting articles, thought provoking posts and other random stuff I found while browsing the internet and blogosphere. I built up a large collection. It was over twelve inches tall. I spent two hours yesterday thinning and it is now down to about five inches.

I came across this thought in the collection:

"Mike suggests that school is trying to inoculate our children against 'Reading for Pleasure,' since that has been known to stimulate thinking. *gasp*"
- Kate Collins

I don't think there is a vast conspiracy, but the current programs of public schools have a tendency to discourage children from reading for fun. Many of our friends with children in public schools are frustrated that their children don't enjoy reading. In contrast every homeschooler I know either likes to read, or loves to read. I don't know any who look at reading with distaste.

And all that reading does led to thinking!

Technorati tags: public school, public education, children, education, reading

Another Thanksgiving thought

I found the following thought from Dan Galvin's Thought For The Day mailing list in my in-basket today:

We should be thankful for the good things we have and, also, for the bad things we don't have.

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Public schools - a Gordian Knot or a Sisyphean activity?

As I mentioned before I am afraid public schools have become a Gordian Knot. As they are currently structured it is almost impossible for students to receive an excellent education, let alone a good education. I don't think public schools can be fixed without major changes.

Reading Jay Mathews' recent column on How to Fix Struggling High Schools I had a different image. I was reminded of Sisyphus. From Wikipedia is this summary:


In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king punished in the Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and repeat this throughout eternity.

Today, Sisyphean can be used as an adjective meaning that an activity is unending and/or repetitive. It could also be used to refer to tasks that are pointless and unrewarding.


Jay Mathews writes about Jonathan Lewis, a senior at a Washington D.C. high school. Jay says everyone wants Jonathan to graduate, even Jonathan wants to graduate. "But every step on his journey exposed another failure of the educators, parents and students on whom the public school system depends."

Jay goes on to list several problems with this high school and then says we need to fix this problem. Many of these problems are hard problems, for example one teacher didn't even know Jonathan was in his class, because "the school's scheduling and information system fail to inform the teacher that he is supposed to be there."

It is my analysis that we can not "FIX" public schools they way they are currently structured. For decades tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of dedicated and smart people have worked to improve public schools. Every year they try to roll the rock up the hill, but like Sisyphus, the rock slips past them and rolls back down. In many ways the hill is getting bigger and the rock is slipping down sooner.

Albert Einstein is reported to have said that "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." It seems like the frequent attempts to "fix" public schools have become insane.

To improve public schools we need to fundamentally change them. One big improvement would be to get the federal government out of public education. This would allow parents more influence and teachers more autonomy. Each state could try finding what is best for their students. Our current system forces all 50 states to follow the same basic, sometimes broken, pattern.

Another good change would be to have a true voucher system. Every voucher system I've read about has too many rules and laws. For example vouchers are often only available to a few students, and the vouchers are often good for half, or less, of the money the public schools get. Vouchers would allow parents to find schools best for their children.

Jay Mathews is looking for suggestions on how to improve public schools. If you have some ideas you can send him email at I will send him an email encouraging him to consider fundamental changes.

Until we do some major changes, the insane efforts to improve public school system will be as productive as pushing a boulder up a hill and watching it roll back down. I have enjoyed reading Greek Tragedies. It is not much fun to see it repeated in our society.

Technorati tags: public school, public education, children, education

My daughter's mutant power

After a traditional large Thanksgiving dinner yesterday we are all eating a light breakfast. My seven-year-old came into the study and said she had only eaten a single, small roll. She wanted to know if that was OK, because she was full. I said yes. We talked about how we should only eat when we are hungry.

She sat on the chair next to me for a minute and then asked: "Can I have a piece of pie, like the big girls?"

I expressed surprise that she had any room in her stomach. She then explained, with a twinkle in her eye, that she had two stomachs. One stomach was for regular food and one was for desert.

This explains a lot.

Technorati tags: , parenting, children, family

Do you want to follow the money?

I am going to preface this post with a disclaimer: in general we won't post much about politics. One reason is this blog is focused on homeschooling while branching out into family and education issues. Another reason is I can not remember any one changing their mind after an argument about politics.

My mother sent me a link to a report on the money for 2008 Presidential Election. I was surprised to find that so far Hilary Clinton ($90M) has collected more money that Mitt Romney ($53M) and Rudy Giuliani ($30M) combined. I was also surprised to see that Obama Barack ($80M) has collected more money than the rest of the Republican candidates.

I think it is going to be an interesting election year.

Technorati tags: election year, presidential campaign, , ,

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

To those who are celebrating Thanksgiving today, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

From the presidential Thanksgiving proclamation:

"Americans are a grateful people, ever mindful of the many ways we have been blessed. On Thanksgiving Day, we lift our hearts in gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, the people we love, and the gifts of our prosperous land."

May you have many reasons to be thankful.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

While we are on the topic of politics

I must state for the record I am not for or against this candidate, but I really like his sense of humor.

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Is this a promise or a threat?

Obama calls for $18-billion boost in education spending

Manchester, N.H. -- Barack Obama proposed an $18-billion increase in federal education programs today, accusing Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards of shortchanging public schools.

The Illinois senator outlined a broad agenda to expand early childhood education, reduce high school dropout rates and improve substandard schools in impoverished areas.

I get very nervous when big spending politicians criticize each other for not spending enough.

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The Carnival of Education is up

This week's Carnival of Education is being hosted by the NYC Educator.

If you would like to submit to the next Carnival of Education, go here.

Technorati tags: education,

Monday, November 19, 2007

What does $7 billion dollars buy? Not much.

By the way, New York again leads all other states in school spending per pupil, according to the latest census figures. However, some of that can be explained by the higher cost of living. Waste is always an issue. With over a million students, it is very difficult for such a large organization to be efficient. It has been commented that there are more students in the system than people in eight U.S. states.

In school reform, billions of dollars — but not much bang

When Mayor Bloomberg took control of the city's schools, he made a solemn promise to raise student achievement and rein in a notoriously inefficient and money-wasting school system. In fact, in his January 2003 speech unveiling his administration's Children First reforms, the mayor suggested that the $12 billion then going to the schools was sufficient to bring about academic improvement. That's because he and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein were now going to "make sure we get the most value for the school system's dollar."

Five years later, we have new, unimpeachable data on the schools that allows us to assess whether the mayor's promise to deliver a much bigger education bang for the taxpayers' buck has been fulfilled.

The short answer: not by a longshot. First, let's examine the dollar side of the equation. The 2003 budget for the schools, Bloomberg's first, was $12.5 billion, including pension costs and debt service. About $1.2 billion of this total came from federal education funds, another $5.6 billion from the state, and $5.6 billion from direct city contributions. The current budget, including pension and debt service, stands at $19.7 billion. This represents an increase of $7 billion - more than 50% - in total education spending in five years.

All that money didn't come equally from those three funding sources. The increased federal contribution has been only $700 million, and state aid is up by some $2.3 billion. The increase in direct city education spending during the Bloomberg administration is a spectacular $4.3 billion, or 76% - the biggest surge in school spending in the city's history.

And now, with the release late last week of the urban district portion of the 2007 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), we have the most complete picture of how much - or, to be more accurate, how little - academic improvement that extra $7 billion has bought for our schools.

Every two years, the NAEP tests a sample of each state's fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading, and also compares outcomes in 11 of the nation's large urban school districts. The federal NAEP tests, often referred to as the nation's report card, provide the most reliable comparison of student academic achievement among the states, as well as of the degree of student improvement in particular states or districts.

In eighth-grade math, however, New York was the only one of the 11 districts to be more or less flat from the 2003 to the 2007 tests. And that was true for every ethnic and racial subgroup in the city. Fourth- and eighth-grade reading tests were even more discouraging for the city. There was no significant change in reading proficiency for fourth-graders from 2003 to 2007. And reading scores were actually down in the eighth grade. The average scale score for our students went from 252 in 2003 to 249 in 2007.

The reality is that $7 billion in extra education spending has so far produced only pennies' worth of academic improvement in most grades. The sooner we all face up to that bottom line, the sooner we can start speaking honestly about how to remedy the situation.

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

Having more than three children helps men live longer

Hey Men! Would you like to live till a hundred? There are some obvious things to do. You need to eat well, exercise and take care of your self.

A study led by Leonid Gavrilov found a surprising result:

"Both farming and having large number of children (4+) at age 30 significantly increased the chances of exceptional longevity by 100-200%."

The Chicago Center on Aging reviewed The World War I Draft Registration Cards. HealthDay reports:

"From 1917 to 1918, almost all adult males aged 46 or under were required by law to fill out these cards, which asked them to detail a number of physical and social attributes."

With the data based on these draft cards the study found a dramatic connection between having children and living to a hundred.

I wonder what connection is between men having lots of children and living longer? My first guess would have been the opposite way. The more children we had, the more worn out I felt.

One thought came to me after reading the article is that as we've had more children I've felt a greater responsibility to take care of myself so I can take care of my family. I use to go rock climbing in my twenties, but once I got married I stopped. I started eating better. It used to be that I often had seconds on desert. Now I'll go light or even skip desert.

(Hat tip:

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Reminder - send in a post for the next Carnival of Homeschooling

The next Carnival of Homeschooling will be hosted by Gary at HomeSchoolBuzz.

You have about 6 hours to send in an entry.

As always, 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,

Do you want your children to do better on math tests? Buy a 100 books

There is a joke that goes:

"A statistician refuses to fly after reading the alarmingly high probability that there will be a bomb on any given plane. Later he finds that the probability of there being two bombs on any given flight is very low. Now whenever he flies, he always carries one bomb with him."

In Readers are Leaders Carmon writes about a recent NEA study that found children from families with a hundred books or more do better on math tests. I wonder how many parents will go out and buy a hundred books. Like Carmon, I have trouble imagining a house with less than ten books.

The study, To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, is by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The report was just announced today and is hitting the news. Google News shows hundreds of hits. This report is a follow up to a 2004 NEA report.

Dana Gioia, the NEA Chairman, says: "This study shows the startling declines, in how much and how well Americans read, that are adversely affecting this country's culture, economy, and civic life as well as our children's educational achievement."

From the press release the key findings of the report are:

1) Americans are reading less
2) Americans are reading less well
3) The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications

The New York Times article that Carmon referenced says there are people challenging the claims of the report:

"The new report is likely to provoke as much debate as the previous one. Stephen Krashen, a professor emeritus of education at the University of Southern California, said that based on his analysis of other data, reading was not on the decline. He added that the endowment appeared to be exaggerating the decline in reading scores and said that according to federal education statistics, the bulk of decreases in 12th-grade reading scores had occurred in the early 1990s, and that compared with 1994 average reading scores in 2005 were only one point lower."

I don't know if reading is declining in the United States. I expect it is. One of the benefits we find to homeschooling is our daughters have more time to read. They love to read. They view reading as a reward.

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

School threatens parents with 10 days in jail

Why am I not surprised.

No Flu Shot for Kids? Go Directly to Jail

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (Nov. 17) - Scores of grumbling parents facing a threat of jail lined up at a courthouse Saturday to either prove that their school-age kids already had their required vaccinations or see that the youngsters submitted to the needle.

The get-tough policy in the Washington suburbs of Prince George's County was one of the strongest efforts made by any U.S. school system to ensure its youngsters receive their required immunizations.

There is some debate on the efficacy and safety of all immunizations. Whether it is dangerous, harmless or beneficial, forced immunization sounds like Nazi Germany. It reminds me of the medical experiments they would do on the prisoners in the concentration camps.

So Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols ordered parents in a letter to appear at the courthouse Saturday and either get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail. They could also provide proof of vaccination or an explanation why their kids didn't have them.

Who gave the school that kind of power? Even if I wanted my child to have a flu shot or thought it would be wonderful if every child was immunized, I wouldn't send my child to a school system that threatens parents with jail over such a minor point.

The fatality rates for influenza are highest for children under the age of 5, thus a forced immunization for school aged children is not much of a benefit to them. The Immunization Action Coalition which exists to promoted immunization states on their web page that "Influenza-associated deaths are uncommon among children...".

In fact, the fatality rate for school age children is less than 50 per year in the entire United States. Doctors recommend that routine flu immunization begins at age 50!! I don't know too many 50 year olds who are students in public school.

I did some research and found that the benefit of flu immunization of school age children is a reduced illness rates of unvaccinated adults, such as school staff and elderly. If vaccines were limited, such as during a pandemic, immunizing school children may provide herd immunity to the society as a whole. This phenomenon exists because schools and institutional settings are such a breeding ground for disease.

UPDATE: The headline mentions the flu vaccination, but I can't find it on the school website. It is possible that the flu shot is not required. However, I found that chickenpox was required.

Preparing for a pandemic is a great idea but forced vaccination of children is not the way to do it. It sets a dangerous precedent. So much for living in a free country. You are not doing someone a favor if you have to twist there arm first.

I did some checking on the Prince George’s County Public Schools and the surrounding community. I wonder what role demographics played in this policy.

Policies like the above mentioned are a reason why we chose to homeschool. Public education has become a weapon for political expediency.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Maybe not a good idea

Some home-schoolers shun shared campus

The home-school program in the Edmonds School District lost almost a quarter of its students over the past year in the wake of the district's decision to relocate its alternative high school to the same campus as the home-school program.

I can understand why parents are concerned. I would be a little concerned by this.

They cited police calls to the alternative school that included two incidents involving weapons and five involving drugs.

I see potential for problems.

The separation is so complete, in fact, that some teens at the two schools are hoping for more interaction.

"They're kids like us. If we could hang out with them, that would be cool," said Garrett Spesock, an eighth-grader in the home-school program.

I don't think I would want my kids to think it is "cool" to hang out with the stoners, gang bangers, drop outs, and unwed mothers who are the majority of students in the alternative school. That is not to say there are not good kids at the alternative school and the potential for positive relationships. I am saying that this mix brings with it a risk that I wouldn't choose for my grade school homeschool student.

My experience with my local alternative school has left me with a very bad impression of this type of program and the behavior of students who attend. My local alternative high school is a daycare for teenagers that hands out unearned diplomas. The students leave with an inflate sense of their abilities and zero competency.

If it were like the program in San Jose that Joanne Jacobs writes about, then it could be a good mix.


The 29th Carnival of Space is up

This week's Carnival of Space is up at Riding with Robots.

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Interview with Elizabeth Warren, author of "The Two Income Trap"

Steve Walden found this great interview with Elizabeth Warren, author of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke.

As Steve writes the interview is long, a full one hour; however, it is worth listening to. Even better - listen to it with any teenage children you have.

Elizabeth makes some interesting points. She says that over the last four decades the percentage of our income spent on food, clothing and appliances has gone down. I was surprised. It is the amount of of our income going to mortgages which has sky rocketed. I think she said that the average American family now spends 35% of their income on mortgages.

Elizabeth emphasized that one of the big problems with finances in America today is that so many people don't have reserves, so they have a hard time getting through a temporary dip in income. The point is made in The Richest Man in Babylon that you need to pay 10% of your income to yourself, building up your nest egg and reserves.

Another problem is when people are in hard times, financial institutions will offer to "help" people out. Elizabeth points out that credit card companies and other businesses are really just looking to milk people in trouble. They tack on fees (hidden in the fine print) and jack up the interest rates. The result is people in trouble slide out of their middle class life style even faster when they are "helped."

I found this interesting - Elizabeth says one solution is to have vouchers. This way parents would not have to compete for expensive houses in the "best" school districts. I think it would help, but I am afraid vouchers are not going to happen, maybe ever.

I disagreed with her premise that we need more laws. Elizabeth wants more regulation of the loan industry. I think the real solution is for people to be educated, and then learn some discipline. There are way too many people who spend like there is no tomorrow and when tomorrow comes they are sunk. More laws won't fix bad behavior.

The book sounds worth reading and I plan to check it out of the library the next time I go.

Technorati tags: Elizabeth Warren, finance, education

Unintended consequences - public schools and diet

Joanne Jacobs reports on the results of Boulder schools trying to force their students to eat healthy foods in Sweet and down low. Some schools banned sweets and sodas from vending machines. Several students saw this an opportunity.

Joanne writes:

"His parents thought he was selling drugs. He took them out to dinner to explain: He was a candy pusher using his Costco connection to buy low and sell high. Another Boulder boy got his parents to finance his candy purchases but complained when lower-priced competition cut into his profit margin."

I'd love to see where these entrepreneurs end up.

This reminds me a bit of prohibition. The school administrators decide to dictact what the students "will" eat at school. The students rebel. Many of them are still eating what they want to eat, but now there is an underground economy.

The school is teaching the students to break the law. I'm sure this was an unintended consequence.

Joanne concludes with: "...they’re learning economics, marketing and math."

Technorati tags: public school, public education, children, education