Posted in Culture, educational

Real Education

This is a re-post of a review I originally offered  in 2013.

Real Education by Charles Murray. Published in 2008. 224 pages. 

Murray attempts to outline what ails American education and offers a prescription to fix it by exploring what he describes as four simple truths:

  1. Ability Varies
  2. Half the Children Are Below Average
  3. Too Many People Are Going to College
  4. America’s Future Depends on How We Educate the Academically Gifted

Ability Varies

This should be common sense but as Murray notes, our current educational model is based on the romantic notion that if we just spend enough time and money, we can ensure that no child, regardless of intellect, upbringing or motivation is left behind.

In this section the author takes pains to explore what IQ is, how it is measured and how it is distributed among the population of school aged children without pushing any hot buttons. He also gives credence to the 7 different types of abilities that can be found among human beings. Nevertheless he stresses, and I agree, that when it comes to academic success, the abilities (or intelligences) that matter most constitute a narrow range of abilities that not all of us are amply blessed with. This brings me to his next truth.

Half the Children Are Below Average

This is yet another bitter pill that Murray knows full well the educational establishment will not accept, but he offers it nonetheless. He rightly notes that when we push, prod and drag children to reach a goal they can never reach, we keep them from achieving the goals they can.

I am also inclined to vehemently disagree with his dismissal of the old adage that “everyone is good at something.” I understand his reasoning, given that his book revolves around education, but I dislike the absolutism of his statement.  Not everyone has a marketable or a talent useful in an academic context, but that’s wholly different from asserting that there are significant numbers of people who are good at nothing.

Are half the children below average?  From a purely statistical standpoint, I cannot disagree with this assertion, as uncomfortable as it makes me. I fully agree with Murray that our educations system’s failure to face reality is damaging to an increasing percentage of the school aged population.

Too Many People Are Going to College

This was the portion of the book that was most relevant to our current economic and labor woes, and I’m not sure I could do it justice.  I certainly appreciated the author’s exploring not only the fact that those not academically proficient should forgo university, but also that a not insignificant number of cognitively gifted people also waste time in the current university system we have in place. To quote Murray’s closing paragraph of the chapter:

Ask yourself what you would think if one of your colleagues submitted this proposal:

First, we will set up a common goal for every young person that represents educational success. We will call it a BA. We will then make it difficult or impossible for most people to achieve this goal. For those who can, achieving the goal will take four years no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward for reaching the goal that often has little to do with the content of what has been learned. We will lure large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability or motivation to try to achieve the goal and then fail. We will then stigmatize everyone who fails to achieve it.

What I have just described is the system we have in place. There must be a better way.

Indeed. There must be a better way.

America’s Future Depends On How We Educate the Academically Gifted

Here Murray begins by noting that he is not advocating for a way of American life that sets up an elite class as rulers over the rest of us. Rather, he is pointing out what is obvious to anyone who is paying attention: That our culture/media, education system, and political system is already being ran by those who were among the academically gifted in their respective areas. This is, has always been, and always will be the case.

He asserts that one of the most important things to teach these academically talented students is to be wise, because being smart is not enough. As a traditionalist Christian, I would have preferred that he extol the principles of Christian virtue rather than combining it with the virtues espoused by Buddhists, Hindus, and Confucians, but I understand why he did so. That we have elevated intellect as higher than virtue among the elite has become our undoing, both educationally and culturally.

Frankly, I’m not at all certain how we can teach virtue in a society where all paths are treated as equal and feelings trump all, but I applaud Murray for offering the suggestion.

After exploring these four truths, Murray rounds out his treatise by suggesting that we:

Let Change Happen

He offers several suggestions for allowing sanity to gain traction in the currently failing educational system. Among these are that the educator establish the limits of the possible rather than engaging in educational romanticism by finding out what each child’s abilities are and giving a safe learning environment to those students who want to learn.

Additionally he suggests that every student regardless of ability be taught a core knowledge curriculum, such as the one offered in E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Curriculum.  He rounds out his list with: letting gifted children go as fast as they can, teaching what he refers to as “the forgotten half” how to make a living, and expanding educational choice. From a post-secondary perspective he strongly suggests using certifications to undermine the BA.

Real Education is an honest critique of our education system, offering solutions untainted by political correctness that might actually work, if anyone would be willing to try. They won’t, but it’s still worth a read.

Posted in my friend wrote this book!, style

E-Book:Wardrobe Communication

Wardrobe Communication: Mastering the Art of Personal Expression, by Amy Fleming. Published August 15, 2016.

Okay, pardon me while I take off my detached reviewer hat. Have I ever worn one of those? I didn’t think so, but what good is a friend with a book blog if she can’t get at least 5 of her impressive 25 followers to go buy her friend’s book?

Hearth Rose’s book, Wardrobe Communication, is live. Because I have had the pleasure of reading it, I’m going to give you my completely unbiased review. Thank God – and Hearth- it is a book chocked full of useful information!

Wardrobe Communication is a short book designed to help its reader ascertain her personal style, her best color palate, and understand that whether we realize it or not, the way we present ourselves to the world around us acts as a form of communication. This, the awareness that my wardrobe acts as communication, was the biggest thing I took away from the book. It certainly however, wasn’t the only thing.

Covering every thing to the difference between style versus fashion to the proper way to wear a bra, Hearth does a masterful job of getting the reader to think about the significance of how we present ourselves without conveying that our clothes are the most important thing about us. On the contrary, rather than asserting that the clothes make the woman, she wants us to understand that our clothes should be an expression of who we are on the inside, whoever that is.

In addition to color and style, she is offers her readers an opportunity to weigh their clothing choices against their vocation, age, and stage of life as these are things we need to consider when deciding what message we want our clothes to display. And again, whether intentional or not, our clothes, just like our words, do send a message.

For example, as a medium toned black woman, I have always known that I look better in saturated autumn colors. What I didn’t realize is that despite the universality of black as a go to color, it should not be a go to color for me. I learned under Hearth’s advice that charcoal gray is my “basic black”, and I’m grateful for that bit of information. In other words, black is not universal and it does not look good on every woman.

I shared some parts of this book with women in my life as I was reading it because the advice was worth sharing. We agree that the best and probably the funniest advice was on the proper way to wear a bra. We laughed together at this right here in my living room:

So, since you are wearing a bra to appear younger and firmer, make it do what it’s there to do.  Your nipple is supposed to be about 3-4” below your armpit – no lower.   And it’s not supposed to show, so if you’ve nursed a baby or two, you might consider a molded cup bra.

Words to live by, indeed.

You really should check out this book. It’s well worth the expense and you will most certainly glean something from it that you can use. Whether you’re a housewife, an office worker, or just a volunteer at your kids pre-school, Hearth can help you put your best foot forward, but not at the expense of who you are.

Grade: B+

 

 

 

Posted in children's books, coming from where I'm from, Els' Rabbit Trails, homeschool

First Day of (Home) School

Today, August 15 is our first official day of home school, and there were grand plans in the works that didn’t go off without a hitch. The facade of the home, home school and home school teacher which all run like well oiled machines bit the dust today- and hard.

It all started with the summer Olympics, which should have been an indicator to push school off for another week. We always stay up late watching them and allow the kids to do so as well. This led to the children sleeping in a little later than I had accounted for on my very tight and detailed schedule.

However, for reasons I still can’t articulate if I tried, I was determined to start school the same week as the traditional schools (both private and public) in our area. Yes. I know this violates one the supreme benefits of home schooling in the first place. Didn’t I just tell you that I don’t know why I did it this way?

In any event, despite the hour and a half delay, things did get started, topics were tackled, fun was had, and learning took place. The house? That’s another matter so I need to wrap this up and get to the laundry. But first, a few book notes.

This time of year usually opens the door for me to read more adult books that I had been putting off due to summer travel and activities, but not this fall. In addition to my own children, I am also teaching a literature based homeschool co-op class built around exploring Florida and its history. This means I’ll be reading more children’s books than is  typical for me read in late summer or early fall.

The great thing about building  a reading list for this type of class is this wonderful Florida based publishing house, which is a wealth of resources on the best books, both new and old, written about Florida, by Florida authors, and containing Florida history. Depending on where you are, you might want to see if your state has a similar unknown gem.

My list of books in anticipation of fall co-op is as follows:

  • The Lion’s Paw, by Robb White: First published in 1946, this book was the only *must read* book listed on every site I researched for good children’s books set in or based on Florida history.
  • The Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo, by Jean Craighead George: Originally published in 1992, set in the Florida Everglades and categorized as an eco-mystery.
  • No Good, by John Hope: Originally published n 2014, a novel set in 1940’s Central Florida and chronicles the story a boy -can you imagine answering to “No good”?- and his foster brother. This one is too intense for 4/5 graders, but I’m reading it for my own enjoyment while hoping that this author will be a resource to draw on for our students later in the school year.

How are you guys preparing for the new school year? What are you reading? You know I’m always looking for book suggestions to add to the pile I hope to finish before I die.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Culture, marriage and relationships

The Secret Lives of Wives

secret lives of wives

The Secret Lives of Wives, by Iris Krasnow. Originally published in 2011. 288 pages.

Out of the box, let me make clear that this is a secular book, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t provide anything worth thinking about. From first the time I saw it on Amazon, to the time it was pushed back to the forefront of my thinking as I passed it in the library, the cover art made me curious.

Why do we need the mental imagery of Eve holding forbidden fruit to hear how women mange to stay married?

The publishers did an excellent job of selling the notion that the book would be filled with titillation. The only reason I read it at all was because I’d done some recon and knew that it was in fact, not filled with salaciousness. What it does contain however, is not the secret to staying married as much as it does a fairly straightforward template of different types of wives and different types of marriage which are often based in reality. There was very little however, that anyone who desires a healthy, Christian marriage could take to heart over the long haul.

There was the usual trope about keeping your interests alive, not abandoning your career, etc. These ideas aren’t particularly new or groundbreaking but were held up as such. What man wants a woman who turns into a boring Stepford automaton upon marriage? I’d wager very few but feminists still feel compelled to warn us, “If you’re married, make sure he knows you’re not going to ‘lose yourself'”. This author was no different.

One of the things Krasnow asserted would require “unflinching bravery” (p.35) , giving her pause whenever she was unhappy in her marriage was the prospect of finding someone new. She said she “can’t imagine unveiling a soft belly that had housed 4 pregnancies to a new partner who had nothing to do with destroying her once flat abs.” Unflinching bravery? Does she have any idea how many chicks do this supposedly hard and brave thing every single day? I was amused.

Many of the wives represented, Krasnow included, were quite elitist in outlook and lifestyle. For example, how many couples can actually afford to spend entire summers apart to take a breather from each other? We certainly couldn’t if we were so inclined so it’s a good thing we’re not so inclined nor need long breaks apart in order to stand one another.

I was pretty surprised that at least one of the women admitted outright that she wasn’t in love with her husband when she married him. That she was looking for someone who would be a good father, more mature, etc. However, because her goals were clear going in, it was easier to remain married. The self-awareness there was noteworthy and kept her expectations realistic, somewhat rare for the average bride..

The chapter on women who had affairs- representative of the cover art?- was less than shocking. There are always that subset of women who tell themselves they *need* a thing to be able to stand married life, whether shopping sprees, daily bottles of wine, or another man.

In chapter 6 (Why Love Lasts) were the women who have stayed madly in love with their men pretty much from the beginning. The undercurrents were familiar. They married very young to men who were either very handsome, jocks or possessed some quality and confidence that made the woman feel fortunate that he chose her. Those wives were the most inclined to endure and forgive a lot in order to keep their marriages together.

The underlying premise of grudgingly enduring marriage popped up often enough that I was dismayed by it. Right after the infidelity chapter (7) was the suggestions to keep male friends around while remaining chaste, to help you continue feeling attractive. (chapter 8).

There were very few marital memes that went unaddressed, proving the universality of the human experience. Despite my overall disagreements, the book does a good job of exposing the logic of women and the way we relate to our husbands depending on how we see ourselves in relations to them or our needs at any given time. It was a psychological exploration to someone like me, who has always had a high interest in marital dynamics and the way men and women relate.

The premium placed on staying married is admirable, but the focus on pragmatism at the expense of the transcendent was disappointing.

Grade: C+

Content advisory: This book touches on delicate themes, but never in a way that is crude or offensive. Still not recommended for anyone who is not married, though.

 

Posted in children's books, Mystery

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective

encyclopedia brown

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol. Originally published in 1963.

This is the first in series of books, each containing several short cases in which Encyclopedia Brown, son of the police chief in the fictional town of Idaville, solves crimes and mysteries for hire at a rate of 25 cents per case. Along with his body guard and business partner Sally Kimball, Encycolpedia uses his depth of knowledge and razor sharp intellectual instincts to unravel the cases that come across his desk.

The best part about the series is that the reader is invited to try and solve the mysteries based on the clues offered by the author as we walk through the facts of the case with Encyclopedia Brown. The solution isn’t offered in the case, but is tucked away in the back of the book, giving the child a chance to see if he or she can use their deductive reasoning to figure out how Encyclopedia cracked the case.

For our children, and for me too in fact, a few of the solutions were beyond their ability to figure out without peeking. However, sometimes the kids crack the case before looking in the back to compare their notes with Encyclopedia Brown’s and they find that very satisfying. It’s this opportunity to repeatedly attempt case after case that had our children continuing to read and check out more Encyclopedia Brown mysteries after getting a taste of their first book.

Grade: A

Recommended for ages 9-12. I would put this at 4-5 grade reading level. Our 3rd grader was able to read it and understand most of the time, but on occasion needed a little help grasping the full understanding of some words and phrases. No content advisory required.

 

Posted in autobiographies, Culture, nonfiction

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

better off 2

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, by Eric Brende. Originally published in 2004. 256 pages.

Eric Brende and his wife Mary embarked on an 18-month sabbatical away from urban life to live among a group of people he called the Minimites,  a community which eschewed all forms of modern technology. The author’s life, along with his wife’s, was irrevocably changed.

I first learned of this book after reading a review offered by Booky McBookerson. I was instantly intrigued, mainly because the author was interested in more than the popular arguments surrounding personal technology so prevalent today. He wanted to examine the way technology has impacted life in ways that we have long accepted as harmless, lifestyle enhancement that “everyone” agrees has made life better. For example, the burdens inherent with ownership of an automobile and the way cars impact our associations with those in our immediate vicinity.

He offers much food for thought and makes compelling arguments, but he does so in a way that is more engaging than academic. The memoir approach to recounting the experience he had with his wife during their time in this Amish community that wasn’t quite Amish enables the reader to think about these issues without a preachy tone. The experiences often speak for themselves.

One of the most important distinctions he makes is the difference between a machine and a tool, and the fact that we have badly conflated the two as one and the same. They are decidedly not, he argues, and I agree, an automated machine is markedly different from a human powered tool.

Ultimately, Brende highlights the things we instinctively know but have crowded out of our consciousness as we build lives and lifestyles which gives as much weight to technological conveniences and necessities as we do to communities and people, if not more so.

He often wrote about the hard physical labor that was a part of the life they lived there, but that it was infused with community and teamwork, giving him a new appreciation for the term “more hands make light work”. The lightness is not only a reference to less labor, but more pleasant labor because it isn’t being done in isolation.

His introduction of the concept of Gelassenheit was of particular interest not only because I’d never heard it before, but because it is stands in direct opposition to the world in which we live, while being exactly the approach to life those of us who are Christians are called to embrace:

…”he who keeps his life will lose it.” These adages, of course, come from the Bible, and they give expression to the disposition the Minimites held chief among Christian attitudes, Gelassenheit, or self-surrender. Gelassenheit referred less to any particular aim than to acceptance of what may be, a larger and partly hidden design that they did not fully understand.

Modern technology, I suspect, far from being neutral in its effects, has more than on underlying purpose or built-in tendency: besides reducing the need for physical effort (a kind of material surrender) it helps us avoid the need for cooperation or social flexibility (a kind of social or metaphysical surrender). All too readily it countermands the uncertainty that goes with Gelassenheit. Cars, telephones, message machines, caller ID, and e-mail give us unprecedented powers to associate with whom we want, when we want, to the degree we want, under the terms we want, finessing and filtering out those we don’t want-and thin out the possibilities of social growth accordingly. p. 80

Lest anyone misunderstand, I am as post modern as anyone else. I like my privacy. I was fairly mortified on the author’s behalf when the neighbor boy walked in on he and his wife at a most inopportune moment because it was the middle of the afternoon so why couldn’t you just walk into someone’s house?

I certainly appreciate my unprecedented powers to self-select with whom I will relate. I also understand however, that community based on affinity is not true community, and that my self-imposed boundaries also serve as a sort of social prison, albeit a very comfortable one. After all, technology gives plenty of opportunity for some sort of social interaction, no matter how imperfect.

For me one of the most profound downsides of our post-modern dependence on technology is the severe deficit of physical activity that plagues most of us. Working out is helpful, but it is truly no substitute for purposeful physical labor. Technology pays the bills here and we are probably never going to go much farther than walking to destinations under 2 miles and cutting the television off a few of days per week.In other words, what we do now.

The thoughts  presented here are well worth considering, and the writing was thoughtful, if occasionally choppy. Brende was good at translating his experiences into philosophical musings, but not so great at story telling in general. The story-telling wasn’t horrible, but it fell a little short from time to time.

I found this book an opportunity for thought and personal reflection on the ways we can slow down and experience life more fully and deliberately rather than a transition to a  completely tech-free life, or even a minimalist one. Technology is here to stay, but we can all re-examine ourselves and our relationship to it.

Grade: B-

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Bibliophile fantasies…

Collecting books from every nook and corner and shelving them in nice neat categories doesn’t even feel like work.

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Let’s see how long we can keep it this way. Those are my assistant’s feet down there. She’s in recovery after 3 hours of what can only be considered a labor of love.

I 💘 books!

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