Posted in American history, children's books

Little House on the Prairie

little-house-prairie

Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Published in 1935. 352 pages.

After my review of Little House in the Big Woods, I decided to skip Farmer Boy, the second book published in the series, and proceed with reading Little House on the Prairie as our nightly read aloud. The girls were very interested in what happens next with the Ingalls family and Farmer Boy is a bit of a digression from the series.

Little House on the Prairie chronicles what happen as the Ingalls family leaves their home in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and set out to build a new home on the prairie in Kansas.

Along the way they experience challenges small and great, but there is always love, solidarity, and Pa’s protection (not to mention his gun) to get them through. In this installment, Jack the family dog plays a prominent role, which the kids enjoyed.

The Native Americans (Indians) in that part of the country were an ever-present fear,  which Wilder handles with a fair amount of tact and finesse.

As this is a very well known series of books, I will keep this brief. The kids love it and are eagerly anticipating the next books which tell the saga of the Ingalls family.

It has taken a while to get through this one, as some nights -particularly during basketball season- leave us too tired to keep our eyes open. In addition, on a recent trip to the library, the girls talked their father into checking out Phillip Reeve’s Cakes in Space to read to them. We ended up alternating the two stories at night.

My kids knew I would never be interested in reading that particular story to them, but it worked out well. He not only read it but included appropriate sound effects, both human and technological.

As for Little House, if you haven’t read them do. Whether you’re 8 or 80, they are good books.

Grade: A

 

 

Posted in American history, books for women, Culture, style

The Lost Art of Dress

lost-art-of-dress The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, by Linda Przybyszewski. Published in 2014. 400 pages.

This is a book I wasn’t quite sure how to review because there were so many angles to explore it from that I didn’t know quite where to begin. So I decided to simply give you all the rundown, add a few quotes, and offer my recommendation or lack thereof.

In the early 20th century, right up until the “youth quake” of the 50’s and 60’s there were a group of women in various areas of the fashion, education, and home economy sectors known as “The Dress Doctors”. With the full support and backing of the federal government and education system, they taught women and girls how to dress themselves properly.

When I say they taught women to dress themselves properly, I don’t mean an out of touch, overly sophisticated, or expensive approach to fashion. Oh no! These ladies were all about looking the best you could for the task at hand, within the budget you had available. No matter how small that budget might have been, these women could show you how to work what you had to your advantage without breaking the bank. In fact one of the largest chapters in the book is the one on thrift. In other words, The Lost Art of Dress could easily be considered the every woman’s alternative to another vintage fashion book I reviewed here, Wife Dressing.

It covers the perils of high heels:

“If you cannot walk more than a block in your shoes, they are not shoes; they are pretty sculptures that you happen to have attached to your feet. You could hang them from your wrists for all the good they are doing you in terms of locomotion. Better to put them on a shelf and admire them from afar.”

No, I’m not giving mine up. A spare of flats mitigates any issues for me.

They covered issues of proper fit, noting that just because a garment isn’t bursting at the seams doesn’t mean it fits properly. She reviewed the Dress Doctors notes on the combination of thrift, art and femininity. The range of clothing subjects they covered left no stone unturned.

Unfortunately, in the 1960’s, as the youth quake combined with the feminist revolution kicked into high gear, the Dress Doctors were suddenly obsolete. In chapter 5, titled, The Fall of the Dress Doctors, she expounds:

What were the leaders of the American Home Economics Association expecting when they invited “militant women’s lib advocate” Robin Morgan to speak at their annual meeting in 1972? They must have read about how she and a hundred other women had thrown their bras, girdles,curlers, false eyelashes, and wigs into a Freedom Trash Can at the Anti-Miss America demonstration in Atlantic City in 1968. Morgan was scheduled to talk about women’s liberation, and they got an earful: “I am here addressing the enemy,” she announced.

Morgan accused home economists of turning young women into a “limp, jibbering mass of jelly waiting for marriage.”

This, along with the worship of all things youth which quenched girls’ natural desire to grow up and wear grown-up clothes like their mothers, signaled the end of the Dress Doctors and their impact of women’s fashion.

Thankfully, the advice within the book is timeless and I highly recommend giving it a read. It’s a wonderful combination of history, style, beauty, culture, and practicality. We are lone overdue for a resurrection of something resembling the Dress Doctors.

Grade: B+

Posted in Culture, philosophy, politics

A worthy muse.

Muse: As a verb, to muse is to consider something thoughtfully.

Hearth recommended a reading of the introductory chapter of the book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. She has been heavily considering the increasingly divisive and vitriolic discourse which dominates political and religious discussion in our country and thought we might find it interesting. I did find it interesting, and am planning on reading the book sometime this spring. Yes, it is pushing other planned works further down the queue.

I am inviting anyone else who has an interest in discussing such a book to join me and read the book to completion by May 1. I will post a review of the book at that time. To -hopefully- pique interest, I am including a few quotes from the introductory chapter.

“This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so while we’re waiting, let’s at least try to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, each one certain of its righteousness.”

“I could have titled this book The Moral Mind to convey the sense that the human mind is designed to “do” morality, just as it’s designed to do language, sexuality, music, and many other things described in popular books reporting the latest scientific findings. But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.”

“The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images that hogs the stage of our awareness. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.”

Already in the introduction, I can find areas of disagreement with the book’s author, Jonathan Haidt. The point isn’t to promote the book as a solution to the problems. What I am hoping to find within its pages is a fairly detached exposition of the situation.

Even if it fails that test, I consider it a worthy muse.

Posted in educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, homeschool, Uncategorized

Curriculum Review: Student Writing Intensives

 

swiLast year I asked for reviews of the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s program because we were considering using it with our fifth-grader. Because we are friends with several families who are a part of Classical Conversations (we are not), I wasn’t unfamiliar with it. It is the writing program endorsed by CC. However, I couldn’t get a good read on whether or not it would be a good fit for us.

The veteran homeschoolers who read the post were really helpful in helping me to narrow down what would be helpful and what might be expensive and extemporaneous. Not long after, as if it were serendipity, a mother who found the program too overwhelming let me borrow the Teaching Writing Structure and Style dvds. Frankly,  I found those overwhelming as well.

Included in the very back, however, were three samples lessons of the Student Writing Intensives, which the student is supposed to watch, follow along with, and do the writing assignments. I turned on the first lesson for our daughter, and she enjoyed it a great deal.

We briefly considered if it was worth the investment to buy the discs since theoretically, I could teach her everything covered through the program. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that this is one instance where it would be worth the $149 to buy the program and let Mr. Pudewa teach her the basics of how to write effectively.

It has turned out to be worth the investment. Firstly, she genuinely looks forward to writing and following along with the lessons in a way that she simply didn’t when I was teaching her the principles. Secondly, Andrew Pudewa is more entertaining and engaging than Mom, and his way of breaking down the principles of writing is simply better than what I could have come up with on my own. Lastly, her creative juices are flowing without as much interference from me. She’s a more creative and effective writer.

In a nutshell, I heartily endorse Student writing Intensives, and I agree with the original commenters here that if you’re already a decent writer, you can save yourself $100 and skip the discs on Teaching Writing, Structure and Style.

Posted in educational, nonfiction

Hidden Figures

hidden-figures

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly. Published in 2016.

It wasn’t long ago that I reviewed the motion picture based on this book, which was released earlier this winter. The movie was good, but as you might expect, the book is light years better in terms of content, information, and balance.

While the movie took pains to sensationalize the documented accomplishments and milestones achieved by three of the black female mathematicians who helped claculate the figures at Langley during the space race, the book offers a more well rounded presentation.

Shetterly takes the time to explore how the magnitude of the female computing offices  (white and black) impacted the space race, and how despite their enormous contributions, their work went largely unheralded simply because they were women doing the work:

“Women, on the other hand, had to wield their intellects like a scythe, hacking away against the stubborn underbrush of low expectations. A woman who worked in the central computing pools was one step removed from the research, and the engineers’ assignments sometimes lacked the context to give the computer much knowledge about the afterlife of the numbers that bedeviled her days. She might spend weeks calculating a pressure distribution without knowing what kind of plane was being tested or whether the analysis that depended on her math had resulted in significant conclusions.

The work of most of the women, like that of the Friden, Marchant, or Monroe computing machines they used, was anonymous. Even a woman who had worked closely with an engineer on the content of a research report was rarely rewarded by seeing her name alongside his on the final publication. Why would the computers have the same desire for recognition that they did? many engineers figured. They were women, after all.”

After laying the foundation of the history of the female computers in a more general sense, Shetterly then proceeds to unpack the admirable and history making intellectual and career exploits of the women featured in the motion picture: Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson.

The work and labor of the female computers was noteworthy not only because these women were among the most educated American women during that time. Unlike the white computers however, the black computers had to juggle the long hours and demanding work alongside marriage and family. Marriage for them did not signal the end of their working days, because their husbands were rarely paid enough to be able to support their growing families without their wives help and the substantial amount of income they earned as Langley computers. So juggle they did, because the opportunity being afforded them was too great to pass up:

“Their dark skin, their gender, their economic status–none of those were acceptable excuses for not giving the fullest rein to their imaginations and ambitions.”

Shetterly spends lots of time and effort pulling research not only related to the women she featured, but also related to the developments in aeronautics and space exploration so that her readers could follow along (as much as some of us are able to follow such things) as she revealed why the work the women did was so valuable, even though their work was largely hidden from view until very recently. In fact, it was something of a running joke at NACA (what we know as NASA) how little recognition computers got despite the fact that their work was so vitally important:

“Woe unto thee if they shall make thee a computer,” joked a column in Air Scoop. “For the Project Engineer will take credit for whatsoever though doth that is clever and full of glory. But if he slippeth up, and maketh a wrong calculation, or pulleth a boner of any kind whatsoever, he shall lay the mistake at thy door when he is called to account and he shall say, ‘What can you expect from girl computers anyway’?”

In spite of the downplaying of the work of the girl computers, and the obscurely tucked away accomplishments of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, we can thank Margot Shetterly for her tireless labor of love bringing the work of these women to the forefront. It is worth a read.

Grade: B

Posted in Culture, nonfiction, philosophy

Generation Me

generation-me-book

Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before,   by Jean M. Twenge. Originally published in 2006, updtaed in 2014. 304 pages.

At first glance of the title, you might think this is a book criticizing the character and behavior of millennials. Your first glance would be wrong. While millenials are certainly a part of Generation Me, the author makes it abundantly clear that the patterns and problems this book addresses encompass generations earlier than millenials.

It’s not about the boomers either. Although they take a bit of the responsibility for the mindsets they ushered in and the insanity that followed, they were raised by a generation of parents who had mostly instilled in them the tools to live a productive, reality based life.

No, this book takes aim first at my generation ( GenX), and then subsequent generations who drank our self-interested, self-centered Kool-aid and enhanced it with steroids.This author hits on some important insights about the way most of us have been conditioned to live, how unrealistic are our expectations of life, and how we are ill prepared for the realities of the way most of us will go through life: living an ordinary existence doing ordinary things.

Unfortunately for me, my curiosity was so piqued by this author’s work, that I went looking for other articles she had written only to find that while she did a superb job of diagnosing our post-modern problem, she is no closer to a solution to it than anyone else. Nonetheless, her book has several quotable points:

Why the label Generation Me? Since GenMe’ers were born, we’ve been taught to put ourselves first. Unlike the Baby Boomers, GenMe didn’t have to march in a protest or attend a group session to realize that our own needs and desires were paramount. Reliable birth control, legalized abortion, and a cultural shift toward parenthood as a choice made us the most wanted generation of children in American history. Television, movies, and school programs have told us we were special from toddlerhood to high school, and we believe it with a self-confidence that approaches boredom: why talk about it? It’s just the way things are. This blasé attitude is very different from the Boomer focus on introspection and self-absorption: GenMe is not self-absorbed; we’re self-important. We take it for granted that we’re independent, special individuals, so we don’t really need to think about it.

This is a pretty good introductory synopsis to what follows as you read through Generation Me. It is simply expanded upon through interviews, extensive research of generational surveys, and commentary from fellow cultural critics. One of the first things we note is the way media has shaped our collective delusion with respect to our specialness:

In the animated movie Planes, Dusty wants to be a racing plane. “You are not built to race; you are built to dust crops,” his friend Dottie warns him. But Dusty enters an international flying race—and wins. In another movie released the same year, Turbo is a snail who yearns to race. Close to the finish line in the Indianapolis 500, his once-skeptical brother urges him on: “It is in you! It’s always been in you!” Turbo wins, “proving,” as Luke Epplin observes in the Atlantic, “that one needn’t be human nor drive a car to win the country’s most prestigious auto race.” Epplin notes, “The restless protagonists of these films never have to wake up to the reality that crop-dusters simply can’t fly faster than sleek racing aircraft. Instead, it’s the nay-saying authority figures who need to be enlightened about the importance of never giving up on your dreams, no matter how irrational, improbable, or disruptive to the larger community.”

These movies are just the most recent example of the relentless cultural message to young people: you can be anything you want to be, as long as you believe in yourself. In the Google database of American books, the use of the phrase you can be anything increased 12 times over between 1970 and 2008.

Thankfully, there are parents out there who are cognizant enough of the realities of life to help temper their children’s delusions and try to guide them into a path commensurate to their abilities and talents, but for the most part, we are a generation (or three generations) trapped in a maze of circus fun house mirrors:

This ethos is reflected in the lofty ambitions of modern adolescents. In 2012, 58% of high school students expected to go to graduate or professional school—nearly twice as many as in 1976. Yet the number who actually earn graduate degrees has remained unchanged at about 9%. High schoolers also predict they will have prestigious careers. Sixty-eight percent of 2012 high school students expected to work in professional or managerial jobs, compared to 40% in the 1970s. Unfortunately, these aspirations far outstrip the need for professionals in the future; about 20% of Americans work in professional jobs, about the same as in the 1970s. Short-term ambitions fare little better: In 2012, 84% of incoming college students in the United States expected to graduate in four years, but only 41% of students at their universities actually do so. In The Ambitious Generation, sociologists Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson label these “misaligned ambitions,” and another set of sociologists titled their paper “Have Adolescents Become Too Ambitious?” Apparently the kids learned the lesson “you can be whatever you want to be” a little too well. This might benefit some, but many others will be disappointed.

Our young adult kids are in that lofty 41% of 4-year or less graduates (one graduated at age 20 and the others will be done by 22), but they did it on the cheap and at a social cost. Of course, they’ve known since they were pre-teens that none of us get to have “it all”. Despite economic realities, many people of our generation and subsequent generations have lofty career goals:

Young people also expect to make a lot of money. In a 2011 survey, 16-to-18-year-olds expected their starting salary to be $73,000, which they assumed would rise to $150,000 once they were established in their career. However, the median household income in 2009—for all adults—was $50,000, or around a third of the teens’ aspirations. Overall, young people predicted a bright future for themselves, even during the years of the late 2000s recession and its aftermath. Fifty-seven percent of high school seniors in 2012 predicted that they would own more than their parents; only 10% thought they would own less. In the 2011 survey, 59% believed they would do better financially than their parents.

Some people might argue that this is just youthful hope—after all, hasn’t every generation dreamed big during adolescence? Maybe, but GenMe’s dreams are bigger. While our parents may have aimed simply to leave their small town or to go to college, we want to make lots of money at a career that is fulfilling and makes us famous.

In other words, reality bites, and too many of us don’t know it because we’ve been fed a media diet for the past 40 years that has told us that reality is what we make it.

One of the most popular television shows among Christians from the mid-90’s until it ended in 2007, was the religious family television show 7th Heaven. The show, based on the family and life of a Christian pastor, his wife, and family of seven children was not immune to the propaganda:

In an episode of the family show 7th Heaven, 21-year-old Lucy gives a sermon to the young women in the congregation: “God wants us to know and love ourselves. He also wants us to know our purpose, our passion. . . . So I ask you . . . ‘What have you dreamt about doing?’ . . . What you are waiting for is already inside of you. God has already equipped us with everything we need to live full and rich lives. It is our responsibility to make that life happen—to make our dreams happen.” So if you want to do it, you can make it happen. But what if your dream is to be a movie star or an Olympic athlete? Or even a doctor? What if we’re not actually equipped with absolutely everything we need—say, a one-in-a-million body, Hollywood connections, or the grades to make it into med school? Well, you should just believe in yourself more. Yes, some people will achieve these dreams, but it will likely be due to their talent and hard work, not their superior self-belief.

One professor encountered the GenMe faith in self-belief quite spectacularly in an undergraduate class at the University of Kansas. As she was introducing the idea that jobs and social class were based partially on background and unchangeable characteristics, her students became skeptical. That can’t be right, they said, you can be anything you want to be. The professor, a larger woman with no illusions about her size, said, “So you’re saying that I could be a ballerina?” “Sure, if you really wanted to,” said one of the students.

The book will hardly provide revelatory information for many of the people who read here, but it is something most young people read as they strike out into the world. A little grounding is always in order so that we can do the best we can with hard work and ethical behavior within the scope of our reality.

Grade: B for good content.