Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.

sitting kills book

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. By Dr. Joan Vernikos. Published in 2011. 150 pages.

This is another one of those books I stumbled onto while perusing the shelves of the local library. Just as its title implies, this is a little book which explores the science of how gravity, and our use of it benefits our body in terms of health and longevity. I found it fascinating because it the findings of the studies Dr. Vernikos unveiled were an education of gravity that I was pleased to get a refresher on.

It’s not a secret to anyone that sedentary living is damaging to our health and vitality. This is as common to us as our knowledge that the sky is blue. What this life scientist from NASA found however, is that the commonly proposed solutions -30 minutes or more of exercise, 3-5 times per week- is ultimately not the long term answer to the dilemma.

It’s not that time in the gym is without benefit. It certainly is and even improves health metrics on a few levels, including weight and obesity related disorders. It just isn’t the magic elixir we’ve all been lead to believe when it comes to long term health and vigor. To achiever that, in addition to good genetic fortune, requires a life that is active more often than not, and takes advantage of the inherent benefits of gravitational pull on those who stand and move more than they sit and stew.

The gist of the book is that if you spend most of your time standing and acting with the effects of gravity in mind, you increase your chances of being able to do things like stand up from a chair on your own at 90, if you live to see 90, of course.

The interesting thing about this book is that a lot of the tips and tricks the author recommends -as a result of the studies they’ve done at NASA on the effects of gravity on the human body- are things that are easy to do but that many of us don’t do. I was shocked to realize how often, for example, I unconsciously use a small amount of leverage such as my hands to get up and down from a seated position until I started making a point of doing as the book suggests, and getting up and down without using any leverage at all.

A lot of the research overview in this book (because I don’t expect many of my 10 readers to actually read this) can be found here:

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals (pdf)

We have been fortunate in our life to have been surrounded by plenty of lifelong friends and family members who have lifestyles and mobility that defy what our culture has been conditioned to expect when we reach a certain age. As I read this I was almost immediately reminded of the couple who run the ministry to the homeless and needy at our church. Our entire family works alongside them so we get to spend a lot of time with them.

The wife is 61, the husband 71. They are on the move -physically- almost constantly. They can’t sit still if there is something to be done, even in their own house. Their energy level is something the average 40 year old American would envy. They are textbook examples of what Dr. Vernikos describes in this book. I am standing as I type this review, which is actually not unusual for me, but I am certainly inspired to make better use of the inherent work our bodies experience from gravity simply because we’re standing up.

Lots of science in this book. I liked it, but it’s not something everyone will want to sift through. Luckily the second half is an action plan any person can skip right to and begin to make use of.

Not a literary masterpiece, but that isn’t the point. I learned a lot.

Grade: B

 

 

 

 

Write These Laws on Your Children

write these laws on your children

Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, by Robert Kunzman. Published in 2010. 240 pages.

When I ran across this book on the education shelf of our local library, I checked it out with a hearty bit of skepticism. Anytime a researcher is purporting to give readers a glimpse “inside the world of….[insert here]”, I expect that I am going to read a hit piece. I was pleasantly surprised.

Kunzman, despite his clear bias as a former public high school teacher, took pains to try (emphasis on try) to give homeschooling a fair shake and acknowledge the upsides as well as the potential pitfalls.

After what turned out to be a more arduous search for willing participants than he anticipated, the author spends significant time visiting with and chronicling the techniques, atmosphere, learning, and family environments of five Christian homeschooling families who live in various regions of the country.

The fact that the families who were willing to participate were scattered around the country was useful in the presentation of how the different families, despite their firm adherence to Christian faith, processed the delicate balance of homeschooling and the regulations or lack thereof in their particular states.

Of the five families he visited, only two of them had very large broods. One family, a Vermont pastor and his wife, were the parents of one child, a 12-year-old daughter. I appreciated the variety of family sizes represented rather than focusing on families of six or more since our experience “inside the world of Christian homeschooling” has been more in line with what Kunzman observed. While we certainly have very large families in our community, the vast majority are families of 3-4 children with “big” families such as ours being represented mostly by families of 5-7 children, and a scant few with more than that.

The families which provided the most comprehensive and satisfactory education experience in the author’s assessment included one of the largest families, as well as the family with one child. The other three families ranged in his opinion from adequate to what he considered outright educational neglect. Most of the families were like ours in that they were willing to begin to a la carte school subjects as their children reached the middle school years and beyond. Some of the teenagers were transitioning to community college as dually enrolled students while others would begin using public or private schools for labs and music instruction their parents were not equipped to provide at home.

There were a couple of families for whom this was not an option due to ideological or logistical reasons and unsurprisingly, they were the families whose children Kunzman felt were getting shorter educational shrift. This wasn’t in my opinion based on the information he provided, always  fair assessment.

My biggest problem with Kunzman’s assessment of homeschooling was his dogged and repeated insistence that because the children in the families represented were being raised with a strictly Biblical worldview, that somehow their ability to “think for themselves” was being short-circuited in a way that it wouldn’t be if they attended public schools. He frequently intimated that the public school environment is one where the free flow of competing worldviews and ideologies are offered for children to make up their own minds.

Public schools are every bit as ideologically rigid as devout Christian schools or Christian homeschoolers, and there is mountains of evidence to support the notion that colleges and universities are even worse. Nevertheless a couple of these “rigid patriarchal ideologues” allowed their teenagers to attend community colleges.

That he actually believed that public school are bastions of free thought, despite the parent attempts to argue otherwise to him, was a bit irritating. No one in the education monopoly seems to have a problem with student indoctrination into progressive ideology, which is exactly what happens. Students are probably less free to learn to “think for themselves” than they are in a Christian homeschool family.

In between the chapters where he spent time with the families -on and off over two years- Kunzman visited homeschool conferences and did interviews with officials at HSLDA. One short chapter dedicated to the suggestion that conservative homeschoolers are motivated by race also filled one of those spots, although Kunzman refrained from commenting except to note that three of the families he visited couldn’t have possibly been referring to race when they talked about the “public school environment” since they lived in places that were lily white.

The atmosphere at the homeschool conferences he attended was understandably very pro homeschooling and adversarial to the suggestion of increased accountability to the state to ensure that homeschooled students are getting a proper education.

Aside from his private conversations with the fathers of the researched families, however, there was little in the day to day schooling or curriculums which indicated that a conflation of Christianity and political ideology was a major part of their homeschool motivation. Kunzman found the same when he visited the churches of the families, which was refreshing to me because I have met very few homeschool families where politics is a major part of why they do this, or how they do it.

The book was more fair than I expected, and Kunzman did concede that there are public school turning out kids far less literate than the ones he felt -rightly so- were losing out on a good education. Overall, the book did a good job of asking questions as well as making me think about some things as we continue on our homeschool journey.

Grade: B-

No content advisory necessary.

Mary Poppins

mary poppins

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers, originally published in 1934. 224 pages.

“Don’t you know that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?”
Disney, especially, as one of the first things we noticed was that the book P.L. Travers wrote is pretty different from the movie Walt Disney produced.
Our third grader decently read this one and enjoyed it a great deal. She read large portions to me throughout the book, but I myself have not read it. The grade at the bottom will be hers, not mine.
This is a story we all know well by now. A chipper, cheerful, magical nanny floats into the banks household and whips the children into shape. It wasn’t long before our daughter noted, “Mary Poppins was much nicer in the movie!” There were also more children in the book than in the movie.
In fact, there were quite a few differences between the book and the movie. However, since we have had numerous occasion to dissect the differences between real books or fairy tales and sanitized Disney versions, our kid took the differences in stride.
The book was well written, stretched her eight-year-old vocabulary, and left her looking forward to reading more Mary Poppins books. It was a win.
She gives it an A.

 

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.

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

The Vision of the Anointed

vision-of-the-anointedThe Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy, by Thomas Sowell.  Originally published in 1996. 320 pages.

Upon learning of Thomas Sowell’s announced retirement I was motivated to read one of his books that I had not yet read. I chose this one because despite being over 2 decades old, it dovetails nicely with state of affairs in which we find ourselves in 2017. In fact,  his words are more relevant now than ever before.

The thrust of the book is exactly as its title implies, that our academic, media, legal and political institutions are increasingly staffed by those who view themselves as anointed to do what is best for we in the huddles masses by virtue of the fact that they know best. That with just the right amount of tinkering, social experimentation, and deference to their view of a perfect world, we would all be living in a utopia.

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

That is, we could, if it weren’t for the benighted plebeians. That would be those of us who make up the general public, religious zealots, and anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to the notion that degrees, microphones, and political pedigree make one the rightful arbiter of all that is good and right for everyone else.

In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume (1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted and (2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total: direct knowledge brought to bear though social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.— p. 114

This book is heavy reading, full of facts, and doesn’t flow with the ease of a book driven by a plot or even primarily by the political opinions and analysis of its author. In fact, were it not for the fact that I am something of an intellectual groupie of Dr. Sowell’s, I might have put it aside once I got the gist rather than reading through until the very end. If you have the time and temperament to sift through it all, it’s worth the read. He does what so few political commentators do: provides concrete evidence for the  conclusions reached and positions asserted.

It is easy to be wrong-and persist in being wrong-when the costs of being wrong are paid by others. p.136

And the cost, Sowell notes, is rarely paid by the anointed as they are far enough removed from their benefactors to never have to deal with the fallout of their outrageous social science experiments.

The presumed irrationality of the public is a pattern running through many, if not most or all, of the great crusades of the anointed in the twentieth century–regardless of the subject matter of the crusade or the field in which it arises. Whether the issue has been ‘overpopulation,’ Keynesian economics, criminal justice, or natural resource exhaustion, a key assumption has been that the public is so irrational that the superior wisdom of the anointed must be imposed, in order to avert disaster. The anointed do not simply: happen: to have a disdain for the public. Such disdain is an integral part of their vision, for the central feature of that vision is preemption of the decisions of others.— p 123-124

The way these gambits work is through verbal sleights of language. For example:

Another way of verbally masking elite preemption of other people’s decisions is to use the word ‘ask’–as in ‘We are just asking everyone to pay their fair share.’ But of course governments do not ask, they: tell. The Internal Revenue Service does not ‘ask’ for contributions. It takes. — p 197

Widespread personification of ‘society’ is another verbal tactic that evades issues of personal responsibility. Such use of the term ‘society’ is a more sophisticated version of the notion that ‘the devil made me do it.’ Like much of the rest of the special vocabulary of the anointed, it is used as a magic word to make choice, behavior, and performance vanish into thin air. — p 199

I could drop quotes all day, but time is short. So for the policy wonks, evidence seekers, and general nerdy folks who read here, pick up the book. Especially if you don’t possess a particularly conservative perspective. Sowell isn’t asking you to agree with him based on the depth of his feelings on issues. He is inviting his readers to take a look at the facts.

America’s Real First Thanksgiving

real-first-thanksgiving

America’s Real First Thanksgiving, by Robyn Gioia. Originally published in 2007. 48 pages.

I’m teaching a Florida history class to 4th and 5th graders this year and as Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the kids to what some historians consider the real first Thanksgiving, which took place on September 8, 1565. It was a feast celebrated between Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez and the Timucuan tribe in St. Augustine.

The significance of the nationally recognized Thanksgiving feast of 1621, led by William Bradford and Massasoit cannot and should not be downplayed, given that the British colonization of the New World laid the foundation for our country. However, no American history curriculum is complete without an exploration of Florida history, and for that reason, I found this book a valuable resource. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

It’s our family’s first holiday season without my father. As a result,  I’m reading very lightweight stuff right now, to temper the innate heaviness we all feel. We’re increasing extended family time, prayer, cultivating thanksgiving, and keeping the atmosphere devoid of heaviness. A few funny, fluffy, and even romantic books are in the review queue for the next couple of weeks. Consider yourselves warned.