Teach Your Children Well

This post is about learning.  It is not about schools, as such, though they are part of learning – it is about teaching and learning, though, the passing on of our civilization as it’s been passed on to us.  

In that respect, and as far as that goes, it is about writing too.  It is about every craft and everything – because it is about civilization and what is at the base of it.

I don’t know when I realized that not only weren’t most schools doing their job, they were going out of their way to not do their job and trying their best to keep kids from learning.  I think I started suspecting it as far back as elementary school.

Look, it was not much further than first grade when I had to teach Robert about spelling and grammar.  He went into school having taught himself to read, and clearly they weren’t teaching him to write.  Then I had to teach him long division – which because it is done with different symbols, etc, in Portugal means to this day he’s still doing long division by the archaic Portuguese method.  Then there was Marshall and multiplication tables.  It seemed like they weren’t teaching him to memorize them but expected him to know them.  He was doing okay – he’s good at calculating things in his head – but he was way too slow.  Teaching him by rote was like a revelation to him.  And there was, of course, the fact that Marshall has sensory issues which make him slow at reading and writing.  Or did.  The doctors gave us this list of exercises for him so complex that I didn’t get them, and I was supposed to give them to him.  They bored him stiff, so I had to chase him all over the house to make him do them.  And the more I thought of it, the more I REMEMBERED being so slow at reading and writing that writing my name (on average two surnames longer than my classmates) seemed like unusual hardship.  I remembered only the relatively lax village school saved me from having incomplete’s on tests because I was granted another half hour as a matter of course.  Yet by ninth grade, I was writing and reading faster than everyone else.  In between lay years when my father – who from his stories had the same issues – made me copy two pages of text an evening.  It seemed logical: I want the kid to write faster.  You do things faster with practice.  So I made him copy stuff (oh, the crying and gnashing of teeth) and I made him read aloud to me when I was cooking.  Within a year he was faster-than-age-norm.  His spelling and grammar improved, too.

Then came languages.  I’m not a natural foreign-language-learner.  I’ve seen what that looks like.  Drop my brother into a country whose language he’s never heard, and he emerges in two days, talking like a native.

I learn languages like I learn everything – slowly and with a ton of work.  I will forever be grateful to my first English teacher because after my first week in the class, when I’d been ignoring her because I had other priorities, she called me to the blackboard to conjugate to be and then, discovering I had tuned out the whole week, asked me vocabulary questions.  I knew nothing.  The humiliation was horrible, and I refused to be humiliated again.  I spent the weekend catching up and, because I knew the woman was clearly vindictive and capable of calling on me at any time, I stayed on top of the material.  I strongly suspect if that hadn’t happened, I’d never have been enamored of English, never have gone on to be an exchange student in Ohio… which means I wouldn’t be here today, posting this for you.

So when Robert just couldn’t seem to learn French, I thought “Well… he really doesn’t have a talent for language.”  And then one summer I looked at what he was actually doing in school.  He had three years of French then, had passed, but knew nothing.  There were French magazines and French games and pat phrases they learned.  NOWHERE was the basis of the language: verbs, vocabulary lists.  Part of this is because the taboo of translation.  Yes, yes, I know.  Some people learn better by total immersion.  People like my brother.  The problem is most people are NOT like my brother.  Most people need to know vocabulary and the structure of the language.  The other problem, of course, is that classroom (or even Rosetta Stone) is NOT total immersion.  You’ve not in the country, you don’t do everything in that language.  The other problem is that unless the person is already a linguist, acutely aware of the structure of languages and where the pieces go, teaching by total immersion… uh.  Find person who came into country as illiterate immigrant.  Now talk to them one or two years later.  That’s total immersion.  (The Columbian exchange student who came to the High School I did, speaking no English, by the end of the year could understand and make himself understood…  After a fashion.  Dan and I still talk about “Ricky English.”  For instance, he often said “You need go for store?” Understandable, yes.  Enough to allow him to function had he stayed here?  No.)

Of course by now you probably know I initiate wars of terror on my children in the name of learning at the drop of a hat – so yeah, Robert learned French that Summer.  The next year he read Dumas in French.  Which the teacher would say “see, that’s how you learn.”  BUT by then, he had memorized endless lists of vocabulary and been quizzed on irregular verbs, apropos nothing in the middle of the grocery store.

I thought about this because of my discussion with RES in the comment thread that will not die, about there being a distinct lack of knowledge of how to do things – even – particularly basic things.  My post cannibals was predicated on the belief that people know how to do things, but cut corners for profit or power, and of course that might be true in some cases, but I think it’s also not true in a lot of them.  This is my experience only, but I’ve found one good handyman in my married life, who knew how to do things I couldn’t figure out with a book and twenty minutes.  He’s dead (and sorely missed) now. Everyone else I’ve paid to do stuff because I didn’t know how, or didn’t have the time, the job was either so shoddy (tiles in the bathroom falling off after a week) I had to call them to redo it, or I had to bring out the encyclopedia of home repair and figure out how to fix it, or I had to live with an uneven kitchen floor.  Considering we buy fixer uppers, that’s a lot of instances, and while they’re not “data” they are significant.  I’ll add that most of these people were eager, honest and highly recommended.  And their work was OKAY.  Just okay, though.  Nothing a talented amateur couldn’t do.  (I’m not sure about talented, but I grew up as my grandfather’s carpenter “boy” so I’m not 100% amateur.  Just a very green beginner.)

This is not meant as an indictment of my kids’ teachers.  The school from which the younger just graduated was extraordinarily good.  When we transferred him there for the final two years, I was shocked to find there are still schools where the teachers love to teach and will learn stuff to teach if they have to.  BUT this is rare, now.  And part of it, I wonder if it is because these teachers don’t know how to teach.  They, themselves, weren’t taught as such.  They were just given principles that should work.

And then I thought about all the things I have had to learn to do, because not only was I never taught them, but there is no one around to teach me.  Stuff like proper ironing, or how to cook some things from scratch.  I find myself going to books pre World War II.

And then it hit me.  I have a theory.  I could be wrong, I often am.  BUT I think this is what happened to our civilization, causing the thread of learning and teaching to unravel.

Humans have always learned best as RES mentioned: apprentice, journeyman, master.  Even in the home we learned that way.  Daughters would be given simple tasks in the kitchen to keep them quiet and out of the way, then they learned those tasks and were useful at them, and learned a little more… and on.  Boys (and odd girls like me) followed father (or grandfather) around in the workshop.  They learned to hammer things in.  (For a long while I was nail-girl.  Yep, my job was to hold nails and proffer one when my grandfather called for it.  Only I wasn’t called nail girl, I was called “rapaz” – boy, synonym wiht apprentice.)  Eventually, at the end of this, when they were good at the simpler stuff, they learned the formulas for making varnish.  (School interfered.  I never did.)

This was the natural way of learning for rural, traditional communities.  One of the reasons sons used to follow fathers in the trade was that they already knew something.  This was not always so, though.  Both my grandfathers were carpenters though they both came from wealthy families who – for different reasons – chose to apprentice them to craftsmen.

Schools naturally taught the same way.  The kids lucky enough to go to school were taught by rote – that is, in simple tasks of repeating and memorizing.

Then came the twentieth century, the world wars, rapid industrialization, population mobility…

Part of it was the sheer disruption most of the world experienced, not just in the devastated countries.  But there was more – there as a need to teach people new things, very fast.  How could you be an automobile mechanic in the twenties by learning from your father?  Your father had never seen a car.

This gave rise to an industrial process of education.  Or rather, it cemented it.  The process was in place from the time of early industrialization and early nation states.  It created tenders for textile mills (more or less.)  But now, “experts” fanned out into the world to learn “best teaching practices.”  I.e. how to learn and how to teach.

And that’s where things went wrong, because humans aren’t all alike.  Anyone looking at me, plodding through verbs and conjunctions and coming out with errors will think “that’s no way to learn a language.”  Anyone looking at my brother emerging from a country in two weeks speaking like a native down to puns and word games will go “that’s the way to learn.”
One thing they missed – until I have his brain, I can’t learn as he does.  After the rote (after the first year, for English) I will profit from total immersion.  BUT the rote has to be there at the beginning.

The processes they replicated from language to learning to read were all for “exceptional readers” which… don’t work for normal human beings.  Rote works.  Rote is of course boring for the exceptional.  It is also – I think – boring for the teachers.

So they tried to make the exceptional work for everyone…

There are other issues there, of course, issues we won’t go into because I could be here all day.  But the thing is, for a while the sheer inanity of the process was masked by parents like me: parents who knew how to learn, knew how they learned, and while feeling guilty about it, took the kids aside and taught them by the age old method.  There were even some teachers who did (though I think administrators have run most of those out.)  But we’re now in the second, third, fifth generation past that, and people don’t know how to teach except by trying to teach kids (and adults) by methods that never worked but for a few exceptional people.

And we’re seeing this in all crafts – ALL crafts…  And the arts too.  There are things you can learn if you have a passion for them and you apply yourself.  Most things you can learn.  Heck, I’ve taught myself this writing thing.  But it’s not as easy to learn as if you were properly taught.  And it will leave holes.

I almost cried reading Heinlein’s bio, at his early editors and the time they took to teach him his craft, to guide him, to make him get a sense of what story was.  I got the same, of a sort, from reading Dwight Swain’s Techniques Of The Selling Writer.  But it was slow, plodding work and no one to tell me if I’d interpreted the instructions wrong.  Editors now expect you to come to them KNOWING.  And if your first book doesn’t take off, you’re out of there.  Because… you’re supposed to be a natural genius or nothing.  They’ve forgotten that people NEED to learn.  Even geniuses.  Perhaps there is somewhere, remote, a naturally gifted author who comes out of the gate good enough at all elements of writing.  No, wait, I know there is.  I just can’t get him to finish his d*mn book.

But that person would be “good enough” but not nearly as good as he could be… if he were taught.  Mind you, I think his arc would be more like my brother’s with language, but he still needs to have an arc.  And that person is one – ONE – I’ve met in a lifetime of tutoring fledgelings.

The myth of the genius, of the person “born knowing” is just that.  It works in movies and books and we – all of us – have forgotten it is not true.  Don’t fall for it.

Now… the internet is taking care of some of that.  People who are desperate to learn something can research it, find the old processes, practice it, talk to those who do it.  And that works fine for those of us who have a passion and a need to perfect a certain craft…  But what about the others?  What about the people who never even are taught to READ properly.  And don’t tell me they’re not capable.  One of the girls in my elementary school class was mentally impaired, probably at about six years of age for life.  She learned to read and write: clearly.  Yes, there will be extreme cases who can’t, but the vast majority of people are more than smart enough to learn to read and write – if they’re taught.

And what about the manual crafts.  It’s getting harder and hard to even find someone willing to do things like snake a pipe, even though it pays.  And part of it might be the perception of “menial” labor.  But part of it seems to be not knowing how, and not knowing how to learn.

We can’t afford this waste.  We can’t afford not to pass on the civilization bequeathed to us.  Things will only fall apart faster, unless we learn to teach and learn again.  In that respect, the thing that’s heartened me most is the parents in homeschooling and how homeschooling is becoming a movement of massive proportions.  They threw out the supposed best practices, and they’re just teaching their kids.

I think the indie movement will provoke a similar move in writing.  People will be able to “apprentice” by seeing what sells (not to distributors, but to the public) and then wading in and doing it themselves.

I don’t know enough to know what is happening in other fields, and whether technology is forcing us past that “don’t know how to and can’t learn” thing.  I’m sure commenters will inform me.

I just know that – barring brain implants for learning, and I wouldn’t count on them – it’s a civilizational hurdle that MUST be overcome.

Let’s figure out how.  Let’s get ’er done.

278 responses to “Teach Your Children Well

  1. ppaulshoward

    Besides the schools not teaching the facts/knowledge well (if at all), the schools don’t seem to be teaching “standards of behavior”.

    While the standard response to my comment seems to be “that’s the parents’ job”, I’m not sure if the parents are doing it. [Frown]

    • It might be the parents’ job, but the schools still need to set standards of behavior and hold students to them. And I don’t mean these stupid, “Zero Tolerance” rules that always wind up getting some kid who hasn’t really done anything that should be considered, “wrong” in trouble. Like the student who got suspended for having a small pocket knife in his Boy Scout bag in the trunk of his car in the school’s parking lot.

      • The schools also have to stop excusing violations of those standards based upon irrelevant factors like race.

        One problem they have is that — another way they are similar to prisons — their punishment options are limited; for many a pris … uhm, student, being kicked out is a feature, not a bug. Since they are no longer allowed corporal punishment their options run to things like in-school suspension. quelle horreur!

        • Marshall HATED detention which he got thrown into a lot in sixth grade because the girls bullying him did it by accusing him of various things. And of course, it was enough to be ACCUSED. No proof needed. (What tipped us that this was insane and our kid hadn’t suddenly gone bad — he wouldn’t talk, he was so wounded — is that they once tried to put him in detention for an accusation of doing something on a day he was home sick.) Anyway, he hated it because it was a small room full of dangerous crazies (as opposed to odds.) But I suppose if you are a dangerous crazy, you wouldn’t care.

          • Proves my point, doesn’t it? Marshall would have been happier being suspended. If he were the kind of thug who had actually been doing what he was being punished for then detention would have made him Lord of the Flies.

            OTOH, once the school’s lack of proper investigation of allegations were demonstrable you had a legal action for lack of due diligence in discipline practices and personal endangerment. Of course, that would require a lawyer willing to pursue the case (problematic if said lawyer’s practice relies on the patronage of those controlling the school system) and, probably, serios harm (as opposed to mere endangerment) to Marshall.

            • We actually TRIED this. No lawyer would touch it in town. Once it became obvious the kid was NOT a thug and fighting expulsion, they told us there was nothing they could do.

              The psychologist who tested him actually has a reference list for lawyers who will take these cases, but by that time all we wanted to do was pull him out and get out of that horrible school. I’m not sure in retrospect that was the right decision from the point of view of the system, but it was right for my son, who didn’t want to have to testify or deal with it anymore. And the first week I taught him at home, as he started perking up and talking to me again, it was like getting my kid back from the dead. I often say the year of homeschooling almost killed me — but that was JUST overwork. The year before was MUCH worse.

              • We knew a kid who got badly beaten for using the “N-word” to some classmates. Apparently he, who was Jewish, thought their use of the “K-word” meant such language was acceptable. His parents had to push HARD to get the school to open records proving that the attack a) was not justified by his language b) was not just a one-time occurrence but part of a pattern c) the group was already in the courts for gang-related activity. All of which required pressing criminal assault charges. Yes, it is extremely difficult to butt heads with buttheads — especially well-meaning ones. Add in the fact that the school was criminally liable for failure to provide adult supervision in a venue which legally required such supervision.

                We home-schooled the Daughtorial Unit in part because we decided we would rather fight her than fight her and the school. Pushing Marshall to destruction to fix the system might have been “the right thing” for the schools, but nobody owes the community that sort of giving back.

                • “but nobody owes the community that sort of giving back.”

                  hear! hear! Children do not need to pay for the adults’ stupidity.

                • You may not be able to print it here, but I am drawing a blank on a ‘K-word’ for Jew.

                  • Rhymes with the short form of bicycle.

                  • My uncle got in trouble for that, too.

                    Along with calling a black guy “boy,” which was what you called EVERYONE that wasn’t “sir!” when he was growing up.

                    I learned a dozen different racial slurs when the Catholic-hating black chaplain (who, horrifically, openly committed adultery with TWO different XOs and ordered an RP to not play D&D or she’d get him kicked out of the service as being unfit to help with religious administration– just to paint a picture) was trying to force people to come out and say the “n word” as an example of racism. I had NO IDEA there were so many rude words for groups– all I could think of was “war hoop!”

                    • The etymology of the term is interesting and innocuous, supposedly stemming from Ellis Island, like many derogatory terms.

                      Funny how so many go about teaching their kids whom it is permissible to hate. According special treatment according to race or gender identity is one of the most effective means.

                    • Also interesting how so many words that used to be perfectly acceptable become derogatory, or the other way around. I suffer with cluelessness with some of them, the ones that were used so commonly as I was growing up that not only did I not consider them derogatory, but didn’t even realize someone else might until that was pointed out to me.

                      A couple examples; The local reservation’s tobacco shop was called “the ‘Jun store” by one and all including the local indians. I didn’t realize this was derogatory until someone got in trouble at school for saying it in hearing of a teacher. Another was ‘jewing’ someone down in price, I honestly never even thought about the origination of the word until I heard the radio commercial that came out a couple years ago. It was simply a word I knew the meaning of since before I was old enough to remember.

                    • When I was about 12 years old, I discovered an old woman that lived in the woods near my house, in a shack she’d obviously built herself. She was as black as any black I’ve ever seen. She used the N-word to describe herself. We became quite good friends, although I didn’t believe everything she told me (how reasonable was it to believe in 1960, that she had been six years old when the Civil War started, and died the same year I graduated from high school, 1964?), but she did teach me some basic herbal medicines and a lot about voodoo. Using that same word in the Air Force got me into huge trouble. I meant nothing derogatory with it, but the people that overheard me didn’t like it and let me know.

          • How horrible. Girls can be so vicious. We had a girl in our neighborhood who would terrorize the neighborhood kids (biting, kicking, and punching). At one point we called the police. Did you know that in Nevada, a child under nine can’t commit a crime? Even if he or she causes physical pain on another child and you can’t get the parents to do something about it? I used to have respect for the laws and the police… now it is just silly.

            • Well, of course they can’t. But the parents commit a crime if the kid does– age of reason and all.

              I have no doubt, though, that most cops don’t even KNOW that. (Had a friend up here in Washington that got great joy from asking cops and other wise guys if you could take a right on a red arrow light. You can’t. ONE in all the hears she’s been asking got it right.)

              • So true – the right on red is actually from California and even the Nevada cops don’t enforce that one any more. I found that unless you have enough money to sue the parents, you won’t get any help at all. And if you do something about it, (as a neighbor found out) you will spend 90 days in jail because you tried to stop a child.

                • I should have said that that law was broken in CA and spread across the West. It was already being broken in 1979 about the time I got my first license. Also U-turn laws are different in different States. In Utah you couldn’t do a U-turn on any road. You would have to do a turn onto a side road. Nevada – you can do U-turns on any road unless it says not to do it. 😉

                • Right on red used to be legal in Washington, when I lived there, but that is on the round red light, not red arrow.

                • I am thinking round light – yes – no right turns on any red arrow ever… I see it violated all the time though.

                  • Right on round red light is a Federal requirement — traffic laws aren’t a Federal matter, but it’s one of the things required for a State to get roadbuilding, &ct. assistance from Washington. The excuse is that it’s a saving in fuel. If it’s safe to proceed, sitting idling while waiting for the light to change wastes gas.

                    Arrows and other restrictions at specific intersections are still legally enforceable without argument from the Feds, but if a State starts deploying them generally questions start being asked. Louisiana had that problem right after the requirement was first introduced.

                    Californians are an entirely different subject. They’re the best drivers in the world; if you don’t believe it, just ask them. It might even have been true thirty or forty years ago.

                    • The City of Philadelphia, where the center city has almost entirely one way streets, had problems with the turn on red issue. It was decided to post signs at some intersections that there was no turn on red. (Federal law allows restriction of right on red where there are issues, such as obstructed sight lines.) Problem was that the only legal turn at a few of these intersections which were posted was a left. That led to the conjecture, by some clever persons, that the city now had left turn on red at those intersections which were not marked as restricted. Don’t know if anyone tested it out… People can be silly.

                      As to California drivers, I really don’t know. But the most frightening driving I have ever seen was in Georgetown (D.C. area) in the early 1970s. Some of the best was central Indiana, where, on an interstate the traffic perfectly zipped up when merging down to one lane for a construction zone without significant loss of speed. If I had not experienced it I would never have believed it.

                    • I’ve been back and forth around the country, and Seattle drivers seem the worst taken as a whole. The driving style of Thailand but on roads that let them go much faster, a lot of Canadian tourists, tons of illegals from Mexico in cars that were officially totaled years ago and the cops are typing on their computers while doing 70 in a 60 zone. (Totally. Not. Exaggerating.)

                    • Foxfier, of course they are, there are tons of California transplants there! I once road up to Seattle (from Centralia-Chehalis area) with a girl that had just moved back from California. Zipping along up I-5 about 85, she was blithely passing people on both left and right shoulders. Turning to me, I really was wishing she would keep her eyes on the road, she stated in a somewhat confused voice, “I don’t understand it, nobody passes on the shoulder here?”

                      And yes on both the cops typing while driving 10 mph over, and the illegal immigrants. I always remember when I was in school we had a bad ice storm, the school bus was stopped because there was 5 cars in the ditch on one corner (7 including the tow truck before it was over) and several of us older kids were out helping people (including some of the kids parents, who were driving some of the cars in the ditch). Their was a sheriff there, parked back up the road a quarter mile, with lights flashing, while he stood in the other lane and waved cars to stop. Here came a vanload of treeplanters doing 50-60 mph, they just swung into the other lane and went around the cop car (causing the sheriff to dive out of the road) without slowing down. One of the adults looked up and screamed, “Run, they’re Mexicans!!” One of the women looked at him questioningly, and he yelled, “they can’t drive when it’s dry out!”

                      We all scattered and sure enough they came flying into the corner, started to slide, locked the brakes up, and totally smashed the neighbor ladies car, that up until then was undamaged.

                    • Amazing what you can do when you don’t have to worry about your car being legal to drive, eh? (The ones in my home area do it for fun. I’ve been able to avoid too much interaction over here–I’m too much of prime victim material.)

                    • Foxfier, west side or east side?

                      One of the many side benefits of moving to Idaho is not having to deal with that anymore. The main driver complaints I have here is drunks, and that they seem to have never taught anybody that your supposed to dim your headlights when following somebody at night. And many of the drunks drive very carefully, because they don’t want to get pulled over.

                    • We moved to Central-east-of-the-Cascades when I was a teen, and after the Navy my husband and I ended up in the Seattle blob. He’s from San Diego and around DC, both did school in Florida, so we’ve got a pretty good notion of national driving…issues.

                      On drunks– I’m a really big fan of removing “drunk driving” and various other laws and just applying the basic “creating a hazard/dangerous driving” rules. If I get hit by some moron driving on the sidewalk, I don’t care if it’s because they’re drunk, high, or borderline personality disorder psychos who value other peoples’ lives less than where ever they’re headed at the moment. Likewise, I don’t care if someone is on the phone, I care that they cut me off– if it’s because they’re a twit or because they’re on the phone doesn’t matter to my little girls if they get hurt. (Although I get rather creative in maledictions on exempt vehicles that do so…..)

  2. This lecture by Stephen Krashen demonstrates the difference between language immersion done wrong, and immersion done right:

    Notice how, after his second example, you are already starting to learn some German, even if you spoke not a single word of German before watching the video. That’s the difference a good teacher can make.

    • yes, but look, that’s part of it MOST teachers aren’t exceptional, just like most students aren’t. You can’t require that. You need the “default method that works on everyone” for the average. Then if the kids are turning off, move them ahead. (For the gifted just more/repetitive work won’t do it. Though even they can learn with it at the beginning.) Trying to make everyone exceptional is leaving us with vast swathes of people who don’t learn at all.

      • But you can learn what methods work well, and make yourself one of those exceptional teachers…

        • No. Sorry, but again, you’re going on “the perfect.” You can learn some of it, but you can’t have the perfect class, the perfectly motivated students, the perfect…
          Basic methods ALWAYS work. They work in mud huts, writing on the ground with sticks with distracted kids who must run off to feed the water buffalo. Please, understand, I AM talking of that I have experienced and been trained in. The “theory of perfect learning” does everyone a great disservice.

          • Okay, I see the difference in where we’re coming from. Most of the people I’ve interacted with in language learning have been missionaries, who are highly motivated to learn the language they’re studying because it’s a necessary step to something they feel passionate about (spreading the message of Christianity in the local area, in the native language of the people they’re talking to). Whereas you’re looking at methods for teaching not a bunch of highly-motivated adults, but a classroom full of high-school or junior-high teenagers who probably want to be anywhere but here. Yeah, different methods will work best in these two very different situations… 🙂

            • Yes. Exactly. I also taught business men who needed to know the basics to know they weren’t being rooked. Weirdly, after finding it was “easy” tons of them went on to learn the language to fluency.

              • Weirdly, after finding it was “easy” tons of them went on to learn the language to fluency.

                I don’t find that too surprising, actually. One of the best predictors of success in learning something is how much work you’re willing to put into learning, and highly-motivated people tend to be willing to put a lot of work into it. And the surprise of “Oh, hey, this isn’t as hard as I thought! I really can learn this!” is an excellent motivator. Not to mention the glorious feeling you get (well, I do at least) when it finally goes “click” in your brain… like when I finally “got” the Thai alphabet and could read the dictionary without needing to look at transliterations any more. That was exhilarating and pushed my motivation sky-high.

                • The other thing is that, even if you are super-good at osmosis, you will have holes in your knowledge acquisition, and you probably won’t know what they are. Until they smack you in the face, or you meet somebody with a different accent, or you’re feeling tired or sick and can’t think straight. Rote is for knowledge you need to have ground-in.

                  And yes, even native speakers learn language or reinforce language by rote; it’s why little kids have so many sing-songy rhymes and songs, and why babies have babble-habits.

                  The prejudice against rote learning is horrible but hard to overcome. Parents and teachers are a lot better at enforcing it than most adult people are at enforcing it on themselves.

                  Rote learning of certain expressions of cultural, religious, and academic values is also very useful, because it helps you have something to lean on when you are confused or sick or tired. Hence the popularity of proverbs, and the determination some people have to get rid of them. You can teach kids concepts that way which they won’t need for a while yet, and they’ll unpack themselves when it’s time.

                  • *lightbulb*
                    Aren’t computers perfect for rote teaching? I know most folks get driven insane by it… but a computer isn’t sane in the first place.

                    • I like some types of computer training – and yes, you can make multiplications and other rote learning as fun.

                    • I believe it has come up here before, but there has been recent remarkable success using “Master Teacher” presentations on computer with in-classroom teachers assisting as necessary.

                    • I’ve been using Anki for my rote learning. It lets me do flashcards with audio so I can both see the word and hear what it is supposed to sound like. It also does the Spaced Repitition System that Pimsleur (I think) came up with, where a flashcard you’re having trouble remembering gets shown to you often until it starts sinking in, but the flashcards that are easy get pushed to the back of the deck and you only see them every three weeks or so, just enough that they don’t slip out of your memory. (How does the program know whether you found it easy or hard? Simple: after answering the card, you click on one of three buttoms, “Easy”, “Medium”, or “Hard”, to rate how easily you remembered the answer. Or you can click “Again” to say “I didn’t know the answer, so keep showing it to me until I learn it.”)

                      As you say, a human teacher would be bored out of his/her skull just presenting flashcards over and over… but computers never get bored.

                • Not to mention the glorious feeling you get (well, I do at least) when it finally goes “click” in your brain… like when I finally “got” the Thai alphabet and could read the dictionary without needing to look at transliterations any more. That was exhilarating and pushed my motivation sky-high.

                  Woot and whoo-hoo! I have trouble with transliterated Greek now, it seems awkward.

                  I still remember the day I picked up a copy of a Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (Loeb Classical Library) off the shelf at a book store, opened it and realized that I had read and understood a couple sentences without thinking ‘I am reading Greek’ but simply reading it. Yippee!

                  I think for The Daughter it was the discovery that she could do her grocery shopping in Japanese, reading the labels and all, while she was in Tokyo for a summer language program.

              • OK, let me get weird. I really do not know why we do not teach language in Elementary. I mean more than introduce a few phrases, really teach a language. Don’t waste my time telling me these youngsters can’t do it, there are children in many parts of the world who have.

                Studies have indicated that the earlier you learn a second language the more of the brain becomes involved and the more natural all other language acquisition becomes. (At least this was the science at the time I last looked into it.) Younger children seem show to appreciate the sing song of reciting conjugations and declensions far better, as well.

                • Perhaps. I’m divided on this, mostly because I learned French at 11, English at 14 and German at 16 and I resent being told I’ll never be fully fluent in English.
                  I’ve HEARD that children in elementary school learn languages better. I know Scandinavian countries teach them that early. BUT none of the Scandinavian students (en masse, there might have been exceptions) in my year had a leg up on the Portuguese who learn as late as the US or later. Of course, the methods were different. Perhaps the Portuguese (then) memorize and learn to conjugate method was more effective than the “whole language” method Scandinavia used? Would it be more effective teaching the very young by old fashioned methods? Who knows? Look, Elizabethan kids learned Greek and Latin as early as five, and most educated men were fairly fluent in them. So… perhaps?

                  • As I recall (always a phrase fraught with frightening implications) there were brain science studies — MRIs? CAT Scans? — indicating different areas of the brain lit up depending on when you learned your languages. For those who learned later in life, no matter how fluent, the activated brain areas indicated two processing activities: language and translation. For early learners only the language area was activated, there was no translation necessary.

                    It is possible, even likely, that for some people there would be no time lag for the translation. OTOH, it would explain how, for example, Charles Krauthammer’s father, fluent in 7 languages, collapsed them into a single language while under the effects of Azheimer’s — no translation going on, all in one brain area.

                    Speaker? You there big guy? Any information here?.

  3. I like the apprenticeship model. I have four brothers and seen how learning works in their lives. My 2nd brother went through an apprenticeship on fixing cars. By the time he was eighteen he was a mechanic, early twenties master mechanic, and now he owns his own business. My first brother couldn’t read, but has an excellent memory (he has extreme dyslexia). He became an officer in the Merchant Marines by going through their program (taking the tests) and having someone else read to him and tell him the concepts. He had already been involved as a boiler tech apprentice – never went to school.

    My third brother has a talent with languages. He now speaks Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, and of course his own language pretty fluently. You drop him anywhere and he learns the language quickly. Of course, once again he was in Brazil the first time as a missionary. His companion was Brazilian and spent hours correcting my brother’s speech. Because of that experience he can quickly dissect and understand most Romance languages.

    My fourth brother knew computers (my dad was an electronics tech in the Navy and passed info to him) well before he got his degrees in economics and accounting. In his company he is the computer guy because even though he is good at accounting his talents and skills are better with building better computer systems than playing with number systems.

    Also, learning did not come easily for me. I start out slower than anyone else in the class. I go home and read, read aloud, and look for more info. If I am learning something I need to know it to the roots before I start to pick up what other students get naturally from the material. Once I get the roots then I am unstoppable. I did that with electronics, reading, biology and a lot of other subjects.

    My talent with writing (natural genius?) was the only skill I had that started from elementary school. But, without a teacher and/or mentor, my writing has taken the long road. I found it hard to write stories after learning the essay from really well.

    I do have a theory about why we start slow. If we didn’t have a period to overcome, then learning would be too easy and we would data-dump the info we need for later in life. I have seen people who memorize and then dump – they look smart for a time, but not for the long-haul.

    • Just a note: When I was going for my Masters in Adult Education (it was interrupted by my disease), I went through a learners class. They told us that there are three types of learners – visual, aural, and synesthetic. Now I wonder about their premises. The one thing I remember from the class was that body thinkers (synesthetics) needed to have something to feel when they were learning something new. Plus most boys are considered synesthetic learners. The course was more for dealing with and teaching Adult learners, but I think rote may have worked with adults too in certain materials. Also, do you know how many adults don’t know or don’t remember their multiplication tables?

      • sigh. I only remember them in Portuguese. BUT yeah — we’re “discovering” all these issues…
        Is dyslexia real? Sure as heck. I’m dyslexic. Very. I learned in a village school, though, with an untrained teacher. (Yes, there will be extreme cases like your brother, they’re documented in history, but they’re one in a million.) Are Marshall’s sensory issues real? Yep. Do the fancy exercises solve them? Yep. But so does copying things till his eyes bled. It’s just not as “fun” or “perfect.”

        • We are trying to explain to my hubby’s daughter that her son needs practice… I mean with his eye troubles and fast brain, he needs to have his hand moving over and over with numbers, alphabet, words, etc. Rote.

          • YES. You may tell her, it worked for younger boy. Mind you his revenge was to write so small I can barely read it, and that stuck — but he’s a stubborn b*stard. I don’t know whom he takes after. At all.

            • Sounds like my grandson – snort. he would have his revenge, but at seven it isn’t too bad yet. lol

              • We don’t usually practice the more advanced memory skills, like building a “memory palace.” But they would probably help a lot of people with different kinds of learning skills. (And be somewhat more fun that audio rote memory.) 🙂

            • As my grandmother would say, “I don’t know where [child, grandchild] gets her stubbornness! I’ve got all of mine left!”

              (And for reading, two generations — me and my kid — used the iahp.org / Glen Doman “Teach Your Baby To Read” method. Works very nicely, in my experience, and makes us pretty fast readers. I wish I’d had the brains (hypothyroid, undiagnosed, ahahahahaha WHAT BRAINZ?) to do word-cards in a foreign language to give her a boost, but I’m a monoglot. 😦 )

              • My thyroid is almost certainly depressed, because it’s the side effect of the meds I use to control eczema. Well, it is you use it more than 2 years… like … 49. I’m still going to learn ancient Greek with the kid this summer. Oh, and write books. Bah. The thyroid can try, but it can’t STOP me.

            • I have a choice: very small, but legible ‘writing’ (it really is more like drawing) or unreadable.

              • CACS for all I know that’s what Marsh does too. His handwriting is identical to my dad’s

              • I tend to write either very small, or all caps to be easily readable to others. The all caps came from when I started surveying, all notes were required by the company I worked for to be written in all caps, because it is more easily readable than lower case when written by somebody with poor handwriting.

                I can write very fast (I used to write English essays in the five minute passing period between classes) but my penmanship is atrocious unless I conciously work at it; and I never really learned cursive. My mother still complains 25 years later about my 3rd grade teacher; who refused to teach me penmanship or cursive because, “he is so smart he is going to be a doctor, he doesn’t need to learn penmanship, all doctors have horrible penmanship.”

      • The Daughter just finished a degree in Phys and told me (at length) that the latest research indicates that there is no real difference in outcome based upon classroom application of the various learning styles. (Although I believe that there is evidence to support that the more senses employed in learning does make a difference.)

        I find this counter intuitive. When I am learning something that requires the use of my hands, such as knitting I think I do better when I use my hands. But that may not be what is meant by kinesthetic when it is applied in the classroom. 😉

        • It depends on the teacher I think CACS – I was going to teach Adult learners so it is different than the K-12 crowd I think.

        • the latest research indicates that there is no real difference in outcome based upon classroom application of the various learning styles.

          Unless they included a “sorting” style of education, wouldn’t that just mean that they all fail a section of the population? (Sorting style: you test out of a class, and don’t go on until you do; you can test out frequently.)

          • I believe that when you compared students that were screened for ‘learning type’ and received modified teaching based on their assesment they ultimately did no better than similar students who received standard instruction.

            • But the process produced lots of highly paid consulting and testing payments and justified lots of certification bonuses for teachers.

            • I’m sorry I wasn’t very clear– I mean sorted by achievement. I’d call sorted by learning styles “classified” or something.

              My big peeve is “social advancement” and forcing people who could test out of a class to stay there.

              • Yes on the ‘social advancement.’ I realize many people go to school for the ‘social aspects’, but that is not what school is for, the purpose of school should be to teach students, if the students know the subject they should move on to something they don’t know.

                • When the Daughtorial Unit started Middle School we were informed that they did not worry about academics but focused instead on “socialization.” Our realization that this focus did not involve any kind of enforcement of social norms was a contributing factor to commencement of Homeschooling midway through that year.

                  • Just a note – schools don’t socialize… that should be the exclusive province of families esp. parents. What happens when kids are raised by child care and the school system, they become violent and unruly. I found this out when I worked in a School Age Program. I lasted six months.

                    • Violent and unruly, yes.

                      I was called by a Vice Principal one afternoon. She started by profusely apologizing for interrupting my day. (Apparently some parents don’t care what happens at school, so long as their day is not interrupted.) She asked if I could come in. It seems that during a class change after gym, a young man who was on permanent in-school suspension, had hit The Daughter very hard on the back of the head with a book. There was some question as to she was concussed.

                      The boy had once again been throwing a rocks at The Daughter during gym. The teacher had never cared to stop him from throwing rocks. In fact, she had complained to me that The Daughter asked awkward questions. When I had asked for an example she gave, ‘Why do I have to put up with having rocks thrown at me?’ (huh?) The Daughter had taken to standing near the teacher whenever she could. The boy, who did not think things through very well, kept throwing rocks at The Daughter. The teacher did take offence when she was hit by a ill aimed rock. So the boy took it out on The Daughter during the class change.

                    • One of the things that drove me insane was that while Marsh was being put in detention for crazy stuff (because he was deemed a “problem” the teachers had to sign a paper saying he’d behaved in class. If they didn’t sign, he got detention by default. BTW did I mention most of these girls accusing him were the children of teachers and staff? Some of the teachers made him wait before they signed. If he got to the next class late, he was immediately given detention. THAT crazy.) I once was called in because he hadn’t brought a pencil to class (I’m not joking. He’d just come off a field trip and they didn’t let him go to the locker, then the lack of pencil was viewed as “disrespect” granting calling me in) and the appointment was deferred because one of the classrooms was being held hostage by a kid with a knife. I said “So, do you give that kid detention or suspend him?” and got this horrified look, “Oh, no. He has mental health problems. We just have to keep him in class and as calm as possible.” Uh uh. That was, I think, the week before Dan finally lost it and said “We’re done here. My child gets no more detentions. We’re done.” And because Marsh refused to run, we left after he finished out the year.

                    • I do believe that we need stocks for parents who do not socialize their kids. AND the teacher? should be right next to the parents with the kid throwing rocks at them. GEEZ

                  • One teacher wanted to keep the kid back a grade because of “socialization.” Not her schoolwork — the tests showed that not only had she started WAY AHEAD in stuff, but had been improving (when the teacher hadn’t seen her paying attention) — but because she was “young.”

                    Yeah, well, an Asperger’s diagnosis and IEP did a lot more to help than holding her back would’ve. (We talked about it a lot with her and decided that it would not be in her emotional best interests.)

                    I will say, the Middle School has been overall quite good about not permitting her to be bullied or — fun fun fun recently — sexually harassed. (Which is good, because the place would become a nuclear crater if I didn’t see them doing things to prevent that sort of crap. I have gotten less and less inclined to tolerate bullying as I get older.)

                    • well, these girls were very sneaky about the bullying, using the teachers to do the actual dirty work — and we were informed girls would never make up stuff, because girls DON’T. So, thank your lucky stars your kid is a girl.

                    • girls would never make up stuff

                      Jane Austen
                      The Bronte Sisters
                      George Eliot
                      E. Nesbit
                      P. L. Travers
                      Agatha Christie
                      Marion Zimmer Bradley
                      Lois McMaster Bujold
                      J. K. Rowling
                      Sarah Hoyt

                    • I think they meant in a lying sort of way and eh… when I was a little kid… Let’s say when I got engaged to Dan no one believed me, because the boyfriend in America I convinced everyone I was corresponding with 14-16 was Dan Holtz. (Yeah, yeah. Just a touch of premonition, okay. It passed.) So family and friends just thought I had finally slipped my moorings and gone in off the deep end.

                    • Rigobertu Menchu
                      Lillian Hellman, about whom author Mary McCarthy said: “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”
                      The Crucible

                    • YES!
                      But I don’t think these school people would think those were lies. You know, “false but accurate” or something would be their excuse. (And the TRUE last refuge of scoundrels.)

                    • Tawana Brawley
                      Crystal Mangum
                      Condeleeza Rice (no, she didn’t lie, but you want to bet they would agree?)

                      Humans lie. If girls don’t lie then girls are not human. Actually, I would buy that last one …

                    • for that particular dozen and a half, I would agree too. I think they’re demon spawn, and never having been called on their insanity (That summer they invaded our yard, while Dan and I were out and the boys were working in the yard alone. They scared my older son who even then was six one and built like a brick you know what. PHYSICALLY scared him, so he abandoned the implements and locked himself and his brother in the house, and called us. A YEAR after we removed the kid from their sphere, they egged our house. This when he had NO contact with them for a year.) I predict they have got worse since, and I fear for the future.

  4. Note that studying vocabulary, grammar, etc. are still needed… but they come second to meaning. It’s a bad idea to memorize vocabulary lists from your native language (I’ll use English since it’s the native language of most of the commenters on this blog) to the foreign language (say, German), for a very simple reason. Your brain will associate the German word with the English word, when what you want is to associate the German word with the meaning. I.e., don’t memorize “chair” = “Stuhl”. Instead, make a flashcard with a picture of a chair, and associate that concept with the word “Stuhl”. This will save your life when you hit one of the words where English and German draw different distinctions, like the word “know”. In English, to know a person and to know a fact use the same verb, but they are two different verbs in German. “Kennen” is the verb for knowing a person, but “wissen” is the verb for knowing a fact. If you memorized an English-German vocabulary list, you would probably only have learned one of those two verbs and would probably use it incorrectly from time to time… but if you memorized a set of concepts and the German word for each concept, you would use each verb correctly.

    Another example: I’m studying Thai, and I just found out that there is no such word as “yes” in Thai! If someone asks you a yes/no question, you repeat the verb of the question to say “yes”, or repeat the verb with the word “not” to say “no”. Thus the answer to “Do you want to have lunch?” is not “Yes”, it’s “Want.” (The rest of the sentence, including the subject, is implied). And the answer if you don’t want to have lunch just yet is “Do not want.” (And now you know how Luke’s Big No in Empire Strikes Back ended up subtitled as “Do not want!” in that infamous Chinese DVD.)

    • That was supposed to be in reply to the Krashen video I posted. I wish there was a “Preview” button…

    • I disagree. Vocabulary lists are fine. I used to teach “rapid courses” for business travelers. Yes, you’re right, you’ll associate it. BUT that’s fine for the first year. There’s absolutely NO point pretending people don’t already have an image of “table” and that teaching them “mesa” won’t get associated with table once they see the picture. Trying to break the “translate early” cycle is one of the most stupid things about the immersion method. I’ve learned languages. I’ve taught languages. Look — BASIC vocabulary can be learned from translation lists. Second year, forbid native language in the classroom. By then they have the basic verbs etc. Will they be translating in their heads? Yeah. But they would anyway. All you can do when you dissociate is preventing them from knowing what they’re saying. I once took over a German 3 class where everyone answered picture-perfect, and had clue ZERO what they were saying. It was like a class of parrots.
      THIRD year, introduce magazines and literature in the language, and movies and songs too. This will — eventually — dissociate the translation habit, and help them build the other meanings into the words, the only way they can be built — by porting it from the natives.

      Again, I could talk about this forever, but the whole “Learn a language like a native” makes me want to SCREAM out loud. You can’t. First, you’re not an infant — you already have a language. Will you associate/translate in your mind? Impossible not to. You’re already thinking in words. Second, unless you’re in some specialized army camps, it’s NEVER immersion. It’s an hour, in an artificial location. Third, why take the LONG way around when you can shorten the process by accepting that, yes, people will translate for about a year.
      Does this method still work for some people? SURE. Some people would learn language while upside down and immersed in jello. BUT it just convinces most people that it’s impossible and “difficult.”

      Like reading by the whole word method, it works for a small minority, but it’s way too hard and weird and WHY do it? The other method is easier. Yeah, it requires you to “bore” kids for a year. You know, if the precious darlings don’t learn to cope with boredom, they’re in for a shock in adulthood.

    • I’ll also note that my studying Thai so far as been entirely driven by my own desire to learn. I’ve drilled myself in the alphabet until I’m starting to get sick of it, but I know I need it, so I drill some more. But drill is boring and the human brain learns better when you’re having fun, so I’ve incorporated some games into my drill, like making up picture stories in my head about the different letters. For example, the letter ko kai looks kind of like a chicken (and “kai”, or rather ไก่, means “chicken” in Thai), so I associate that letter with the picture of a chicken.

      The point of all this (before I drift too far off-topic)? Fun. Learning by rote is necessary for certain kinds of facts (alphabets, multiplication tables), but if you can find some way to make it fun, your brain (or your kid’s brain) will retain the information much better, and the rote learning phase will not need to last as long.

      Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,
      The medicine go down, medicine go down…

      Also, Sarah, you’re absolutely right that the growing numbers of parents teaching their kids is an encouraging sign. Who else is as motivated to teach a kid as that kid’s own parents? (Yes, some parents are utter failures as parents and don’t care about their kids, but fortunately for the human race, most parents do care about their kids. Also, most parents will have at least one subject they can’t teach well, but they can usually get by with a little help from their friends, e.g., their local homeschooling co-op.)

      • You know, language is the ONE thing I can’t learn alone, because of the rote beginning. (Well, and art, but that’s because I have to FEEL/SEE it.) BUT study groups work. I’m not sure if I’m terrorizing the younger boy into learning ancient Greek or he’s terrorizing me, but… merrily we go. (With the aid of the Oxford course)

    • “Kennen” is the verb for knowing a person, but “wissen” is the verb for knowing a fact.

      *happy dance* I am horrible at language, but I love stuff like that– knowing people is “Kin” and knowing stuff is “wise”! (I’m aware it may not check out in the long run and by official stuff, but it still gives me nifty fits.)

      • I think “kin” is closer to “kind” (in the classification sense, not in the “gentle” sense) than to the German “kennen”. “Kennen” would be closer to “ken”, as in “Timid and shy and scared am I / Of things beyond my ken…”

        • This is correct.

          Now for the nifty bit, for my own peculiar value of nifty: kennen is not only related to English ken; both of them are related to English can. ‘Can’ originally meant ‘know how to’.

          If you go back far enough (into Old English, 1000 years ago or more), ken and can were originally the same word, cunnan, meaning either ‘to know (a person)’ or ‘to know how (to do a thing)’. The past participle of cunnan was cuth, which therefore meant ‘known’ or ‘familiar’. This word survived in only one place, in the modern word uncouth: which nowadays means ‘having bad manners, not doing things the way we do around here — you know, beyond our ken.

          OK, well, this stuff amuses me. If you don’t get anything out of it, well, nerts to you. *silly grin*

      • But yeah, it’s nifty discovering these connections!

        • Word nerds love finding information like this. I had one teacher in high school who was possibly one of the few doing something useful. In addition to the mandated curriculum, she had found an old book with lists of related word. She would give us a latin word like “terra” and it’s definition, then a list of English words based on that word (terracotta, terrace, etc) and a scrambled list of the definitions and try to match the difintions to the correct word. It gave you a feeling for how knowing a root word could help you figure out a strange word that shared that root. (Excuse any spelling mistakes. WordPress is iding these last few sentences behind my name and Email adress.

    • Robin wrote:
      I just found out that there is no such word as “yes” in Thai! If someone asks you a yes/no question, you repeat the verb of the question to say “yes”, or repeat the verb with the word “not” to say “no”. Thus the answer to “Do you want to have lunch?” is not “Yes”, it’s “Want.”

      This is fascinating. I spent seven years as a kid in Thailand, and when I read that I thought “That’s not right?” Then I tried to think of the Thai word for yes. I came up with negatives only, and realized you were dead right. I was never as good as my sibs or dad at the language, but I knew what I knew and didn’t think about it. Until this moment.

      • That’s how you say yes in Portuguese too, at least where I come from. And now you’re going to make me think again of the influence of Asia on Portugal and vice versa.

        • Free-range Oyster

          That in turn reminds me of a phrase that *needs* an English equivalent. When the Oyster Wife asks me if I want to do something that I probably shouldn’t, my instinctive response is “Bem. Querer, quero.” And of course the opposite when she asks me, for example, if I *want* to change the baby’s diaper. 🙂 Translatable but awkward in English. Does that construct even exist in Old World Portuguese?

          • Yep. Same construction.
            To my husband I say “Wanting is one thing.” … 😛

            • Free-range Oyster

              Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou! I’ve been looking for a good substitute for years! I still resort to translating “Pois é” as “True that”, but I get so much amusement out of it that I’ve never bothered finding a better translation.

              • LOL. Thank you for THAT translation which shall now be inflected on my family.

                Nowadays I have issues thinking in Portuguese — it’s like going insane, it’s so circuitous compared to English — but some expressions are just so useful.

                My kids have adapted very well to the translations of my grandma’s/mom’s sayings, stuff like “I’ve seen them blind, but he lacks a space for the eyes” and “the more you bow, the more they see your butt” and “each one must pee with what he has” though I confess it’s taken to almost adulthood for them to become acquainted with — Sarah’s middle finger extended — “sit on this, I’ll take you to Lisbon” and that never directed at them. Usually at politicians and occasionally at (now ex) publishers. I’m a very bad woman and I probably scarred them for life, yes… (The kids. The publishers we can only hope so.)

                • “I’ve seen them blind, but he lacks a space for the eyes”


                • I like – “the more you bow, the more you see your butt.” Wonderful

                • “sit on this, I’ll take you to Lisbon”

                  Around here, I’ve seen people extend their middle finger and say, “See this? Sit and spin”

                  Another good one is to raise the middle finger first, then point it forward and thrust it forward and back a couple of times, with the meaning of, “This is for you, and this is for the horse you rode in on.”

  5. It may take half a decade, but we’ll get those skilled trade workers back. If you catch the kids before they hit high school and stop making college sound like the end-all, be-all of existence, some will naturally gravitate toward trade and vocation educations. They will most likely be attracted by the idea of making market-inflated (ie, fewer skilled workers for the number of jobs in that skill that are open) wages nearly immediately rather than waiting four or five years, entering a white collar at an entry salary, and being saddled with a mountain of higher ed debt.

    None of my kids are going to college unless they are college material and have a plan. I will not be shelling out any money for “studies” degress nor PhD’s in dead languages. If they want to pay their own way, fine. The military has excellent programs.

    • Hi Scott – I agree totally. My degree was paid by the military. My two other brothers worked, saved their money, and then went to college. One of those brothers’ degree was paid for by his work. So there are plenty of ways to get a degree without racking up a lot of debt.

      • Also college standards are so low. They are teaching subjects that the students should have gotten in high school.

        • I’m not sure that’s “low standards” so much as “…somebody’s gotta do it, and we might as well be the ones getting their tuition.” >_>

    • The only reason my kids are going to college is that doctors and engineers sort of need to. If one of them wanted to study Penguin Folk Dancing, they’d have to do it while working at Starbucks. What I told them — and found to be true — is that to learn anything in the humanities (except languages and art) you can do it on your own. History? Read. Music? Read/listen/practice. The basics are good, but after that, you can do it on your own.
      My only regret, though culturally impossible, and what I was trying to do anyway was get a teaching certification to allow me to teach in high school in Portugal (that worked!) is that instead of going to college I didn’t apprentice with grandad instead in earnest. When I got married in 1985 the teaching degree was useless (from Portugal. They wouldn’t even let me take the certification exam) BUT cabinet making? I would have out-earned Dan within the year.

      • true – sigh… although I know people who have become engineers with basic schooling (these guys are either retired or dead now). It doesn’t happen now. Even electronics techs need AAs to order parts for your computer. My hubby taught electronics in Army and Navy schools, plus he taught in a community college, but because he doesn’t have an AA, the State won’t give him a raise. UGH… He has been doing all sorts of electronics for forty plus years.

        • The Navy’s education makes me sick to my stomach.

          Not because it’s bad, but because it’s good— half of my class were freaking rocks. We took all but two of them all the way to graduation, in a fraction of the time a civilian school would manage, and they were good.

          I’ve seen what can happen with decent and good teachers working on decent to good students, testing every week or two on the stuff that they’re being certified on, if you pass you move on, if you don’t you do the same dang class again. Good, not-PC writing, and people who have DONE the stuff doing the teaching.

          All while we’re doing daily PT and a bunch of military BS, plus most folks were partying.

          • My hubby helped write the course for EWs when they were in Pensacola. And yes, the instructors are really good. The Navy knows how to turn out great techs. They also pre-screen as well (ASVAB). After going through Navy schools, it would be really good to use that style in public training. Plus the responsibility is on the shoulders of the student—always.

          • They must be good. My brother-in-law was a reactor tech on an aircraft carrier. If HE can be taught to be responsible for safety on a nuclear reactor, just about anyone can.

            • *laughs* Almost all the Nukes I met were “odds.” Several of the supervisors in boot camp were shocked that I wasn’t in a nuke program, myself.

              That said– holy frick, yes, the hard core Nukes are worthy of creating slang like “nuking it.” (think digressing so quickly and so far that it’s like two maps that only happen to share one similar street)

              • We had a part time assistant in metal shop, when I was in high school (one of the students father) he had served with South Vietnamese commandos as a liason in Vietnam. He could barely read or write, but I saw him build a fully automatic rifle out of scrap metal left around the shop, and it functioned perfectly (we didn’t test its function at school obviously) I hesitate to guess how the adminstration would have reacted if they had realized what he was doing in his spare time in the schools metal shop. 🙂

                Yes another totally different map, with possibly one street with the same name 😉

          • One department I managed had a new hire for data entry – payroll who was utterly frustrating to train … but once she was trained she was a perfect data entry clerk. The plodding and B&W attributes which made her frustrating to train made her great at the mind-numbing but absolutely critical task of converting time-slips into pay and billing records.

            It is critical to understand and appreciate the particular skill set for a task.

      • Cabinet-making? Speaking as a frustrated weekend woodworker, yes, you can definitely amass a fortune by becoming very, very good at it. No, it’s not easy…at ALL. It’s one of those trades that allows artistic flourish unlike, say (I was going to type tuckpointing or plumbing, but I immediately thought of artistic examples of both…lol).

        Did you get that windy FB pm I sent you, SH?

        • No PM. I did accept you as friend, though. Um… maybe FB ate it? Send again?

        • My wife has always been fascinated with lace and lacemaking. She had a chance to learn to make lace in England, in a local adult-education class. She now has the skills to make about six or seven different types of bobbin lace.

          While she was doing that, I became fascinated with the bobbins she used. I learned to make one type of bobbin, associated with Torchon and Bucks Point lacemaking. I taught myself to make them. Jean has about two hundred or so bobbins I’ve made. I also found there’s a HUGE market for lace bobbins in the US, simply because there are so few people that make them (that’s changing, but that’s a different story). Unfortunately, my fine-motor control is pretty well shot due to pinched nerves, and I can no longer make them. It was fun (and profitable) while it lasted!

          • There are bobbins specifically for making lace? Who knew?

            • Kate Paulk

              Every craftwoman with an interest in lace and needlework on the planet? (I’m teasing. Bobbin lace seems way too fiddly for me, but it’s fascinating to watch someone working on it – I quilt, embroider, cross-stitch, crochet, and knit. Not all that well, but I can make useful stuff).

            • Lovely things, lace bobbins are. They serve to hold one of the lengths of thread you are working with, to weight the tread to help in tensioning, and, if marked they can help to identify which thread is which. Some I have seen are almost too beautiful to work with.

  6. I’m like Cyn in that I need the roots of the language (or other subjects), but that’s because my mind accretes vocabulary and concepts like a spider’s web: a word in German links to the meaning of a Latin word but also through etymology to English and to German history. History, the sciences, everything seems to work together to form a network of ideas and data in my mind. But that is me. My sibling learns best by rote memorization, followed by seeing the thing and watching it. Sib did an exchange semester in Latin America and seeing live what the profs had talked about in class locked things into place. And both of us succeeded despite the public school system. And we also learned trade skills outside of our professions, which leads to my second thought.

    One thing we (as the current US culture) tend to do is undersell the intelligence required in a lot of the trades. I’ve done aviation maintenance, which combines engine work, hydraulics, sheet metal, welding, woodworking, and now composites. Yeah, anyone can swap out spark plugs (if you have a good torque ratchet) or change the oil on a Cessna 172, but you also have to learn why certain metals are used where, why certain temperatures work on certain metals and not for others, math to calculate loads and angles, and fluid dynamics for several applications. Plumbing, carpentry, electrical work are all similar: once you get beyond “nail this onto there,” there’s a respectable amount of smarts required. If we would emphasize that the trades are NOT “just for people too dumb to go to college,” it would probably start moving more people to at least consider apprenticeships for themselves or their kids.

    • You know, I learn like you two, but I have to get the basics of some things — language, reading — by rote. Once the basics are in place the spider web connections start, and I fly.

  7. When I was a little kid, I listened to a radio interview with somebody who taught “Jet-Setters” to speak French. His idea resonated with me and became this:

    You can easily learn any Romance language (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese (all three versions), Romanian, and many latinate dialects by buying a book called variously “201” or “501” [insert name of language] Verbs (so, 201 Spanish Verbs, for example). Memorize the entire frisking book. That gives you the most common regular and irregular verbs in the language. Then, remember that most three syllable or longer words in English are Latin-derived. Speak the word in the accent of the language and that gives you an instant 10,000 word vocabulary. Sure, there are false cognates(like factoria and fabbrica in Italian– the first means large farm, the second means factory), but these will get you help figuring out what the right term is. Grammar will come from listening to the language being spoken and reading it.

    To learn German, you need to know the verbs, and the ‘pot rule’ for declension, and get a dictionary for vocabulary. Most Scandinavian languages work the same way.

    But nobody teaches these little but essential skills in schools.

    • Walt, I bought that book when I taught Robert French. And it worked.

    • masgramondou

      If you learn Latin and German you can read almost anything in Western Europe. Add any slavic language (e.g. Czech) and you have most of Eastern Europe nailed too. Of course Hungarian & Finnish will throw you, as will Greek (not just because of the letters) but it doesn’t take long to learn the Cyrillic and Greek alphabets …

      Having said that it is incredibly dangerous to try speaking like that unless you accept that you will make the most amazing double-entendre blunders …

      • ROFL on the double-entendre blunders…

        • You can make some incredible double-entendre blunders in English/Americash, too. A guidebook we picked up in London 30-odd years ago warned Brit visitors to the States against inviting the beat cop around for a Sunday joint … and whatever you do, DO NOT mention to any Brit anything about wearing a fanny-pack while they’ve anything in the mouth.
          [ http://www.effingpot.com/slang.shtml ]

          • Also, when you at an English family’s home for Sunday dinner and they ask if you want more food, do not say “no thank you, I’m stuffed.”

  8. So they tried to make the exceptional work for everyone…

    Ah, but don’t you know? We are ALL exceptional, we are ALL special.

    [high-pitched voice] Who’s special, oooh, who’s special? You are, yes you are, yes you’re special and exceptional, yes yes yes you are …

    • “[high-pitched voice] Who’s special, oooh, who’s special? You are, yes you are, yes you’re special and exceptional, yes yes yes you are …”

      I say that to my laptop every morning to get it started. It hasn’t failed yet.

      • LOL. Kali, have you read Good Omens? I manage my computer the way Crawly manages his plants. I routinely threaten to have it take flying lessons out the window. When I had unreliable computers, they usually started up on THAT.

        • Good Omens was only part of the title 😉 The rest was “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter.”

        • Threats are good too. I have also been known to wave a large rare-earth magnet at recalcitrant computers. It makes the strongest processors tremble and cower.

      • I treat computers more like the one in the original Star Trek series, when it was coming on to Kirk: I threaten to either scrap it, or else I threaten it with a baseball bat. It usually works, even when I was working on a helpdesk, and I was telling the customer to tell their computer that if it didn’t start working right, I was going to come there and break it.

  9. The thing about rote memorization, such as the multiplication tables, is that it is like doing push-ups — it builds muscles that you will need for other uses … okay, call it “sand the floor” and “wax-on/wax-off” … memorizing the multiplication tables expands your operational memory, which has all sorts of benefits, including enhanced IQ. Get Speaker to explain it, or maybe I can browbeat the Daughtorial Unit into explaining it; I only understand enough to talk authoritatively (Cliff Claven-style) about it. 😉

    • Yes, yes, yes. I have argued this with people who are all about the “new learning,” where everyone is special, and no one should be told they failed to do the work correctly. One friend said he had had a problem with his threes times tables, and the teacher made him do them something like a hundred times, and that was WRONG! I asked him if he ever had any more problems with his threes times tables. He said no, and I told him, “I guess it worked, didn’t it?” He still didn’t get it, to him, it was still WRONG!

    • Advise: Do not ask The Daughter — we did. You get into a nuanced difference between the stored information which you can increase and the amount of stored information you can actively process consciously at a given time.

      • That sounds like an interesting nuance.

        • OK — To take it into terms that would probably give The Daughter a fit:

          Your longterm memory is kind of like a set of bookshelves: you can learn to arrange things better or add on a few shelves.

          The working memory is more like a fixed ability juggling act – it is what you can keep moving. Practice can possibily increase it, but it is still what you can keep moving.

  10. I can learn just about any subject except languages. I don’t know why, but languages just don’t WORK for me. I’ve been immersed in several cultures, and I learn enough to get by, but it’s embarrassing to answer a German in a mixture of German, Vietnamese, and Spanish, with a few Cajun words thrown in just for flavor. I usually know the German words, but the ones my memory comes up with may be any of the fifteen or so languages I’ve been exposed to.

    One of the MAJOR problems with the US education system is that we don’t require teachers to know the subject matter they teach, only to know what the “School of Education” thinks they need to know as a teacher. The worst example I’ve seen was a high school Physics teacher that didn’t know the three laws of thermodynamics.

    I’ve taught a few courses in the military and elsewhere. One thing I’ve found that gets people’s interest is a PRACTICAL APPLICATION of what you’re teaching them. That’s especially true when teaching things like trigonometric functions in calculating land use, or HTML.

    • Hear! Hear! – One of the problems I see in K-12 is that teachers are taught to teach, but do not KNOW the subject matter. They are taught the psychology and philosophy of teacher, but are not required to be a subject matter expert, which is why I think that our public students are suffering. They are confused because the teachers don’t know what they are teaching.

      I have had teachers who read info to you from other professors and I have had professors who knew the subject. Guess which one was more interesting and exciting.

      • let alone that most of the psychological theory is poppycock and would make a real psychologist split his sides laughing. Sorry, but no one sane should have bought the “self esteem” cant that has done untold damage to a couple of generations.

        • Self-esteem cant – exactly –
          There is nothing that can get my steam rolling more than the self-esteem issue. Every one is precioussssss. Every one is sssspecial. Yea – and you get spoiled brats who think life is handed to you. They don’t see that the older generations worked hard to get what they want. We know have a bunch of rich kids (entitled) who don’t have the money to support the lifestyle. UGH
          off soapbox now

          • It is an instance of Liberal fallacy: post hoc, ergo proctor hoc: high achievers have high self esteem, so if we encourage high self esteem we’re encouraging high achievement. That is also evident in the idea of “people with High School diplomas earn more, so let’s give everybody a HS dip.” — utterly failing to recognize that the diploma was in fact a certificate of accomplishment. And now they’re minting college degrees that are equally invalid but far more expensive.

            There are reasons they’ve abandoned the teaching of logic except to programmers.

            • Free-range Oyster

              See also Reynold’s Law: “Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.”

    • One of the MAJOR problems with the US education system is that we don’t require teachers to know the subject matter they teach, only to know what the “School of Education” thinks they need to know as a teacher. The worst example I’ve seen was a high school Physics teacher that didn’t know the three laws of thermodynamics.

      This way they can insert nonsense (cough*AGW*cough) and falsehoods (cough*the Founders were a bunch of dead white slave-owning males*cough*Lincoln was gay*cough*FDR saved the country*cough) with much less chance of getting called out.

      • I am accused sometimes of being too cynical, to which I reply: you can’t be too cynical.

      • The worst example I’ve seen was a high school Physics teacher that didn’t know the three laws of thermodynamics.

        Geez. And I thought it was terrible that my kid’s first grade teacher asked me what was the rain cycle and could I explain it to them. Turns out she’d told Robert that the Earth would run out of water if we didn’t SAVE it. (I believe this idea is based on grossly overestimated population counts, but never mind.) Robert, being Robert (I also don’t know where my kids get their mouthiness. I’m so meek and mild) told her that most water was reclaimed by the water cycle because it wasn’t common practice to keep great grandad’s pee in jars in the attic. This completely confused the woman and she demanded I explain what he meant. (He’d also told her that the Earth is bombarded with water asteroids every year.) At the time I was shocked with her ignorance. Since she was supposed to teach conservation, I expected her to have SOME knowledge of the subject. But… a high school teacher? GAH.

        • First & Second Laws of Thermodynamics explained in under 3 minutes … and I guarantee you will not forget: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtEqn-5XHpU&feature=related

        • We’re going to run out of water? That’s the first time I’ve heard that. The most common resource on earth, and virtually indestructible in the long term (yes you can split it into hydrogen and oxygen, but this is an intensive process and is extremely unlikely to be done to signifigant amounts of the earths water). I thought everybody was aware that water evaporates into water vapor, rises, condenses in cooler air, and falls to earth again as rain/snow/hail. Water used for virtually any other purpose is either expelled (drinking water, drank by animals, or plants) or caused to evaporate. It doesn’t just dissappear, it just moves around.

          • Nope. That’s the whole point with things like low-flush toilets. Ehrlich was convinced we’d run out of water and these people never questioned it.

            • I thought low-flush was to A: reduce the amount of waste-water that had to be treated, and mostly B: to theoretically reduce the amount of water that you get billed for. (Theoretically; in practice, at times, one flushes extra times because low-flush doesn’t finish the job well. Toilets need better sensors to determine how much water to use when flushing…) Huh.

              • Yes, even low flush wastes water for the most common usage … and wastes water for solid wast, too, because of its bad compromise. I doubt sensors are needed, just sense in the users: provide two flush options and trust people to use them appropriately. (I know! Trust PEOPLE??! Who knows where such a thing could lead!)

                I read a few years back that many “Hi-End” bathrooms in fancy homes were featuring urinals, some even having His and Hers urinals. Seems like a lot of space taken up …

              • I always thought low-flush was a green idea to reduce energy usage (and water that city folk have to pay for).

                When I built my house I installed the highest flush, biggest aperture toilet I could find. In nine years I have never had to use a plunger 🙂

                • “Low flush” belongs in the same category as Whole Foods, ethanol, and the Prius. It’s a symbolic action rich people can take in order to pretend they’re “sacrificing for the planet” while killing poor people.

                • Low flush is DUMB because you end up having to flush it SEVERAL times, to clear.

              • In all probability Low Flush is to create the illusion that you are addressing a problem … and to accustom yourself to government meddling in your household management, so that when they tell you to get rid of incandescent bulbs in favor of mercury vapor bombs …

                • Right, I had a friend that lived off grid. The flourescent bulbs may burn less electricity, but they use a lot more to initially turn on, he had to use incadescents, because if he tried to turn on multiple flourescents at the same time it would overload his generator.

              • no. Honestly, it was because they thought the water was running out. This of course came from the idea we’d become SO overpopulated… I have my own theory on that. One day I’ll inflict it on ya’ll too.

                • Ah? When I was in school I was taught that three quarters of the earth’s surface is covered with water. Yeah, lots of it has high mineral content, and it is not evenly distributed, but it is there.

                  • when I was in school too, but now we’re living on Heinlein’s moon, pace my kids’ teachers…

                  • Same when I was in school. Maybe we should all have to use the high mineral content water to flush our toilets with? That way we don’t waste the precious fresh water.

                    Granted that might not be economically feasible in South Dakota, but think of all the jobs it would create importing sea water there to use in the flush toilets.

                    • LOL.

                      Problem, you might give the idiots out there ideas. But as they won’t accept pipelines, and they won’t accept tanker trucks, and they will talk trains, but not allow tracks, so, maybe it isn’t a problem…

                    • Saltwater toilets have the same problem as low-water toilets, ignoring the “get it down” problem– rotting the pipes out. Human waste is horribly corrosive, and so is salt water.

                    • All of my drain pipe is ABS plastic, very resistant to such corrosion. Admittedly that would be a problem in older houses.

                      CACS, please don’t get me started on the rails to trails controversy.

                    • please don’t get me started on the rails to trails controversy.

                      *searches* Oh my sweet mother of sanity and reason….

                    • Bearcat, some places, for who knows what ‘intellegent’ reason have codes that ban the use of the plastic pipes. And regards to the other subject — you wouldn’t want to get me started either.

            • Ehrlich was full of it in more ways than one.

            • I had a subscription to Popular Science for a couple of years in the late 70s/ early 80s. On the cover of one of them was a man standing next to a 10-12 in. diameter pipe with a huge stream of water coming out of it, wit the caption, “This water is practically free! That’s why we’re running out!”

              Funny, you’d think that if we were “running out” over 30 years ago, we’d have run out by now.

  11. callanprimer

    “we don’t require teachers to know the subject matter they teach, only to know what the “School of Education” thinks they need to know as a teacher”

    too true. My brother is a middle school history teacher, and he had to fight for the time to take history courses among his posterboard/ethnic sensitivity/theory of learning courses. Fortunately, he loves the subject, so he became an expert on it on his own.

    Teaching might be a good candidate for apprenticeship-style training–from the teachers I’ve known, success is not in understanding learning styles, but in classroom management. And that would be best taught by apprenticing to master teachers.

    • Heh. Sibling got penalized by the college’s Ed Department for being a double major (history and ed with a very strong Spanish minor). They made the double majors take additional exams as well as specifically leaving them out of notice lists. Sib ended up taking an extra year to finish because, “oops, didn’t you get the message? You can’t start student teaching until you to take [course, extra course] and they are only offered in the fall.” For some reason, Sibling has no great fondness for college Departments of Education.

  12. So they tried to make the exceptional work for everyone.

    A lot of time in high school was taken up with this.

    The best example that comes to mind is “writing down goals.” Works great if you’re 14 and have a goal. Waste of time if you’re normal and don’t have a burning desire for anything that they’d accept. (“I want to be a wife and mom” was my real desire, but no way in HELL was I going to give the queen manipulative bitch that leverage over me, let alone give it to everyone else in my year. Truth is powerful because it’s important, and a truth about your desires is way too much power to hand to idiots that already torment you.)

    • I started writing down outrageous stuff. I wanted to be a writer, but I KNEW that was impossible (!) so I started writing down “I want to be a stripper.” Yes… the meetings with the school nurse were SO MUCH fun.

      • Funny – no one cared what I wanted to be. They all thought I would be a wife and mother. I wanted to be an astronaut or a vet. And no, I didn’t make either profession. Electronics tech (CTM) in the Navy… 😉 Where I went to school they really didn’t want to teach the females… It was a strange place and very Mormonized. I would raise my hand and the teacher would tell me that I should let other people get a chance. (and then he or she would ask a male to tell the class the answer) It could be very demoralizing. I wanted to be able to get a good career despite being female. Oh, and I have never been a feminist. I want to gain the credit by my efforts and not by my sex.

        • Mormonized? Is that anything like Simonized?

          *Running away*

        • When I grow up I want to be a teacher, so that I can humiliate and abuse young children, destroy their dreams and frustrate their hopes. I want to belong to a union that protects all members however incompetent and forces taxpayers to pay exorbitant amounts to fund my retirement. I want a job where my ignorance of basic facts of science and English usage will be no bar to my advancement. I look forward to enjoying sexual relationships with partners half my age because I expect to be incapable of honest intimate adult relationships.

          With apologies to the many excellent teachers who do their utmost to protect our kids from the schools.

          • When I grow up (if I ever do), I want to be president of the Royal Society for the Preservation of Peeping Toms. Not that I’m a peeping tom – I just want to preserve them. Maybe in amber…

      • Damn it, I’m having to spend too much time on this thread explaining to my wife what I’m cackling about.

        And no, I am NOT going to suggest that she go here and read it for herself. It’s just a bad idea. She really wouldn’t get along well here.

      • A friend of mine wrote that he wanted to be a professional panhandler, and explained how many of them made more than the average worker. I of course had to top that, so I wrote that I wanted to be retired, which didn’t seem to go over well with the teacher. (I got detention though when she demanded that I chose a realistic living and I told her I wanted to marry a /insert derogatory term for female native american/ and let her support me. The fact that the boy sitting beside me was a Native American and about fell out of his chair laughing; and offered me his sister, didn’t improve the teachers mood)

        • Ever read Cheaper By The Dozen? About the Gilbreth family, pioneers in motion study and industrial science for whom the Therblig was named? Great book, great depiction of pre-WWI America. Eschew the movie.

          IIRC, one of the family scandals occurred when one of their brood on career day advised the teacher of his desire to be a recluse.

          • In our household the breaking point was when Daughtorial Unit refused to write an essay in … 3rd? … grade about her “most embarrassing moment.” DU’s response was notable for its terseness. I later advised her that the proper response was an essay on how embarrassed she was by a terribly intrusive school writing assignment that called for her to reveal her innermost thoughts and feelings.

            Eh, they were also baffled by her inability to write an essay on what Elvis meant to her … and her suggestion, on finding out who Elvis was, that she might could possibly write her essay on Kurt Weill, instead?

            • Elvis, really? I would have assumed at least until Forest Gump came out that most 3rd graders wouldn’t have a clue who Elvis was.

              Around 3rd grade I don’t think my musical interests extended much past a heavily modified version of Battle Hymn of the Republic.

              • My brother is still in shock at finding out my 12 year old had NO clue who the Beatles were. (Shrugs) It just had never come up.

                • *peers at her 12-year-old* I’d ask her if she knows who the Beatles were, but she’s doing her math homework right now. (Area of cones and pyramids.) And I don’t want to distract her.

                  • I asked her. She said, “Um… a boy band?” I cracked up and told her that… wasn’t actually a bad answer. (Then I had to explain why I cracked up and how the differences were very different but on a meta-level…)

                • No chance of that, I had a teacher that was absolutely enamored with them, so whenever it was quite and we were supposed to be doing our work, the Beatles were playing in the background.

                  Yes, I still can’t stand the Beatles.

              • Bearcat, in certain parts of the southeast Elvis is, well ELVIS! Anyway it was 4th grade, on the anniversary of Elvis’ death, and the teacher, thankfully let her write on Kurt Weill instead. The teacher came out to the car after school to tell me about it, as we had apparently failed to make sure The Daughter knew basic cultural memes.

          • Yes, and the sequel (I believe it was called ‘Bells on Their Toes’) but that was back in grade school, I remember them being good books, but have forgotten much of them in the intervening years. I still remember the fathers motion study on how to take a shower in the least amount of time though, probably because it was before puberty when I read them, and it seemed like a good idea to me at the time. 😉

            • Belles On Their Toes — pretty good memory y’all got there. That one also was made into a movie, with a nice performance from Hoagy Carmichael. Read the book.

        • You’re not helping with the “having to explain to the wife why I’m cackling” thing, you know. :-p

    • @Foxfier – you were going to school in early 90s? I actually was home-schooled and did my last year of school in 1973 7th grade. It was the worst year of my life. Before that year, I had made several friends who had been with me for three years of school. We were competitive and helped each other.

      In Jr. High (now called middle school) I went through a year of hell. Girls pulling off my skirts and pants, pushed off chairs, bullied in PT class where we were supposed to strip and wash in a communal shower. At the time I was small for my age group. I didn’t reach my height until after I was fourteen (and then I started to develop the secondary characteristics). Many of the girls were already dating and going through the hormonal changes. It was humiliating. I don’t remember the teachers too well. The only teacher I liked was my music teacher. He was a calm in a storm of hell.

      So if that is what high school and the rest was like, I wouldn’t have survived. At the time I was very shy and introverted.

      • Graduated in ’01.

        Never got physical bullying because the first guy who tried it was several years older, did a backpack snag, and found out 1) the bag was HEAVY and 2) I have a working understanding of physics sufficient to grab the bag and throw myself so I stay standing and he hit the floor.
        Plus, my mom terrified them. I “got away” with a lot of stuff by not knowing I should ask permission so I could be denied it– such as changing in the toilet stall and refusing to shower with a few dozen people. (I don’t believe I ever stank, although that didn’t stop anyone– any more than large mammaries stopped the jokes that I was transgender, or my lack of interest in anyone stopped jokes about me being a lesbian. Just keep poking until you find a sore spot.)

        My family is all about teasing-as-love, or– looking back– school would’ve been worse. A lot of time time, I didn’t realize they were doing their best to maim me emotionally, and I playfully gave back as good as I got, though not aiming for things I thought would really hurt. (Usually. The one time I can remember trying to wound someone with words it went over their heads, even though it worked on several levels. I called them very small males.)

        Heck, I’m still shy and introverted. Grats on getting past that!

        • @Foxfier – I am still quite introverted – I don’t think you can get over that. My family was also teasing-as-love or tickle till you pee your pants. When we left civilization that behavior went to spanking-with-rubber-hose and what I consider physical abuse. When we moved back to civilization, it kind of calmed down. You don’t want kids screaming in pain so that the neighbors can hear you.

          I really enjoyed karate, but I was in my mid 20s before I started that route. It gave me a lot of self-confidence and helped with the shyness. (No still an introvert). When I had the confidence to drop males with a well-placed hand, my life change drastically. Before some people saw me as a victim ( or prey) after I learned some karate moves and used them, I became someone to stay away from— (yea, my participles are dangling).

      • If it makes you feel better, my hell-years were 11 and 12 — which was middle school in Portugal. the reason was the opposite of yours. I was adult-height (for Portugal) by then, in fact I stopped growing at 12 and I had breasts. I wish homeschooling had been available. As is, I’m glad that Portuguese schools gave two weeks at Easter, two at Christmas, four days for Carnival and three to three and half months in summer. Oh, and that school was only five hours a day.

  13. Well, I think it doesn’t go back as far as you think it does, and I think it happened for different reasons, though I’m sure I could be wrong. If you remember, I said the other day that I come from across the river from Cincinnati, so it takes 20-30 years before the new trends get there, and I WAS taught by rote and by drill when I was younger.

    I believe that the problem with schools comes from the Hippy movement in the Baby Boomers. I believe that they were taught by rote and made to drill their lessons, and they resented it, so they vowed to change the system, to make it more “child friendly” and “more fun”. Oh, and they hated losing at things all the time, so they set out to make sports and even grades into things where there were no winners and no losers, so no one gets his widdle feewings hurt.

    Thus, we get “Whole language” learning, with “sight” words instead of phonics (though my father swears he was never taught phonics, and I am just flabbergasted), and “new math” that is basically a more complex way of counting on your fingers. Now, of course, we are seeing schools that encourage “creative spelling” and even “creative math”, and who ask about how the apples FEEL about the numbers we are applying to them, and whether the oranges feel left out because they can’t be counted with the “racist” apples (ok, I made that last one up). But I still think it started with the Hippies and New Agers.

    • Actually I am one of the lost generation (end of boomer era) Wayne – and you have it right on the button. I learned to read by phonics and by rote. My sister learned by the new system. I read, and she is semi-illiterate. Just a difference of one year. 1967 and 1968.

      • Yes, I see above here that you’re about three years older than me. I was born in ’64, technically the last boomer year. I graduated in ’82, going to go to a 30-year reunion this summer.

          • 1953 – you kids get offa my lawn!

            I got “new math” in … 6th? 7th? grade and enjoyed the heck out of it. Of course, I used to enjoy working out the prime numbers between 0 and 100 and am gleefully looking forward to my 8-squared, 4-cubed, 2-to the sixth birthday, so I am probably not a good test case.

            • Speaking of Math, I often wonder how different my father’s life would have been had he been allowed to finish High School, since he was very good in Math. He said only his older brother was better, and that his brother had solved a problem the teacher couldn’t work in his Algebra class. But he had to leave school after 10th grade, so he didn’t get his diploma, nor did he get to get into higher Math.

            • I got new math in sixth grade — Portugal — and near had a nervous breakdown. I thought my mind had broken.

            • 1948 (Have you children been havin’ fun?)

              My birth coincided with many events in my parents’ lives that left me mostly in the care of my grandmother and her two brothers. Great-uncle Luther, WWI veteran with “the palsy” as a consequence of being gassed, taught me to read, write, and figure the summer I was four. I remember him drawing on the blackboard, and my objection that no, that wasn’t an apple, it was a peach, because the outline was fuzzy… he laughed at that. The Veteran’s Administration killed him with neglect in 1958, one of the reasons neither Dad nor I was ever willing to seek VA medical assistance.

              When I got to school I was a “smart kid”. I still don’t see it. I just started sooner than they did.

            • RES, try 1946. Kids? I started third grade in 1953… (G). Married in 1966, father in 1967 (74,85,2005, by adoption – my 22YO granddaughter is going to make me a great-grand sometime early fall). One of the first baby-boomers, and (very) relatively sane (rural upbringing), compared to the 70’s and 80’s. Looking for 40 acres and a mule (need the mule around to remind me why I moved out of the city).

              • I’m glad to know I’m not the Senior of the Commentariat. Given my health at the moment, the duties of office are too burdensome. Keeping RES out of the cookie jar, all by itself, is probably more than I can do.

                • Yes, well, and this is how people in power eventually come to the idea that some people need to be shut down, no? Just tell him when it is a non negotiable social construct, and he might spit in your face. Frankly I doubt that, on the whole, any of us are that malleable. Do tap me on the shoulder (gently, I have some problems) if he begins to resemble the drunken uncle at the wedding and I will see what I can do. ;-).

                • I’ve had to swear off cookies, except in my browser. Diabetes issues – started being unable to feel my feet, although I can still see them. Can still smell them, too …

                  So, as Mike is senior, and Ric junior, that leaves me sophomoric???

                  • Drat it. I have to get my oven working (don’t ask) and actually make cookies and cakes safe for diabetics, while MEASURING stuff (which is a trial for me) so I can record the measurements, and post recipes. We actually have cookies and no-carb brownies and cake, occasionally, and they don’t taste horrible like the Atkins stuff.

                • Senior of the Families. Guys, remember, when we leave here with the komissars after us, Mike is in charge. But he has to wear a kilt. (And those of you who haven’t read Methuselah’s Children should, so thp.)

                  • I’ve got a hardbound copy of Methuselah’s children. Even Robert acknowledged that some of the spin-offs weren’t his best. He blamed it on his medical problems and the times. I’ve also got a shiny sword, and I’m working on a blaster. In the meantime, I’ll have to struggle along with my trusty 10-gauge double-barrel I inherited from my great-grandfather…

                    Hurry on those diabetic recipes, Sarah. I’m afflicted, too, by this terrible affront.

        • Cyn
          my boomer brother called us “The Reagan Generation” (sneeringly.) I come between the two of you. Born Nov. 62, Graduated 81. (My husband born three months earlier graduated 80. Eh.)

          • I don’t mind being called the “Reagan Generation.” lol even if sneeringly… I admired him. 😉

          • Born in July of 1976. The lowest birth rate year in the US since WW2. I’m a bit late for most Gen X touchstones but a bit to early for most Gen Y ones. I just call myself a Bicentennial Baby!

            I spent my entire school career in buildings worn out by the Boomers but not yet rebuilt for their kids (though they started lots of construction projects just as a was leaving a school). At least I had a few teachers left over from the early post war years that cared about teaching and knew how to actually teach. Plus a bunch of left over hippies and a few clueless newer teachers that I just ignored as much as I could get away with.

            One of the best classes I ever had was my gifted math class in Jr High. it was a special night program the county ran for the smaller schools that couldn’t run their own. 2 years worth of Algebra in one year with one night of 2 hours of lecture and 1 hour of testing a week at the community college. And about 100-200 homework problems and the best laid out math book i can remember (still have it 23 years later) for self study during the week. You were supposed to have read over the chapter before the class started, the 2 hours were mostly explanation and answering questions on what we didn’t get, then enough repetition in the homework that you could do at your own pace during the week for it to sink in. With a good test on what you had been practicing the following week for quick feedback.

            Going back to “normal” math classes the next year in High School was a bit of a shock. Though i did enjoy the homework from the one Geometry Teacher. He had literally helped write the textbook (nationally used) but hated the problem set and the guy who wrote it for the publisher so used his own much more interesting homework sheets that mostly had the problems written as real world problems to be solved.

            • The accelerated math class sounds fantastic. The geometry teacher reminds me of my own, a true master teacher, before they created such a certification.

              RE: real world problems, this was what my teacher had done. First practical applications, then theoretical ones. I used to walk home by way of a building that was being converted into small stores by entrepreneurial hippy types. (Yes they did exist, small business owners, some of whom were actually pretty savvy.) One, which an acquaintance was connected with, was going to be a macro-biotic restaurant. I recall explaining to the young man laying a floor how he could break down the seemingly unusual areas into rational sections to figure out how much flooring he would need.

              For the ones that are interested in education (or who just like well told stories) I suggest reading Jesse Stewart’s The Thread That Runs So True. One instance, which comes to mind here, involved teaching a local how to determine the volume of a load of coal he were taking for sale, thereby convincing the students in his class that they had reason to learn math.

              • My geometry teacher was only slightly better than my Advanced Math teacher, and nowhere near the same caliber as my Algebra teacher. I didn’t really get interested in either advanced geometry or trigonometry until I was taught to plan B-52 missions. That required a working knowledge of trigonometry, spherical geometry, and a half-dozen other math and physics functions (Does anyone have any idea how much work it is to plan a mission that may last 18 hours, cover 12,000 miles, involve a minimum of two refuelings, nap-of-the-earth navigation, and precision timing to the second? Those birds are still in the air, sixty years after the first one was accepted by the Air Force). That’s when I learned I had a problem transposing digits, and that I HAD to have someone else review my work.

    • “Whole-word reading” actually works — if you’ve been exposed to words since you could focus on the large cards, and exposed to a lot of them. (It’s how I read. I am pretty sure it’s how my kid reads.) Phonics is still useful to make an educated guess about how to pronounce a word you read (which may give a clue as to its meaning), but far as I know, the only phonics my kid was exposed to were on Between the Lions on PBS, and she preferred to marathon VCR tapes of Clifford, Dragon Tales, and Cyberchase. And sometimes subtitled anime.

      (This is the kid who broke the Lexile Scoring program on the school computer; she got such a high Lexile score that it couldn’t come up with anything in the cross-section of her stated interests and her reading-comprehension level. (Reads at college level; interests of a fantasy&SF Oddling tween.))

      Of course, you note the IF there. By the time a kid is school-aged, it’s too late to start with whole-word reading.

      • Of course whole word reading works. it’s just inefficient and requires good visual memory. It’s also not as “portable.” Whole word reduces words to ideograms.

        I doubt you or the kid read that way exclusively. When faced with a word you haven’t come across, you can probably make a stab at pronouncing it and deducing meaning from the context. Here’s the problem — in whole-word teaching as they were doing to my kids, they weren’t supposed to “read” the word without attaching a meaning to it. And they weren’t allowed to deduce how to pronounce it (which most kids figure from the component parts of words) they had to “guess” at the whole word or remember it from the meaning. That was the lovely system I torpedoed by making the kid learn the sounds. Which also meant — once he’d got the rules of spelling — that he could write his not inconsiderable spoken vocabulary, which was, of course, massive, living in a house of readers. The other subversive thing I did was give them each Strunk and White…

        • Eh, it was just a holdover from the whole “we must compete with the Japanese” thing.

          Compete with the Soviets, compete with the Japanese, compete with China — funny how no matter with whom we need to compete their solution is always the same: centrally planned economy. A cynical person might conclude they are starting with the boy band and looking for trouble.

          • masgramondou

            Of course the Japanese tech their children to read using the Kana (syllablery) and only move them on to the Kanji (chinese characters) in about 3rd or 4th grade. And er then they give them a LOT of lists to memorize by rote. Well that’s what they do in rural Japan where my niece & nephew study, maybe they do something more stupid and holistic in the big cities (but I knod of doubt it).

            Having said that (and having also admitted that there are times when even a native Japanese, yea even my wife who slept through university level Japanese, is unclear how to pronounce a word) it is quite possible to take a guess at pronounciation and meaning of a new word by knowing roughly how the component parts are usually pronounced and what they mean.

            • What the Japanese do and what our “enlightened” think they do are often not the same thing, nicht wahr?

        • I actually don’t make a stab at pronouncing words unless I think about it. (This is why “Menolly” was pronounced “Melony” in my head for YEARS.) I generally look at context, or find a dictionary if context is lacking, before I try to sound it out.

          I rarely find a non-foreign word that I haven’t come across before, anymore. Sometimes the Dictionary.com whatsit can produce one, and I will look for word-components. I am capable of breaking apart a word if I think about it.

          But if I’m not thinking about it? No, I read whole-word. Sometimes whole-sentence, it feels like, if I’ve gotten really going. Because I’ve been seeing words so long, and knowing what they mean, it’s like breathing. See a word; word is in brain, read. It’s no more “inefficient” and requiring good visual memory than hearing whole words is inefficient and requiring good audio memory; I’ve been hearing words my whole life, after all. Same thing. (Except I read much faster than I can take in audio information, generally; G&S patter songs require much more attention! 😀 )

          Now, I will say, my spelling probably suffered from this; the best thing for me has been spell-checkers that underline with red so I can start correcting quickly. >_>

          • I learned with phonetics, but now I have been reading for so long that I also inhale, words, and paragraphs. If I am reading for work or learning, I have to make myself slow down. When I was learning German, I found that I had to go back to rote and learn the alphabet. I don’t remember too much of it now (had to learn it for my degree.) But, I was in the hospital in Germany for four weeks. I could speak pretty good German after that– Actually I had already lived in Germany for over five years, and had three years of German grammar. Since I haven’t spoke German for five years now, I have lost much of it.

          • Beth | June 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Reply

            I actually don’t make a stab at pronouncing words unless I think about it. (This is why “Menolly” was pronounced “Melony” in my head for YEARS.) I generally look at context, or find a dictionary if context is lacking, before I try to sound it out.

            I rarely find a non-foreign word that I haven’t come across before, anymore.

            My biggest problem with Webster’s is whenever I find I word I don’t know, WEBSTER’S NEVER HAS IT!! I don’t need a dictionary to define chair and sofa for me, I need one with the unusual words.

      • They taught Timmy phonics in kindergarten last year, and will again in first grade. I just can’t get him interested in reading. It may be tracking problems, caused by his early-childhood brain damage. We’re having some testing done this summer to find out.

    • I got the New Math and whole language, with a dose of phonics. As a result, I cannot spell my way out of a paper bag . . . in English. I have no problems with other languages. Apparently my comparatively limited RAM makes the problem worse, especially when writing by hand as opposed to typing.

  14. Use te old method for memorising

  15. Coupla things from an old coot: (1) We’ve run into the limits of our universal-education (i.e. schooling) experiment – there really aren’t 3% of the population who are instinctive, excellent teachers. And, as you note, the teachers’ schools don’t really teach how to teach everybody effectively. And, (2) there’s reason to hope learning basic skills will start happening again, as the fad (bubble) for “everybody needs a college degree” implodes and as employers, who are already yelling they can’t find new employees with decent skills, perhaps take on more responsibility for defining what education their future employees need to have, and how to get it. Note, the union-apprenticeship model isn’t going to do it, unions are slowly fading away, so the employers will have to figure out something else.

  16. I’ve tried posting this comment multiple times already as a response to CACS’s story about the kid throwing rocks at her daughter, but WordPress appears to have eaten it every single time so far. So I’ll try replying at the bottom of the comment thread instead of replying to CACS’s post, and we’ll see if that works. Apologies if this ends up posting numerous times, and please feel free to delete all but one of the copies.

    CACS’s story about the kid throwing rocks at her daughter reminds me yet again of something I learned a while ago. Ancient Rome was destroyed from barbarians from outside, whose military strength grew enough to overrun the forces of Roman law and order. But the barbarians who will eventually destroy us will come from within our own borders, because we have been raising them. They are the children who’ve never been taught to be civilised, and who thus grow up to hold the beliefs of barbarians: that I am the most important person in the universe, I can do whatever I want, and nobody has the right to tell me what to do.

    • Robin, we’re not so sure about the barbarians from outside anymore. It might have been a “slow mo” invasion in which the barbarians moved in, family by family, group by group and changed the culture from within.

    • My apologies, for I must run and have only the briefest of moments in which to comment, but somebody — Chesterton or Lewis, probably — observed that each new generation are barbarians and must be brought into the civilization in which they are born.

      Lovely quote, I will try to Google it later, time permitting and nobody gets it done meantime.

  17. “Every generation faces a barbarian invasion in the form of its own children, who need to be civilized.”
    Ascribed to Irving Kristol

    And similarly:
    “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
    Ronald Reagan

  18. CACS
    Actually I can’t figure out how to respond to the last, but I didn’t think you meant anything scatological. The “um” was thinking about how our family doesn’t feel quite WHOLE. If that makes sense. We’ve considered off and on going in search of kids to adopt, and that’s the most cogent reason I’ve heard for doing it. “Our family doesn’t feel ‘done’ yet.”

  19. Karl Marx wasn’t stupid, he just had everything backwards, complemented by a huge dose of cluelessness. I would NEVER insult anyone by referencing them to Karl Marx unless it fit. Unfortunately, we seem to have a lot of names in the news lately where it DOES fit… 8^(

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