A Scattered Post On Schools Kids and Parenting

I was going to write about WWI and why it had a unique fracturing impact on western culture, and also why it in a way made the US the “scapegoat of nations” – in its ancient blood-ritual meaning.

Unfortunately – and for those of you who are waiting for guest blog posts and answers to questions, this is the reason you haven’t got them yet – I’m recovering from the flu.  I got the flu about a day after getting the flu vaccine, and I’ve now heard of this happening to enough people, that it seems to be hitting about half of those who are vaccinated.  I got it on the 9th, and it floored me for about eight days.  It was a milder case than what seems to attack people who get it naturally, but it’s proving very hard to get over.  I’m THEORETICALLY well and have been since my birthday, except the slightest effort knocks the stuffing out of me.  For instance, going out and through a museum made the next day a drag where I just felt like sleeping.  Apparently that effect is still operating, because yesterday I went grocery shopping for Thanksgiving after a day of working on Noah’s boy.  Today I woke up very late and I feel like the walking dead.

So a demanding post on historical causes of today’s uncomfortable world situation is simply not going to happen.

Instead, in the spirit of following up on yesterday’s post, I thought I should “forwarn” those of you with kids in public schools of the work you should be doing at home.

Let me start by saying – this was part of our discussion at the dinner table yesterday – that I never talked politics to the kids.  I answered their questions when they asked, and Robert seemed to follow from a childhood obsession with Roman culture into reading about law and economics.  Probably his greatest influence in politics, he says, was a history teacher who was a retired navy commander, and who – he says – actually made sense of World War I and II and made Robert curious about how things worked.  Marshall just started reading my reference books right from the shelf.

I didn’t even use to talk about politics in the house (and didn’t have many friends with whom I could talk about it, either) because my husband used to think I was “mean” about it.  (Remember, largely apolitical, even if he has voted conservative since Reagan’s second run.)

But there are things I did do.

Part of this came from going through school in Portugal under socialism (I loved the way the trollish visitors pointed out that the socialists only won like two elections.  Very cute, but Portuguese governments are always coalition governments, not winner takes all.  Also, until last year when it was revised, the constitution written after the revolution said Portugal was a republic on the way to socialism.)  I knew that my books had contained gross distortions, and that imbued in the teaching philosophy there were other “messages” which I’d had to work hard to circumvent.

Because of this I’m not a very trusting person, and I started looking through kids’ materials from Kindergarten on.

Now, I’m not going to say the first thing that bothered me was intentional.  Someone in the comments said “A sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”  To think that this particular program was intentional, I’d have to assume the entire education establishment was filled with a malicious and fiendish intelligence.  Since I’ve seen no signs of it, I’m going with sufficiently advanced stupidity.

The VERY first thing I spotted was not what they were teaching, but how they were teaching.

Let me start by saying that Robert and Marshall loved contests as kids.  They won so many coloring contests of one sort or another that they had coupons for fast food kids’ meals enough to keep them till they ran out of the age for kids’ meals.

HOWEVER when Robert (being older) came home and told me he could win a prize for reading x amount of the “right” books, I offered to give him the prize, never mind the contest.

The books were mostly picture books, and he could have read them in an afternoon.  BUT it was the principle of the thing.  Call me picky (and I did tell him what was wrong with the contest) but reading is something you get to do as a reward, not something you’re rewarded for doing it.  Being rewarded for doing it files it away in kids’ heads as something unpleasant done for reward, not something you do for fun.

Around this house, a book is what you got bought if you’d otherwise been a perfect gentleman while mom dragged you through most of downtown and lunch with her friends.  It was a REWARD.  It still is.

The second thing that kicked up was Robert being convinced glass was a finite resource.  (Oh, I suppose it is in the fullness of time, when the Earth runs out of sand… but we won’t be here by then.)  There might be reasons to recycle.  I’m divided on it, believing that the recycling processes are more harmful to the environment (in the case of paper, at least) and use up more resources.  It also makes the final product more expensive.  OTOH I haven’t studied glass PARTICULARLY.  However, I realized my son was being brought up with this idea of a shutting down future, where everything needed would be scarce — with the idea that the future would necessarily be worse than the past, that progress and civilization were bad excesses that must be paid for.

I dragged him into the house, we researched the manufacture of glass and then he went off on his own to study other recycling processes and now he has very stringent opinions on some of it.

There were other things, just as small but ultimately insidious – like their being taught that their “culture” depended on who their ancestors were.  That one got the full mom foaming-at-the-mouth lecture.  “Culture is not genetic, it’s learned.  Your culture is geek-sf-US.”

Other than that, I made sure they had books – books written before the current era and current books, stacked around the house.  Stories set in Ancient Rome were more or less catnip to my kids.  I’m sure yours have their own triggers.  I never pushed these.  I just left them lying around and would sometimes ask one of them to read to me while I cooked or cleaned.

It’s not that I wouldn’t let them read politically correct books – they read those too, and like most of us can even enjoy a book around the edges when the core is rotten – it’s that I let/encouraged them to read everything, and I made sure they had a broad variety.  Weirdly Marshall, particularly, started being able to detect when a book was fudging to push a politically correct view when he was barely reading fiction – because he’d read the other stuff and he has a relentlessly logical mind.

MOST importantly is teaching your kids to read and read fluently.  I will not go into Whole Word Reading, which has now changed names, but yes, is still around.  It’s a stupid idea (like total immersion in foreign languages – sort of a great idea if you are in fact totally immersed [and have a ton of grammar on the side] but as practiced in classrooms a recipe for never learning the language while putting forth enough effort to learn three languages) that refuses to die.  I’ll just say if your kid can’t sound out words, teach him to, and make sure he can read words he’s never seen before.  We are not a language of ideograms.

The reason I say that this is the most important thing is because I’ve noted – when I taught, when helping kids who are in college, when I accidentally catch a glimpse of papers written by my kids’ friends, when I see what these kids post on blogs – that most college kids today are … well.. subliterate.

It’s not just the errors of vocabulary (if word has the same general shape as the other word, it will be used instead) or grammar – it’s the inability to carry a coherent sentence from beginning to end, or to logically follow a thought.

I think one is related to the other.  If you’re so busy READING and painfully writing out stuff, there’s no mind space left for logic and grammar.  And this makes you easily manipulated by anyone who shows you a few youtube videos and repeats a few slogans.

In this, I want to make a recommendation – don’t assume your kids were taught grammar.  Or, if they were, don’t assume the grammar they were taught is correct.  Buy them Strunk and White.  It’s a thin book and for both my kids it acted as a revelation “Oh, so that’s why!”  I just wish there were exercise books that go with the book.

I have, and made both kids use (at six.  I’m a hard*ss.  Deal) a 1940s book that’s called something like (it’s in storage now) The Oxford book of English Composition for Foreign Learners.  It taught how to write an essay and develop an argument.  I bought it by accident as a kid, in a used book store, and it saved my own life in college, so I made sure the kids learned it too.

I’m sure there are equivalents in the US currently – perhaps a little old.  If kids can’t put their own thoughts in writing and take them out and unpack them, they’re not going to think deeply about anything.  I know that most people don’t think deeply about anything, but is that what you want for your kids?

Anyway – sorry for not very coherent post (I feel like I need a nap) but I hope you got the gist.  Keep an eye on what the schools are teaching your kids, not just openly but by implication.  Stuff like “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it has to be done Wednesday” is great to know, but “it doesn’t have to be correct, it has to be done in pink as the teacher said,” is something different because it’s teaching mindless obedience.  They’ll still have to do it to get the grade, but make sure they know it’s stupid and it’s trying to teach them mindless obedience.

Mind you, I know I’m excessively picky, and I know that what you do with your kids is your own business.  I’m not telling you how to raise your kids — only that you might want to keep an eye on how the school is influencing them.  A lot of junk has crept in alongside the important stuff, (and more is likely too since a new Federal curriculum has been issued from on high for next year)  and they’re YOUR kids.  Shouldn’t you be the one in charge of their education?

Different post — on filing serial numbers off fanfic — over at Mad Genius club.  Midnight Story Parts.

281 responses to “A Scattered Post On Schools Kids and Parenting

  1. > I knew that my books had contained gross distortions, and that imbued in the teaching philosophy there were other “messages”

    I’ve got a friend of a friend who lived in the Soviet Union under communism. He eventually managed to get an exit visa in the 1980s. I asked him over lunch once “what was the most surprising thing about the United States?”

    I don’t know what I was expecting – maybe something about the grocery stores, or the weather, or mail-order catalogs, or something.

    He said: “The TRUTH. In the CCCP something was not right. You always knew it, but you never knew what it was. It was like you were in a boxing ring, but you were blindfolded. You’d get hit, and you would hurt, but you wouldn’t know who had hurt you. In America, you can see the TRUTH.”

    That rocked me back a bit in my chair.

    Our school systems are all mini-Soviet Unions, run by left-wingers and incompetents (but I repeat myself). Much of what kids are taught is true…but mixed in with that are all sorts of “facts” that are nothing but wishful thinking.

    Great post.

  2. Hm. This year’s flu vaccine is the first one in years that *hasn’t* made me sick.

    • yeah. It’s only about half the people. it’s entirely possible I WAS coming down with it and had no symptoms yet, but it is kicking my butt…

      • Yeah, never done flu vaccines. I don’t have a problem with vaccines in general, but the flu vaccine is supposed to only target this year’s strain (mutation). My problem is that the hawkers create an unfalsifiable premise.
        1. No shot, don’t get sick–you’re lucky!
        2. No shot, do get sick–to be expected you luddite!
        3. Get shot, don’t get sick–to be expected you genius!
        4. Get shot, do get sick–eh, you had it already. You should have gotten the shot earlier, you nincompoop!

        So once you have a ready made excuse for everyone who gets sick after receiving the vaccine, no testing will convince the powers that be that they are wrong. Now a real statistical study might make mincemeat of their argument, but do they actually follow the sickness rates in unvaccinated versus vaccinated? I’ve never heard of it.

        • I’m one of those people who always got sick with the flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, etc., and flu and pneumonia vaccines have seemed to help me a lot. (Although my ultimate triumph of getting no flu, last winter, was probably the result of being unemployed, staying home all day in a controlled temperature environment, and having little contact with other human beings.)

          • That’s the reason I get them to. I have a genetic propensity to pneumonia. Mom has had it so many times, she has lungs like a smoker. So I get vaccines. They seem to help. This is the first year I’ve got SERIOUSLY ill from it.

          • That’s how I live (inside; etc), but it’s no defense for me. xD

            My brother and his wife live nearby and she’s a grade school teacher (3rd?). So while I would normally see her every other week or so when they come over for dinner, I’d see my brother a few times a week.

            Now they have a child and grandma is their daycare center and auntie helps grandma during her waking hours. So even if the rugrat isn’t sick and momma isn’t sick, auntie gets sick. I was *less* sick when I was out working. xD

        • Thank you Frank! Every medical person I’ve ever met says that you can’t get sick from a flu shot, but I usually do.

          Sometimes I’ve gotten the weirdest advice from doctors. One doctor was death on carbonation. His recommendation was to drink lots of plain water. I hate faddishness disguised as medical knowledge. Yes water is good for you, but I don’t see that it’s better for you than milk or juice etc. Also everyone is recommended the same thing: 64 ounce of plain still water a day, no matter what your diagnosis is, or where you live, or your activity level is.

          • Wayne Blackburn

            Where in the h$%* do people find doctors like these? Where I am, the documentation that comes with the vaccination TELLS you that you may come down with the same symptoms.

            As far as the water thing goes, if you look it up on Wikipedia, then go to the citation articles at the bottom, one of them documents both that the origin of that advice included the fact that the 64 ounces meant from all sources, including food. It also (for those like my wife, who keeps telling me that coffee does not count, because “you pee out more than you take in,”) points out that someone who drinks coffee all the time will get used to it and it will count toward your hydration.

            • “coffee does not count, because “you pee out more than you take in,”

              I have been told that innumerable times about coffee. However as a person who often times goes days at a time without drinking any other liquid than coffee (unhealthy, I know) I feel that I have debunked that myth fairly thoroughly.

              • Tea. Used to be coffee till I got a stomach ulcer.

              • Susan Shepherd

                It is indeed a sort of urban myth — and a weirdly persistent one.

                It’s true that if you’ll flush out a glass of water in X time, you’ll tend to flush out the liquid component of coffee / tea in Y time, where Y is a shorter length of time than X. This does not change the fact that, while you had the liquid in you, you still benefited from it and were more hydrated than you would have been if you’d drunk nothing.

                I feel like this shouldn’t bug me, but it crops up everywhere including in certain computer game mechanics, e.g. your character has a “thirst bar,” you need to keep drinking water or juice or whatever to avoid dehydration, but drinking soda or coffee causes you to become far more thirsty instead of having your thirst temporarily sated. So I worry that it’s becoming a cultural myth that kids are going to see and blindly follow, perhaps leading to unnecessary injuries or illness.

                Yeah, it’s contrived, but I picture a hiker thinking, “I’m desperately thirsty, but the only thing I have left in my pack is a large bottle of soda Dad gave me to drink with lunch, and that’ll dehydrate me — clearly I should drink from this nearby creek instead.”

                • I have to deal with kidney issues and I have an especial fondness for coffee. Also I learned from one of my nutritionists that the liquid content (64 oz.) includes food content– or in other words if you use milk in your cereal, you must count it as your liquid. It is not so necessary for ordinary people– but for someone who is trying to keep her kidney as healthy as possible, drinking water is the best liquid for this situation.

                  I try to limit my coffee intake to 2 cups. The rest in water intake. It keeps my kidneys working properly.

                  Now if all I had to drink was soda or juice, I would drink it. If I was hiking, I would have tablets so that I could clean the water in the creek for my water intake. BUT– as children we used to drink from creeks and ditches in the summer. We were not sick in the summer– but we seemed to get very sick in the winter. (drinking out of the faucet then). Plus in the summer we weren’t near too many other children. In the winter we were in school where the kids seem to be sick all fall and winter–

                  • As a kid I often drank out of cricks and even spillways in beaver ponds. Now I will drink out of a crick that is running but not a beaver spillway. I do not recommend others do this however, because I have a built up immunity to things common in such water. Doctors who insist that you can’t have a built up immunity to giardia need beaten around the head and shoulders with a clue stick. Why do they think when they go to Mexico that they can’t drink the water without getting deathly sick, while the locals drink it with no effects?

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      I know, right?

                      Sometimes you just wonder if the rest of the world is populated with idiots. You get sick (and you mostly don’t think about it when you’re young, it’s just one of the things that happens to kids), your body learns how to fight that strain, you don’t get sick from it any more. Simple.

                    • Yes – to both of you —

                    • Hothouses produce fragile flowers.

                    • The safest way to consume “open field” water is to add alcohol (any fermented cellulose mash will provide this, given time) to kill bacteria and unicellular parasites, then enclosing it in a sealed kettle bring it to a low boil, right about 200 degrees to remove any foreign particulate matter and further kill bacteria and such. Capture and cool the escaping steam by employing a coil of tubing made from an efficient heat dispersing material (copper is effective.)

                      Collect the cooling steam in a canning jar or other appropriate container and imbibe as necessary. Because the process can be time consuming it is advised to produce it in bulk and stored, possibly in wooden casks where the tannins can further cure the liquid. Oak is well suited to the purpose but might well benefit from being lightly charred beforehand.

                      Always carry some of the excess in something like a glass bottle, encased in a protective metal shell to prevent breakage, possibly shaped to fit comfortably against the upper thigh in a spare pocket of your cargo pants. Small amounts of this “life water” (Uisge Beatha in Gaelic) can be added to a glass of otherwise untreated water to enhance its safe consumption.

                    • “It takes a real man to drink from the Mississippi, cowards cut it with whiskey.”

          • Where I live, 64 ounces of water is a good start but you need another 40 ounces of non-sugary liquids, give or take, to really keep all systems happy. The joys of living in a high desert environment. This water is in addition to whatever you get in your food. If you live in Houston or Seattle, YMMV.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              You know the 64 ounces thing is for people living in “normal human” environments, and not evil, scorpion-scorching death environments, right?

              (running away)

        • … the flu vaccine is supposed to only target this year’s strain (mutation).

          A good friend of mine who’s an ER doctor told me that it usually targets a few strains — I think he said three or four — out of the dozens (hundreds?) of flu strains known to medical science. He said that every year, the CDC folks have to try to guess which strains are going to be the most common this year, and recommend those strains be the ones target for the vaccine this time around. If they guess right, the vaccine is effective for a lot of people; if they guess wrong (the vaccine was for strains A, Q and BH, but strain CG spread more widely than expected this year) then the flu vaccine doesn’t help many people. Problem is, making a vaccine against *all* strains would be so fantastically expensive that nobody could afford it, so they have to balance cost vs. effectiveness.

          If he’s right (and in my experience, he usually is right on medical stuff), then I have no trouble understanding why some years the vaccine makes you sicker than other years, and why some people are helped by the vaccine (it protected against the strain in their area) while others aren’t.

          THIS IS SARAH — WP is still not letting me answer comments — You are largely correct from what I found when studying the flu pandemic and modern attempts to prevent another. (I’m a writer. I read weird cr*p. Deal.)

          The news is that this year someone made a discovery I’m not smart enough to understand much less describe, which is SUPPOSED to make it possible to hit all the several possible combinations in a normal vaccine. A friend in the field told me they were on the verge of a “permanent” flu vaccine and then older son told me he read the same in the journals he reads.

          I hope it’s true.

          • If I remember correctly something my mom (a vet tech, but on this level medicine’s medicine, really) told me about vaccines also explains a lot: because of the nature of our immune systems, fighting off already-dead virii/bacteria doesn’t do as much good as naturally catching and dealing with the diseases. 2 implications of this: you need to be revaccinated periodically for the same disease (hence tetanus boosters, plus the MMR, etc. boosters you really should get but most people don’t) because the antibodies don’t stick around when they’re developed fighting dead diseases; and your immune system doesn’t set itself up to generalize antibody production and fight mutations from encountering attenuated/dead disease samples, whereas in actively fighting a live disease, it better arms itself against not only the mutation of the disease it’s currently fighting, but generalizes the antibodies a little to deal with closely-related mutations.

            So if you’ve been vaccinated against flu A, B, and C, but you catch AA (a slight variation on A) (I’m pulling this naming convention out of thin air for the sake of argument, sorry medical people), your body is not going to know how to handle it, and you’ll get sick. Whereas if you catch A, and you’re exposed to AA, odds are your body will already have AA pretty much figured out from A, and immediately fight it, or take a very short time to generalize A antibodies to AA, and you only get mildly sick before your immune system kicks the battle into high gear and neutralizes the virus.

            Don’t take this to mean I’m anti-vaccine by any stretch, that’s absolutely not true. For life-threatening diseases that you *really* don’t want to risk tangling with, or in situations where you simply can’t actually catch something and survive, vaccines are good enough. However, in the case of someone like me, who is in quite good health, with a strong immune system, who has a history of shrugging off flus and such in a couple days’ time, I don’t see the point. But that’s my choice. YMMV.

            • As I think I’ve pointed out before, and in support of your point– vaccines are not without risk.

              Besides the big list you get when you get vaccinated, anybody who’s worked with animals knows that reactions NEED to be reported so that “little” things like bad batches can be caught. (they’re rarer in people, but not non-existent; part of why I’d never get a “common cold” vaccine, even if we had one)

              • Well — the people who’ve hung out here a long time know why I’d get a flu vaccine. I have a disturbing tendency to end up with pneumonia at the drop of a hat, so…

                It’s genetic. Mom has had pneumonia so often she has emphysema like a heavy smoker, though she’s never smoked in her life.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          They probably don’t do as much nowadays as they did in the early years of the vaccine, because the methodology is largely formulaic now. However, they had to do so at first, in order to get approval of the vaccine.

      • Leave us be frank about this: the vaccine provides some negligible degree of inoculation against various strains of influenza but its primary purpose is to give you the annual dosage of mind-controlling drugs that make you suggestible to such fantasies as believing the government has developed mind-controlling drugs effective in annual dosages.

        • And that there was massive fraud in the election? (As someone following the West recount — did you know they counted 52% of the areas twice, and the rest not at all? — I’m getting very angry no one demanded a national recount. All the analyzes of how to appeal to people, etc, might be off track. It might simply be the Combine.)

          • One thing we need to keep firmly in mind is that the results of exit polling are probably worse than useless. There’s quite a bit of self-selection in who chooses to get interviewed, and the results don’t match the only poll that counts … when there’s not excessive cheating.

            Although WRT cheating and 2012, I have to point out Hugh Hewitt’s If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat. This shouldn’t have been a close election. (I also note that it does great damage to the republic to contest an election that way; why Al Gore, who in 2000 started doing it in the midday with push polls in Florida, demonstrated less class than Nixon in 1960 and helped create the particularly envenomed politics of the first decade of this century).

            My preferred starting point is asking why it didn’t look like 1980, besides the fact that Jimmy Carter had a primary fight (with Ted Kennedy). It’s been noted that it’s rare or unheard of an incumbent President losing reelection if he is unopposed in getting the nomination, although of course if he’s doing badly he’s more likely to experience that. Although I think other factors were involved in Obama not experiencing it, for example would be challengers not wanting to lose support in the future from those in thrall to Obama.

            • I THINK the fraud was massive. Look, in our precinct 1/3 of the people coming in were told they’d already voted. Some said their absentee ballots never arrived in the mail. Some did … gah, blanking on word… ah, provisional ballots, but those only get counted if the record shows you didn’t vote. If someone voted for you, then no. 1/3. In a solid republican precinct. So… what about the others?

              I think vote by mail is a grave error and the GOP should stop pushing people to do it. it’s too easy to cheat.

              Yes, it does “damage” — but does it? The democrats do it all the time, every time… and get the seats. And we were only saved from Gore by the skin of our teeth.

              Which is better? Letting them rule us permanently with downright unbelievable results (100% votes for Obama in some precincts. Putin dreams of those results) or actually making a big fuss once and exposing the cesspool, then using that to clean up the voting?

              • Yeah … but is the correlation of forces (a phrase I trust I don’t have to explain given your thorough grounding in Marxism 🙂 right for us to win that sort of battle? When we’re generally losing the simple one of requiring an ID? When foreign observers are amazed at how lax we are?

                I hate to be so negative, but I think major things will have to happen before we can address these sorts of reforms, part of the semi- and full collapse paths you are thinking about. Hopefully part of a serious awakening and asking the “How did we get here???” question.

              • Ace, who’s no squish, doesn’t see those results as probable fraud indicators, given the precincts in question. (And the “116% turnout” reported in another precinct turned out to be a simple case of transposing the numbers for two different precincts; the actual turnout in each precinct was about 60%). His arguments are convincing, at least to me, and I’ve changed my mind on what I think happened.

                Not that I don’t believe there was fraud in various places — heck, James O’Keefe proved it — but the most-commonly-cited turnout numbers do not show what I used to think they showed. So let’s be careful what evidence we quote when we make the “voting needs to be more secure” argument: the people who want to enable fraud will jump all over us if we quote things like the “116% turnout” precinct. Instead, we should quote things like those DNC employees (plural) gleefully enabling what they believed to be vote fraud — and make a big fuss about that.

                • I know for some reason a lot of conservatives are against early voting, and while mail in ballots are more susceptable to fraud, I personally think the way they do it here is very reliable. Any time during the month or so (I’m not sure exactly when it opens for early voting) before election day you can show up at the court house, show them your drivers license, and they look you up on the list of registered voters, if you haven’t voted they hand you a ballot and you go over in the booth and vote. Everything is done exactly the same as on election day except the only precincts open are the county courthouses, which have people working there (or not, remember this is a government job, but they are at least present) anyways.
                  Personally I know the early/absentee voting is very handy for me, oftentimes I will be working out of town, or very late on election day, since that tends to land at a busy time of year for me. It would have been either very hard or impossible for me to have voted in several past elections if my only choice was to show up on election day at the local precinct.

                  Why conservatives are the ones against early voting, when they are the ones most likely to be unable to make it to the polls on election day really boggles my mind. The welfare people and government handout people who have nothing to inhibit them from reaching the polls vote predominately liberal, while those who work long hours, travel for work, and work in areas away from towns and polling places, lean conservative.

                • Robin,
                  It wasn’t just the results, though that’s fishy too — not that part, the “most of his votes were from first time voters” who, in a year of low enthusiasm just felt SO motivated to vote for him? — it’s from poll watching. My precinct was as safe-republican as they come, but 1/3 the people came in saying their ballot never arrived, but they were marked as having voted absentee. Or they said they had never asked for an absentee ballot, but were voted absentee — yeah, they did provisional, but if those are marked as already having voted, the absentee never counts. ONE THIRD. The people in less safe precincts were reporting a majority of voters in this situation.

                  Think about it. Now go over the country.

                  Also, did you follow the West recount? They counted 48 precincts twice, the rest not at all, then said it was too late. And the counting supervisor checked herself into a mental hospital to avoid questioning. Now multiply that over the country, all the un-recounted.

                  Massive Fraud, Chicago Style.

                  • Yes, all of those are good things to shout about. Looking back over your post more carefully, I see you never mentioned the “over 100% turnout in one Philly precinct” thing that I thought you’d mentioned when I skimmed your post — I saw 100% and just assumed that’s the one you were talking about, since I’ve seen so many others talking about that particular precinct.

                    Wasn’t aware of the West recount (you mean Lt. Col. West, I assume, not West as in “the West coast”) shenanigans, but I’m not in the least bit surprised. There is a LOT of work to be done before we the American people can feel confident in our election system, and not letting people get away with felonies (like election tampering) would be a good start. But publicizing it has to come first.

                    • Yes, I meant Lt. Col West.

                    • Robin–
                      In Nevada there was a lot of complaining about the ballot (in Nevada it is an electronic ballot machine) kept resetting to Obama. It is interesting like other States that the President was re-elected (rapid progressive), but the Senate seat went to a conservative.

                      Also I noticed that the election rules are being used to bash conservative candidates. Anyone that professes conservatism (back to the constitutional principles) are being reviled, taunted, and taken to court. Their reputations are being besmirched. The person who has also went through this process is Sarah Palin.

                      The problem is that the real felonies are being done by the very people who are going after conservatives.

                      Our Secretary of the State of Nevada — Ross Miller (who is a democrat) wanted to put in ID rules for the next election. He was saying that there were too many strange names on the rolls that shouldn’t be there– He was shut down by his own party and had to apologize. I think for the first time he wanted to do something good for Nevada and not for the Party. So now we are seeing a proposal for driving licenses for illegals in Nevada so that they can get insurance when they drive in the State.

                      HUH? They won’t buy insurance anyway– So what is this all about?

                      So anyway– back to electioneering– I am pretty sure although I don’t have proof that the dead voted again, pets voted for the first time, and illegals were given help to vote. At least in Nevada– which is an old Chicago tradition.

            • The utility of exit polling depends on what its purpose might be. If the purpose is to derive information about voter decision processes astrology is probably better, but if the purpose is to allow our media manipulators to establish a meme and pound it into the body politic then exit polling is extremely useful.

  3. I agree completely on teaching your children to read! If they can read, and enjoy reading, then they can teach themselves anything that catches their interest. My older son is dyslexic, but when he was grounded (for whatever reason) I always allowed him to read. No video games, or TV allowed in his room, but all the comic books or real books you want. My sons are 28 and 27 now, and they still do read. My grandchildren also like books. 🙂

  4. A few notes on one bit of the above: if you expect reform inside the system, well, Why Johnny Can’t Read, the first major critique of Whole World reading “instruction” was published in 1955. It made a big stir, but seeing as how we’re still fighting this particular battle….

    Jerry Pournelle has a lot more to say about “Dick and Jane and Their Running Dog Spot”; his wife is a retired reading instructor, who for a long time taught the hardest cases, youths in the criminal justice system.

    Heinlein also covered this very well at a higher level, general high school education, soft vs. hard subjects, 3 years later in Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. It among many other things correctly tells you what it takes to get accepted by MIT or another serious science and/or engineering school (note plenty of public universities have separate or additional application processes for these subjects).

    • I am also vaguely reminded of C.S. Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man”, especially that section where he’s asked to write a recommendation of a textbook, and cannot do it.

    • Okay, now you’ve done made me go down the rabbit hole and find out what the heck is “Whole Words” all about. I know I didn’t learn it that way, because I very vividly remember my mother sitting down with me to go over reading exercises where I had to learn how to sound out each word (I’m deaf, and I had to take speech therapy). This seems to be a really nutty way to teach reading.

    • Jerry Pournelle and Heinlein are great, but I always felt inferior because I didn’t study calculus and I’m not an engineer. I have taken stats and have read David Berlinski’s books on math.

    • For added fun:
      The special ed classes for the kids that “can’t read”? May be worse than nothing.
      I was classified as unable to read– I couldn’t remember what the letter “T” was called, for the life of me, with Mrs. Halitosis looming over me– and thus was not allowed to pick up any book that was over the base level. Being rather pig headed, I think I basically muled on reading something that I wasn’t interested in.

      Mom gave permission for me to be put into a special reading class, which was taught by a guy who’d been chased out into the middle of nowhere as a special ed teacher.
      His system consisted of letting me pick any book I wanted from the walls, helping me sound out the words…and in less than a quarter, I was reading at double my grade level. I was off of the charts they had in no time (it was supposed to be for grade school illiterates, so no big brag) and I can remember reading Dracula in second or third grade up to the part where he’s laying in the coffin, “swollen like a leach.” I got grossed out and quit. I honestly can’t remember finding any books that I couldn’t understand, even if I had to look up jargon.

      That teacher “did it wrong.” He was supposed to do what the school told my mom to do– sight-reading and very, very basic stories.
      (Mom kind of said to heck with that and got a used copy of Hooked on Phonics when she realized that I wasn’t having trouble with the complexity of the stories, I just have a horrible memory when I’m stressed or not interested.)

      • They kept telling us we needed to teach basic words to Marshall — the kid who refused to talk to his preschool teacher because (his term) “she patronizes me.” He had horrible grades in all standard tests through 8th grade, though. Combination of things: first, total boredom. Second, a sensory issue that caused him to read and write very slowly.

        We got all these exercises for how to make his reading and writing faster, but I am not very smart with visual stuff, and their instructions made no sense to me.

        Thing is, this sensory stuff is developmental — and usually hits math/engineering brains. It is considered “autistic spectrum” though in Marshall’s case, it has NO other symptoms. Most young men grow out of it by sixteen. Girls are not supposed to get it. But here’s the thing — I REMEMBER having the same issues Marshall had. From mom’s talk, I know my brother had it, and from anecdotal stuff from grandma, I suspect two of my uncles had it and grandma might also have had it. So–

        So I remembered writing so slowly that the only reason I wasn’t flunked is that it was a one-room school and the teacher knew my entire family and made allowances.

        And I remembered how dad got me writing and reading at normal speed BEFORE I entered 6th grade, which was outside the village, and where people would have taken it badly if I only wrote half the test because I ran out of time.

        Dad had me spend a year copying a couple of pages a day, and reading aloud to him every night.

        So I terrorized Marshall in a similar fashion. By the end of the year he was writing at a normal speed for his grade and reading somewhat faster.

        Getting him to understand he still has to answer questions he’s not interested in took till last year. Now he’s in college, and we’ll see how things go. 😉

        However, hurray for unconventional approaches.

        • Really makes me wonder how much of autism is actually disorder, and how much is just a spectrum that we yell “close enough, there’s trouble!” when it’s just situationally uncomfortable.

          • Well, “autism spectrum” does make for a useful verbal club with which to beat bureaucratic-minded school administrators* into admitting that yes, maybe this child does need an unconventional approach to benefit from his/her education.

            * Which does seem to describe most school administrators — though, thankfully for me in particular, not all. When I was in 6th grade in France, I routinely came home complaining of having been bored in school. My mother investigated and figured out that I was capable of learning certain subjects (math and science in particular) much faster than the rest of my classmates. So when I had mastered the concept on day one, but on day two the math teacher was rephrasing the explanation for the 90% of the class who hadn’t gotten it yet, I was sitting around bored out of my mind. Thankfully, the principal of that French public school was someone who’d had some experience himself in unconventional teaching methods (I forget the details) and was willing to try something new. Which is why starting in 7th grade, I found myself doing a combination of public school, homeschooling for what my parents could teach me (most subjects but math), and private tutoring for math with a retired college professor who lived in the nearby city. He had me doing limits (in the calculus sense) by the end of 7th grade, and I was loving it. Best math experience I ever had, and it stuck with me, too. I still remember trying to argue that no, 0.99999… (infinitely repeating) was not equal to 1, and his simple response to prove to me that I was wrong: “Well, if they’re not equal, then there must be some number that’s in between them. What is it?” That’s when I first started to grasp what “infinity” really meant.

            … That got a bit long. The point is, there are still some administrators who aren’t bureaucrats. But when you run into one of the majority who are bureaucrats, having ammunition like the phrases “autism spectrum” and (if in the US) “ADA” can sometimes make the difference for your child.

            • …And it makes for hell if the kid wants to go into the military later on.

              • Well, since Marshall’s issue is “grown out of” in most cases, it’s not permanent in his records, and he chose not to claim it for college.

                • Probably won’t show up unless he went in and tried for a clearance, then, but I don’t know what they’d make of it if they did find out at that point… If he has an interest, better tell his recruiter, with lots of mentions that it was a school thing, not an actual medical diagnosis.
                  Can still cause problems, but requires a bit more malice. Third parties have started legal actions against recruiters when they’ve heard about autistic folks being recruited, even if it’s high functioning folks.

                  • Actually the diagnosis didn’t say it was part of the autistic spectrum — it’s an odd thing, it only coincides sometimes, it’s just that it coincides enough they went digging for autism — and didn’t find it. The thing is actually a neurological development issue. Our pediatrician was convinced it was the result of having a massive head — takes longer for all the connections to finish, he said. 🙂

                    Right now he doesn’t have an interest. (It’s more nuanced than that. It has to do with where we are and what things are like and er… other things.) However, the marines have come courting so hard I keep expecting to open the door and find them on a knee with a ring, so that might change…

        • One of my brothers was just diagnosed dyslexic a few years ago in his late 30s. We tried everything including phonics to teach him how to read. He can read slowly, but we were never able to help him get past a very low level. However– he became an engineer. When his wife realized that he had a disability, she convinced the school to let someone read to him. Funny– he has a really really good memory. He was able to pass all the tests for engineer w/o going through college. Most of the guys in his classes had master’s degree…

          He knows everything there is to know about steam engines (he works on ships that have boiler engines) and it is all in his memory. It is amazing. He still can’t read well– but he does really well in his field.

          • He might actually have sensory issues, not dyslexia (though the two are often linked.) In some men it lingers on to adulthood.

            • That could be true– he is in his 40s now. But is brilliant when it comes to repairing things. He has been in the merchant marines since his mid-20s and learned his talents there. Apprenticeship programs are for those kind of men/boys I think.

              • Yep. My dad was diagnosed with dyslexia, various learning disabilities, and went through school in a mix of special/remedial classes, and ended up going to RCA technical trade school, and became a great electronics technician (back when that meant something, ‘engineer’ in today’s parlance). And BTW, I say ‘great’ in my professional estimation from my electronics training as a computer engineer, not familial bias. 🙂 But anyhoo, autism and spectrum disorders run heavily through my family on his side (he was diagnosed in his 40’s with non-verbal learning disability, basically “you’re probably autistic, but we don’t have childhood documentation”; my brother is diagnosed as autistic; my uncle is just like my dad, but a bit more successful in school through sheer stubbornness; and I show significant traits myself), we’re all engineers except my brother, who has yet to enter college but wants to be a meteorologist, and we all struggled in school because of the way the system works.

                My dad had trouble reading depending on how much practice he’s been getting. I had issues in math, because I process it visually, and couldn’t show my work unless I worked backwards. Like my dad, I favoured a vo-tech degree (community college), although I’d been taught for college prep. I realized I’m too impatient for 4 years of mostly-theory, whereas 2yr degrees are primary practical, hands-on training, and I know the seeming random and sporadic seeming learning disorders grade school teachers kept noticing are stress-induced, so a high-pressure university education was not for me.

                • Glad to see your dad was able to make it in the world. I think that the academic world is a little snobbish and don’t realize that they are the ones without a clue. We used to say (I was an electronics tech) “if you want a circuit to be screwed up, you let a university trained electronics engineer make it.” 😉 Although I do have a cousin who is an electronics engineer with a degree, he was careful to say that he learned more on the job than in college.

                  I have a slight problem with 6 & 9, p &q, b & d, if they pass by me fast. However what helped me was that after I went through a phonics like program in school, I became so interested in reading that I didn’t see the words. I saw whole sentences. 😉

  5. i have raged before (maybe not here) on the programmed reading that was introduced to children in the late 60s, early 70s. The idea was that the child would intuitively learn to read a word by just seeing it over and over. Boring– boring– (Another program that went with it was creative spelling– spell the word how it sounds urp)

    I was lucky in that I went through a teacher who taught the old way. My sister who turned fifty this year learned through programmed reading. She is semi-literate and has been that way since she was six. Reading programs do matter. I found it interesting that many adults of that generation who went through that programming have come through the system semi-literate too.

    A child that learns to enjoy reading can learn anything– useful … and that critical thinking that teachers are supposed to be teaching? More bullhookie. A child that can read and write will learn critical thinking as she reads good literature (even bad literature).

    • Don’t you know, we all have to be alike. If the high-IQ folk learn how to read just by looking at the page, then EVERYBODY has to learn by just looking at the page. Official explanation. Secret explanation: if the kid’s too illiterate to use a dictionary, you absolutely control what he THINKS a word means.

      • Agreed Charles– you hit the nail on the head.

      • I learned to read at age three, but not by just looking at the page. The only marked difference between me and the ‘high-IQ folk’, I should wager, is that I actually remember the process of learning to read. I gather that most people who learn to read at that age do not retain any detailed memory of how they did it — so, naturally, they are bound to substitute imagination and theory for the experience that they cannot recall.

        • I learned to read at six. My teacher used phonetics, memorization, and competition. We also read out loud to each other in small groups. The entire class (40 children) learned to read. She didn’t have a second teacher to help either.

          Cyn — I knew how to read when I entered school, though my dad had to cure me of inability to read IN PUBLIC — but we had a class of twelve with one kid who was AT BEST educable mentally retarded. By December, the entire class could read. I know this because the teacher distributed parts for the school play and didn’t ask if anyone couldn’t read theirs. Writing took longer (we were using quill pens!) but we could read.

          • Phonetics, memorization, and completion. (nods sagely) Yes, that sounds sound.

            My father used essentially the same method to teach me when I was three, since it was the way he had been taught in the long-ago and far-away. (He was technically unemployed that year, but being my unpaid teacher may just have been the most important job he ever had.) Add into the mix a collection of Dr. Seuss books (which are wonderful for teaching phonetics, because you get to sound out all the made-up words and that makes the poetry go) and a tape recorder; subtract the class of 40, since, for some unaccountable reason, my father had not got that many children and couldn’t borrow from the neighbours. It was an old neighbourhood and had not many children in it altogether.

            • 🙂 Yea– that would work Tom– My younger sister learned to read because I played teacher. I taught her phonetics on a small board. I was almost eight and she was three. My other sisters (two) were not interested in reading. I used to direct them in plays though.

              • I was seven, and nearly the only one in my first class who didn’t already know how to read. Letters, then spelling, then full words – Finnish works a bit differently from English because the same letter usually indicates the exact same sound in every word it is used in.

                I didn’t learn well in school, though. My mother needed to work with me a lot at home, and all I do remember of that is it was slow and painful. In spite of me being one of those high(ish…) IQ folks. Heh. One of the reasons why it took well into my middle age before I went to take an IQ test, I figured that since I didn’t even learn to read easily or younger than school age, as high IQ folks are kind of supposed to, I couldn’t have a particularly high one so why bother to find that out. Curiosity won in the end.

                (Well, I don’t necessarily think that straight either, so I suppose that IQ mostly indicates a talent, and you’d need to learn how to use it, and to practice a lot, before you get to being actually intelligent. The same way being artistically talented doesn’t mean you can draw or paint well before you learn to do it but that you learn faster and can get further than somebody who doesn’t have that talent.)

                • “I suppose that IQ mostly indicates a talent, and you’d need to learn how to use it, and to practice a lot, before you get to being actually intelligent.”

                  Yes, some of the smartest people I have ever met, are raving idiots.

                • No. Trying to teach the family genius some things is like …. teaching pigs to sing. Geniuses don’t necessarily learn early or easily. Some are just stubborn.

                • Agreed – I have the same affliction. It takes a long time to start a subject and get it into my head. But then I make connections that others can’t even see– and when I get the basics, I learn at a rapid rate. It is the basics that gets me stuck in the bogs– I also have a high-ish IQ– higher when I was NOT on chemo.

        • My sister learned to read before starting school. So did both my son and my daughter. I suspect that the only reason I didn’t was that I needed glasses.

          The only “teaching” I did was read to them, and answer the question, “What does that sign say, Mommy?” until it about drove me crazy.

          I was really annoyed when someone came up to me and complemented me on how well my (autistic, but super smart) daughter could read, and said that I must have worked really hard with her for that.


          Facts are stubborn things, but not nearly as stubborn as fallacies.*

          On Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 9:09 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

          > ** > Tom Simon commented: “I learned to read at age three, but not by just > looking at the page. The only marked difference between me and the high-IQ > folk, I should wager, is that I actually remember the process of learning > to read. I gather that most people who learn to read” >

  6. There was something I heard recently about a school system teaching the history of the Boston Tea Party as a terrorist attack against the “occupying forces” of Great Britain. And occassionally some of my piano students have asked why we had to “attack” Japan with an atomic bomb. I asked if they had been taught about Pearl Harbor, and discovered that little incident had been conveniently left out of the lesson.

    • a school system teaching the history of the Boston Tea Party as a terrorist attack against the “occupying forces” of Great Britain

      It is hard to believe that even the people who make up such lies can believe them themselves. Terrorism, by definition, consists of attacks made for the purpose of causing terror: typically against an unarmed civilian population. Where was the unarmed population of British civilians in Boston Harbor? If the men involved had sailed across to Liverpool harbour instead, and if they had thrown Englishmen into the drink instead of tea, that would at least have fulfilled the bare minimum dictionary definition of a terrorist attack. (It would also have been hugely funny, though the authorities would not have been inclined to share in the laugh; and since the English love a good joke so much that they don’t much mind even being a good joke, it might have publicized the colonists’ cause in a way that would have headed off the whole unpleasantness of 1776 et seqq.)

  7. One other thing you need to watch out for is lessons that don’t allow students to use arguments derived from outside sources. I first ran into this in college, when the instructor gave us our (left-wing) reading assignments and told us that we’d lose points if we used anything else. She had some excuse but not a valid one. The fact is, invalid arguments are often much easier to spot when you look at them from another perspective. Marx, to give one example, seems oddly prophetic about some aspects of the relationship between labor and capital–until you realize that those arguments of his were already common knowledge among economists in his own time. Everything he was right about was copied from other economists. All the rest was his own weird, wrong, harmful speculations. But you won’t get that if the Communist Manifesto is your only source.

    • Yup. Karl Marx was not just a brilliant economist: he was two brilliant economists. One of them was named David Ricardo, and the other was named John Stuart Mill. In addition to that, he was one of the most blitheringly stupid writers on economics who ever lived; this happened, by sheer coincidence (or not), whenever he struck boldly out to say something original.

  8. Critical thinking is also no longer taught. The majority of the college freshmen I dealt with could not create a reasoned argument, or explain why an idea or set of data might be incorrect. And I won’t talk about the lack of writing skills.

    • Yes. I’ve seen this too — most students seem COMPLETELY incapable of creating a reasoned argument.

    • Susan Shepherd

      Seconded on lack of writing skills. It’s not as much of a problem where I attend (if it were, we’d be screwed ten ways from Tuesday — but writing troubles here tend to be a) minor and b) grammar / spelling related since English is weird and many students are international). That said, I’ve seen “run-of-the-mill” four-year colleges and community colleges, and it is scary how poorly most juniors and seniors perform when asked to write a paper.

      I mean, sentences that aren’t correctly formed. Sentences that make no sense whatsoever. Some folks don’t know basic stuff like making sure the antecedents are clear before you start using “it” or “he” or “she”. Never mind such matters as correct use of semicolons and commas. Or the ability to cite sources correctly.

      The really sad thing about all this is that (as far as I can tell) the best solution is to make these students write more, then point out their errors and give them a brief explanation when they make mistakes. Force them to write a few pages of text each week and they’ll gradually get better. Simply lecturing at them in a fairly abstract way about grammar rules or essay organization is not going to do them any good if they only write three four-page essays over the course of a semester.

      • Oh, yeah. I took the book on how to write essays and made the kids do one a week… topics varied, starting with “my best friend” at like six and going on to “current theories on–” whatever their hobby horse was at the time.

        You know — I’m probably a mean parent TM. But hey, both of them CAN write fiction AND nonfiction. So… bah.

    • This is why, even though my daughter is only six, I’m already making her justify WHY she wants things, as well as WHY she feels certain things. In her cartoons, she’ll say, “They’re being mean!’ without getting the context. When I run her through the context, it’s like watching a light bulb go off.

    • There’s a school where they’re trying to turn the students around by making them use sentences with “although” “because” and “despite” in all sorts of subject matters.

  9. “Strunk & White”- is that “Elements of style”? (Request- please link amazon when recommending specific books)

    • Yes, that’s the one, small but mighty. “The Elements of Style,” is the official title, but everyone calls it “Strunk and White” to separate it from other style guides (Chicago, Turabian).

      • Strunk and White is excellent for teaching a formal writing style that will keep you out of trouble. It is a rhetoric book. It is not really for teaching grammar.

        However, it’s fair to say that English grammar books in general drive linguists around the bend, because they are usually rhetoric books with very little use for explaining English grammar. Nowadays, however, they are written by extremely ignorant people, so they can’t even remain consistent in their use of terms. Language Log has a regular feature pointing out the most horrible current textbooks. There don’t seem to be any good ones.

        • For a humorous take on grammar (but remember it’s a UK publication so spellings etc differ) I love and recommend Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. It’s not exactly a grammar book but it has a lot of grammar advice. Most of it applies on both sides of the Atlantic pond, too.

          • Forgot to say that rhetoric books often do work as grammar books for English speakers — because native English speakers already know English grammar. They just need confidence, and to be drilled in some kind of widely-acceptable formal style so that they can pull that up whenever needed.

            But you just can’t believe it like you’d believe a book on chemistry.

        • Uh… Strunk and White IS grammar. It’s all about placement of commas and such. It is not rhetoric at all — it’s a very stripped down manual. Are you confusing it with something else, perhaps?

          • According to any modern linguist (read: Chomskyite), ‘placement of commas and such’ has nothing to do with grammar. You see, modern linguistics is all about abolishing privilege, not about studying language. In the bad old days, people used to talk about Good English and Bad English, when Bad English simply meant ‘a dialect used by the lower classes’, and this was Doubleplusungood Crimethink. (It is apodictically obvious why there is NO OTHER POSSIBLE EXPLANATION of why some usage is considered ‘good’ and some ‘bad’; it is all about classism, racism, sexism, and ism-ism-ism, and HOW DARE YOU THINK OTHERWISE, you knuckle-dragging conservative cretin, you?) Nowadays, the enlightened linguist treats all spoken dialects as equal — except, of course, the ones that correspond closely to written language, because written language isn’t real language.

            In other words, to abolish the idea of one dialect being privileged over another, they establish a categorical rule that privileges every spoken dialect above any written dialect; and even those spoken dialects that also occur in writing are frowned upon.

            How does all this bear on Strunk & White and rhetoric, you ask? The more complex rules of grammar are also rules of rhetoric, because they are there for the avoidance of ambiguity. All communication is subject to error; when communication is one-way (as in writing or public speaking), so that the audience cannot influence the discourse by saying ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I think you’re saying X, but I’m not sure; do you really mean Y?’ — well, in such circumstances, language has to be freighted with a lot of what an information theorist would call error-correcting code. This code is not necessary for informal, face-to-face conversation, and is mostly not used there. But because modern linguists give absolute privilege to the spoken over the written word, they are ideologically incapable of grasping that there is a real reason — a rhetorical reason — for the finer nuances of formal grammar. They therefore deny that those nuances are valid, or even that they are grammar at all.

            In fact, the modern linguist has a touching faith that each and every possible way that a native speaker can speak a language is automatically correct — that people never make errors — that the sole job of grammar is to describe how these infallible marvels actually do use language; and therefore, that any prescriptive rule of grammar is wrong, simply because if it were right, usage would be unanimously in favour of it and it would not need to be prescribed.

            This is why I dropped linguistics halfway through my second year of university, and took up a major that did not require me to be both an idiot and an intellectual whore.

            • Susan Shepherd

              That’s a take on the field that I hadn’t seen before, and I’m not convinced it’s accurate. (Full disclosure: I’ve taken a great many linguistics classes because I wanted to be able to do conlangs well; it is not my major.) The difference between prescriptive vs. descriptive grammars is an important one, but the whole point of descriptive grammar is to capture what people are actually doing with their language, as opposed to prescriptive grammar which is what a grammar book tells you.

              The two are used differently. There is nothing wrong with prescriptive grammar; it’s a tool for making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to language use. Sometimes prescriptive grammar is silly (the whole “don’t split infinitives” came about because someone decided that English should use Latin grammar rules because “Latin is more prestigious” and in Latin grammar apparently infinitives were one word or something — I don’t know anything but dog Latin and not much of that, having never studied it). But prescriptive grammar is useful on the whole and is amazing, especially in writing, because it helps us to maintain a sort of universally accepted written dialect.

              Descriptive grammar is a useful concept because languages change and shift, and if you want to look at differences between (say) French as spoken in Paris, France and French as spoken in certain provinces in Canada, it’s useful to have a mindset that neither one of these is inherently wrong because if you come across as a smug jerk when you try to record people in conversation, they tend to tell you (rightly) to go boil your head.

              In short, these two concepts are used very differently. Descriptive grammar applies to research not the classroom. Prescriptive grammar applies in the classroom and does… well, I’d say that it does a good job of getting kids educated, but crappy teaching methods still manage to turn out high school grads who can’t read or write English very well at all. That’s not the fault of linguistics, though. If you give prescriptive grammar a chance to work, it does a marvelous job of getting people on the same page in terms of knowing how to write correctly, how to reason through logical arguments, etc.

              I suspect that the field of linguistics attracts more than its fair share of idiots, and it’s entirely possible that the way it was taught to you was as you described — but I’ve known people who specialized in that field, and most of them would strongly disagree with what you think they believe as described in your second-to-last paragraph.

              • Susan Shepherd

                Also, I know “dialect” isn’t quite the right term for academic writing. But it’s something along those lines — a subsection of English that is more formal in tone, accepts fewer slang terms, and uses strict rules for what it considers acceptable spelling and punctuation. It’s also ridiculously useful.

                • Yes, indeed: the language you are talking about (register, rather than dialect, is perhaps the technically correct term) is ridiculously useful. But Chomsky and his disciples would have us believe that it is entirely unworthy of study and exists only to oppress those out of power.

                  • I suspect the word you are both seeking is “jargon”:

                    the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity, group, profession, or field of study

                    • No indeed. Formal English (written or spoken) is a register and not a jargon, though of course it may be written using jargon, and in academic publications jargon is de rigueur (though less now than formerly). On the other hand, informal English can be chock-a-block with jargon.

                    • in academic publications jargon is de rigueur

                      My apologies; that was the sense which I (mis)understood you to be employing.

              • I suspect that the field of linguistics attracts more than its fair share of idiots, and it’s entirely possible that the way it was taught to you was as you described —

                In fact, my freshman linguistics class was taught by a Ph.D. (not tenured, but a postdoctoral student, IIRC) who said exactly that about prescriptive grammar — that it is always and automatically wrong, because if it were right it would not need to be prescribed. Fortunately I was able to get out of that class and enrol in another section, taught by a sessional instructor who was not interested in tenure and was willing to teach the subject without insisting upon loyalty to the ideology.

                In those two years as a linguistics major, I encountered only two professors who taught me anything useful. One was the professor of historical linguistics (the closest thing my benighted country has to a philologist), who taught useful and interesting things about the history of English, and would have no truck with ‘de-privileging’ the written word, because all the archaic English that survives is necessarily in written form. The other was a professor of Greek in the classics department, who told me quite frankly that she had got out of linguistics and into classics because of just the kind of ideological nonsense that was going on upstairs, and had never regretted it.

                • By the way — that freshman linguistics course? A couple of years before I took that, I had been trying the old autodidact route, and bought myself a book called Teach Yourself Linguistics. It covered all of the same topics as the official textbook for the freshman course, in almost exactly the same order; but it was half the length and a quarter of the price, and I did not have to shell out $1,000-odd in tuition to be permitted to use it. If it had not been for that book, I would count my second (replacement) instructor in the freshman course as someone from whom I had learnt useful things.

                  • Susan Shepherd

                    It sounds like I got lucky, then. Sorry you had to put up with that stuff, and I don’t blame you one bit for switching majors as a result.

                    • Thank you. It is indeed quite possible to get lucky, especially if you don’t take linguistics as a major. They really only want to rub the ideology into the future linguists, I suspect, and don’t care all that much about trippers.

                      Of course, much depends on the political slant of the department at the university you happen to attend. At the University of Calgary, where I went, each department has its own slant and they range all across the spectrum from libertarian to Marxist, with the linguistics office near the left end of the scale. Hence Dr. Bertolin’s ability to find a job in the classics department (much less political of any stripe) where she could get away from the ideologues upstairs. (Greek & Roman Studies, 5th floor; Linguistics, 8th floor. I forget where the unrepentant rednecks of the Poli Sci department were. There must have been pitched battles in the stairwells at some point.)

                  • I’d like to point out that while my linguistic teachers were sane — and I learned a ton, particularly in philology — I assume this was because the madness hadn’t got to Portugal yet. My English professors in college, though, were Oxford graduates, and kept insisting that they were supposed to just analyze and use descriptive — not prescriptive — grammar, because prescriptive grammar was “racist”. Which I count as more of the “race is culture” and vice versa bullshit.

                    • I’m sorry for setting off a bomb inadvertently, and then running away for work and Thanksgiving before seeing what I’d done….

                      1. Without even getting into dialects, and without even getting into descriptive grammar, it’s very easy to see that formal English grammar doesn’t work the way that anybody’s book says it should. I know, because I’m the one who kept noticing exceptions to every rule, and situations the rules didn’t cover. Even if you stick to the normal formal English style, you will notice this.

                      2. OTOH, you obviously can’t teach elementary kids with the big Cambridge book of English grammar that’s 1200 pages long. Even if there are a zillion different common uses of the verb “to be”, and even if it’s comforting to know that English technically doesn’t have past or future tenses, but rather uses systems that are similar in effect.

                      But on the gripping hand, it’s cruel to set people up with the idea that you can believe your grammar book the same way you can believe your chemistry book.

                      3. However, even as a style book, obviously Strunk and White can’t possibly cover everything and every exception. They break their own rules in their own book, which pretty much says it all. This doesn’t mean that style isn’t useful; but it also means that you can’t believe it like chemistry.

                      4. In the end, it’s okay to teach people rules for English as long as you teach them that English is full of exceptions to those rules. (Or of collisions between different systems from different times and languages and people, all of which English apparently intends to keep.) But they do need to be taught that the textbook rules aren’t the totality of English. It’s cruel to teach people otherwise.

                      5. Obligatory rolling of eyes in Chomsky’s general direction.

                    • That is because the English language is a lot like Americans, a mongrel begat by mongrels. So all sorts of interesting quirks pop up, some of which we can’t even identify where they came from.

              • Here’s an observartion of this sort of nonsense in real life.

        • When I moved4 to Germany, I had to find an English grammar text, a real one, so I could understand what people were telling me about German as I learned it. If you don’t use, eg, the subjunctive (hatte vs hätte) correctly, they don’t undertand you — and then someone would tell me it was the subjunctive and I thought they were using a German word.

          Luckily, English grammars are actually fairly easy to come by in a German university town.

          • don’t know when this was but my English grammar in college in Portugal was bloody useless. They’d signed onto ‘descriptive” not “prescriptive” grammar. FORTUNATELY I’d taken English Grammar in 12th grade in Stow, Ohio with a martinet of a teacher. It carried me all through college. (I’m still really bad at punctuation, but for five years or so, she glued it on.)

          • This reminds me of my own studies. When I was reading up on the Proto-Indo-European verb system, I came to understand English verbs for the first time. You see, most of the Indo-European daughter languages have evolved their own different ways of marking tenses, so that the original PIE tense system is hard to reconstruct — been revised and replaced too many times. However, a lot of the work we do with verb tenses was done in PIE by verb aspect, and the aspect system has survived almost unchanged in languages as far removed as English, Modern Greek, and Hindi.

            Most books of English grammar don’t employ the term ‘aspect’, and I suspect most English grammarians have never heard of it. Certainly I never met an English teacher who had. But the whole wretched system springs into beautiful coherence and organization once you start thinking in two dimensions instead of one: tense (time of action) on the X axis, aspect (stage of completion of the action) on the Y axis.

            It is my firm belief that if you study any two languages systematically, you will learn a great deal about language in general; but if you study only one, you will never learn much even about that.

            • More information please? Are there any good websites you could point me to with info about this?

              I’ve never been taught grammar and what I have I picked up on the fly from reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. This aspect thing sounds fascinating.

    • Yes, Elements of Style. Sorry. I should have done the links, but I felt like I was going forward on my face at any second.

  10. “To think that this particular program was intentional, I’d have to assume the entire education establishment was filled with a malicious and fiendish intelligence.”

    Yes there is, and Bill Ayers is its name.

    And while they may be teaching pap in the early grades, it’s middle school when the attempt to mold a progressive outlook becomes a full-blown war on your child.

    One of my few bright lights of parenting (yes, I am the epitome of the guilty mother) came when my then-middleschooler asked if there was something wrong with her. Oh? Well, in a campus assembly, where they were being lectured on the rotten state of the world, and how they could save it if they just cared enough, she just rolled her eyes. The conflict between what she felt and what she was obviously supposed to feel disturbed her.

    With a little bit of prodding, she thought it through and realized they were trying to tell her that saving the world was a simple thing, to be accomplished by wishing hard and not working hard, and most certainly not by studying hard.

    Her middle school years were filled with assemblies like that. With educatonal “scenarios” where they were supposed to learn the virtues of teamwork and sharing and caring.

  11. We pulled our kids out of public school at age 11 or so (Son&Heir at 13) largely because of how and what they were teaching the kids to read. As my wife and I owned a training consultancy at the time, this was no big deal: we knew HOW to teach, we only needed to decide WHAT to teach. We had no idea so we let the kids decide for themselves. The only mandatory activity was at least three hours of reading a day from my library (anything) and however much they wanted to read from their own collections thereafter. We didn’t care about content: we figured they’d learn about stuff which interested them — one of the major tenets of training and teaching is that people WILL NOT LEARN ANYTHING if it doesn’t interest them, or if there is no incentive to learn (e.g. at work). I wasn’t going to force my kids to learn Physics when they had no interest in it, for example, because in a year they’d have forgotten everything and people, the goal of teaching is RETENTION.
    Anyway, the kids are doing fine: two seniors in college with various Dean’s List accolades, and the third (autistic) one is a software tester living by himself in Austin.

  12. A good way to learn English grammar is to take a related foreign language. I learned more English grammar in my junior high and high school German classes than I did in English classes.

    I also looked at my girls’ public school textbooks. The most appalling textbooks were history and civics. They were written by left-wing idiot propagandists. It’s amazing how important women of color (none of whom I had heard of before) were to early American history.

    The most annoying textbooks were 4th and 5th grade math. The authors turned relatively simple concepts, such as long division and fractions, into incredibly complex and convoluted “sets” theories. I aced differential equations but still couldn’t figure out those grade school math texts.

    • I’d like to blame the 1970s “new math” for my inability to go beyond trig, but it only gets part of the credit. If I’d learned the fundamentals better, I would not have been scrambling from the 7th grade on.

      • I was probably one of those students that they devised “new math” from. I never learned how to do things like long division until a few years ago when I was attempting to teach a younger cousin that was having problems in math. I could look at something like 87 / 9 and know it equals 9 2/3, then get in trouble for not showing my work. I honestly couldn’t figure out what frustrated the teachers so much in grade school when I turned in a list of answers and when asked why I didn’t show my work, would answer, “I did, there is the problem, here is the answer.”
        I jumped ahead in math, and took it out of my grade level until I hit Calculus as a sophomore. Then not learning the fundamentals probably came back to bite me. I dropped out after a semester (with a B+) while I could still do the work, I didn’t understand it, and thought it was stupid, I could get the same answers much easier and faster by extrapolating with algebra and common sense, instead of using Calculus. (this probably wouldn’t have continued to work if I had continued further, but I had managed to sail through a semester without either learning anything or understanding a use for it. So, since I already had all the math credits needed to graduate, I dropped it and took an extra hour of metal shop, which seemed a lot more useful to me 😉

        • New Math worked for me, as well. Breaking numbers down into factors and such has provided years of harmless amusement, such as the year I turned 27 and happily went about announcing I was 3!

          As I understand the history of it, New Math was actually a very effective system for teaching math, providing a deeper understanding of the numerical interrelationships. Unfortunately, the training most teachers received for instruction in New Math was woefully inadequate (and, truth be told, human nature being what it is, most teachers attending those conferences and seminars for learning how to teach the New Math probably spent most evenings at the bars, most mornings hungover and most afternoons lining up their party friends for the coming evening.)

          Any business strategy planner will affirm that a system is only as effective as its implementation. New Math”s designers clearly failed that phase of the roll-out.

          • Factoring numbers is New Math??? I suppose introducing the number line early is as well … but both of those are tremendously useful when you get to algebra. My biggest problem with how my math was taught was how pathetically long it took to get to serious algebra (a smidgen in 8th grade, but not for real until 9th). Math simply wasn’t very interesting till I got there, which is I hear typical for the US and atypical for counties that teach it better and get to the good stuff earlier.

            • Of course you could have been like me and hated your 6th grade math teacher, told him to sit and spin, and went to the library, where some genius who only went to school part days was doing algebra on his own and turning it in directly to the principal for grading. Being interested, and wanting to figure out a way to stay out of my math class I started doing it alongside him. The principal tried to force me to go back to my regular math class but finally gave up (did I mention I’m stubborn) and since I was aceing the algebra stuff he made a deal, if I did the work assigned in regular math also, I didn’t have to go back to class. The workload for both the regular class and the algebra was fairly light, and I had incentive since I was in the library to get it done fast, so I could spend the rest of my time reading 😉

            • Yea – I enjoyed Algebra– which surprised me a lot.

            • See, in Portugal we were past Algebra II and trig by 8th grade, and into pre-calc by 9th grade.

              I miscalculated. See, you had to be at the VERY top of the class to get into college, and I had this issue with digits — though I didn’t know what it was or why it happened. 345 and 543 are the same functional number to me, if I blink. (I know they’re not, but I mean my brain will copy one as the other.) Depending on the teacher I had — by then I had learned to be very careful within the equations, but I often copied the problem wrong from the test sheet to the paper I was writing in — I either had As or Fs. I.e. if the teacher went “Well, she copied it wrong, and it doesn’t make it any easier, and she solved it, so… credit or if the teacher had a sheet of answers, mine didn’t match so 0. I also had a form of bearcats’ problem in that I sat around a lot dreaming math. I can’t really explain it, except my younger kid does it. I came up with the concept of negative numbers in fourth grade though and found it useful for all sorts of calculations. This meant when we got to the fun stuff, like systems of equations, I often had methods of solving them that were not what we were taught. And because I played with it a lot, I often forgot which method I was supposed to use.

              The teachers who were likely to give me full credit were also the ones who were likely to call me up and say “Who taught you this method” and when I explained how I’d come up with it give me full credit. But the… button counters would mark me with a 0.

              So… Because going to college was mandatory in my family, I chose to go into humanities, where I could bullshit up a blue streak. (There’s more involved including strong pressure from the school to choose humanities, but that involves more paranoid thinking than I want to expose in public.) That way I could get in to college, easy. (Did.)

              BUT I wanted to go on learning math. I figured I had my brother’s books, I could do it.

              I didn’t count with two things: first for various reasons I worked (tutoring/teaching) through most of my college which er… puts a dent on your time. Second, I had an active social life (as one of the top language students, I was invited to all the consulate parties. The Italian were the best both for wine and ice cream, but the American consul to Porto at the time was a Reagan appointee and a very nice man. He and I used to vanish to talk politics and drink his good whiskey.) Third, calculus is one of those things I can’t learn on my own. The others seem to be foreign languages and art. I need assignments, teachers, and a group for those.
              For stuff like history, economics, biology, I can go on my own. Not sure what the difference is.

      • I ONLY had new math for one year, sixth. I thought I was going insane. It made NO sense. Seventh we went back to old math, thank heavens. I still had issues, and if I could go back and tell myself one thing it would be “you’re digit dyslexic, not stupid. Digit dyslexic can be got around with LOTS of careful attention and a few tricks.”

        Then again, if I’d figured that — I finally did, as an adult, because I love math — I’d probably be a mechanical engineer and never have written, so maybe … I don’t know.

        If this ever makes more than starvation wages, maybe it’s for the best 😉

    • Today’s math textbooks are notorious for being full of incorrect teaching, as well as problems which yield incorrect answers. They are put together by publishers in a hurry, on the cheap, by shoving the work of multiple ghostwriters together, without checking if all the ghostwriters’ work has any relation to reality.

      So yeah, not surprising that you couldn’t figure it out. Probably it was dead wrong and stupid.

      • My husband has a degree in Mathematics and couldn’t figure out the kids’ textbooks. when in doubt, we just taught them to solve the problems by OUR method. The good teachers didn’t mind, though a few of them were thoroughly puzzled by Portuguese notation. Fortunately by then Older Son had gone Full Evil and would say “My mom taught me the Portuguese way. It’s our culture.” Which made them back off SO fast…

        • Susan Shepherd

          Good for him. (And good think I’d just put the water down … still giggling, though. That is evil.)

        • Wow, I haven’t thrown my head back and laughed like that in a while. That was awesome!

        • That… is brilliant.

        • Yes, I struggled mightily with the textbooks when trying to help my cousin. I could do the problems, no problem, but trying to figure out HOW they wanted her to do the problems had me banging my head on the desk. Being male, I don’t think I READ the directions when I was in school 🙂 so I can’t say if the textbooks back then made since or not.

        • Yes – it always flummoxes them when forced to hang between the contradictions inherent in their philosophy. Daughtorial Unit was almost ejected from college because of conflict with an Anthropology teacher (D.U. has very low tolerance for absurtd cant and tends to point out obvious but overlooked facts) and was allowed to withdraw Passing when she defined the problem as a cultural conflict stemming from D.U.’s background in Hard Science — Biochemistry — and Anthropology teacher’s coming from a Soft Science culture.

          For math I recommend the Saxon Math system used by many homeschooling families. Not perfect, but what is?

          • Saxon also published a Grammar and writing program (usually called Hake Grammar by homeschoolers, after the author). If you need something more structured to teach your own kids, it isn’t a bad option, and makes the kids diagram sentences as well as learn the rules of grammar.

            For mathier kids/parents, Singapore math (Primary Mathematics) is a program a lot of homeschoolers like. Schools don’t use it because the teachers would actually have to understand math.

          • tends to point out obvious but overlooked facts

            Like a psychology teacher saying “no-one knows why people have an easier time remembering a random stream of numbers than of letters” and being VERY upset when some young and oblivious girl pointed out there are more than twice as many letters? (I think he was trying to make a point about how we’ll memorize words easier than a string of numbers, but he didn’t understand the teaching well enough. Either way, it’s just a silly attempt to make “people can only remember so many things they view as a single unit at once” seem all impressive. When I read ’09/11/2001,’ it’s not a bunch of numbers, it’s one date.)

      • My brother got a lot of miliage out of his stepdaughter-to-be this Thanksgiving, asking her to show us how the schools were teaching her to do math.

        For multiplying 4×6, you take a piece of paper, and mark it like this:

        Then you count the marks. That is showing your work. She’s ten and this is supposed to be better than either memorizing a table or, say, adding six and six and six and six….

        • That is just idiotic! EVERYBODY knows that for multiplying 4×6, you take a piece of paper, and mark it like this:
          I SWEAR I do not understand what is wrong with educators these days!

          (Just kidding – we all know that the easiest solution is to calculate 2 to the third power then multiply by three … although I am sure some among us just convert it to base six and get 40, then convert that back to base ten to get the answer.)

    • I agree about foreign language study impact on English grammar and composition – I was testing ahead all the way through school in English just because I read so much, but my writing hugely benefited from my year of Latin.

      I had occasion recently to page through my HS Junior nephew’s Algebra-2 text – Obviously someone decided that only by adding lots and lots of very large pictures and randomly changing the eye-searingly bright background colors from page to page could they possibly keep the attention of these post-MTV generation kids through an entire 11 page “chapter” of algebra.

      That being said, I am encouraged by the basic skepticism of HS and College kids I know – I think their built-in BS detectors are very well tuned.

      • THAT is true. My generation in Portugal — the generation that got socialism poured on with a ladle and had to study Marx in everything from language to sociology — turned out to be far more conservative than any other generation before or since.

    • I second the “foreign language” bit.

      I was one of those that did great at english courses in HS – outside of homework – in every aspect except formal grammar breakdown. Odd, for a guy who could practically in his sleep ace the physics courses, but *shrug*. Also wrote my way out of a couple english courses in college. Reading so much – three or four books a week, both American and English authors – in some ways hurt me.

      It wasn’t until I started breaking down spanish and german (due to marrying into family where it was relative) and analyzing how THEY organized words (side note – Twain’s essay on the German language is abssolutely to die for) that I really got a grasp of the how and why of it. Even now I don’t know the techie labels, but I can parse out the fine elements and implications of a sentence to a fare-thee-well.

  13. leftbrainfemale

    Great post – reading has always been a reward in our home as well – even when kiddos didn’t really enjoy reading themselves (and my also – mostly apolitical – hubby never reads for pleasure). I read great books on trips – as younger kids, my girls loved the original Robin Hood, Arabian Nights, and just about anything by Brian Jacques (we read through most all the Redwall series and loved it). I read aloud to them the Chronicles of Narnia when they were probably 3 & 5 and the same with the entire LOTR set before the movies came out, .Worked hard to indoctrinate my now Jr./Sr. girls in how politics works (and doesn’t). Funny enough, my oldest is NVLD (very close to Aspergers) and in her senior year of high school, her English teacher doesn’t have the vocabulary that she does – and asked her why she writes the way she does instead of how her peers write! Daughter wants to be a writer, and she’s actually pretty good with a turn of phrase. Eight years of homeschooling is paying off. But I do “re-teach” often depending on the slant – primary frustrations are the History and American Government classes. But it’s a good thing – keeps me on my toes as well!

    • You may already be aware, but several of the Redwall books are available as audiobooks, read by the author (or, in some cases, as full-cast audio productions) which provides a rich bath in the wonderful English accents used to distinguish the characters. This is also a feature in the audiobook of L’Amour’s tale of how the first Sackett in America arrived on these shores, employing the wealth of different English (and related) accents with great effectiveness.

      Read alouds on car trips have been a family tradition for decades, starting when I decided to start over the book I was rereading while Beloved Spouse took a turn at the wheel and we enjoyed The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress together — and many a superb book since.

      • leftbrainfemale

        Indeed I am, LOL – We initially discovered Redwall because our local PBS station ran the series for a few weeks (until too many namby-pamby folks complained about the violence and they removed it from their programming) when my girls were probably 3-5 yrs old. I quickly found the first in the series on tape, but then we began just working our way through the books. I love theater and am pretty good with accents, so was able to reproduce them fairly well as we read through them.

  14. I had to stop reading to comment, rather than (per my usual custom) reading to the end and then all the comments first, because I fear you are far too trusting. This whole goat screw in the education indoctrination establishment may appear to be due to incompetence in the ranks. But, make no mistake about it, it is the result of a deliberate program of malice. Its name is progressivism and its progenitor was not (the yes, quite odious) Bill Ayers, but a far elder figure, John Dewey, who infamously asserted: “Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent.” That man has a great many sins to answer for.

    I have recently come to the conclusion that, in res publica, discussion of motives can only be invidious. We must take a page from Alinsky and use our enemy’s principles against them. What matters is not motive, but outcome. Progressivism has resulted in the destruction of the values and institutions that made this country great, and it must be extirpated, root and branch, from American political life. It is every bit as toxic and unacceptable as its cousin, national socialism.

    • I wasn’t able to find any citation that looked reliable for that claimed quote of Dewey’s, and is sounds just a bit too cute.

      That said, he indeed has a lot to answer for.

  15. My niece taught first graders for several years until she had two little girls of her own. Some of the other teachers at her school told her that she was too demanding of her students(“they are just babies you know”). Several of these same teachers who had kids or grandkids in first grade made sure their little babies were in her class.

  16. With (especially) young kids, parents have to pay attention to not just what is being taught and how, but whether it is working for your particular children.

    I have no idea how I learned how to read. _Probably_ by paying attention while my older sister was being taught. But my mother was quite surprised when (1) the kindergarten teacher told her I could read and (2) she was scolded for having taught me “because now she’ll be bored.” However, this left me with a blind spot. This being Texas, I watched the science curriculum like a hawk, and failed to notice that the boys weren’t reading, and in fact were extremely bad at it, until the oldest was struggling in sixth grade. However it was being taught _for them_ it didn’t work. Either of them. The neighbor’s kids, same age and teacher, no problem.

    And writing, and writing reasoned and organized reports and arguments was well taught in the higher grades. But that was . . . nine years ago? Who knows what is taught now, half their teachers have probably retired.

  17. My worry is not for parents like Sarah, but for those who pay little attention to their kids’ education. They’re satisfied that the kid is in public school and is now someone else’s problem for eight hours a day. It’s this kind of apathy that leads us down the path to ruin, for the kids end up ill equipped to deal with reality, and instead have all these pie in the sky pronouncements that don’t work.

    • Many of these parents simply look at little Timmy’s report card, and assume because he is getting a 3.0 GPA, that he is learning the three r’s. Because when they went to school, you had to learn your reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic to pass, much less get honor roll level grades.

    • One of my former coworkers previous job was being a teacher. She would talk to some parents about ways they could help their children do better in school. They would reply, “That’s your problem”.

      • Well… to be honest, you have to put that in perspective (depends on when it was.) One thing the schools have picked up is assigning the kid homework that involves the parents. This drove us up walls. They told us it was to “ensure you have family time.” I told them they could keep their social engineering out of my life. They’re ONLY supposed to teach the kids the three rs (the rest they can pick up themselves or I can teach) and they do that BADLY but somehow they want to teach my family to “interact and function together.”

        This was back when I was a nice girl. Now I’d have gone to F words and stayed there.

        • The kids she taught were like the Sweathogs from Welcome Back Kotter. The parents she refered to did not really care about what the children were learning or not learning in class.

          • Ah. That makes a difference. Honestly, I often think the teachers bring out teh greater stupid with middle class parents, because they think we’re all on the same page. Like the teacher who tried to tell us the kids had to work in groups because group work was the future of the work force. After we were done (starting with Dan’s “I’m sorry, I’m paid to know what’s coming next in technology” which WAS his job at the time, and with mine “And I’m a science fiction author”) pointing out to her that on the contrary, that was the future circa 1930 but NOW all the new tech was for individual work and creativity, she looked like she’d been hit a hammer blow. You could see her mind spinning “This is not how this conversation should go.”

            • I generally hated group work, because I could usually do the work faster, and better by myself. Of course being naturally contrary, I probably wouldn’t do it at all rather than do the work and let others get a grade for it.

              Also in an assigned group, you usually had one kid who either wouldn’t show up, or wouldn’t do anything if they did (admittedly this was sometimes me) and one kid who was dumber than a box of rocks, and had to constantly ask why and have the most obvious things explained to them multiple times. Admittedly working with those types would prepare you for a job at a union workplace, but what I always got out of it was, don’t work any harder than you have to, because there is no advantage in it, just look at that worthless cull who is doing nothing and getting the same grade.

            • ‘That was the future circa 1930.’

              Yes, that’s the trouble exactly; and the people behind ‘progressive education’ still count themselves as ‘progressive’ because they think 1940 hasn’t arrived yet.

              I have written a squib on this very subject here:


              Yez might be interested, and den again yez moutn’t.

              • Or maybe they wish 1940 never came. That was a year the Gods of the Copybook Headings “with terror and slaughter return[ed]”, with Nazi Germany beginning its conquest of almost all of Western Europe in April and finishing with the Fall of France in June. Yeah, it probably cemented FDR’s unprecedented and unprincipled reelection for a 3rd term, but it ended his “bold, persistent experimentation” on the nation and in general reactionary forces ran rampant here and abroad as they viewed it. Well, Hitler wasn’t officially reactionary until June 22, 1941, but you know what I mean….

        • I am still trying to figure out why, why WHY do they have pupils make dioramas? Aside from the few who will become set designers and window dressers this does not seem a vital qualification for the adult working experience? Is the ability to construct a diorama something critical for medical professionals, lawyers*, accountants and wait personnel?

          *In fairness I vaguely recall an episode of Matlock in which Andy Griffith cleared the defendant through use of a cleverly constructed diorama. Or maybe it was Carol O’Connor on In the Heat of the Night.

          • Dioramas are supposed to be fun fun FUN, which motivates the little Pavlovian dogs to learn more. It’s supposed to make the educational process more interesting and rewarding.

            I wish I were making this up.

  18. On recycling: I’d never heard about paper recycling being more harmful to the environment than making new paper. Would you happen to have any details you can share? Or a link to somewhere I can read about it, if writing it out would take a long time?

    I’ve occasionally been told. though I can’t prove whether what I’ve been told is true, that a lot of the plastics put in the recycle bin in many American cities get “recycled” into the landfill, because it’s far more expensive to recycle that particular kind of plastic than it’s actually worth… but instead of saying “we only take #1 and #2 plastics” or whatever, they say “we take all kinds of plastics” so they don’t constantly have to field complaints from recycling advocates who want them to recycle all plastics. So instead, they pretend to recycle the plastics, but throw away most of them because that particular composition of plastic is far too expensive to really recycle. If anyone has some real knowledge of this subject, I’d love to hear about it.

    The one material I’ve always heard is worth recycling (much cheaper to recycle than to refine from ore) is aluminum. E.g., Wikipedia (currently) claims that recycling aluminum takes only 5% of the energy it takes to produce new aluminum. I don’t know if that claim is accurate, but it certainly gibes with other things I’ve heard claimed.

    THIS IS SARAH: WordPress is a right b*tch and won’t let me answer comments just now, so I’m editing yours. (Sorry.)
    Well, we KNOW it’s more expensive to recycle. During the Clinton years, a mandate that every book have 50% recycled paper jumped the price to $8 for a paperback. We also know most of the pulped trees are fast growth trees, planted to be pulped. Saving them is like saving cabbage. As for the harmfulness to the environment — article in (I THINK) Reason magazine, late nineties early 2000s. Finding it would take me forever.

    • Our grocery stores has recycle bins for the plastic bags. I used to bring my extra bags there until I saw a janitor roll out a garbage can and put the garbage bags on top of the other filth. I just throw mine in the garbage now. I was pissed.

      • I use our plastic shopping bags for doggie debris. I thought that makes more sense than buying plastic bags for that purpose.

        Though, since we shop at Aldi, we have a lot less bags than we might have.


        Facts are stubborn things, but not nearly as stubborn as fallacies.*

        On Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 9:36 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

        > ** > Cyn Bagley commented: “Our grocery stores has recycle bins for the > plastic bags. I used to bring my extra bags there until I saw a janitor > roll out a garbage can and put the garbage bags on top of the other filth. > I just throw mine in the garbage now. I was pissed.” >

        • I use our plastic shopping bags for doggie debris. I thought that makes more sense than buying plastic bags for that purpose.

          That’s what I used to do when I had a dog. Now I use them for kitchen garbage and other small rubbish-disposal jobs. Of course, that doesn’t use up nearly all of the bags, so every once in a while I have to throw out a bag full of old bags. However, that’s not as wasteful as what Cyn Bagley reports — putting them in a recycling bin so somebody will have to pay a janitor to throw them out.

      • But, but, but — how to do you get moral charge cheap then?

        That’s been replicated in the lab. You give people a chance to buy “recycled” stuff and then give them a game, to be played for money, and they are more likely to lie and cheat at it. After all, they were good eggs — they bought recycled — and so don’t need to be good thereafter.

        • It is a theme Thomas Sowell has explored extensively, most notably in “The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy” — the desire Liberals hold for the benefits of moral behaviour without the inconvenience of behaving morally. It is also demonstrated in the awarding of unearned benefits (High School Diplomas, Home Ownership) which represent the effects of constructive behaviour in hope that the end result will produce the behaviour its achievement represents.

          Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is one of the Left’s favouritest fallacies, right up with as hominem rebuttal to any challenge of their logic.

    • Recycling paper takes a larger amount of chemicals than the original paper making process, most of these chemicals are ‘bad’ for the environment. (I don’t have any cites for this, but have several friends that work at the local pulp mill, making both ‘new’ paper and recycled.

      I don’t know about the percent of energy needed to recycle aluminum, but assume that the private companies that buy aluminum scrap do so because recycling is profitable (as is recycling of most other metals)

      • I answered below, but I couldn’t answer properly, so I edited the comment with the question

        I think the article was in Reason, late nineties.

        HOWEVER the very fact that they had to MANDATE the inclusion of recycled paper in books — and made the price shoot up — and that most trees for paper are grown for it, means it’s not economically more feasible.

        I realize something can be economically bad and good for the environment, but I’ve learned to be wary of those as most of the time it’s not true.

        • Pulp is also from those logs that are unfit for lumber. A tree usually has several logs in it, and each log is scaled and graded seperately. The tops and any damaged sections usually go for pulp, unless either the price of pulp is down and/or the price of fuel is up. At such times it often costs more to haul pulp wood to the mill than they will get paid for it, so it is left in the woods. This is also why you see plantations of hybrid poplars and other pulp trees alongside the highways, mostly. It signifigantly cuts down on harvest and delivery costs, making it profitable.

        • A number of years ago — I would guess on the order of twenty — I read an article about a comprehensive waste recycling plant in Delaware (or perhaps Maryland) that had an excellent and economically efficient method of recycling the state’s paper: they burned it to generate electricity for the facility.

          As I recall, trash got dumped on the conveyor belt and a through a series of processes was sorted into components for recycling. Reusable plastics were reused, combustibles were berned to generate electricity and organics were composted in HUGE composting vats then sold to area farmers as mulch and soil enrichment.

          Overall a very impressive plant (at the very least it impressed the heck out of the reporter) but I wonder that it has apparently not been seen suitable for replication, suggesting there were significant aspects which escaped reportorial notice.

      • Recycling aluminum makes massive economic sense, which is of course why the government wasn’t needed to force people to do it. The last step is electrochemical, and since Wikipedia expresses it so well, “[…] an aluminium smelter uses prodigious amounts of electricity; they tend to be located very close to large power stations, often hydro-electric ones….” For example, the Pacific Northwest, drawing power from the Columbia River.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      There have been a number of reports of “Recycling” plastic being “recycled” to the landfill, though I believe that the incidence of this varies from locality to locality.

      The reason that recycling paper is worse for the environment is worse for the environment is because they have to use a lot of strong bleaching agent to whiten the fibers so they can be reused. I’m not sure I understand why they don’t use the recycled paper for things like the corrugation in cardboard, or for cardboard that will be paper covered, etc.

      I believe that glass is another thing that can be recycled for less money than starting from scratch.

      • AFAICT, the only reason they need to use those bleaching agents is so they have a sufficiently white product to sell as recycled writing paper. Basically, they are pandering to the people who want to practise empty charities for the sake of their own egos. ‘Oh, look at me, recycling all my garbage, and buying only recycled paper! I’m saving the planet! Aren’t I special?’

        My very first business, which I took up at the age of twelve, was recycling the old 80-column IBM punch (or ‘tab’) cards, for which (in those days) you could get anywhere from $80 to $140 a ton, depending on demand. I learned from the inside that recycling only pays to a point; that collecting the recyclable materials is hard work and requires money and energy for transport; and that every time paper is recycled, the fibres are damaged and become less useful than the time before.

        Plain brown corrugated cardboard fetched the lowest price of any paper grade, because it was generally made from materials that had been recycled several times already. After that, the only thing you could reuse the fibres for was to make the backing paper for roofing materials. Used tab cards were top-grade material, because not only were the cards made from virgin pulp, there was very little ink on them compared to other used paper stocks.

        Nowadays, of course, so many people make a fetish of recycling all their paper that the market is glutted. A good deal of recycled paper ends up in the landfill (or incinerated) simply because there aren’t enough uses for the lower grades of paper that it can be recycled into; and the price of recycled paper on the open market is approximately zero. The business I took up in 1978 could not exist today, and not just because they don’t use punch cards anymore.

        • Thank you. That makes saving and burning our paper make even more sense.


          Facts are stubborn things, but not nearly as stubborn as fallacies.*

          On Thu, Nov 22, 2012 at 12:19 AM, According To Hoyt wrote:

          > ** > Tom Simon commented: “AFAICT, the only reason they need to use those > bleaching agents is so they have a sufficiently white product to sell as > recycled writing paper. Basically, they are pandering to the people who > want to practise empty charities for the sake of their own egos” >

      • Because a regulation from Clinton’s time made it illegal to publish books that aren’t something like 60% recycled material — hence they have to recycle it into paper.

        You know, to save the trees farmed to make paper.

        Government is an hazard to humans.

        • “Saving the trees.” *snort* There are more forested acres/hectares today than there were in 1900 in North America. Especially in the Great Plains states.

          • Also New England compared to the 1930s, since a lot of marginal farmland had been abandoned for that use because of the competition from more productive areas further west sometime earlier (the reading from the ’30s is from the father of a friend of mine).

          • Also the regrowth is healthier, more beneficial to wildlife, and the environment than old growth. Old growth is actually a net oxygen consumer, and carbon dioxide producer, due to the decomposition of all the dead and dieing wood, and lack of new green growth. Replanted healthy younger trees however produce oxygen and consume carbon dioxide (the big evil pollutant according to greenies) as well as providing more habitat, ie. shelter and food for wildlife.

            Sometimes one wonders why greenies hate the environment so much. /snark/

            • Because too often, the greenies’ only love is for their own self-image. As T. S. Eliot wrote in ‘The Cocktail Party’:

              ‘Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.’

            • Weeeelll, that depends on the understory maintenance of the old growth vs. new growth. If the understory is burned at appropriate times, old growth can carry quite a good understory (deer browse, anyone?). But if you do not burn, then yes, younger forests sequester more carbon than do old growth, at least for the first few decades (depending on species.)

              You might look at Nancy Langston’s book “Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares,” WIlliam Cronon’s “Changes in the Land,” or environmental histories of the Southeastern states for more info. *takes off teacher hat, goes back to picking at leftover turkey*

              • I am thinking of Western old growth, and Coastal old growth in particular has almost NO understory. The canopy is to thick to allow light down for any understory plants, mature secondgrowth (or third or fourth etc.) creates the same problem; but at that time it is still healthy and sequestering carbon and is also mature and ready to be logged. Thus starting the cycle over again. Ten to twenty year old reprod is the ultimate in wildlife habitat, providing plentiful feed and cover, while younger growth provides feed, but a lack of cover, and older growth provides ample cover (but not as much as 10-20 year old stuff) but a lack of feed. Thus a rotating harvest cycle on adjacent areas makes both environmental and economical sense.

                Bearing in mind that I am familiar with primarily coniferous forests, I am unaware of a way to burn off understory plants without killing or at least severly damaging the old growth overstory.*ignores such baser items as turkey, and goes back to polishing of leftover apple crisp and cheesecake*

                • My experience is with deciduous or loblolly-pine-type forests, and grass fires. As you point out, the differences in canopy density and moisture availability make a big difference in burn regimens and burn desirability.

                  The store bought pumpkin pie in my ‘fridge lacks enough spices to make it nibble-worthy. Apparently normal people don’t add a pinch of chipotle pepper to their pumpkin pie spice blend, nor do they use twice the recommended amount of pumpkin pie spice.

                  • Oh, heavens. Don’t ever cook with older son, who thinks “Birthday chocolate cake” is not complete unless you add chilli powder.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      I’ll have to try that. My older son will probably like it.

                    • When the chocolate and spice
                      Go together so nice,
                      That’s a mole’.
                      When the nose starts to run
                      And your sinuses burn,
                      That’s a mole

                    • I ate a chocolate Easter Bunny with Tabasco once, on a dare, but can’t say I have ever thought of adding chili powder to chocolate cake. Chipolte does sound good in pumpkin pie however, I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie, but I like chipolte peppers so adding it should be an improvement. Of course I’m one of those people who eat canned jalapenos as a snack 😉

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      You can buy chocolate bars in the “gourmet chocolate” area of many grocery stores which contain chili pepper added.

                    • There is a gourmet chocolate aisle in your grocery stores?

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      No, sorry. What I meant was “section”. There’s a section in the candy aisle where they have fancier, or “gourmet” chocolate. This is usually a section 3-5 feet wide. Now that I think about it, it may not even extend all the way from the top to the bottom of the shelving. At any rate, they have things like various levels of dark chocolate, containing up to 85% cacao and such, including some chocolate bars that have unusual flavors added.

                    • Doesn’t everyone add a pinch of powdered chili to their hot chocolate?

                      Bearcat, some of the grocery chains (United for one, in Texas) sell flavored chocolate bars in a few of their stores, usually in the candy aisle. World Market has a great house-brand dark chocolate with chili. The Lindt chili chocolate bars are OK but the version sold in Europe is a lot better. Black and Green (the brand) also has a good pepper chocolate, and a good orange chocolate, too, if you want to be high-toned and “ecologically correct.”

    • There is no point to sorting the plastics because people cannot be trusted to do so properly. If only 1% of the plastic in a load is “the wrong kind” the whole load requires resorting to remove the taint. The only reason to demand folks sort their plastics is to accustom them to obeying instructions.

    • As an aside – I’ve started that poetry-related project I’ve mentioned a couple weeks back when we were discussing culture. callofpoetry.com

    • Robin;

      Test recycling in the marketplace. If recycled materials COULD compete with virgin, there’d be a market for them. As it is, it takes government subsidies to even get recycling enterprises off the ground. And, when the subsidies run out … poof!

      In the printing business, a large percentage (35-50% to start) of paper has always been post-consumer recycled, not because of the cost, but because of quality issues. It’s easier to de-ink and bleach printed material than to bleach and process virgin pulp. Also, process waste — trim, etc — is MUCH easier. Analogous to aluminum. HOWEVER: once you get past that base, there are diminishing returns, and 100% recycled paper is nearly impossible to make, incredibly expensive to use, and doesn’t really serve as well in printing or end use. Like many green fetishes, the push for MORE is what jacks up the cost.

      Sorry. No cites. Just 30 years in the business.


      • Yes. The regulation I recall under Clinton — I recall it because suddenly paperbacks went WAY up and back then I was “just” a reader (okay, writing on the side, but not sold yet) was for I THINK 60% post consumer recycled in books

    • From memory, the question of if recycling is worth it depends heavily on where you live. There aren’t a lot of areas where it really makes financial sense to recycle a lot of things without gov’t interference. (Which probably prevents any solutions to the long term problems, too, since if you are SURE you can get a check from the state, why would you try to change things?)

      Also remember that the folks doing the calculating are going to have their thumbs on the scale for their preferred result, so you end up with things like comparing everything involved in mining and extracting aluminum, vs the power used inside of a recycling center to make the same end amount. (Ignoring getting the stuff collected, sorted, shipped off, cleaned, prepped and then harvested for the aluminum.) I noticed that a lot with the “net power” for solar panels calculations, or folks comparing cost of the death penalty to life in jail. (apparently, only those on death row file appeals or need medical care)

  19. I worked as support staff in a middle school once and, having been left almost innumerate due to the New Math, asked a teacher nearing retirement if anything done since the New Math had worked as well as the methods used before it. When she said now, I asked why public schools never went back to the pre- New Math method.

    “There’s no money in it,” she said.

    According to her, school districts receive federal grants to use new and experimental teaching plans. If these fail, and they usually do, no effort is made to correct the damage done to the education of the students used as guinea pigs; they’ll have to pick the subject up themselves later on. The school districts need the grants to pay for various unfunded mandates.

    I thought this over and asked her if this meant that if an experimental teaching method did actually work, the district would still abandon it in a few years for something totally untried in order to get a new grant.

    “Yes,” she said.

    • I’d like to quote this comment in its entirety on my own blog, if I may have your kind permission.

      • If you wish. I should tell you that I have no way to verify what that teacher told me. It does explain a lot of things I saw at that school district, though.

        • And a lot of things I’ve seen myself in other places — which is why I’m quoting it. Thank you.

          • Incidentally, I quoted your comment as an example of this modern evil noted (over eighty years ago) by G. K. Chesterton:

            ‘The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine.’

            I should be very surprised if you didn’t see the aptness.

            • I think I see it. Personally, I used to attribute the problem to a combination of things: a refusal to admit to mistakes and a refusal to admit that an earlier generation may have been on the right track after all. A tendency to treat helplessness as a virtue to be protected instead of a problem to be solved helps cement everything into place.

              • In the case of school bureaucracies, the ‘conservatives’ would have the vapours if you called them by that label; but they are conservatives just the same. Conservatism is a habit of mind, not an ideology; and whether it is good or bad depends entirely on what you are trying to conserve.

                In this particular case, the bureaucrats are trying to conserve the Proper Procedure, Going Through Channels, and of course, How Things Are Done Around Here. Part and parcel of that is conserving the principle that The Experts Are Always Right: which is where the refusal to admit mistakes comes in.

                • They are Reactionaries, locking in the changes, acting as the ratchet to prevent the gear slipping back.

                  The most important thing, that which must above all else be protected, is the illusion of government/expert/bureaucrat infallibility. That was the reason given by Clinton’s Arkansas (and later US) Surgeon-General Joycelyn Elders for not recalling condoms distributed through the schools and public health system that had been found to be defective: We must preserve confidence in the system.

                  One wonders how much confidence was preserved by those women impregnated when their partner’s balloon burst.

                  • One wonders how much confidence was preserved by those women impregnated when their partner’s balloon burst.

                    Oh, that’s easy– you assure them that they must have done something wrong in applying it.

                    Or you ignore that it ever happened; I’ve had folks assure me that it’s impossible to get pregnant on birth control. (They’re usually also very big supporters of abortion-as-birth-control, which makes me suspect that it’s less a reasoned belief than a “I want to have sex without having to grow up and deal with any kids and will believe reality is ordered to that goal” sort of thing.)

  20. Speaking as someone who earns his living copy editing, and who has taught grammar to other copy editors, I do not recommend Strunk & White. Amusingly written though it is, it is not a systematic exposition of how English works, and it is salted with the prejudices of its authors.

    The book I found most useful as a resource for teaching grammar was the Harbrace College Handbook, which is basically a handy cheat for all the simple, standard grammatical categories and how they work. It won’t tell you about arcana such as absolute phrases (“Barack Obama having won the election, there is no hope of the Affordable Care Act being repealed”) or the aspect of verbs (the difference between “I went to the store,” “I was going to the store,” and “I had gone to the store”—in Spanish the difference between imperfect and preterite is similar; I don’t know if Portuguese has this also). But it will tell you most of the grammar you need to know to clean up a clumsily written document, set out fair and square with no contradictions.

    The rest of my grammar comes variously from reading about the history of the English language, reading linguistic studies of language typology, and studying foreign languages (a brief exposure to Classical Greek was a huge help)—a lot of English grammar can only be grasped from history. But Harbrace is a fair start.

    • I had scarcely posted my own blather about PIE and verb aspect when I saw you talk about aspect here. I rejoice to find it not so obscure as I had feared — though I still wouldn’t expect a knowledge of the term to have crossed the pure and virginal mind of the average English teacher.

      Where we have got ourselves crossed up in English, I believe, is in calling every tense/aspect combination a tense: so we talk about progressive ‘tenses’, when what we really mean is the imperfective aspect of the three actual tenses. (Or two: English has never possessed an actual future tense, but has to make shift with auxiliary verbs to convey futurity.) Then we toss around terms like pluperfect and paulo-post-future, which would be entirely unnecessary if we had just kept aspect and tense straight in our minds instead of conflating them together.

      • P.S. I, too, found that Classical Greek was a huge help, though I only took one year.

        Random observation: I was amazed at how many of the wheels in ancient Greek were reinvented in the Southern U.S. The ethic dative, the middle voice, and some of the Greek ways of indicating future action all have counterparts in Southern English, but not in Standard English. (‘I’m fixing to shoot me a possum and make me a stew’ contains examples of all three.) I wondered then, and still do, how much of this is parallel evolution, and how much might be due to the retention of a classics-based liberal-arts curriculum in the South while the North went in more for technical training.

      • I have never seen it discussed in any book on English grammar, either traditionalist or contemporary. I know about it from reading linguistic studies of comparative grammar. But it’s been tremendously useful in copy editing. And once I figured it out, suddenly the difference in Greek between aorist and imperfect, and in Spanish between preterite and imperfect, was no longer mysterious to me.

        I’m glad to see someone else saying that English really has only two tenses. Changes to the verb itself, including some irregular changes (sing/sang, eat/ate, go/went), mark present vs. past, and there is also a distinction between present and past participle; but the future can only be marked with an auxiliary verb. And since auxiliaries characteristically come in pairs, it’s also possible to say that English has four tenses: the future is formed with will, which is the “present” member of that pair, but the “past” member is would, which forms the conditional, used for events on other timelines—”If Romney were the President-elect, I would be torn between relief and dread.” (Is it called the “conditional” in English, or did I pick that up from French or Greek?) There’s a certain reassurance in finding one’s interpretation arrived at by someone else independently. . . .

        • English has an aorist — as I’m sure you know, but it’s such a relief to talk to someone who isn’t bored stiff by such trivia.

          The simple present indicative is in the aorist aspect, and performs many of the same functions as the Greek aorist (which is a past tense). In particular, it is used for habitual or definitive statements: ‘Cows eat grass.’ (The Greek equivalent is in the aorist and would translate literally, ‘Cows ate grass.’) When we actually want to talk about an action going on at the present time, we switch to the imperfective aspect and use the so-called progressive tense: ‘The cows are eating the grass.’ We never say, as the French do, ‘Je vais au cinéma’; we say, ‘I am going to see a movie.’ We also use the perfective aspect a good deal more than the Romance languages do, of course.

          This is the 3 x 3 matrix of tense and aspect that I realized exists in English (with the help of auxiliary verbs) after discovering its equivalent in Greek:

          Imperfective aspect: I was going, I am going, I will be going. (Refers to actions in progress.)
          Perfective aspect: I had gone, I have gone, I will have gone. (Refers to actions already completed.)
          Aorist aspect: I went, I go, I will go. (Does not specify whether the action is in progress or completed.)

          I drew this as a diagram on the whiteboard for one of my linguistics professors, who nodded sagely, said I was exactly right, and asked why I was taking her class. I said it was because it was a required course. She would probably have been numbered among the professors who taught me useful things, but before that term ended my car was hit by a truck, and I had to drop the course because of my injuries.

          And now that I have bored you all to tears, even the kindly Mr. Stoddard (unless the Mr. is a Herr Doktor Professor), here endeth the lesson — such as it is.

          • Don’t get me started on Lithuanian – where nouns, even proper names are all conjugated based on tense, etc.

            “Darius” is the third person form, as if I’m mentioning a person with that name in passing. “Dariui” answers or explains “for whom”, etc. There are second-person addressive versions (“Dariau”), and so forth, with several different conjugation sets based on ending characters, broken down into masculine and feminine. For a noun like “house”, the conjugation can define “for”, “at/inside”, etc.

            • The Baltic seems to be a natural centre for that kind of weirdness. Estonian is legendary for it. Makes one wonder about substrate theory, and what language they spoke in those parts before the Finno-Ugric folks wandered in from the east, and the Indo-European folks wandered in from wherever they wandered from.

              • Okay, you guys are worse than the theologists. (Runs.) And I studied this stuff! (Runs faster.)

              • But having lots of endings for nouns is also Indo-European. Sanskrit preserves the full pIE collection: house as a subject, house as an object, with a house, from a house, at a house, to a house, of a house, and O house! From what I’ve read, Lithuanian is grammatically conservative; its case system might be a holdover from pIE rather than a borrowing from nearby Estonian (a Finno-Ugric language).

                Oh, and is that meant to be “declension”? Verbs are conjugated but nouns are declined. Or does Lithuanian actually use verblike endings on its nouns? (Languages do really weird stuff, so I wouldn’t think that was impossible.)

                • Latest thinking, according to my reading, is that PIE had only the basic four noun cases — nominative, genitive, dative, accusative — plus possibly an instrumental; the eight-case system of Sanskrit was taken to be normative because it was thought to be the most ancient surviving written IE language, and India was all exotic and fashionable-like in the 19th century.

                  Since the discovery of Hittite and the other Anatolian IE languages (which are older than Sanskrit and do not preserve an elaborate case system) ideas have been changing; though of course many historical linguists cling to the older paradigm the way school districts cling to the New Math: easier to teach out-of-date information than to buy all new textbooks.

                  As for Lithuanian, it is a satem language (not that IE folks put as much stock in that as they used to) and the suspicion is that it is genetically closer to Indo-Iranian than to any of the European languages; perhaps even closer to Indo-Iranian than to the neighbouring Slavic. People will wander so, and you just can’t seem to stop ’em.

                  • I hadn’t heard that previously.

                    • I had to do some digging myself to find it. In fact, I was digging for an answer to a different question, which I never actually got: a question about Hittite cuneiform writing, and how anyone can determine subtle information about phonology from it. Hittite was written in Akkadian cuneiform, and Akkadian was a very different language in sound and structure from anything Indo-European. The result might not have been any more phonetic than when Turkish used to be written in the Arabic alphabet, or for that matter, when English is spelled out in Roman letters. I never found an answer to my question, but I did find out that the case system of even the oldest Hittite was considerably simpler than Sanskrit, and that the most up-to-date scholars now consider Sanskrit to have added extra cases that were not present in PIE.

                • Actually both verbs and nouns, including proper names, are conjugated. Keep in mind that I’ve long ago forgotten most of the “Greek wedding” Sunday school grammar, and that even that is horribly formal and old-fashioned as I grew up in the states learning what was passed down from WW2 immigrants.

                  So Darius, my proper name, acquires different endings depending if its mine/of me, for me, to me, addressing me (second person), mentioning me (third person) etc. Ditto nouns in general.

                  Verbs get conjugated, as far as I can tell, based off of a root form, with, for example, the word “shoot” having different endings based on “shooting”, an imperative order (SHOOT!), etc.

                  And I’m hideously rusty. I understand it well enough to get by with modern speakers, but have to struggle to put it together until I’ve had a word refreshed by hearing it.

                  And modern Lithuanian is as bad about mugging english for words as English was towards other languages.

                  • In the terminology I learned, both when I took classical Greek and from reading comparative grammar, changing the endings is called “conjugation” when you do it to verbs, but “declension” when you do it to nouns (what you say for adjectives depends on whether the language treats them like mutant nouns or like mutant verbs). Nouns and verbs usually have disjoint sets of endings.

                    • The distinction becomes fuzzy when nouns have endings for person and tense, as verbs do: which is what xnook seems to be saying is the case in Lithuanian. I do know there are some other languages where nouns can be inflected verbwise, or vice versa.

                  • With Finnish: Marja, Marjan (belongs to Marja), Marjalle (to Marja), Marjalta (from Marja).

                    And we steal English words too, sometimes straight, sometimes as a translation. Even when there already is a Finnish word for something. Like the case with powder snow. Used to be called ‘viti’ or ‘vitilumi’ (lumi=snow), now all skiers seem to use ‘puuteri’ which is the translation for ‘powder’ and the kids have no idea what you are talking about if you use ‘viti’. I haven’t seen that word used anywhere except in ‘vitivalkoinen’, which means the whitest of white shades (valkoinen=white), for decades now.

                    And that’s how far I will be contributing to this part, I haven’t tried to study grammar as grammar since school and don’t even remember what the terms used for different classes of words are any more. When I need to find out what is the proper way to say something I, most times, search what is given as an example of a proper sentence with Google. 😀

                    • English does that to other languages, and takes foreign words and gives them an english pronounciation, like rodeo, it is spelled the same in english and spanish, but pronounced differently. The Mexican immigrants in turn do the same with english. I worked with some years ago who didn’t speak english, but we used to stop and eat lunche (spanish pronounciation l-ew-nch-ay).

          • You will find me harder than that to bore with linguistics.

            I think of the various aspects cinematically. The progressive is the tracking shot, the camera following a character or an activity through time. The punctual or aorist is the momentary event that occurs in the midst of the scene and constitutes its dramatic focus. “I was walking to the supermarket and a crazy driver nearly ran me over!”

            • That’s a terribly interesting way to look at it. I don’t know that I shall ever use it myself, but I like hearing that it exists.

              (Not that all aorists are punctual, mind you. I had an aorist once that couldn’t keep a schedule to save its life. If you told that aorist to proclaim that ‘cows eat grass’, all the cows would starve to death before it got around to letting them at the pasture. And I’m talking about cows here. Leather couches stuffed full of beef, that don’t know when to come home themselves.)

              (Why, yes, I do tend to get punchy in the wee hours of the morning. Why do you ask?)

        • Oh, by the way, ‘conditional’ is correct in English; but it is not really a tense — it is an instance of the subjunctive mood. Every tense/aspect pair in my 3 x 3 matrix has a corresponding subjunctive form, characteristically formed by putting the auxiliary verb in the past tense. So you really have a 3-D structure of tense, aspect, and mood; and there are other dimensions as well. Fortunately, those additional dimensions are handled entirely with auxiliary verbs and adverbs, not just in English, but in many other modern languages. Those languages that have inflections for the 4th & higher dimensions, like Hungarian and Basque, simply make my head spin.

          • I’ve seen that terminology, but I think it lacks precision and don’t like it.

            In English, we have the construction “If X were true, Y would be true”—for example, “If I were in charge, there would be some changes around this place.” The “if” clause expresses a presupposition that is not expected to come true, and that thus exists only in the speaker’s mind; the “then” clause expresses an anticipated result—and the probability of the result may very well be objectively demonstrable or at least subject to factual evidence (“If the general had sent the cavalry to attack the left flank, he would have won the battle”). The “if” clause is a subordinate clause, and I find “subjunctive” a fitting name for it; the “then” clause I prefer to call “conditional,” the condition between the only stated in the “if” clause. Calling them both “subjunctive” seems to blur some important distinctions.

            • Well, they are both subjunctive, grammatically speaking; you have to delve deeper into the auxiliary system to get at the distinction between the ‘if’ clause and the ‘then’ clause. In the examples you give, the ‘then’ clause is posterior to the ‘if’ clause — that is, it is also expressed in the subjunctive, but in a tense ‘more future-er’ than the tense of the if-clause. It’s an ugly hack, but English is renowned for ugly hacks. Those few other languages of which I have any grammatical knowledge seem to do similar things whilst playing around inside the subjunctive mood.

              (Certain particles and prepositions can be the ‘tell’ for this. When I’m trying to read Latin, and I come across the word ut, I know that a subjunctive is about to come along and upset the applecart. And I hate that, partly because you can’t eat subjunctive apples, but mostly because apples are evil, and once you untack all the word-endings from where they’re nailed down, you can take a bite of a McIntosh evil or say that money is the root of all apples, and there ain’t nobody can get them straight again; not even Humptius Dumptius.)

  21. The horror that was “New Math” was rooted in the idea that since a Mathematics PhD basically requires an almost instinctive understanding of set theory, that all children should understand set theory. An extraordinarily stupid idea.

    The rest of the destruction of education has come from the doctorate of education. If I were omnipotent for one and only one act, my act would be to eradicate the doctorate of education from reality. Since teachers are often paid from a matrix of highest degree and time in service, the incentive was to create a doctorate that any moron could obtain. Viola the doctorate of education. If you ever actually look at the required curriculum of degrees of education, you’ll notice that they are filled with coursework in ludicrous theories with no rigorous proof behind them. But little substantive work in any actual subjects.

    • It has been argued by (among others) that the education program is deliberately constructed to ensure that only certain types of minds will tolerate it and attain a degree.

      They have attempted to openly do this in Social Work programs (a few celebrated cases in which students resisted directives they understood to be violations of their Christian faith revealed this) and there is no reason to doubt the educrats’ willingness to do likewise.

      Education is often more a matter of training people in particular habits of thought, after all. Those already invested in the system have the power of approval over any admitted to the programs; an “expert” is merely one who has mastered the conventional wisdom in that field. Having invested in that conventional wisdom they have every reason to protect their investment.

      That is, among other things, a primary reason most scientific breakthroughs derive from insights attained while a grad student, that wonderful phase when they know enough of their filed to begin to properly understand things but are not yet invested in a particular interpretation of reality.

      It is also a reason why homeschooling is such a threat to the system: homeschoolers are supremely pragmatic and are primarily interested in whether a practice works than whether it is pardigmatically correct.

      It is also a long-standing fundamental character trait of Americans, especially those living on the frontier. Screw theory – this works!

    • If I had to point to the one course that has done me the most good in life – after being taught to read before my grade school went to Whole Words or whatever – it would be a semester of sequential logic. It astonishes me how many students – and teachers, too – cannot grasp the concept of cause and effect.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        I’m convinced that part of the evil being perpetrated against children is an attempt to subvert the whole idea of cause and effect. If you can grasp cause and effect, many of the things going on today will be exposed as the fraud that they are.

    • *applauds* I am always so thrilled when I’m substitute teaching and one of the full-time teachers suggests that since I only have a doctorate in a field, I should go back and get a BA of Ed so I can be qualified to teach at public schools. I’ve gotten pretty good at smiling a little, nodding, and changing the subject.

      • I REFUSE to go through a school of education. I do have an education degree — from Portugal. But here, they refuse to recognize it by the simple expedient of not having a “code” for the college. (Which is funny, because when my kids apply, their applications have a code for my college.) But since it doesn’t have a code, I can’t take certification exams. Just as well.

        I have toyed with teaching ESL as a volunteer, but time and finding an organization that will help and not force me to do “total immersion” are great enemies.

        • Years ago, I considered going into teaching. My undergraduate degree is in Computer Science with a Minor in Mathematics. And of course a Juris Doctor in law. And many years of experience working in both fields. However, this state’s dept of education would not credential me to teach full time K-12 – even after obtaining a very high mark in the Praxis math credential exam – because I did not have among my course work a class in the history of mathematics.

          • History of mathematics? Why on earth would you need to know the history of mathematics to teach mathematics, or anything else except possibly history? I mean it’s obvious an understanding of mathematics isn’t a requirement to teaching them, so why would an understanding of their history be required?

            • My theory is that it meant you had to enroll in one or more courses taught at the local university. NIH syndrome and barrier to entry for out of state teachers.

        • Private schools don’t have to require such degrees. My sister is teaching in one.

          • Matter of curiosity: what credentials does she have instead? I suppose she had to demonstrate that she was fit to teach in some other way.

          • True, but many private schools out here encourage having an ed degree because it helps them get certified. And because of a mistaken impression that an ed degree teaches you how to teach.

      • Some years ago, a friend of mine was on the board of a charter school, he advocated hiring only teachers with their primary degrees in substantive topics, and to toss out any with degrees in “Education”.

        It was a pretty successful charter school for awhile – he left the area – having at one point a PhD in Astrophysics as science teacher etc.

        • This was a sensible man. The best teacher I ever had never got an education degree. His degree was in history, followed by one year of graduate work to get a teaching certificate.

    • Well, as long as you don’t try to intertwingle set theory with the other stuff I see no harm in attempting to teach it. I remember learning it in grade school around 1970 or so (3rd grade???); it was very simple, this is a set, a subset, and you can do intersections and unions. It was implied this was useful (it is) and it stands out because it was a heck of a lot more interesting than the other traditional math learning at the time (for example long division). And that minimum doesn’t take long, a week or so?

      • This is good sense. Unfortunately, I was exposed to set theory in 1972 in the first grade, and the silly textbook insisted on explaining things like simple addition and subtraction in terms of set theory. This is as silly as building a church on the point of its steeple, with the foundations sticking up into the air.

  22. Presented as a divertissement, an amusement; we all know that a thing like this could never happen in America:

    School hires proof reader to catch teachers’ spelling errors
    A school is looking to recruit a proof reader to check for mistakes in teachers’ reports to parents.

    By Telegraph reporters
    11:40AM GMT 21 Nov 2012

    Northgate High School in Ipswich, Suffolk, posted an advert for the position on its website, saying responsibilities would include correcting “spelling mistakes, poor or missing punctuation, incorrect capitalisation” and improving “poor grammar”.

    The advert reads: “The school reports to parents on a regular basis about how well their child is progressing at school.

    “The post holder will check and amend the electronic reports to ensure that they are well-written and complete before being released to parents.”

    The part-time job will also include helping staff whose reports need “extensive correcting by giving them feedback on their report writing and tactfully suggesting strategies to help them improve”.

    Headteacher David Hutton told the Ipswich Star: “Our examination results year on year demonstrate that Northgate employs very high-calibre teaching staff.

    “Between them they produce literally thousands of well-written comments each year that keep parents informed about the progress of their children.

    “Making a final quality check prior to publication merely indicates the high level of professionalism we strive to achieve.”

  23. Pingback: Advice To Make Your Parenting Experience Easier :: Aguas Industriales Blog

  24. I meant to put this up yesterday, but the McGuffey Readers are still a marvelous resource. The schools have yet to come up with anything superior.

  25. Okay, so in the comments on a post about education, we’ve had in-depth discussions of New Math, recycling*, and the tense/aspect distinction. I love the commenters here, and how much arcane knowledge is represented between all of you. I just wish I could participate more, but being 12-15 time zones away from the U.S. (11-14 time zones away in the summer) makes it a bit difficult to actively participate, since I’m awake while most of you all are asleep and vice versa.

    * Which, yes, I was responsible for starting, but that doesn’t invalidate my point. 🙂

    • These threads do tend to turn out like a game of CatLab, don’t they? You start out with a red tabby/sealpoint cross and only Heaven knows what the final products will be. 🙂

    • You forgot to mention the gourmet discussions of Thanksgiving and snack foods, because of them I will have to try chili powder in my hot chocolate next time I have some (I don’t have any in the house, I just checked my cupboards).
      Since we are now adding beverage additives to the list I will point out that while good coffee needs no additives, if you have inferior or weak coffee, try adding a pinch of salt.

  26. While endeavoring to look up something else I came across this brief comment on the history of the Whole Word philosophy

    Parker originated the famous Quincy Movement, the most recognizable starting point for progressive schooling. Its reputation rested on four ideas: 1) group activities in which the individual is submerged for the good of the collective; 2) emphasis on the miracles of science (as opposed to traditional classical studies of history, philosophy, literature); 3) informal instruction in which teacher and student dress casually, call each other by first names, treat all priorities as very flexible, etc; 4) the elimination of harsh discipline as psychologically damaging to children. Reading was not stressed in Parker schools.

    Parker’s work and that of other activists antagonistic to reading received a giant forward push in 1885 from one of the growing core of America’s new “psychologists” who had studied with Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig. James McKeen Cattell boldly announced he had proven, using the tachistoscope, that we read whole words and not letters. Cattell’s lusty ambition resounds in his cry of triumph:

    These results are important enough to prove those to be wrong who hold with Kant that psychology can never become an exact science.

    Until 1965 no one bothered to check Cattell’s famous experiment with the tachistoscope. When they did, it was found Cattell had been dead wrong. People read letters, not words.
    John Taylor Gatto, The Pedagogy Of Literacy

    • I’d have to say that whatever the results of tachistoscope style experiments, they have no bearing on the question of how to teach reading. I’m definitely a whole word reader and I’m pretty sure I learned more than way than I did phonetically (or at least once I got fast enough I stopped carefully sounding out words I didn’t know). But how my eyes and the pre-processing part of my brain “sees” those words doesn’t I suspect matter, I’m pretty sure nothing phonetic is going on. Or maybe it is, since I generally come up with bizarre sounding for those words I don’t recognize until I eventually have to spell or pronounce them.

      But all this doesn’t matter since it’s been exhaustively proven that a very large fraction of children will crash and burn if phonetics is not used as the primary way of teaching them (which the “memorization is evil” people loathe), and even the best whole word reader will need to use phonetics for unfamiliar words. Imagine trying to study organic chemistry without knowing your phonetics!

    • Yep – people read letters not words– especially when in the beginning of their learning career.

      • What particularly struck me about this was how it is part of a series — “proofs” of Darwin’s theories, Kinsey’s research, AGW Climate models — which are fundamentally falsified science. There is enough of that sort of Falsified Science that one could easily write a book about it, and that’s without even digging into phrenology, Velikovsky and the like.

        Eugenics is a whole chapter in the big book of bad science just by itself.

        • Oy, I can still remember my utter shock when I found out that Darwin’s Finches were classified as different species because they hadn’t been observed to breed. With groups that were at the far end of the island chains. *headdesk* That’s worse than finding out that “red wolves” are genetically the same as gray wolves with some coyote in them, and that the “coyotes” in the Canadian forests north of Seattle are more than half wolf. I knew the “different species can’t produce fertile offspring most of the time” rule was pretty loose, but I didn’t think it was THAT squishy! (I’m familiar enough with the barred owl “driving out” the spotted owl by breeding with them, but I thought that was just an especially bone headed example of politics messing with science.)

          • I know. Now think of that squishy species barrier in terms of aliens and humans… (runs.)

            • Bah, I’m using the nice post over at Mad Genus’ to file the serial numbers off of a Star Trek fan fiction idea where the main character is part of a mongrel alien group…and most of them are Catholic. *grin* Basically, not a lot of philosophies were prepared for the idea that all intelligent races could interbreed, barring ancient interference.

    • Parker originated the famous Quincy Movement, the most recognizable starting point for progressive schooling. Its reputation rested on four ideas: 1) group activities in which the individual is submerged for the good of the collective; 2) emphasis on the miracles of science (as opposed to traditional classical studies of history, philosophy, literature); 3) informal instruction in which teacher and student dress casually, call each other by first names, treat all priorities as very flexible, etc; 4) the elimination of harsh discipline as psychologically damaging to children. Reading was not stressed in Parker schools.

      Ah, so that’s what C.S. Lewis was skewering with his descriptions of the boarding school in The Silver Chair.

      • It is important to keep in mind that the Quincy Method, described at Wikipedia thusly:

        The Quincy Method, also known as the Quincy Plan, or the Quincy system of learning, was a child-centred, progressive approach to education developed by Francis W. Parker, then superintendent of schools in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1875.

        Parker, a pioneer of the progressive school movement, rejected the traditional rigid school routine, exemplified by rote learning and the spelling-book method, and even stated that the spelling book should be burned, although he did favour oral spelling. Emphasis was instead placed on social skills and self-expression through cultural activities and physical training, as well as teacher-prepared materials, experience-based learning and children’s own writing.

        A survey by the Massachusetts State Board of Education published four years later showed that Quincy students excelled at reading, writing, and spelling, and ranked fourth in their county in math.

        When in 1883 Parker became principal of the Cook County Normal School in Chicago, he developed the Method further, introducing teacher training based on modern educational methods.

        was probably in large part a reaction to the English boys’ school as depicted in Tom Brown’s School Days and Kipling’s Stalky & Co..

        Alert readers will suss the likely source of the derogatory phrase “Drill & Kill” as well as note this institution’s likely influences on pedagogical philosophy in Chicago (cough*Bill Ayers*cough.)

        • DANG! Once again I missed closing a blockquote, in this instance right after the Wiki URL and before “was probably …”

          This is becoming a disturbingly frequent occurrence … somebody in quality control is in danger of getting the sack.

          • Then when that doesn’t work, the people responsible for giving everyone else the sack will be given the sack, and then the comments thread will full of møøses.

          • In all seriousness, as a programmer I’ve learned that the way to avoid this is to write the opening and closing tags first, and only then work on the content between them.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              I’ve learned that the same way, but I seldom follow my own advice in the matter.

              • The mortifying thing is: that is what I (thought I) had done. Apparently, when copy/pasting the tag the slash to close the tag does not automatically insert itself.