Thursday, April 24, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
The Op-ed piece by Bob Herbert:
We don’t hear a great deal about education in the presidential campaign. It’s much too serious a topic to compete with such fun stuff as Hillary tossing back a shot of whiskey, or Barack rolling a gutter ball.
The nation’s future may depend on how well we educate the current and future generations, but (like the renovation of the nation’s infrastructure, or a serious search for better sources of energy) that can wait. At the moment, no one seems to have the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S.
An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.
Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.
“We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world,” said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as “actually pretty scary, alarming.”
Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.
When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.
Mr. Golston noted that the performance of American students, when compared with their peers in other countries, tends to grow increasingly dismal as they move through the higher grades:
“In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”
Many students get a first-rate education in the public schools, but they represent too small a fraction of the whole.
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, offered a brutal critique of the nation’s high schools a few years ago, describing them as “obsolete” and saying, “When I compare our high schools with what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow.”
Said Mr. Gates: “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they are broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools — even when they’re working as designed — cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.”
The Educational Testing Service, in a report titled “America’s Perfect Storm,” cited three powerful forces that are affecting the quality of life for millions of Americans and already shaping the nation’s future. They are:
• The wide disparity in the literacy and math skills of both the school-age and adult populations. These skills, which play such a tremendous role in the lives of individuals and families, vary widely across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
• The “seismic changes” in the U.S. economy that have resulted from globalization, technological advances, shifts in the relationship of labor and capital, and other developments.
• Sweeping demographic changes. By 2030, the U.S. population is expected to reach 360 million. That population will be older and substantially more diverse, with immigration having a big impact on both the population as a whole and the work force.
These and so many other issues of crucial national importance require an educated populace if they are to be dealt with effectively. At the moment we are not even coming close to equipping the population with the intellectual tools that are needed.
While we’re effectively standing in place, other nations are catching up and passing us when it comes to educational achievement. You have to be pretty dopey not to see the implications of that.
But, then, some of us are pretty dopey. In the Common Core survey, nearly 20 percent of respondents did not know who the U.S. fought in World War II. Eleven percent thought that Dwight Eisenhower was the president forced from office by the Watergate scandal. Another 11 percent thought it was Harry Truman.
We’ve got work to do.
Friday, April 18, 2008
g was feeling extra silly today. This was a continuation of a discussion we had yesterday. Yesterday, she declared that only cows made milk. I corrected her and told her that a lot of different animals make milk. I even went further and reminded her that she was breastfed and so was her sister. She listened. I told her lots of different kinds of mommies made milk.
Today she was taking a swig of milk when she told me that lots of animals make milk. She started naming animals that made milk until she got to turtle. I told her that turtle mommies don't make milk. She took that information in and then responded, "Turtle mommies don't make milk. They make lemonade."
I was too busy laughing to correct her. So as far as g is concerned, turtle babies drink lemonade.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I Can't Imagine Why Anybody Would Want To Stop Crying
- from Onion.com
(By Emmet Henson, 2-month old)
Life has so many wonderful experiences to offer. Like sleep. Or ingestion and evacuation. But I find life offers few opportunities more rewarding than screaming like a maniac until your voice cracks with the strain, so that the entire universe can share in your distress. That's what life is all about, right? The sheer exhilarating thrill of nonstop crying at the top of your lungs. It's such an important part of why we are here—why would anybody ever want to do anything else?
Don't get me wrong—I like squirming, drooling, and sporadically attempting to focus on colors and shapes as much as the next guy. But of all the various activities one can choose to pursue in life, crying is tops as far as I'm concerned. In my opinion, I find nothing is more fulfilling than a good steady holler. It takes no experience to begin, and within moments, all one's needs are instantly met! It's my favorite part of the day.
Heck, I'm crying right now!
I suppose some people might enjoy wasting their days with sleep or gentle cooing, but not me. No, sir. Not when there's all that fantastically loud crying to do. In fact, I love crying so much, sometimes I wish I could be awake 24 hours a day, just to hear the crying I miss out on hearing when I am asleep. I mean, I assume I cry in my sleep, too. Whoa. There's a strange thought: What if I stop crying for a moment when I'm asleep? That would be tragic.
Yes, there's nothing like a good, healthy, air-raid-siren-style bellow to renew one's red-faced passion for living. What you want, I've found, is to pitch your voice at about the decibel level of your standard jet engine and then hold it as long as possible before taking in air. That's the sweet spot right there. That's the ideal volume for a good cry—the kind of crying that isn't so much melancholy or sorrowful as it is a full-throttle roar of earsplitting shrillness.
It's so easy. Getting started can be as simple as being startled by your own hand.
In my opinion, anyone who isn't screaming his lungs out is just letting life pass him by. You'd think, after seeing how happy crying makes me, people would follow my example. But all around me there are tall, shadowy figures who seem to actively avoid the most pleasurable part of existence. Everywhere I look I see them: standing behind my stroller as they walk around town, or leaning in over me in my crib and making faces. Whole loads of people, not crying. Don't they realize what they're missing?
Look, I'm not a purist. I understand there are times when it might be perfectly acceptable to stop crying. Like when something is placed in your mouth for you to suck on. Or when somebody jiggles you for 40 seconds. Both are perfectly understandable and justifiable reasons to stop crying momentarily. But to be completely silent for more than, say, a minute? That's just crazy.
Take my parents, for example. If it wasn't for my tireless efforts, they'd sleep through the night! Can you believe it? I don't think it's because they're too old—I suppose I don't know how old they are exactly, but I can't imagine it's any more than, say, one. They've still got plenty of life in them. Yet they hardly ever cry, and when they do, it's usually softly, in the middle of the night, and exhausted-sounding. What happened to their lust for life? Don't they realize that every moment they waste sleeping, fiddling with the car seat, or holding picture books in front of my face is precious time they could be screaming their heads off?
How can I get them to embrace life and really make the most of wailing like a mythical banshee for hours on end?
I just don't understand these people—and not only because I have yet to grasp the concept of others as separate selves outside of me. Don't they know that all they'd have to do is take a good deep breath, let her rip, and the air would be filled with glorious noise? They can't be having a good time just sitting there, grinning slightly, and communicating through facial expressions and this bizarre series of coded grunts I have yet to decipher.
What do they spend their time doing? Comprehending spatial relations? I'd die of boredom in a minute. They must've been young once. Surely they can still remember the good times they had, splitting the very air with sonic knives of nigh-unendurable intensity. I would hate to think that someday I might be so jaded and cynical as to turn my back on wriggling and panting for breath, using every ounce of my being to emit a general, undifferentiated distress signal to all within earshot.
Spending entire days without crying? Why, it goes against the very thing that makes us human.
God, I hope I never become like them.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
A near perfect shot, if only s didn't look so startled.
There have been moments in the last few weeks when I finally begin to feel that there might be a chance for some sisterly love. There was a time when g would actually share her toy without being told or when s would willingly give something up to her sister. We're a long way from there.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Friday, April 11, 2008
For g, of all the songs I sang to her she seemed to settle down on just two. And I've been singing these to her for over the last year now.
- Under the Boardwalk by the Drifters
- Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude by Jimmy Buffett
For s, since she has no say, I just arbitrarily chose a couple of songs to sing to her while I initiate her sleep routine. Somewhere around 6 months ago as she was about 1, I started singing her these songs.
- My Way by Frank Sinatra
- Carolina in My Mind by James Taylor
Maybe when s gets older she'll protest and ask me to sing more modern songs. But for anyone looking for song suggestions for their kids, you should consider the above.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I have never thought that g was precocious. She was always such a responsive little kid. She liked flashcards and being read to. Though s really liked being read to as well. she thinks flash cards are a form of big confetti that were meant to be strewn about.
At this age (17 months), g knew how to put on her socks, spoke more than 20 words pretty clearly and "reads" to herself. One very clear memory I had of her was one early morning on a Saturday. She had awakened and I wasn't ready to be awake yet. So I took her out of her crib and just allowed her to roam around our bedroom. She typically picks up a book or climbs around the bed. On that day, she took her polar bear book and read loudly to herself. It was so cute. It came out as "po bear, po bear, wat you 'ear?" (translation: polar bear, polar bear, what do you hear?). My favorite is when she got to the part about the bo-sicker (translation: boa constrictor).
Little s seems content to have her small collection of sounds. Though a quick check of developmental milestone chart revealed she is even a little ahead of schedule on everything, it is hard for me to not expect her to be at the same level as her sister at this age.
I have to keep reminding myself that they are different. That they are unique and as such will take their own paths.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
So I am here to say that as a mom, you have to go out and learn more about this disorder. CNN has been running special articles and features all week. One of them was written by a CNN staffer who was recently diagnosed at 48 years old as having Asperger's. More stories can be found here .