Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dumbing Us Down Review

Dumbing Us Down
By John Taylor Gatto
First Published 1991
2nd edition published - 2002


This book is a collection of talks and presentations that John Taylor Gatto gave in the 1990s after he was chosen as New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990 and 1991 as well as State Teacher of the Year in 1991.

In the preface - John mentions his belief that government monopoly schools are structurally non reformable.

Here in Canada, the Catholics have been allowed to keep their own education system and schools. They used to be called the separate system, but now the catholic schools are publicly funded. 

Still, The Catholics have always provided a superior education and  it was an easy choice for me to send my son to a catholic school rather than the public one - especially after I saw just how rude the public schools kids were.

The local Catholic school in my neighbourhood is a small one. There are less than 200 students for 10 years of classes, Junior and Senior Kindergarten and grades 1 through 8.

Even the high school my son will be attending is small. It has around 700 students in 4 grades, and not the 1200 to 1500 that many of the public high schools have.

Chapter 1 - 7 Lessons that the Government Teaches

1 - Confusion - no cohesion in the curriculum, everything about the natural order and sequence of learning is disrupted as much as possible. Quality education implies a depth of learning. Kid don't get the chance to go into depth. They learn the basics and then get moved onto the next subject. I think that is why Unit themes are so popular in homeschooling circles. You get the chance to go into depth on one particular topic as much as you want and can absorb.

2 - Class Position - all students get graded to fit along the bell curve - and you stay where you are placed - why must that happen? 

3 - Indifference - the bells teach students that no work is worth finishing - when the bell goes, you drop everything and move to the next task

4 - Emotional Dependence - The teachers have to bribe the kids constantly to behave in class and to get good grades - they use candy or small toys as bribes and thus are turning the kids into performing as if they are in a circus - whuich technically they are!! But the kid dont learn how to study for their own sakes - they learn only to study if there is a reward - preferably a candy or a toy...  - asserting ones individuality goes against the teachers control - so the teachers punishes those whom he cannot control - sends them to the principal

5 - Intellectual Dependency - good students wait for the teacher to tell them what to do - good kids do whatever thinking the teacher assigns them with the minimum of fuss - bad kids are curious - they ask questions and demand answers  - this is a lesson for the world - that these well trained stuidents will wait for the boss to tell them what to do - which is the opposite of the workplace idea of "using your initiative is rewarded"

When I was doing surveys, I was told that I had to follow the survey scripts absolutely word for word. When I tried to change it to make it sound more natural and friendly, more like normal speech, I was told over and over again to STOP doing that. Read the script and ONLY the script. That was boring. I didnt last long in that job.

6 - Provisional Self Esteem - it is impossible to make self confident spirits (students) conform.

7 - You cannot hide - constant survellance at school, at home and eventually at the job - the idea of homework is to keep the student busy so that they dont have any "private" time.

I was asking questions about religion, and history from the age of 16. I have been a non-conformist since then as well. and I am teaching my son to always be asking questions as well. He's actually pretty smart and coasts along in school, getting a B average. He could do better, but there was no incentive in his small catholic elementary  school for him to try harder.

I am hoping that once he starts high school, he will have more choices and variety in the subjects he can do and therefore would be willing to work harder. One thing my son has done that goes against the school is that he chose NOT to be confirmed. This is a major catholic sacrament. Dad is not very happy, but my son made the choice and I agreed. I am actually thrilled that he has chosen not to do this. The lesshe is sucked into the church, the better. 

The only 2 major downsides we were told are - 1 - He cannot get married in a catholic church and 2 - he cannot be a godparent to someones child. It is NOT the end of the world to not be involved in these 2 activities. I have never been asked to be a godmother to anyone's child and I did not get married in any church. I got married outdoors in a rose garden. He can still get married in any other non-catholic church and he can also do what I did and get married outside. Problems solved.

 Chapter 2

Schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders.

Children have no sense of consequence, no curiosity, no sense of history, no sense of the adult world, they only live for the here and now!!

They are unfamiliar with talking about themselves to their friends, everything is kept superficial, they tend to keep themselves so private, they often lose touch with their own idea of who they are. 

They are dependent, passive and materialistic. They pretty much live in the world of "Gimme Gimme Gimme." and then get upset when they don't get what want they want. In fact the one reason why there is so much drugs, alcohol, violence and anger, is probably a reaction to the assembly line education everyone has received.

The best way to fix this??

Self Knowledge is the only basis for True Knowledge.

Give the child a problem and then leave the child to solve it on their own. They have to learn to think for themselves instead of being told what to do. This is the basis of Unschooling and home schooling. They need time to develop self knowledge. This time is being taken up with school, homework, sleep and so on. Very little private time for self knowledge.

I have forgotten pretty much everything I ever learned in high school, except for reading, writing and basic 'rithmetic. I only remember that I hated maths and that history was so boring but geography and computer studies were great. This was in 1981 and 1982 - my last 2 years at High School.

I spent the next few years bumming around various colleges and university trying to discover what it is that I wanted to be when I grew up. It was not until several years later once I was ain a fairly stable job, that I began re-educating myself. I purchased so many books, mostly second hand from my favourite second hand book shop. These books covered mostly history, but there was also literature, science, maths and computer technology. 

I spent 5 years learning the TRUTH - especially concerning history, religion and shakespeare. I am astounded that there was not ONE single word mentioned in any of my english classes over the shakespeare  authorship debate. Not one!!! So I basically had to RE-EDUCATE myself all over again after I left High School. It was extremely enlightenng!!!

Chapter 3 and 4.

We all know the idea that "It takes a village to raise a child" What does that mean exactly?

In homeschooling terms, this means that members of the community are called in to teach or pass on their knowledge and expertise to those children who are being homeschooled. Community members are rarely or very seldom called into the schools to pass on their expertise. They are not considered by the teachers to be "experts".

The community has been stifled by the networks. Children are forced to attend schools and their jobs and in doing so they forms friends and networks. There is NO community in the school, university or the work place - because those groups do NOT help to raise a child. They are there for networking and making contacts. 

We all know that most people gets jobs based on WHO they know rather than WHAT they know. We can no longer rely on support from our community because we have been trained up since childhood to depend on our networks first and the communities second. And most of the time the networks cannot or will not give you the support you need when you need it. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Shakespeare Authorship Debate challenge for 2016

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the DEATH of the Man from Stratford, I have decide to host a Shakespeare Authorship Debate challenge. This is for anyone who does NOT want to read all those plays - for people like me!!  I have seen most of them as movies though. 

So I have resurrected my old Shakespeare blog and have issued a challenge for this year.

Read 5 Books in the Shakespeare Authorship Debate between now and Dec 31st 2016

Here is the link to my Reading Challenge.

If you wish to actually read the plays, Samantha Lin is hosting a Shakespeare Bardathon Reading challenge!! 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Home Schooling is NOT Dangerous!!

Well today is the first day of my new NON FICTION challenge and I will admit I started a little early and read the first book in the days between Xmas and New Years. So this is my review. 

Title - The Year of Learning Dangerously
Author - Quinn Cummings
Publisher - Published August 7th 2012 by Perigee Books
Non Fiction Category - Education and Homeschooling

Excerpt from WSJ 

A Year of Learning Dangerously
My Review

If you homeschool your children for religious reasons, then I would strongly suggest that you do NOT read this book.

This books is the story of Quinns irreverent and hilarious journey through a year of homeschooling her 10 year old daughter in Los Angeles.

The daughter was NOT removed from public school for religious reasons. She was removed because she supposedly could not cope with the maths.

At the same time that Quinn and her partner Daniel, were homeschooling their daughter, Quinn was also learning everything she could about what it meant to be a home schooling mother.

Quinn made the time to attend several homeschooling conferences throughout the year. Pretty much all of these conferences were run by religious or ultra religious home schooling groups. The Duggar family in Arkansas (19 children and counting - TV reality show) were mentioned as they also homeschool their 19 children for religious reasons. In fact their religion is exactly the reason why they HAVE 19 kids.

Quinn also attended a homeschooling prom, and a homeschooling graduation ceremony.

Her comments on the people she met, the clothes she wore in order to fit in, and her opinion of the various different homeschooling curriculums, were often funny and I was often left giggling as I was reading.

The main reason I chose this particular homeschooling book, is because Quinn Cummings was a child actor. She was nominated at age 10 for an Academy award (for a movie called The Goodbye Girl) and she was also on a TV series called Family - also starring James Broderick, Sada Thompson, Meredith Baxter Birney and Kristy McNichol.  These names wont mean anything to youngsters these days, but 30 years ago (in the 1970s and early 1980s) these were BIG names and FAMILY was a well loved series. 

Quinn later gave up acting because she hated being forced to live her life in the public eye. She now owns and runs several online businesses. She has also been blogging online since 2005. Her blog is called the QC Report.

While I did think about homeschooling my son when he was a baby, as he grew older, his personality made that pretty much impossible.

My son is a very strong-willed boy and everything in his day, has to be negotiated. He negotiates what his time he has to go to bed, and how much time he gets online pretty much every day. He used to negotiate how much homework he would do before he went online, until he discovered that if he did all his homework at school, then he would not have to use up precious computer time, doing it at home. OK so he does still spend a lot of time online. But his writing, vocabulary, spelling and even his typing skills have all been well above his grade level. I consider that to be a excellent payoff.

So I gave up the idea of homeschooling, and began doing the afterschooling instead. This is what Quinn calls "part time" homeschooling.

From the age of 18 months to 3 and a half years, my son and I would walk along the street to his daycare every morning, and I would tell and show him the colours of all the cars parked along the street. I even explained difference between silver and grey (one is shiny and the other not). By the time he was 4 years old and ready for school, he had pretty much potty trained himself at age 2, he knew more colours and shapes than any other kid in the class and he had a vocabulary that stunned even me. He could even spell the word electricity because that was in his favourite book about trains that I was reading to him pretty much every night at bed time.

I can still remember him as a 3 year old, telling me one day that he would be "back in a jiffy, Mommy" Most kids dont even know that the word jiffy, even exists these days. He not only knew that word, he used it correctly as well.

I had a quick look at Quinns Blog and it appears that she and Daniel continued to homeschool their daughter. The most recent posts have indicated that the now-teenager and Quinn are planning to go to Italy for an educational trip this year.

Quinn on Wikipedia 

 Quinn on the IMDB

This is Quinn Cummings in 1977 as a Child Actor. She was nominated for an Academy Award (yes, an Oscar) for the Movie -  The Goodbye Girl. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

2nd list for Non Fiction Challenge

OK OK I keep coming across more great books that I want to add to this challenge, so I am now making  a second list. I will read books from both lists over the next 5 years. This 2nd list will be expanded as I find new titles I want to read.

Biographies & Memoirs
Robert Clary - From the Holocaust to Hogans Heroes
Helene Hanff - 84 Charing Cross Road
Pamela Stephenson - Billy
James Boswell - The Life of Samuel Johnson
Maria von Trapp -The Story of the Trapp Family Singers
Mark Twain - Scribblin' For a Livin'
Jerrold Packard - Victoria's Daughter
James Boswell - The Life of Dr Johnson

Education and Homeschooling
John Holt - How Children Learn
John Holt - A Life Worth Living
John Taylor Gatto - Dumbing Us Down
John Taylor Gattto - Weapons of Mass Instruction
Arthur Quiller Couch - On the Art of Writing
Quinn Cummings - A Year of Learning Dangerously

Jim Harlan - Drifting on a Headwind
Michael Palin - One of his travel books
Tim Severin - One of his travel books
William Dalrymple - From the Holy Mountain

Rebecca Skoot - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Fritjof Capra - The Science of Leonard
Alan Cutler - The Seashell on the Mountaintop

Marcus du Sautoy - The Music of the Primes

Lee Miller - Roanoke
Mike Dash - Tulipomania
Claude Marks - Pilgrims, Heretics and Lovers

Medical and Health
Oliver Sacks - Seeing Voices
Donna Jackson Nakazawa - Autoimmune Epidemic

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Empty Cradles - Book Review

Added Bonus

I just finished reading this book and I dont want people to miss out on reading about it - so I am adding it as an extra bonus.

Title - Empty Cradles
Author - Margaret Humphries
Publisher - Corgi Books 1993
Film Title - Oranges and Sunshine

2 weeks ago I watched the movie Oranges and Sunshine on Netflix. I have now just finished reading the book.  It is a biopic about one social worker from England who opens a huge can of worms (and a human rights disaster) when she innocently starts asking why children were sent from the UK to various colonies both before and after World War 2.

While I had heard of the Home children before, I was not aware of how widespread the problem was, nor how poorly the children were treated.

I also empathized with these children (now adults) who had been dumped in Australia as children with no identity and in most cases they were outright lied to. As adults they had a lot of difficulty proving their identity since there were no records of them ever being born in Australia or immigrating to Australia legally.

Many of these children has been placed in the orphanages or into foster care temporarily just to allow the mother to get back on her feet. Most of these mothers had lost their spouses in the war and had trouble coping with little or no support. Most of these mothers also had NO legal recourse in demanding that their children NOT be adopted out.They were told that their child or children would be perfectly safe until she was ready to pick them up and be a family again.

Instead many of these children were placed on boats and sent to Australia. The children were told that their parents had died and they were now orphans. The parents were not told anything until they returned to pick their child or children up. Then they were told that unfortunately their child/ren had died. 

In the 1980s Margaret Humphreys was a social worker from Nottingham in England. She was running a support group for adult adopted children who were attempting to find their birth parents and siblings.

One day Margaret was told by one of the adult adoptees in her support group that she had remembered that she had had a brother so she had sent a letter off to the Salvation army asking for details. Eventually she received a reply from a man in Australia who said he was her brother. By the time they met, this woman (Marie) and her husband had met the brother (Harold) in Australia and the two men clearly did not get along.

Margaret asked Marie, how did her brother get to Australia?
He was put on a boat.
With your parents? Margaret asked.
No. On his own. 

Around the same time Margaret also received a letter from another woman in Australia who had heard about the adopted adult support group in Nottingham and was asking if Margaret could help her. She too was put on a boat when she was 4 years old and sent to Australia. The only thing she knew for sure was that she was born in Nottingham.

These two coincidences opened a huge can of worms for Margaret and the repercussions can still be felt today.

With these two ladies asking the first questions, Margaret began searching for answers at St Catherines House in London. In the 1980s St Catherines held all the BMD records and archives. [BMD = Births, Marriages and Deaths]. She found the birth registration for the Australian woman born in Nottingham. Then Margaret went looking for the marriage record of the parents. She eventually found the marriage record dated AFTER the Australian woman  had been sent to Australia. Just remember that in the 1980s, there were no genealogical online databases like there are today. 

Margaret flew out to Australia and began asking questions. The horror stories she uncovered are just horrendous. The children were aged anywhere from 4 to 14. Most of them were sent out from orphanages and told that their parents had died. Once they arrived in Australia they were supposed to be fostered or adopted out, but that seldom happened. Most of the children were sent to childrens homes and orphanages and put to work as unpaid labourers or slaves.

Some of these children were educated. Others were not. As soon as they could legally leave school, they were sent out to work. The home or orphanage where they lived took most of their wages. Many of these children were also given new names.

Since Australia is a very hot country in the summer, many of these children had difficulty adjusting to the hot weather and to the change of seasons. Xmas in Australia occurs in the summer and NOT in the winter.

Altogether more than 100,000 children were sent from the UK to Australia from the 1940s up until the mid 1960s. Those children lost all contact with their families. When they began asking questions, Margaret spent much of her time searching through BMD records. Some of these children were too late to meet their parents. Others had cautious reunions.

In Australia Margaret soon began receiving death threats. Noone in the UK believed her, but I think most of these threats came from the Catholic church since many of the childrens homes were run by that church. And of course that church could not have people learn that they were treating these children as slave labour. That would be bad. It didn't help that the pedophile priests scandal also erupted around the same time as well - the 1980s.

If you can watch the movie Oranges and Sunshine, please do so. I think it is very realistic and very emotional. 

As I said at the beginning of this review, the reason I could empathize with these children and this story is because my mother was adopted as a child and raised by very strict adoptive parents. She had no clue as to her real identity. In fact she did not even know she was adopted until after her adoptive mother died when I was a teenager. THAT is when she discovered that she was adopted. My mother was devastated. She had frequently spoken of her very strict parents while I was growing up.

As  soon as I understood that her family were NOT MY family, I lost all interest in her family and her stories. At that time there was no legal recourse to obtaining ones legal birth certificate, but several years later the laws were passed to allow adult children to obtain their original birth certificates.

By this time I had developed a enthusiasm for History and Genealogy. From the time the law was passed, my mother dragged her feet and took 10 years before she finally gave in to my constant nagging, and obtained her birth certificate.

Once I was able to trace my mothers biological maternal ancestors back to the UK, it did not take me long to trace MY ancestors back to the 1600s in Cornwall. I was thrilled.

Unfortunately my mothers father is NOT named on her original birth certificate, so that part of my ancestry is pretty much still lost to me. But at least I have her maternal ancestry.

I just discovered NON FICTION

Well, no I haven't just discovered NON FICTION. I have been reading NON fiction for MANY MANY years.

What this post title means is that I just discovered the NON FICTION Reading Challenge that will take 5 years to complete.

The rules of this challenge are as follows

- Choose 50+ non-fiction books; the number is up to you.  Choose 50, 75, 100, 200.  It's entirely your choice

  - Books must be non-fiction--biography, autobiography, history, memoir, cooking, travel, science, etc.

 - List them at your blog (or on Goodreads or another social media site, if you do not have a blog)

 - Choose your completion goal date five years in the future and make note of it with your list of titles (like this:  reading goal--50 books  goal dates--March 20, 2012 - March 20, 2017)

 - Write a review (or a short summary) on the book when finished and link it to the title in your list (or link to your review on Goodreads, again, if you don't have a blog)

- When you have completed the challenge, come add your link to the Completed Challenges page

 - There will be a blog roll in the sidebar where I will list you/your blog linked to your lists

 - This challenge can be crossed over with any other challenges

So now I have to make up a list of 50 NON FICTION books and read them over the next 5 years.  Whether or not I will expand that list to 100, I don't know yet.

Since this is December. I am going to officially start this challenge in January 2016 and have it run for 5 years from Jan 2016 to Dec 2020. Wow that will cover the whole 4 years that my son will be in high school. Right now he is in grade 8.

I will also remove the non fiction books I have on my Classics Club list and move them to THIS challenge. 

I have SO MANY Biographies on my TBR pile that I have not read. Am adding them to this challenge as well. That's why I love these kinds of challenges. I am strongly encouraged to read those books that I have purchased and then NOT read!!!  LOL


James Michener - The World is my Home
Louis L'Amour - Education of a Wandering Man
Charlton Heston - Beijing Diary
Veronica Buckley - Christine of Sweden
Benazir Butto - Daughter of Destiny
A J Jacobs - My Life as an Experiment
Tom Interval - Harry Houdini
Benjamin Franklin - My Autobiography
Justin Trudeau - Common Ground
John Van Der Kiste - Princess Victoria Melita
Charles Chaplin - My Autobiography

Social Justice and Social Sciences
Wendy Smith - Give a Little
Lesley Adkins - Empire of the Plains (Discovery of Babylon)
Roy Chapman Andrews - Across Mongolian Plains

Bob Johnson - An Answer to Mere Christianity

Hannalore Brenner - The Girls from Room 28 (Theresienstadt - Holocaust)
Pierre Berton - The Invasion of Canada (1812 war)
Martyn Downs - Nelsons Purse
Laura Berton - I Married the Klondike
Anna Comnenos - The Alexiad
Lita-Rose Betcherman - Court Lady and Country Wife (Lucy and Dorothy Percy)
Carola Hicks - Improper Pursuits (the first Lady Diana Spencer)
Alice Hoggs - Gods Secret Agents (Queen Elizabeth's Forbidden Priests and the Gunpowder Plot)
Lisa Jardine - On a Grander Scale (Christopher Wren)
Samuel Pepys - Diary
Diana and Michael Preston - A Pirate of Exquisite Mind (William Dampier)
Lisa Jardine - The Curious Life of Robert Hooke
Nancy Goldstone - The Maid and the Queen (Joan of Arc)
Nancy Goldstone - Four Queens (Sisters of Provence)
Helen Keller - The Story of my Life
Frances Hunter - The Fairest Portion of the Globe (Lewis and Clark)
Countess of Caernavon - Lady Almina and the REAL Downton Abbey
Arthur Herman - How the Scots invented the Modern World

Sally O'Reilly - Shakespeare's Dark Lady (Amelia Bassano)
Ian Wilson - Shakespeare the Evidence
Mark Anderson - Shakespeare by Another Name
Lucien X. Polastron - Books on Fire
Nicholas Basbanes - Patience and Fortitude
Rodney Bolt - History Play (Kit Marlowe - Shakespeare)

Carl Sagan - Cosmos
Rachel Carson - Silent Spring
Simon Winchester - The Map that Changed the World
Charles Nicholl - Flights of the Mind (Leonardo Da Vinci)
James A. Connor - Keplers wife  (Early History of Astronomy)
Jonathan Lyons - The House of Wisdom (How the Arabs transformed Western Civilization)
Benjamin Woolley - Heal Thyself (Nicholas Culpeper)
James Burke - American Connections
Mario Livio - The Golden Ratio
Christopher Bryson - The Fluoride Deception
Jim Al-Khalili - Pathfinders (Golden Age of Islam)

50 Books exactly - for now. I may add to them, or I may not.