Saturday, March 1, 2008

It's Official: J Lo and Marc Anthony love Dragon Tales!

For those of you that don't know, Jennifer Lopez (J-Lo) and Marc Anthony (that creepy guy she's married to) had twins the other day.

For those of you that don't know, Dragon Tales is a preschool show on PBS.

J-Lo and Marc Anthony named their twins Max and Emme. Cute names, nice and modern, a little too popular for my tastes, to name my own kids, but better than a lot of the other popular names out there.

Dragon Tales is about two kids that "wish upon a dragon scale" to go have fantasy adventures in Dragon Land, where of course, they escape the confines of their playroom and learn all sorts of PBS things like work hard, play nice, and all that kind of stuff. The two kids are named Max and Emmy.

Now J-Lo doesn't have any other kids, but Marc Anthony does. Shouldn't he know about this show? Maybe he doesn't care? At the same time, Dragon Tales does have a few Spanish-speaking bilingual characters, in what seems to me to be a weak attempt at pandering to the huge Hispanic-American market. But maybe J-Lo and Marc Anthony like Quetzal and Enrique.

Anyway, this was just too funny to not share, and shed some light on this "coincidence". Thanks Aimée for pointing this out to me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book Review: "Tom" by Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola makes a lot of books for kids. I must admit that we got a lot of his books coming through the house before I really started to get into him. His books are generally of high quality, but occasionally there are outstanding books that he makes. "Tom" is one of my all-time favorites!

I believe that many of Tomie dePaola's books are at least semi-autobiographical. This is one of those. Tommy is the main character in the book, a young boy. Tom is Tommy's grandfather. Since Tommy is named after Tom, they share a special bond. Tom likes to act childish and play around with Tommy. Tom is clearly a cool grandfather.

But the coolest thing is "garunge-arunge-a"! Tom is a butcher. He gets chickens whole and then has to cut them down to sellable things. He starts by cutting off the chicken's head and feet. He has Tommy plant the chicken head to try to grow a chicken bush. That was funny! But then he gives Tommy the chicken feet, and shows him that if you pull the tendons, the claws open and close.

Tommy is a bright kid, and washes the feet and brings them to school. Now I normally don't like school showing up in books, but I like it here. Tommy hides his hands, and operates the claws, using them to scare all the girls at school. As he jumps out from behind a bush, making the claws open and close, he yells "Garunge-arunge-a" at his victims. This had me rolling on the floor for days, and is a regular attack Boden pulls on me, now. Eventually Tommy garunge-arunge-a's a teacher and is sent to the principal's office, where his claws are cruelly confiscated. But the awesomeness has already been done.

That combines with dePaola's unique drawings and great story telling to make this book a keeper. We check it out over and over again from the library, and really ought to buy it! I also like the way that this book, like most of dePaola's is just the right readability - not too long, and not too short. You aren't wishing it was done halfway through, and at the same time, you're fully satisfied at the end of the book.

I rate this book "highly recommended".

Monday, February 18, 2008

Preschool TV

I know I don't post here that often. I don't really seek out things to complain about if I can avoid it. But this morning watching PBS Kids, I can't help but shake my head in disbelief at some of the themes and messages they're putting out there.

First, there's the interlude sections. The preschool-like setting with a woman (Miss Laurie?) and a little rat (Hooper? - actually a hamster or something) and a bunch of little actor kids now and then. They do learning-esque things, all compressed into two minutes of in-between time. Today they filled in the blank at the end of every line of the little rhyme with the monsters jumping on the bed. You know, mama called the doctor and the doctor said no more monsters jumping on the bed. It was pointless to say the least. I would almost rather just see a lowercase and uppercase 'A' side by side for the time it took to do that.

Then the next show came on. SuperWhy. This show is pretty annoying in the first place. Most especially because the faces of the main characters are pretty much devoid of emotion, except for minor eyebrow movements. But the hollow blank stares of their computer-animated eyes leaves you feeling like they are some kind of cute kid zombies. Then they're always preaching a lot of moralistic hard working puritan stuff that I am not a big fan of. You know, like the main point of the three little pigs, that you gotta make a fortress of bricks to survive.

But the kids love the show. They do a lot of words and letters stuff, and Iris seems to actually follow along and maybe even learn a tiny bit of reading-type-stuff each show. But at the same time she learns a lot of silly worthless or even possibly damaging ideas. Boden loves the superhero theme of the show, and the super computer (which is another annoying part - this so-called supercomputer is just like the most primitive handheld device - it doesn't really do anything. Actually the handheld device does all the work and the "super computer" is just a big display monitor). Boden doesn't pay enough attention to learn anything, which is fine. And at least SuperWhy isn't a monster or mean animal or anything else that might inspire him to hit something or someone.

Today the princess character was nervous because she had to pass a test before she could become a junior princess. This makes me sick in several ways.

First of all, tests are the worst. They don't prove anything. They mainly just make most test-takers unduly nervous and stressed out. Scoring well on a test doesn't indicate actual learning of the subject matter, and choking on a test doesn't mean you didn't learn anything. Tests are an artifice made by teachers to "objectively" measure the progress of their students.

Second, what is a junior princess anyway? It is like a meaningless step towards true princess-hood that must be achieved for some reason right at the specific ascribed time. Sort of like a test for a belt upgrade in martial arts. It is just a symbol of progress, but not really indicative of real progress necessarily.

Third, the princess character is nervous. Being nervous for a test doesn't help anything. She was all "what if I fail?" That's the worst type of thinking to have around anything, especially something like a test. This goes deeper. The reason they portray it this way is to make kids that feel nervous about tests feel like they're not alone. That seems like a noble goal, but it really says that its acceptable, or even normal to be afraid of tests; afraid to try new things or step up to challenges. Furthermore, it can also make kids that aren't scared of tests feel like they should be scared of them. Even if you don't detest tests, it still isn't that great to make harmful behavior like fear of failure seem normal.

Fourth, the test she's scared of is trivial. It is a six-piece puzzle. This character can read and spell and things, and she's scared of a six-piece puzzle? Maybe she isn't ready to be a junior princess, after all.

Since I was writing this, I missed the end of the show. They come up with a super duper computer secret word or phrase that solves the problem. Iris said that this word was "Smart" so I can only assume that they told the princess she was smart enough to solve the problem, so she gained confidence to try the trivial puzzle, then achieved her junior princess milestone goal.

This leads me to another issue. The underlying theme of the show is that nobody can solve their own problems. While there's a benefit to asking for help when you're stuck, constantly leaning on others for confidence and answers to some of the extremely simple problems they highlight on the show is no good. The takeaway that I get from today's show is that you should be unsure of your own abilities, especially when the stakes are high and you really want something. Then you need to get confidence from others in order to even try to achieve your goals. This is not a belief that I want my kids to have in any way.

Maybe I'm just being cynical, but I think that these messages are part of what our public schools are all about. They have to make every kid feel welcome, and can't make anyone seem less smart than the others. But at the same time they push a uniform cirriculum on the kids every day, enforcing the message that you have to be like everyone else, and you have to learn all at the same time. When they force knowledge at an unenthusiastic crowd, the learners need to be extrinisically motivated by fear, e.g. fear of bad grades. The whole preschool TV agenda is aimes to teach kids that you have to learn what they're being told when its being told, on a schedule out of the kids' control. It's self-un-confidence and lack of control messages like this that are one of the big parts we're keeping our kids away from publicly funded child prisons known as schools. We want our kids to believe thay can achieve whatever they want to, and that they don't have to endure any forced learning just for the sake of compliance.

I just hope that the small doses they're getting on TV is not too much already. I better go turn off the TV. Because now Dragon Tales is on, and don't get me started on that show...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


My wife got a post/email on the local homeschool board about a lady that thinks her kid is "gifted". I just happened to sit down in front of her computer and see this silly post sitting there. My number one response: this lady needs a blog... that's the perfect platform for bragging about this sort of thing. Come to find out that it is a piece for a newspaper column she writes. So the somewhat pointlessness of the article is forgiven to a certain extent, viewing it as an article, and not a message board post.

But the whole thing is still silly. Her fundamental question is this: "Is my son gifted or just really smart?" He's reading at this grade level, and mathing at whatever grade level, and so on, but is he "gifted"? To me the whole concept of "gifted" is just stupid. It serves no real purpose, except perhaps to single out the "gifted" one. I mean everyone has some sort of "gift", right? Besides, there's a lot more to success than merely high academic performance.

It might be relevant to say here that I was labelled gifted in elementary school, and it is a hard label to shake. We even had a gifted program, called SWEPT, where all the gifted kids could get together and have learning about stuff that presumably the masses were not capable of understanding. From what I can remember, we did a lot of dinosaurs and stuff, or maybe it was more independent study - where the kid picked the topic, and I just chose, rather paleontology. I do remember even in first grade being carted off to this special class with two other kids, both from second grade, where we did mathy and sciency things, like using litmus paper. Sadly, I struggle with litmus paper to this day. Though I think I did get a fair sense of scientific method along the way - maybe it started in this pre-SWEPT.

One thing I really remember from the gifted program was in middle school, the gifted room was this little room off the cafeteria, and one day we all found access to the IQ scores of all the kids in the gifted group. That was fun - I was one of the highest IQ. But the funniest thing is that the kid with the lowest IQ of all of us ended up at Harvard, and works for like Warrenn Buffett or something now.

Forget about Harvard, the kid that was a drug dealer (not in the gifted program) in high school is part owner of a restaurant now. Some of the smartest kids in my class now are stuck in uninteresting jobs for big companies. Some have found peace serving God. Some just get by doing art. Some of the rest are making their mark. I haven't seen a high correlation between "gifted" status and life happiness.

Labelling doesn't do anybody any good. It is a convenient tool to make it easier for schools to determine how an individual should be treated, based on the labels that are applied.

So in the end, this reads more like a rant, but I think I'll let it fly. The point is that it doesn't matter if a kid is gifted or just really smart or whatever any of that is supposed to mean. What matters is a person finding a thing to do that they love, and making the most of it. What matters most above all is a person being happy.

School Marketing

I admit, posting here isn't happening all that often.

But I got a post via my feeds that I had to post about here. Seth is a marketing guy, and posts about marketing stuff, often with an internet slant. Today's post is about how all the front line employees need to be cognitive of their roles in marketing.

The part that fits in here is:
When you yell at a classroom full of kids because one kid misbehaved,
that's a marketing decision.

So perhaps in an inadvertent manner, Seth is against school. Or at least he feels that their front line marketers are not really doing a great job.

Just an interesting perspective on schools as business, including front line marketing employees.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Pushing Charities on Kids

The Mystic River Press (story is on B2) has what is meant to be a feel-good story about a teacher spreading moral responsibility by teaching her middle school class about a charity she likes, Heifer International.

Before you get too angry with me, I need to set a few things straight. Of all the charities out there, I really believe in what Heifer is doing. I love the idea of "passing on the gift", and it seems like a really well-assembled program without a lot of political ideology tainting it. Furthermore, giving to charity is one of the most important things that any person of privelege can do (and let's face it - if you can read this, then you have a computer and are thus a person of privelege).

The thing that really bugs me about this is that promotion of a specific charity has no place whatsoever in public school. Giving to charity, and specific choice of a charity to give to is a personal choice that should be reserved for the individuals doing the giving. A teacher telling her students that they should give to Heifer makes the children feel compelled to believe that she is right. She is in the position of power. But a child should give to a charity in which he or she believes very deeply. Middle school kids have a pretty well developed sense of values, and are quite capable of making a decision about who to give money to.

Fortunately, in this case, it is a good neutral charity with a mission just about anyone can appreciate. But what if a teacher did this for some charity with a deep social or political agenda? Would you want your child subjected to this type of captive marketing for How about if Focus on the Family came into your school to preach to your kids? What about the ACLU? Or GreenPeace? Maybe Michael Moore as a guest speaker? Or Bill O'Reilly? Once you have school officials condoning specific charities, it is a slippery slope towards political influence coming into your classrooms.

I also don't like the idea of some guy coming into the class with a handful of rice to show the kids how most of the world lives. This is a blatant attempt to make the kids feel guilty for their abundance of food choices. Their response to the guilt will be the programmed response by their teacher to give to Heifer. It is a dirty sales tactic that is being used here. And it is being used on your children.

Now let me say again, that I like Heifer. We have given money to them. My young children love the idea of giving real animals to kids in some other part of the world. But the thing is that we chose this ourselves. Nobody that we put into a position of power came onto us in a situation we could not escape from to tell us to give to Heifer.

This is just another example of the absence of personal freedom and choice that is the hallmark of public school.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Preschool Mental Health Screening

This came across my inbox a few weeks ago (thanks Aimée), and as I was cleaning out, I found it again, and realized I hadn't drawn any attention to it.

Let me start by saying that I can indeed see some benefit to the concept of preschool mental health screening. I could see the idea that since the child is going to be in a forced social situation with many other children and little direct supervision (what's that student:teacher ratio again?), that some parents might want to know the mental health state of the other kids in the class.

One major problem is the way that our system handles these labelled "mentally ill" children. The main and often only real course of treatment is medication. I have written about this before, but we have the most incidence of "mental illness" and the most medications given for this problem. In other words, the medication isn't working. People are taking medication but not getting better. Kids are known to have increased suicide risk with the stuff, and here goes the government trying to put more kids on the medicine. How corrupt is the influence of the big drug companies in Washington?

As if the poor treatment options aren't bad enough, the government wants to make these diagnoses and treatments without parental consent. So if you have your kid in preschool, they may try to label the child with a mental illness and then give dangerous and ineffective treatments to your child - without your consent. I feel sick thinking about this - I need to stop. But I am thankful that my kids aren't in any sort of compulsory public education system! I can sense the return of the commune - off the grid living in the US!