I am not Jewish (not one of the Frozen Chosen)

I am not Jewish, not that there is anything wrong with that!

OK, seriously, neither my mother nor my father (or any grandparents or great-grandparents) has, to my knowledge, any Jewish blood or religious heritage.  If we do, it must be a very small percentage.  I was raised Lutheran and, after annoying family members and former pastors, have since become a typical Ph.D. philosopher agnostic who, having taught philosophy of religion and been exposed to philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and William Alston, to say nothing of Catholic theologians, respects the possibility of being a rational believer.  Ethnically I know our family has substantial amounts of English, German, and French blood.  Our line of Sangers seems to have come from the New York Sangers, which spawned Margaret Sanger, but I have no known relation to her.

I have nothing whatsoever against Jewish folks.  I laughed when someone recently asked me, "Are you one of the Frozen Chosen?"  "Huh?" I asked.  "You know, Jews from Alaska."  But, for what it's worth, I have liked virtually every Jewish person I can recall knowing, and for the record, I support the right of the modern state of Israel to exist.  Moreover, anti-Semitism has long struck me as weird, but recently I think I've come to understand it a little better and now my attitude toward it is that it is completely indefensible.

Nevertheless, as part of the obsession, among some, with finding Jewish conspiracies everywhere, I have apparently been made an honorary Hebrew by idiotic anti-Semites because I helped get Wikipedia started.

If you type the name "Larry Sanger" into Google, the search engine will helpfully suggest the following:

larry sanger net worth [bwa-ha-ha-ha!!!]

larry sanger jewish

larry sanger twitter [how about that? I'm not at all big on Twitter]

larry sanger jew

jimmy wales larry sanger [no comment]

The Jew Larry Sanger

Apparently, people who search for my name often wonder if I am a rich Jew, or they suspect that I am.  So let's see what happens when we search Google for "larry sanger jewish," shall we?

You'll no doubt get the idea that, yep, Sanger really must be Jewish.  The first result is an article from RadioIslam.org, titled "The Jewish hand behind Internet [sic]" and authored by "Freedom Research."  If you scroll down, you'll see a picture of me looking awfully Jewish, and the text says, "Larry Sanger, one of the two recognized cofounders, is openly Jewish."  Really?  How did they figure that?  "In their rabblings of what different famous Jews are doing The Jewish Chronicle mentions Sanger in an article 'Larry Sanger... creates a new Wikipedia', The Jewish Chronicle, 26 October 2006, p. 10."  Well, of course, since I was interviewed by a Jewish newspaper, I must be Jewish -- openly Jewish.  (Not a closet Jew, I guess.)  Also, if Jimmy Wales is Jewish, that's news to me.  I'm pretty sure he isn't, but I'm sure there's a lot about Jimmy Wales I don't know. Once I tried to contact RadioIslam.org to tell them to remove my name from the piece.  I received no reply.  I did notice that they added the following near the beginning of their screed:

WARNING: Please note that the contents of some of the sites with revealing Jewish material we have linked to below, may be altered by the Jews in the future. Perhaps even information contrary to this document and Radio Islam will replace the original material we had linked to. This has happened before and for our part just illustrates the level of Jewish dishonesty.

Anyway, citing this clearly unimpeachable source, a number of other sources have said that I am Jewish.  There is even a Facebook page, "Wikipedia run by Jewish Zionists" (text from the RadioIslam.org article), among various forum comments that proclaim my Jewishness, with zero actual evidence.

Now, I would ignore all this stupidity, as any sensible person would, but I find it quite funny, and--I admit it--I like proving people wrong.  If I can deflate and mock some anti-Semites, by golly, what fun!

If I were a little more clever, I might add something profound to say about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, but what really would be the point?  Anti-Semites are banal and stupid, so there's not much to say, as far as I'm concerned.  Of course they're going to say that there is a "Jewish hand" behind the Internet.  Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly.

By the way--Happy New Year!


Reviews of three classic children's novels

Recently I finished reading three classic children's novels to H.  We've been on a roll, reading quite a bit every night.  I don't know if there's much point to a non-literature guy pretending to write reviews of classic children's literature, but I did so on Amazon.  Of course, you'll learn more about me than you will about these books.

Pippi Longstocking 
by Astrid Lindgren

Excellent bedtime reading, December 29, 2010 

My 4-year-old son and I had lots of fun with this. Pippi is outrageous, fun-loving, irreverent, and good-hearted--just like many children, only more so. The book is a quick and not too challenging read, mainly because it addresses themes and ways of thinking that are distinctly childish. The main theme, repeated throughout, is how Pippi enjoys herself in spite of (even oblivious to) physical resistance or social convention, setting up absurd situations that obviously appeal to children (and lots of adults, too).

It's mainly a storybook. After the first chapter, it wouldn't matter much what order you read the stories in, although one point of continuity is that the children get to know Pippi better, as do the townspeople.

Although it's an excellent book and well deserves its status as a classic, it really wasn't among my top favorites. This is mainly because Pippi and her antics more or less represent a gimmick, and the gimmick, though well executed, does get old after a while (at least, for this adult). 

Old Yeller
by Fred Gipson

One of the standard-bearers of children's literature, December 29, 2010           

Old Yeller is simply one of the best children's novels there is. It really says something about a book if it can be thoroughly enjoyed by a 4-year-old boy, who probably identifies more with Arliss than Travis, as well his middle-aged Papa.

The language and detail of the book marks it as authentic; one gets the sense that the book was written as an autobiography, though it wasn't. Like the Little House books--although, arguably, better in this regard--it immerses the young reader in a time and place, impressing upon one just how important the details of place were when people lived "close to the land."

The lovely thing about this book is that it wonderfully develops the relationship between the boys and their dog, who turns out to be a canine hero. While this might sound banal or silly, the book is really anything but; it is great literature and seems perfectly realistic. It captures some of the best aspects of boyhood (and the realities of frontier life).

This is the sort of book that a zillion would-be "literary" entries lamely attempt to imitate. It is an enjoyable, fulfilling experience instead of a dry intellectual exercise.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl

A favorite of kids, December 29, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory deserves its status as a classic. Of three classics I recently read to my 4-year-old, all of which he liked, he loved this one the best. (The others were Pippi Longstocking and Old Yeller.) I give the book five stars in honor of his opinion, but I would probably give it four stars myself.

Wonka's chocolate factory, like many creatures of Dahl's imagination, is an impossible place, and it is probably only more intriguing and beloved by children for that reason. Wonka himself is zany and irrepressible, like many a kid who probably shouldn't be diagnosed ADD. Dahl's characters, with the sole exceptions of Charlie and his parents, are caricatures, something shown well by Quentin Blake's weird illustrations. (But frankly, I didn't care for the illustrations in this edition.)

Dahl's style has a sort of wild, unruly exuberance, together with dollops of nonsense, that appeals to kids, especially little boys like mine. Maybe I'm too much of a grown-up now, but it doesn't especially appeal to me, but I very much appreciate how it taps into the spirit of childhood. Besides, it was pretty fun to read it to my little boy, who clearly was enjoying himself.


Plans for WatchKnow Reader

All, finally I thought I'd tell you about my plans for what I'm tentatively calling WatchKnow Reader, and ask for your input.  I might ramble on -- apologies in advance.

As many readers of this blog know, I taught H. how to read largely by using a series of about 1,000 flashcards arranged into sets that illustrate different (increasingly difficult) phonics rules.  (The word list was taken from Rudolf Flesch's controversial pro-phonics polemic, Why Johnny Can't Read.)  I wanted to make phonics flashcards because I have long been convinced that learning the rules of phonics explicitly makes better readers of kids.  There were four words per page, as large as I could make them on the page, with an illustrative image on back (grabbed from somewhere online).

Now, I've seen a wide variety of flashcard tools, from hand-made and commercial flashcards, to PowerPoint presentations that simply replicate flashcard content, to fancier customizable things like Little Reader, to plain old videos that include the contents of flashcards.  Heck, Your Baby Can Read is basically just a series of fancy video flashcards, with some nice songs interspersed.  But I'm not merely setting out to build a better mousetrap.  If I thought the aforementioned tools could do the job well enough, I wouldn't bother with this.  But frankly, I don't think those tools do the job quite well enough.

There are a couple problems.  First, YBCR and Little Reader are both excellent, but they both cost money, and for some people, it's a significant amount of money.  Second, my flashcards are free, but it's a lot of work to download them, print them out, and cut them out.  Moreover, they don't have all the bells and whistles of something like YBCR, which would make them more interesting to a mass audience.  To the committed mommies I know online who as a serious hobby are teaching their kids to read, my flashcards are perfectly usable.  But to the many more people who, not being convinced, barely have time to make use of YBCR, they'd never consider such a tool.  In fact, ease of use is usually necessary, and will probably become only more so, for any Internet resource to get much traction -- and of all these tools, only YBCR and commercial flashcards are very easy to use.

For these reasons and others, I've been asked to develop a "free replacement for YBCR," although that isn't really how I think of WatchKnow Reader.  What I'm going to produce will be usable with beginning readers of all ages.

So, first, let me explain what my plans with Reader are, and then, I hope, you'll be able to give me specific requests about features you want.

To begin with, Reader will be a Macromedia Flash application (which we will port to an iApp, probably) that contains around 40 presentations.  In each presentation, there will be around 30 words, grouped phonetically.  (The first word five sets are CVC words for each of the five vowels; then there are the simplest blends, and so forth.)  For each word, say, "dog," my notion is that there will be the following slides:

  1. The word sounded out slowly, displayed karaoke style
  2. The word sounded out quickly, displayed karaoke style
  3. The word blended together slowly, displayed karaoke style *
  4. The word blended together at normal speed, displayed all at once*
  5. A picture or video illustrating the word (with voice-over)
  6. A sentence using the word, displayed karaoke style
  7. A picture or video illustrating the sentence
  8. Maybe the word (alone) again—same as 4
  9. After several words, to break things up, we might have something else, I’m not sure what (e.g., music and art).

* By default, on these slides, there would be a little “face” icon in the corner; clicking the face would bring up a video of a person saying the word at the normal speed.  If, in the options, the user chooses to display the person saying the word, it appears between slides 3 and 4.

The app will allow users to log in and track their progress, showing how many times a user has seen each set, remembering where they last left off in a set, making recommendations for the next presentation to look at, etc.  There would also be four or five different "modes" of viewing a presentation; there would be video mode, in which the user could do nothing but play, pause, or rewind, a simple mode without the sentences, and the full-fledged mode which would do 1-9 above (and other modes too).

If this reading tutorial works well, then as soon as the reading tutorial app is finished, I'll be turning to making a whole bunch of presentations similar to the ones you can see here (only better).

I've already put in a request for an estimate for the coding cost for a demo (the first set of words).  In January, we'll be working to create this demo.  A lot of the important decisions about this app will be made then.  So, please, if you have any comments, get them to me by early January!

Suggestions, comments, etc., please!

And now, just for fun, Jan Van Eyck's Madonna with the Child Reading -->

Bet you didn't know that Jesus was an early reader.  (Just kidding!)


4-year-old reading philosophy textbook (and Elkind's "Miseducation")

Here's H. reading a random page from Jones' History of Western Philosophy. Recorded last Nov. when he was 4 years, 5 months.

 

A few comments about this. First, obviously, he must understand very little of this text. He seems intrigued by books he can't understand, like the philosophy books on the shelves in my office, but he doesn't get them down often. If I recall correctly, I just noticed him on the floor of my office, probably after his nap, getting out a philosophy book, and my videocam was on the bookshelf, so I just grabbed it and made this video. I think this establishes that he has mastered the phonics of English pretty well -- so, again, this is something little kids are capable of being taught to do. But it is interesting to me that he misread "psychology" as "physiology."  Clearly, he's seeing a long, difficult word he has rarely seen ("psychology"), and matched it up by shape to a word he has seen only maybe a few more times (he might have seen the word "physiology" in one or two of our books about the human body).  But he's capable of using phonics to correct his "whole word" reading.

If you want to know how we got to this point, see How and Why I Taught My Toddler to Read.

UPDATE:

Preschooler (H.) reading from David Elkind's Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk yesterday (Dec. 28):


The Today Show's takedown of Your Baby Can Read ridiculously biased

This is a review of a review.  Last November 1, the Today Show did a segment about Your Baby Can Read, and that segment is now one of the top results for the Google searches for "your baby can read".  Unlike most of the Today Show's viewers, and apparently unlike Matt Lauer and his team, I actually know something about Your Baby Can Read and the baby reading phenomenon.  We used it with success and I've written a 140-page essay on our experience and the phenomenon in general.  I found the segment to be amazingly biased, and so I want to help set the record straight.

Here's a blow-by-blow response.

0:32 "And that's the promise: that if you buy this program, your baby, as young as three months old, can learn to read."  Of course, nobody promises or believes that a three-month-old can read.  Three months is the age at which the program can begin to be used.

0:39 "This morning our Today investigation goes after the truth."  Going after the truth involves allowing both (or all relevant) sides of an issue to be fully and fairly explored, within the time constraints.  That is not at all what the Today segment did.  It was very much one-sided, and quite unfair when explaining the other side.

1:29 "But she says it didn't teach her daughter anything."  Questions for Today and Ms. Torres: for how long did the little girl watch the show?  And what age is she now?  Do the Today Show and Ms. Torres realize that results aren't (and aren't supposed to be) instantaneous?

1:51 "[Interviewer:] Are those babies reading?  [Nonie Lesaux:] No."  The expert goes on to explain that the babies have simply memorized words.  That's true, but later, I gather from those who have reported about their use of the program, some users of this program are able to decode other words, a fact that the Today Show later mentions only to dismiss without a hearing.  This is unreasonable, just as it would be unreasonable to say of a five-year-old that she is "not reading" because she has merely memorized her first words.  She can say out loud those words, and will soon be reading many more; so she has taken her first steps in the process of learning to read.  This is also true of the kids who use YBCR (for long enough).  And what neither the expert nor the Today Show admit is that by the time they are out of babyhood, many former users of YBCR are reading quite well, thanks very much.

2:03 "In fact, we spoke with ten child development experts from the country's top universities and organizations, and the message was universal: this isn't reading, it's just memorization."  Has a single one of the experts that Today interviewed actually sat down with children whose parents claimed their 18-month-old was reading phonetically, i.e., could decode words they hadn't seen before?  My guess is that the answer is "no."

They wouldn't want to, I guess, because doing so would upset their world view; so much of their reading research rests on the assumption that children aren't "ready" to begin learning to read until age five or six.  The notion that children can actually decode, i.e., really sound out unfamiliar words or even read them fluently, is too outrageous to the experts.  But the fact of the matter is that many children who use YBCR and some other similar tools and methods can do this.  This fact has been known -- to a few -- since the 1960s if not before that.  Both these experts as well as the Today Show do society a great disservice by simply denying a fact that can be established quite easily.

It is a fact that some children who use YBCR and similar tools (but how many? That I admit I don't know, and future studies should shed light on that) can and do decode new words while they are just one year old -- many more are reading by age two.  This is not a matter of opinion, subject to theoretical debate.  The claim is clear enough, and either it's true or it isn't; and there is plenty of evidence that it is true.  Those experts do themselves and their institutions a disservice by either knowingly denying this fact or else being ignorant of it yet pretending to be able to speak on the question authoritatively.

2:23 "[Interviewer:] Is there any evidence that even learning to memorize, at a young age, makes you a better reader later?  [Karen Hopkins:] No evidence at all -- that learning to memorize images of words can make you a better reader."  I find the formulation of the claim here interesting: it is in terms of can, or what is possible.  Well, clearly it is possible that learning to memorize words at a young age makes a child a better reader later on, because some little memorizers are able to decode new words some months later.  So the answer to the interviewer's question is: yes, there are plenty of instances where children who learned to memorize words at a young age soon became better readers later, because within months they were able to decode unfamiliar words.  But, of course, if you don't know, or are willing to deny, that some toddlers can decode unfamiliar words, then you can rest undisturbed in your views about their capabilities.

2:33 "In fact, most experts say most children don't even have the brain development to read until four or five years old."  Yes, that's what most experts say, and this is the theoretical situation that perhaps best explains why those experts are denying the phenomenon of phonetic decoding among toddlers: it's not possible.  It couldn't happen, certainly not on a mass scale and definitely not as a result of using some mere product.

How often do we see this in academe -- where some experts deny facts that are staring them in the face simply because the facts don't fit with their cherished assumptions?  Too often.

2:39 "[Maryanne Wolf:] I know not of one single study in which anyone says that children who learn to read before five do better later on. I'm a reading expert. I know not one single study." I was delighted to receive an email from Dr. Wolf the other day, and she seems to be a nice lady, and I don't want to offend her; but this remark is just incorrect, and if she simply thought about it, she would realize that it is.  As a reading expert, surely she knows that Dolores Durkin did some pioneering studies back in the 1950s and 60s, published in book form under the title Children Who Read Early: Two Longitudinal Studies, that showed that some children who learned to read before Kindergarten were still doing better than their peers, and in some cases increasing their advantage, by third grade and sixth grade.  There have in fact been quite a few studies of what are called precocious readers, and surely Dr. Wolf knows this.  The studies are almost unequivocal in support of the proposition that children who learn to read at the normal age do not catch up two, three, or even six years later with precocious readers, even controlling for intelligence and socioeconomic background.  There was an excellent review article of this research recently, "Precocious Readers: Past, Present, and Future," which appeared in 2006 in the Journal for the Education of the Gifted.

Now, perhaps Dr. Wolf misspoke and what she meant to say was that she knew of not a single study in which anyone says that children who learn to read before age three do better academically later on.  Now that I would have to agree with.

But -- and this is an important point -- there have been no studies on that question at all. It is an open question.  So, no studies have established that other kids "catch up" later on, either.  The question has not been studied, period. But, given the precocious reader research, it's reasonable to believe that those who are already reading at an advanced level by age 3 (i.e., the youngest of the precocious reader groups studied so far) will be even more advanced later on.  Why would you want to deny this, and so forcefully?

4:00 Interviewer lists the institutions that their criticals experts are affiliated with, then says: "they say your program is not only misleading, but it's false. [Titzer:] Well, they're all wrong. [Interviewer:] You're saying they're all wrong. [Titzer:] Yes, I'm saying they're all wrong."  Out of all the time Titzer was being taped, this is what they lead with?  First, the interviewer asks a nonsensical question: the program isn't misleading or false, if anything it would be claims about the program's effectiveness that would be misleading or false.  And when confronted with a vague, blanket declaration that his program is misleading and false, what is Dr. Titzer supposed to say? In short, this is unfair treatment.

4:28 "While he [Titzer] admits that it all starts as memorization, he says it leads to reading."  Right.  And does the Today Show allow Dr. Titzer to bring on anyone to help establish that this is at least possible, that it has happened in a few cases at least?  No.  They don't even do that.  And that omission is probably the most biasing flaw in the program.  It would have been easy for them to do; I heard, in fact, that they had someone lined up, and then the Today Show then pulled the plug on the interview.  But actually showing a child reading new words on-camera would have gone contrary to their whole line, and would directly show to be possible what the experts said was impossible.  That must be why they pulled the plug on the interview.

5:22 "But much of the research he cites for his program seems to be based on his own daughter using it."   This is not just a low blow, it's nonsensical -- it's poor writing.  Of course Dr. Titzer doesn't cite any "research" that is "based on his own daughter"; unless I'm mistaken, there is no research per se that is based on his daughter using the program.  What the Today Show evidently meant to say, but did not, was that Dr. Titzer's grounds for thinking the program works was merely that it worked with his own daughter.  If that is the point, it is still ridiculous on its face, because the program just got done saying that he could produce excellent customer satisfaction surveys.  In fact, Dr. Titzer has told me that his company has received "thousands" of communications from very satisfied customers, with parents reporting that their children had learned to read using the program.  So if the implication is that Dr. Titzer rests his claims about the effectiveness of the program just on his own daughter's success with it, why wouldn't they also say at least that he rests his claims on the success of the program with his customers?

What follows then are some accusatory claims and quotations from a deeply unsympathetic, "gotcha" interview with Dr. Titzer that amount to a blatant attempt to discredit him and assert that he is merely greedy and dishonest.  I really don't have the patience to take this apart; it all rests on the assumption that YBCR does not work, which is a claim the Today Show makes simply based on the assertions of experts that it could not work, and without any examination of the many actual cases of small children who are decoding new words.

Near the end there comes this aside:

6:24 "Experts say this product can actually be harmful because it forces your baby to watch all those DVDs -- too much TV time.  Matt, they say the best way to teach your kids is free: you just talk to them, you interact with them, you sing with them, you play with them, and they'll learn just as well as they can, or better, than this program."  What the Today Show does not say is that the programs are short, and that even if you follow Dr. Titzer's advice, watching the program twice a day, that still adds up to something like 40 minutes.  (We watched just once a day, and not every day.)  Considering the amount of time that many kids unfortunately are exposed to television, that's not much.  The claim here is also very tendentious in that it ignores that possibility that watching YBCR might actually cause your child to learn to read.  If it has that effect, then it is just false to say that talking, interacting, singing, and playing with your children will teach them as well the program can; no doubt children do learn a lot in those ways, but they don't typically learn to read from those activities.  Besides, who can really, credibly claim that children who use YBCR and similar programs don't play or talk with their parents?  The contrary suggestion is frankly ridiculous.

Saying the children are "forced"  is also misleading and wrong: like Glenn Doman, Dr. Titzer states very clearly that the program should not be shown to a resisting child.  If the child indicates he isn't interested, then he shouldn't be shown the program.  No forcing should be going on.  Speaking from our own experience, when my boy was watching the program for 3-4 months around his second birthday, he loved it to pieces and often demanded to see it.  No forcing there.

A lot of the points the Today Show brings up are discussed in great detail in my essay.  In Part 2, see:

  • Section 1 on whether it is possible to teach children to sound out new words at an early age.
  • Section 2 on reactions to the sales hype.
  • Section 5 on whether using methods like YBCR constitutes "pressuring" kids.
  • Section 7 on the too-much-video, too-early objection.
  • Section 8 on the claim that creative free play is superior to reading as a teaching method.
  • Section 12 on the question of whether early reading has long-term advantages.

See also Part 1, Section 4 for my own take on Your Baby Can Read, which is supportive, but not uncritically positive.


Kindle Store version of essay available (for those who need it)

At least one person said she wanted to read my essay on her Kindle, but could not figure out how to get it. I'm pretty sure she could download it from her desktop and email it to her Kindle, but for those who want it on their handheld devices and can't be bothered to figure such things out, you can give $2.99 to Amazon (and me--it was the minimum I could charge without giving most of the proceeds to Amazon) for a copy.  The formatting is not as good as the PDF, in my opinion.  But if you want it, here it is:

How and Why I Taught My Toddler to Read

By the way, is there any interest in my making this available in print book version?  I will do so if there is.  Please let me know.  If nobody asks for such a version, I won't make one.


Does reading count as direct instruction?

I have a provocative question for the teachers and educational theorists out there: does reading count as direct instruction?  I ask because, if it does, then there is surely nothing wrong with direct instruction, per se.

I think it is plausible to call it instruction, anyway.  The basic difference between reading a book, for example, and listening to a lecture is that the book is written and the lecture is spoken.  Why should we deny the word "instruction" to reading when a person reads in order to learn, or be instructed, about a subject?

And when a book instructs you that X, you are, surely, being directly instructed that X.

Therefore, reading is direct instruction, and since copious reading of increasingly difficult, important books is the very backbone of liberal arts education, direct instruction (in the form of reading) is not just a good idea, it's an absolutely necessary part of getting a complete liberal arts education.

What's wrong with that argument?


Review: "Your Baby Can Read"

Here is my review of the Your Baby Can Read videos, as posted on Amazon.com.

Many people have found that Your Baby Can Read works, especially if it is used as part of a larger literacy program that includes plenty of reading to the child.  I found that it helped quite a bit with my first child.  Now, at age 4.5, he is able to decode my college philosophy books, and we regularly read and appreciate books like Charlotte's Web and, recently, Old Yeller.

I have found over and over again that the critics of YBCR are people who think they know about how babies learn to read, but really do not.  By contrast, I, and the many parents I talk to who have used YBCR and other programs designed to teach babies to read, live every day with the results.  For us, it is not speculation.  We (many of us) see daily evidence that our kids are learning more than we knew they could learn.  You can read more about my story, including how we used YBCR, at larrysanger (dot) org (slash) reading (dot) html.

Since there are many reviews about this already, in the rest, I will mainly answer a few charges made about this program.  But first let me say that I'm giving this five stars because it actually works--or it can work, especially with other literacy support.

"It's boring": well, it's not as fancy as your standard Disney Channel or PBS Kids fare.  If your family is used to looking at that stuff, it's likely that you'll find YBCR boring, and your kids might too.  But if you're like our family and you basically don't watch TV except for some DVDs, chances are your kid will find that this is great.  For what it's worth, our little boy started watching this at 22 months and absolutely adored it, and demanded to see it daily (often more often, but we didn't let him) for a few months.  He thought it was great fun.

"I don't like the advertising": you're being asked to review the product, not the advertising.  I happen to agree that some of the advertising is obnoxious and over-the-top.  But the product is not.  In fact, the product itself is quite modest and unassuming.

"This is just a whole word program": sadly, you're right, for the most part.  There is some phonics material at the end of each disk, but not much.  And as much as I agree that this is a count against it, you can't ignore the fact that the program works, as far as it goes.  In my opinion, it's just important to supplement the program with phonics later on, that's all.  YBCR can serve as a nice leg up.  Moreover, I should point out that there are plenty of parents who report that their children have learned to read phonetically using just YBCR and without phonics "intervention."  That's not what I personally recommend, but I don't doubt that what they say can be done.

"My kid just learned the words in the video, and that's not many": well, yeah.  Did you really think that a program that is marketed to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers would, all by itself, cause such small tykes to read more than that?  On the other hand, isn't it amazing that they are able to read that much?  And, more to the point, if this is absolutely all that you do to support your child's literacy, then I would agree that your child will probably not learn to read.  You need to go farther.  It helps a lot to read boatloads to your child, holding your fingers under the words as you read them.  Doing phonics flashcards or some other little kid-accessible phonics program is also a good follow-up.  Playing with refrigerator magnets is a good idea.  But anyway, the point is that if you believe that simply plopping your child in front of a DVD, and doing little else to develop his literacy, will somehow cause him to read, then your problem is not really so much that you believe false advertising, your problem is that you misunderstood the advertising, the lengthy instructions to parents, and so forth.

YBCR was a great introduction to reading for our boy.  This product is getting a lot of attention for very good reason--not just because of the advertising.  Go to YouTube and search for videos of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers reading.  If you find out what those people did, you'll get a better, more realistic idea of what a tool like YBCR can do for you.


Advice for the Wikimedia Foundation (not for Wikipedia!)

Since before I left Wikipedia, even before I proposed the old Sifter project in 2002, Wikipedians have talked about a method of using experts to rate, or approve, or review versions of Wikipedia articles (cf. this Slate interview).  Similarly, some of the cooler heads both inside and outside Wikipedia have wished that Wikipedians would tag their copious amounts of porn and other child-unfriendly content, so that pages containing that content could be efficiently blocked by filters.  (Speaking as a father of two, I now actually think about such things.)

Of course, the problem with all such sensible suggestions is that the Wikipedia community is not very sensible.  As anyone familiar with the community knows, if such things are left up to Wikipedians themselves, they will never happen.  They will have to be done independently.

But it occurred to me that there is no reason whatsoever that the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) could not do these things independently of Wikipedia.  They could be other WMF projects, like Wikimedia Commons, Wikibooks, and so forth, but scrupulously independent of Wikipedia itself.  I call on the WMF's Executive Director, Sue Gardner, to investigate the viability of these and other such independent projects personally, and not just leave them to "Wikimedia Strategy" groups such as this one.

Let me try to put this suggestion into perspective.  For a long time, whenever anybody suggested expert review, porn labelling, or other obviously good ideas, there was always one big argument-stopper: the community would never stand for it.  They can't be moved.  You can persuade all the people you like outside the project, you can raise a ruckus in the media, but the Wikipedia community just won't go for it -- period.

The WMF showed that it could work independently of the Wikipedia community when it hired someone to write a report of recommendations of how to deal with "controversial content."  Besides, Wikipedia and the WMF are both constantly saying that the Foundation does not control editorial issues.  If they are independent entities, then what, really, is stopping the WMF from starting credible projects to do expert labelling and independent labelling of porn (and other images inappropiate for children)?  Theoretically, they don't have to answer to the Wikipedia community in order to start such projects.  And we can start blaming the WMF itself, and its management, if such projects are not started, because it is well within their power and authority to do so.


Update about the boys

Here is a "brain dump" about what I've been doing with my little boys, ages 4.5 and 2 months.  I will refer to them as H. (the older) and E. (the younger).H's letter to Santa

H's biggest accomplishment, recently, has been finally to learn to write not only all of his numbers, but all of his capital letters as well.  Learning the numbers has made it a lot easier to go through a math workbook (Singapore Kindergarten Math B).  But he still isn't that excited about math, so we don't make quick progress with it -- I'm not forcing him to do it, I'm just asking if he wants to. If there was any doubt that he has learned to write, well, a letter to Santa proved it.  I had to sit with him, and give him some hints (mostly, asking leading questions) about spelling, but it was 90% H sounding things out.  He made a list and didn't spend too much time on the polite pleasantries, but hopefully Santa won't mind too much.

The next day he got a "Thank You" note card out of my desk and was busy scribbling away on it.  Without my help, it wasn't exactly perfect, but I was impressed anyway.

For bedtime reading, we have been reading Old Yeller lately, and have only 40-50 pages to go there.  We also started Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which reminds me once again about just what a difference a year, or even six months, can make.  We tried out Charlie about six months ago, and even though it definitely seemed within his abilities, he wasn't interested in it.  Then a few days ago, we started watching the movie (still haven't finished doing that -- the superior Gene Wilder version), and then suddenly the book seemed really cool.

We got Lollipop Logic today in the mail, and H did six pages in a row, he was so excited about it.  (He has seen my logic books all collected up on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in my office, and asked me for a logic presentation, which I made, so he has decided he is interested in logic.)

Also, we're doing Rosetta Stone Latin, we're probably an hour into it or so, but split over a half-dozen sessions.  I had the old Rosetta Stone program (Russian), and the new version absolutely kicks the old one's butt.  It's a very kid-friendly program.  I don't know if H. is going to have the motivation to stick with it -- I hope so.

Of course we're continuing to do various other stuff, reading a whole variety of books.  Recently finished several books about Greek mythology and ancient history.  (Usborne, the book publisher, is absolutely wonderful, they make loads of different topics, and classics, accessible to kids.)  I know this all must sound very hard-core, but if he isn't saying "yes" to a book, I'm not reading it to him.  So even if he occasionally takes long math breaks, that's OK, he's still learning huge amounts.  But if we had not done various presentations and read various simpler treatments of topics in advance, he wouldn't be able to handle this now.

I'm sure I could go on, but that's enough for H for now.  OK, one other thing -- we got him a cheap digital camera.  He's been learning about that, and he can even upload the pix.

As to baby E., well, I was surprised that even shortly after birth, I was able to lie down next to him and hold the iPad a foot away from his eyes or so, and show him various flashcard-style presentations, and he ate it up.  He pays close attention for five or ten minutes...after that, I stop whether he's flagging or not.  I'm not going in any sort of systematic order through the various card sets we've bought, though I wonder if we should be.  Then starting about two weeks ago he started cooing, especially at this set about cats.  E. is quite a bit more interactive than H. was as a baby.

I also did this: I took my digital camera around the house and took pictures of all objects that I thought were familiar to E.  Even pictures of Desitin, the changing table, the trash can, etc.  Then I simply group the pix together into logical groupings, put then in a folder, and import them into a PowerPoint slideshow.  Putting names on the pix is easy.  (To make it fast enough to work with, I have to reduce the file size, which ppt does automatically if you know how to ask it.)  So I've sat E. in front of the computer, 2-3 feet away from the screen, and shown him these presentations.  He likes them, too.  H. likes them even more.  I made a presentation of H. illustrating various emotions, too.  This was lots of fun.

I can't wait until we have written the software that will make it possible to highlight the parts of words as they are being read -- we'll make it possible for you to match up parts of a word to different points in a waveform.  The goal is to do this matching automatically, thus allowing people to match digital books with audio books, so the currently-being-read syllable is always highlighted.  Anyway, more on that later.

Of course, I'm reading E. some actual books, but frankly, the content of the books we read isn't that different from iPad apps.  But we'll be doing more of that as he gets better at sitting upright in my lap and staring in the direction of a book.

Haven't started Your Baby Can Read yet.  I don't think he'd be able to see our small TV screen.  When are babies able to focus 15 feet away?