Are we becoming indifferent to freedom and democracy?

I know, I know: That title sounds ridiculously click-baity. But if you'll look at my blog, you'll see that I don't really go in for click-bait titles.

Unfortunately, I mean it quite literally. It's an enormous problem that we aren't talking about enough. And I want to propose that one reason for it is a massive failure of civics education.

Support for democracy is declining. First, let's talk a bit about support for democracy—yes, democracy itself, as in voting for your leaders and representatives and holding them accountable in the arena of public debate. Only one in five Millennials aged 18 through 29 cast a ballot in the 2014 elections—the lowest youth voter turnout in 40 years, says the Atlantic.

As Vox recently asked, "Are Americans losing faith in democracy?" The article makes a series of points illustrating that Americans, especially younger Americans, are ignorant of and aren't engaging in American political life. The article's main source is a forthcoming paper by Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk titled "The Democratic Disconnect," together with the World Values Survey. The writers summarized their own work in the New York Times last September.

Asked how much interest they have in politics (as Vox reports), Americans born in the 1930s said "very interested" or "somewhat interested" almost 80% of the time; for those born in the 1970s, the figure dropped to about 50%, and for those born in the 1980s, it was continuing to drop just as precipitously.

More sobering is the survey question about how essential it is to live in a democracy, rated from 1 to 10. The percentage of Americans responding "10," essential, has dropped from the 70% range for those born in 1930 down to the 30% range for those born in the 1980s. A 40% drop in support for democracy itself is a momentous generational change.

In case you think that's a mistake, compare that to a question asking whether "having a democratic political system" was a "bad" or "very bad" way to run the U.S.: while the percentage for those born in the 1950s and 60s hovered around 13%, for those born after 1970, in the surveys since 1995, the percentage rose from about 16% to over 20%.

Even openness to army rule—something we associate with banana republics—has climbed from 7% to 16% of all Americans.

Support for free speech in America is declining. This is incredibly important: the Pew Research Center found that 40% of American Millennials are OK with limiting speech offensive to minorities (up from 12% for seniors aged 70-87). A stunning 51% of Democrats want to make "hate speech" a criminal offense, and 37% of Republicans. If you have even a passing familiarity with First Amendment law, you'll know that these things are contrary to the First Amendment.

That is how it is possible—and not implausible—that 50 Yale students could sign a petition within an hour to repeal the First Amendment, as this video of Yalies showed:

What the video shows notwithstanding, Yalies are very smart. They can compare their attitudes toward offensive and hate speech with what they learned in their elite civics and history classes about the First Amendment, and infer that they're opposed to the First Amendment. If they're reasonably intelligent, self-aware, and honest with themselves, as some Yalies are, they'll recognize that their intolerance to certain kinds of speech commits them to an opposition to free speech.

The increasing hostility toward free speech among many of our future leaders at elite colleges like Yale has been frightening to many of us, and has sparked a national conversation—an example is here, summarizing some recent episodes and calling academe to return to free speech.

Here's a possible reason why: Civics education has been weak for years and recently declining even further. I don't pretend to know why support for democracy and free speech have been declining, but if our students for some generations have simply not been well educated about basic American civics, that must be part of the explanation.

In the National Assessment of Educational Progress—the "Nation's Report Card"—for 2014, only 23% of 8th graders scored at or above proficient in civics. While 39 states do require a course in American government or civics, only two states require students to pass a test in American government/civics to graduate from high school. As the Civics Education Initiative reports,

[T]he Civics Education Initiative...requires high school students, as a condition of graduation, take and pass a test based on questions from the United States Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS) citizenship civics exam – the same test all new immigrants must take to become U.S. citizens.

To date, six states...have passed legislation implementing the Civics Education Initiative, with a goal of passage in all 50 states by September 17, 2017 – the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

But, you wonder, if new immigrants have to pass this citizenship civics exam to get in the country, wouldn't American high schoolers be able to pass it? No. In studies, only 4% of high schoolers in Oklahoma and Arizona passed it.

The National Council for the Social Studies published a position statement summarizing the sobering truth: "Sadly, the narrowing of the curriculum that has occurred over the past several years combined with the scarce attention to civic learning in a number of state standards and assessment measures has had a devastating effect on schools' ability to provide high quality civic education to all students."

According to a 2011 study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, ignorance was not rectified at the college level:

beyond mere voting, a college degree does not encourage graduates to become actively engaged in more consequential aspects of the political process. Said another way, among persons with equal civic knowledge, those having earned a bachelors degree do not demonstrate any systematic and added political engagement beyond voting. ... A college degree appears to have the same negligible participatory impact as frequently listening to music, watching prime-time television, utilizing social networking sites, and emailing.

Knowledge of basic political facts among the general public is shockingly low. For example, only 40% of Americans surveyed in a recent survey by Pew knew which party controlled each house of Congress, and only about a third of Americans could even name the three branches of government.

Civics isn't easy, and political philosophy is even harder. But both are necessary. If this purported decline of commitment to the basic American system is real, and if it's rooted in poor civics education, it doesn't seem surprising to me.

For all the emphasis on reading and the massive, feature-rich language arts textbooks, American public school students don't have to read many books, period. Most of them are not prepared to read and comprehend the Constitution, much less the complex historical works such as The Federalist Papers, Common Sense, and Democracy in America that explain and defend the American system.

Education matters. It is likely that we will face more battles in higher education and, increasingly, in the public sphere over the necessity and advisability of maintaining robust democratic institutions and adherence to free speech. I fear that as we answer more and more attacks, reference to the Constitution and American political principles will not be sufficient. Part of the problem can be laid at Jefferson's doorstep, when he wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident." The fact is that they aren't self-evident, that philosophers have argued for and against them quite a bit, and in the years ahead, the better the pro-freedom side acquaints itself with those arguments, the better chance we'll have.


Ask DadDude: spawning analytical thinkers

Someone emailed me this question. Since it was asked so nicely, I thought I'd answer.

I have a question for you and I hope you have time to reply to it. I admire your essays and the indepth analysis of topics. You put a lot of critical and analytical thinking in your writing. Even when you argue, your ideas are coherent and well-thought out. I want to give this gift of analytical thinking and critical writing to my children.

Can you please let me know what I should basically cover in my homeschooling curriculum to touch those factors. I am basically an engineer and I can do all those magic in maths and science but not in humanities and arts. So, it would be highly beneficial if you can list out your thoughts on this. What are the major factors you consider when you are adapting a writing curriculum for your sons? What kind of reading will help my children to achieve that critical thinking and analytical mind?

My answer:

Well, since you ask so nicely!

I don't have any magic or cutting-edge method in mind when it comes to getting H. and E. to be excellent critical thinkers. It's simply called getting a liberal arts education. By reading "the best that has been thought and said"--since the best tend to be very thought-provoking--as long as the child is ready to be meaningfully challenged by it, they learn at the knees of the most brilliant minds of history. They learn to think well by regularly seeing good thinking. That's what's contained in the classics and in good books, both fiction and nonfiction.

It is also very important, I think, that children get lots of practice in writing. They should write every day, when they are able, 45-60 minutes a day, or that's how long I have H. writing these days. What they write about and whether they systematically go through a program or something like that is not nearly as important as that they be motivated to formulate words in paragraphs. It is also very important that they get feedback and revise.

The combination of challenging (but not inappropriately so) reading and very regular writing with feedback--and, later, going through increasingly difficult science and math problems on a wide variety of science and math topics--are enough to make anyone capable of careful analysis.

It becomes especially important later on, from junior high school level on or so, that they get increasingly challenging feedback on their essays. The only effective way to learn how to write in an organized, logical, coherent fashion is to get copious critical reaction to one's own writing.

I also learned a lot, myself, from 3.5 years of debate and forensics in high school  and lots of reading and study of philosophy (and study of logic as part of that surely didn't hurt). More than any other subject, philosophy (in the classic tradition, and in the Anglo-American tradition) encourages analytical thinking and writing.


How I set up my standing desk

And now for something completely different.

After my wife told me I sat too much, and reading various scary things about the evils of sitting too much and the benefits of standing desks, I decided to try out a standing desk. At first I was going to order one or buy one locally, and then I looked at the prices and decided that I'd better try it out before I invest. To try it out, I built one to put on top of this old desk. The desktop was already pretty much the size I wanted, about 2/3", at Home Depot. The other boards (same width) were cut at the store for me to my design. Then I just got some wood screws and put it together. (Note to self: get a better drill.) It turns out to be quite sturdy. Of course, I had to carefully measure for the exact right height, and I did a very good job there on getting the height exactly right for me.

Now, when you get a standing desk, there is a breaking-in period (so I read, and so I am confirming right now) in which your feet and legs won't be able to handle standing all the time, or not without some distracting pain. So to begin with, at least, it's a good idea to have chair. But it has to be a tall chair. At first, I used a counter stool from downstairs, but that didn't work because it wasn't tall enough (I need a 30" to reach my desktop height comfortably; a taller person might need a slightly taller stool). So I got an adjustable barstool, as you can see here, and it works fine.

Another thing that makes the standing desk more tolerable is a soft, but not too soft, floor. At first I thought I could just stand in my shoes. I discovered that my shoes are not very comfortable for standing in for long periods of time. Just standing on the carpet, although it is a somewhat plush carpet, was also a no-go. So I decided that all the standing desk blogs were right and that I needed a special mat, an "anti-fatigue" mat, that would be easier on my feet. So for $40 I got a kitchen "chef mat" and put a couple of memory foam bath mats on top of those. They help, but I'm still trying to decide what is best. Generally I put the two bath mats on top of each other then on top of the chef mat, and then shift positions as different parts of the foam get compressed. I suspect that I should probably spend the $75+ and get a gel mat.

Finally, for the piece de la resistance, I have a little stool to rest my foot on. This is another commonly-recommended accessory of standing desks. At first I didn't think it would be that necessary, but as it's necessary to shift one's position pretty frequently, it's just nice to have another position to put my legs in. It also helps, by the way, to shift my feet back a few inches as necessary, to keep the weight more on the balls of my feet than on my heels. But if they all just start getting too sore, I just switch to the stool for a little bit. It's not that bad.

I've been at it for almost a week now, and I'm starting to get used to it. I can confirm the things commonly said about standing desks: it makes me more focused and productive, and I might have lost a little weight even. Next thing to try, after I get used to being on my feet, is a treadmill desk...

Total cost, including $25 wood and screws, $80 stool, and $40 mats: $145. Wife no longer nagging me about sitting too much: priceless.


Reading Bear improvements

Here's our latest Reading Bear update.
We're not done working on Reading Bear--which will always remain a non-profit, free website to teach reading through phonics and vocabulary. Here's a quick progress report.
Alternative reading systems soon supported. We're putting finishing touches on a feature allowing us to reorganize our words into the order in which they appear in other reading systems. HeadSprout will be one of the first, but if you're interested in giving the Reading Bear treatment to your reading system's list, please let Joe know at joe@watchknowlearn.org. (See "Changing of the guard" below.)

Illustrators needed. Larry has written the text of some e-books to go with the first 15 presentations, and we're calling for volunteer illustrators. If you are an illustrator, and you are interested in supporting a great cause and getting a prominent byline, please email Larry at sanger@watchknow.org.

New media mentions. We had some great mentions in the press and blogosphere after our launch, especially a front-page article in Memphis, Tennessee's biggest newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, and a story by WREG, the local CBS affiliate. Top education blogger Larry Ferlazzo wrote that a BBC site and Reading Bear are "clearly the two best sites on the Web for phonics reinforcement." And we were on TheNextWeb's list of 12 "best educational apps of 2012."

We still want to get the word out some more. We're available for press interviews. We think Reading Bear is big news!

Changing of the guard. Finally, we're announcing that Larry will be departing from Reading Bear and WatchKnowLearn soonish, although he will remain on board as a consultant. His work on Reading Bear is pretty much complete and he's excited about a new venture he's pursuing. Dr. Joe Thomas, CEO of WatchKnowLearn, will take over as manager of Reading Bear, as the team focuses on getting the word out about these free resources.

Larry Sanger & Joe Thomas
Reading Bear/WatchKnowLearn

On the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting

I think the most relevant cause of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting has relatively little do with guns or mental health.

I think it's because our society is seriously ill--not mentally, but morally--and many of us are in denial about it. We rarely talk unironically about honor, morality, or shame, or otherwise give signs that we take seriously an objective morality and a commitment to freedom and personal responsibility. Our society's elites simply don't think that way anymore, preferring to think of incidents like this as sociological phenomena with collective solutions, rather than individual/ethical issues with individual solutions.

The very tendency we have to ignore issues of personal responsibility and morality, to regard events like this as merely pathological and not under anyone's control, allows people to feel free to act without conscience. It's as if they say, "What I do is not under my control. I've had it, I've snapped, I can't stop myself..." and then they proceed to act out as if they really couldn't stop themselves and there's no need to.

Guns are not going to be banned. More mental health care will not stop people from acting out. The only solution to this sort of thing, in this country, is to reinvigorate our sense of personal responsibility, and to shut down the idiots who say we have no free will, who think that there are no problems for individual morality but only for psychology and sociology.


E.'s reading progress

(No, that's not a picture of E. He doesn't have glasses.)

Just a short report here. I'm delighted with 25-month-old E.'s reading progress. We are not studying phonics nearly as carefully and systematically as we did with H. We have been going through (more or less randomly) the two ending blends presentations, adding s, and digraphs and x. More than that, we've been doing various quizzes. When I open up Reading Bear, E. insists on doing quizzes (about 75% of the time).

We continue to read several books per day. The level of the books is now decidedly beyond the baby books, and now we're into the toddler books. To take a few examples, we've been reading quite a bit of Curious George, as well as the little-kid versions of fairy tales from Mary Engelbreit. He still likes the Biscuit stories, which are incredibly annoying.

We're also doing stuff on the iPad, including Reading Bear on iSwifter, the Starfall app (which is great), some vocabulary apps, some counting apps, etc.

When looking at screens, he's been spending at least as much time on Starfall and Literactive as on Reading Bear. I still haven't found any other free sites with decodable stories that can be sounded out with a click, like Starfall and Literactive. Have you? Please tell me about them in the comments. Anyway, I've been delighted at how well he's been reading beyond the level that he is at on Reading Bear. Like H., his ability to decode words in the context of a story is a few steps beyond his nominal phonics level. My hypothesis is that he has been figuring out unfamiliar phonics principles on his own. There is no reason to be too surprised at this, it seems to me; once you know the letter sounds and have some modest experience viewing how letters and sounds match up, there are usually a few obvious ways to decode an unfamiliar sequence of letters, and it's just a matter of mentally trying them out and picking the one that matches a word you've heard. I wonder if research supports this hypothesis.

Another thing we look at quite a bit on my desktop are my presentations. He is crazy about my "Balloons" presentation (still) and likes many others, like "Kids," "The Mind," "Chemistry 1" (not as hard as it sounds), etc. These are all available on Slideboom. I made a new one, too, called "Bubbles," which he likes. (Unfortunately, funding for new presentations is not forthcoming at this time.)

I think E. is a few months ahead of where H. was at this age (not surprising, considering that I started teaching E. phonics earlier), but at this age H. was a little ahead of where E. is in terms of books he prefers. This also shouldn't be surprising considering that I was able to spend more time with H. on his reading.

But all in all I've used similar methods with my two boys and in terms of their educational outcomes, they're very similar so far. I'd definitely say that E. is reading now, at age two, in the sense that he is able to decode most, probably all, of the words in certain stories that he can understand and enjoy.

I've made a video of E. reading, but it shows his face and all and Mama can't have that online. I'll make another one soon.


A challenge to first grade reading teachers: read in one year! No excuses!

In the course of responding on the "readbygrade3" mailing list (I'm a subscriber), I came across this page on ReadingRockets.org. I was greatly struck by the fact that, here in 2012, professional advisers to reading teachers state that, by the end of first grade, a good student "has a reading vocabulary of 300 to 500 words, sight words and easily sounded out words." This, I think, is a travesty.  At the end of first grade, students should be able to read whatever words they can comprehend, meaning (of course) many thousands of words.

Rudolph Flesch maintained, on the basis of a great deal of first-hand experience, that there is no reason why the vast majority of first graders should not be able to read--period!--at the end of the first grade. At the end of that year, they ought to be able to pick up any book, as long as the vocabulary is comprehensible to them, and read it. Decoding should present zero difficulties. Period. And so by the end of first grade, they have no need for contrived basal readers. They can start reading actual literature. For what it's worth, my six-year-old is downstairs reading The Secret Garden--his choice--in the original version right now. I fostered his literacy from babyhood and he started reading when he was two.

I'm using Reading Bear and other resources to teach my second son to read. He is 25 months old. We started seriously when he was around 18-20 months. He's up to presention #11, capable of getting 13-15 out of 15 on the quizzes on that material. He can read (with a little help) any of the first 8 or so stories on Starfall's excellent Learn to Read page, as well as any of the stories on Literactive's level 1. I fully expect my two-year-old to get through all of the word lists on Reading Bear and to be decoding (not necessarily comprehending) at a 3rd grade level by his third birthday. My first son developed in a very similar way four years ago.

If my two-year-olds can do this, your six-year-olds can do it. Teachers, now that Reading Bear is complete and 100% free, you have no excuse. I understand that your districts impose a lot of top-down control of curriculum. But you still have some freedom. Reading Bear's presentations are 15 minutes long, and you can definitely take that much time out of your busy day for this program. Let's say you don't have access to a computer lab. Fine, but surely you have a projector. If all you do is show Reading Bear's presentations for 15 minutes each day for the 180 days of first grade, you'll be giving your students the gift of literacy.

To begin with, spend a week on each presentation for the first 10-15 presentations (or better, four days on a new presentation and one day on review). After that, students will catch on much faster, so you'll be able to spend less than a week on each one. You'll also discover that you don't need to show the full, 15-minute "Sound It Out Slowly" presentations; as time goes on, you'll be able to go on to the "Sound It Out Quickly" and "Let Me Sound It Out" presentations.

Teachers, your first graders can be decoding at an advanced level by the end of the year. Being able to do that now, rather than after the third or fourth grade, opens up the whole world of books to them, and not just easy, decodable picture books, either, but chapter books. Prove me wrong--why not give it a try? What could you lose? It's easy to do--you're just showing and reacting to a presentation. Your students will be exposed systematically to over 100 phonics rules, according to Flesch's time-established method, as well as vocabulary. I personally guarantee that, at the very least, you won't be wasting your time.


What should I do next?

Well, what do you think?

My enjoyable time with the group behind WatchKnowLearn.org and ReadingBear.org is winding down, and soon it will be over. My benefactor of the last four years has kindly given me some time to finish up my remaining work and find something else to do. As much as I enjoyed developing WatchKnowLearn and Reading Bear, and as much good as I think those websites will do for kids, it is always nice to start something new. I'm a serial starter; it's a process I enjoy.

Making my situation even more interesting is that this will be the first time since 2002 that I don't have something lined up. Back in 2002, I was another unemployed Ph.D. philosopher. Now, I can put on my resume that I am a founder of Wikipedia, Citizendium, WatchKnowLearn, and Reading Bear. So, naturally, I'm very curious what's available to me. I thought I would put the question out to you, readers of this blog. What should I do next? And, of course, please spread the word that I'm available and looking!

I have far more ideas about things I'd like to do than I have time to pursue them. I just don't know which one I would love the most, or which is most likely to work out. I'll put these roughly in order of my excitement level, although all of these are exciting to me. I'm sure I'm leaving out 3-4 ideas that I'm just not thinking of right now.

1. Textop! I've been dreaming about this since 2006. Imagine taking the Great Books of philosophy, history, law, and so forth, cutting them into paragraph-sized chunks, describing the chunks, and then organizing them in an outline of ever-increasing detail and depth. That is the core idea. It sounds very wonkish and scholarly, and I suppose it is, but I believe this idea will prove to be deeply revolutionary; I think few people understand just how much so. It has the potential to change the nature of scholarship, research, education, and ultimately everything forever. It would be more revolutionary than Wikipedia. It would be a brand new kind of reference work. It's a project I really want to work on, more than any other. I've thought of approaching various reference publishers, universities, tech companies, etc., but I suspect it will be a hard sell.

2. Policy Analyst or Writer for education or ed tech thinktank/nonprofit. I've long wanted to try this. I almost got into it in the 1990s. Education is a long-standing interest of mine, and I do enjoy writing about it, as any reader of this blog knows very well. I'd love to write a book titled Why Knowledge Is Important, defend homeschooling against hare-brained attacks, and go to the mat for back-to-basics curriculum married to the liberal arts as well as for vouchers and school choice. Basically, I think education is easily one of the most important institutions in society, and I want to enter the marketplace of ideas and improve it.

3. Crowdsourcing spaced repetition. Having used SuperMemo for the last five months with my 6-year-old, I've got some ideas about how to bring spaced repetition into individual classrooms and schools and thus into the big time. One thing that needs to happen is that we need to start working together on making the best sets of questions for common texts. Memorizing random, contextless information in the form of stacks of flashcards is tiresome. Memorizing information that you have already properly learned, by reading well-written books, is where it's at, I think. I haven't thought so much about this one, but it is certainly a problem I'd be interested in working on.

4. A filtered version of Wikipedia. No, not Citizendium redux. It would be involve me, a filtering company, and possibly another party or other parties. The main feature would be that Wikipedia's pages are displayed in up-to-the-minute versions, with images cleverly removed within the page rather than blocking whole pages. One company demonstrated to me how this might be done. I was quite impressed. In addition, we can use a "filtered Wikipedia" website to gather professional feedback on Wikipedia articles and, perhaps, fork selected articles once there is enough interest in doing so. Such a website would be a version of Wikipedia that would be recommendable to school districts and so would constitute a natural source of traffic and revenue. The Wikipedia community and the WMF have really fallen down on the job in developing Wikipedia to its potential. Providing to the world an up-to-the-minute version of Wikipedia with features that that community refuses to add, on principle, is personally my best hope of making Wikipedia into something that I really can get behind and be proud of.

5. Children's philosophy books. I don't think it would take me very long to write a general introduction to philosophy for children, and another general explanation of ethics for children. In fact, I have worked on the beginnings of these books, off and on, for a while. I don't think I'll ever finish them properly without lots of free time (which I don't have), and I think the world needs them. Adolescents, especially, need a clear explanation of what is right and wrong, and why we should be moral. I think I can explain it to them. This is important work, and it makes me sad that I don't have an opportunity to do it (while, of course, supporting my own family).

6. A news wiki/a crowdsourced news summary/opinion project. One of the things that, early on, we discovered that Wikipedia does very well is to aggregate news reports into a massive summary of a sort that ordinary news outfits are not capable of developing. This is why Google links to Wikipedia's articles about events in the news: they just lay everything out. I've been approached by one veteran journalist and, separately, the journalism department of a major southern university to develop a crowdsourced journalism site. Since I was otherwise occupied at the time, I had to pass in both cases. But I wouldn't rule that one out. I think the world needs a more even-handed news source, one in which biases are explicitly acknowledged. I've got ideas about how to do it (of course)... Another, related idea is an opinion wiki, in which people collaborate on, not factual articles, but arguments, position statements, etc., about everything. This has been attempted, but not in a way that attracts a lot of eyeballs. I've got ideas about how to do this sort of thing right, too.

7. Facebook for traditional tunes (a little like this site). Each has its own page. Users can submit versions in ABC format, which are displayed in sheet music form and voted on by other users, and the top vote-getter is displayed at the top of the page; they can also submit recordings and videos (of themselves or their bands). They can also "teach" the tune via a different set of videos. There are other features. I was approached by one of Ireland's top fiddlers about starting an Irish trad website, but I to my ever-lasting regret had to turn him down because I was heavily into Citizendium and WatchKnowLearn at the time. Of course, now, there should be a big app component of the site, I imagine. TheSession.org does a good job of this, by the way...but lacks a lot of the features I'd like to see. It is easy to imagine that, with the right level of funding and partnerships with, say, the Irish Traditional Music Archive and the Traditional Tune Archive, this could become an essential resource for traditional music. Anyway, something like this should exist and I'm kind of surprised that it doesn't yet. There's no reason it would have to be limited to Irish traditional music, too. You can imagine similar sites for similar styles, and instruments (think bluegrass, solo piano, and cover bands).

8. Joining an existing company or recent startup. I wouldn't be too proud to write or develop ideas for others, or to work on somebody else's ideas. Of course, my preference is to work on stuff that I really believe in and can get behind. Various things have come to mind:

  • Editor/Project Manager for reference or education publisher.
  • Director of Innovation for any of a number of different kinds of company, but I guess reference, ed tech, and social media would be most in line with my background.
  • Project Manager for the same.
  • Professor, probably in a Communications or Computer Science department--maybe a Philosophy department--focusing on theory of technology.
  • Public Speaking on topics I'm knowledgeable about.
  • You tell me!

So, what do you think? Where should I put in most of my effort? I would really love to develop and get funding for an idea of my own, but a lot of these are long shots; I want to make sure I can pay the bills


How I use SuperMemo with my 6-year-old (video)

Comments, discussion, questions welcome.


Update about the boys

Since I always begin with 6-year-old H. and never seem to have time (in the same post) to discuss now-2-year-old E., I thought I'd begin with E. this time. Besides, it has been eight months since I updated the blog about E., who is now 24 months old. But I am going to keep this update shorter than the last few, which have been voluminous. The best-laid plans...

Let me begin with how E. is doing at reading. He is able to read most of the simple words found in the most basic readers, such as Starfall's "Zac the Rat" readers. In the last month or so, he has started whole sentences. I have started writing some readers to go with Reading Bear. Here is the current draft of the one that will go with "short a" (the sentences in parentheses are to be read by the narrator/voiceover, not by the child):

The Rat in the Bag

Pat was a man.
Pat was the dad of Sam.
Sam had a rat. The rat was Tam-Tam.
(They decided to take a trip to the beach.)
Sam had ham in a bag.
(They also packed bread and other things for sandwiches.)
They had gas in the van.
(Then they got in the van and left for the beach!)
Pat had a map.
(The map told them how to get to the beach.)
The map was in his lap.
The van ran and ran.
(At last, they got to the beach.)
Pat had a nap and a tan.
(Sam wanted to see the beach.)
Sam ran.
(While Sam and Pat were gone, the rat climbed into the lunch bag.)
Tam-Tam sat in the bag.
The rat had the ham.
(Sam looked in the bag and found Tam-Tam.)
Sam was sad.
“Tam-Tam!” Sam said. “I am mad. You bad rat!”
“It is O.K.,” said Pat. Pat had some jam.
“Pass the jam!” said Sam.
(He made a new jam sandwich.)
“Sam,” said Pat, “the rat is fat!”
(Then they drove back home.)
The rat sat on a mat in the van.
Sam sat and had a nap.
(The End)

E. read that whole story a few days ago. I had to prompt him on some words, but he read many whole sentences entirely by himself--that was the second time through, though. He liked the story well enough to request it a second time the following day. Now he is bored with the CVC words on Reading Bear. I frequently stop (as I used to do with H.) and wait for him to finish the end of a sentence or some other sentence. As H. was at this age, he is sometimes reluctant to do so, but actually he is usually game and does a good job. He is right about where H. was at this stage.

So what have we been doing to foster his reading? I am now reading to him at two of three meals (I still read to H. at dinnertime, most of the time), usually when we wake up, and sometimes at some other times of the day. I haven't been reading to him as much as I read to H. at this age, but we do manage to get through several baby or toddler books per day. E is almost always game to read something and in fact often demands to read if I am slow to begin at mealtime. He also is very jealous of H., when I read to him at dinnertime. But E. is pickier than H. was, which is part of the problem with our ability to read as much. The other part, of course, is that I simply don't have as much time now that I'm dividing my attention between two. Of course, Mama does help; though she usually speaks to the children in her language, she often reads to E. in English at dinnertime when I'm reading to H. It's a little confusing but it's OK, and it can't be helped!

As to book choices, we've graduated from baby-concept books to simple story books. The Biscuit books are a favorite. We have had Curious George and Madeleine phases, but Biscuit is easy and enjoyable. Other favorites have included Little Bear and Dr. Seuss books. (These are all series.) Lately he hasn't gone in for any of those favorites, however, except Biscuit. He has also been listening to lots of other old books of H.'s; e.g., yesterday we tried out Sammy the Seal, which he seemed to enjoy greatly. In addition to all of these, we have tried a number of "decodable" easy readers, the same sort of simple, early-reader-friendly books like the Starfall books. With those, I ask him to read more of the words. But frankly, I don't like them and don't use them much. They're just not as interesting. For his birthday I got a set of phonics-decodable books to use with the LeapFrog "Tag" pen E. has inherited from H. But, just as was the case with H., E. is not that interested in the Tag pen. It's not nearly as attractive as Papa reading to him; so what's the point? E. even grabbed my finger to inpatiently use it to tap on the words when he wanted me to start reading. H. used to do that.

Has he learned some phonics? Absolutely. A few months ago, he read the words "tin" and "Jim," which I'm pretty sure he's never seen before. Now he is very regularly reading all sorts of words that are decodable, but which I'm fairly sure aren't in Reading Bear, Little Reader, or Your Baby Can Read. He has actually graduated to figuring out some words, like "monitor," that are far beyond his "official" phonics decoding level (as measured by our progress through Reading Bear...we're now starting blends, when E. is interested). I remember H. doing the same thing, i.e., decoding "advanced" words well before we started studying the rules that would allow him to decode them.

So, what tools are we using? Up through a couple of months ago, he was using Reading Bear on a daily basis, sticking to the first seven presentations (short vowels, c, k, and ck). He got to the point where he got 13/15 on the quizzes and could read most of the words--or, actually, all of them, as long as I had his interest. As usual, though, we stopped when he lost interest. But then one day he apparently decided he had enough of Reading Bear, for the time anyway.

Actually, I think it was his discovery of Starfall that inspired the break. He fell in love with Zac the Rat when we started that..about two months ago. As with H., I refuse simply to read the text to him. If we are on Starfall, he must say all the words. This, I now remember, is how H. learned his "little" and unphonetic common words, what people call "sight" or "Dolch" words, like "they," "is," "the," and so forth. E. is doing the same thing. Anyway, clearly, E. is impressed with his own ability to read stories. There's a funny thing he does. Occasionally, he says, "You read it." I always reply? "Are you tired of reading? That's OK, let's stop." Then he says, "No, no, I read it!" and he continues on with renewed motivation. He almost always wants to finish the story, whether one that I wrote for Reading Bear or a Starfall story.

We have also been slowly (not daily) going through the Little Reader presentations, which are actually very nice, but he often says "no" to them. I have a lot of respect for that system--it definitely helps and has been part of our solution.

Another tool we have been using (and which takes time and attention away from Reading Bear) are my presentations. In fact, he likes these more than anything else, these days. He especially likes my "Balloons" presentation, for some reason. He's not ready for all of the presentations; the ones about geography and history are still mostly beyond him. But he likes many of the vocabulary ones, the science ones (which are actually pretty simple, conceptually speaking), and any old family presentations starring Mama and H. when he was a toddler himself. I had forgotten just how much H. learned from these presentations--I was reminded because I am noticing how much E. is learning.

We also use lots of apps on the iPad. I'll have to do a separate post about those.

In terms of results, well, I've already discussed where his reading ability is at. I really ought to document that with a video--I will soon. His diction is improving practically daily, as is his vocabulary. He is able to pronounce multisyllabic words and put together multi-word sentences, although he still hasn't got all the basics of English grammar. He still refers to himself, sometimes, as "E---", but usually it's "I" and "me," and he's rapidly progressing in his spoken grammatical correctness, generally. His vocabulary is perhaps his biggest area of improvement lately. He once a few days ago started naming stuff in some concept book, on his own, and got everything down pat. Not just "dog" and "cat," but slightly more advanced words like "tractor," "airplane," colors and numbers, and a lot of things that are common in concept books for toddlers. He can read most of the words for these things as well--but these are mostly sight words, picked up from various videos and books.

If he doesn't have as much attention from me as H. had at this age, I think having big brother H. around constantly prattling on helps makes up for it at least somewhat, as does the fact that I know more what to do and am using more effective tools (like Reading Bear) than I had when I started with H.

I know some other "early education" parents are already busy teaching math and other skills at this stage. Well, apart from using math apps and reading lots and lots of counting books and books about shapes (and also educational videos), we are not following any sort of systematic program. I think we might, however, in the nearish future. I'm thinking I'll want to start E. on Jones' Geniuses for toddlers. As to other things--writing, "physical training," music, etc.--fuhgeddaboudit. I mean, I wish I had time and energy to do that, but I'll be honest--I don't. Mama also feels worn out just taking care of very, very active 2-year-old and 6-year-old boys. She (and we together) do various things, but nothing systematic. I can put in a plug for the particularly excellent Your Baby Can Discover and Your Child Can Discover videos put out by Dr. Titzer. Easily up to the quality of YBCR, and probably the best general learning videos for babies and toddlers out there that I've seen, and that would include Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby videos (which are good), Classical Baby art videos, and others. In terms of screen media, only my presentations are better. ;-)

Another thing we are doing, which we did with H. and which we do at mealtime, is puzzles. We're doing the precise same U.S. states puzzles that H. did, and E. is showing excellent aptitude for them, at least as much as his brother had. Apart from being their first exposure to U.S. geography, these puzzles are excellent for teaching fine motor skills.

One other thing. Is E. happy? You bet! He's a super-cute, very animated, very energetic, very personable little guy. He says hello and goodbye to everyone at the grocery store, and tries to talk to people all the time, even if they can't quite understand everything he says yet.


OK, onto H., who is now 6. He's forging on ahead and is reasonably content with his studies, for which I'm grateful. He does resist a few things on some days, but generally he's happy to do what I ask, and not infrequently dives into things (writing, reading, piano) without my asking. He is turning into a pretty unusual kid--well, you'll see.

General remarks. We took a month off of studies--even off history reading, and sometimes even chapter book reading at night--for a month (August) or a little more. Then around the start of September we started back in with gusto. We have a schedule we're following now, with limited success, but it is a schedule and it does provide us with some useful guidance and reminders. Everything discussed below is on it. I also got a book of reward charts, with stickers, and H. seems motivated by that. Not all kids might be, but H. is, so far.

The schedule is generally as follows: Latin and Review #1 (see "Review work" below) before breakfast. I read to E. at breakfast. After breakfast, half hour of P.E. with Mama, which has often consisted of bike riding. We also go to a weekly homeschool gym. Then an hour of literature, a half hour of nonfiction reading, and 45 minutes of math (all of these interspersed by Q&A with me and/or short breaks). Most of this morning work is done by himself, although we do discuss his reading, sometimes making review questions about the nonfiction reading; his Mama or I help with math. At lunch, I read to Eddie. After lunch, we have a daily 10 minute piano lesson, Review #2, and then 15-20 minutes of geography reading--all of which lasts about 45 minutes. Then he's off writing or doing grammar by himself and other things by himself such as chess study or art. Theoretically he's done by 2:45 pm on most days, but that's theoretical. At dinner, most days, I read to him: first a poem, then physics. Sometimes E. insists that I read to him and I relent (it depends on whether I arrive at the table in time to catch the fast-eating H.). After dinner, we sometimes play a game of chess but more often we're just taking it easy. At 7:15 or 7:30 we start Review #3, followed by history and some other reading. Since H. is quite good about doing an hour of serious literature every day, I've been using our evening reading time to read things like the human body, the Children's Bible, about the Presidents, as well as some chapter books--everything sacred and profane.

Often he runs rampant the whole morning while I'm doing work, and then I have to rein him in (with Mama's help) in the afternoon. If I didn't have her help, I wouldn't be able to get a full day's work done, and sometimes I have to work in the evening, to do a full day's work.

Review work. Maybe the most unusual feature of our homeschooling habits, these days, is that we do SuperMemo review three times a day, about 10 minutes per review. Occasionally it's more, especially if I've typed in a lot of questions recently. I just love SuperMemo. H. has 90% recall of over 1,400 questions added in the last five months. Here are some examples of the sorts of questions he is reviewing these days:

What happened at the very end of Buchanan's presidency?
One by one, the Southern states began to secede from the Union.

Who claimed the territory that would become Brazil, and when?
Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500

Why might a fighter pilot become unconscious when enduring 9 g in a sharp turn?
The g force makes blood rush out of his head, and we need blood in our heads to stay conscious.

What is the substance called which gives color to the skin? (If you have more, you have darker skin; if you have less,  you have lighter skin.)
Melanin.

Who was the first of the great German painters in the Renaissance?
Albrecht Dürer.

Who assassinated Lincoln, and where?
John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C.

Define: anarchist
Someone who believes that all government is wrong, who wants there to be no government at all.

What is the longest mountain range in the world?
The Andes Mountains

Do states' rights limit (lessen) the power of the federal government?
yes

Complete the series (through 60): 6,  12...
18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, 60

Our SuperMemo statistics states that we have added on average 7 questions per day (50 questions per week). If we keep this up, he'll have 90% recall of over 15,000 facts (of the above sort) by the time he's 12. Before you scream in horror at the pain I must be causing my child, imposing this "rote memorization" of "mere facts" on him, remember that the reviews occupy about 30 minutes of his time, broken into three sessions per day. Also, it's not rote memorization because I rarely ask him questions about things we have not studied; the questions are about things in our texts or other studies. Frankly, I think this will be the way of the future. I think that, in the future, this will be standard operating procedure in classrooms around the world: just 30 minutes of quite doable, tolerable, and sometimes even enjoyable review will virtually guarantee what we, today, would regard as "encyclopedic" knowledge. It also makes quizzes, exams, and a lot of homework all unnecessary.

Literature. The thing, other than review, that H. does most consistently, I guess, is literature, meaning reading a chapter book for an hour a day. Our routine here has not changed much since last report, although in the last month or so we've been distinguishing between "challenging" books and easier books. We have been doing about 50% of each. Since August or September he has been working at the same time on Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer for the challenging books. I sit him down with my iPad, with the dictionary app open, and have him look up any words he doesn't know. The dictionary app tracks the look-ups, and occasionally I type vocabulary items into SuperMemo. Does he comprehend what he is reading? Reasonably well. We almost always discuss what he's read afterward for 10 minutes or so. I ask him questions, ask him to summarize what he's read, ask his opinion/reactions, etc. He says he understands what he's reading, but of course that's something to verify. I have subscribed to enotes.com (which at $50/year seems quite comprehensive in its coverage of children's books) and he seems to be able to handle the comprehension questions there pretty well.

He's making slow progress through those books because he's also at work on a much faster-rotating series of easier books. He recently finished The Phantom Tollbooth, The Matchlock Gun (tossed off in a little over an hour a few days ago--no trouble with the enotes questions), The Secret of the Andes, The Horse and His Boy, and The Cricket in Times Square, and for fun reading or re-reading things like Hardy Boys mysteries, the newer Magic Tree House books (he's read the whole series twice and is now on #44), the Spiderwick Chronicles, and lots of Tintin graphic novels (as well as the novelization of the recent movie, which he just really wanted). Today he picked up his very first book of poetry and read it on his own, cover to cover, which I thought was great: A. A. Milne's Now We Are Six. I read him a poem on average 4-5 times a week at dinnertime, if I remember to. These are more "serious" children's poems, which require interpretation. (I think of "Meeting at Night" by Browning and Shelly's "Ozymandias" which was actually very fun to read and discuss.) I think our long-term fairly regular attention to poetry has given him a bit of a taste for poetry. He doesn't seem the poet type, but I think he likes it pretty well, and he has memorized some poetry. Lately he memorized "Star Light, Star Bright," "Monday's Child," and the song "Hush little baby, don't say a word," which baby E. really, really enjoys. (Take it away, Joan!)

By the way, I do still read chapter books to him 3-4 nights a week at bedtime, the other nights being nonfiction. Lately it's been Sindbad the Sailor and Other Tales from the Arabian Nights, and a book that he selected himself from the bookshelf, Roger Lancelyn Green's very interesting Tales of Ancient Egypt. (We're doing SuperMemo review of questions from this. Extremely helpful for study of ancient Egypt.) Of course, I've read many other things to him...I guess I'll update that book list sooner or later. The reason I stopped reading chapter books/literature to him every day is that I am now reading much more to E. at mealtimes, and the time I spent reading nonfiction to him was decimated, and sorely missed. Something had to give and it was some of the bedtime literature.

In terms of results: he seems to be doing pretty well in terms of getting exposed to a lot of classics of children's literature. His taste for fiction is, I think, growing. His ability to handle more difficult and "archaic" texts is also developing nicely. This latter is important to me because so many classics simply cannot be mastered unless you're comfortable with older-sounding vocabulary, idiom, and sentence structure. Moreover, reading the more difficult children's classics while he's still definitely a child will prepare him very well for taking on board original sources from history and, in time, philosophy. I certainly do want him to study philosophy with me before he goes off to college. Now, as to his vocabulary, certain persons might say that he doesn't sound like a regular 6-year-old. But then his Papa doesn't sound like a regular grown-up and he does OK, so I figure it doesn't matter that much. Look, if you give a child an education he's capable of--and I think the absolutely wonderful Marva Collins showed just how much regular children are capable of--then he's not going to sound like a regular kid. But what's wrong with that? If there's a problem, it's that he talks too much, and he can be rather mouthy. Being both homeschooled and given a rather free hand in how he spends his time (though we aren't, of course, Unschoolers), he is a very independent sort who is not shy about making his views and preferences known.

Writing. This continues to be an area of mystery and success, as far as it goes. Sometimes, I think he needs specifically to learn how to summarize texts, so we work on that. Other times, I've created specific assignments, such as you might find in a writing program. That all goes reasonably well. I have occasionally been tempted to buy some program for teaching writing, but whenever I see them, I think, "This is going to be a disaster." Writing, perhaps more than anything else, has to be individualized. I strongly suspect that simply encouraging the student to write a lot, giving him some direction, occasionally giving him some assignments on things he needs to improve, and then simply lightly and gently giving feedback (mostly praise) on his work will be enough to make an excellent writer out of a child. Anyway, my general idea seems to be bearing fruit in H's case. He has continued to make reasonable progress, although he still writes an awful lot of what I would describe as nonsense. But he is certainly writing better now than he was a year or more ago.

A couple weeks ago, H. got up one day and wrote this before breakfast (revised lightly afterward with a few general comments from me):

Essay on physics

We will talk about atoms, the aie and empty void, and forces.

Section 1: The Air and Empty Void

Empty really is empty. Many scientists also think that my position is wrong.

Section 2: Forces and Energy

Forces

Forces are like push and pull. One kind of force that works against gravity is called positive force. I thought that negative force works agianst gravity, but that is silly. Anyway, think of the negative numbers. They work with gravity, because the negative numbers are the very low numbers. That tells you that empty really is empty. But only in one way it does. I will tell you. It's because low and empty are sort of related, but they are connected in one way. I will again tell. It's because empty means low.

Energy comes in more than a hundred forms. I will list some.

Solar
Wind
Water
Chemical

Those are some of our energy kinds. I will now take us to learn about atoms.

Section 3: Atoms

Atoms are made up of different nuclei, which are orbited like all the planets orbit the Sun. The nuclei are orbited by a group of electrons and other things. This might sound amazing, but the atoms can be elecricity atoms, which we will learn about later. Cells contain nuclei that are bigger than that of an atom. In fact, those nuclei may contain atoms.

I sent that text to a friend, a veteran homeschooler, and asked him what the hell I should do with this. His advice made an impression on me:

What the hell do you do with this???? You encourage him to write more of this very same thing! Lots of it! ... It makes perfect sense to him—and as long as you encourage it, this faucet will spew forth lots of fascinating and meaningful (to him) prose. Try to control it at this early stage and I guarantee, you will constructively shut off the flow of this incredible explosion of creativity. My friend, this isn’t “nonsense.” If I were to offer advice—and I am not wont to do so—I would suggest that you DON’T rewrite it or shape it or try to “fix” anything at this stage. ([Wife] agrees.) No tutor either. You will send the message to his little, underdeveloped mind that he is doing something “wrong.” And he’s not. ... It’s organized, cogent (after a fashion), linear, argumentative. As he is exposed to more critical thinking, he’ll naturally (and through imitation) tailor his writing to a more approved and appropriate style. In due time.

I decided to take his advice, and have been encouraging H. to do more of the same. So he did.

Over the weekend, he wrote a little composition (! I didn't ask, and it was the weekend) about our trip to Rock House, a great spot in Ohio's Hocking Hills:

Story of how we went to Rock House

Rock House looked really big, and before we found the cave entrance, I thought that that was not really a cave, like Mama and Papa said. But then we came to a hollow that I thought was actually the cave entrance. It was not. Then I saw what was the cave entrance. Then, as we came closer, I saw the way up. It was a ramp that we used to get up into the cave. We got there and climbed up the ramp. When we got inside, I was the first one to get inside. I looked up to one end of the cave and saw that I had almost fallen off a ledge. I went back after that and had quite a hard time finding the others. I finally found them and found a good place for some rock climbing. I climbed the ledge and then Papa got me down, and then we went over to a place where it was impossible to get down. On the way back from that, I walked on the high part of the cave on the right side. Then Mama found a nice and low place where she could lift me down. Then we left the cave this way:

·         First, we found the cave entrance (which was then the cave exit) and then went back down the ramp.

·         Next, we went back around the Rock House loop and took the rest of the trail home.

To take another example, today, I told him to go write something. I saw the composition-in-progress, which led a few instructions: explain the business about the exhaust pipes, and create separate paragraphs for separate ideas. Making "sections" was his solution to my request for paragraphs. Also, at one point, he had only said, "This is something else I would like everybody to do: Make brick walls on either side and all around power lines." I told him to expand that. That's pretty much it--I did correct his spelling of "environment" but I think that's the only spelling or grammar correction I made.

Here is what he came up with:

How I would like to change how man-made stuff affects the environment

Section 1: About Cars and Gasoline

I would like to let electric power take over gasoline powered devices so that all cars would be electric and why? Because gasoline powered cars give off exhaust and dangerous fumes that may damage the environment.

Section 2: About Nuclear Energy

Another thing I would like to change is nuclear energy. I know that people who run a power plant let all of the exhaust out. So I would like them to send all the exhaust through pipes instead. And let it out at the end of the pipes, wherever the ends are.

Section 3: Another Thing They Can Do 

This is something else I would like everybody to do: Make brick walls on either side and all around power lines. Because I know that in the winter, power lines freeze and that gives them more mass and makes all the power lines fall down. Another thing that they can do is just keep the power lines away from trees!

Section 4: About Car Pantograph Idea And About Car Crashes

I would also like them to make inflatable cars on the road so that people would not feel any shock when a crash happened. And make all cars like that. And also make all cars powered by pantographs like some trains and buses.

We do about 30-45 minutes of writing per day. Very occasionally, I look the other way when H. doesn't get around to doing writing.

His handwriting still leaves much to be desired, although we do still try to get him to improve it. I'm open to suggestions for radical remediation. His typing speed has improved considerably. I haven't timed it but it's definitely along the lines of 10-20 wpm. He strongly prefers typing because it's easier and faster. It's hard to argue with him about that, but we still do make him handwrite things. Still haven't started teaching him cursive, but we do intend to.

One other thing. A week or so again, as I writing this, he started writing a diary, and so far has made four entries. I didn't ask him to do this, it isn't part of his writing homework (although I let him do an entry once or twice for his writing assignment), and he has kept it up by himself. He just discovered he likes writing about various trivial things that have happened at home. I doubt it will keep his interest for much longer, but I guess we'll see.

Grammar. He's on lesson 8 of Cozy Grammar, which we started not too long ago. We generally do two lessons per week, which can but often don't replace writing (he often does writing anyway, even on weekends). I don't think it makes any difference to his writing, but I figure that he ought to understand the language of grammar, because it ultimately does help and at higher levels is even essential. I don't propose to make it a long-term component of his studies--writing daily is quite enough--but we'll come back to it at higher levels every few years, I guess. Marie Rackham also has a punctuation program we bought and we'll be doing that.

Math. Since the last update, H. has finished Singapore Math's Primary Mathematics 1B. It turns out that his mother, who has been sharing math teaching responsibilities, dislikes the Singapore Math program. In her opinion, it does not explain things explicitly enough, and I have to agree with her on that. It also doesn't provide enough systematic, step-by-step practice, at least within the Textbook + Workbook combination. One day she was out shopping at Sam's Club and she got a second grade math book that was more her style, Spectrum Math, Grade 2. At first I turned up my nose at her choice. (You picked up some random curriculum at Sam's Club?) But I looked at it, and I had to admit that it seemed to be a solid program, and I looked at the reviews on Amazon, which were very positive.

So he dove into the new book and hasn't looked back--he's already 1/3 of the way through and at the current rate should be in the Grade 3 book well before this school year is out. So far it's been mostly review, but there have been some new topics. This book teaches the traditional algorithms that are underemphasized in (or missing from?) Singapore Math. The reason Singapore Math was attractive to me--apart from my impression, picked up when I was originally making choosing math books, that students who use it do very well on math exams--is that it teaches kids how to think "mathy thoughts." It is supposed to teach many different ways to do problems. I think this is largely true, but as long as we're doing MEP as well, I guess it seemed a little overkill. MEP does much better when it comes to teaching mathematical thinking.

So, yes, we're still on MEP, Practice Book 1b, going relatively slow, getting toward the end; I think there's still 30-40 pages to go. I still love MEP, but these days H. appreciates it best in small doses, which is fine with me. The other thing we're doing regularly is Five Times Five Is Not Ten; H. is about halfway done with it. He has memorized many multiplication facts.

H. is a bit more enthusiastic about math these days, in no small part due to the switch to Spectrum Math, I think.

History. I wish we had made more progress in history, but due to the summer break and the frequency with which we were late getting ready (which I blame on SuperMemo review more than anything), history often fell by the wayside. As a result, we're still at work on The Story of the World, Volume 2, now reading about the 16th and 17th centuries. We'll be done pretty soon. The thing is, however, H. is learning more history than he was before, because he's committing more of it to memory (that's thanks to SuperMemo). My general impression is that this makes history more meaningful and more interesting, on the whole.

We're continuing to follow the same plan, even with the same texts: SOTW, Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, Gombrich's Little History of the World, and Kingfisher Atlas of World History. H. declares he really loves SOTW, and likes the Usborne book, but the others aren't so great. He doesn't like Gombrich at all, but since he goes through this period of history so quickly it doesn't matter that much. We have read a few other history books, but not too many, except about the presidents. On that score we're up to Theodore Roosevelt, #26, still reading in both the DK presidents book as well as The Look-It-Up Book of Presidents.

Are we doing anything else, like worksheets or writing assignments related to history? Not really...

Science. Science is one of the few things that we still study at mealtime--4-5 dinnertimes per week we read a few pages (or one page of DK Energy) of a physics book. We're continuing to use Usborne's What's Physics All About? as a "spine," although it's hardly meaningful as a spine, because we spend 80%+ of our time reading other things. We've been studying energy for a few months. I'd say we're a little over halfway through physics. So far we've studied cosmology, motion and force, gravity, and pressure. After this it'll be waves, including light and sound, electricity, and finally, history of physics. The Usborne book has a chapter about astronomy but we'll tackle that with a different spine altogether.

As to what we've read, we've read a couple, including another "Max Axiom" book, about energy, and now we're well into DK Energy. The DK science books are very history-of-science heavy, I think (this is only my guess) because DK finds it easy to find cheap pictures to illustrate historical topics, much more than carefully-thought-out, expensive original designs would cost. Still, it's all good. The history stuff isn't a bad introduction to science. Knowing how we came to various pieces of knowledge does help us to understand them.

The other science topic we're studying, a bit, is the human body. A few months ago, practically out of the blue, H. decided he wanted to be a doctor. Suddenly he had a powerful motivation to read about the human body. So that's what we did. H. has read quite a bit without me, and does rather better on the SuperMemo questions about this topic than he does about other topics. That's partly because he makes a good many of the questions himself, partly because he's highly interested, and partly because he gets the same information from several sources. Anyway, I guess we do most of our in-depth study at bedtime, typically twice a week. We've been reading the DK First Human Body Encyclopediawhich is not at all history oriented and which is actually an excellent book. By carefully studying every page and producing many questions about each section (at H.'s request), H. has really learned a lot about this topic.

In addition, he read by himself, cover-to-cover, Deadly Diseases from the "Horrible Science" series. We got the whole box set--I'm very happy with the purchase. This is a fairly lightweight and readable British series of chapter books about science, aimed mostly at boys. He's now well into Fatal Forces, which is an excellent review of many physics topics. He was working on another one as well. He doesn't make too many questions from this. I suspect it's mostly in one ear, out the other, so to speak, but some of it does stick. He has spent a lot of his half hours of nonfiction (which we get to only about half of the days) on these and on other books about the human body, including various Scholastic "True Books" (very good selections as usual).

Of course we're still doing experiments, but to be honest, not as many as we've done in the past. In the last few months we've done several from Physics for Every Kid. Saturday is, or is supposed to be, experiment day.

Geography. For a couple of months, we didn't read geography at all, so we haven't made much progress since our last report, although lately we're making good progress again. We finally finished reading the National Geographic Brazil book. We're now splitting our time between finishing up In the Land of the Jaguar--which is now over halfway done--and readings about the Caribbean. It's nice to be onto a new region. Now we're into the National Geographic Cuba book, and we're doing other general readings about the region in general children's atlases. Of course, we look a lot at the globe, which is right next to the big reading chair, as well as the behemoth Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World. At H.'s request we do other things from time to time. For example, he combined writing and geography and did a PowerPoint presentation about Argentina, and recently traced a map of Cuba, and after that photocopied the tracing and labeled and colored it (which is a nice method).

Other stuff. In piano, I got tired of H. falling back on quickly memorizing my demonstrations--which he was able to do, apparently--and I taught him how to read music, finally. We used flash cards one afternoon and got the basics, went back to the second book of Music for Little Mozarts (from where music reading was first taught), reading through the whole thing again, and are now almost caught up to where we were before in Book Three. This time, I give him no clues at all, or rather, the only clues I give him are to help him figure out the notes himself. So that's solid progress. I'd start him on lessons but, basically, I think it would be a waste of money. H. can get through a lot of material in a week, and most teachers want a student to absolutely master one or two pieces before they go on. As a piano student myself and having seen him in lessons when he was 5, I know how it goes. Maybe when he is playing more challenging stuff, and is able to focus for more than 15 minutes, we'll find a teacher (other than me).

I often hear H. banging on the piano, playing his favorite pieces, figuring out common tunes, and making up his own stuff. I think that's all a good sign.

In Latin, H. is well into Rosetta Stone Latin Level 2. He is pretty good about doing it for about 15 minutes every morning before breakfast. It constitutes good practice without being a major time commitment. I guess the plan is to get into a serious Latin grammar book after he's done with Rosetta Stone--when he's 7, I guess. He has observed on various occasions, with pride, that his Latin helps him in various small ways. (Of course, when he knows it better, he'll notice many other ways.)

As to Physical Education, that's now part of the daily schedule--he goes out with Mama for a half hour after breakfast and they do various things. He's also been going to a weekly "homeschool gym" and we're starting Cub Scouts, which has a sports and outdoors component. Of course he's often doing physical play later in the afternoon after his studies are done, and we often go for family bike rides after dinner. He still has little in the way of competitive spirit, when it comes to sports. I guess I didn't much, either, and his mother certainly doesn't.

I've been reading a philosophy book to H., off and on, which he enjoys. Once he somehow persuaded me to start writing a philosophy text, and I have almost finished writing Chapter 1 of Philosophy for Children. Your guess is as good as mine on whether I'll finish or not. But H. was very enthusiastic about it, read it several times, and wrote various unassigned "essays" on the topics it raised.

We're slowly reading through the Golden Children's Bible. H. declares he is an atheist and recently express doubts about Santa Claus, too. But due to the obvious historical and cultural importance of the Bible, I think it's essential that we get well acquainted with it. He doesn't mind. We've started reading the story of David; we're close to halfway done.

We're also reading a book about presidential elections for obvious reasons, and he has taken to scanning realclearpolitics.com.

We're also still making progress in Logic Safaria page or two a week or so.

This isn't the whole story of H., believe me. It's just about his education, and I haven't told you about the zoo and science museum trips etc. Anyway, he's a pretty happy, if rather unusual, little kid. He generally likes being homeschooled, and hates the idea of going to school. He is comfortable enough with his studies, although he does sometimes complain that he doesn't want to study, and we often give him a half day off, basically, often Wednesday or Thursday. I rarely must resort to threatening him with sitting in the corner if he doesn't study. While I sometimes have to get his attention, and occasionally he does have trouble sticking to task, he does a pretty good job getting quite a bit done by himself while I'm working and Mama is busy. Reading in particular is now going very smoothly. Math is more of a struggle; without some external motivation, like a timer to work against, he ends up wasting a lot of time. Same deal with grammar. Writing usually goes well enough, except when I ask him to revise a list of items; he often ignores or misunderstands what I've told him to do. I guess it doesn't matter too much because he makes progress in his writing anyway. I'm still reading quite a bit to him, and I wish he'd do more, but frankly this is the only way I can be sure that he understands some otherwise difficult-to-understand material (science, history, geography, etc.).

**Special note to freelance illustrators: Reading Bear is looking for people who are willing to make cartoons for cheap, for a good cause!