Friday, February 29, 2008

Got Chess?

Steve over at just started playing chess and asked for some advice. Since he doesn't allow comments and I can only reply in his registered forums, I decided give him my two cents here in my blog.

Advice #1: DON'T PLAY. DON'T START. It's highly addictive. I know he plays poker and so do I, and I can say it's just as addictive if not more so. It's all ego. Yours vs. the opponent. But I know he will ignore #1, so here's more practical stuff.

First Books: Bill Hartson's Teach Yourself Chess, Yasser Seirawan's Play Winning Chess, or The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing Chess.
  • Learn chess notation.
  • Learn tactics. (That's enough to beat most beginners).
  • Control center. Keep King safe.
  • Don't attack with just Queen. All the pieces must work together.
Openings: Start with Black
  • Learn all the responses to e4. Most people play e4 as their first move. d4 is more advanced.
  • i.e. Ruy Lopez, Silician, French openings
Openings: as White
  • Play e4. You've already got a head start by playing the Black side.
Where to Play online: Yahoo Games Chess, and GameKnot (this is actually a online correspondence (slow: two to three days a move), but it does have a blitz section (10 min. games) that I prefer over Yahoo. I used to play a lot on Yahoo, but I don't anymore because:
  • Lots of Spam bots, which I noticed Yahoo finally addressed with their sign in protocol.
  • Ratio of jerks:cool people very high. Rude, childish, unsportsmanlike behavior, clinging to their precious rating rampant.
  • Hard to get a game. People are very picky.
As opposed to GameKnot's blitz, where there is not ranking and you are automatically matched up.

This should keep any beginner busy. Let me know if I should do a intermediate level post. Good luck.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It Seems Obvious but ...

It seems obvious but still wonderful to discover Lil G (newborn) and Lil E have two distinct smells.
And another thing, ole Lil G. loves a fresh diaper. Yes, she does.

She goes seconds after I change her. Ah, the wonders of fatherhood.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What Do I Do Monday? Part Six

Troubled Children and Others
  • How to Live with Your Special Child, George von Hilsheimer: “Any child who persists in troubling or inadequate behavior when a majority of his peers have improved ought to be examined for hypoglycemia … Nearly every child sent to us has been found to be suffer a deficiency of B vitamins.”
  • Von Hilsheimer: “Nearly every troubling child suffers constantly from the tension of his muscles … An alert teacher will notice that troubled children cannot breathe. Their breathing – and that of many if not most Americans – is thoroughly artificial. It is shallow, locked up into the chest with practically no abdominal movement and no chest movement at all.”
  • Von Hilsheimer: “A simple way of enriching the [classroom structure] is to break the age segregation. Kids teaching kids is the most effective social and teaching model now reported in literature.”
  • “Privacy and safety are critical for learning of all kinds. It is certain that the highly aroused, frightened child who is the typical failure or troublemaker needs more rather than less privacy, more rather than less safety and insulation.”
  • "... this is the trouble with the 'games' used by many of the high-powered curriculum reformers in their highly directed courses of study. The children know that these 'games' are not games, but gimmicks. They play them, because there a lot more interesting than sitting in a seat and listening to a teacher talk, which is what they would have to do if they didn't play them. But they don't play with anything like the energy, vivacity, or intelligence they bring to their true play, the games they think up and play for their own reasons."
  • "This is important, because the children, and there are many of them, who first adopt a strategy of deliberate failure to protect themselves against the demands of adults, demands they would be willing to try to meet if they thought they could, later almost always begin to see this strategy as a way of attacking and hurting adults."
Some Beginnings
  • "Children were sensible people, and if you treated them as if they could act sensibly, after a while -- if you start later, it may take longer--they believed it and did act sensibly.
For Further Reading
  • The Lives of Children, George Dennison
  • The Way It Spozed to Be, Herndon
  • Thirty-six Children, Open Classroom, Herbert Kohl
  • Logic of Action – from a Teacher’s Notebook, Frances Hawkins
  • Up Taught, Ken Macrorie
  • More by J. Holt: Underachieving School, How Children Fail, his 1970 Look magazine article, "Why We Need New Schooling"
  • Wishes, Lies and Dreams, Kenneth Koch
  • Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Postman and Weingartner
  • Schools without Failure, William Glasser
  • Hooked on Basics, Fader
  • Whole Earth Catalog

Booknotes: What Do I Do Monday, Part Five

Varieties of Writing

  • “In all talking or writing (which is a special form of talking) there are three elements. Someone is talking; he is talking to someone; his is talking about something. How he talks, or writes, depends on whom he is talking to, and what his is talking about.” What he learned from James Moffett.
  • “Almost all the writing we ask students to do in school is of a very distant kind – writing to a far, almost non-existent audience, about far subjects.” Also from Moffett.
  • “But Moffett’s further point is that it is very unlikely, almost impossible, that someone will be able to do good far writing if he has not first learned to do good near (personal) writing.”

Writing for Others

  • “There has to be more writing for love, if writing is to improve, and I don’t see how this can be done unless at least a good part of each child’s writing is wholly outside the area of corrections, approval, criticism, marks.

Marking and Grading

  • “In the kind of learning I have been talking about there is no place and no need for conventional testing and grading.”
  • Idea: Average of all a student’s grades or even his best grade for the semester.
  • “It is not grading alone that is stupid, but the whole idea of trying to have a class move along on a schedule, like a train. Children do not learn things at the same time, or equally easily and quickly.”
  • “We should also mark as privately as we can. Only the teacher and the student, not the other children, should know what marks anyone is getting.
  • “We can at least make clear to the children how little grades mean to us. In my last fifth-grade class, I told the children that I did not believe in grades, that learning could not be measured and labeled with a number or letter or word, that I only gave them grades because if I didn’t the school wouldn’t let me teach them at all, and that grades had nothing to do with what I thought about them as people.”
  • “We should grade, if we have to, as easily as possible. Particularly at the low end.” Minimum of C-.
  • “There is absolutely no excuse for a teacher or a school failing a student. We are there for them, not they for us. … If a student spends a year in my class and learns something, then I have no right to fail him. I must find a way to give him some positive and legitimate credit for whatever he has learned. If at the end of a year he has truly learned nothing, if the experience has brought nothing new at all into his life, has not in any way helped him to grow out into the world, then I am the one who should be failed, not him.”
  • ‘For years they’ve been making me hate my kid!’ “This rule about parents and teachers always working together is a bad and silly one. The only good rule is that people, whether parents or teachers, who trust and respect and value children should support them against other people, whether parents or teachers, who do not.”
  • “I then said that students should organize to refuse to take such tests, and that teachers should organize to refuse to give them. … Only when we stop being judges, graders, labelers, can we begin to be true teachers, educators, helpers of growth and learning.”
  • “Only when all parents, not just rich ones, have a truly free choice in education, when they can take their children out of a school they don’t like, and have a choice of many others to send to, or the possibility of starting their own, or of educating their children outside of school altogether – only then will we teachers begin to stop being what most of us still are and if w are honest know we are, which is jailers and babysitters, cops without uniforms, and begin to be professionals, freely exercising an important, valued, and honored skill and art.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

Booknotes: What Do I Do Monday, Part Four

Measuring Speed
  • "What is wrong with most schools is that we honor only a very few kinds of skills out of the great many that children possess, so that very few people get all the prizes. Also, we put too much emphasis on winning and too little on improvement, which is what children really care about, and what they can all share in."
  • "Once one of these projects gets started, the more the children take it over and do it themselves, the better."
Measuring Strength
  • "Even the happiest and calmest child ... even such a child has far more energy than almost any school or class will let him use or express."
  • "... the way to get along and get ahead in school, whether you are a boy or a girl, is to act as if you were a girl. It is sadly and dreadfully true. The very things that boys, real boys, the best boys, are most proud of, that make them feel most like boys, are exactly the things that are least acknowledged, admired, praised, or rewarded in school. In fact, these qualities are very likely to get them in trouble."
Fractions and Other Bugaboos
  • "... we have to find one name -- hence denominator-- to apply to all the objects in our collection." (adding different fractions).
  • "... I don't think children should be 'taught' fractions, but that instead they should meet and work with them in the course of their real work with numbers."
  • "But if we feel we must try to 'teach' children fractions, the proper time to begin is in the first grade."
  • "We should begin by understanding, and pointing out, that whole numbers, as well as fractions, are ratios -- it is why they are all called rational numbers."
  • "... because drill is dull, children use only a small part of their attention and intelligence doing it, hence learn inefficiently if at all, and forget quickly. Another is that since only by threats can we get healthy and sensible children to do this kind of donkey work, we have to put fear into the classroom in order to get it done. But this fear defeats its own ends, by making many of the children too afraid to think or learn or remember at all, and in a longer view, by making them fear and hate all mathematics."
From Talking to Writing
  • "Edgar Friedenberg has often pointed out how in all but a few schools there are neither times nor places where students can legitimately be by themselves.
Making Letters
  • "In our work with children, there are a couple of good rules to keep in mind. One is that it is always better to say to a child--instead of 'Do it this way' -- 'How many ways can you think of to do it?' The other is to let children find, by experiment, trial and error, and imitation, which of the possible ways of doing a thing is best for them."
  • "... feeling as strongly as before ... that getting children to do things by rewarding them every time they do what we want is unnecessary, harmful, and even in its own terms inefficient."
  • "We ought to make sure to use the words 'capital' and 'lower case' instead of words like 'big' and 'little' or 'large' or 'small... the difference is a matter of shape; size has nothing to do with it."
  • "Why not tempt children with the idea of making A's (or other letters) in as many different ways as possible? Making letters would then be an exploration, an adventure, not a chore."

Booknotes: What Do I Do Monday, Part Three

Killing of the Self, cont.

  • "The parents cannot and do not say to their children, 'I can't prevent your teacher from despising and humiliating and mistreating you, because the schools have more political power than I have, and they know it. But you are not what they think and say you are, and want to make you think you are. You are right to want to resist them, and even if you can resist them only in your heart, resist them.' "
  • "On the contrary, and against their wishes, they (parents) believe and must try to make their children believe that the schools are always right and the children wrong, and if the teacher says your are bad, for any reason or none at all, your are bad."
  • " 'I'm just beginning to realize that it was the schools that made me stupid.' " - friend of JH.

The Teacher as Cop

  • "When there is much freedom of choice, we teachers are driven or pulled toward some kind of realism and sanity. When there is none, we are driven toward absurdity, impotence, and rage."
  • "The children in the high status and 'creative' private elementary schools I taught in were bored stiff most of the day -- and with good reason. Very little in school is exciting or meaningful even to an upper middle-class child; why should it be so for slum children?"
  • "Why, that is, unless we begin where schools hardly ever begin, by recognizing that the daily lives of these children are the most real and meaningful things they know."

The Teacher as Guide

  • "We talk a lot about teachers 'guiding' in schools. Most of the time we just mean doing what teachers have done all along -- telling children what to do and trying to make them do it."
  • Or, as a friend of mine put it, we teachers can see ourselves as travel agents. When we go to a travel agent, he does not tell us where to go. He finds out first what we are looking for."
  • "... I could not help but know that the stupid and defensive and self-defeating behavior I saw so often in my classes must somehow be caused by me and the class, since outside the classroom none of these children was in any way stupid."
  • "Play-- it cannot be said too often -- is children's work, and we cannot learn anything important, unless we play, and play with them."
  • "It is most important, when meeting children of any age for the first time, to approach with this kind of tentativeness, gravity, and courtesy. And it is astonishing how quick most children are to make friends with people who do not ask them, but simply indicate that they are ready."
  • "This is, of course, what is fundamentally and incurably wrong with the whole idea of lesson plans. It took me years to learn that when I went to a class with every step and every detail of the period thoroughly planned and ready in my mind, it would be a terrible class, the children anxious, timid, trying to con me, saying, 'I don't get it,' wildly grabbing for answers."
  • "If, on the other hand, I went to a class with no more than the faint beginning of an idea, a tentative first step, and often not even that, ready to see what the children had to offer and to work from that, things usually went well.”
  • “Most of the time, we keep giving children new symbols—usually words—and then using other symbols—more words—to tell them what the first words mean. It is a mistake.”
  • “…we must in as many ways as possible give our student teachers the kinds of choice and control in learning that we hope they will someday give to their own students. We must teach them once again what many of them will long have forgotten—how to play, how to confront the new and strange with curiosity, imagination, enthusiasm, energy, confidence, hope, and joy.”

The Theft of Learning

  • “I have said that true communication is communion and change. Jargon is not innocent. … He does not mean to draw near to us, or to empower us, but to stand over us and manipulate us. He wishes, in short, to remain an Expert. The philosopher, by contrast, wishes all men to be philosophers. His speech creates equality. He means to draw near to us and empower us to think and do for ourselves.” – The Lives of Children, Dennison.
  • “The fault of our universities, of our intellectuals and academics, is that they have made themselves into Experts instead of Philosophers. They have largely destroyed, for most of us, our so vital sense that the world, human life, human experience, is a whole, and everywhere open to us.”
  • “They have taken the great common property of human knowledge and experience, which ought to belong to us all, and made it into private property.”
  • “At moments I look at all professors, including myself, with understanding. We are no less victims of the system than our students. In the schools we were brought up as slaves. Someone or something opened to us the possibility of becoming overseers. … but like the best slaveowners…we perpetuated a system which robs young people of their selfhood.” – Up Taught, Ken Macrorie

The Wholeness of Learning

  • “What I had done, clumsily enough, was not to try to hand him a lump of knowledge, which people had already handed him and which he could not take hold of, but to take him on a kind of human journey with the people who had first thought about and discovered these things.” JH on calculus.
  • “The children may ask, ‘What are you doing?’ We say, ‘Watch,’ and just go on doing it – always the best answer to that question.
  • “… the real world out there is not divided up by dotted lines into a lot of little areas marked Physics, Chemistry, History, Language, Mathematics, etc. In the real world, one thing leads to another, each thing is connected to every other thing. The whole world can be explored starting from any place, wherever a child happens to be at the moment.”
  • “A good way to check interest is to ‘forget’ and see if any of the children remind us.”
  • “So we just say, Shall I measure you today? And if they answer Yes, start the project again. The point is not let this become another dead class routine, but to be ready to move with the interests of the children.”
  • “The Gifted Teacher is a myth. …we teachers have low batting averages. …Teaching is human communication, and like all communication, elusive and difficult. We must learn from the children. And learn afresh every year: children and classes are different; what went wonderfully one year may not go well the next. In fact, we must be wary of the feeling that we know exactly what we are doing in class. When we are most sure of what we are doing, we may be closest to being a bore.”

Measure and Comparing II

  • “The point of all this investigating is to find an answer to a question; the only use of the arithmetic is to help us find it. Man did not think of measuring things so that he would get good at arithmetic; he measured things because he wanted or needed to find out or remember certain things about them..”
  • “But it was the measuring, no the arithmetic, that was of chief importance. The need, the act that requires the skills, creates the skills.”

My Booknotes: What Do I Do Monday, Part Two

The Killing of the Self
  • "It seems to me a fact that the schooling of most children destroys their curiosity, confidence, trust, and therefore their intelligence."
  • "[In a double-bind situation] one person conveys to the other that he should do something, and at the same time conveys on another level that he should not, or that he should do something else incompatible with it. The situation is sealed off for the 'victim' by further injunction forbidding him or her to get out of the situation, or to dissolve it by commenting on it." -- Ronald Laing, The Divided Self.
  • " ... Laing is not writing about schools. But how terribly his words fit."
  • "Indeed, the limits we put in many schools on freedom of speech, movement, and even facial expression are far more stringent than anything we would find even in a maximum security prison."
  • "Most of our schools convey to children a very powerful message, that they are stupid, worthless, untrustworthy, unfit to make even the smallest decisions about their own lives or learning."
  • "The parents cannot and do not say to their children, 'I can't prevent your teacher from despising and humiliating and mistreating you, because the schools have more political power than I have, and they

My Booknotes: What Do I Do Monday?

I've been on a John Holt kick lately, started with his book, How Children Learn, because the library didn't have his more famous, How Children Fail.

His books are all from the 70s and I hope and pray the conditions in conventional schools he wrote about have changed, but I'm not so sure because it looks like he ended up in the Home School camp. He died in 1985.

Disclosure: I have yet to make any money off these Amazon Associates links. I highly recommend you try the library first, then even Paperback Swap, before you purchase any of my Booknotes selections.

Learning as Growth
  • "But the children have been learning , all the time, for all of their lives before they meet us. What is more, they are very likely to be much better at learning than mos of us who plan to teach them how to do it.
  • "There is no such thing as learning except (as Dewy tells us) in the continuum of experience. But this continuum cannot survive in the classroom unless there is a reality of encounter between the adults and the children. The teachers must be themselves, and not play roles. They must teach the children, and not teach 'subjects.'" - The Lives of Children, George Dennison
The World Belongs to All of Us
  • "The reason is simple, and the one Dennison has pointed out -- their schools and teachers have never told them, never encouraged them or even allowed them to think, that high culture, all those poems, novels, Shakespeare plays, etc. belonged to them or might belong to them, that they might claim it for their own, use it solely for their own purposes, for whatever joys and benefits they might get from it." - NY Times Review of Books about Dennison's book, explaining why kids dread Shakespeare.
Place and Identity
  • "But we have to start from here, the particular, individual here of each child and every child we work with."
  • "... we cannot be in the business of education and at the same time in the business of testing, grading, labeling, sorting, deciding who goes where and who gets what."
  • "What he found ... is that people go crazy because other people drive them crazy. His findings are horrifying because the things that people -- without meaning to -- make other people crazy by doing are very much like a great many things we do to children in schools." -- about psychiatrist Ronald Laing's book on schizophrenia, Self and Others.
  • "the invalidation of their experience" -- Laing's expression from The Politics of Experience. J. Holt: "... we say to the mentally ill that their ways of perceiving and experiencing the world, their ways of reacting to it and communicating about it, are crazy and have t o be canceled, wiped out, done away with. "
  • "In short, he has no sense of his identity or place. He is only where and what others tell him he is."

Continued on Part 2:

book list:
The Lives of Children, George Dennison

3 A.M. Feedings and I'm Watching What?

Lil' G. is six weeks old and I've got the 3am, 4am feeding duties, and I realize that ESPN's Sports Center is the perfect show for me: It's on at 24/7 and I can watch it with the audio off.

Having said that, there's alot of repetition of sports news after that first hour. So I have to resort to Plan B shows with no sound -- Infomercials.

Current favs: HipHop Abs, Rocket Abs, Perfect Pushup, and PX90 (Get ripped in 90 days). I love the Before and After photos.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Convenient Things

  1. Electric Egg Cooker. I bought one for the wife at Willliams-Somona, for about $40. They don't carry that model any more. This one has more controls at the bottom, for the same price. There's also an Oster one at Amazon.
  2. And I finally broke down and paid the $150 for a Universal Remote. I'm not a 100% satisfied but it works and I can get rid of all five remotes.

Life's too short for cheap beer, boiling eggs in a pot and fumbling at multiple remotes.

Trendspotting: Stunt Living, Living at the Extremes

Do you search for meaning in this life or create it? Live at the extremes, then write a book, or live a "stunt" life so that you can write about it?

Examples are:
  1. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs.
  2. The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. A.J. Jacobs' first book, where he reads the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  3. There was a semi-famous blog awhile back about a woman who the same brown dress for a year. She wanted to put a spotlight on our consumer nature.
  4. And also, along those lines is the anti-consumer movement of people who live by buying nothing new, all second hand or grown, raised or made themselves.
  5. Radical Honesty, The New Revised Edition: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth. Telling no lies. I haven't read this yet.
  6. Let's not forget the documentary that started this recent trend, Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, and his reality TV show 30 Days.
I'm going to take baby steps and say, maybe check my email only twice a day, try to think good thoughts, and do a good deed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dealing with Kids: Do's and Don'ts

  • Do get down to their eye level. How would you like to look up all the time?
  • Don't use your "baby" voice. It annoys the baby and everyone around you.
  • Do wait for an answer. Don't ask another question soon after the first. Give the kid some time to answer. In other words, be respectful. Talk less, listen more.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

T-Shirts for New Parents

Lil' G. was born about a month ago. She's our second. She's the inspiration for these T-shirts for new-born parents.

1. "No, I'm not getting any sleep. Thanks for asking."

2. "Got Sleep?"

Friday, February 15, 2008

Education of Lil' E

My daughter E. turned four last week. She has been reading for about half a year now.

I play Phonics and Kumon with her, but this is only after she started to read. She can count to about 50.

Her writing motor skills are no where near her reading/mental ability. She can write a few letters.

She's known how to rhyme for awhile now, but yesterday I taught her Alliteration. She came up with:

"Tiny town", "Good grief" and "Monkey mute", then asked me, "what's a mute?"

My education on Education
I started with Alfie Kohn and his unconditional love and no rewards and punishments and child-directed learning.

Which led me to John T. Gatto, Jonathan Kozol, and the John Holt. The all-stars of education, I call them.

They all write about the horrors of the institution of school, and how it beats the curiousity and happiness out the kids, by drilling them, testing them, keeping them locked up, making them conform.

Trouble is, they wrote mostly in the 70s. Surely, schools have changed? I have no way of knowing. That's why I'm so concerned about E. when she enters Kindergarten.

Public or private or home school?

Gatto and Holt both came to the home school conclusion.

Yesterday, E. asked me, "What caused the Big Bang?"
I said, "Let's ask Mr. Google."