The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
Never underestimate the importance of freedom to be messy. Creativity is a messy, messy business. Art is messy. Writing is messy. Sewing, woodworking, robotics, cooking, all these awesome pursuits we want our kids to dive into, all these handcrafts and skills we love to see them develop—they require room to get sloppy.
Along with Freedom to Be Messy goes Lots and Lots of Down Time…that’s part two of my refrain: give ’em time to be bored, time to stare into space, time to tinker, time to obsess.
Philosophically, there was a rough consensus that Making belongs to the kids—that it should be driven by their own interests, ideas, execution, learning from the Internet community, and so on—as opposed to driven by parents in a school-like way leading the kids from project to project, building their skills.
[hat tip: Melissa Wiley]
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Want Scientifically Literate Children? Get Out of Their Way
If you’re a child, you are curious about your environment. You’re overturning rocks. You’re plucking leaves off of trees and petals off of flowers, looking inside, and you’re doing things that create disorder in the lives of the adults around you.
And so then so what do adults do? They say, “Don’t pluck the petals off the flowers. I just spent money on that. Don’t play with the egg. It might break. Don’t….” Everything is a don’t. We spend the first year teaching them to walk and talk and the rest of their lives telling them to shut up and sit down.
So you get out of their way. And you know what you do? You put things in their midst that help them explore. Help ‘em explore.
In an open letter, the San Jose professors worry that public higher education will suffer if scholar-student interaction is replaced with videotaped content.
…”In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience,” the letter’s authors write, “we believe that having a scholar teach and engage with his or her own students is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students.”
A middle-school experiment using fruit flies and organic foods has won publication in a national scientific journal and spurred a debate about the relative benefits of organic eating.
An impressive example of self-directed learning! Not exactly a “middle-school experiment” as the preview describes above, but an independent project pursued by a girl of middle-school age.
Many of us define success as being extraordinary, but where does that leave the average child who enjoys a pickup basketball game but is far from Olympic material?
Sorting the children’s books for a move, and rediscovering old favorites.
Dwight Garner is packing up the last, best books in his children’s picture book library and reflecting on his family’s nightly ritual.
We weren’t very far into “Little House on the Prairie” when it hit me: Ma was kind of a bummer.
"Neither acquiescence in skepticism nor acquiescence in dogma is what education should produce. What it should produce is a belief that knowledge is attainable in a measure, though with difficulty; that much of what passes for knowledge at any given time is likely to be more or less mistaken, but that the mistakes can be rectified by care and industry. In acting upon our beliefs, we should be very cautious where a small error would mean disaster; nevertheless it is upon our beliefs that we must act. This state of mind is rather difficult: it requires a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy. But though difficult it is not impossible; it is in fact the scientific temper. Knowledge, like other good things, is difficult, but not impossible; the dogmatist forgets the difficulty, the skeptic denies the possibility. Both are mistaken, and their errors, when wide-spread, produce social disaster."
The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.”
At present, we inculcate the young into our superstitions, first of all the belief, against all evidence, that where you attend college determines your fate. “Where you go to college is not important,” Pinsky insisted in his talk. “It is a stupid distinction.” It is stupid, at least, to place so much weight upon it when in reality so much of what happens is up to the individual. The self-starting, energetic student at a community college will learn more and do better afterwards than a sloth attending Harvard or Yale. When we look at the college affiliations of successful business people or writers or scientists or you name it, nearly all hold degrees from schools that are not ranked in an asinine Top Ten created by a failed news magazine. There can be and should be no escape from the fact that your destiny depends not on your trappings but on your creativity, integrity, and sweat. Yet when we make our children feel that their self-worth rests wholly on an impersonal institution’s judgment, we suggest to them that they do not own themselves.
When my children were little, I was always a bit baffled by parents who talked about being friends with their children. Maybe I expect too much from my friends, but I like to hang out with people who read chapter books and bathe without being told. I’m big on reciprocity in my friendships — we exchange views and experience and occasionally good advice. I don’t tell you when to go to bed. You don’t tell me when you’re done pooping.
A mother critiques her preschool’s inculcation of gender-based codes of manners:
So while he finishes his bowl of cereal, I tell him that I think a gentleman lets other people go first. If two boys reach the top of the slide at the same time, a gentleman lets the other one go first. Furthermore, I say, it would be very nice if his teacher decided to alternate on a daily basis who uses the bathroom first at naptime. The girls, I assure him, wouldn’t mind waiting a few extra minutes and it would give them a chance to feel gentlemanly. But the concept of a gentlemanly girl is beyond him and he shakes his head.