Weekly Review: December 11th to December 17th

I am ambivalent when there are too many good things over the course of a week.

My attention is caught among trying to sift through all these different news articles and bring you some of the best that I can find. I want to share all the interesting things that I found but if my attention is strained trying to find them, your attention is just as strained because of the information with which you are trying to keep up yourself.

I hope that you will enjoy the articles that I have included here.

Do you have suggestions on how I can make the Weekly Review more interesting or more useful? Please comment below. I want you to enjoy the Weekly Review and get something out of it. I don’t want to be another aggregator that you ignore.

These Things Caught My Eye

Ready for Take-Off!

Anything is possible, and you are never too old. If you don’t believe me, ask Anne Osmer. She began taking flying lessons after she turned 80. Yes, you read that right she began flying lessons after 80. She’s now 83 years old and took her first solo flight.

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School Reforms

The other night, I sat out a dance to talk with Erin, a teacher’s aide for the deaf, who I met recently. We talked about school reforms and she had some interesting insights. She suggested, since we are no longer a predominantly agrarian society, that we should eliminate summers and instead institute six weeks of school followed by two weeks of break, or some similar rotation. After each six week segment, kids who did not fully understand the concepts could receive remediation — literally, a remedy for their misunderstanding — much sooner than having to wait until summer school an having failed once.

My friend John Spencer writes in these two essays about what he sees wrong with education. I don’t agree with everything that he says. For example, he thinks that we should lengthen the school day but I disagree. I’m more inclined to agree with Erin about altering the school year and keeping the days short. I remember seeing an article a while back that said the schools in the foreign countries that we are constantly pointing to as beating our students have a different schedule for breaks but less hours each day.

The human brain is like a muscle. Repeated practice of certain skills strengthens those areas of the brain. But, the brain can also suffer fatigue which makes its attempts to retain less effective. We need to make sure we take a balanced approach.

I just picked up two more books by Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities and The Shame of the Nation. Perhaps after I read them I will have a few more ideas on school reform myself.

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How to Think

While I thought I would find information relevant to improving my blog on Copyblogger.com, I did not think that I would find articles applicable to a classroom.

I am glad that I was wrong.

In “10 Suprising Books That Will Transform Your Writing,” Demian Farnsworth mentions one of my favorite books, Letters to the Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and another I’ve wanted to pick up, The Complete Odes and Epodes of Horace. Some of the other books on the list are the kind of business books that you would expect to find on a site about blogging and turning a profit from your blog.

At the end of the article, Farnsworth writes

The more you have in your brain — both from study and from direct experience — the more fresh, new, killer ideas you’ll come up with.

And that reminded me of an article I read back in September in the Boston Globe, which I linked to in one of my longer posts, Children Left Behind in which I tried to cover too much and everything got diluted. But Ms. Ravitch reminds us “Critical thinking? You need knowledge,” that the ability to draw conclusions requires us to synthesize our direct experience alongside our indirect experience to what currently analyzing.

Have you ever met someone who knows everything about a particular topic, the minutest of details, stuff that only real adherents would know, but who knows nothing else? Those people are a little boring, aren’t they? They also cannot see beyond the scope of their interest.

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Edgar Allan Poe and the Frogpondians

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston. He would not have been happy to admit it.

For a long time we Bostonians have not wanted to admit he was a son of Boston. I think we are still upset that he called us “frogpondians,” after the Frog Pond in the center of the Boston Common.

Dr. Paul Lewis, curator of the exhibit “The Raven in the Frog Pond,” thinks that Poe was referring to the writers and publishers around Boston when Poe spoke of “frogpondians.” Dr. Lewis conjectures that

…when he thought about those writers, he thought that they were cause-driven in their writing. So they were constantly croaking out in defense of their causes.
–Dr. Paul Lewis quoted in “Claiming Poe” in The Boston Globe

Now, 160 years after the author’s death, Boston is trying reclaim Poe as their own. With the talk of Boston Noir that I’ve seen in the pages of the Boston Globe — a new genre name for Boston’s rough and tumble, tragic stories of working class city dwellers that includes work such as The Friends of Eddie Coyle to The Departed — I can understand why we would be giving Poe a second look.

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On Whose Merit?

I have written about my disagreement with merit pay for teachers previously. This will be a contentious issue for some time.

The issue has been in the news a lot around Boston since August. A non-profit in Massachusetts won a grant from ExxonMobil to reward teachers for their students’ performance on Advance Placement exams. The Massachusetts Teachers Association said that the payments violated the terms of the teachers’ contracts and they could not take them.

I am on the side of the Massachusetts Teachers Assocation. I have read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards and I have worked two sales jobs in which I could earn bonuses. The incentive of earning bonuses did not motivate me to work harder. And I have seen it cause co-workers to consider compromising on their ethics to earn the extra money.

I cannot more elegantly summarize why merit pay is a horrible idea than by recommending you watch this TED Lecture, Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation.

Here’s the big secret. All of our social science proves that incentives only work on clearly defined tasks. So, if the task is to get a student to pass a test, incentives would motivate the teachers to teach to the test.

If the task is to raise intellectually curious, independent minded, responsible adults, then incentives will not work.

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