Two Reviews— Waiting for Superman and Temple Grandin

While I have made most of the money I have ever made (or ever hope to) in public education, I genuinely enjoyed and appreciated the expose of public education called Waiting for Superman. The film is captivating, and somewhat suspenseful for a documentary.

As it opens, viewers meet five young people, of different ages, genders, and ethnicities. Each one has hopes and dreams which can only be fulfilled by a proper education. And each one is in a school which feeds into a “failure factory.” That term is applied to high schools where most students either drop out or fail to have the right background to get into college and succeed there. The facts and figures are playfully represented, and the stories of the five subjects introduced early on unfold gradually, along with commentary from educators.

Viewers will take away different images, I am sure, but I certainly identified with the “hidden camera” video of a classroom where the students were in the back of the room, playing craps, while the teacher sat in front of the room, with a magazine, waiting for his time to be up. My husband found that footage to be shocking, but I did not. Certain classes are like that. Really. I know, because I used to work in a public high school.

My experience tells me what the filmmaker does, and that is the answer to education problems is to hire good teachers and only good teachers. A good teacher is indeed “a work of art.” Of course, making sure that only good teachers are employed in public schools would entail firing bad ones. The filmmaker explains how difficult it can be to fire a bad teacher, and he professes to have an answer for this problem. I enjoyed the film, including the solution part; but as an educator, I am also skeptical that the solution can be so simple. (No, I won’t say what it is, but I hope readers of Pam’s Pages will want to know and will watch Waiting for Superman.) As the film draws to a close, viewers get a glimpse of the future of each of the youngsters, with mixed results, of course.

On a recent evening, our whole family enjoyed the excellent biopic from HBO which explains the life and thought patterns of the most famous autistic person in America, Dr. Temple Grandin. Anyone who has dealt with autism, or merely wants to know more, should see this film. And anyone who likes a good story will probably be just as impressed with it. Clare Danes is simply amazing, as she becomes the namesake of the film, Temple Grandin, in her speech patterns, her mannerisms, and she does a fair job of suppressing her movie star looks to appear more like Grandin would have looked in her earlier years.

Dr. Grandin writes well, and I first learned about her via her articles on how autistic people think. But, before she was famous for speaking out about autism, she was famous for being an expert in animal husbandry, and this biography begins with her summer trip to her aunt’s ranch, which was the beginning of her intense interest in animals and how they think. Grandin believes that there are distinct similarities in the thought processes of animals and autistics, and that is in pictures. Indeed, she has authored several books, as well as becoming a college professor, and one of her books is entitled Thinking in Pictures.

There is quite a bit of humor in this film, as Grandin blunders through social situations, but there is plenty of heart, too, as she is befriended and mentored by various people. As a mother, I do identify with Grandin’s mother, ably portrayed by Julia Armond. There can be no greater task than that of the mother of an autism spectrum child.

Unfortunately, neither of these movies will attract the viewers of the latest sci-fi blockbuster, but they are such worthy films that I hope you’ll go rent them or buy them and then share them so their messages will be spread a bit farther.

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How Many Moms Does It Take to Graduate Eight Boys from Homeschool?

Homeschooled

Three years ago, a post a entitled “Graduating and Graduating Some More” was written on the day that our daughter graduated from the local high school.

Only a few months after that, our son, who has never found education to his liking for more than a few minutes at a time, was so unhappy that he began to rebel against education and his parents. Not good. Over his years in public school, both teachers and administrators had suggested that we consider homeschooling, and early his sophomore year, we took the plunge. During that time, I have learned some things that didn’t work well for him, and some that did. In some ways, homeschooling is no different than public school education. For instance, taking the ACT involved getting up early on Saturday, just like it does for public school students. Formal dances require flowers, spiffy clothes, and all that is left are the pictures, and that is just like public school, too.

In other ways, homeschooling is more like college. Until I embarked upon the homeschooling journey, I did not know that there are homeschool “groups” and “co-ops” and private tutors who cater to homeschooler families. The state of Georgia also allows homeschoolers to enroll in online classes via the Georgia Virtual School. During our three years of homeschooling, we have experienced all of those. Actually, not only are there many options open for educating, there are also opportunities for socialization, from drama groups to homeschool swim day, skate day, winter and spring formal dances, and bowling leagues. And I learned that one can order everything from entire curriculums with books, tests, and DVD instruction; to invitations, a diploma, and even the cap and gown. I’ve met a number of interesting people, including my son’s tutor, his music teacher, and a number of other homeschooling moms. Without participating in homeschooling, and a homeschool group over in Hall County, I would never have known about the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, Yonah Skate and Bowl, the nifty ice cream cones at the Corner Drug Store on Thompson Bridge Road, the HEART co-op, Nuçi’s Space, Camp Amped, Baxendale Guitar, the Athens School of Music, Oasis Bowl, and I probably would not have visited nearly so many churches and parks in Hall County. My car has added a humongous number of miles, too. (Thank goodness, it is Honda.) As I look back on it, there are many activities we did not do. I don’t see how anyone could come close to doing them all.

When I was in graduate school, studying English and education, a chronologically gifted professor had us read The Sabre Toothed Curriculum, a satire which points out how old ways remain a part of schooling, far beyond their usefulness. Things have not changed much since its publication in 1939; schools still teach outdated skills. Some homeschool families have made it a priority to teaching their children life skills, rather than merely to sit still for long hours. The group instruction model does not take into account individual learning styles, either. Among homeschool moms, there are discussions about the Charlotte Mason method, Classical Conversations, and whether Saxon math is better than Teaching Textbooks. My curriculum and methods classes at Piedmont College did not cover the myriad of choices available to enterprising moms who choose to homeschool.

My daughter had gone through four graduations before her high school ceremony, and my son had also gone through four previous ceremonies, from preschool to middle school. Despite his lack of interest in the homeschool ceremony, our son did agree to this last ceremony, so he graduated, along with seven other young men, at a church in Hall County. All the moms have helped with the preparations, so the answer to my title question is eight, plus eight dads, and a number of siblings and friends.

Quite honestly, homeschooling has not been easy, nor inexpensive, but it is often a better plan for children. Most of the homeschool students I have met are more polite, more social, more mature, much more moral, and usually smarter than their public school peers. The bullying and moral decline evidenced in many public schools is reason enough to consider homeschooling. The main problem with it, other than time and expense, is the prejudice which is better summed up by the video than by me.

Star Trek as the Mother of Invention

iPad/Padd

This is an odd post for Mother’s Day, but it is tough to discuss it without writing about my mom, myself, or other family members.

But, as one who appreciates gadgets, I am grateful to science fiction authors for dreaming up some of the useful objects that we take for granted. Like other science fiction yarns, Star Trek is a mother of invention.

The original series of Star Trek was telecast in the mid-60s, and there were not many computers around. Those that were in existence then were low in processing power and huge in size. They recorded data on large spools of magnetic tape. During its three-year run, the characters on STOS used objects which resembled computer disks. They also used wireless (blue-tooth) ear phones, projectile free weapons, and even flip open communicators that look quite similar to Motorola’s flip phones.

In my youth, I just thought that science fiction writers were a bit prophetic. However, more reading has helped me understand that SF writers may be helping fulfill the prophecies in their fiction. Among the most ardent fans of SF on the page and one the screen are engineers and scientists, and they derive some of their inspiration from SF. So, the reason we have flip phones is because an engineer saw Captain Kirk chatting with his ship, and decided to build a device which can actually do that.

Since the Enterprise was only a space-going vessel, characters used shuttlecraft to make some short trips down to planets, and this concept no doubt inspired the name and some functionality of the space shuttle fleet which came along a few years after the series ended.

Technical inspiration did not end with the original series. When Roddenberry’s Star Trek, the Next Generation aired, the entire ship ran via touch interface. I can’t view a rerun of STNG without seeing technical concepts which have made the jump from screen to reality. Notable STNG inventions in everyday use include their oft used PADD, which clearly helped inspire today’s iPhone and iPad. The frequently used touch panels have inspired many kitchen gadgets, too. My microwave, my stove, and my dishwasher all use multi-colored touch pads, just like the USS Enterprise NCC 1701D.

The Borg of STNG and Star Trek Voyager relied heavily on nano technology. That is an up and coming method of enhancing everyday objects. Recently, I saw a pair of men’s pants which professed to have a nano stain fighter woven right into the fabric.

Star Trek gave us five different television series, and the tech of Trek continues to inspire engineers and scientists to create more and better gadgets. In fact, you may have given one to your mom today.

EPub, Kindle, and a new to me author

My iPad does many things, and it has become my reader of choice. After playing with it for a day or two, I began downloading eBook reading “apps” and right now, Kindle for iPad is beating out iBooks. In part, that is due to the vast selection of books at Amazon, but in part, it is due to the way Amazon can zero in on what I enjoy reading.

Within the last couple of weeks I have read two novels by D. A. Boulter, both purchased from Amazon. Indeed, Amazon Digital Services is listed as his publisher. For $2.99 one would be hard pressed to find a better novel than his Courtesan. Now, readers of romance or erotica, do not get excited. It isn’t that sort of book at all. If anything, it reminds me of early Elizabeth Moon space operas, and that is a complement. As the story opens, Jaswinder Saroya is on the run. The author sprinkles in enough back story to create suspense, but not so much as to give away his plot line too soon. There are not so many scenes and characters that a reader has to work too hard, either. I suppose I would have to call this lighter science fiction. But, the plot would be just as welcome in a more tech savvy thriller, and I rather liked it just the way it unfolded.

Having enjoyed Courtesan so very much, I went back to the Kindle store and purchased a book which seemed to inhabit the same “universe” but with different characters, Pelgraff. This one was also entertaining, but I did not find it to be as much fun to read as Courtesan. If anything, the world building in Pelgraff is better, because it is set on that planet, whereas, Courtesan is set mostly onboard a space going vessel. But the characters are not nearly so engaging in Pelgraff, and the plot is mostly fight, withdraw, fight some more. Still, it is a war story, so that is how it goes.

I’m sure I will read more of D.A. Boulter, but for now, I am rating Courtesan four and a half stars and Pelgraff is a solid three star read. Either one is well worth the asking price, and with an eBook, there is nothing to sell at a yard sale or try to trade at the used book store.

I am loving the iPad, and I would like to see my own works in ePub format so that other eBook readers will be able to enjoy them.