kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/9/11 - 1/16/11

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Amy Chua in the NY Times

In interviews, she comes off as unresolved. “I think I pulled back at the right time,” she said. “I do not think there was anything abusive in my house.” Yet, she added, “I stand by a lot of my critiques of Western parenting. I think there’s a lot of questions about how you instill true self-esteem.”

Her real crime, she said, may have been telling the truth. “I sort of feel like people are not that honest about their own parenting,” she said. “Take any teenage household, tell me there is not yelling and conflict.”

Yelling and conflict in the teenage household.


Initially, Ms. Chua said, she wrote large chunks about her husband and their conflicts overchild rearing. But she gave him approval on every page, and when he kept insisting she was putting words in his mouth, it became easier to leave him out.

“It’s more my story,” she said. “I was the one that in a very overconfident immigrant way thought I knew exactly how to raise my kids. My husband was much more typical. He had a lot of anxiety, he didn’t think he knew all the right choices.” And, she said, “I was the one willing to put in the hours.”

In my family, I've had the over-the-top Amy-Chua role.

I had it with Jimmy, and I had it with C. (Not with Andrew.)

At one point, the entire household - Ed, M. (nanny), Christian (aide for Jimmy & Andrew & unofficial son) - were lined up in opposition to my four-year quest to teach C. math.

Today everyone's glad I did what I did.

Ms. Chua wrote most of the book in eight weeks, yet struggled with the end, she said, reflecting the East-West tug on her parenting. “It’s a work in progress,” she said. “On bad days I would say this method is terrible. I just need to give them freedom and choice. On good days, when Lulu would say: ‘I’m so glad you made me write that second draft of my essay. My teacher read it out loud,’ I think, I’ve got to stick to my guns.”

Retreat of the ‘Tiger Mother’
Published: January 14, 2011

That's where Amy Chua and I are different.

I am torn over not doing enough.

Not doing enough with C., and certainly not enough with Andrew.

And, heck, while I'm at it -- Jimmy could have used a couple more efforts to teach him to read, too!

Friday, January 14, 2011

extreme parenting

The New York Times has a group of responses to Amy Chua's "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior."

I thought two were interesting:

The Power of Conviction

Defining Success for Myself

Amazingly, no one has thought to ask Laurence Steinberg what he thinks. At this point, we have 50 years of research into what type of parenting produces great kids, but no one mentions it over at the Times.

multiple choice:

a) authoritarian
b) permissive
c) authoritative
d) disengaged

The answer is C.

linguistic authority and mental illness

As Mr. Loughner has tried to explain it in Web postings, English grammar is not merely usage that enjoys common acceptance. Rather, it is nothing less than a government conspiracy to control people’s minds. Perhaps more bizarre, even potentially troubling, is that he is not the only one out there clinging to this belief. Some grammarians say they hear it more often than you may think.

“It is completely off the wall,” said Patricia T. O’Conner, the author of several books on grammar, including “Woe Is I.”

“But I’m not actually that surprised,” said Ms. O’Conner, who also writes a blog,, with her husband, Stewart Kellerman. “I get mail once in a while from people who believe that it’s wrong to try to reinforce good English because it’s some kind of mind-control plot, and English teachers are at the bottom of this. For anyone to say that subject and verb should agree, for example, is an infringement of your freedoms, and you have a God-given right to speak and use whichever words you want, which of course you do.

“But they see it as some sort of plot to standardize people’s minds and make everyone robotically the same.”


Ben Zimmer, the “On Language” columnist for The New York Times Magazine, said he, too, had received letters talking of a “grand conspiracy.” He got them, in particular, when he was editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press.

“When people are confronted with linguistic authority of various kinds, whether it’s dictionaries or grammar books, the more conspiratorially minded may use that as evidence of some grand scheme, or something where people are pulling the strings behind the scenes and using language to do that,” Mr. Zimmer said.

Subjects and Verbs as Evil Plot
Published: January 13, 2011

court-ordered mental health evaluations in Arizona

In Arizona, people can be sent involuntarily for a mental health exam after any concerned party applies for a court-ordered evaluation, which can lead to mandated treatment.

Stella Bay, the police chief for Pima, said the college could initiate an involuntary evaluation only if a student posed “an imminent danger.”

But that assertion seemed to reflect a misunderstanding of the state’s laws regarding involuntary evaluations. Dr. Waterman, of the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corporation, said a mandated evaluation required only some evidence of danger. “It’s a broader standard,” she said. “And it costs nothing to make a phone call and talk about it and consult with a professional.”

Since the weekend shootings, the number of petitions for mandated exams at Dr. Waterman’s clinic has increased, she said, presumably because of wide awareness of the issue now. In fact, Ms. Bay called in a case on Monday about a Pima student, Dr. Waterman said. The police brought the student right to a hospital to be evaluated.

College’s Policy on Troubled Students Raises Questions
Published: January 13, 2011

and see: A Predictable Tragedy in Arizona by E. Fuller Torrey

Science Teachers Should Know The Content They Teach

The National Council on Teacher Quality finds the level of science content knowledge demonstrated by teachers in many states to be unacceptably low. Connecticut received the lowest score possible: a red light. You can read more at my blog post here:

Connecticut's High School Science Teacher Certification Found Wanting

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chinese moms, part 5

Today I finally got through the basal ganglia article I was trying to read.

Then realized the reason I'm so captivated by Chinese moms is that I desperately need one myself.

Speaking of desperation, Piers Steel's book is out!

The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done

and see... structured procrastination

Chinese moms, part 4

C. and I saw this a while back & he's been quoting it to me ever since.

I'm printing out a copy of the Chinese mom story for him to read now ---

Putting the brakes on school spending in New York State

Catherine alerted me to this:
5 Troubling Property Tax Facts
  1. Property tax levies in New York grew by 73 percent from 1998 to 2008—more than twice the rate of inflation during that period.
  2. New York has the second highest combined state and local taxes in the nation and the highest local taxes in America as a percentage of personal income —79 percent above the national average.
  3. The median property taxes paid by New Yorkers are 96 percent above the national median.
  4. When measured in absolute dollars paid, Westchester (1st), Nassau (2nd) and Rockland (5th) counties are among the 5 highest taxed counties in the nation.
  5. When property taxes are measured as a percentage of home value over a three year period, the top sixteen counties in the nation are all in Upstate New York.

New York State school districts and municipalities are facing unrealistically large property tax increases this coming year, caused partly by "skyrocketing" pension costs.  The town portion of my property taxes will increase by over 16% this year.  It is simply unsustainable, and Governor Cuomo has proposed a property tax cap of 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.  If this cap is enacted, schools will be forced to make painful spending cuts.  But they have countered that any tax cap must be coupled with mandate relief.
The group is offering a host of recommendations to lower the mandates on schools. Among them is a one-year freeze on the salaries of school and public employees. They also want public employees to contribute at least 10 percent toward the cost of health insurance and establish a new 401k-type pension tier.
Mandate relief is needed.  Something’s gotta give.

(Cross posted at Education Quick Takes)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Worst charter school in New York City

Ross Global Academy's interdisciplinary curriculum is taught through an integrated approach that connects all disciplines through a cultural history core. The following outlines the cultural history spiral at the center of the RGACS curriculum. The curriculum is aligned to New York State standards and is designed to prepare students for entrance into a four-year college
Ross Global Academy
Teach the disciplines.

And, from the department of greatest hits: histogeomegraph: preventing the tragedy of content isolation

spiral curriculum in a charter school

When Courtney Sale Ross, the widow of Steve Ross, the former C.E.O. of Time Warner, and the founder of the Ross Global Academy, a charter school in the East Village, was told, last month, to expect a 9 A.M. phone call from the outgoing New York City schools chancellor, Joel Klein, she feared that it would not bring good news. Her academy, which was founded five years ago amid considerable fanfare—it promised a so-called spiral curriculum, encompassing the history of civilization across all cultures, and also offered instruction in eating organically and yoga—recently had the distinction of getting the worst progress report of any charter school in the city, with seventy-five per cent of its students failing English and seventy per cent of them failing math. The school, into which Ross and members of her board have poured eight million dollars of their own money, has had six principals, has occupied three locations, and lost three-quarters of its teachers last year; its charter is up for renewal this month. At eight-thirty on the appointed morning, Ross’s phone rang; on the line was Marc Sternberg, a deputy chancellor. “He said the most extraordinary thing,” Ross recalled last week. “He said, ‘I am informing you that the Department of Education is going to recommend a non-renewal.’
The New Yorker
by Rebecca Mead
January 17, 2011
If only someone would say the same to my district's "department of curriculum."

And see: The Trouble with Math by Ralph Abraham (pdf file)

And so much more: multiple intelligences, spirals, innovation, the whole child.... The Concept of Spiral Curriculum at Ross School

Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World: The Ross School Model and Education for the Global Era

Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World: The Ross School Model and Education for the Global Era

Chinese moms, part 3

my favorite passage:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
by Amy Chua
JANUARY 8, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

news from nowhere

administration spends $50K without board vote

Amy Chua on NPR

Check it out . . . Amy Chua is being interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show . . . it gives some color to the previous post.

CT's Education Budget Crisis

Last year, in an effort to win Race to the Top money, Connecticut passed a flurry of new laws affecting education. One of these added new high school graduation requirements. Now, having failed to snag any of those federal dollars, CT faces the difficult prospect of paying for the reforms they committed to. One idea is to make them voluntary and allow towns to vote with their feet on implementation. Read the blog post here:

New High School Graduation Requirements -- Should they be Voluntary?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Remedies For Willies

A commenter in my previous post, Willies Water Slides, made the cogent point to be careful what you wish for. It turns out that what you wish for is one of the keys to successfully getting a court to allow the suit in the first place. Generally, you can't sue for monetary damages. The reasoning is that individuals should never be in a position to force a government entity to take an action that favors them. I guess you don't want the tail wagging the dog.

But what if you sue to stop the government from doing something to you? What if the remedy you seek is to simply ask the government to stop doing something to you? What if the remedy is to ask the government to stop forcing you to submit your kids to the gross negligence that is the school system?

Your goal could be to simply stop them from spending whatever your dollars per student number is in their demonstrably bad system. Let's say it's $10K per head, so you ask for them to allow you to designate where they spend that $10K. OK, it's a voucher. But, it's a voucher as a remedy in a law suit. The plaintiff is not asking government to spend more or change their system in any way. You just want your kid back, with the money they would have spent on them anyway.

All you're doing is enjoining them from spending the plaintiffs dough at Willies. You're not wagging the dog, just stopping the dog from pooping on your kids.

Chinese moms, pushy moms, & U.S. schools

Here in Irvington, we don't have a lot of Chinese moms, but we do have "pushy" moms.

Our superintendent of schools disapproves.*

*In this post to the Irvington Parents Forum, I was responding to a terrific post by a fellow parent & a h.s. English teacher, who was himself responding to a planned showing of Race to Nowhere.

Chinese moms, part 2

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
JANUARY 8, 2011
By Amy Chua
So true!

Love it!

And I say that as a Real American who thinks learning should be fun, or at least interesting, as often as possible.

Ed hadn't heard about the article, and when he read it over the breakfast table this morning, he laughed all the way through. He guffawed when he got to this part:
Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Ed said, "That's pretty much how I feel about C. throwing shot put."

Back story:

This winter C. decided to join the track team & throw the shot put. He has never thrown the shot put before, and he's not good at throwing the shot put. But he's on the team.

Being on the team means getting up at 5am to catch the train to his school for practice -- this during junior year, when "grades count," AND in the wake of a slide in his grades last fall.*

C's original idea, naturally, was that either Ed or I would rise with him at 5am and drive him to the Bronx. Who wants to walk to the station at 5am in the winter?


I may be an abject failure as a Chinese mom, but I am not a fool.

Ed, on the other hand, after returning from 2 1/2 weeks in Paris, during which time I had full responsibility for the morning wrestling match with Andrew, told C. he would drive him to school, leaving me to carry on shouldering full responsibility for the morning wrestling match with Andrew.

I put the kibosh on that one.

unconditional support

Like all American teenagers, it seems, C. is well aware of his right to unconditional parental support in all things. At some point while Ed was away, C. gave me a reproachful look and said: "I feel bad that you and Daddy don't support me throwing the shot put."

"Too bad," I said. "I have no interest in shot put."

C.: "But you supported me playing tennis."

Me: "I have no interest in tennis, either."**

C.: "That's true."

At this point, where school and school activities are concerned, I am interested in one thing.

Two things, actually.

Good grades and high SAT scores.

* His grades have now come back up. If they hadn't, he wouldn't be throwing the shot put.
** By which I mean to say I have no interest in C. winning tennis matches, although I spent years forcing him to take tennis lessons. I am sooooo not a Chinese mom. A Chinese mom forces her kids to do stuff so they can excel. I forced my kid to take tennis because "a boy needs a sport" and "you can play tennis when you're old."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Zig Engelmann's Funnix free during January

I didn't see this mentioned earlier on KTM (though my pardons if I missed it), but Zig Engelmann's entire 2 year Funnix phonics teaching sequence is being offered free (no, really - no strings attached) during the month of January. Go to for more details.

Note: You will need about 2 gigs free on your computer for the files.

Willies Water Slides

What would the community response be if you had a water slide company in town that hurt most of its customers? Let's say two thirds of its customers are hurt in the normal course of using 'Willies Water Slides'. Would you shut 'em down? Would you sue them for gross negligence? Would you go there for entertainment?

In the law there's a concept of gross negligence defined as depraved indifference. Failing to post exit signs is negligence. Chaining the exit doors is gross negligence. It's a craven act. It's depraved. One child hurt, out of a hundred, at Willies could be due to negligence. Two out of three? Well that's depraved. You wouldn't stand for it.

Shift gears. In public education something like 30% of high school students don't graduate. 35% of entering college students are receiving some form of remediation. Two out of three of our kids are being damaged by the public education system. It's really no different than Willies is it? Why is our response to this travesty so muted? Actually is there any response at all? Not really.

Every year our political 'leadership' acknowledges the failure as evidenced by their renewed requests for increases in budget to fix the problems. Every year the evidence is that the 'water slide' is still hurting kids. Every year administrators cycle kids through the demonstrably failed system, wishing for a different result. Wouldn't reasonable people agree that this is a depraved act of indifference?

Why do we let this go on? Shouldn't the community response to this negligent act be as loud and active as it it would be if 'Willies' was hurting your kids?

WSJ report on Jared Loughner in math class

In an elementary algebra class at the college taught by math instructor Ben McGahee in the summer of 2010, Mr. Loughner was an immediate nuisance and often nonsensical, Mr. McGahee said. On the first day of class he blurted out, "How can you deny math instead of accepting it?"

"The other students were concerned after class," Mr. McGahee said. "They said he was red in the face, shaking."

On his first test Mr. Loughner wrote "Mayhem Fest!!!" in large letters, Mr. McGahee said.

Mr. McGahee said he appealed to counselors and a dean to have Mr. Loughner removed from his class on several occasions.

"I was pretty concerned about what he was capable of doing," Mr. McGahee said. "They said there's nothing we can do, he hasn't brought a weapon, he hasn't taken any action."

Mr. McGahee said that for the first week of class, a campus police officer was stationed outside the room, which Mr. McGahee understood was because Mr. Loughner was known to be troubled.

But school spokesman Paul Schwalbach said a campus officer was never assigned to Mr. Loughner.

"He was a disruptive and an odd, strange sort of character in the class," Mr. Schwalbach said. "He wasn't dangerous."

Mr. Loughner finally left Mr. McGahee's class during the third week following a heated confrontation that involved the campus officer, a dean and a counselor, according to Mc.Gahee and Mr. Schwalbach.

Mr. Schwalbach said the outbursts in classrooms and libraries didn't indicate to school officials a mental health problem or other concerns that would draw in local authorities outside of the school.

In September, after five run-ins with campus police for disruptive behavior and the discovery of rantings on YouTube, Mr. Loughner was issued a suspension letter, delivered by police officers to Mr. Loughner's home. After he had already withdrawn from the school, the college sent him a letter informing him he would have to take a mental health exam if he were to return.

Suspect Showed Signs of Imbalance
JANUARY 10, 2011, 3:42 A.M. ET
I'm wondering how Loughner behaved in other classes.

For my money, E. Fuller Torrey is the person to read on this subject:

The Seriously Ill and the Worried Well
Make Kendra's Law Permanent by E. Fuller Torrey

speaking of China

Nutrition Advice From the China Study
by Tara Parker Pope
January 7, 2011, 12:40 pm

The China Study is my weight-loss and don't-die-of-diabetes Bible.

My other favorite: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure

Barney adopts a healthy new eating style
Bill Clinton, vegan
speaking of China...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

as a Chinese mom, I am an abject failure

Fabulous article in the WSJ today - !
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
JANUARY 8, 2011

Two new Education Blogs

Two new education blogs have joined the fray. Full disclosure: I'm helping create the "Throwing Curves" blog. Throwing Curves is a project between a friend and I that are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but find a lot of common ground when we start to talk about education. I hope you'll join us. We have a Connecticut focus, but are known to take on national issues whenever the whim strikes us.

The other is "Education Quick Takes" and is giving us lots of short blurbs about education news and policy. It's worth the click. I have no connection to Education Quick Takes, other than as a reader.