Wednesday, December 24, 2008

For while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, Thine Almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction.

-Book of Wisdom, 18:14-15

Sunday, December 21, 2008

220 of 238 people found the following review ... energetic

In the post below, I link to the text Offspring #1 will apparently be using in her Real Analysis class. Just to see if it would help me grasp what on earth "real analysis" might mean, I read the Amazon reviews, and found this one. Amusing reading, even if it does leave me no closer to understanding the topic than before, and pitifully glad to have been a liberal arts major.
OK... Deep breaths everybody...

It is not possible to overstate how good this book is. I tried to give it uncountably many stars but they only have five. Five is an insult. I'm sorry Dr. Rudin...

This book is a good reference but let me tell you what it's really good for. You have taken all the lower division courses. You have taken that "transition to proof writing" class in number theory, or linear algebra, or logic, or discrete math, or whatever they do at your institution of higher learning. You can tell a contrapositive from a proof by contradiction. You can explain to your grandma why there are more real numbers than rationals. Now it's time to get serious.

Get this book. Start at page one. Read until you come to the word Theorem. Do not read the proof. Prove it yourself. Or at least try. If you get stuck read a line or two until you see what to do.

Thrust, repeat.

If you make it through the first six or seven chapters like this then there shall be no power in the verse that can stop you. Enjoy graduate school. You're half way there.

Now some people complain about this book being too hard. Don't listen to them. They are just trying to pull you down and keep you from your true destiny. They are the same people who try to sell you TVs and lobotomies.

"The material is not motivated." Not motivated? Judas just stick a dagger in my heart. This material needs no motivation. Just do it. Faith will come. He's teaching you analysis. Not selling you a used car. By the time you are ready to read this book you should not need motivation from the author as to why you need to know analysis. You should just feel a burning in your chest that can only be quenched by arguments involving an arbitrary sequence {x_n} that converges to x in X.

Finally, some people complain about the level of abstraction, which let me just say is not that high. If you want to see abstraction grab a copy of Spanier's 'Algebraic Topology' and stare at it for about an hour. Then open 'Baby Rudin' up again. I promise you the feeling you get when you sit in a hottub for like twenty minutes and then jump back in the pool. Invigorating.

No but really. Anyone who passes you an analysis book that does not say the words metric space, and have the chaptor on topology before the chaptor on limits is doing you no favors. You need to know what compactness is when you get out of an analysis course. And it's lunacy to start talking about differentiation without it. It's possible, sure, but it's a waste of time and energy. To say a continuous function is one where the inverse image of open sets is open is way cooler than that epsilon delta stuff. Then you prove the epsilon delta thing as a theorem. Hows that for motivation?

Anyway, if this review comes off as combative that's because it is. It's unethical to use another text for an undergraduate real analysis class. It insults and short changes the students. Sure it was OK before Rudin wrote the thing, but now? Why spit on your luck? And if you're a student and find the book too hard? Try harder. That's the point. If you did not crave intellectual work why are you sitting in an analysis course? Dig in. It will make you a better person. Trust me.

Or you could just change your major back to engineering. It's more money and the books always have lots of nice pictures.

In conclusion: Thank you Dr. Rudin for your wonderfull book on analysis. You made a man of me.
(Spelling fixed. Hey, he's not an English major, is he?)
What We're Using: Teenage Edition

Hard to believe Offspring #1 will be a teenager when our new academic year starts in January. Her list of curriculum and resources is much shorter, since she has 45-60 minute study periods, while O. #2 has 15 minute lessons and lots and lots of being read to out loud.

Real Analysis. Whatever that may be.

Perrine's Structure, Sound, and Sense

American History
America: A Narrative History (vol. 1)

Rosetta Stone
Mastering German: Level 1

Apologia Exploring Creation with Chemistry. No, I'm not a Creationist.* Yes, I have to go through the Apologia texts in advance and redact out the "evidence suggests that man lived with the dinosaurs" parts. So go find me a good, systematic secular junior high level science curriculum that intelligently incorporates experiments doable at home. Nope, I couldn't either.

Artes Latinae: Level 2. Finishing up at last this semester, I hope.

Our Quest for Happiness: Through Christ Our Lord.

Now if you clicked on any of those links and blanched at the prices, keep in mind that a $100 text always has a last year's edition that is now $5. Used older editions are the way to go.

*I find it annoying that the word "creation" has been co-opted to mean a particular view of the origins of life and the planet to the point that some of us are left explaining that we believe in creation, but aren't Creationist.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What We're Using [FINAL UPDATE!]

Enough about First Communion gear. December is here, and that means the end of the Opinionated Household's academic year, and of course preparation for the next.

Offspring #2 just turned six, which means she's starting first grade (by our rules), and gets a formal curriculum.* For those who are thinking about their own elementary level curriculum, or anticipate doing so in the more normal summer months, I list below what I've got planned, with links and a few comments.
*All you unschoolers can just be quiet now.

Scope & Sequence: Core Knowledge Sequence: Content Guidelines for Grades K-8
This is the condensed form of those What Your Nth-Grader Needs to Know books. Where those books contain the academic material itself, Core Knowledge Sequence just lists it, and you find it using your own resources.

I'm not wedded to CKS, but it's quite useful for subjects I don't know much about (i.e. art and music), and breaks down general science and history/geography into manageable chunks for you, so you have an idea of a reasonable amount for a child of that age to cover for the year. Most importantly, it helps you spot gaps, so your child doesn't get to high school knowing nothing about the Seneca Falls Convention, or the Alhambra, or geometry.

Key to Decimals - Key to Geometry - Key to Algebra. Yeah, she's good at math.

Practice Problems
A Beka Arithmetic 4. I don't care for the A Beka math curriculum, but I like the workbooks for review and drill, as they're reasonably enjoyable, visually interesting, and less spirit-crushing than your usual stark page of practice problems.
Math Drillsters. Timed drill can, in fact, be fun.

Learning Language Arts Through Literature: The Red Book. LLATL, the best homeschool English curriculum (excepting their disastrously bad high school level books) with the worst name, continues to be our main English curriculum. Unfortunately, Common Sense Press years ago completely transformed the series, splitting one book into several, adding unnecessary readers, and hiking the price to eyebrow-raising levels. I use the older series, last published (I think) in 1994. It's getting a little hard to find: probably because the horrible spiral binding would fall apart fairly quickly. As usual, Bookfinder is your friend.

Wordly Wise. A new item for us this year, as Offspring #1 never needed any vocabulary practice.
The Golden Book Illustrated Dictionary. A dictionary you start reading and can't put down; from the Golden Age of Golden Press.

Grammar & Orthography
God's Gift of Language A (A Beka).

Literature: Poetry
Oxford Book of Poetry for Children (ed. Blishen). Wonderful collection; mostly poems not written for children.
The Golden Treasury of Poetry.
Kingfisher Treasury of Shakespeare's Verse.

Literature: Prose
The Golden Treasury of Myths and Legends, Adapted from the World's Classics. We focus on the Great Stories of western literature throughout the elementary years, and I love this compendium. Anne Terry White collects adaptations of several Greek myths, Beowulf, The Chanson of Roland, Tristram and Iseult, the Persian Epic of Kings, and the Volsunga Saga. The Greek section isn't as thorough as (say) the D'Aulaires, but it includes extensive and faithfully rendered passages from (for instance) Euripides and Sophocles.
The Iliad and the Odyssey. Illustrated by the Provensens, as was the book of myths above. Beautiful art, and an adapation that carefully preserves important passages, such as the campfires of the Trojans compared to the night stars.
Andrew Lang's Fairy Books. Skipping around among the books, reading for now just the stories that have become cultural touchstones.
Aesop's Fables for Children.
The Golden Children's Bible. I put this in the literature, not faith, section because it does the best job of any children's Bible out there of both (a) including as much Biblical material as possible, including some fairly obscure stories, and (b) preserving the sonorous language of the Authorized (King James) Version that has become integral to English literature. The editor's goal is not doctrinal but literary.
The Canterbury Tales. Again, from Golden Press.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And again ... Notable in these early '60's Golden Press books, besides the confidence that children should be read the classics of western literature, in suitable editions, with outstanding illustrations, is the confidence that difficult language can be used without confusing or putting off the young readers or listeners. There are words in these books I didn't know. And given the controversies over the vocabulary capabilities of modern Americans (Google "USCCB" and "ineffable" for some inside baseball here), it's interesting to see what levels children were, not so long ago, thought capable of rising to.
D'Aulaire's Book of Greek (Norse) Myths. Classics, and rightfully so, with abundant detail, though with less faithfulness to the literary sources than the Golden Book versions.

Rosetta Stone. Only the 'B' exercises, so she never sees how the words are written. Oral only. Fortunately we got Rosetta Stone back when you could get used copies on e-bay.

The Core Knowledge curriculum says we're supposed to start with animals and their habitats, which seems as good a subject as any. We'll be using different resources for different science subjects as the year progresses, of course, but I can't be bothered planning that far in advance.

Who Lives Here? Animals of the Pond, Forest, [etc.]. Gentle little introduction to critters and the swamps they live in.
The New Golden Treasury of Natural History.
About Animals. This is where I put in a plug for the 1975 edition of the Childcraft children's encyclopedia. It's a huge educational bargain; it's interesting, full of good information, recent enough to not have been made irrelevant by later events and discoveries, and book sellers can't get anyone to buy them. A nice set languished on the shelf of our local used bookstore for weeks recently, and was finally broken up and sold as individual volumes for 50 cents per.

History & Geography
A Child's History of the World.
The Golden Geography: A Child's Introduction to the World.
Through Golden Windows: Stories of Early America. As with the Childcraft volumes above, an example of an excellent, engaging, and educational book that, as part of a children's series, is dirt cheap as a separate volume.

Piano lessons. From someone who is not me.
Wee Sing (various) and the Adoremus hymnal.

Art Adventures at Home 1.
Look Again. Another reason to find the 1975 Childcraft. As far as I can tell, it's the only edition that includes this marvellous introduction to art and sculpture, both classic and modern.

Maria Montessori, The Mass Explained to Children.
Baltimore Catechism #1.
Little Visits With God.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And About Time, Too

People are noticing that the Newbery Award is your guide to depressing, issue-laden bibliotherapeutic yawn-inducers. Started with this post on the School Library Journal blog:
Right before the announcement of this year’s Newbery winner, I had two surprising encounters. First, a librarian at my local public library confessed that she had no interest in learning “what unreadable Newbery the committee was going to foist on us this year.” Then, a few weeks later at an education conference, I was startled to hear several teachers and media specialists admit they hadn’t bought a copy of the Newbery winner for the last few years. Why? “They don’t appeal to our children,” they explained patiently. (more)
Got linked by people falling over themselves to point out that they'd noticed the Emperor's sartorial deficiencies a long time ago, and finally the blogstorm got picked up on the Washington Post's radar. My favorite quote, from an ALA flack:
"The criterion has never been popularity," said Pat Scales, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. "It is about literary quality. We don't expect every child to like every book. How many adults have read all the Pulitzer Prize-winning books and the National Book Award winners and liked every one?"
You see, if the kids aren't devouring these books, it's because they're just too lowbrow, like their parents who probably wouldn't know a Pulitzer if it fell on their morning newspaper. It's the children's fault.

By the way, I hadn't realized that Hendrik van Loon's Story of Mankind was one of the early Newbery winners, back when ordinary librarians got to vote, and they just counted the ballots. Van Loon's book, though a bit dated now, is one of the lesser-known homeschooling standards, used by parents who would prefer an engaging world history written by a fairminded and respectful atheist to a dull, unreliable one by a religious partisan (yes, I mean A Beka and Anne Carroll, for a start).

(HT Joanne Jacobs)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Dresses

Less to say about First Communion Dresses, except that they're far less varied and interesting than they used to be. Few mothers sew anymore, and a dress bought off the rack at Burlington Coat Factory is going to look very much like most other dresses. An unfortunate corollary is that the quality of a girl's First Communion dress is now simply a function of how much money her family has to spend on it. When they were all handmade and no two dresses looked alike, how attractive, stylish, fancy, or ornamented your dress was, was simply a function of your mom's sewing skill and available time.

We were very fortunate in having Offspring #1's dress made by an extremely talented friend of the family (you can see it in the photo below). Consequently I haven't spent much time looking at dresses, but have dug up a few interesting tidbits. First, definitely click here for proof that life was better, or at least more interesting, in the days when your mother made your dress. Now whatever you think of the suitability of that particular piece of sartorial audacity for the solemn occasion, it takes a pretty cool mom to sew you a groovy minidress with the (briefly) trendy shoulder cape for your First Communion. All it lacks is white go-go boots.

Finally, it seems that in Switzerland and nearby areas, the custom at First Communion was (is? I'd like to know) to wear a simple alb and wooden cross--both boys and girls--and a white wimple for the girls instead of a veil. Given the huge amounts sometimes spent on First Communion gear and parties in some quarters, the disappearance of sewing as a cultural norm, and some scarily materialistic attitudes toward First Communion in some parts of the Catholic world, I wonder sometimes if this isn't the wisest course.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Seasonal Linguistics Humorvia Language Log