That whole ‘State Education’ thing…perhaps we should re-think this!

When teachers are disciplined – perhaps fired – for teaching students that they have rights  and freedoms under the Constitution….

It’s time to re-think this badly run experiment in State indoctrination!

In completely unrelated news:  Waterloo University is looking for a new ‘Director of Equity’.  Should I apply?

‘Red Cabbage Does Science’ – an update on ‘Do Science, Tanzania’

Science is fun.

Scientific method disciplines the mind – and lets people achieve.  All kinds of ‘achieve’!

Which is a good thing.

In February, I blogged about a fund-raiser for ‘Do Science, Tanzania’: a one-woman effort to bring science to kids in Moshi, Tanzania, by bringing over a lending-library of scientific equipment.

Here is an update on how things are going:  Ms. Hall has settled in her temporary home in Tanzania and has started holding workshops for the local high-school science teachers with the excellent and accessible ‘Red Cabbage ph indicator’ lab.

For some of these kids, I truly do forsee a pot of gold at the end of the spectrum!

Do Science, Tanzania

So much in our world is messed up, it sometimes leaves us feeling powerless to do something about it.

Well, don’t give up!

A singlr person CAN make a difference!

Which is why I’d like to tell you about ‘Do Science, Tanzania’.

This is the brainchild of an Ottawa Physics teacher, Diana Hall, and her efforts are supported by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Vernier Software and Technology, Valley Microscope, her current and former students with their families and other caring individual people.

The aim of the program?


The best way to get kids interested in science is to make it possible for them to DO science.

Do Science, Tanzania, aims to do exactly that by building a lending library of science equipment and making it available to science teachers in Moshi, Tanzania.  This will permit the equipment to reach, educate and inspire many more students than if it were sent to one single school…

Looking at their ‘Wishing Well’, one can see their requests are humble – yet have the potential to have a tremendous impact, a truly big bang for the buck.  In addition to asking for donations of any science classroom equipment, they still need:

  • 3- Microscopes – 3 x $250
  • Glassware (beakers, cylinders, test tubes etc.) – $200
  • Microscope Slides – $25
  • Power Supply – $250
  • Electronic Balance – 2 x $10
  • Wave Generator – $250
  • White Boards – $50
  • White Board Markers – $50
  • Calculators – 25 x $5 (used calculators also useful)
  • Slinkies – 5 x $15
  • Baggage Fees for Shipping Science Equipment – 3 x $200 per bag

Ms. Hall is heading to Tanzania soon, hopefully with her lending library of science equipment bursting at the seams.  If you’d like to find out how to help, click here to find out more.

Or, come to their dinner/social on Friday 11th, 2011.


Aspeis need to know what their assignment actually is

Lately, I have neglected posting on the topic of Aspergers.  Still, judging by the relative traffic among my posts, there is a need for more information there:  both Aspies and educators are still looking for help.

Last December, I received the following comment:

I have an Aspie student, and when asked to produce 2 sentences about a topic in class, will just sit and think the entire period producing nothing… (I do believe that he is thinking about the topic). The topic has been given to student prior to class. Is this an unreasonable task? This is an 7th grade gifted autistic student.

I understand the perfectionism issue and that they may be unsure that it is good enough to put on paper, but in an educational setting I would like some suggestions to assist the regular Language Arts teacher. This is a graded assignment to be done in class.

Thanks in advance for any ideas you may have.

Deb Herr
Special Education Teacher

While I gave a quick reply at that time, this is a very important point which deserves a lot of attention.  So, I had attempted to write up a proper response.

It wasn’t right – so I edited t.

Then I fixed it up some.

Then t needed shortening down a bit.  So, I cut a bunch of stuff out.

Too much of the key ‘stuff’ was gone.  I started a re-write.  From scratch…

…and so on, and so on.

It is now October.  I have still not published the post – it is not ‘right’ yet!!!!

NO, I am NOT joking!

So, now, I will publish the draft I have, without re-reading it, with all the flaws, errors, sentence fragments and all – or I will NEVER publish this…

Here it goes:

Both my sons are in the gifted program.  One has gone through grade 7 several years ago, one is going to get there in not too distant a future – so, I am familiar with the level of development of a gifted Aspie of that age group.

Just to be sure, I asked my older son if he remembered being in that situation himself.  He did…and was in perfect agreement with me as to what thought-processes this student would be going through: trying to figure out what the assignment means!

Being in the gifted program means the student is smart.  By the time they get to grade 7, smart Aspies understand perfectly well that when a teacher asks for ‘any two sentences on a topic’, the absolutely last thing this means is any two sentences on a topic’!

Experience would have taught them that…by now.  And not in a nice way.

But, it would not have taught them what it is that the teacher/assignment does mean – or how to guess it….

So, I think it most likely that the student spent the time trying to figure out what the assignment actually was!  And, with so little information provided to the student, I really don’t see how anyone could figure it out!

Therefore, my answer is that yes, it is unreasonable an Aspie or an Autie gifted student, in grade 7, to complete an assignment of ‘writing 2 sentences on a given topic‘.


  • The assignment is non-specific.
  • The parameters are not defined.
  • The goals of the assignment are not known.
  • The expectations are unclear (or, in this case, clearly misrepresented).


There IS a solution!

Aspies – and high-functioning Auties – are very good at meeting very specific goals.  I know that teachers are not used to approaching teaching this way, but, they would get WAY better results from this class of students if they were absolutely clear with them what the point of the assignment is, what the goal is, and what the evaluation criteria will be.

This worked for me – and my sons, as well as a few other kids I worked with:

First, we establish that in order to produce marks, teachers have to produce metrics:  marks which measure the student’s skill-set development in several areas.  This may seem like a game, but, because teachers have to work within such a large system, metrics were required.  And, these metrics are used to evaluate the student.

To an Aspie/Autie student, this can be an important revelation.  It is not an intuitive leap, to conclude this, because we usually believe what we are told – and from the earliest age, we are told that the point of school is to learn.  But, of course, it isn’t!  The point of school is to PROVE what we have learned… There is no place in school for ‘learning’ without proving (through earning marks) that/what one has learned.

Explaining that the point of doing assignments is to ‘earn points/marks’ can be liberating for an Aspie student.  After all, ‘getting on the high-score board’ is possible, even if one has not yet ‘defeated the boss’!

Once this groundwork has been laid, it is important to explain both the teacher’s goals for this assignment (what the teacher will be measuring for the needed metrics) and the student’s goals (what bits of what will earn points/marks).   This bit can be hard on teachers, because they have to explain both the explicit goals and the implied ones – most teachers do not go through this step explicitly themselves.

Yes – most assignments at the grade 7 level come with a ‘marking rubric’.  At least, in my area they do.  But these are so filled with vague notions and ‘weasel-words’ that they are worse than useless!  “The student demonstrated some understanding…. The student demonstrated good understanding…”  What the hell does THAT mean?

What is the difference between ‘little’ and ‘some’ and ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ in this context – and HOW is it measured?

Obviously, I can tell that ‘excellent’ will get a higher grade than ‘poor’ – but how do I know what demonstrates ‘excellent’ and what demonstrates ‘poor’ – or any of the other non-specific terms used – in this particular instance, to the satisfaction of this particular teacher?

If the teacher cannot stand there and provide a specific, accurate answer on how the grading will be done – how can the student be expected to guess what expectations to perform to?

This is so much easier for maths and sciences.  When a teacher assigns a problem, the student knows not just WHAT ‘the right answer is’ – she/he knows what form the answer is to take.

This is woefully not true of ‘soft’ subjects.  Not only do different teachers consider completely different ‘things’ to be ‘the right’ answer (try writing up interpretation of renaissance poetry for a ‘born-again’ teacher), the format itself is undefined….  Yet you are judged how your performance measures up to something the teacher cannot quantitatively define:  expectations!

It seems criminal that ‘educators’ are blind to this…

Meep! MEEP!

One of the most embarrassing episodes in the history of the USA are the ‘Salem Witch Trials‘.

The very home of one of the people executed for practicing ‘witchcraft’ , Rebecca Nurse, has been turned into a museum.  It stands in today’s town of Danvers, MA, which was originally settled as ‘Salem Village’.

It seems that, once again, trouble is brewing in this quaint little town.

This time, it is not the Devil who is afflicting young people, but none other than the lovable-appearing Muppet, Beaker!

The affliction of the town’s young people – which causes them to exclaim ‘Meep!’ without provocation – has become so severe that the administrators of the Danvers High School have been forced to resort to banning the word, both written and spoken!

So, when such a posession by evil (?)  Muppet begun to sweep through the youth population (some students even said ‘Meep’ AT a teacher!), how was the school to protect the students not yet infected into channeling this spirit?  Obviously, the school had to take the strongest possible steps!  According to news reports, the school instituted a rule (clearly communicated to all parents) that any student who utters this sound ‘Meep!’, or even wears an article of clothing with the word ‘Meep!’ on it, will face expulsion from school!  Oh, and the police will be notified, too…

After all, what else could they do?  Now, even MORE young people were affected than the LAST time – and they had to resort to ‘witch trial’ and executions then!!!

Could they learn a lesson from history?

Or, perhaps, educational professionals might have some of them ‘professional educational tools’ they could employ?

…don’t be ridiculous – that would mean actually doing their job!

They did what any authority in power these days seems to think is the ‘best’ way to deal with something they don’t like:  BAN IT!!!

Of course, this hit the blogosphere pretty fast:  I read about it on Dvorak Uncensored.  They carry a quote from a lawyer who says she sent an email stating ‘Meep!’ (the address is publicly available on the school’s website, right margin) to the principal, vice principal and administrator, only to get a reply from the VP that her email has, indeed, been forwarded to the local police department….

This is serious matter:  curbing the freedom of speech of students is nothing to Tinker with!  The only circumstances – according to the US Supreme Court – that a student’s right to free speech may be abridged on public school grounds is if the ‘speech’ is ‘sexually explicit’ or if it ‘promotes the use of illegal substances’….  Of course, I am no lawyer, but, in my never-humble-opinion, the word ‘Meep!’ does not do either!

Despite the clear rules of law, the school leadership has deemed this offensive word, ‘Meep!’, to be such a danger and such a disruption, no amount of force is unjustified in getting rid of it!

Welcome to the Salem Muppet Hunt!

When I told my own kids about this situation, both my sons shouted out (simultaneously) “Reason!” and “Common Sense!”  The point being, if the teens in Danvers High switched to saying ‘Reason!’ or ‘Common Sense’ in the same manner they are now using the term ‘Meep!’, would the school ban ‘Reason!’ and ‘Common Sense!’ ?

Some clever people (sorry, I lost the link) have suggested that, perhaps, the students might stop saying ‘Meep!’, but each and every one of them could, say, accidentally drop a textbook at 10:45 each and every day…. accidents DO happen….

Personally, I think they ought to continue the behaviour, but change ‘Meep!’  sound to ‘Baaaaaaaaah!’  After all, if the school WANTS them to behave like sheep, they might as well SOUND like sheep!

Now, I did not grow up with the Muppets:  right generation, wrong continent.  But, my husband did.  And, he likes Beaker!  He has the audacity to think that Beaker, contrary to the Danvers High administrators, is not actually evil!  He asked me to send them this message (I recommend you turn the volume down – the music is seriously ‘wussy’, to the point of ‘ear-bleed-causing’, but the video does make the point):  DON’T FEAR THE BEAKER!!!

Of course, there are those conspiracy-minded folk who think that the reason that the school had banned ‘Meep!’ is because during the 2008 US Presidential election, the Muppet Show endorsed Beaker for President – against Obama-Kermit!  And that this is just political payback by Obama-Kermit cronies…  Personally, I don’t believe a word of that!  Though, if you would like adirect  confirmation that this ‘conspiracy theory’ is ludicrous, perhaps you could ask the Danvers High School principal, Thomas Murray, directly.  His email is )

All I have to say to the pedagogues of Danvers High:


Oh, and:  Meep! MEEP!

McGuinty’s ‘all-day schooling’ harms low-income women

This rant is a follow up to my State is Mother, State is Father… and Why young kids should not be ‘institutionalized’.

Why the rant?

The Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, had – on the advice of an ‘educator’ – suggested that children should be put in schools from 4 years of age:  from 7:30 in the morning to 6 in the evening (yes, that is a 10.5 hour work-day for the child), 50 weeks per year (only 2 weeks of holidays per year)…

There are many motives for doing this:  McGuinty’s announcement said that he would begin implementing this program in areas where school enrolement was falling, and in economically depressed areas.

In other words:  Canadians are having fewer children, so the school enrollment is falling.  That means fewer jobs for teachers – like the premier’s wife!  So, he is doing something about it: if you have fewer children going to school, then to keep the number of teaching jobs up (or even raise it), you must increase the number of hours the kids are kept there!

This is a make-work-for-teachers program! Nothing more!

The kids are just pawns!

What will be the impact on our society?  It will make it more and more difficult for parents to look after their children themselves… It will be another nail in the coffin of the ‘nuclear family’!

Please, consider the following:

Our tax system penalizes families which choose to have one parent stay at home to raise their kids.  These families are taxed at a much higher rate than those who choose to use daycare (the cost of which is, in many cases, also subsidized from taxpayer dollars).

In order to make ends meet, many young mothers (it is mostly mothers) who choose to stay home to raise their young children will start a small, home-based daycare.  They’ll take in two or three other kids, pick them up from the schoolbus and care for them after school in their home.  I have seen these home based daycares – several of them.

They are loving homes and, in most cases, the care-giver and the child develop strong bonds. This is good:  small, home-based daycares mimic the ‘extended family’ scenario in which children have traditionally grown up and which, in my never-humble-opinion, is the best social setting for the healthy social growth of a young child.

What will happen under the newly proposed McGuinty plan?

McGuinty will have destroyed thousands of small, women-run business!

McGuinty will take away their jobs and give them to the teachers!

Because now, parents will not pay a neighbour or a friend to look after their child:  it will be cheaper and more ‘convenient’ to just put them into school for 10.5 hours!  And the taxpayers will pay for it all – so, why not?

And the women whose daycare income (now gone) used to allow them to stay at home will have to pay higher taxes, to pay the salaries of teachers (who get paid much, much more per hour than the caregiver was) who stole her job from her!!!

These women will be forced to work outside of home to make ends meet….and their own children will end up in the educational institution as well…because they will no longer be able to afford to look after them themselves.

In one punch, McGuinty has destroyed the ability of many parents to raise their kids themselves by depriving them of income and raising their taxes all at once!

People do not get rich running small, home-based daycares!  Their income is pretty low – just enough to let them ‘make ends meet’, so they CAN raise their children themselves, with the love their children deserve!

Taking away from low-income women and giving to the fat-cat unions!  That is ‘education – McGuinty style’!

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State is Mother, State is Father…

My dog loves the sofa.  He also loves blankets.

He absolutely relishes sleeping on the sofa – and this is one dog that has elevated ‘sleeping’ into an art form. Really – I have known many dogs, and owned a few, but I have never met a dog who relishes sleep like this crazy canine does!

Also, he does not like strangers to sit on his the sofa.  He’ll watch to see if the person gets up for some reason – even for a moment, sneak in behind them, steal the spot and immediately start pretending that he’s asleep, has been asleep in that spot for a very long time, and why is everyone getting all worked up about this?

He also loves to steal blankets:  and has been known to quietly grab a corner and, slowly but steadily, sneak off with the blanket of an unwary person lying down on the sofa, watching TV late at night.

When my son and I came home Monday, he greeted us with great enthusiasm.  He slithered off the sofa, stretched slowly and thoroughly, and wandered over to the front hallway to greet us.  Honestly – this passes as ‘enthusiastic’ from him:  sometimes, he just lifts his head off the sofa’s arm-rest and wags his tail a tiny bit to show he’s noticed you came in.

So, today’s was an enthusiastic greeting!  Then, after he followed me to the kitchen and stopped in front of the fridge, hoping that his beautiful brown eyes would hypnotize me to give him a pepperette, when – suddenly and visibly – a though struck him.

Quite suddenly, he abandoned begging communicating and, with unusual swiftness, he ran to the living room.  OK, we knew when we adopted him that he was ‘special’ and, though incredibly good natured, he was no border collie in the brain department – so I thought nothing of it.

Later, when I came into the living room, I noticed that he was not lying down on the sofa, but on a chair.  And he was not really lying down in his usual way… instead, he was more ‘splayed’:  all four paws spread as far apart as possible, his centre of gravity as low as he could get it.  His head was not resting, but just slightly elevated in a high-strung sort of way.  And his eyes…

His eyes were priceless!  They were ‘big’ – his ‘vigilant look’ (well, as vigilant as he gets) – with lots of ‘white’ showing.  And they were flashing, side to side – in a particularly self-pleased way!

Had his behaviour not been so ‘obvious’, I would not have looked around too closely to see what he was doing.  But, his very demeanour gave away that he was ‘being tricky’:  that he had ‘done’ something naughty and thought he was getting away with it!

It turns out that my son – in a fit of insomnia – brought his blanket down, watched some TV, then forgot his blanket on the chair.  The dog knows ‘bed blankets’ are off limits to him:  but this blanket was not on a bed, was it?  So he lay down on it, spread his body as wide as possible to hide the fact that he was indeed occuppying a ‘bed blenket’ which was currently ‘not a bed blanket’…  The dog was very, very pleased with himself!

So, what does this story have to do with my post today?

Yes, it was a bit of a long segway, and this story took me a few days to write up, but…

Monday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty made an announcement.  Some person whose makes his living ‘educating children’ released a report today, saying that ‘children need more educating’!

Why, that is almost as convincing as a ‘Cure-all’ salesman saying this potion in this here bottle will ‘cure all’!!!  Better buy a few!!!

And, Mr. McGuinty, he is so concerned about the welfare of children, he’ll have to do what is best for all of the children! (Will somebody please shut up the parents of those pesky Autistic kids?  They’re not even photogenic:  no photo-ops from that lot!)

As I was saying:  Mr. McGuinty, he is so caring, he only wants what is best for the children!  And since that report by a guy who gets rich by sticking EVERY child into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ ‘institutions of teaching’, that is exactly what this kind and caring man announced he would do!!!

Aside:  make no mistake!  Our public schools are ‘institutions of teaching’, NOT ‘institutions of learning’!!!  They are centered around the needs and desires of teachers, whose powerful union regularly holds the whole population hostage by refusing to ‘teach’ unless it is ‘on their terms’ – ONLY!  Therefore, schedules, methodology, material and just about every aspect of ‘teaching’ you can name is tailored to suit the comfort of teachers.  Students, who have no union to represent them, are just pawns to be cycled through the system – a pesky annoyance to be minimized and with which the teachers have to put up with as a minor part of this ‘education system’…

So, what is it that this caring, loving man (who is reportedly married to a teachers’ union activist) proposing to do???

He wants to institutionalize our children for 10.5 hours a day, 5-days per week, 50 weeks per year, from toddlerhood on!!!

Of course, the words he used to make his announcement were not as direct as my statement of it is – but the meaning is identical.  His version is all about ‘what is best for the children’!  And he has that ‘study’ (by a guy who, among others, will have an increased revenue stream if McGuinty institutes) this to back him up!

Here is the video – I invite you to watch the body language:

Did you notice it?

The way he shifts his eyes, the way he enunciates certain words, the way he uses his whole body to help him spit out some ‘concepts’?

It’s that SAME body language my not-so-bright (but way more lovable than McGuinty) dog used when he was trying to ‘pull one over’!

This sent me ‘looking for’ what it is that is ‘the loophole’ here:  what is this man ‘pulling over’ on us?

I’ll rant more on this tomorrow….

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