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My work with children brings me into steady contact with parents who are savvy about health issues and keen to provide the best for their families. So I have become accustomed to a scenario that often follows their answering a call on their cell phones. As they start to put the device away, they stop and ask, "By the way, do you know anything about the safety of these things? I've heard a lot of stuff but I just don't know."
If you are one of those parents, there is a new website that you will find to be an invaluable resource--for understanding not only cell phones but the many other electrical devices that pervade our lives. It is http://www.bioinitiative.org and it offers the BioInitiative Report.
Don't be put off by the title which has a lot of heavy sounding multi-syllable words ( A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields). It has been designed to contain a section specifically aimed at the general public. Here is some of the opening material from that section:
"You cannot see it, taste it or smell it, but it is one of the most pervasive environmental exposures in industrialized countries today. Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) or electromagnetic fields (EMFs) .... . Based on new studies, there is growing evidence among scientists and the public about possible health risks associated with these technologies."
The issue is fascinating, important and challenging. If your goal is to become an informed consumer and citizen, this is a great site to turn to.
Those were the frightening words used by Susan Goodkin and David Gold in their Washington Post article describing the way No Child Left Behind--the new educational law of the land--is leaving gifted children behind. They document the steady bleeding of the best and the brightest students from public schools as their parents place them in private schools.
Their actions are easy to understand. The new law essentially forces teachers to focus their efforts on bringing the lowest students to minimum proficiency. Just by itself, the ensuing neglect of the brightest students represents a massive problem. But things are even worse.
The focus on the lowest level children affects not only time, but also content. School days are taken up with basic drills in reading and math that offer nothing but boredom to the high-ability students.
Tragically, these problems were predictable--and predicted, and they have been reported since as early as 2003. From the parents' point of view, the only solution is PRIVATE SCHOOL where none of the strictures of No Child Left Behind are in effect.
From the nation's point of view, the term "disastrous" is far too mild to convey the crisis that this situation represents. Any citizen who cares about our country's future should get involved in any and every way possible so that we can begin to turn this catastrophic situation around.
From its inception, television has been the subject of steady criticism. Now researchers from the University of Washington have provided evidence that the damage that has been alleged to happen actually does. They found that popular baby videos such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby not only fail to create the hoped-for geniuses; they actually appear to hinder development. In the first two years of life, more hours of watching videos are associated with lower vocabulary scores.
Predictably, the report has provoked strong reactions from the producers of these programs. The Walt Disney Company has called on the university to retract their news release on the grounds that it is "misleading, irresponsible and derogatory."
Inevitably, these fights will continue. As Paddy Chayevsky, the playwright, said, â€œIt's the menace that everyone loves to hate but can't seem to live without.â€
Of course, lots of other comments have been made that are fun to mull over such as
If you read a lot of books you are considered well read. But if you watch a lot of TV, you're not considered well viewed. Lily Tomlin
I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. Groucho Marx
If it weren't for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all. Joey Adams
In general my children refuse to eat anything that hasn't danced on television. Erma Bombeck
All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching? Nicholas Johnson
Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn't have in your home. David Frost
In Beverly Hills... they don't throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows. Woody Allen
Television is the bland leading the bland. Murray Schumach
I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts. Orson Welles
TV is chewing gum for the eyes. Frank Lloyd Wright
Television is like the American toaster, you push the button and the same thing pops up everytime. Alfred Hitchcock
Radio is the theater of the mind; television is the theater of the mindless. Steve Allen
Television: A medium - so called because it is neither rare nor well done. Ernie Kovacs
Today, watching television often means fighting, violence and foul language - and that's just deciding who gets to hold the remote control. Donna Gephart
We can put it in its proper perspective by supposing that Gutenberg's great invention had been directed at printing only comic books. Robert M. Hutchins
Do you realize if it weren't for Edison we'd be watching TV by candlelight? Al Boliska
I could have been a doctor, but there were too many good shows on TV. ~Jason Love
I have had my television aerials removed. It is the moral equivalent of a prostate operation. Malcolm Muggeridge
And then there is the comment of the comedian Jack Paar. He showed us that we really have the ultimate power when he said "I have never seen a bad television program, because I refuse to. God gave me a mind, and a wrist that turns things off."
If you're from Australia, the title of this piece is likely to make you feel right at home. Otherwise, you're probably at a loss. But as you will see, like many of its kind, this metaphor succinctly captures a central theme.
It was introduced to me by colleagues with whom I was working "down under." They wanted me to understand their social dynamics and they felt that this expression would go a long way towards that goal. In a few words, it taps directly into the strong egalitarian streak in Australian society. That's where the tall poppies come in.
One interpretation of equality (by no means, the only interpretation) is that no single individual stand out against the others. So for the tall poppies who "choose" to shine by reaching closer to the sky, there is only one solution. They have to be cut down.
The potential disadvantages are obvious. Within this perspective, outstanding individuals are seen not as treasured assets, but as disturbing challengers of the social order. Many business and educational leaders viewed the situation with dismay since it led many outstanding Australians to leave their homeland for venues that offered greater receptiveness for their talents.
I haven't been back to Australia for a number of years and the situation may have changed considerably. But my purpose in offering this expression is not to discuss the conventions on that continent. Rather, I raised it because it helps shed light on important developments in our own nation.
For decades, the USA has rightfully been seen as a nation of innovators and a place that allows innovation to flourish. But a recent article in Time magazine titled The Genius Problem raises serious questions about whether this is still a feature of American life.
Here are some of the markers that the article points out which reflect potentially serious problems:
1. U.S. schools spend $8 billion on the mentally retarded and just 10% of that on the gifted.
2. Because of the failure to meet their needs, gifted students drop out at the same rates as non-gifted kids--about 5% of both populations leave school early
3. The highest achieving students in six other countries, including Japan, Hungary, and Singapore, scored significantly higher in math than their bright U.S. counterparts.
We could go on and on, but these data make the point. We clearly seem to be shortchanging our best and the brightest. Admittedly, the issue is complex and no simple, quick fix is possible. However, what is possible--and possible NOW--is a serious discussion among all members of our society:parents, educators, government leaders, business leaders. The rights of others are not trampled when we nourish the tall poppies, while the lives of all of us suffer when they are not permitted to flourish. If our nation is to thrive, we must find a way to enable the tall poppies to thrive.
For many children, and for many adults as well, the physical act of writing is quite onerous. The difficulties can stem from a number of sources. Problems in sustaining the fine motor movements that writing requires and problems in accurate spelling are just a few of the possibilities. Regardless of the cause, you might find that you can take advantage of a friendly dragon who has been designed to assist you.
The dragon's habitat is in a voice recognition software program. These are the programs which allow the "writer" to say what is on his or her mind and then sit back while the computer turns the spoken words into written form.
These programs have existed for quite a while. However, they were often difficult to use. Now via Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0 the performance is amazingly accurate.
It is, of course, not a solution for all writing problems. For example, it cannot come up with good ideas. That is still the responsibility and privilege of the speaker. And before it can be put to use, it has to hear long segments of text read aloud so it can. recognize and adjust to the speech patterns it will be processing. Children with significant reading difficulties may not be willing or able to go through the process. But if your child, or anyone else you know, would like a friendly dragon to take over the task of getting words into print, you might find it very worthwhile to look into this tool.
When should my child start to learn to read? it's a question I get asked several times a week-and it's a question you can see raised regularly in parents' magazines, newspaper articles, and the like.
At first glance, it seems simple and straightforward. So it should be one that can easily be answered. Its steady re-appearance, however, is a sign that the issue is more intricate than you might expect.
The complexity stems, in part, from the wide individual differences among children. Youngsters mature at different rates and ideally, any significant teaching endeavor should not start until a child is "ready." This makes it difficult to offer an age that holds for all children.
But individual differences are not the critical issue holding us back from a clear answer. There are lots of tests that can tell you if a child has mastered the precursor skills and thereby determine whether he or she is ready to move on to real reading.
A far more important issue rests with a component that is almost totally neglected, yet ever-present, in reading instruction. That component is the group setting of the classroom.
All school-based reading instruction takes place in that setting. As a result, a child is constantly able to watch peers at work and see how well he or she measures up.
For the few at the top, the comparison is satisfying--and great for confidence building. For the majority, however, that is not the case. They watch the children who are breezing through reading and it leaves them feeling devastated.
It doesn't matter that teachers try to ease any discomfort by telling the children that "everyone is different" or by pointing out "how good" they are in other areas. Kids know what matters in school and as far as they're concerned, they know that they are not making the grade.
It may be discouraging to see this aspect of school life. But it offers some good news as well. It provides us with an answer to the question posed at the outset--at what age should reading instruction begin?
The realities of school life mean that the best course parents can follow is to begin reading instruction--at home--approximately six months to a year before the child will encounter it in school. That way, the initial teaching takes place in a supportive one-to-one setting--where group comparison plays no role. Then armed with all that has been mastered at home, the child can move into the school--ready and able to meet whatever demands come forth.
The advice given to parents is often quite the opposite; namely, they are told to refrain from teaching on the grounds that it will lead the child to be "bored" with the curriculum of the classroom. I have yet to see that happen. Teachers invariably are pleased by children who do well--even if the "doing well" is based upon the children already knowing all that the teacher has to offer.
Ironically, teaching is actually structured with the expectation that this is exactly what will be happening (i.e., that the children will already know what is being taught). For example, on the grounds that "questions are the key vehicles for getting children to think," most teaching is based on asking lots and lots of questions (from "what sound does this letter make?" to "who were the main characters in the story?") When children offer correct responses, teachers do not see this as evidence that the children already knew the information. Rather, they see it as evidence that the teaching is effective.
We will delve into this aspect of classroom life another time. For now, the issue is important in showing us that children are in no way at a disadvantage when they arrive at school with reading already under their belts. Hence, we should not be misled into following the advice to hold off reading instruction and wait for it to happen in the classroom. Early, home-based reading is a great way to go in setting your child on the path to school success. .
For decades now, children have been captivated by Where the Wild Things Are. In this remarkable story Maurice Sendak relates a small boyâ€™s dreams of conquering the â€œwild thingsâ€ and becoming their king.
As is often the case, the fantasy conveys a major truth. In this case, it captures the extent to which cultures across the ages have had the same goalâ€”with the exception that in the world of reality, the monsters in our minds have been replaced by the animals in our midst. Indeed, much of human civilization can be told in terms of the efforts to bring the powers of animals under our control.
Animals--large and small--have known what it is to be the "objects of our desires."
Among the endless examples are the following:
The Chinese, during the reign of Kublai Khan in the 13th century, used lions on hunting expeditions. They trained the big cats to pursue and drag down massive animals--from wild bulls to bears--and to stay with the kill until the hunter arrived.
Honey played a huge role in ancient Egypt and if you were among the rich and powerful, honey--in all sorts of forms--would be placed in your tomb so that you wouldn't be deprived in the afterlife. But this amazing substance was also used to help people stay alive. Bacteria happen not to survive well in honey, leading the doctors of ancient Egypt to use it on open wounds to prevent infection. This was no small matter for workers at the pyramids who regularly suffered gashes and cuts.
When the Black Death swept across England in the 14th century, one theory was that cats caused the plague. Thousands were slaughtered. Ironically, those that kept their cats were less affected, because they kept their houses clear of the real culprits, rats.
The expression "three dog night" originated with the Eskimos and means a very cold night - so cold that you have to bed down with three dogs to keep warm.
In the 18th century, France was infatuated with exotic animals and in the streets of Paris, the citizenry could watch performing elephants and fighting polar bears. As a sign of his power, King Louis XVI maintained a very expensive royal menagerie at Versailles.
In the First World War, pictures taken from pigeons fitted with cameras helped generals decide the course of a battle, while in the Second World War, pigeons were still used as messengers during missions that demanded radio silence.
The U.S. Navy planned to use dolphins to protect Trident submarines from sabotage in their home ports. But the dolphins got a reprieve when animal activists scuppered the program by filing a lawsuit against the navy.
But the story is not just about control-- as any of the more than 100 million pet owners in our nation can tell you. Itâ€™s also about love. As proof of their devotion, you need look no further than their pocketbooks. Americans spend more than 5.4 billion dollars on their pets each yearâ€”with $1.5 billion going towards pet food. This is four times the amount spent on baby food.
Parents frequently try to get their children to read by telling them â€œhow goodâ€ that activity is for them. Of course, children arenâ€™t much influenced by the message. They see it primarily as a â€œsell jobâ€ to get them to do something they do not want to do.
But now a study of lead smelter workers provides evidence that what the parents have been saying actually has merit.
Itâ€™s long been known that lead does some nasty things to the brain and nervous system. . So workers whose livelihood brings them into steady contact with lead have to deal with serious problems. But as the study-- reported in the journal Neurology--found, if certain skills are well-established, they seem to be resistant to the effects of lead exposure. Reading ability is one of those skills.
In the research, over 100 workers were divided according to reading ability into two ability groupsâ€”high and low. "Even though the two groups had similar lead exposure, the cognitive effects of lead were 2.5 times greater in workers with low reading ability.â€
The investigators concluded that well-established reading ability is based upon a much richer neural network that offers a â€œprotective effect.â€ Even if parts of the system â€œgo down,â€ there are enough parts remaining to allow the system to continue to function at a high level.
Of course, even this dramatic evidence may not have much impact on the reading habits of todayâ€™s youngsters. But it does have powerful implications for what we adults should be doing. We must ensure that the children acquire rock-solid reading abilities that will stay strong, regardless of environmental stresses and strains they may encounter in their lives.
The best way to achieve this is to get the children reading early and reading well. Few would disagree with this statement. The problem rests with its realization. With our nation's schools regularly reporting failure rates of about 40%, it is clear that this institution is not going to provide the outcomes that we need and desire.
Hopefully, schools will change. But until they do, parents must assume this responsibility. That is why I have devoted so much of my time and effort into creating user-friendly programs that can be implemented at home. They are designed to offer parents all the materials that will allow them to impart the gift of truly skilled literacy to their children.
Go to our site to watch Cindy's video testimonial.
"There are so many great things about Phonics Plus Five...it only takes 15-20 minutes a day, it's really easy to use, it builds on success, and your child really enjoys doing it."
- Cindy Crawford