Sunday, January 28, 2007

Quote of the Day - French Fries

“French fries kill more people than guns and sharks, yet nobody's afraid of french fries.” – Robert Kiyosaki, financial columnist

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sociology and Second Place

The other day, Phillip and I were discussing what we would study if we could start college over again. Phillip said he would study engineering with a slightly different focus. I, on the other hand, would probably have changed my course list much more drastically. I learned some valuable things majoring in Linguistics, but I probably would have taken just a class or two* in it and chosen an entirely different major, like Sociology. That discipline intrigues me because it studies aspects of our behavior and interaction that we rarely notice unless someone draws our attention to them.

Morrie, the sociology professor in Mitch Albom’s book Tuesdays with Morrie, is an good example of how a sociologist can focus your attention on norms we often take for granted. For example, one evening Morrie was attending a college game. The home team was doing very well, and students in the stands began cheering, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” Morrie listened for a minute, then stood up and shouted, “What’s wrong with being number two?” Unable to think of a satisfactory answer, the students fell silent.

Is there anything wrong with coming in second? We don’t encourage mediocrity, but we do tell our kids that doing your best and having fun are more important than winning. If we’ve performed to the best of our ability and had a good time doing it, does it really matter whether we beat someone else in the process?

*It’s not that I disliked Linguistics itself. The trouble was that I was most interested in the sociological aspect of it - how we communicate and interpret what others say. BYU’s undergrad program focused more on the scientific nuts and bolts – syntax, phonetics, etc. Frankly, the question of whether my t’s are aspirated doesn’t light a fire in me.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Man on Fire

On my drive home two days ago, I heard a segment on NPR Radio about Rafe Esquith, a local fifth grade teacher in a low-income school district. He recently wrote a book called Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire about his efforts to motivate his students and prepare them for real life. The title comes from an actual incident when he was so focused on helping a student with her chemistry experiment that he didn't realize he had set his own hair on fire until the kids started screaming. He feels that incident embodies a crucial principle for teachers: care so much about helping the kids that you forget everything else.

Among other things, Esquith has his students apply for “jobs,” for which they receive some sort of wage. They can also earn overtime pay through extracurricular activities. The students must use their earnings to pay rent on their desks each month, and the desks in the front of the room cost more because they’re in a “better neighborhood.” To teach the principle of ownership vs. renting, the teacher allows children who save their money to buy their desks and not have to pay rent anymore. Some of the more entrepreneurial children buy other kids’ desks and charge them rent.

Another interesting part of the segment was a recording of Esquith giving his students a word problem. Try it yourself and see if you know as much about math (and your government) as his fifth-graders: Take the number of Supreme Court justices, add the number of members of the U.S. Senate, add 1, divide the sum in half, divide by 11. Esquith told the students to show their answer by holding up the right number of fingers, and within moments he identified a girl who was showing him the correct answer of five. Is that what you got?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

So, what's a bluestocking?

I've been toying with the idea of starting a blog for some time, and this week I finally decided to take the plunge. In contemplating a blog title, it didn't take me long to arrive at the name. The dictionary definition of "bluestocking" is "a woman with considereable literary or intellectual interests," and since a lot of my posts will be about books, random musings, or whatever mentally stimulating thing I've heard on NPR Radio lately (not to mention reflections on my transition from finance manager extraordinaire to mother of one-month-old Joy), the title seemed fitting.