Singular Minds
October 3, 2006 • Volume III, Issue 1
Laura Zink de Diaz

Quote of the Month
We made laws abolishing child labor, because we thought it was criminal to deprive children of their childhood. Yet we tolerate burdening our children, not only with six or seven hours of schoolwork during the day, but also with a steadily increasing amount of homework at night, on weekends, and during holidays and vacations. What it amounts to is this: Too many of our homework-burdened children don't have vacations. They don't have holidays. They don't have weekends. They don't even have homes. Because the schools feel free to assign them work to do during all those supposed times of rest and recuperation.
Orson Scott Card, "Homework, Part 1 - The Worst Job in the World"

Good Stuff to Read

Homework, Part I
The Worst Job in the World

What if you had a really lousy job? You're only employed for seven hours a day, but you have to ride the bus for half an hour each way. While you're there, they only let you go to the bathroom at certain times. You only have ten minutes to get from one work station to another, and somehow you also have to use the toilet and get your new work materials from a central depository during those breaks, without being late. If you do anything wrong, you aren't allowed to talk to anybody during lunch. Even when you go home, it's not over. A job supervisor also lives in your house, and makes you do two or three more hours of the same work you did on the job. The at-home supervisor is even harsher than the one at work and has more power to inflict annoying punishments if you fail to comply. If you're sick and miss a day or two, then when you get better, you have to do all the work that you missed -- both the on-the-job and the at-home tasks. Not only that, but you can't quit this lousy job. It's the law -- the government requires you to stick with it for at least ten years. What if, on top of all this misery, the work you had to do at home wasn't even real? What if you just went through the motions of all the tasks you did on the job, but you didn't actually accomplish anything? You just spent meaningless hours, repeating the physical movements, while the at-home supervisor says things like, "That's how you do it?" and "Are you sure you're doing it right?" That's a fair description of the lives of far too many of our school-age children. This is a MUST READ.

An Interview with Alfie Kohn: About the Homework Book
Interviewer: Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales , New Mexico
Alfie Kohn is the author of eleven books on education, parenting, and human behavior, including PUNISHED BY REWARDS (1993), BEYOND DISCIPLINE (1996), THE SCHOOLS OUR CHILDREN DESERVE (1999), WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WELL EDUCATED? (2004), UNCONDITIONAL PARENTING (2005), and, most recently, THE HOMEWORK MYTH (2006). He has written for most of the leading education periodicals and has appeared twice on "Oprah." Time magazine described him as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores." Kohn works with educators and parents across the country and speaks regularly at national conferences. He lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at
1) You have recently written a book about homework. What have you found?
AK: Well, I began with the premise that, as parents know, homework is often responsible for stress and family conflict, that it gets in the way of other things kids would like to do after they finish six or seven hours of school, and that homework is viewed so negatively by children that it may diminish their interest in learning. But teachers continue to assign homework (in ever greater amounts, in fact, at least in the elementary grades) and parents continue to put up with it – presumably because they assume that the benefits outweigh the costs. Specifically, it's assumed that homework helps kids to learn better, or at least raises achievement levels as measured in conventional ways. So that's where I began. And, amazingly, it turns out that the evidence simply doesn't support this belief.
2) You're saying that homework doesn't help at all?
AK: For starters, there are no data whatsoever to show that elementary school students benefit from doing homework. None. And even in high school there's only a modest correlation between time spent on homework and achievement – with little reason to think that the achievement was caused by doing more homework. Then there's other evidence, including a brand-new study of TIMSS data from 50 countries, and it shows no positive effects from homework, even for older students. I wasn't able to find any reason to believe that students would be at any sort of intellectual disadvantage if they had no homework at all.
Read the rest of this thoughtful conversation at:

OK, so I'm on a tear...
The Myth About Homework

Think hours of slogging are helping your child make the grade? Think again
Sachem was the last straw. Or was it Kiva? My 12-year-old daughter and I had been drilling social-studies key words for more than an hour. It was 11 p.m. Our entire evening had, as usual, consisted of homework and conversations (a.k.a. nagging) about homework. She was tired and fed up. I was tired and fed up. The words wouldn't stick. They meant nothing to her. They didn't mean much to me either. After all, when have I ever used sachem in a sentence--until just now?
As the summer winds down, I'm dreading scenes like that one from seventh grade. Already the carefree August nights have given way to meaningful conversations (a.k.a. nagging) about the summer reading that didn't get done. So what could be more welcome than two new books assailing this bane of modern family life: The Homework Myth (Da Capo Press; 243 pages), by Alfie Kohn, the prolific, perpetual critic of today's test-driven schools, and The Case Against Homework (Crown; 290 pages), a cri de coeur by two moms, lawyer Sara Bennett and journalist Nancy Kalish. Both books cite studies, surveys, statistics, along with some hair-raising anecdotes, on how a rising tide of dull, useless assignments is oppressing families and making kids hate learning. If the last essay didn't convince you, read this one!,9171,1376208-1,00.html

Glaxo Adds Risks To Label Warning For ADHD Drug
The wording on the Dexedrine label, which is similar to that now on the labels of other ADHD stimulant drugs, warns that sudden death has been reported in children taking the drugs who have cardiac abnormalities or other serious heart problems.
By Anna Wilde Mathews
GlaxoSmithKline PLC became the latest drug maker to add new safety warnings to the label of a stimulant medicine used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in response to a request from the Food and Drug Administration. The new language for the label of Dexedrine, highlighting potential cardiovascular risks and psychiatric side effects, was posted yesterday [8/21/06] on the FDA Web site. Similar information was added earlier to the labels for other drugs in the category, including Johnson & Johnson's Concerta and Shire PLC's Adderall, according to the firms. An FDA spokeswoman said the agency asked in May for companies to "strengthen the wording in the warnings section with regard to serious cardiovascular events and psychiatric events." The FDA decided the "possible cardiovascular and psychiatric risks would be best addressed by new warning language, but did not justify a black box," she said. All the companies have responded to the request, and the "responses are currently under review," she said. Read the rest at:

A Textbook Case: Scrutinizing the mental health bible's take on attention deficit disorders

By Nick Rose
Though America's medical professionals are diagnosing children with attention deficit disorders at breakneck speed, doctors are nevertheless hard-pressed to provide a solid definition of what exactly the illnesses are. That shouldn't be too surprising, however, considering that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM IV) "lists no fewer than 18 different behavioral symptoms" for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Contexts reports in its Spring issue (not available online). Such a scattershot approach by the DSM IV -- one of the most important texts to those who mete out psychiatric diagnoses -- has some clinicians and clinical organizations worried that scores of children are being misdiagnosed. Indeed, some think its structure and approach are faulty, causing misdiagnosis and clinical confusion. Read more about the controversy at:

Sick of Expectations
Pressure to Compete, Not Connect, Leaves Many Affluent Teens Miserable, Says a Psychologist and Author
By Sandra G. Boodman
Adolescent alienation isn't a new phenomenon. But the unhappy teenagers clinical psychologist Madeline Levine sees in her practice aren't merely going through a developmental phase, she writes.
In her new book, "The Price of Privilege" (Harper Collins, $24.95), Levine says that over-involved parents who pressure their children to be stars -- in school, on athletic fields, among their peers -- have created a generation that is "extremely unhappy, disconnected and passive." Unabashedly materialistic and disinterested in the wider world, they are both bored and "often boring," she writes. A large number suffer from depression, anxiety and substance abuse... Affluent teens, she writes, are among those least likely to receive treatment for emotional problems, because many of their parents are loath to mar the public image of the perfect family. One recent study found that upper-middle-class girls appear three times more likely to suffer from clinical depression than those from other socioeconomic groups. Read the interview with Dr. Levine at:

On Spelling

Researcher Dr. Stephen Krashen never misses an opportunity to debunk popular misconceptions, anywhere in the world. Upon reading an article in "The Australian" blaming poor spelling on a change in instruction, he submitted the following rebuttal to the newspaper:

There are a few problems with the conclusion that a failure to teach spelling caused a drop in spelling scores in South Australia (“Spelling fad cost kids 14% drop in results,” July 31 The Australian). Studies published over the last 100 years, going back to Rice’s research published in 1897, have shown that instruction has a very limited effect on spelling ability. In fact, researcher Sandra Wilde of Portland State University has estimated that each spelling word learned through direct instruction requires about 20 minutes of instructional time. Considering the number of words we learn to spell, this makes instruction an unlikely source of our spelling ability. There is also evidence that children can learn to spell and improve their spelling without instruction and several studies show that much (but not all) of our spelling comes from reading.
Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

In case you missed it over the summer vacation...
Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study

By Diana Jean Schemo
The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private school counterparts fared better. The report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, found that fourth graders attending public school did significantly better in math than comparable fourth graders in private schools. Additionally, it found that students in conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind their counterparts in public schools on eighth-grade math. Read the rest at:
Since this article first appeared in the New York Times, a number of news sources have printed similar stories. Similar results have been found examining the performance of students in charter schools. When you compare children with similar backgrounds, neither private schools nor charters can be assumed to do a better job of educating than the public schools. Some do, some don't - so the best advice is to do your research before you enroll your child anywhere.

Parents Push the New Abnormal
by Marilyn Elias
Lawrence Diller has been treating children with behavioral problems for 28 years, and he has noticed a disturbing trend: The kids brought in for possible psychiatric medication are "far less abnormal" than they used to be. Parents are less willing to tolerate minor weaknesses, says Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, California...
...Q: Why did you call your book The Last Normal Child?
A: Because I had this fantasy, as more and more normal kids get psychiatric medication, that eventually the last normal child in the world finally would be brought to me for a prescription.
Q: What are some of the key reasons that more parents are bringing in normal kids to see if they have ADHD or another disorder and should be medicated?
A: For one thing, academic standards are getting increasingly rigorous and ridiculous — at ever- younger ages. Teachers start to complain about the children, especially boys, who can't get with the program. I used to think parents worried only about kids being good students, getting good jobs and making money. But now there's also this tremendous worry about children's self-image, their self-esteem. And the kids do feel bad, because they know they're disappointing their parents and teacher. Sometimes children have undiagnosed learning disabilities, not ADHD. Or, they might not be motivated to do academic work. Not every kid is academic, and that can be hard for high-achieving parents. There may be problems at home, or parents may not be disciplining properly, so kids are acting out.
Q: Aren't you blaming parents a lot here?
A: No. Parents love their children and want the best for them. They bring kids in for evaluations out of love and great worry. Often it's the teacher who suggests it.
Read the rest of this interesting interview at:


On a personal note...

Dear Readers,

I hope this issue of Singular Minds finds you well. Prolinguistica is still in the process of opening its office in Bogotá, Colombia. I expect that in the next two months that process will be complete. Meanwhile, issues may be delayed, so I appreciate your patience.

While testing this month's links I noticed that although I created the text in Arial, font size 20 (titles, 24), my yahoo mail reduced the text size to 13. If you find your mail program does the same thing, here are three options for improving readability:

1. If your email program is viewed through an internet browser, you can usually increase the size of text in your browser under "View" in the menu bar.

2. You can highlight the text of the email, copy it and paste it into a word processing program, where you can adjust the view or size of the type. If you use Microsoft Word, the links will be retained and you can click on them to access the articles, just as you would in your email program or browser. (Other word processing programs may do this as well.)

3. You can wait a couple of days until I have time to post the issue at the website, and read it there!

Please remember you can always reach me via e-mail ( I'm physically rather far away, but you're all still very close to my heart and I'd love to know how you're all doing - especially if there's any way I can be of help. Particularly, clients and parents of clients, do feel free to contact me any time. And if you'd rather not write an e-mail, now you can reach me via Skype as well. Skype is free, computer-based, voice telephony. The Skype program is downloadable at It works on almost any computer and allows you to call other Skype members, anywhere in the world, using your computer as a telephone. No charge for overseas calls between members. So, in case you ever need to use it, my user-name in Skype is "profecita" and I'd be delighted to talk with you!

Best regards,

Got a topic you’d like to see addressed in Singular Minds? E-mail questions, proposals, letters, and/or stories to: