Singular Minds
May 1, 2006• Volume II, Issue 6
Prolinguistica Dyslexia Correction Center
Laura Zink de Diaz

Quote of the Month
Found in the description of requirements for the position of "Director of Learning Standards" at McGraw-Hill Companies:

To qualify, you must have a doctoral degree in the education field and demonstrated expertise with the following: curriculum standards and methodologies, curriculum design, and preferably with assessment tools. It would be helpful, but not necessary, to have administrative or teaching experience in K-12 education.
In other words, no experience running a school, teaching or working with teachers or children below the college level is necessary for those who develop instructional materials and tests for the K-12 system....


Back from South America! It was a fascinating trip. Colombia is still on the State department's "watch" list, but in two months in Bogotá, I never felt a single moment of insecurity. Bogotá is like any large city in the world: it has "good" areas, and areas everyone who can avoids, especially at night. So you simply use the same common sense safety precautions you would if you were visiting New York, Paris, Moscow or Tokyo.
Many of you know of my lifelong interest in Latin America, and the unexpected increase in Prolinguistica clients from that part of the world last year. The purpose of my visit to Bogotá was partly to find out whether it's still a place I'd be comfortable living in. (I lived there for two years in my youth and loved nearly every minute of it). Another purpose was to consult a lawyer and find out whether or not it would be possible for me - as a foreigner - to live and work there legally. I found answers to both those questions.

Bogotá is a huge city of about 7 million. It's divided into a dozen or so municipal districts, and about 600 neighborhoods. Houses, boarding houses, condos and apartments are plentiful and extremely reasonable. Generally, the cost of living is about a third of what it is in the U.S. Public transportation is well developed and inexpensive (a fifteen minute taxi drive costs about $1.50). Although American-style shopping malls, grocery and big box stores abound, every neighborhood has a good number of small mom-and-pop businesses offering every product you might need - bakeries, butchers, general stores, fruits and vegetable vendors, internet cafes, pharmacies, clothing stores, cleaners, hardware shops, restaurants, you name it, it's probably available. All this means you don't need to have a car or visit the big box stores every week - any day of the week you can walk a block in any direction and purchase whatever you need in any quantity. (I was surprised to go into a little dry goods store and find that I can buy a single tea bag, roll of TP, or bandaid at a price no higher than if I bought in bulk.) It also means that you hardly notice the immensity of the city around you - unless you want to. Temperatures are in the upper 60s to low 70s most of the year. All of the services you expect here are available in Bogotá, and many we rarely see in the U.S. For example, tailors and seamstresses abound, and many people have their clothes professionally altered if their weight changes, because such services are plentiful, affordable and of good quality. So, yes, I'd be entirely comfortable living and working in Bogotá.

And it also turns out that, yes, I can obtain a visa that will allow me to work and live in the country indefinitely.

So, I've decided to relocate and become "Centro Prolinguistica" offering the Davis program, plus English classes and translation. My goal is to leave for Colombia by the end of June. I will be back in the area in late September or early October for a short period.

I'm not moving my household (a very expensive proposition that would be!), so I'm holding a garage sale every Friday and Saturday that's not rainy from now until I leave. Feel free to drop by to chat, those of you who live in the area (1007 S 21st Place, Mount Vernon).

Please remember too, that I'm only an e-mail away. I hope that I can "commute" every few months to visit friends, former clients and family, so I'll never be entirely gone! And I'm about to install Skype on my computer. If you're not familiar with it, Skype allows members to use their computer like a phone to call any other member, anywhere in the world - for free. It costs nothing to join. When I have that set up, I'll let you know.

Obviously, I won't be able to continue to offer Clay Nights or the support group from South America. But I do intend to continue publishing Singular Minds as long as I can, as long as readers find it useful.

Good Stuff to Read

Silencing Teachers in an Era of Scripted Reading
Preparing students for McDonalds, McMilitary and McPrison...
By Elizabeth Jaeger
"I have been told by the district that I will be transferred to another school effective Monday. I am very sad to be leaving you, but you are strong students and I know you will be successful. I have always taught you to stand up for what you believe in, and sometimes when you do that, there will be unhappiness. But in the end, you have to do what you feel is right. I will think about you every day and wish you all the best." I never would have imagined having to speak those words, yet there I was, standing in front of my class while the principal looking on silently. I had been forced out of the school where I had worked enthusiastically for more than five years because I had challenged required instructional practices that I believe interfered with teaching and learning. This is a very sad story. But it's well worth reading because it's a truthful reflection of what has been going on in too many schools. As you read it, consider who will be left teaching in our public schools once most of the strongest, most ethical, most professional teachers are gone...Read the rest at:

Tales from the Competitive Marketplace Once Called Schools
By Anne E. Levin Garrison
The competitive frenzy begins in a child's most tender years. I imagine it gets worse as you go up the ladder of socio-economic wealth and influence....By the time the children are in elementary school, these competitive behaviors have been firmly engrained. The same parents who followed prenatal techniques to prepare their "genius" embryos for designer pre-school activities groom children who literally run over their peers for the opportunity to be first in line....By first grade my very small, late-birth date child, who practiced polite social skills, verbalized frustration over repeatedly being elbowed into a coat cupboard located by the classroom door. Every time the class would line up to go somewhere, in the frenzy to "be first," someone would knock her right into the cabinet and the doors would close her in. This not only often resulted in hurting her, but terrified her, as the door stayed shut with the weight of the children in line, and her screams of terror were easily masked by the noise of pushing, competing children. By the first week of school, she developed a strategy of sitting at her desk until the frenzied group was outside of her classroom and she learned to covet the end of the line spot. Early in elementary school, long before they were prepared for or were capable of sophisticated science projects, the children were encouraged and then required to participate in the Science Fair. The projects were a nauseating competition of parents who got right to work on the projects using the latest technological and marketing devices, displayed in the manner of state-of-the art graphic promotions, with calculated entries based on ecological issues (known to be winning entries,) and which were scored by "community members" who had the "inside scoop" on the projects that "should win." Inevitably, the child who created their own project, chose their thesis, monitored their own results, and presented them in a child-appropriate manner, did not even have the least opportunity to win recognition-- as hand-scrawled signage, and age-appropriate projects wilted next to the expensive, professional displays. Read the rest at:

Rejection Slip
When a Child Is Excluded by Peers, Learning Also Suffers

By Sandra G. Boodman
It's a time-honored stereotype: the social outcast who ignores the derision of classmates to become a straight-A student, the kid who madly waves his or her hand in a desperate attempt to answer the teacher's every question. Yet the reality, it seems, is starkly different: Researchers who followed 380 Midwestern children from the ages of 5 to 11 found that those who were chronically rejected by their classmates were more likely to withdraw from school activities and scored lower on standardized tests than their more popular peers...."Social isolation is one of the most devastating things you can do to a human being; I don't care how old you are," said Rosalind Wiseman, a veteran educator in the District and the author of "Queen Bees and Wannabes," the bestselling book about girls and cliques that became the basis for the movie "Mean Girls." "How are you supposed to concentrate on your schoolwork when all you can think about is 'Everybody hates me'?" Wiseman asked. Some kids, she said, obsess about the problem, while others withdraw and try to avoid school as much as possible. Read the rest at:

Comparison of Schizophrenia Drugs Often Favors Firm Funding Study
By Shankar Vedantam
Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. recently funded five studies that compared its antipsychotic drug Zyprexa with Risperdal, a competing drug made by Janssen. All five showed Zyprexa was superior in treating schizophrenia. But when Janssen sponsored its own studies comparing the two drugs, Risperdal came out ahead in three out of four. In fact, when psychiatrist John Davis analyzed every publicly available trial funded by the pharmaceutical industry pitting five new antipsychotic drugs against one another, nine in 10 showed that the best drug was the one made by the company funding the study. "On the basis of these contrasting findings in head-to-head trials, it appears that whichever company sponsors the trial produces the better antipsychotic drug," Davis and others wrote in the American Journal of Psychiatry. So much for the scientific method... Read the rest at:

WASL writing: Make it up as they go along
By Linda Shaw
Students must follow lots of rules when taking the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), as they did this week. They must pack away cellphones. They can't consult dictionaries for most of the test or calculators for some of it. But when it comes to the writing section, there's one rule they can break: They can make things up. Statistics. Experts. Quotes. Whatever helps make their point. The state's education office, to the dismay of some teachers, recently announced that making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL — something that on class assignments would mean a failing grade. Read more at:

Most teens lacking enough shut-eye
By Randolph E. Schmid
America is raising a nation of sleep-deprived kids, with only 20 percent getting the recommended nine hours of shut-eye on school nights and more than one in four reporting dozing off in class.... Nearly all the youngsters — 97 percent — had at least one electronic device in their bedroom. These include televisions, computers, phones or music devices. Adolescents with four or more such devices in their bedrooms are much more likely than their peers to get insufficient sleep, the foundation reported. "Those with four or more electronic devices in their bedroom were twice as likely to fall asleep in school," Mindell said. "Sending students to school without enough sleep is like sending them to school without breakfast. Sleep serves not only a restorative function for adolescents' bodies and brains, but it is also a key time when they process what they've learned during the day," she said. School-age children and teenagers should get at least nine hours of sleep a day, according to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The poll found that sixth-graders were sleeping an average of 8.4 hours on school nights and 12th-graders just 6.9 hours. Without enough sleep, a person has trouble focusing and responding quickly, according to the NIH. There is growing evidence linking a chronic lack of sleep with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and infections, it added. Read more at:

New Study from Committee for Economic Development Calls into Question Current Early Childhood Policies
Alliance for Childhood
Ellen Galinsky’s new study titled “The Economic Benefits of High-Quality Early Childhood Programs: What Makes the Difference?” raises important questions about current early childhood education policy.
Galinsky looked closely at three famously successful and well-designed longitudinal studies of preschool... Each of these interventions proved to be highly effective compared with other interventions or no intervention in early childhood.... These findings of financial and social benefits, which have been known for years, have helped fuel the current movement toward universal preschool.... Galinsky writes, “This paper is written in response to the tendency of a number of people to use the findings from these three studies to justify any and all early childhood programs….”
Galinsky found the following basic common elements in the three programs: early intervention, well-educated, well-trained, and well-compensated teachers—with resulting low staff turnover, small class sizes and high teacher-child ratios.
Galinsky goes on to ask, “What else matters besides the basics? ... The most important elements of the successful preschools, she found, included the following:
• The relationship between the teacher and the child was seen as central to the child’s learning. Quoting "From Neurons to Neighborhoods," Galinksy writes, “Human relationships...are the building blocks of human development.”
• The children in these programs were viewed as active and experiential learners.
• The teachers were not viewed as “empty vessels” but as active participants who were engaged in ongoing learning and in adapting the curriculum to the needs of the children. Galinsky’s full report can be found at
These qualities reflect the honoring of the creativity and engagement of children and adults in the learning and growing process. It is helpful to have them documented and described in Galinsky’s study. But the greatest service of this study may lie in what is not discussed: a way of assessing other approaches that lack these qualities, such as scripted teaching.
Read more about this at:

My kind of classroom!
Fidgeting in classroom may help students

By Chris Williams, Associated Press Writer
ROCHESTER, Minn. --The fidgety boys and girls in Phil Rynearson's classroom get up and move around whenever they want, and that's just fine with him. In fact, stretching, swaying and even balancing on big wobbly exercise balls are the point of this experimental classroom. The goal is to see if getting children to move even a little can help combat childhood obesity.As an added perk, there's some splashy technology, too -- laptop computers, a wireless network and iPods. The data aren't in yet. But anecdotally, Rynearson and Superintendent Jerry Williams say the fourth- and fifth-graders are more focused on the curriculum than their peers in a comparison group in an ordinary classroom. And there are fewer distractions than in the traditional setup -- where a lot of time is spent trying to get children to sit still. "Sitting isn't bad," Rynearson said. "But I think kids need to move." The classroom is the idea of Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. James Levine, also the mastermind of an office of the future that encourages more movement from deskbound white-collar workers. Read the rest at:

Math courses don't add up

by Richard Cohen
I am haunted by Gabriela Ocampo. Last year, she dropped out of the 12th grade at Birmingham High School in Los Angeles after failing algebra six times in six semesters, trying it a seventh time and finally just despairing over ever getting it. So, according to the Los Angeles Times, she "gathered her textbooks, dropped them at the campus book room and, without telling a soul, vanished from Birmingham High School." Gabriela, this is Richard: There's life after algebra. In truth, I don't know what to tell Gabriela. The L.A. school district requires students to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry in order to graduate. This is something recent for Los Angeles (although 17 states require it) and it is the sort of vaunted education reform that is supposed to close the science and math gap and make the U.S. more competitive. All it seems to do, though, is ruin the lives of countless kids. In L.A., more kids drop out because of algebra than any other subject... Here's the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it... Most math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note - or reason even a little bit. If the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.
Read the rest of this charming column at:

Slow readers have difficulty trying to catch up, study says
By Eleanor Chute
Helping older elementary school children who are struggling to read is even harder than some of the experts think. A study involving 50 schools in the Allegheny County suburbs -- the largest of its kind in the nation -- showed that the intensive help provided for such students improved skills for third-graders but was less effective for fifth-graders. And even where there was improvement in both grade levels, the help wasn't enough to catch up with the strong readers, who were continuing to advance. Said Joseph K. Torgesen, principal investigator of the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University, "I don't think there's going to be any secret formula and no one thing that works for every child." Well duh... Read the description of the study - it involved providing "fundamental reading skills" i.e., more of the same. What's that old chestnut? If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you've always gotten.... You'll find the article at:

Testing? YES! -- Standardized testing? NO!
by Marion Brady
Remember Richard Feynman? Free spirit? Drummer? Adventurer? Teller of funny stories? Artist? Expert safe cracker? Writer? College professor? Translator of Mayan hieroglyphics? Member of the team that developed the atomic bomb? Major contributor to the theory of quantum electrodynamics? Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965? Remember him? Sure you do! He's the one who dropped an O ring into a glass of ice water to show the other members of the committee investigating the Challenger explosion that the rings got brittle and could fail when they were cold. He died in 1988. "I'd hate to die twice," he said from his hospital bed. "It's so boring." Feynman loved teaching. He said it helped him think more clearly. He also thought he had a moral obligation to explain very complicated things using the simplest possible language. What made him a master teacher, however, wasn't just his words, but his use of what teachers call "hands-on" activities. This column isn't just charming, it's got an important lesson for everyone, including the politicians who think they know how to design a better educational system. If you read nothing else from this newsletter, read this column at:

by Susan Ohanian
Rigor, this decade's word of the day for the education industrial complex, commands scrutiny. ... Republicans and Democrats vie for whose education platform is more rigorous: Mom, apple pie, and rigor.
Rigor: Strictness or severity, as in temperament, action, or judgment. A harsh or trying circumstance; hardship. A harsh or cruel act.
Physiology: A state of rigidity in living tissues or organs that prevents response to stimuli.
Synonym: Stiffness, rigidness; inflexibility; severity; austerity; sternness; harshness; strictness; exactness.
—The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition.
Nonetheless, the clamor for rigor increases.
Read the rest of Ohanian's column to see just how pervasive "rigor" is in education policy. But given the definitions above, you have to wonder what it is we think we're asking for when we demand rigor in the academic environment. How about a little "vigor" instead?

Recommendations from the Lazy Reader Book Club
Bridges Are To Cross (Philemon Sturges), 32 pages. Beautifully illustrated non-fiction showing the fascinating variety of bridges across the world. (for kids)

What Planet Are Your From, Clarice Bean? (Lauren Child), 32 pages. Says Danny Brassell, of the LRBC, "Lauren Child is one of my favorite illustrators. If for no other reason, she created the wonderful characters Charlie and Lola that hold my son and daughter's attention for the ten minutes it airs on Disney Channel every day. Clarice Bean is just a funny little girl, and I always look forward to reading about her adventures." (kids)

The Icky Sticky Frog (Dawn Bentley), 16 pages. Again, in Danny's words, "Little kids love pulling the tongue back and forth on this book, which is a cute story that even manages to introduce kids to the food chain. Little boys like the book because you have to wash the frog's tongue. Whatever it takes to get a reluctant reader interested, I am willing to try it." (little kids)

Bodies from the Bog (James Deem), 48 pages. Full of photos. And what's more appealing than mummies and burial practices! (for young adults)

Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen (Marissa Moss), 32 pages. Says, Danny: "You MUST read this book. It is the true story of a 17-year-old girl who pitched for Chattanooga's minor league baseball team in an exhibition against the New York Yankees in 1931. And, oh, by the way - she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. This book will delight boys and girls alike (as well as grown ups)."
Check out Lazy Reader Book Club at:


I've upgraded my computer system. Many mail programs treat incoming mail differently and what looks normal on my system may look quite different on yours. Please let me know if your copy of this newsletter contains print that is either outrageously large or too tiny to read, so that I'll know to make an adjustment next month. (FYI - this month's newsletter is all in Arial, 22 point.)
That's all for this issue. Be well!

Next Issue of Singular Minds: early June, 2006

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