I haven’t been feeling very well for a week or so (not interesting to talk about), but one happy consequence of spending hours on the couch is that I’ve had more time for casual reading.
US History of White Trash
After two weeks of grumpy interactions with Isenberg’s White Trash, I let it go when my digital library loan expired and I don’t intend to finish it. There’s some interesting history here, but I found myself annoyed by what felt like intentional misunderstandings by the author more often than I gained insight into America’s past.
Typical example: stating that Thomas Jefferson was failing to enact political change while describing an episode of gradual political change. I think the author meant that Jefferson should have done more, and more quickly, but I quickly tired of watching the author grind her axe.
The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu
Now here’s a book I couldn’t return to the library before completion.
To me, Timbuktu means “the ends of the Earth.” Timbuktu is synonymous with exotic foreign locales. Timbuktu is a place I knew by name before this book but with little understanding of its unique place in the history of learning and culture.
Bad-ass Librarians was written by a journalist, and it sometimes reads like a series of articles glued together to make a book. It’s worth reading anyway.
The provocative title aside, this is the story of ordinary (and extraordinary) people in Mali fighting back against a jihadist invasion of the region around Timbuktu. This book celebrates the thinking person’s ability to triumph over willful ignorance and wanton violence.
Here’s a rare celebration of centuries of African scholarship as glimpsed by the West. The threat to its tangible artifacts—a treasure trove of rare, priceless manuscripts—by Islamist extremists made my heart pound. I’m left with a yearning to see some of these documents for myself, and a renewed interest in learning some Arabic.
I can think of no better way for me, personally, to express my wish for peace in this world than through the cross-cultural sharing of books.
Adoption & Jewish motherhood in Casting Lots
Casting Lots came to me by way of a philanthropical organization that sends free books to Jewish families. Usually, it’s the kids who get the loot, but this month, there was a gift for me.
I am familiar with comedienne Sarah Silverman. I was intrigued to read that the author—her sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman—is considered “the funny sister.” There’s certainly a family resemblance, including some of the crude punchlines that I most associate with Sarah.
In spite of that (because I get why potty humor is funny, but it’s not my first choice for entertainment), I enjoyed most of the time I spent with Casting Lots. It is, at its core, an engaging personal story. Silverman would be someone interesting to have a cup of coffee with.
The subject of international adoption is one I’ve considered for myself and observed through friends and family, and it is genuinely moving to follow her along this path to parenthood.
Her take on Judaism in general resonates less with me, and I see this story as a readable tale that happens to be written by a Jewish woman, not a Jewish parenting book, per se.
Mathematics textbooks, specifically, the Life of Fred
I wrote about this the other day, but I’m brushing up on my pre-algebra terms and presentation in preparation for working with the child* of a friend as a math tutor.
Life of Fred is a nontraditional approach to teaching math. Author Stanley F. Schmidt, PhD, presents the subject from elementary arithmetic up through college level courses in Linear Algebra and Real Analysis, all told through the lens of a 5 ½ year old professor named Fred at fictional KITTENS University.
Yeah, most of it really is as wacky as it sounds.
And yet: my younger son has read many of these books for fun, and more than once. He’s begging me to buy the Life of Fred: Calculus textbook so he can finally learn Fred’s origin story.
I’m in no rush to get my elementary schooler into calculus, but I’m impressed by a math book that promotes such a devoted following in a child who regularly declares himself averse to “being taught” anything.
We’ve had the elementary and intermediate arithmetic series for years, but I’ve just ordered the three volume pre-algebra series (Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics, Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology, and Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics) and Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra Expanded Edition.
I can’t speak to using this collection as a stand-alone mathematics curriculum, because that isn’t how I chose to use these books with my home educated child.
I do think that the method employed—every math problem to be solved is presented in the context of a character’s real life and search for solutions—might be exactly the right remediation for a child who has internalized the notion that learning math means memorizing occult procedures.
I spent the better part of two days perusing all of my current mathematics texts, then more hours compiling lists and ordering next year’s curricula in this and other subjects for DS1 and The Scholar.
The math curriculum I did use extensively with DS1 is also pictured above. (Beast Academy, by Art of Problem Solving.) Because I’m so familiar with them, I only picked out chapters and exercises for The Scholar to begin with; I didn’t read extensively from any of these. I mention them now because I can wholeheartedly recommend BA as a complete home school curriculum. They are also suitable as enrichment for a weak classroom program, or a student who needs a challenge.
*I’ve dubbed her The Scholar