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Posted on Sat. Dec. 15, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

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The reading list

“Homework is an institution roundly disliked by all who participate in it. Children hate it for healthy and obvious reasons; parents hate it because it makes their children unhappy, but God forbid they should get a less-than-perfect grade on it; and teachers hate it because they have to grade it. Grading homework is teachers' never-ending homework …

“Does this mean that we would be better off getting rid of it? Two counts in the standard argument against homework don't appear to stand up. The first is that homework is busywork, with no effect on academic achievement. According to the leading authority in the field, Harris Cooper, of Duke University, homework correlates positively – although the effect is not large – with success in school. Professor Cooper says that this is more true in middle school and high school than in primary school, since younger children get distracted more easily. He also thinks that there is such a thing as homework overload – he recommends no more than ten minutes per grade a night. But his conclusion that homework matters is based on a synthesis of forty years' worth of research.

“The other unsubstantiated complaint … is that it is increasing. In 2003, Brian Gill (then at RAND) and Steven Schlossman (Carnegie Mellon) showed that, except for a post-Sputnik spike in the early nineteen-sixties and a small increase for the youngest kids in the mid-nineteen-eighties, after the publication of 'A Nation at Risk' by the Department of Education … the amount of time American students spend on homework has not changed since the nineteen-forties.”

– From “Today's Assignment” at newyorker.com

A quiz

Which American industrialist first developed a way to deep-freeze foods?

Wisdom of the ages

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” – Winston Churchill

Cudrrent wisdom

“When are you going to learn? You can throw anything at us – terrorists, hurricanes. You can take away our giant sodas. It doesn't matter. We're coming back stronger every time.” – “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart at Madison Square Garden, site of a concert for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

Quiz answer

Clarence Birdseye.

Snob words

mulligrubs (MUHL-i-gruuhbz), n. – ill temper; grumpiness, as in: “Nothing could give the editorial writer a case of the blue mulligrubs faster than a council meeting running long.”

Today in history

On this date in 1791, the first U.S. law school was established, at the University of Pennsylvania; look what they started!

Now you know

Most newborns will lose all the hair they are born with in the first three or four months of life.


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