Daily Archives: December 18, 2012

Reading ability is more than memorizing vocabulary lists

So says essayist E.d. Hirsch and, as a reader, I agree.

All verbal tests are, at bottom, vocabulary tests. To predict competence most accurately, the U.S. military’s Armed Forces Qualification Test gives twice as much weight to verbal scores as to math scores, and researchers such as Christopher Winship and Anders D. Korneman have shown that these verbally weighted scores are good predictors of income level. Math is an important index to general competence, but on average words are twice as important.

Cos Cob Library patron

Cos Cob Library patron

Yes, we should instruct students in science, technology, engineering and math, the much-ballyhooed STEM subjects—but only after equipping them with a base of wide general knowledge and vocabulary.

Students don’t learn new words by studying vocabulary lists. They do so by guessing new meanings within the overall gist of what they are hearing or reading. And understanding the gist requires background knowledge. If a child reads that “annual floods left the Nile delta rich and fertile for farming,” he is less likely to intuit the meaning of the unfamiliar words “annual” and “fertile” if he is unfamiliar with Egypt, agriculture, river deltas and other such bits of background knowledge.

Yet in the 1930s, American schools transformed themselves according to the principles of “progressive education,” which assume that students need to learn not a body of knowledge but “how-to” skills that (supposedly) enable them to pick up specific knowledge later on. Analyses of schoolbooks between 1940 and 1960 show a marked dilution of subject matter and vocabulary. Little surprise, then, that students began scoring lower on tests that probed knowledge and vocabulary size. The decline became alarming in the 1970s, as the federal report “A Nation at Risk” pointed out in 1983.

Come here, CC, I'll teach you to read!

Come here, CC, I’ll teach you to read!

The focus on the “skill” of reading has produced students who cannot read. Teachers cannot cultivate reading comprehension by forcing children to practice soul-deadening exercises like “finding the main idea” and “questioning the author.” Students would be better off gaining knowledge by studying real subject matters in a sensible, cumulative sequence. Instead, elementary schools are dominated by content-indifferent exercises that use random fictional texts on the erroneous assumption that reading comprehension is a formal skill akin to typing.

Vocabulary-building is a slow process that requires students to have enough familiarity with the context to understand unfamiliar words. Substance, not skill, develops vocabulary and

Shall we conjugate verbs together?

Wanna conjugate a verb, big guy?

reading ability—there are no shortcuts. The slow, compounding nature of vocabulary growth means that successful reform must lie in systematic knowledge-building. That is the approach used in South Korea, Finland, Japan, Canada and other nations that score highly in international studies and succeed best in narrowing the verbal gap between rich and poor students.


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$120 billion annual saving on US Medicare spending


Just over here by this ditch, gramps, come on ...

Just over here by this ditch, gramps, come on …

That’s what it costs the federal government to keep Alzheimer’s patients around, with an additional $80 billion paid by private citizens.

Belgium now proposes to relieve its citizens of a similar burden by euthanizing the senile. France is “looking into” accelerated deaths – speeding the dying out the door.I expect we’ll soon hear calls for the shedding of our own helpless for the common good. Personally, I wouldn’t want to wait around while I gradually slipped into dementia and I don’t intend to, but the idea of being pressured to do so by others eager to save on feeding me mush irritates me – I might just stick around out of spite.


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A million here, a million there, sooner or later you end up with a buyer


Indian Giver

Indian Giver

12 Indian Chase, whose price peregrinations we’ve followed here for the past year as it started at $4.250 million and made its way to $3.250, finally has a buyer: contract reported today. Nothing particularly wrong with this house except its price and once that was fixed, voila! This process really isn’t all that difficult.


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Sales and (another) price cut

84 Pecksland

84 Pecksland

Two more sales. 11 Will Merry, for $2.235 million ($3.650 asked, 2011) and 84 Pecksland, $2.205 ($3.195 asked in 2008). Will Merry backs right up to the Merritt and needs a lot of work – new kitchen, reconfigured master bedroom/bath, etc., but it sits on two very nice flat, level acres, with a tennis court and a pool and with renovations, will be a nice house again. I wouldn’t personally want to be in for more than, say, $3 million on this street and I’d feel even more comfortable at $2.750, but there’s room to do that here at this price.

I never saw 84 Pecksland, so I have no opinion (although when did ignorance stop me from voicing an opinion before? Must be Christmas.), but with the exception of that poor old house in a swamp further down, $2 million on Pecksland can’t be all bad.

A tree grows in its Brooklyn-style living room

A tree grows in its Brooklyn-style living room

And up north in the Al Gore Polar Bear Sanctuary, that old abandoned Antares project at 3 Cherry Blossom Lane (no, Virginia, this was not a road named long, long ago by Anya Seton), has cut its price again and now begs someone, anyone, to pay $4.495 million for 10,000 square feet of unfinished bad taste, velvet Elvis paintings included. That’s down from the $5.495 the lender/owner asked this past January, and down considerable from happier days in 2009 when the Antares Boyz still owned the place and were foolish enough to expect $7.995 million, but really, who wants a house that’s sat empty for so long? I see a bulldozer in this one’s future. Two acres of land on the Banksville border? Maybe an even million.


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Cos Cob continues to offer good relative value

9 DaffodilHere’s a sale reported today of 9 Daffodil Lane, off of Mimosa, for $1.8 million. That’s a lot of money, but compare what you get: one acre, newly renovated, pool, much more space, with some of the houses selling in that same range in Riverside. If Mimosa were a shabby neighborhood, I’d say it was an apples-to-oranges comparison but this area is very nice. Despite the cruel jibes tossed at Cos Cob by a certain mean-spirited blogger, there are some very decent homes out there worth considering.


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Friday’s madness continues

Connecticut state police threaten to arrest and prosecute anyone who disseminates false information about Friday’s massacre. This presumably includes all of the major news networks who have, so far, misidentified the identity of the shooter, the weapons he used, the occupation of his mother, the presence of a second shooter and the murder of the boy’s father.

And they were just warming up.


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Elections have consequences

Even taxing the very rich isn’t enough for Obama. He’s already rejected the Republican leadership cave-in because he wants to hit the upper middle class and he wants to hit them bad. Given the huge number of liberal upper middle class families in the tri-state area who gave this man and his fellow thrives their vote, I can see the humor here. Too bad those compassionate, self-sacrificing families have dragged the rest of us into their utopia – some people have mortgages to pay and children to put through college.


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Shocker: Republicans agree with Democrats to raise taxes now, for spending cuts to be named later

These are not serious people running our country.


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Here’s a pretty sane opinion piece on gun control; something to like and dislike for both sides

From Hot Air’s Guy Benson. Excerpt:

Unlike many conservatives, I don’t reflexively bristle at the term “common-sense gun control.”  The mere notion of placing some limits on the types of guns average people can purchase does not offend.  Calls for legislative action to keep certain weapons out of the hands of mentally unstable people strike me as reasonable.  I also recognize that myriad regulations along these lines already exist, and I’m skeptical that proposing more grief-fueled laws is a meaningful solution.  And even if one could accurately project that passing Gun Law X would save Y number of lives, where do Constitutional rights come into play, and who gets to weigh those factors?  If curtailing the First Amendment could also be scientifically proven to save some quantifiable number of lives, would we tolerate additional government limits on those core, specifically-enumerated freedoms?  These are extraordinarily difficult questions.  In fact, even the mental healthdiscussions that crop up after these tragedies can lead down some worrisome paths regarding civil liberties and the public good.  I’m heartbroken over Newtown, I’ve been grappling with these quandaries for days, and I admittedly have no clean answers.  But as one of those citizens who does not hold especially dogmatic views on guns, I’m repulsed by Lemon’s emotionally-charged diatribe, which explicitly rejects empirical evidence.  It’s dishonest and exploitive.  It is troubling that many of the voices clamoring loudest for a “national conversation” about gun policy already seem to have their minds made up about what sorts of guns should be available, and to whom.  If that’s how one feels, one should at least be intellectually honest and make open calls for sweeping bans and “confiscation.”   Let’s see how that “conversation” goes.

RELATED: Here’s an equally thoughtful essay by Dave Kopel in today’s Wall Street Journal. If you’re interested in the topic of guns, madmen and massacres, these two articles are well worth reading. If you want soul-wrenching video of little children being buried, our major media’s got that covered.


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No open houses of note today, but two sales reported

The lower end continues to sell. 

62 Lockwood Lane

62 Lockwood Lane

62 Lockwood Lane (the section of the street that backs up to Eastern’s playing fields, not I-95), asked $1.650, sold for $1.4 million. This is a 1970 “Murphy House”, which for those of you familiar with Mr. Murphy’s quick, inexpensive construction techniques is all the description you need, but $1.4 to be in SoPo Riverside is about the price you should expect to pay for a house like this and what the heck, it rents out for $6,000 per month, year after year. I leave it to you financial wizards to calculate the return on capital here, but it strikes me as a reasonable place to stash one’s money in these days of zero interest.

23 Mianus Terrace, Cos Cob, sold for $940,000 after starting at $1.185 and again, I think, this is a reasonable price. The house is a little bit quirky inside with a couple of levels and such, but I liked it, especially at its selling price. Mianus Terrace is a nice street, too.


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How on earth did this become a separate crime?

Greenwich man charged with “second degree strangulation”. Taking nothing away from the seriousness of domestic violence, I wonder why victims need such specific protection from this particular act? Is there something special about strangulation that requires an avenue for prosecution different, say, from mere battery, attempted murder and assault?

Sounds like one of those feel good laws passed by our legislators after some particularly horrid crime. Didn’t seem to have worked here, though.


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