Sunday, November 8, 2015

Understanding Consequences

It dawned on me one day that prisoners in jail and college students with excessive debt share something in common:  they both failed to think through the consequences of their actions.  A prisoner sitting in jail serving a long sentence for selling crack cocaine found no deterrence in that long sentence because he did not think about the consequences of this actions.  A college graduate burdened with a horribly large college loan did not think about the consequences of borrowing so much money.

Our society is suffering because too many of our children cannot figure out the consequences of their actions.   We can protect our children from serious mistakes if we can teach them to think about the consequences of their actions.  We parents have to teach our children how to think through the consequences of their actions.

I look for teaching moments in life.  They can be simple events.  Driving down the road one day while my son was in elementary school I asked him to figure out the cost of our road trip.  I walked him through the calculations with miles-per-gallon for the car, price of gas per gallon, and the miles driven.  We did rounding for the numbers and he did the calculations in his head.  He could do that because he had learned is math facts.  Another day I pointed out to my son how another boy he knew was pushing a baby carriage down the street.  The consequences for that boy of making a baby too early in life was being forced to quit college to work for child support.  Our actions have consequences and we parents need to impress that lesson onto our children.

The most important lessons our children need will come from us parents, not from teachers in their schools.  Thinking through the consequences of actions is a vital lesson for our children.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Understanding Contracts

Our kids must understand the importance of comprehending contracts.  Failure can be baked into the contract to such a degree that all your best efforts might be doomed to failure.  Great success might lie more in the details of your contract than in your efforts after the contract.  First, let's review one of the most famous corporate bankruptcies due to a contract.  Rolls Royce signed a contract with Lockheed to deliver jet engines with price and performance goals that bankrupted Rolls Royce.  I remember reading that Rolls Royce asked Lockheed for relief from their contract and Lockheed refused, which drove Rolls Royce into bankruptcy.  Important lesson:  if you make a mistake in your contract do not ever believe that that the other guy will cut you some slack.

I remember reading of a medical doctor who signed a contract he did not fully understand.  The doctor trusted that the insurance company would not offer him a bad contract.  He was wrong.  They paid him less than it cost to treat those patients so the contract drove him into bankruptcy.  Important lesson: do not trust the counterparty to offer a fair or reasonable contract.  The best way to rob someone is through a contract; this makes the theft legal.

I remember the final walk-through on my first house.  As I was signing the paperwork listing the fixes I required to close on the house, I mentioned to the construction superintendent that I was sure they would fix things I missed on the list.  The superintendent choked when I said that.  I suppose I was surprisingly naive.  Important lesson:  do not expect anything beyond what is promised in the contract.

Next, let us consider Warren Buffett's success.  Think to yourself, if Buffett was the employee of his investors, then how did he become richer than them?  They had the money, and he ended up with more money than any one of them. How did he do this?  Is was not just good investments because his partners shared his success.  His superior wealth must be due to his contract. When I first thought this through it seemed like a revelation:  great wealth can depend more on a smart contract than on smart investments.

I will walk you through how Buffett got rich, but I will do that in some other post.  It requires math modeling.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015


As I was growing up I saw kids as young as elementary school damaging themselves with drugs.  In middle school my classmates started dying in car accidents.  Then in high school alcohol and cars led to more deaths.  When I was a high school teacher a kid that worried me died in a car accident.  This has not changed.  But I did not hear of suicides among my classmates while growing up.  Maybe there was a veil of silence around the suicides and I was unaware of them while I was growing up.

Now I do hear about young people committing suicide. I have to say that depression is real and needs to be addressed.  I read of a successful financier, a friend of Sandy Weill of Citigroup, who suffered from depression, had the best mental care possible, had a supportive family, and still committed suicide.  His wife, looking for him, found his Italian shoes placed by the door to the apartment rooftop, went up and discovered her husband had jumped to his death.

Depression is dangerous.  Patrick Kennedy recently wrote a book to address the problem:  A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.  It took courage to talk about his family's problems.  Depression cuts across all social classes.

It is difficult sometimes to get your teenagers to talk to you, but when they do talk, we have to listen to them.  And I mean really listen, not lay down the law or argue with them.  Our kids are stressed in college and after graduation.  We cannot relax once they have left high school or college.  I cannot say what anyone should do if they are worried for their child, but it might be wise to look for help.

You have seen the increase in mass shootings in America.  We have always had guns in this country.  We would not be a country if our founding fathers were unarmed; we would still be a British colony.  What has changed has been an increase in the pressure we feel in our lives.  We are under pressure and some of us have better ways of coping with the pressure.  Because the anti-gun lobby has hijacked this issue, we are not discussing the sources of the pressure we feel and how some can cope while others crumble under the pressure.

Perhaps there are more young people killing themselves.  The veil of silence might be hiding an increase in suicides. Or the liberal news media might be so focused on our guns that they are ignoring an increase in suicides because that does not fit their anti-gun agenda.

I worry for our kids.


Debt is Dangerous

I grew up knowing the old saying, "A fool and his money are soon parted."  Our children should know that saying and they need a new one as well:  "Debt is dangerous."  It is easy make a foolish decision with finances when circumstances are complicated and you do not fully understand the potential consequences of your actions.  Now, "A fool and his money are soon parted," means you can lose all your money.  If you make a foolish decision with debt, you can lose money you do not have and end up in a hole:  paying back money you lost, having nothing to show for it but years of wasted labor, paying off a debt that got you nothing.

Many young people borrowed too much money to earn college degrees that could not pay off the heavy debt.  Now that we are experiencing the race for the next presidency, some candidates are pandering to all the fools in the country, saying that you and I should pay their debts, that we should take money away from our children's education to give it to other people's children. Widespread foolishness is leading to covetousness and a lust for widespread theft.  The inability to recognize that debt is dangerous is destabilizing our county.

Excessive debt is now a threat to our way of life; it is a threat to our liberty.  According to John Locke, government's purpose is to protect life, liberty, and property.  Remove one protection and they all fall.

Please do not allow your children to assume heavy debt without your guidance.  If you do not steer them away from danger, no one will.  Your children must understand that debt is dangerous.


Previous posts on this topic:
College Loans  (Saturday, December 29, 2012)

Teaching Our Kids About Interest and Inflation (Saturday, April 11, 2015)

Even smart people get in trouble with debt.  Look at the article "Lessons From Dewey Debacle" by Sara Randazzo in the 10-20-2015 Wall Street Journal.  You can see how a bunch of lawyers drove themselves into bankruptcy by borrowing money and then mismanaging it.  Being smart does not help if you are not smart about money.  Money has its own wisdom.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Are There Drugs in Plano?

Asking if there are drugs in Plano is like asking if there are drugs in America.  Of course there are.  What that means to us parents is that we need to be vigilant, prepared, and connected.  We need to keep an eye on our kids.  We need to be awake when they get home after going out at night so we can observe their behavior.  When we spot suspicious behavior we need to search our child's room, car, and back pack.  We need to prepared with a home drug screening test.  And we need to be connected to other parents who have children going to school with our children.  If you are lucky, other parents might tip you off about worrisome behavior by your children.

You can buy a home drug screening test at pharmacies.  You might have to ask the pharmacist for help in finding the kits.  Once you buy one, check the expiration date at the start of each school year.  Examine the kit before you buy it.  The kits will test for different batteries of drugs, the more drugs tested, the higher the cost, but prices vary.  If a test comes up positive, the company says the test is preliminary and you need to send it in for a certain answer.  What is important is that you can have peace of mind if the test shows your child is clean.  As a parent you need to know that you wait until the morning to do the test.  You wake your child up and take the sample with the first urination in the morning, when the urine is most concentrated.

When I was a kid, almost no one did drugs.  They were very rare, but I think everyone back then knew of one kid who did drugs.  Drug use is more common now.  Our society has us under more pressure than ever.  That,  the declining morality in America, and the aggressiveness of the drug sellers, means our children are at greater risk than ever.

Our children need to know that an arrest record will bar them from working for many companies.  Our children need to know that some companies screen employees with drug tests and polygraph exams.  Some companies will strap you into the machine and ask if you have done drugs..  In my opinion, those are some of the best companies to work for.  Even if an arrest record is expunged, it is not really expunged; it hangs around forever.

On You Tube you can search for "Barack Obama I inhaled frequently That was the point"
Your kids might bring this up, that the President smoked weed, but point out that he was not arrested.  And if he was, he was connected.  His grandmother was a bank vice-president. Obama went to the fanciest prep-school in Hawaii, Punahou School.  Rich kids always get off.  The middle-class and the poor get shafted.  (I have a few examples at the end of this post.)

Another thing your kids need to know is that they should not take their A.D.D. medication out of the house.  It is common for a kid to take his meds with him on the way to McDonald's before school.  The medication on an empty stomach can lead to nausea.  But the drug is a controlled substance and they can be arrested if caught with it in the car.  Have a piece of bread with the medication at home before going out to eat.

If anyone in your family has a medication that says, "Do not take while operating a motor vehicle," don't do it.  You can be arrested for driving while intoxicated.

I believe Satan is hunting our children, so I also recommend daily prayer for our children.  We parents need to stick together to look out for our kids. I hope this might help someone.  This is a topic that needs to be addressed.


Examples of the rich getting away with manslaughter.
U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy killed Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick and never saw a day in jail.  A regular person would have been sentenced to 20 years for vehicular manslaughter.
Ethan Couch, killed 4 people driving drunk in Burleson, Texas, and was let go with probation.  Was it just a coincidence his father was rich?
Oscar Pistorius shot his girl friend dead and spent less than a year in jail after gunning her down.  His uncle is rich and Pistorius will be living in luxury with his rich uncle.
Judges know where the money is.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Eliminate Aggressive Web Browser Popups Like PC Keeper

A friend asked me for help to get rid of an aggressive popup on his web browser.  It had completely hijacked his computer.  I am sharing this experience because computers are household appliances and you can fix this problem without calling for help if you have a few ideas you can try yourself.

First, let me describe the problem.  Someone in your household stumbles across a website that pops up a page claiming to be from a company called PC Keeper. The popup declares you have a virus and you must download PC Keeper to get rid of your virus.  It is like extortion:  download this  product or else your computer is ours and you cannot have it back.  First of all, who knows who is really behind the popup.  It might be PC Keeper and it might not.   So let's just focus on the generic problem:  Something has hijacked your computer through your web browser.  In this case the browser was Mozilla Firefox.  Look around on the internet under "PC Keeper Virus" and you will see a lot of people have run into this problem, including users of Microsoft Internet Explorer.

This aggressive popup covers the whole computer screen and locks up you computer.  You cannot use Task Manger to kill Firefox.  You cannot even restart your computer.  What I did might not be the best way to fix the problem, but it worked.

Step 1:  Press on your on/off button on your computer until it shuts down.  This will take longer than normal because the aggressive popup is fighting with your OS.  Be patient and continue holding that button down. Until it finally shuts off.  If it never shuts off, you can always flip the power switch on the computer plug strip.

Step 2:  Disconnect your computer from the internet.  I disconnected the Ethernet cable from the back of the PC.  If your household has a wireless connection to the infected computer, then can disconnect your computer from your wireless tower by finding the list of wireless connections available to your computer and disconnecting from your wireless tower/modem.

Step 3:  Start your computer.  Then open Firefox, which will try to relaunch the rogue popup, but it will fail because your computer is now disconnected from the internet.  Now you have control of your browser again and you can close all the tabs.  I don't remember if the popup appeared.  I don't think it did because the tab that had the website that launched the popup could not reach the internet.  The list has, connect/disconnect, for each connection.

I ran a virus scan on the Mozilla folders in C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox and found nothing, so I did not think there was a virus as such, but I was afraid Mozilla was corrupted.

Step 4:  I went to the My Computer > Add/Remove programs and I uninstalled Firefox.  Then I used a different browser to download and reinstall Firefox.  Everything seemed okay at this point.

Part of the problem with an aggressive popup like this is that Firefox has a terrible feature that is exploited by these people who hijack your computer:  When you kill the computer, restart the computer, and reopen Firefox, then Firefox will have saved all the tabs that were open when you crashed your computer and Firefox will relaunch the aggressive popup

You ought to get familiar with this because when your browser is hijacked then you cannot search for help.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Remember:  Power off your computer, disconnect from the internet,  restart the browser and close all the tabs in your browser.  Always have more than one browser because you might need one to reinstall another.

Computers are household appliances and you need to know how to fix some of the problems you encounter.  Good luck!

You might want to find a way to disable popups on your browser.  Google for instructions.  Also, the pop up might be from malware instead of from your browser.  When you read an article on your web browser, you might want to avoid clicking on anything that appears on that page.  What looks like another interesting article might be a trap to launch malware or vicious pop ups. The web is increasingly dangerous.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Joy of Letter Writing

I mentioned in the past [1] that our Plano schools stopped teaching cursive handwriting.  I discovered this when my son was in 7th grade.  I bought a couple of books on cursive handwriting at Mardel's and tried to teach him cursive, but it was too late.  The books on cursive were labeled 3rd or 4th grade and that was not inspiring to a middle school boy.  Then 8th grade was consumed with Algebra 1.  So we succeeded with Algebra while cursive handwriting fell by the wayside.

After receiving very attractive hand written notes from my cousins I decided to bring out the long forgotten cursive penmanship books.  I have been practicing and I can make my report to you now.

Writing a letter to family or friends in nice cursive, with a nice fountain pen on good quality paper is very pleasurable.  The feel of the pen nib gliding on the paper, the smooth, cool feel of the paper under your hand, and the look of your handwriting on the paper is a great experience.  This adds a special dimension to the act of writing a letter.

I can recommend the Goulet Pen Company (  For paper I recommend Clairefontaine Triomphe (A4 Tablet - Blank) with matching envelopes.  There is a smaller size writing pad for notes.  The Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen (Black Plain, Fine nib) is a bargain at $15 (  I use ink cartridges because I don't want to bother with a bottle of ink.  I use the Pilot Namiki black ink cartridges.

When my son is away at college I plan to send nice hand written letters to him.  I once asked my mother why her handwriting was so attractive and she told me she was taught the Palmer method.  The nice handwriting in letters from my mother and cousins have inspired me to improve my handwriting.  Someday letters from me to my son might inspire him to learn cursive.  In the meantime, I am finding the experience of writing letters in cursive on nice paper with a good pen to be very pleasant.

It is unfortunate that I did not know PISD gave up teaching cursive until it was too late to teach my son.  But now you know that 3rd grade is the time to teach your children cursive if that is a skill you want for your children.

I wish the very best for your children.


You might enjoy a related post: The Joy of Sending Cards, August 28, 2016, in Robert Canright's Personal Blog

[1]  Skills & Success; Cursive & Math
Plano Parents blog
May 16, 2011

Notes on cursive material
The book on cursive that I like best is Cursive Writing Grades 3-4 by Carolyn Dywer and Rbin Boyer (2004, isbn 9781589473980).  It has a lot of the Palmer letters, but is still a simplified Palmer style.  What I like best about the Dywer book is that the first couple of pages have the entire alphabet, capital and lower case, that I can use as reference because I am still learning.

Below is an example of the Palmer alphabet.  It is a little more elaborate that the script in the Carolyn Dywer book.  Click on the image to see it enlarge.

The more common cursive style is called D'Nealian, shown below
Another source of penmanship books is the Zaner-Bloser Company ( They call their style the Zanerian writing style.  To me it looks like the D'Nealian style.

If you look at the signature of Abraham Lincoln you can see that the capital A is not from Palmer or D'Nealian.  It is from the Spencerian style.  Lincoln's signature is below.  My plan is to use the Palmer style, but adopt the Spencerian capital A that President Lincoln used.  Finally, I will mention that the cursive style used in the American Declaration of Independence is called Copperplate.
Here is a review of the Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen by Brian Goulet of the Goulet Pen Company.  On You Tube:  
Or search on You Tube for:  Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen Overview

Addition on October 8, 2016:  The Wall Street Journal had a book review of The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubek.  The newspaper title of the review was "The Lions of Longhand," published in the 10/1/16 issue, page C11.  Online the book review has a different title:  Can Writing Survive the iPhone? by Wayne Curtis.  Here are a couple of quotes from the article: "The century was bracketed by two lions of longhand: Platt Rogers Spencer and A.N. Palmer. Spencerian penmanship was the sort of flowing, billowing letters familiar to anyone who’s pondered the Coca-Cola logo." And, "Spencer’s style was supplanted by a leaner script advocated by A.N. Palmer, who thought an industrializing country needed a more efficient script."

My dear departed mother learned the Palmer method of cursive.  I asked her how she had such a nice handwriting and whe told me she was taught the Palmer method.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Who is Robert Canright?

I'm sure there are people who have asked, "Who is Robert Canright?"  I'm a dad who has been lucky to bring up his kids in Plano, Texas.  This has been a great town in which to rear children.  Like so many people who have moved to Plano, we came here for good schools.  Education is dear to my heart, and I know many of my neighbors care about their children's education, so I have shared through blogs and websites ideas for providing our children with the best education.

Schools all across America have been making mistakes by diminishing the quality of education in order to pursue trends fashionable in education circles.  We have to help each other by sharing tips on how to keep our children's education on track.  Other people have helped me with tips on Plano education, and I try to also provide helpful tips through some of my blogs.

Our children are facing a challenging and complex world.  Some of my blogs are meant to consider different ways in which we can help our children.  One example is a blog called Canright on Software and Programming that provides tips for beginning programmers.

My extended family has been involved in education across the country and across generations.  It is in our blood.  Also, many of us have been engineers and technologists.  I was a public school teacher, math and science, for a few years but have been a technologist for most of my career.  I have degrees in mathematics, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering.  I practice software engineering these days.

I like writing.  This too runs in my family. I wrote many technical papers when I worked in corporate research and development.  You can view my list of publications here.  I have also written a book on Confucianism.

In the book by Ron Suskind, "The Way  of the World, A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism," on page 322, there is a quote about building bridges between the Muslim world and the Western world.  Two Muslims are talking and the conversation turns to this:  "We are trying to build the bridges.  The problem is, whose standard are we going to adopt to build the bridges on?  Whose foundations are we going to use?"

The bridge between the Middle East and America could be Confucianism.  I say this in my book on pages eight to ten (8 - 10).  This is one reason I wrote my book in 2005, 10 years ago.  Confucianism could be a bridge between the two cultures, Christianity and Islam.  You can purchase my book, "Achieve Lasting Happiness: Timeless Secrets to Transform Your Life" here.

Who is Robert Canright?  I am a dad willing to work to make the world a better place for my children and for your children.


Here is more about me from the time I ran for the local school board.

Because I wrote a book on Confucianism people ask if I am a Christian.  Yes, I am a Christian, a born again Christian.  To get a feel for Confucianism you might look at my blog posting:  To Advance, Help Others to Advance.

Other Robert Canrights
Robert is not an uncommon name.  I have cousins named Robert.
Robert C. Canright lived in the same town as my father, Robert E. Canright.  They used to get each other's mail on occasion.  I had the pleasure of meeting Robert C. Canright, who goes by Bob.  Here is a link to him:

I have not met Robert B. Canright

Robert M. Canright of Columbus, Ohio has died: September 29, 1930 ~ March 4, 2016 (age 85)
Robert W. Canright of Indiana has also passed away.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Teaching Our Kids About Interest and Inflation

The Rule-of-72

An author made a statement that stopped me cold.  He expressed amazement that the American people unquestioningly accepted a Federal Reserve target inflation rate of 2% when that meant our savings over our working lifetime would be cut in half.  When I heard this on the audio book, I said "Huh?" and stopped the audio to think this over.  When we are taught the Rule-of-72 for investments we are told that dividing 72 by an annual interest rate gives us the number of years for our investment to double.  I never thought about the using an inflation rate to figure out when our savings are cut in half.   But 72 divided by a 2% inflation rate means that in 36 years the money you buried in the back yard is worth half (buys half as much) of its worth when you buried it.  Thirty-six years is a working career.  This is what the author was talking about.

The chart above shows how your money grows or shrinks over the years.  You can see at a glance why it is important to have some investments that average 12% growth and why we are so much better off with a 1% inflation rate than a 2% inflation rate.  I had never thought about the Rule-of-72 applying to inflation.  Of course it applies, but we don't think about it because we are not taught to think about it.  I went and talked to an intelligent engineer from one of the best engineering colleges in America about the Rule-of-72 for interest and for inflation.  He had never heard of the Rule-of-72 and was surprised that such a useful concept was never taught to him in school.

The schools are overloaded with what they have to teach, so it is up to us parents to teach our kids about the Rule-of-72.  Money is sort of like sex:  our children need to hear first from us parents about these complicated topics, we need to put them on the right track, and we need to shepherd them so they stay on the right path.

Debt is Dangerous

With the Rule-of-72 we can show our children that if they borrow money for college and they do not pay off the loan, they can see when their debt doubles.  For example, borrowing $20,000 at 6% interest, the debt will double to $40,000 after 12 years.  Some frustrated students are refusing to pay back their student debt.  Google "students refusing to pay back student loans" and you will get articles like "A revolt is growing as more people refuse to pay back student loans" by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, The Washington Post.  Not paying a debt is dangerous because the debt continues to grow.

Remember I wrote earlier about college loans:  College Loans   Saturday, December 29, 2012

Interest Rates

You might have thought I was joking about burying money in the back yard, but putting money in the bank is not much different than burying it in the back yard.  My bank pays a 0.1% interest rate on savings, meaning it will take 720 years for my money to double.  I had pulled my money from a bank that paid a 0.01% interest rate that would take 7,200 years to double.  Wow!  7200 years is longer than all of recorded human history.

The interest paid by banks on savings is paced by the Federal Funds Rate, set by the Federal Reserve.  See the chart above.  This low interest rate is destroying the savings of average Americans.  This low interest rate also means our pension funds are dying for lack of safe investments, and some of us who have pensions will see them shrink or disappear.  Why does the Federal Reserve do something what hurts Americans?  Forget what they say, look at what happens.  The very pinnacle of America's wealthy class borrows money from the U.S. Government for free and then invests it in Asia to get large returns.  This is the true source of income inequality, the massive transfer of wealth from the average American saver to the very richest people in America.  Look at the chart above and remember how you used to get 3% on savings and 4% or 5% on CDs (certificates of deposit).  We need to get back to having at least a 2% or 3% interest on our savings, which means we need a Federal Funds rate above 2% or 3%. 

If we fail to teach our children about  money, then they will be hurt financially by what they do not understand.


Too much is said of the "top 1%."  There are layers of wealth.  Think of Dallas (the city, not the metroplex) with a population of 1 million.  The top 1% would be 10,000 people.  I don't think we have that many millionaires in the city.  So the top 1% is the upper middle class/low echelon wealthy.  The top 1% of the top 1% would number 100 people.  I don't think we have a 100 billionaires in the city of Dallas.  One hundred millionaires maybe, but not 100 billionaires.  I would guess 10 billionaires in a city of 1 million. There might be 1.2 million people in Dallas, so this would be 12 billionaires.  We can google for this to find the real number and move beyond estimation.  This list shows 16 billionaires in Dallas, but only 1 billionaire in Dallas worth 10 billion.  Our estimates are fair approximations.  So here are the layers of wealth:
Top 1% = the upper middle class, low echelon wealthy
Top 1% of the top 1% = the millionaires
Top 10% of the top 1% of the top 1% = the billionaires
Top 1% of the top 1% of the top 1% = the wealthier billionaires
Wealth is far more concentrated than people realize.  Just 80 people own half of all the wealth in the world.  I am not passing judgment. I am simply saying that when I refer to the very pinnacle of America's wealthy class, I am talking about a small number of people.  And even this small group is not monolithic.

Inflation and Debt Thread
I am calling a list of related articles a "thread."  Below I will list all my articles related to the topics of inflation and debt.  When I write a new article, I will put a link there to this blog entry and this blog entry will point to all the other related articles.  If you read one article, you have links you can follow to read them all.

Debt is Dangerous  October 20, 2015
Teaching Our Children About Investments  July 29, 2018
Calculating Inflation with a Practical Example  August 19, 2018
Teaching Our Children About Inflation and Debt  August 1, 2017 (Shows house prices)
Inflation in Postage Stamps: Knowing the Formula  February 23, 2019
Graphical Displays of Inflation  May 25, 2019

Friday, April 3, 2015

Grammar for Your Child

Grammar is important for you and your child when reviewing a composition.  If your child cannot write well, then all the college classes that grade on written essays will pummel your child mercilessly.  If you can ensure your child learns grammar, then written assignments have a better first draft and editing goes more smoothly.  But why discuss grammar?  Is it not taught in the schools?  Sadly, you cannot rely on the schools to teach grammar, or to teach it competently.

Grammar, writing skills, and vocabulary are all part of the mixture for good writing.  Grammar has lost respect in the schools for a number of reasons.  One reason is that it is viewed as a skill and the educational philosopher John Dewey has disparaged the teaching of skills, calling such instruction stultifying and mechanistic.  Another reason is that Noam Chomsky's theories of grammar were misinterpreted, leading teachers to believe we are born with grammar programmed into our minds, making it unnecessary to teach the subject.

As a parent with two children having gone through the Plano schools, I can tell you that if you care about writing skills, then you would be wise to coach your child on grammar and writing (and math, but that is another topic).  In elementary and middle school I have found the series of books called Spectrum Language Arts to be very worthwhile.  You can find them at if you cannot find them at your local bookstore.  If you do not go over every single page of these workbooks with your child, pick some parts to review with your child. Do not neglect your child's education if you value education.

Vocabulary is definitely neglected in the schools.  In middle school I used a book with my son called "Picture These SAT Words."   I found it very helpful.

I made the mistake of taking my eye off the ball in middle school with regard to grammar.  I did use the 6th grade Spectrum Language Arts.  It was a good resource and I still have it because it did a better job covering linking verbs than some college handbooks.  Yes, by the time your child is in college there is an expectation that many of the topics in grammar have been mastered.  Some opportunities are lost forever if you do not exploit them when you have the chance.  I failed to use Spectrum Language Arts in grades 7 and 8 and I regret that.  Honestly, Connected Math drove me to distraction in 7th and 8th grades and it crowded out grammar and writing.  I would also suggest Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliot for middle school grammar. There is a section in the back called "Cleaning Up Messy Writing" that is very worthwhile, even for adults.

Spend time with your children on grammar and writing in elementary and middle school.  Your children will reap a lifetime of benefit.  By the time your children reach high school it will be too late to help them.  Too many years of neglect cannot be made up in high school, and your children will probably be too independent in high school to accept your help.

Elementary and middle school is your time to help your children.  High school and college are the times your children show the world what they have mastered, or not mastered, in grammar and writing.  The years pass by quickly, don't miss your chance to help your children.


PS: My focus in this post was education for grades 1 to 8.  If you want the long view, the goal of where your child should be headed with regard to grammar and writing, then I can recommend a couple of books.  My favorite grammar handbook is The Hodges Harbrace Handbook, 18th Edition.  My favorite style guide for writing is The Practical Stylist: The Classic Guide to Style by Sheridan Baker.  These are both outstanding books.  I think they are the best, and I own quite a few great books on grammar and writing.  If you wonder about the difference between the 8th edition of The Practical Stylist and the latest edition, I can tell you they are exactly the same book.  There is an 8th edition with readings that includes essays. "Shooting the Elephant" by George Orwell is included.  This is a well regarded essay.  "Relinquishing Oz" by Bonnie Friedman is a skunk of an essay,  So you cannot count all all the essays matching your taste.  Of course, I've yet to see an eclectic essay collection that I liked whole-heartedly.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Harvard Classics and Your Family Cannon

There was a nice article in the Wall Street Journal, print edition, on Saturday, Dec. 27, 2015:  A Year of 15-Minute Daily Doses From the Harvard Classics by Paula Marantz Cohen.  You can read it by Googling it.  Ms Cohen quotes Charles W. Eliot saying this about the Harvard Classics, often called the five-foot shelf:   "...a five foot shelf would hold books enough to give a liberal education to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading."  Paula Cohen takes up Dr. Eliot's challenge and describes the results in this nicely written article.

The Great Books movement was started at Columbia University in 1920, promoted by John Erskine of the English department.  One of the instructors in the course was Mortimer Adler, who moved to the University of Chicago.  Together with the University president, Robert M. Hutchins, the Great Books movement took root there and led to the Great Books series published by the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The idea behind the Great Books is that educated Westerners should be familiar with the foundational books of Western civilization.  The program has been a positive experience for many.  The writer David Denby wrote Great Books, My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World, in which he chronicles his experience of re-taking the Great Books course at Columbia after 30 years.  A nice feature of his book is the list of works studying in that course so that you can decide if any of those works appeal to you.

As parents we can pick more than a cannon of Great Books for our family, but also a family cannon of music, and theater, and movies.  We can be purposeful about the books, music, plays, and movies our children see or hear.  Your family cannon can ground the moral compass and enrich the soul.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Plano Student Drum Major at University of Michigan

This short video shows Cody Martin, of Plano, Texas, as the drum major of the University of Michigan band

The video above is 3 minutes long.
The one below is longer and also has Cody Martin.
It looks like a competition.  I stop it after the U.M. fight song is done.

A lot of my friends went to Ohio State.  A lot of my family went to U. of Wisconsin.  But the University of Michigan fight song is my favorite.

I was tickled to see a young man from Plano as the drum major.
I hope you enjoy the performances.


And for my friends from Ohio State, here is my favorite You Tube video of that band:
You have to admit, they are a sharp band.