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Maths and gender bias

I might be back blogging.  I have been too busy/jetlagged/under-the-weather-due-to-overbusyness, etc…  Still homeschooling though, so here is today’s best incident.

We were doing maths, when Antonia suddenly said “who wrote this book anyway?”. So I turned to the front and read her the names of the authors. “Humph!”, she said, “all men! I suppose that’s why there’s so many boys in it”.

I was quite surprised. I hadn’t noticed any such bias. But she is more sensitive to that sort of thing than me, and there certainly were no girls on that particular page. I decided to do a people count to see if she had formed a false impression. The book is divided into five sections, and after counting the first two, I though she was mistaken. The proportion of girls to boys was so close, it showed every sign of having been carefully engineered. Then I got to the third section, the one we are just finishing, and saw that she was very right indeed.

Perhaps the worst thing was that I then started noticing the ratio of adult women to men throughout the book, which is very poor. And whilst many of the men were professionals of various kinds, almost all of the few women were somebody’s mother or a customer. Here are my results.

Section   1    2    3    4    5
Girls    42   28   27   23   20
Boys     41   26   43   28   24
Women     1    9    5    4    5
Men       4   12   16   19   15

I won’t name and shame the maths book. For one thing, I’m otherwise very pleased with it. For another, it’s a French one, so I don’t imagine many people who happen here would be using it. I just thought it was very interesting that some children actually notice these things. So yes, it probably is worth making the effort to be ‘politically correct’.

Now I suppose I should get my act together and write a letter to the publisher, saying how much I like their book, but…

Narration variation

We’ve been doing Charlotte Mason style narrations based on readings for over a year, but now we are branching out a little bit.  Sometimes I ask Antonia to tell me back a story from the perspective of a particular character, possibly not a major one.  She’s also been doing a little translating of easier passages from French into English.  This is not an easy task, and implies a pretty high level of comprehension.  I wouldn’t actually have asked her to do this for more than a few sentences, put I got a whole chapter of a book!  Most of her narration is still completely undirected.

Art, literature and beautiful landscapes



I am supposed to record Antonia’s picture narration of Turner’s Dido Building Carthage:

“On the side of the picture there are some people that look like they are going to bathe or they might be washing their clothes.  And it looks like the sun is setting and some of the light is reflecting off the river.  There’s a line of white water but all of it is in shade after that.  There is mostly shade because of the arches and the tree.  You can see that the tree is on a mountain and on the top of the mountain, there’s a little arch.  I found it very refreshing to look at.  On the left side of the picture, I can see a flag next to an arch.  The building on the right side is next to the sun.”

She seems to be building up a descriptive style.  The one thing that really inspired her today was writing a review of CS Lewis‘ Voyage of the Dawn Treader which we have just finished:

The Dawn Treader

The Dawn Treader is an interesting book.  There are three characters called Edmund, Lucy and Eustace.  They are very, very brave.  And they are king and queen except Eustace who got turned into a dragon and he could not talk.  The Dawn Treader had a mouse with them.  The mouse talked his head off, but he was very nice and adorable.

This comes with an ancient ship illustration, one of her current specialities, and a date in which all the numbers have arms, legs and faces to the point where you can’t tell what they say.

Yesterday, she wrote this little story, so I guess I can also cross off that ‘composes on a model’ entry in the grade 2 checklist!  I think we must have a couple of picture books that follow this theme:

In a very dark wood, there’s a very dark house.
In the very dark house there is a very dark mouse,
And that mouse had a very small house.

Yesterday, we spent a beautiful afternoon at the Cirque de St Meme, a place up in the mountains, that’s picturesque enough to be terribly crowded except on a school day.  We took a little hike, a picnic gouter, paddled and sunbathed.  I am usually good at estimating the time from the daylight, but this time the air and light were so pristine that I was a whole hour out of my reckoning and we got home pretty late.

I am glad for the nice things in our homeschooling just now, because we seem to be having the extreme ups and downs at the moment.  I would prefer not to talk about maths (other than multiplication tables) or French writing! Maybe later, I will talk about Just So Stories.  I am really amazed at how much Antonia loves reading those.

Multiplication tables ticked off

In theory, Antonia finished learning her multiplication tables today.  I say in theory, because it’s quite possible that in the process of getting those last few 12x under her belt he forgot some of the earlier ones.  We will be having periodic revisions just to make sure they all really stick.

Apart from that, she is still very tired.  In fact she is now asleep again at 11.30 am.  I thought it best to put her back to bed as a large number of people are coming over for a barbecue in about an hour.  I’m declaring next week a ‘quiet’ week, which means no more social plans than have already been made, and a focus on getting enough sleep, and some peaceful time outdoors.

Lake day

We spent the whole day at the lake.  How fun can you get!  It was still warm enough to paddle, and nobody was there except us two homeschooling families – oh and a sleepy swan, but it stormed off in a huff shortly after we arrived.  The girls had a lovely time together while we mothers chatted and kept an eye on them from a distance.  They did all kinds of stuff, beachcombing, boat building…  One funny thing is that they both have noticeably big vocabularies, but not quite the same big vocabularies!  And they’re both a little young to be able to define words that they know how to use for other people.  At least that’s what Antonia gave me to understand just now when I was putting her to bed.  They don’t quite understand each other all the time!

Even a sack of potatoes can learn!

Antonia is still a zombie!  But never mind, our day had a few highlights.  Charlotte Mason had a theory that I will have to paraphrase: you never know what will light your kids fire, so just give them some of everything and see what sticks:

  1. We read about the Athenians sending out their triremes to deal with pirates and we got to looking up what a trireme really is.  A trireme is multi-storey war ship with rowers on three levels.  It was the fastest thing on the sea at the time (like maybe 17 km/hour).  Antonia couldn’t get over the fact that the crew consisted of about 200 people and that it was 5 times the length of our living room.  She has been drawing her ancient boats as little rowing boat sized things with about 2 people on board.  I couldn’t get over how beautiful the modern reconstruction, Olympias, is.  I had to stick a photo of it on my desktop for a while.  If I had a teleport machine, I would have popped over to Athens to see it for real.  Antonia is starting to understand all kinds of things like why water travel was preferable to land travel in ancient times, the problems of navigation and the reasons for coast-hopping.
  2. Antonia tried knitting for the second time.  It really went quite well, in that she knitted several rows by herself in the end, though she keeps inadvertently adding stitches.
  3. We listened to the Prom 63 concert on BBC radio’s listen again facility (4 days left, and highly recommended!)  We both really enjoyed listening to the Motets and Chansons with interspersed Indian music, though some part of me couldn’t help thinking that this was a rather simplistic approach to ‘fusion’.  It sounded nice, what can I say.  Neither of us like Messiaen much, I’m afraid.  But we both loved the Night Ragas like crazy.  It took me right back to India, to those crazy nights travelling through Maharashtra in decrepit cars and late trains, the lovely candle-lit nights in Mandhu and Orchha, the platforms of the railway stations just about everywhere.  Not that we ever heard musicians quite as talented as this.  Mike groaned that he didn’t really understand the structure of Indian music, but Antonia and I are kind of used to it.  Music is like a language, you learn it naturally from exposure.  I love India.  To me it really seems like Europe’s twin sister in terms of culture and potential quality of life.  It’s undeniably true that Indian society has a problem to solve in sustaining life at all for many of its people, but at least if they can solve that, they will have plenty to live for.  I couldn’t really say that of every place I’ve been to.  Now I’m all nostalgic for India.  I even had to turn most of the lights off, to get that intermittent electricity feel!  If I had a teleport machine, I would be in Orchha right now.

    P.S.  I realise that based on the image of India abroad, some people might not understand the ‘quality of life’ thing.  It’s kind of subjective: reliable transport and electricity contribute only a tiny percentage to my sense of quality of life.  Decent music, literature and food, and a couple of thousand years of history under my feet are vital. Like everyone else, I find that enough food and clean water are even more of a prerequisite of course.

Still tired …

Antonia hasn’t really recovered from her intense social weekend, and I have to say that the week has done nothing to help her.  We have been too busy squeezing things in.  Let nobody say that homeschooled kids do not get out and socialise, because this one has been doing too much.  Maybe that’s why she did not enjoy her Wednesday ‘day camp’ as much as she enjoyed the summer holiday camp for which I prepared her carefully.  Last night, I heard all the things I used to hear about school: it’s too noisy, it gave her a headache, the other kids didn’t act very nice, etc.  She was angling not to have to go back for the other five days we booked.  I think she should probably do them, but I won’t mind if we drop it after that.  I just don’t know how I can cope with organising the whole week around making sure she is rested enough before and after a Wednesday day camp.  Especially when her Dad just doesn’t ‘get’ the concept of an over-filled schedule.

He’s been tired himself though.  Hee, hee, maybe he will learn.  On Tuesday he carried out a couple of impromptu science experiements in the kitchen.  He lit the wrong circle on the stove, got one of our skillets incredibly hot, then put it down on the granite work top.  It was hot enough to alter the crystallisation of the stone!!  Now we have a nice circle of whiter crystals in the counter for perpetuity.  That was the afternoon.  In the evening, he put a different skillet down on the wooden counter and burned a ring in that.  We already sanded that one out and revarnished it.

Today is our only quiet day at home for the week, so I am looking forward to enjoying it, and also getting some lessons done !

We get a rest day after all

We picked Antonia up from the friends where she spent the night and zoomed over by some beautiful backroads to the friends where we were supposed to be having dinner.  We knew she was tired, but we figured in the worst case, she would be grumpy, or fall asleep on their sofa.  We did not count on her being so tired she would be physically sick.  We drove home very slowly after that, earlier than expected, and this morning we cancelled today’s social plans so that she could recover.  She has certainly been in one of those zombie-states all day.  I sometimes worry a bit that it really does show a less than normal stamina when a child needs 24 hours to recover for every day spent playing with friends – but that is how it is with her.

Since she was a mess, I let her watch a thing called Bee Movie that she brought back from her last trip to the US.  That was a bad move.  I keep thinking I have seen the dumbest movie imaginable, and I keep being wrong.  Now, I know this is not supposed to be a nature documentary but … male worker bees!?  Big butch ‘pollen jocks’!??  Yeah, those jocks are so smart, they do pollination by taking the pollen out of daisies and putting it on roses!!!  I couldn’t believe it.  (A real pollen jock is mostly interested in taking the pollen home to HER hive, anyway). And it’s a shame that one of the major premises of the movie is that our (male) hero has to choose one job for his whole life.  Because a grade school book on bees would no doubt explain that the jobs bees do are dependent on their age, and every bee eventually does every job, except the queen.  Female bees that is.  Male bees really do have only one job, and it is, as Mike so poetically put it “pollinating the eggs”.  Actually, dearest husband, they “pollinate” the queen, once in her life.  The rest of the time, they just hang out, till winter.  I guess he doesn’t know so much about ‘the birds and the bees’, after all!

So does it really matter?  Does the ever popular “bull” with a bass voice, macho habits and udders matter?  Well, this particular movie was high on a vision of patriarchal society that would make the Flintstones look progressive.  And that vision was based on a lie about nature.  I think it matters.  When you consider that if they had made a bee movie with just the same plot, but adhering to some level of truth about bees, it would have been a pick-up for little girls, instead of a put-down.  And if they just want to make up whatever they want, why use a real species at all?  What’s wrong with stripey pixies or something?

Do I think these people are maliciously promoting a questionable cultural vision at the expense of reality or do I think they’re very, very ignorant and stupid?  Either way it doesn’t look good for them.  Rant over!

Apart from that, I started teaching Antonia to knit, which went nicely.  She spent some time playing with the synth software.  It allowed her to record her voice on multiple tracks, modify it, and construct a nicely post-modernist soundtrack of herself arguing with herself, herself and herself.  It is maybe a little bit amusing the first time you hear it.  ‘Nuff said! She also made a few other little crafty things.

Antonia helped me through the day

I think I got about 4 hours of sleep last night.  I should have tried harder to go back to bed, instead of getting engrossed in a book.  I had a much better morning than I deserve under the circumstances.  At 9.30 I was woken by the sound of the dishwasher being emptied.  Soon there followed the rattle of dominoes – that is what Antonia uses to do her multiplication practice.  After that things went quiet.  When I woke up again, I was handed a cup of coffee.  After a while, I thought I had better turn up downstairs.  I found a pristine, brilliantly neat (and illustrated) writing exercise sitting on the table.  What a wonderful kid!  After that she did some maths and piano practice, while I swallowed coffee.  Practically all I had to do is shake myself awake enough for the parts of our reading that I read aloud.

One of the highlights of homeschooling for me right now is Antonia reading me some of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.  It’s nice to be hearing something that has some literary value and something that’s new to me (yes, I somehow missed out on these when I was a kid).  I’m enjoying the way Kipling plays with words.  These stories are just the right level for Antonia.  A few longish words that are new to her, but not so many that she loses the flow.  From now on, I’m going to try to make an effort to see that the books she reads to me are worth hearing.  She can read as much kiddie-lit as likes in her own time.

Now, she’s gone off swimming with her Dad.  Boy, you can really hear the silence.  She is brimming over with intellectualism and fine words just now.  The other day she said “This talking process is just becoming more and more interesting”!  I thought that was wonderful – but it’s a bit intense for a poor old mother who was up to the early hours.  Right now, I am supposed to be finishing off some translation work, catching up on a week’s worth of housework, and preparing for an intense weekend of socialisation, starting this evening.  In reality, I am sitting in a daze.  I have been wondering vaguely for 15 minutes whether more coffee would be a good idea, but I can’t make up my mind as the thought won’t hang around for long enough.

NB:  It would seem that I can write something vaguely resembling a sentence without engaging any long range though processes, wouldn’t it!?  Ah, the joys of automated skills.

P.S.  I managed a thought, and it is this:  routines work better for some people than other perhaps, but in this case, at this time, a routine empowered a small child to pretty much get through her day by herself.