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Posted at 4:25 PM ET, 09/11/2009

8 Things I Learned This Week

By Valerie Strauss

1) America’s two richest universities--Harvard and Yale--did not come out looking so rich or so smart when it was reported that they each lost about 30 percent of their endowments last year due to lousy investments. The median college endowment decline was 18 percent.

2) Cockroaches are not the only animals that can live for some time without their heads.

I had known before about the roach (from a stint I did helping with KidsPost) But, as I was researching something for The Post’s new Education Page http://washingtonpost.com/education/, I learned the roaches aren’t alone in this stunning feat of nature.

The male praying mantis, for example, apparently stays alive during copulation after the female bites off its head. Enough said.

3) Backpacks remain a big problem for kids, and schools should help lessen the heavy load.

One of my daughters came home from school with a backpack so heavy that I decided to weigh it. It was 20 pounds; she weighs 84 pounds. When I asked her if she had to carry all of those books home, she replied, “No, I just like being in pain.”

Research showed that carrying more than 10 to 15 percent of body weight on one shoulder can cause chronic shoulder, back and joint pain. Meanwhile, at least one-half of U.S. schoolchildren carry too much weight in their backpacks, researchers say, and the number of backpack related injuries in children is increasing.

An initial decision to get her a backpack with padded straps and teach her how to place it just right to lessen the pain was brushed aside with this though: “That’s ridiculous. She shouldn’t have to schlep all of those books.”

The solution: Borrowing a second set of books from school or purchasing used duplicates to keep at home and adding it to the list of back-to-school expenses.

4) Speaking of back-to-school supplies, some teachers around the country have given out lists to parents with some mighty strange items. Like tennis balls that are not intended to be used to play tennis.

It turns out that the teachers cut open the balls and stick them on the bottom of chair legs to cut down on the screech when kids move around.

5) There are great speeches--and then there are great speeches.

This was the week of big speeches by President Obama--one to school students about the importance of education, and another to the American people about health care reform. Some called the latter speech the best of his presidency.
My cousin said in a discussion about the speech, “If you want to read a really great speech, read the one Queen Elizabeth 1 gave at Tilbury. The one in 1588."

Of course. Elizabeth at Tilbury in 1588. That was the speech in which she addresses English troops assembled to beat back the anticipated invasion of the Spanish Armada and famously said:

“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.”

6) Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is taking over the leadership of the Senate’s education committee from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy:

--Grew up in an Iowa town of 150 people and still lives in the Cumming house in which he was born.

--Worked when he was young on farms, construction sites, as a paper boy and at a bottling plant.

--Served as a Navy jet pilot for five years.

--Had a brother, Frank, who was deaf from an early age and is now deceased. Frank inspired Harkin to lead passage of major legislation in 1990 to help people with disabilities. He considers it his signature legislative achievement.


7) The University of Houston is offering an hour of credit to students who play Wii sports games, the Houston Chronicle reported.

8) My father was long enamored with the great code-breakers who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma communications code in World War II, helping the U.S. and its allies to win. So it was with interest that I saw today that Britain finally apologized for the “inhumane” treatment of the great mathematician Alan Turing who helped figure out Enigma.

Turing lived in an era when homosexuality was illegal in Britain, and he was convicted of gross indecency and forcibly treated with female hormones to reduce his sex drive. He killed himself in 1954 at age 41.

The anti-homosexual law used against him was also used in 1895 to prosecute and jail playwright Oscar Wilde. It was repealed in 2003.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown published an apology in the Daily Telegraph newspaper and on his official website.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 11, 2009; 4:25 PM ET
Tags:  Sen. Tom Harkin, college endowments, insects  
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Next: Why Don't Kids Talk About School to Parents? .... Is It O.K. That My Kid Reads The Same Book Over and Over?

Comments

And exactly where do these extra set of textbooks come from? Does the school purchase enough "duplicates?" for all of the students? And, should parents who send their children to public schools have to buy "used" duplicates? In our community, the public library usually keeps spare copies. However, for most parents, your suggestions in answering how to address the backpack problem falls short. Textbooks should be kept at home, unless the teacher has a good enough reason to use them occasionally in class.

My youngest son is in college and unfortunately still has to schlep his textbooks around campus. While home on winter break last year with a major backache, he brought home his textbooks and visited several stores that carry backpacks. He loaded up his textbooks in a number of backpacks and finally found one that fit him comfortably. That is the ONLY way to find a backpack that is comfortable. The only problem is if your child has a growth spirt which will cause them to outgrow the backpack.

Posted by: 1voraciousreader | September 11, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, schools often don't have enough books to issue each student one, let alone two. However, if the school can afford it, the best answer to the backpack dilemma is for each student to be issued a book to take home, PLUS for each teacher to have a classroom set of textbooks for use in school. I suspect the books would last longer that way, since most damage to books occurs when they are being transported to and from class/school.

Soon, of course, this may not be a problem; a single Kindle is easy to carry and could make all the students' textbooks easily available.

Posted by: highschoolteacher | September 12, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse

God help our school budgets if we adopt the digitally copy-protected e-books that the textbook publishing industry is eager to foist on us.

At least now, with hardcopy books, the schools can use the books for as many years as they'd like. With digital copy-protected books, the publishers can have the copies "expire" after a set period, forcing schools to "renew their licenses" or buy the next edition.

Instead of paying the commercial textbook publishers big bucks for their e-books, wouldn't it be nice if there were FREE e-books compiled for K-12, and we used those instead? Want to bet the textbook publishing lobby ever lets *that* happen?

Posted by: DupontJay | September 13, 2009 12:47 AM | Report abuse

Our school district issues school books that are kept at home and returned at the end of the school year.
Every classroom has a copy of each book that the student may use when in school.
That means we need 30-50 more books than we have students enrolled.

Posted by: gee3 | September 13, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

At our school, the kids don't have to worry about heavy backpacks. You see, we don't have enough books, so they can't take them home.

A few teacher are fortunate enough to have workbooks at least, and they're small.

Posted by: dylanpickle | September 13, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Interesting things. I didn't know any of those.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | September 13, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Backpacks remain a big problem for kids and as such carrying this weight that can damage the spin - Medical Fact - I have simple idea in mind that could revolution Classes if your interested - O and as for animals that can live for some time without their heads = I know a few politicans that have been doing this for years.

Posted by: BlackPirate | September 13, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Instead of asking for a duplicate set or purchasing a duplicate set, where I teach, we send the books home to stay. We ask for them to come in to school a couple of times a year. Instead the homework comes from the books and the lessons are taught using technology, resources that come with the texts that teachers get, and worksheets. We have found this greatly helps, also, with the I forgot my book around homework time.

Posted by: Bookreading | September 13, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

DupontJay- great point on e-books.

I am actually pursuing an effort centered on low-cost, customized curricula that are better than text books. The traditional one-size fits all textbook is not the most effective means of education. [See "Disrupting Class" by Clayton Christensen.]

Posted by: staticvars | September 13, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

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