451 degrees of Reading

 Claire 451

Fahrenheit 451 – do you remember it?  When Ray Bradbury wrote this stark view of a world in which books are illegal and firemen are sent to burn them and the homes they are found in, I wonder if he could realize the impact his book would have upon teenagers in 2013.

Both of my older daughters (whose English teachers have been the cream of the crop) read it as part of their 8th grade reading lists. It was an interesting book and its subject was immediately interesting to them because they are avid readers and lovers of books, but both of them began to realize with this famous work that reading some of these classics are a bit like riding a roller coaster. There are interesting parts and great paragraphs and eerie scenes, but also slow parts and confusing moments and difficult passages.

Because of the ups and downs in this particular book and sometimes feeling like they were having to force themselves to keep reading, I often found myself trying to encourage them to keep reading until the story could capture their attention again.

And then something great happened last evening! We were at a school event and our middle daughter’s wonderful 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Adam, stopped to say hello. We were talking about the common struggle of reading these classic works of literature and our daughter told her about the difficult and sometime-drudgery of reading Fahrenheit 451.

Mrs. Adam said, “The reason to keep reading such things is so you can be ready for literary allusions in the future. The cultural impact of these books will always find some place in an interesting conversation. By reading them now, you will be ready for such things and you can think right along with the best of them.”

No wonder this is a person we define as a great teacher.  She could see beyond the day-to-day (or page-to-page) and into the bigger picture.  She was reminding us that there are important aspects of being a reader that only time will tell.  She was teaching.

9 Brains are Better than 1

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (as he sees all the brains in Dr. Necessiter’s lab): “I’ve never seen so many brains out of their heads before! I feel like a kid in a candy store.”

The Man with Two Brains (1983)



I was never much of an invention-minded boy growing up, but that has completely changed now that I have children.  There is rarely a year that goes by in our daughters’ educational journey that doesn’t require that we put our heads together and come up with something creative and/or innovative – whether it be an erupting volcano, a launching rocket, a creative topic for an essay, or a hundred other school-themed ideas that are all set to expand their developing vision and grow their maturing brain…which brings me to the story of our most recent and very own family brain-academy-around-the-kitchen-table experience in which we were determined to build a slick air-powered water bottle with compact discs for wheels.

At our house, the one middle school constant (beyond the normal crowded hallways, remembering of locker combinations, cafeteria dramas, and excessive homework) has been this anxiety-provoking assignment to create a fully air-powered vehicle that will travel straight ahead and go no less than 15 feet.  Sure, the internet makes this assignment much less problematic, but we agreed to refuse to look up anything about it and forge ahead to see what we might create.

As she worked through this process of invention, our daughter decided that it would be interesting to invite as many family members to join her around our kitchen table (grandfathers and grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, cousins, parents, sisters, you name it)…for a meeting of the minds to tackle this particular project.

We ended up with a house full of brains and a kitchen table full of ideas and crafty objects of all kinds, but all deciding that in the end it would be entirely up to our daughter to choose from the best ideas among them and build the final grade-worthy car.The final result was super and our daughter passed with flying colors, making it nearly 18 feet with her balloon-powered water bottle and straws and chopsticks and cd-for-wheels car.

But the best part – the best part – was that spontaneous meeting of the minds.  Everyone laughed and talked and debated and offered their wisdom in the project, and that made it worth the whole thing.

Have you ever visited a science lab?  There are no one-room offices with one person working away on a project; there are a dozen people in a big room all working together.  So why let your kids do some assignments (especially those that allow for a large measure of creativity and invention) by themselves when you can offer them an extra set of ears and hands and thoughts and…brains?  Why sit idly by when you can be creating a moment with them and then watching them thrill at the victory that might come?

I’ll never forget sitting among these generations of people around this kitchen table tackling such a problem.  The noise and the thinking and the telling and the wondering – they get an A+ in my book. Once again, I am learning that it is the process of the learning that matters far more than the product of the learning.  Who knows?  This kind of cooperation among us just might come in handy for even bigger things someday.

And the dad exclaimed, “I’ve never seen so many brains…”