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« Classism One: Title IX | Main | Psycho killer, qu'est que c'est? »


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Urg hungry for mammmoth! Silly sociobiology....

blue girl

Grisha emailed me the New Republic article last night and he and I thought we had it all figured out this morning at 7 a.m.! But alas, you and others have punched a million holes into the theory.

The one thing in that article that I could relate to was the boys not turning in their homework thing. My son would actually spend the time to do his homework, but not turn it in! Major problem for a few years. And he just couldn't or wouldn't grasp the concept that not turning in his homework was hurting his grades. I have friends with sons and they were doing the same thing. I don't know if girls do that or not.

That was a very aggravating situation for a long time.

mac macgillicuddy

"they were evolutionarily designed for their jobs, that words are "women's tools" and they just throw them around as easily and naturally as men throw rocks."

Speaking strictly for myself, I can't hit the broad side of a barn.


blue girl- my daughter has been struggling with the time issue this year along with other little details. To her knowing the stuff should be enough. Why should it matter if you forgot your name or didn't turn it in on time when you answered all of the questions correctly? I believe she is finally beginning to flash on the idea that knowing is not enough.


gee whiz..

which tribes on what part of the planet is she refering to? contemporary anthropology has long since discarded the old hunter / male gatherer / female stereotype - for starters. there has been far too many examples to the contrary, including many Nations within American Aboriginal history. and since when did professionals dicard the belief that cooperation / dependancy among people (regardless of gender) was responsible for the evolution of communication skills?

that woman can't possibly have earned a degree? in a school? studying anthropology..? i don't believe it.


seen Pollit's column?

blue girl

See Jennifer? Your daughter and my son are totally equal in that! Yay! :)


"Something changed"

So, do you have a theory?

Mike Schilling

There's a well-known Usenet loon (I'd provide his name, but am loath to give him the publicity) who claims that verbal ability is a skill the sneaky blankety-blank Jews developed in order to enslave the true men who have important skills, like being able to beat people up.

Anne Laurie

Hah! I had that "timing" problem back in the 1960s... if I knew stuff, and the teacher knew I knew it, why should I have to (a) do the homework to "show my work" or (b) turn in the homework once I'd done it? Of course, I also had ADD -- a category that didn't exist back then -- and dyslexia, a category that existed, but not for girls, like me. So, since I was demonstrably "smart" enough to finish the homework and turn it in on time, it must be that I was just "stubborn", or "willful", or "defiant". And since I was attending an overcrowded parochial school (55 kids in my first-grade class, one nun, no teaching assistants), the prescribed treatment for stubborn, defiant children leaned, shall we say, heavily on negative reinforcement; my teachers believed in sticks, not carrots, and I do not use the word "stick" metaphorically, either. Getting beaten for non-compliance couldn't keep me from loving to read, because reading was not something I learned to do at school, but it did instill a permanent fear of mathematics. But, of course, it didn't matter if a girl couldn't handle numbers, because (genuine quote) "Your husband will have to balance your checkbook & handle the family finances"...

On the other hand, there were some excellent teaching tools I did pick up, precisely because I went to an old-fashioned, overcrowded, neighborhood school. For one thing, reading aloud is an very useful tool, and not just for parents reading to pre-schoolers. Every kid had to "read aloud" in front of the class almost every day, which could be fairly hellish for dyslexics, but it did improve my comprehension (& encourage me to practice the following day's selection the night before, which was almost the only homework I did unbidden). It also meant that the teacher couldn't "pretend" non-readers had the skills to pass them along to the next grade, where they'd just fall further behind. Kids in the older grades were used to tutor the smaller ones, and it's a fact that teaching someone else really does improve one's own grasp of a topic. Finally, while the basic reading program was heavily phonics-based, probably the most important part of the educational philosophy was just that some things were hard to learn, some things were harder for some individuals, and sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and gut it out! I certainly don't advocate beating kids -- it won't work, at least if the idea is to make education desirable -- but I do think that there are limits to the Learning-Is-Fun philosophy. Some learning is fun, some of the time, but perhaps some skills can't be acquired without effort. Since I don't have kids of my own, I may be biased. But perhaps a kid who'll practice shooting baskets for hours straight, or catching a baseball until his hands are blistered, or "playing" a video game over and over just to improve his scores, can cope with the concept that he may have use the same kind of focus to turn those meaningless black marks on paper into a narrative he can handle fluently... and, just possibly, even ENJOY.

But, yeah, telling stories is important. My parents not only read to us, once we started reading, we had to tell them about the books we'd read. (That must have been excruciatingly boring for them, but then, parenthood is suffering.) And having our parents read out loud to us was a great treat, even if we didn't always understand their choices (HUCKLEBERRY FINN from my dad, TALE OF TWO CITIES from my mom). I read most of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (for the second time), chapter by chapter, as a "bedtime story" when I was 15 or 16 and the "babies" were 6 or 7. I don't think the little guys understood half the words, but they wouldn't let me stop reading, either. And my reading-averse middle brothers, ages about 11 and 13, always managed to be in the vicinity each evening; the 13-year-old even broke his personal I-Don't-Read-Non-Fiction code to finish the rest of the trilogy on his own. And, while I never managed to finish my B.A., the middle brothers are a junior-high science teacher and a registered nurse, while the "babies" all have advanced degrees... so maybe my efforts did add some iota to the advance of human progress .


My 7th grade English teacher had a handmade poster up on her wall about how we remember such and such percent of what we hear, read, speak, teach etc. - the essential point being that the greater the number of ways we are forced to process information, the better we understand and remember it.

I sub for a group of kindergarten and first grade teachers sometimes, and one of the things they often complain about is how early we try to teach kids to read. It's not so much that they aren't ready for the mental gymnastics, because that they can handle it most of the time; it's that they rarely have the basics of verbal communication down. Jumping straight from "abc...z" to "cat" means that there's less (or no) time for dictation, show and tell, and all sorts of other activities that kindergarteners need in order to practice organizing their verbal thoughts and learn sentence structure. What looks like simply play to most observers is actually very serious learning.

How do you try to explain to a first grader the rules regarding what a written sentence looks like if you didn't make sure he learned what one sounds like in kindergarten? You have to either spend a lot of time backtracking - which is frustrating and confusing for everyone - or you have to start letting kids slide though the cracks because there's just no time to cover it.

Re: school being fun - yeah, it isn't always going to be and we shouldn't try to make it all fun and games, but it's also important to give kids a reason to read other than just because you say so. I tell parents* who have reluctant readers to not only try to find books the kids can read, but to continue reading stories aloud to them at night so that they know that if they just push themselves a little bit harder, they'll be able to read all these fun stories themselves. It's also useful for comprehension reasons for kids to continue hearing adults read to them well into elementary school - they pick up nuances from adults' tone and inflection that they often miss because they are still struggling with the mechanics.

*not my idea: advice from my mom - one of the teachers I sub for


"There's a well-known Usenet loon (I'd provide his name, but am loath to give him the publicity) who claims that verbal ability is a skill the sneaky blankety-blank Jews developed in order to enslave the true men who have important skills, like being able to beat people up."

Posted by: Mike Schilling

Ah, yes - would his initials be JB? I ran into him back in the 1990's.

Mike Schilling

Barry is the winner (not least for having avoided Bowel-brain for at least 6 years).

Chris Clarke

Even if you accept the dubious notions that 1) verbal ability is somehow linked to the X chromosome, 2) only men hunted, and 3) that one aspect of the Pleistocene lifestyle had such a marked effect on human cognition, Fisher's contention is historically ignorant. With the possible exception of the giant ground sloths, the animals our grandfathers hunted were really big and nasty and dangerous. Maybe, every once in a great while, a hunter would be able to bring down a mastodon with a well-placed spear. But that would be the extreme exception. And think of who we were up against: Arctodus, the short-faced bear, which stood like seven feet at the shoulder and could run at speeds of 35 miles per hour and ate flesh. Or cave bears, or the many different species of giant cats that we only exterminated 12,000 years ago or so, etc.

The reason we were successful hunters - the reason we survived was verbal communication, the ability for a hunting party to coordinate strategies, and adapt them on the fly.

All Fisher needed to do to falsify her hypothesis was to look at the Plains Indians, a megafaunal hunting culture in which one of the primary modes of cultural expression was oratory, almost always by men.

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