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  • 1/10/2004


Getting Our Kids Back on Track:
 Educating Children for the Future

 Janine Bempechat

A highly readable and practical guide to achieving that delicate balance of academic excellence and high self-esteem,Getting Our Kids Back on Track is a realistic look at today's families and their frustrations in trying to "do it all." Full of stories from all kinds of families, examples abound of different parenting styles, teaching methods, and children's personalities. None of these is presented as being "right" or "wrong"--but the author doesn't hesitate to offer suggestions. From homework battles to overbooked sports activities, everyday occurrences are examined and questioned: is it necessary, for example, to spend four hours each day shuttling kids to sports practice, or is there a better way of spending that time? Topics are relevant from kindergarten through the teens, and tend to focus on clear communication and regular examination of priorities to help families stay on track. For quick reference, author Janine Bempechat includes an appendix of questions that relate to each chapter--questions to ask both yourself and your children's teachers. WhileBack on Track is an excellent starting place for longer dialogues, there are no quick answers to questions like "How much importance am I placing on my children's education relative to other activities in their lives?" and "What do you think are my children's strengths, and how do you think I can encourage their development in those areas?" Still, the stories are warm and humorous, and the book as a whole is encouraging.--Jill Lightner

"My children spend five hours in school every day. They work very hard while they are there, and believe me, it's stressful. The last thing they need is homework. They need to come home and relax. They have a life outside of school."-Mother of Fourth grade twins

Compared to children from other industrialized countries, our nation's children are scholastic underachievers. But in our quest to keep our children "well-rounded" we leave little time for homework and other activities considered by many to be an important part of their education. It's obvious, our notions about promoting a child's positive self-esteem seem to contradict what is needed to achieve academic excellence. Is it too late to get our kids back on track? Not according to Janine Bempechat, an acclaimed educational researcher from Harvard and the parent of two school-aged children. Bempechat offers parents and teachers a practical guide to encourage and support children's academic success and, by doing so, bolster their self-worth. Getting Our Kids Back on Track reveals that those parents who advocate for reduced homework loads, stress-free schoolwork, and an increase in extracurricular activities are actually doing children a great disservice. Using illustrative real-life examples from her years of research, Bempechat shows how to set priorities and help children develop traits of persistence, diligence, and the ability to delay gratification. This important book offers a new vision that can inspire parents to create a structured, predictable, and consistent home environment that will help children reach their full intellectual potential.

About the Author
Janine Bempechat is assistant professor of education in the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The author of Against the Odds, Bempechat lectures and conducts workshops on the topic of motivation and achievement in children and is a frequent guest on National Public Radio.

2-Aristotle's Children:

How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages
Richard E. Rubenstein

In 12th-centuryToledo, inSpain, a group of Christian monks, Jewish sages and Muslim teachers gathered to study a new translation of Aristotle's De Anima (On the Soul). In Rubenstein's dazzling historical narrative, this moment represents both the tremendous influence of Aristotle on these three religions and the culmination of the medieval rediscovery of his writings. In the fourth century B.C., Aristotle fashioned a new system of philosophy, focusing on the material world, whose operations he explained by a series of causes. As Rubenstein (When Jesus Became God) explains, in the second and third centuries A.D., Western Christian scholars suppressed Aristotle's teachings, believing that his emphasis on reason and the physical world challenged their doctrines of faith and God's supernatural power. By the seventh century, Muslims had begun to discover Aristotle's writings. Islamic thinkers such as Avicenna and Averroes, in the 11th and 12 centuries, embraced Aristotle's rationalist philosophy and principles of logic. Christian theologians rediscovered Aristotle through the commentaries of the monk Boethius, who argued in the sixth century that reason and understanding were essential elements of faith. There resulted a tremendous ferment in the study of Aristotle in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, culminating in the work of Thomas Aquinas, who used Aristotle's notion of an Unmoved Mover and First Cause to construct his arguments for God's existence. Aquinas, too, argued that reason was a necessary component of faith's ability to understand God and the world. Although the book purports to trace Aristotle's influence on Christianity, Islam and Judaism, it devotes more attention to Christianity. Even so, Rubenstein's lively prose, his lucid insights and his crystal-clear historical analyses make this a first-rate study in the history of ideas.

Book Description
Europe was in the long slumber of the Dark Ages, theRoman Empire was in tatters, and the Greek language was all but forgotten, until a group of Arab, Jewish, and Christian scholars rediscovered and translated the works of Aristotle. His ideas spread acrossEurope like wildfire, offering the scientific point of view that the natural world, including the soul of man, was a proper subject of study. The Catholic Church convulsed, and riots took place at the universities ofParis andOxford.
Richard Rubenstein recounts with energy and vigor this magnificent story of the intellectual ferment that planted the seeds of the scientific age inEurope and reflects our own struggles with faith and reason.

3-Young Person's Guide to Philosophy

byJeremy Weate,Dorling Kindersley Publishing,Peter Lawman (Illustrator)

Grade 5-8-An overly ambitious attempt to answer questions that kids may not even be asking. This title takes DK's "snippet" approach to nonfiction, offering little bits of loosely correlated information along with attractive illustrations. In this case, the complexity of the subject and its unfamiliarity to readers make this title problematic. Major Western philosophers (e.g., Plato, Socrates, Nietzsche, Aquinas) are introduced on two-page spreads, while those less well known (e.g., Thales, Anaximander) are treated in smaller paragraphs. The cartoon illustrations of each of these thinkers are highlighted with chatty personal tidbits reminiscent of Kathleen Krull's "Lives of..." books (Harcourt). However, the format is not as successful here. Short captioned illustrations depicting important symbols, occurrences, or people of the time appear as sidebars. A section titled "Philosophy Today" provides a few scant sentences about modern-day thinkers such as Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida. In the final chapter, schools of thought (e.g., the Empiricists and the Rationalists) are broken down chronologically. In addition to introducing new concepts, this portion goes into greater detail on some of the philosophers presented earlier. It is distracting to have to flip back and forth to get all of the information on an individual. Although this visually appealing book might catch the eye of an otherwise uninterested child, the difficult subject matter and complicated presentation limit its audience.
Christy Norris Blanchette, Valley Cottage Library, NY

From Socrates and Plato to Kant, Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, here is an entertaining look at the world's greatest thinkers and their ideas, presented in a lively way that makes this intriguing subject accessible to all ages. Full color.

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