Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Boston Public Schools Budget Cuts: The Legislature Needs To Hear Our Voices

The Massachusetts State Legislature is still coming to terms on the Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”  There’s a lot of pressure on our elected leaders to lift the cap on charter schools without first getting a better understanding of how funding charter schools in the state negatively affects the funding and resources for district public schools.  Whether or not you think charter schools are a good option for educating children, I think we can all agree that all schools should be fully funded to allow for equitable education for all students.

 

If you live in Massachusetts, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Write your elected leaders. Contact information available from this website: http://www.wheredoivotema.com/ The message I sent today to the chairs of the education committee Sonia Chang-Diaz (Sonia.Chang-Diaz@state.ma.us) and Alice Peisch (Alice.Peisch@mahouse.gov) as well as my representative Liz Malia are below (Chang-Diaz is also the senator for my district).  Feel free to crib for your own message.
  • Sign and share information about the QUEST petition with your friends and family. The petition can be found at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/adequate-funding-for?mailing_id=21010&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=8757554. A Spanish translation can be found at http://tinyurl.com/mk6opsv.
  • Join other parents and students at the State House in Boston at 4:30 today, Tuesday, March 25th. This protest is organized by Boston Public School parents from many schools who see the effects of charters on our schools and our children on a daily basis. (See: Facebook page for event)

 

I am a citizen of Boston residing in the Forest Hills/Woodbourne area of Jamaica Plain.  My 6-year-old son Peter is a Kindergarten 2 scholar at the nearby BTU Pilot School, a neighborhood public school with excellent, hard-working teachers and staff and the heart of our neighborhood community.  In recent months, we’ve learned that our school is facing severe budget cuts that will cause the school to lose teaching staff, social workers, Playworks, a school supplies budget, field trips, and other resources vital to equitable education.  Our school is not alone as most schools in Boston are facing their own budget cuts, and other school systems in the Commonwealth are facing similar challenges with dwindling resources.
 
I believe the Massachusetts Legislature can help address the inadequacies and inequality in funding and resources for public schools in Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”  One issue is charter schools that are receiving a larger piece of the pie in state funding, while the state has neglected to reimburse public schools (see this chart created by a Boston Public School parent: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BjRzkXVCcAE1WEK.jpg:large).  I’m not opposed to charter schools as an educational option for some children, but it seems grossly unfair that one type of school is fully funded while another has to beg for scraps.  The legislature should make it a priority to fully fund all public schools.  
 
With that in mind, please consider the following steps:  
 
• Remove charter school language entirely from Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap;”
• Prior to any consideration of raising the charter school cap read the soon-to-be released audit from the State Auditor’s Office regarding charter school finances and practices;
• Work with constituents to draft a more comprehensive proposal regarding the charter school cap. This proposal must address the inequalities already identified, include clear and quantifiable accountability measures that are put into place prior to such legislation being proposed, and explore more equitable or separate funding methods that do not bankrupt our public schools.
 
I understand that you are receiving a lot of attention from lobbyists of the charter school cause.  These groups are backed by billionaires and corporations who have their own ends in supporting the charter school cap that may not be in the best interests of Massachusetts’ children.  Please listen also to the voices of your constituents – the parents, students, and educators of some of the best public schools in the nation and do the right thing for all the state’s children.

 

Boston Public Schools Budget Cuts: Maintain the Cap on Charter Schools

Following up on my earlier post regarding severe budget cuts to Boston Public Schools, here is an issue that requires immediate attention from any residents of Massachusetts who read this blog.  Currently there is legislation moving through the Massachusetts legislature that will decide if the cap on charter schools in the state will be lifted.  This is a contentious issue as vocal groups of charter school supporters advocate lifting the cap with help from deep-pocketed investors.  Meanwhile the parents and educators of children in Boston Public Schools are contending that the cap should remain until we have a greater understanding of the financial pressures that charter schools exert on traditional district schools and that the current charter schools in our state are held to greater accountability for serving all children.

The Boston Public Schools are facing a 60 million dollar deficit shortfall and  most of the 128 schools are being asked to make cuts that would lose teaching staff, social workers, Playworks, supplies, and other resources. One reason for the shortfall is that traditional district schools are not being fully reimbursed for loses to charter schools.  Whether or not you support the charter school movement, I think we can all agree that education at any school should have full-funding and resources.  It will do no one any good to have a fight over limited funds.

Fortunately, my state senator Sonia Chang-Diaz from the Second Suffolk district is working on the Joint Committee of Education and is committed to making a compromise that will support all forms of public education in the Commonwealth.  She, and by extension the children of Massachusetts, deserve our support.  You can take action by following the steps below.  A statement from Senator Chang-Diaz follows.

Senator Chang-Díaz Statement on Joint Committee on Education 1-Week Extension

Today the Joint Committee on Education voted on a one-week extension on bills dealing with turnaround and charter schools. Over the past few months, stakeholders from all sides of this issue have been hard at work coming to compromises on various aspects of a composite bill, and we have come to agreement on a number of issues. We are down to the final aspects.

I continue to fight to find a balanced third way that breaks from the us-versus-them mindset when it comes to district and charter schools. All are public schools and both are needful of our attention and advocacy. I have been on record in both words and actions that I am committed to getting a bill out of committee that continues to close the gap between populations served by charters and districts, mitigates the financial stresses that even the best charters present for district schools, and allows targeted expansion of good charters. To that end, I’ve offered multiple proposals for balanced compromises. These proposals have been met with consistent “no’s” from the charter advocate community, with no counter proposals that bring us toward a compromise. While I am disappointed that we must resort to a one-week extension today, I remain committed to forging a resolution. My door is wide open to anyone who has ideas about how we can move forward on a middle path that treats all kids with compassion and fairness.

I also want to be transparent that, should we be able to reach resolution and report a bill out of Committee, there are still key decisions about funding fairness that will be made over the coming months through the budget process, which occur outside the Education Committee. These decisions will impact the effects of any bill on the schools in which the majority of students remain and therefore will be large factors in my ultimate vote for or against a bill on the Senate floor.

Budget Cuts for Boston Public Schools?

Last night at the Parent Council at my son’s elementary school in Jamaica Plain, it was announced the Boston Public Schools are requesting that schools prepare for drastic budget cuts.  It’s been reported that these cuts will be for as much as 20% of the current budget.  The immediate effects of such cuts to my son’s school and to other schools in the city will be loss of staff, Playworks, learning interventions, the learning center, and even shortening the school day.  Public schools are already making do with limited budgets while being assailed from all sides in political battles, so further cuts will have drastic consequences to providing quality innovative education to all children in the city.  So far there has been coverage on Universal Hub (http://www.universalhub.com/2014/bps-schools-told-prepare-cuts) and social media, but the news has not been disseminated through traditional media.

If you live in Boston and value public education, please join me in the following steps:

  1. Attend a Boston School Committee meeting.  The schedule is here: http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/Page/253
  2. Write a letter expressing your concern to BPS Superintendent McDonough (superintendent@bostonpublicschools.org and jmcdonough@bostonpublicschools.org) ,Mayor Marty Walsh (mayor@cityofboston.gov), and the School Committee (moneill2@bostonpublicschools.orgcmartinez6@bostonpublicschools.orgmcampbell5@boston.k12.ma.ushcoleman2@bostonpublicschools.orgggroover@bostonpublicschools.orgmloconto@bostonpublicschools.orgmmckenna4@bostonpublicschools.org).  Feel free to copy other city leaders and local  media.
  3. Share your thoughts on Twitter to https://twitter.com/bostonschools and https://twitter.com/marty_walsh.  Use the hashtag #bospoli to draw attention to your tweet! And retweet others in our community).
  4. Share your thoughts on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VoteMartyWalsh?fref=ts and https://www.facebook.com/bostonschools?fref=ts
  5. Do whatever else you can to share this news with others, make your feelings known, and in general make a big noise to let the BPS know that we will not accept cuts to our schools.

Below is the content of the email sent to the Mayor and Superintendent.  Please feel free to crib what you like for your own message.  It does not have to long, or eloquent.  Just write to make sure that your thoughts are heard.

 

I am discouraged to learn that Boston Public Schools are being instructed to make severe cuts to their budgets for the upcoming school year.  It’s been reported that cuts of up to 20% are being requested.  My son Peter, six years old, is a Kindergarten 2 scholar at the Boston Teachers Union School in Jamaica Plain.  At his school, such drastic cuts will lead to the loss of staff, Playworks, learning interventions, the learning center, and even the length of our school day being shortened.  This is an innovative school striving to provide equitable education to the children of our city, but it cannot do so without the proper finances and resources. Like many, if not all, public schools in Boston, the BTU School is already struggling to make do on limited resources.  I believe further cuts to our schools’ budgets will have drastic consequences
 
Public education is something I value highly.  I believe quality education for all children regardless of their economic, social, or racial background is one of the most important things our community and government provides.  I also believe in holding accountable leaders of the schools and the city to follow through on this promise to our children. The city of Boston cannot prosper without a thriving working class and middle class who feel that their children can get a quality public education.
The Boston Public Schools have proclamations that our schools are high-performing, but this will be possible to maintain without the proper funding and resources.  Mayor Walsh declared “I will not cut back on the education budget,” (Boston Herald, 12/5/2013), and I expect him to hold to that promise. I ask of all the leaders of our schools and city to work toward restoring the budge to previous levels, and, hey perhaps even a little bit more to help increase quality, innovative education in Boston.  Our schools should be the first priority for our city, our children, and our future.

Boston Walking Tours 2009

Last year I posted a list of walking tours in the Boston area in hopes of encouraging people to get out and explore the history, architecture, culture, topography, and nature of the area.  I’ve updated the list and links for 2009, once again giving primacy of place to the two organizations in which I volunteer to lead tours.

Boston By Foot – Boston’s premier walking tour organization is well worth becoming a member to take advantage of free tours, discounted special tours, and members-only events.  Check out the Boston By Foot Meetup Group as well for unique tour announcements.  I’ve highlighted the tours that I guide in bold below, although many other wonderful guides also lead these tours.

Seven classic tours take you around historic Boston:

  • Beacon Hill
  • Boston By Little Feet
  • Boston Underfoot
  • Heart of the Freedom Trail
  • Literary Landmarks
  • North End
  • Victorian Back Bay

Make sure to check out special Boston Harborfest tours offered June 30-July 5:

And don’t miss the special Tours of the Month offered on the last Sunday of each month at 2 pm:

Jamaica Plain Historical Society – 1 hour tours every Saturday morning at 11 am (Jamaica Pond tour is 90 minutes).  Again, the tours in bold will be led by yours truly.

Tour Date Location Tour Date Location
June 20 Woodbourne August 22 Jamaica Pond
June 27 Jamaica Pond August 29 Monument Sq
July 11 Monument Sq Sept 12 Sumner Hill
July 18 Sumner Hill Sept 19 Stony Brook
July 25 Stony Brook Sept 26 Hyde Square
August 1 Hyde Square October 3 Green Street
August 8 Green Street October 17 Woodbourne
August 15 Woodbourne October 24 Jamaica Pond


In alphabetical order below are a number of other walking tours I’ve heard about by word of mouth or web search.  I only have personal experience with a few of these organizations so don’t consider making the list an endorsement. If you know of any good walking tours in Boston not listed below, I’d love to add them to the list, so please post in the comments.

Appalachian Mountain Club – The Boston Chapter has a Local Walks Committee offering hikes to condition oneself for the mountains, nature walks, and social walks.
Arnold Arboretum – Boston’s tree museum offers regular highlight tours and special theme tours. Come back again because the tour changes depending on the season.
Audissey Guides – Download a tour narrated by local personalities for your mp3 player.
Black Heritage Trail – A tour of African-American history in Boston led by National Park Service guides, or you can take a self-guided tour.
Evening Walkers – A Meetup.com group for people who like walking. No narration, just scenery and a chance to meet people.
Friends of the Blue Hills – Group hikes and nature walks in the Blue Hills Reservation.
Brookline Food Tour – The way to Brookline’s heart is through your stomach.
Boston Athenæum – Art and architecture tours of this respected independent library. They also offer tours for members should you be so fortunate.
Boston Harborfest – Walking tours are among the many events of Boston’s Independence Day celebration, including special Boston By Foot offerings.
Boston Harborwalk – A self-guided walk along Boston’s waterfront. Check the calendar for tours and  special events in the spring and summer.
Boston Movie Tours – Tinseltown comes to the Hub in this tour of film locations.
Boston National Historical Park – Tours of the Freedom Trail and Charlestown Navy Yard led by National Park Service Rangers.
Boston Nature Center – Birding tours, nature walks, and hikes in the heart of the city.
Boston Public Library – Regular art and architecture tours of the oldest municipal library in the US.
The Boston Spirits Walking Tour – A spooky walking tour focusing on Boston’s ghost stories.
Boston Town Crier – Freedom Trail tours led by character interpreters of James Otis and Benjamin Franklin.
Boston Women’s Heritage Trail – Nine self-guided walks exploring women’s history in Boston.
Boston Your Way – Hire a private guide for a customizable tour (I wonder if they’re hiring).
Cambridge Historical Society – The CHS events calendar currently includes a garden tour and historic house tours.
Discover Roxbury – Tours and events highlight the diversity of this historic neighborhood.
Fenway Park – Go behind the scenes at the home of the Boston Red Sox, the oldest and smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball.
Forest Hills Cemetery – Boston’s hidden gem is full of history, art, and architecture, all of which is illuminated by a good tour guide (read about a great tour we took in 2007).
Franklin Park Coalition – A self-guided tour, trails, and special events throughout the year in the “gem” of the Emerald Necklace.
Freedom Trail Tours – You can follow the red line on your own or let a costumed guide show you the way with 3 different 90-minute tours provided by the Freedom Trail Foundation.
Gibson House Museum – If you’re admiring the Victorian architecture of Back Bay and want to see a house interior, stop in here for a tour.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Society – Explore the new public space replacing the elevated Central Artery with special tours supported by Boston By Foot and other special events.
Harvard Campus Tour – Free student-led tours of the Harvard University campus.
Haunted Boston – 90 minute ghost tours of Boston.  Ask for Gretchen.
Historic New England – The HNE calendar offers neighborhood and historic property tours in Boston and throughout New England.
Irish Heritage Trail – A self-guided walk with guided tours in the works.
Learn English in Boston – Art and architecture tours of Boston for ESL students.
Lessons on Liberty – Costumed historical interpreters teach about Revolutionary Boston history along the Freedom Trail
Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts – Quarry to wharf tours of the remains of the granite railway in Quincy and Milton (part van, part walking tour).
MIT Campus Tour – Learn about the innovative architecture by world-renown architects that speckle the MIT campus.
Middlesex Fells – Check the calendar for special hikes or join the regular Babes in the Woods walks for parents and children.
Museum of Fine Arts – Regular free guided tours of the galleries (with museum admission) plus art & architecture tours outside of the museum.
The Nichols House Museum – If you’re admiring the Federal architecture of Beacon Hill and want to see a house interior, stop in here for a tour.
North End Secret Tour – Tours of Boston’s oldest neighborhood lead by a local resident.
The Path to Independence – Character interpreters offer a first-person historical perspective of the Freedom Trail.
Phantoms of Olde Cambridge -The ghosties of Harvard Square get their own tour.
Photowalks – Walking tours combined with instruction in photography on four different routes.
Paul Revere’s North End Walking Tour – An experienced guide from the Paul Revere House leads tours of the North End in early July.
South End Historical Society – An Annual House Tour is offered in October.
Unofficial Tours Present Harvard University – Fun tours of America’s first college.

Urban Adventours – Okay not a walking tour, but still cool environmentally-friendly and exciting bicycle tours of Boston.
Victorian Society in America/New England Chapter – Tours and talks of the Victorian heritage in Boston and its suburbs
WalkBoston – Boston’s walking advocacy group offers regular walks around the city.
Walking Tours of Historic Boston – Families and groups can book tours of Boston’s historic center lead by a children’s book author.
Watson Adventures Scavenger Hunts – A unique spin on the walking tour where participants gather together in teams to solve questions and puzzles.

Book Review: A Pocketful of History by Jim Noles

A Pocketful of History: Four Hundred Years of America — One State Quarter at a Time (2008) by Jim Noles takes the State Quarter Program as a launching point for an engaging look at the 50 United States and the symbols chosen to represent them.  Often, Noles goes beyond simply telling the history of the image on the coins to delve deeper into the social and cultural history of the States.  For each quarter, Noles also discusses the other finalist for the quarter design, the process of approval, and circulation of each coin.  The only thing I could ask for is more illustrations of the people and things he discusses.

My favorites include:

  • revisiting my 4th grade social studies’ lesson of Connecticut’s Charter Oak (by far my favorite State Quarter).
  • the importance of the palmetto in fort construction in Revolutionary South Carolina
  • Rhode Island’s quarter inspires a history of yacht racing.
  • the “scandal” of Ohio depicting a living person by including an astronaut who must be John Glenn or Neil Armstrong.
  • Helen Keller’s Socialist ways make her an unlikely representative of Alabama as well as someone appearing on US currency.
  • Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds, where you can keep the diamonds you find (I didn’t know it existed).
  • exciting stories of storms on the Great Lakes make up for Michigan having the most boring quarter.
  • the Kansas quarter leads to the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of African American cavalrymen who fought in the Indian Wars of the West.
  • Colorado’s purple mountains majesty hid a CIA training camp for Tibetan subversives.
  • Wyoming’s pioneering history in Women’s Suffrage.

The quarters open a door to learning about the states, their great people, buildings and places, arts, and flora and fauna (and their conservation).  Like the State Quarters themselves, A Pocketful of History will have a broad appeal beyond numismatic buffs.  I think it especially will be a good tool for teachers and children.

Author Noles, James L.
Title A pocketful of history : four hundred years of America–one state quarter at a time / Jim Noles.
Publication Info. Cambridge, MA : Da Capo Press, c2008.
Description xxvi, 324 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

Boston Walking Tours

Spring is sprung, so it is a good time to get out and take a walking tour of Boston where one can learn about history, architecture, art, nature, society, or just get some fresh air. Since I love walking tours, I decided to pull together a list of the various tours available in Boston and neighboring communities. The two organizations listed below have primacy because I am a volunteer guide for them (don’t let that scare you away, the other guides are great). The rest are listed in alphabetical order. While I’m a fan of walking tours, I don’t tend to have the time to take as many as I like so be aware I only have personal experience with a few of these organizations so don’t consider making the list an endorsement. If you know of any good walking tours in Boston not listed below, I’d love to add them to the list, so please post in the comments.

  • Boston By Foot – Boston’s premier walking tours with 7 regular tours offered daily, tours of the month, and special holiday tours.
  • Jamaica Plain Historical Society -Weekly tours on Saturday mornings of 6 areas in the Eden of America.

  • Appalachian Mountain Club – The Boston Chapter has a Local Walks Committee offering hikes to condition oneself for the mountains, nature walks, and social walks.
  • Arnold Arboretum – Boston’s tree museum offers regular highlight tours and special theme tours. Come back again because the tour changes depending on the season.
  • Audissey Guides – Download a tour narrated by local personalities for your mp3 player.
  • Black Heritage Trail – A tour of African-American history in Boston led by National Park Service guides, or you can take a self-guided tour.
  • Evening Walkers – A Meetup.com group for people who like walking. No narration, just scenery and a chance to meet people.
  • Friends of the Blue Hills – Group hikes and nature walks in the Blue Hills Reservation.
  • Brookline Food Tour – The way to Brookline’s heart is through your stomach.
  • Boston Athenæum – Art and architecture tours of this respected independent library. They also offer tours for members should you be so fortunate. [Suggested by Charles Swift in the comments below].
  • Boston CityWalks – Four regularly scheduled walks and custom tours of Boston and Cambridge [Suggested by Alan in the comments below]
  • Boston Harborfest – Walking tours are among the many events of Boston’s Independence Day celebration, including special Boston By Foot offerings.
  • Boston Harborwalk – A self-guided walk along Boston’s waterfront.
  • Boston Movie Tours – Tinseltown comes to the Hub in this tour of film locations.
  • Boston National Historical Park – Tours of the Freedom Trail and Charlestown Navy Yard led by National Park Service Rangers.
  • Boston Nature Center – Birding tours, nature walks, and hikes in the heart of the city.
  • Boston Public Library – Regular art and architecture tours of the oldest municipal library in the US.
  • The Boston Spirits Walking Tour – A spooky walking tour focusing on Boston’s ghost stories.
  • Boston Town Crier – Freedom Trail tours led by character interpreters of James Otis and Benjamin Franklin.
  • Boston Women’s Heritage Trail – Nine self-guided walks exploring women’s history in Boston.
  • Boston Your Way – Hire a private guide for a customizable tour (I wonder if they’re hiring).
  • Cambridge Historical Society – The CHS events calendar currently includes a garden tour and historic house tours.
  • Discover Roxbury – Arrange a 90 minute tour for school, family, and adult groups of this historic and diverse neighborhood.
  • Fenway Park – Go behind the scenes at the home of the Boston Red Sox, the oldest and smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball.
  • Forest Hills Cemetery – Boston’s hidden gem is full of history, art, and architecture, all of which is illuminated by a good tour guide (read about a great tour we took last fall).
  • Franklin Park Coalition – A self-guided tour, trails, and special events throughout the year in the “gem” of the Emerald Necklace.
  • Freedom Trail Tours – You can follow the red line on your own or let a costumed guide show you the way with 3 different 90-minute tours provided by the Freedom Trail Foundation.
  • Gibson House Museum – If you’re admiring the Victorian architecture of Back Bay and want to see a house interior, stop in here for a tour.
  • Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Society – Explore the new public space replacing the elevated Central Artery with special tours supported by Boston By Foot.
  • Harvard Campus Tour – Free official tours of the Harvard University campus.
  • Historic New England – The HNE calendar offers neighborhood and historic property tours in Boston and throughout New England.
  • Irish Heritage Trail – A self-guided walk with guided tours in the works.
  • Learn English in Boston – Art and architecture tours of Boston for ESL students.
  • Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts – Quarry to wharf tours of the remains of the granite railway in Quincy and Milton (part van, part walking tour).
  • MIT Campus Tour – Learn about the innovative architecture by world-renown architects that speckle the MIT campus.
  • Middlesex Fells – Check the calendar for special hikes or join the regular Babes in the Woods walks for parents and children.
  • Museum of Fine Arts – Regular free guided tours of the galleries (with museum admission) plus art & architecture tours outside of the museum.
  • The Nichols House Museum – If you’re admiring the Federal architecture of Beacon Hill and want to see a house interior, stop in here for a tour.
  • North End Secret Tour – Tours of Boston’s oldest neighborhood lead by a local resident.
  • The Path to Independence – Character interpreters offer a first-person historical perspective of the Freedom Trail.
  • Phantoms of Olde Cambridge -The ghosties of Harvard Square get their own tour.
  • Photowalks – Walking tours combined with instruction in photography on four different routes.
  • Paul Revere’s North End Walking Tour – An experienced guide from the Paul Revere House leads tours of the North End in early July.
  • South End Historical Society – An Annual House Tour is offered in October.
  • Unofficial Tours Present Harvard University – Fun tours of America’s first college.
  • WalkBoston – Boston’s walking advocacy group offers regular walks around the city.
  • Walking Tours of Historic Boston – Families and groups can book tours of Boston’s historic center lead by a children’s book author.
  • Watson Adventures Scavenger Hunts – A unique spin on the walking tour where participants gather together in teams to solve questions and puzzles.
  • Women Artists in the Back Bay – A self-guided walk created by created in partnership by the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with the support of the City of Boston, the Boston Women’s Commission, and the MFA Ladies Committee Associates.

Book Review: Language Visible by David Sacks

Language visible : unraveling the mystery of the alphabet from A to Z (2003) by David Sacks is a lively history of each letter in our modern alphabet (called the “Roman alphabet” which is explained in the book). For each letter Sacks traces the history of its shape from the ancient Semitic carvings in the Egyptian desert to Phoenician and Hebrew letters to Greek, Etruscan, and Roman alphabets to Old English and medieval Romance languages to minuscule characters of monastic scriptoriums and the first printed letters and finally our alphabet today. Some changes in the alphabet are surprisingly recent. J, V, and W are all relatively young letters. Noah Webster had an inordinate influence in setting apart American letters from European.

For each letter, Sacks also traces the changes in the sound the letter represents. If there’s one thing you learn from this book it’s that while many languages share the same alphabet there’s absolutely no consistency in what sounds the letters stand for and sometimes they’re somewhat arbitrarily assigned. Sacks also writes about the social and cultural significance of each letter which is the most fun aspect of the book. For example, he relates one of my favorite stories about how George Bernard Shaw suggested spelling the word “fish” as ghoti, that is the “gh” of rough, the “o” of women, and the “ti” of station. Ghoti would make a great band name by the way and you wouldn’t even be able to be sued for copyright infringement by a Vermont jam band. Sacks also explains how the Anglo-Saxon letter thorn for the “th” sound was represented by the letter Y. This is why someone 200-years ago would write “Ye Olde Tavern” and pronounce “ye” as “the.”

This is a good read – both fun and educational.

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