Saturday, January 28

More On Education

I believe that education should promote in pupils a better relationship with ignorance. Teachers should tell us not only what we know, but also what we don't know. "Hey look, there is so much great art, literature, physics and politics that you don't know anything about!" We are all natural learners and will pursue areas of interest without hesitation. The physics will be learned, if the resources are available and the interest is present. Eventually, educators will say "Hey, there is so much great physics that No One knows anything about!" and pupils will push the boundaries of knowledge.

Our schools must embrace a balance between knowledge and ignorance: ignorance to lead the student forward, and knowledge to fill in the emptyness and to reveal the next beachhead of ignorance. Ignorance is infinite, but it can always be pushed back by adding knowledge. This process can happen in an individual who is learning the basics of a field of study, or in a group of scientists who are breaking new ground. The same process of ignorance yielding to knowledge is taking place in both groups.

The worst aspect of current education is when students are forced to learn that which they have no interest in. I remember learning, in grade 4, about the three different types of rocks: sedimentary, metamorphic, igneous. I knew about rocks from playing in the dirt and I knew I didn't need to know any more about them. I didn't know anything about geology; I didn't even know there was such a thing as geology. At that time I had no concept of geology as a large mental space that I was completely ignorant about. Because of this, the process of learning about rocks felt like someone was injecting my mind with inappropriate information, which was true.

If the teachers had given me a sense of what Geology was and could be, about what cutting edge geologists were learning about the Earth, if the scope of my ignorance was shaped, then learning about rocks would have felt like I was making progress: I was pushing back the darkness of my own ignorance and approaching the reaches of general knowledge.

Friday, January 27

On Education

A good educator is one who knows a thing so well as to be able to say it in many different ways.

Thursday, January 26

Creationist Confusion

So, if creationists say that the world was made 6000 years ago, and that dinosaurs bones were put in the fossil record by God to test our faith, why don't they worship at museums?

Saturday, January 21

Fiction #1

Sometimes, when the road is open and my hog is leading the pack, I like to slip my shades off to hang around my neck and I stare into the hundred mile an hour wind. The initial discomfort is tremendous. My eyeballs instantly go so dry I can almost feel them crack. I force my eyes to stay open, to stay focussed on the blurred lines of the road. Then my face starts to distort so much it feels like my lips are pulled back to my ears. Water tries to flood my eyes again and again but fails always.

It's when the water gives up trying that I begin to see things in the wind. I can't turn my head, I can't move my eyes. If there are trees along the road, tall pines with trunks bare almost all the way to the top, they bend up and almost meet at the top of my vision. The road gets longer and wider and I know exactly where my bike will be for a thousand feet. When Riley or Bronx move up on my left or on my right I see them only as a crazy blur and it doesn't seem like I am on the same road they are. I gun it and and they are pulled back away from me. When I gun it like that I can only know where I will be for the next five hundred feet and then I don't see further than that.

When I ride with my eyes in the wind time moves fast. I've driven through small two-street towns and only realized when someone told me that night we'd missed a meet. They go by only as square shapes with no colour. I notice only a tension in my forearms and increased concentration. I know people are afraid of me.

Saturday, January 14

Upside Down Professors

We've all had them. Classes in which you hand in papers that you've spent hours on, writing and rewriting, only to get a C+, and then when you phone in the next paper, it comes back with an A. The professors of these classes are not especially eccentric or erratic, but their marking schemes are unfathomable. Upside Down Professors. The term comes from a friend of mine who used it in an amusing anecdote during one of our many fascinating conversations. It's very appropriate, and I can identify several in my recollections of university and high school.

But this is not a light-hearted or affectionate term. In fact, I think it alludes to a very serious problem in our education system. I was never more frustrated at university, as was my friend, as are many others, as when a paper comes back with a bad grade, despite our efforts to discern and cohere to the professor's standards, or to incorporate any comments and suggestions from previous assignments. While writing papers I was constantly aware of the fact that I was writing for someone else who would (presumably) read and then evaluate my creative efforts. When dealing with an Upside Down Professor, I really had to shift my choice of words and my style of writing, and even my patterns of reason and logic, in an attempt to adapt to what I understood, from lectures and from comments on previous papers, were the professor's expectations. And still the mark I received would not reflect my own attitude toward the end result of my work.

Consider the many students who change their modes of writing in order to get top marks from these Upside Down Professors. They have to break from their comfortable style and grow into a new one. They have to use different words and arrange them in unusual ways. And why? Because the professor has an idea of what the "best" paper is, and are comparing every student's paper with that. Since the student does not know what the professor's ideal is, they must guess, and guesswork is the antithesis of the creative process and has no place in academic exploration. The influence of the Upside Down Professor is nothing short of academic fascism.

What is ideal, in my opinion, is a paper that is unexpected, that goes beyond any preconceived ideas of what a certain paper is, and can do. Without limitations, in other words. But how can a paper, a creative work of thought and language that approaches art, be evaluated if it is unlimited? The possibility that a student's paper might be so ground breaking as to be beyond the professor's capability to comprehend is simply not considered. What sort of mark would you give to a paper that you couldn't quite get your head around? A+ for being fascinating but opaque, or C+ for going beyond the original scope of the topic?

In the educational systems I am aware of, all papers are to be marked according to standards that students may or may not have a good grasp of, immediately confining these papers to the realm of the "expected". It doesn't work. The powers of the students to create new ideas and ways of thinking and writing, powers which, if I understand correctly, are what professors are motivated to encourage, are being hijacked to conform to dubious ideals by these same professors.

If I think of any way to avoid these problems, I'll post it here.

Wednesday, January 11

O'Connor Curtis Lennox Weaver

After the bar last Saturday I was with a crowd of friends and we were standing around outside and beginning to drift off to our own homes. We were chatting away in groups of different sizes, and then someone in the group I was in couldn't remember the name of the female actor in the Aliens movies. I couldn't either, but I started shouting out guesses. My first guess was Sinead O'Connor, then I guessed Jamie Lee Curtis, and after a moment I finally blurted out Annie Lennox. The actual star is Sigourney Weaver, of course, and I knew none of my guesses was correct, but for some reason my three guesses provoked a strong reaction from those who heard my drunken bellows. I was quite pleased with myself.

The four women all share some certain quality, which we recognized but couldn't identify. The shared characteristic is undefined but understood. Thinking about it afterward, I thought perhaps they all have a certain boniness of cheek and jaw, but it don't think that quite sums it up. Perhaps they were all at one point publicly bald. What is it?

It fascinates me that there is some quality shared by these women that I recognized but is yet undefined. I call it a thought rhyme.

Sam's Two Step Pollution Evaluation Exercise

1) While standing on a street with a reasonably heavy amount of traffic, compare the number of cars that are occupied by only their driver with the number of cars that are full.
2) Take a deep breath.