Don’t let them fool you

5.10.08 by Ruth

Earlier this year a classmate of mine turned around during a discussion of our recent change from a twelve-to-three-male-to-female-ratio AP Physics class to an eleven-to-one-male-to-female-ratio AP Physics class to tell me that actually, research shows that men have more “calculating” brain capacity and women have more “connections” so it made sense that there was a large majority of guys in our class. This was a bad thing to say to me. “Actually, research shows that you are predisposed to do badly at what you do best.” He didn’t fool me. I’m only sad that there weren’t a few more girls present to hear my little tirade of a response:

There seems to be this society wide misconception that girls are bad at math. Actually, psychology research has shown over and over again that girls only do worse on math tests than guys only if you tell them they are going to ( Unfortunately, because of this society wide misconception, nobody actually needs to say it. It’s sort of a vicious circle. Girls underachieve in math and science because they think they will, and then they think they will because they have in the past. In the end probably thousands of girls miss the opportunity to have interesting, fulfilling careers in math or science which they may never know would have been interesting and fulfilling because they were never encouraged to pursue math and science.

Girls, don’t let anyone talk you out of being able to do math and science.


5.10.08 by Cypy + 117 comments!

As someone who has home-schooled, then switched to public school, I often think about methods of learning. The school system is, by definition, an institution of education; children go in, educated children come out (this is an allusion to the pie machine from Chicken Run). The school system must not be confused with the general term school, which can refer to anything from a dancing school, to a cluster of fish.

The inner workings of the school system are as follows:

  1. Young child leaves home every day and stays in a building with other children of the same age
  2. Adults in building interact with child at a set pace (child absorbs a particular subject of information)
  3. Children in building interact with child (child absorbs more information)
  4. Child works/plays with information (adults give child a score)
  5. Adults administer tests (child regurgitates information, and adults give child another score)

That is the school system. The homeschooling outline (for me) was much different:

  1. Child plays at no set pace (child absorbs non-particular subject of information)
  2. Two options:
    1. Child enjoys information
    2. Child rejects information
  3. If child enjoys information, child continues to play and absorbs more
  4. If child rejects information, child moves on
  5. Adult supervises (makes sure things don’t get out of hand, no large fires in the house, chainsaws, etc.)
  6. Adult suggests other activities, helps child with them if pace slows down
  7. Adult enforces some more important activities
  8. Child visits other children who are likewise schooled and plays (absorbs information)
  9. NO score is needed

Wow! Amazing comparisons! But more on this later; details are much more important than lists.

First, I wish to direct your attention to this speech on by Sir Ken Robinson, who talks about and explains creativity and the lack thereof in public education. I am not going to mention much creativity in this article because it is such a vast subject, but I want you to keep in mind its importance while you read about public school.

When I was home-schooled, I often thought about the human brain. I would think about how when people are young, their brains aren’t as developed as older people, and therefore just like their bodies, their brains are constantly developing and growing. I knew that it was much easier for children to learn than it was for adults to learn, and I was slightly concerned that I would have more trouble learning as a teenager. I was especially afraid that my ductile brain would harden before I could learn a second language, because by the time I took a language class in school, I was already in eighth grade. Nowadays, I rarely think about my brain, and how it might be growing “stale.” I am no longer concerned that I have reached my peak in my ability to learn. This apathy in itself could be a sign that it is happening. Drat it all.

On another note, when I was home-schooled, I would often feel as if I was “slacking.” This especially applied to writing. I would look at some of my friends in school, and see that they were already writing book reports, for example, and then mother would give me an assignment, “write one paragraph,” and I would freak out, sometimes feeling hopeless, and incompetent. I loathed writing, and thought of it as a slow torture. Because no time-frame applied to my studies, my curriculum never exactly matched that of my friends in school. For example, I started studying detailed US history in grade school and I was doing geometry even before that. I simply didn’t know what public school comprised, and every year, I would dare myself to enroll… scared to try even in one class.

Eventually, I did attempt public school in 7th grade. I took a combined English and Geography class. I entered the classroom, was greeted with a friendly teacher, and felt very safe socially, yet I was still afraid of writing. I worried that I would fail, or get the dreaded “D” (I had never been graded before). I worried and fretted like this… until my first assignment which felt almost frighteningly easy. Was this really the dreaded public school? With no exceptions, I got straight As on the subject I had feared the most.

The most difficult aspect of public school, straight from the start, was TIME. Yes, it deserves capital letters because of its enormity. In public school, everything had a TIME limit. The first thing I did in english was write a letter to myself in the future. I was supposed to read the letter at the end of the school year, and see how much I had changed. I had 30 minutes to write it. To quote Bill the Cat, “Ack!”

Here is the letter in its unaltered form, no editing on my part:

to cypy

HI CYPY! It’s about time to write a letter to you… me, you oh whatever. I am finely taking a couple of classes at C.J.H.S it is actually funner than I thougt. I think that there are some pretty nice people here, there are probably some not so nice ones to, but it is nice to be positive. I think so far I am doing prety well in school (I am in school for only one block a day). I am not very fast at writing and I hope to get better. (Hope hope). That was me trying to get better at writing. It seems like school is all about speed, well not all about it but a lot about it, or maby that is just what I think. Don’t you agree? probably so. There are a lot of people all around, it makes me dizzy well, I am kind of exaggerating, it dosn’t make me dizzy. I also think I have to emprove on spelling there are probably about twenty misspeld words in here, I eaven think I misspelled misspeld, misspelled. Oops! I have to finnish my letter to me/you soon I am running out of time. Time. Time. Lots of time. I mean not lots of time. I know that is not proper gramer. or mabey I don’t not know. oh no! the bell will ring soon

bye Cyp

At home, I probably would have written a letter over a course of 4 days or more, consulting a dictionary to fix my numerous spelling errors, and making five rough drafts. By restricting TIME, public school bludgeoned the idea of perfectionism out of me, and I still regret it. The strange thing is, despite all the speediness of public school and the timeless nature of home-schooling, I had somehow come out ahead of everyone in public school. When I entered 7th grade geography, I had memorized every country name in the world and was able to identify almost every country capital. During 7th grade geography, I learned a few names for land formations, such as “tributary” and “mesa,” then breezed through map-labeling while everyone else had to memorize the names for the first time. How did I get ahead? I believe the speedy feeling of school is an illusion made by constant switching of focus. I would go so far as to make this comparison: if home-schooling was Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, public schooling would be Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I don’t mean that children who go to public school are more likely to have ADHD, I mean that public school forces children to learn an unnatural variety of subjects at an artificial pace, and therefore keeps them from doing what they want.

Here is how it works: every day, a students take multiple classes on different subjects. Each class is only taught within a certain amount of time (about 1 hour) and then students are told to what to do in their spare time (home-work) after classes are over for the day.

The OCD school concept is this: some days, a student wants to investigate math, other days the student wants to work in the garden, or make a fancy birthday card, or play the piano. Maybe a particular student only wants to do one thing for a week. The student decides to do these things (home-play) almost all the time, and often needs a bit of nudging before moving on to a different subject.

There are a few intrinsic problems with the ADHD way of life. One of them is procrastination, which naturally occurs when a student has too many different things that they “need” to do in a certain amount of time. Procrastination is also a byproduct of the minute amount of control students have over their curriculum. If students do not enjoy a certain subject, they are far less likely to learn it in their spare time. Some of this also boils down to the type of TEACHER one has.

The subject of teachers brings me back to my own story of school migration. When I started taking public school, I thought about teachers all the time. Where they too harsh? How would I feel if they yelled at me? What if I got in trouble. The truth is, most of my public-school teachers have been no worse than my parents (no, my parents aren’t crazy child-haters, they are some of the friendliest adults I know). Being taught by someone to which you are not intimately related has a few advantages. One is that they cannot send you to your room if you get in trouble.

For me, a good education all boils down to 3 main necessities.

  1. Fun
  2. Ability to control ones own time
  3. Encouragement by someone else, or cooperation, but no forced assignments if they undermine fun

Most of these points about education are just that, MY view, I would like to hear from others about what they think, and I am planning to discuss more aspects of education in my next post, and hopefully examine creativity in greater detail.


P.S. Did you watch Sir Ken Robinson on TED? There are a few more relevant speeches from that website I wish to share. One is by Dave Eggers, who talks about a revolutionary writing community (in the form of a pirate store). Another is Gever Tulley, on five… or seven, dangerous things parents should let children do.

John Lennon says

5.5.08 by Tim + 91 comments!

I have a brief question I’ve been considering. At what point does revolution become unnecessary?

You can revolt against governments, which has often been a good thing- for example the American Revolution. And you can revolt against society, which has often been a good thing; the 60’s counterculture did a lot for both culture and for society. There’s also the downside, with things like the French Revolution, and the creation of black urban gang drug culture that came with the spread of crack cocaine. In all revolutions people are finding new ways to live, and sometimes they get lucky and end up being a positive influence on everybody else in the long term.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about Daniel Quinn and his new tribalism, and the revolution it would mean if people started taking it up, and she said that she thought that revolutions have lost their purpose. Its not that they aren’t for good reasons anymore, its just that now that our society has grown accustomed to change, there’s no need. What we need are “sensible movements within the system.”

So is it true? Are there some social norms left to break that might yet keep our society changing for the better, or are we all revolutioned out?


4.29.08 by Cypy

Many people assume when they write an opinion on the Internet, it is a private opinion. Looking through vast expanses of blog comments, one can find extremely vulgar language and outlandishly insulting accusations. Many people write comments that come straight out of their mind, whatever they happen happen to be thinking at the moment with no censorship involved. They do so because they can write obscenities and still get away with anonymity. All one needs to do, is type a pen name in the input field, and voilà, no trace of identity is attached. Words flow as if they were being written in a secret journal. People often freely insult others over the web, feeling safe because they are alone, typing at a computer, without face-to-face interaction.

When at a social gathering, people rarely exhibit the type of rudeness that pervades the Internet. They actually see fellow humans and the environment feels much less secluded. The Internet makes everything feel secret and special; one can slip away at any moment to a different page of the Internet, and not be noticed. Every website might feel new, like a freshly discovered hideout.

In fact, the illusion of a secret hideaway is extremely wrong. People don’t ordinarily think about the millions of other visitors that have already seen a website, and they usually ignore the possible thousands that could be concurrently browsing the same webpage. If someone posts a vulgar comment, many others read it, and if an insult is directed at a particular person, chances are, that person will become offended. Information is actually less private than it is off the web, but many people act as if the opposite is true.

Of course, privacy is not always beneficial. If someone decides to publish misinformation, an expert of that information might read it, chose to report the author, or email them with a correction. A perfect example of constant viewing is Wikipedia, in which many experts in different fields monitor their specific articles and insure they are filled with the correct information.

Recently, John McCain’s website published a section titled “McCain Family Recipes.” Contrary to the title, they were not “family recipes” at all, but were actually lifted word-for-word from the Food Network website. Whoever put that section up was not thinking straight. They had deluded themselves into thinking the internet was a secret oasis, and apparently didn’t consider that someone might recognize the plagiarized material. Of course, who would? Only someone who wrote the original recipe perhaps, or maybe it could have been a particularly keen Food Network aficionado, but what is the likelihood of that?

As it turns out, the first noted report of this fancy, food facsimile was by an ordinary citizen of New York, who was simply googling one of the recipes and was surprised to see McCain’s website come up in the search results. She happened to be an attorney. Oops. According to the Huffington Post the McCain website removed the offending material within 12 hours.

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