The Deep Dark Scary Forest was neither deep nor scary at its periphery. It was, however, dark, which was appropriate. I settled into the clearing, enjoying the silence. In the Realms silence was automatically perceived as scary, but that was simply because the villages, castles, and various golden forests were alive with song from both people and animals.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
I hold degrees in history, political science, and English literature. I have strong interests in mythology and religion. As a hobby I have looked into astronomy, geology, and meteorology (these last have a lot to do with book research, but I still enjoy them). I have friends in the sciences and law, and I speak with them and enjoy hearing what they have to say about their disciplines.
All of this preamble is not to talk about my education, but rather a fundamental truth I’ve always known, but is starting to gain ground in higher education. Disiplines are connected to one another.
To learn about one thing is not to learn about one thing. Everything is connected. You cannot understand literature without considering history and the politics of the time when it was written, or even the economics around it. You cannot understand science unless you know how that science connects to other sciences, history, and society. All of human understanding is a giant tapestry with overlapping threads. One thread cannot be pulled free and studied in isolation. The weave is so tight that other threads invariably come with it.
So there is a growing idea that classes should be linked together, formally, to create these learning communities. I’m not sure that it needs to be done in a formal, one-off type of way. I believe it’s the responsibility of all instructors to talk about how subjects crossover. When students begin to understand that the study of philosophy will impact their English and science classes, or how history impacts psychology and science, how mathematics was influenced by philosophy and geography, we will create students who will know how to excel in all areas instead of concentrating only on the short-term needs of their classes.
Monday, February 24, 2014
I am, on a significant level, anti-math. This needs some explaining. I am an Excel wizard. I have spent the last couple of years in my free time in computer programming, which requires a certain proficiency with math. So I have to say that math in and of itself is not bad, per se (nod and a wink to South Park’s “Ungroundable” episode). My position regarding math has nothing to do with the inherent discipline itself, but rather people’s obsession with it.
In high school I was required to take two years of algebra and a year of geometry. In college I was required to pass a semester of college-level algebra. Okay, no sweat. I did it. I didn’t enjoy it, but I did it. I get that there are subjects I have to take that make me well-rounded and give me a strong foundation of skills that I will likely use in life. That is, after all, what a general education is supposed to do.
However, it’s all been largely useless. The procedural math that algebra and geometry classes teach frequently is useless. There is little in the way of applicability to logarithms, cosines, factoring, and quadratic equations to everyday life. I have forgotten nearly all of the math education I had. Like any skill, it stays in memory the more it’s used. I don’t have a need for math in a daily life.
Math education, too, has shifted into something that is unnecessary, and will likely be among these forgotten skills and equations. The education focuses more on the steps needed to solve a given equation. The procedure trumps all. I have taught in classrooms in the math department, and I see the classes end where a computer program emulates a calculator because instructors demonstrate how to solve the problem on the calculator.
What good is this? Rote memorization does not make for problem solving skills. Being able to look at a problem and deduce a method to solve it is problem solving. Parroting the steps and drilling it into a group of students only insures that they will be able to follow those steps, but not apply critical thinking skills to problem solving. They haven’t learned any critical skills. They learned how to follow steps.
If math is to be truly relevant, it needs to be walked back into a method of solving problems, of exploration and deducing relationships between not only numbers but reality. The great mathematicians created the equations to solve specific problems they encountered, and the only way to solve those problems was by math.
What good is it to tell someone the Pythagorean Theorem or pi? Why isn’t it better to help students understand the relationships? Let them measure the circumference and diameters of circles and discover the constant relationship between them that is pi. Let them question and understand how the sides of the triangle relate.
Only when this is done will the math scores increase, and math will truly be relevant in modern education. We need more problem solvers and thinkers. Fewer parrots.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Night is supposed to fade in by degrees as the sun disappears from the horizon, then as its glow slips away. Night is not supposed to roll literally in. This time it did. It wasn’t fog or some cloud, but a visible darkness that coursed along. I had been in storms with massive dust clouds that swallowed up the light and cut all visibility, but that wasn’t this. Nor was this the absence of light. It was darkness. The only way to tell the difference was that all lights became oppressed. The darkness pushed the light back towards its source, refusing it to penetrate.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
I had to stop myself from going too far with the last post. I very nearly veered into a related subject in gruesome detail, but it would have been a rant and not very productive. I’ve read enough rants online to know that they aren’t very interesting, nor do they solve very much.
Instead, I will present this as a warning. Within education (primary, secondary, and post-secondary) there is a miasma. By this I mean there is a fundamental wrongness that is sweeping through the system. It is subtle and pervasive. It is growing.
The education system is nearing a critical mass and none of the proposed solutions will actually change anything.
I’ve had opportunity to speak to teachers in various parts of the country, at various levels and various disciplines. I haven’t spoken to one that has believed that the situation is improving. I haven’t talked to one that has ideas on how to correct things.
Soon it will be an epidemic.
Monday, February 17, 2014
I talked about my teaching methods (obliquely, I’ll grant) but now I want to look at what others do. I don’t understand are the methodologies that are proven to be least effective. Every single study points to the least effective and least enjoyable method of teaching as the lecture. But there are still far too many that employ this method. Why is tossing information out without any involvement considered teaching? I never learned from protected lectures, and can only fathom that they are used because they are simple for the professors to enact. They don’t have any real investment into the education process beyond blank fulfillment of their jobs.
Friday, February 14, 2014
The air of Nikki’s club on Valentine ’s Day felt something more like what a mortuary would be, except it wasn’t solemn. The music was angry and depressing, a mix of emo scream rock and Depeche Mode. The goths in the club reveled in their spurning of a day celebrating love.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
I’ve been very careful in my methodology. I wanted to teach for a long time in my college career, so I paid attention to my own professors’ methodologies. I paid attention to when I learned most and best. It wasn’t about the volume of information, but the depth of information an involvement with the subject. I had professors who, because of how they taught, were able to spark my interest in subjects I had previously detested. To this day I still regard Victorian literature as somewhat wrong, but I will at least judge each piece on its own merits, and I have come to love the essayists of that period.
So when I began teaching, I folded all of the methodologies I liked together and rejected the ones that drove me away from subjects. Now, certainly, I know that there are people who will not (and did not for my professors, either) enjoy this methodology, but that’s the way it should be.
Monday, February 10, 2014
I’m a big believer in enlightenment. I’m not necessarily talking about Buddhist spiritual enlightenment and karmic perfection. I’m talking about the oh moments. The moment when understanding comes across someone’s face and they say, quite simply, “Oh.” Sometimes it’s soft and drawn out. Other times it’s an exclamation. More frequently the word is written on their faces as their eyes light up and brows climb.
Those are the teaching and writing moments I live for. To me, the oh moment is what teaching is all about. Without those moments, teaching simply isn’t worth it. I purposely structured all my teaching—along Socratic lines—to encourage as many of those oh moments as possible. Moments of inquiry and understanding at their own ability to answer the inquiry is what it’s about.
I like to think my writing has those moments, too. I want those moments to be there in the story. Otherwise, a story isn't worth reading.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
It hasn’t been a secret on here that I’ve been increasingly unhappy while teaching. That’s resulted in some posts that have given me pause and served to remind me that all is not well in Mudville. I can’t pretend to fix education, and I believe problems are systemic. Because of that, it’s harder to maintain focus and interest.
I’m becoming distant.
The change is happening right now. I don’t know if I’ll become completely distant. That’s hard to say as I remember so many great things about teaching, especially the look of enlightenment on students’ faces.
I would like to say that I will continue to teach at least one class for as long as possible, but I can’t. The distance is widening, and, just like a child giving up his security blanket, eventually I will give it up.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Jobs give structure. Especially the 9-5 variety. Times are clearly defined. Get up at time X. Lunch at time Y. Leave work at time Z. Free time until you must get up again at X.
I’ve never been much for that kind of structure, though. I find that there are too many times when the mind wanders and I’m unproductive. Likewise sometimes there’s not enough work to fill the day or there’s too much work to fill the day. I’ve found that I’m more productive in pursuing my own schedule.
Of course there are times when I’m definitely procrastinating. But I’ve found in my writing schedule that I can (when there are not ten billion other things happening) maintain a strict discipline even among various activities.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve engaged in half a dozen different projects nearly simultaneously and maintained my other job as well. I’ve also had times when I needed to finish on deadlines, too, especially with multiple projects. I think that I’m up for the challenges of a more independent structure.
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