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Month: September 2007

High school != education

I was speaking to a frustrated and irritated high schooler about my thought that much of what is taught in high school is pretty useless… it’s for the most part time wasting busy work. Unfortunately when I make that argument, people seem to think I’m advocating the exact opposite, that I’m suggesting high schoolers should stay home and play the computer or start working at Burger King for the rest of their lives, that I’m suggesting that education itself is completely useless. I’m not! High school, as it is now, is mostly useless education-wise, but it’s extremely useful in that you need to have a high school diploma to get a decent college degree, which you need to get a decent job. Thus this problem of high school’s wastefulness is not just an education problem that can be solved by closing high schools; colleges and employers must use different criteria to evaluate applications, and law makers must… well… change laws.

Of course I don’t want an operation by a heart surgeon who flunked out of high school and never got a degree (or a license), but I certainly don’t care what grade he got on his Huckleberry Finn research paper. Relevance matters. You can learn a lot in high school if you pay attention and apply yourself. And you’ll probably forget a lot because you’ll never use it. You’ll learn a lot more during the rest of your life, when you have the opportunity (and requirement) to actually apply what you learn to something meaningful. Your knowledge base will probably become less eclectic, but much more vital. (And of course you should always pursue your interests even if they’re eclectic, but you’d be Peter Keating if you have to ask someone else what you should be interested in. Eclecticism need not be sought for its own sake.)

The high schooler I was talking to claimed that if students were not required to go to high school, they would just play Halo 3 all day, since that’s what they tend to do in their spare time anyway. Obviously if a teenager was to play video games all day, that would defeat the point of my argument. Yes, a lazy teenager might do just that, play Halo 3 all day, but high school isn’t going to increase his work ethic. High school should be replaced with meaningful responsibility. I’m not talking about clean-the-kitchen or take-out-the-trash house chores. High schoolers should be perfectly capable (mentally and physically, even if not legally) of working an entry-level job (I’m not talking Burger King patty flipping) and getting on-the-job training, education that is actually relevant. They should then be capable of making and spending the money they make. They might have to take classes to learn the specifics of the theoritical material involved in their work, but it will be much more meaningful (and probably easier to learn) when the applications of such material are fully known. From what I’ve seen, no doctor-in-training sits in a classroom and does bookwork until he graduates, and suddenly works at a hospital with real patients. Medical students must get the experience of actually working in the hospital before they graduate.

Our schooling system serves two purposes that often compete with each other: to teach, and to assess. (Bad teachers tend to be the ones that focus too much on assessment, often not being smart enough themselves to do any teaching. They often use a text book to do much of their work. They plan their lessons from it then use their “teacher edition” to grade work from it. Then they wonder why they don’t get paid much and advocate “teacher appreciation day”. In some cases, “teacher” may be a misnomer.) Teaching is most important of the two, is it not? My argument is that if grades are given the importance they are today by colleges and employers, they should better reflect what they’re meant to: what the student knows. Therefore, all teachers should allow every student to take unlimited make-up tests and turn in late homework at all times. Otherwise you’re grading more than you’re teaching. “But,” you say, “deadlines are important in the real world! Students need to turn things in on time if they want to make it in the working world!” And you’d be right, but late homework shouldn’t penalize the actual content of the homework. A separate grade should be given for timeliness, but without the incentive of money or life dependence (like there is in the real world), it’s hard for such a grade to have importance, which is why what I said before about getting work experience while taking relevant classes is a better education model. People fail their driver’s license exams all the time, but we don’t put an “Exam Failed x times” on their licenses that somehow impairs their legal driving privileges.

I could blather on about this for longer, but I’m tired. And I think you get the point… though if you disagree with me, you might not… :-Þ

With great responsibility should come great power! (Wouldn’t that be nice?)

Bye.

My life in boxes

Ok, not really, but rhetorically that sounds pretty cool… it’s like a metaphor or something.

But what I mean is that our house is, as I type, being packed by movers into boxes. A lot of boxes. So if I suddenly have the urge to look something up in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I couldn’t. The emptiness of the house and the stacks of boxes everywhere make the place look quite strange.

Here’s one of things we had to do in one of my classes called “Computer Vision” … we had to take an image like this:

… and find its outline, like this:


Don’t you wish you could do that? Jealous? The class is one of the more interesting I’ve had, though I still can’t say I enjoy homework with deadlines… but I finally understand hue, saturation, and intensity!

More strange searches…

My family and I are moving to a new and bigger house soon (we’re movin’ on up) so I’ve been quite busy. In fact, today I was helping to get tons of boxes out of our attic and dripped more sweat than I have in years. I felt like I should be on Dirty Jobs

Today on Dirty Jobs I empty an old attic in thick dust and unbearable humidity. Some of these boxes haven’t been touched in decades, and some are incredibly heavy… and they’ve all gotta come down. You’re probably wondering if it stinks up here. It does. Attic emptiers make civilized life possible for the rest of us.

Anyway, looking over my web stats, here are some more strange search phrases people have used to come across this website:

“beethoven’s female copyist” He didn’t have one.
“how to burn stuff” Uh… look out for that guy.
“better than an ipod” Well, not a Zune.
“how old is the guy who played saruman” Pretty darn old.
“commuting to college” It’s awesome.
“stuff to morph” What?

People can be weird!

$100 Laptop

Over the weekend Best Buy had a great deal on a really slow Gateway laptop computer, somewhere around $300. So my brother and my father and I split the bill and bought the thing, which I’ll be able to take to school on Mondays and Wednesdays. It will help me stay awake in class.

Oh, I also got Dr. Robert Epstein’s The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen from my university’s library (I had them order it). If you look at the reviews on Amazon, you’ll see the reviewers tend to either love it (5 stars) or hate it (1 star). I’m only about 40 pages into it, but I think I’ll be on the love side. (Though most of the bad reviews seem to have something to do with one point the author makes about corporal punishment… they are probably completely missing the point of the book, but I haven’t reached that part in the book yet.) I couldn’t agree more with some of the negative opinions mentioned about the modern schooling system.

One thing you might not even think about, especially when actually going to elementary school, is how students are split up for the most part entirely by age, and that determines your curriculum for a year. Does that really make any sense? Does it come from an attempt to make the dumb kids not so jealous of the smarter ones? While I can imagine that could be a real issue in education, I don’t think making the smarter children suffer for it is a good idea. (And, for the record, I do not really believe “slow learner = dumb”.)

Who decides on the curriculum anyway? A vast majority of what is taught remains unused and is forgotten, making the teaching of it a waste of time. Why do so many dedicate their lives to continuing the cycle without question? Jay Leno likes to go around and make fools of people who do not know trivial facts, but, besides some politics related trivia, do the answers really matter? I might be considered an idiot if I didn’t know what photosynthesis was, but knowing it doesn’t really gain me anything. A student’s interest should guide their curriculum to a greater extent, but first ending useless curriculum material is a greater priority. There is no such thing as learning for the sake of learning. Learning for the sake of interest, yes. Nobody goes around reading everything they get their hands on, it would be impossible. Instead, what we choose to read is guided by our interests. I know adults might be scared that without a school and busy work, children would just watch TV all the time, but if their interests are supported, I think most students would be quite motivated to learn and work quite a lot.

“I like to see their eyes light up when they finally figure something out,” said a teacher once upon a time. This reason is inappropriate for becoming a teacher. The subject of what you’re teaching should be more important then how students look at you.

“This plays DVDs really slow… it keeps having to buffer.”
“You mean you have to be connected to the Internet everytime you want to watch a DVD?!”

Book Progress

I finally finished writing [the rough draft of] Chapter 13 of The Game of Gynwig, my epic “children’s” fantasy novel. I’m still not very far along; the addition of Chapter 13 puts the book at 37,000 words so far, so it’s still not even a novel yet. By my last outline, there will be 60 chapters, but I’m sure that will change as my plans for the rest of the book continue to change chapter by chapter. I find it’s much more exciting to write when I use the outline as a guide but start out each chapter as if I don’t know where the story will go… that way the story can still surprise me and it makes the actual writing less boring. Unfortunately it means I have to redo my outline after every chapter. Whew.

Respeghi! And PublishAmerica!

As I was driving to weekly time-wasting (college), I heard some excellent music on the classical radio (the less art your kids get, the more it shows) so when I got to my university I looked up the radio’s playlist and discovered the music I enjoyed so much was Respeghi’s 2nd “Ancient Airs and Dances” Suite for orchestra. Seems the old composer stole, I mean used old lute melodies and orchestrated them for an orchestra. The end results sound wonderful, especially that last movement of Suite No 2. I was able to check out the album from my university’s library, one of the only good things about being at a university.

In other news, one of my old high school English teachers had his book published! According to the school’s website, the book is being published by PublishAmerica! A vanity press… I am afraid that is not exactly much of an achievement… their website excited me a couple years ago, but after a bit of research one can see it’s a very misleading company. Be warned! Now, that doesn’t mean the company is necessarily bad if you know what you’re getting into. PublishAmerica will publish just about anyone, despite what their website may say, so don’t feel too accomplished if they accept your novel. And they’re probably not going to really edit it like a real publishing company would. They will not spend any money to promote your book either, other than listing it on its website, so you, the author, will have to do all the marketing yourself… so it’s basically a lot like self-publishing.

Last time I looked into it (about 1.5 years ago or so, maybe things have changed) the company would publish your book free of charge, but request that you tell friends and family members about your book so they could buy it. It was then their money that truly paid for the print-on-demand publishing. If you really got published by a real publishing company, you’d get free copies to hand out to loved ones.

So… hopefully my old English teacher didn’t get tricked (maybe it’s a different “publishamerica”?) and for now I’ll spare this blog a rant about how useless and wasteful high school English classes is… er… are. But someday…

Anyway, check out Writer Beware for all your publishing warning needs. And Google “PublishAmerica hoax” for more warning tales.

I’m still working on my fantasy novel, I’ll have an update about that tomorrow… or the next day.

The Dark Trailer

At Quicktime.com a teaser trailer for the next Batman movie, The Dark Knight has been added. It’s the worst teaser I’ve ever seen, there’s absolutely no content at all! It includes only the Batman symbol breaking apart with some voice clips. Whoever forced whoever is in charge of trailer-making to make this trailer is foolish. They just forced the creation of the worst movie trailer of all time.

I bet the movie will be a lot of fun though, it will have some good dialogue…

And it doesn’t come out until July 2008… I’ll be out of college by then! Woohoo!

Something Wicked…

I finished reading Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes today. (Took me long enough, it was quite an easy read.) I love Bradbury’s style and the plot itself was great, fantastical, and memorable, but in the eternal words of a cartoon George Lucas “he didn’t really capture Something Wicked… the way I would have.” As I said, the book was a quick read, but I think it might have been better if it were a slower read… I mean, if there were more details, more delicious style to savor, more insight into what the characters are thinking and what they’re going through and what they choose and how they change. Then again, it really wouldn’t match Bradbury’s rhetoric style to do such a thing, but still, the book conjures ideas for stories in my mind with similar themes yet a much different handling of them. In the end, it’s certainly one of the better books I’ve read this year.

I randomly chose my next book: Eyes of Silver by Michael A. Stackpole. This does not look like it will be a quick read at all, at least not for slow-reading me. It’s 450 pages with small text and thin pages. I’m almost through with the prologue and I’m already confused… too many names and history and information… isn’t Stackpole supposed to be against prologues?

Oh well, bit by bit, putting it together, only way to make a work of art…

Still writing that book…

I’m still working on that novel I began back in November 2006… soon it will have been a year, and I’m not even half way done. But, oh well, at least I haven’t given up.

I got two books out of the library today, one called “Plot & Structure” and one called “Character, Emotion & Viewpoint”. My goal with these books is not to study them really hard and apply everything they say to my novel, my hope is that I can read through a chapter or two before I begin writing just for some ideas and some inspiration… not the corny kind of spiritual inspiration, but the excited “I want to try that” inspiration, like when you see a behind-the-scenes look at the making of some movie or TV show and you say to yourself, “geez, anyone could do that kind of work, I want to try that!”

Also, the books may very well give me some material to blather about! Woohoo!

Another education rant!

I recently asked my university’s library to order this book called The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen by Dr. Robert Epstein. (I recently blogged about an article featuring his ideas in “Stuff I Found”.) The book looks very interesting, especially since it seems to echo, in some respects, arguments I’ve made earlier somewhere in this blog about the uselessness of the teenage education system.

Speaking about useless education systems, I’m taking a required computer science course this semester having to do with computer architecture in which we learn how a processor and such process instructions, such as assembly instructions. This course is a perfect example of a complete and utter waste of my time. If there’s a job out there that requires this sort of knowledge, I don’t want it. There is no good reason for this course to be required, many of us CS majors will get along fine without it for the rest of our lives. There is no good purpose for making this course a requirement. This, like many other courses, are a complete waste of my time and tuition! But it’s not just the universities that I think are to blame, it’s the industry… the companies who hire graduates with a BS in computer science. Instead of searching for actual signs of a skill in something, they seem to put more emphasis on a piece of paper representing that you got a C or better in a bunch of courses.

The professor went around the room of and asked each of us why were in the course. Some students were genuinely interested in the subject… good for them, somebody’s gotta carry on doing this nitty-gritty work in the future! Some students seemed to fake answers to please the professor. I, like about a third or a fourth of the class, was honest and said I was there because it was a required course. The professor didn’t seem very pleased, I’m sure he’d rather be teaching students who cared a bit more. Oh well.

To continue ranting…

I once asked in a game programming forum which was more important, a degree or a portfolio? Obviously a portfolio should be more important, but employers for some reason don’t always agree. According to this website:

the asker is showing his laziness, trying to find a way to get out of having to have both a portfolio and a degree. And the asker has the naïve belief that there is a cut-and-dried preference for one over the other. Life just ain’t that simple!

Not doing something that is not needed is not laziness. But unfortunately the answerer is correct in that there is no cut-and-dried preference… but there should be, and it’s employers’ fault that there’s not and it’s because of them I’m stuck in some boring class wasting my time and energy. Life is very simple, it’s just not easy.

Why are so many people so scared to admit that most of the stuff learned in high school and college is useless? I feel like I’m countering the evil of Ayn Rand’s “secondhanders” … I guess because I am.

Maybe it has to do with red hair.