Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our Education Is Like Photorespiration

The only reason I didn't die of boredom in fifth period today is because as I was plotting 124 tiny dots on graph paper and drawing lines between them (with a ruler, of course) I was mentally reforming the American education system.

Implementing, or at least coming up with strategies for implementing, educational reform has become something of a dream goal for me. I want to do it the same way some people want to be professional baseball players. The U.S. has been slipping slowly down the list of countries with the best education systems. That is not a list we want to be slipping down. In my opinion, the biggest problem is apathy -- a simple problem with a very elusive solution. But there're smaller problems, scores of them. And as I sit there in public school myself, I can see them. Things we could probably fix and change.

For example, today in fifth period, we made graphs. We mapped the tide at some random location in New York for 31 days, with 4 points for each day. And we were required to do it by hand. According to the teacher, it was just to see if we could do it. Apparently, scientists used to do this all the time back before there were computers.

That, in my opinion, is the worst justification ever. If any scientist did all his graphs by hand in the present day, he'd be fired for being so horribly inefficient. What's the point of practicing something that scientists used to do in years gone by rather than what they do now? I don't think any of us are planning to be scientists in the 1940s. The 2020s, maybe, and by that time the job will even more certainly entail creating computer-generated graphs.

Granted, being able to make a graph by hand is still probably a useful skill in some situations. That's why we learn how to do it in 6th grade.

In short, the graph was the busywork. We practiced an outdated skill, useless (or at least much less useful than other skills we could be practicing) in the modern world. And it was incredibly tedious, which is even worse. If you're going to make students bore themselves to tears, there had better be a good reason. Tedium for tedium's sake breeds apathy -- which, from what I've observed so far, is learning's enemy #1.

From all this, let's create a rule. (Note that this rule is flexible. Even if I solidified it as part of a "theory," it would somewhat fluid, amorphous if you will, because that's how I roll.) Something like this:

"Classwork (especially tedious classwork) needs to have a purpose relevant to both the aims of the class and the modern world for which school is supposed to prepare students."

Work for work's sake is as inefficient as photorespiration. We put in the effort (ATP) and time (NADPH) that we could've used for more effective schoolwork (the Calvin Cycle) and get nothing out of it. And in fact, we eliminate the things we do want (student interest, i.e. carbon dioxide) and produce crap we don't (resentment and boredom, i.e. oxygen.)

Please don't take this as an attack. I'm not trying to complain, especially since I could've switched out of the class in question at the semester. I'm just trying to think of new ways to do things, and trying to identify the problems with the old ways. If anybody reading this has opinions of their own, by all means please share them. If I'm ever going to reform anything, I need to figure out what works, and I'm one person with one subjective opinion that can easily overlook things. In fact, someday I'd need to talk to people about this, hundreds of people, and do research on schools all over the country and probably worldwide. Now wouldn't that be an awesome project?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Melancholy... Totally....

I'm not sure what you were hoping for when you clicked the link that brought you here. Perhaps you had nothing better to do. Perhaps you've never read my blog before and are just wondering what I have to say. Perhaps you're a kind soul trying to humor me, and for that, I thank you. Like most people, I do enjoy being humored.

On the off chance that you were actually expecting some sort of deep insightful commentary on life and the nature of humanity -- sorry, I've got none of that at the moment. What I do have tonight is a sort of melancholy discontent. There's no good reason for it; it's just there. And so I'm attempting to flush it out by writing. No grand thoughts tonight. Just an overactive superego and a keyboard.

Which is all a very roundabout way of saying: hey, I'm gonna write about myself. Today, this is a vanity blog. I'm sorry -- you can leave now if you like.

Now that that's out of the way, I'm going to write about misconceptions. Namely, three misconceptions that I think quite a few people must have about me, as they're misconceptions I've had about myself.

Misconception 1: I'm not content with where I am (geographically, I mean.)

I probably talk a lot about how much I want to travel. It's true that I do have a powerful sense of wanderlust, and that my greatest dream is to go abroad and live in other places and cultures. But that doesn't mean that I don't like it here. Sometimes I think people get the impression that I feel like my country isn't good enough, or something, or that I think other places must be better. That's not true at all. I'm not looking for anything "better." I don't believe in better, really. I just believe in "different."

This place is where I come from. It's ingrained within me, and I'm glad for that. In fact, if it wasn't, my wanderlust would not be so strong. My Americanness is my frame of reference -- without it, I could not see the rest of the world and think "Hey, that's different from what I know! Awesome!"

And it's not the necessarily places that I'm so eager to see. Places are awesome, but sightseeing isn't what I'm so passionate about. It's people and everything they do. Culture. Potential friends. There's a whole world of it, and that's what I love. I don't think that there's something "better" out there that I'm missing. I just know that there are things that are different out there. That's what I'm looking for.

I was going to go on, but I don't think I will. I'm really trying not to use this blog to rant on about personal things that nobody cares about anyways. I'll leave you with two parting thoughts.

First, a question: is it better to be insecure or overconfident? Obviously both are follies and have their issues. On a spectrum, I fall decidedly on the "insecure" side. In fact, my insecurity (along with my emotional immaturity, inability to make eye contact with people, and practical uselessness) is one of my biggest faults, I believe. I wonder what it would be like to have extra confidence. Would it cause more problems than it solves? Or would my life not necessarily be better or worse, but just different? What other aspects of my character would it alter?

Second, a thought: I think that most people end up hating other people due to misconceptions, misunderstandings, and the simple fact that we are all locked behind different sets of eyes. People interpret the world differently by the virtue of being different people. I think sometimes we all assume too quickly that everybody else thinks exactly the way we do, and that the reasons behind another person's actions would naturally be the same as our own.

Alright, I'm tired now and the melancholy would probably be better served by sleep. Goodnight... and till next time, when I hope I'll actually have something other than my silly old self to write about.