Alarming News: I like Morgan Freeberg. A lot.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: We were following a trackback and thinking "hmmm... this is a bloody excellent post!", and then we realized that it was just part III of, well, three...Damn. I wish I'd written those.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: ...I just remembered that I found a new blog a short while ago, House of Eratosthenes, that I really like. I like his common sense approach and his curiosity when it comes to why people believe what they believe rather than just what they believe.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is an intriguing guy...[he] asks great questions and answers others with style, flair, reason and wit. On the blogroll he goes. Make him a part of your regular blogospheric reading. I certainly will.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is brilliant.
Common Sense Junction: Misha @ Anti-Idiotarian never ceases to amaze me. He keeps finding other good blogs. I went over to A.I. this morning for my daily Misha fix and he had found this guy named Morgan Freeberg in Fair Oaks, California, that has a blog, House of Eratosthenes. Freeberg says its "The Blog That Nobody Reads" but it may now become the blog that everybody reads.
Jaded Haven: Good God, Morgan, you cover a topic from front to back with a screwy thoroughness I find mind boggling. I'm in awe of your thought proccesses, my friend, you're an exceptional talent. You start by throwing in the kitchen sink, tie in someone's syphilitic uncle, bend around a rip tide of brilliance and bring it all home in a neat, diamond dripping package of an exceptionally readable moment of damn fine wordsmithing. I love reading you.
Mein Blogovault: Make "the Blog that No One Reads" one of your daily reads.
Philmon: When Morgan meanders, stick with him - he's got a point and it'll be worth it in the end. He's not a hit-and-run snarky quip kind of guy. The pieces all fall into place like tumblers in a lock and bang! He's opened a cognative door for you.
Rightlinx: Morgan at House of Eratosthenes is one of the best writers out there. I read him nearly every day because he manages to provide an interesting perspective, even though I don't always agree.
Poetic Justice: Cletus! Ah gots a laiv one fer yew...
I recall in seventh grade I got completely hooked on trigonometry. I found it liberating because it was completely evident how such skills could be used in practical, everyday life. The only problem was, in seventh grade we weren’t supposed to be working on trigonometry, we were supposed to be working on something else. (I think it might have been the most fundamental lessons in algebra, the “find x” stuff, which I found to be interesting and challenging for maybe half a day, and the class proceeded to spend several weeks on it.) My recollection is that my school career proceeded this way, with my grades all over the map while I read ahead in the book to the practical stuff I’d actually be able to use. Occasionally a concerned teacher would take me aside and give me The Lecture, having discerned that I could do better. Now and then, a fellow student would do the same.
I also have a recollection of one of these students, polar opposite from me on the popularity scale — which is to say she was on top of it — taking the time to badger me into givin’-a-rip. One of the straight-A, ASB President, lots-and-lots of extracurricular activities types…almost certainly prompted by the teacher. I recall my genuine astonishment that somehow, in this conversation, it emerged that her command of the concepts was simply not there. The high achiever of the class, that is. What she did not actually understand about this, was positively mind-blowing.
Thirty-five years later it’s still blowing my mind. Maybe I should have made a lifelong study out of this.
I have so many unanswered questions about this, first and foremost is: What exactly is it we’re seeing, here? Why do so many students like this have straight-A’s when they…well, to coin a phrase…simply don’t know what they’re doing? Is this cheating? These seem like such good, honest, respectable clean-cut kids, now and in yesteryear. And the answer is complex. I think a simplified version of the correct, overly-complex answer would be a “no,” at least it isn’t a conscious cheating. I think what we’re seeing is a confusion between honest education and mimicry. I have other recollections of an occasional “extra credit” challenge coming up. Why, now that I think about it, I had such a thing happen at work a few months back: Find the encryption keys and then unscramble the message. This kind of thing would pop up now and then at school all those years ago. The assignment would — uniquely — challenge the students’ grasp of the concepts that were taught. Outcome would count for everything and process would count for nothing.
The clean-cut, social-apex, straight-A, ASB President kids would gasp, their faces visibly tinted, and immediately begin “collaborating.” In a big panic.
Morgan, true to form, would dive into this “extra credit” with a huge sigh of relief, like a drowning man finally gulping some fresh air, while his “real” work went only partially finished.
It seems to me that the greater the number of students failing such assignments, the more smug the teacher’s attitude. I infer from this that the takeaway was supposed to be that the learning is never complete, you should struggle with this subject and struggle some more, because even though you’re getting straight A’s you’ll never have it mastered. They were most smug on the occasions on which I was the only one turning it in correctly completed, but that had nothing to do with me because their cachet as teachers was not fastened in any way to my own as a student. I think the lesson was simply: Look how hard and complicated this stuff can get. Now, go back to reducing those fractions we have five more pages to go.
End result: The entire semester’s “learnings” are reduced down to something like a choreographed dance number. The students that “know” the most will be the ones showing the most unfailing fidelity to the dance steps, although that is demonstrably not any kind of elite “knowledge” since everybody knows what those dance steps are. Extra credit that tests genuine knowledge is an exception. It should be the rule. That’s what homework used to be all about: Zero social interaction, zero opportunity to emulate others, just full-on demonstration of understanding of concepts. Whatever happened to that?
We must begin with the realization that the “mimicry equals achievement” mindset in our school system did not leave me, rather I left it. The mystery is why the kids who shared my experience were, or at least appeared to be, in the minority. Is a changing perspective with changing priorities not supposed to be what maturity is all about? Are you not supposed to become more concerned with the practical side of things? But the process-over-outcome students were more “successful,” visibly in the majority, and were at least consistent. This is, after all, the way Kindergarten works. Teacher gives a cue, the students then show what good students they are by following it. There is this mindset dominating our educational system that says, this is what education is. Command of the academic material? Command of the concepts? What of it? And it becomes more extreme over time.
Example: In my day a “times table” was something you started out with, way back in fourth grade or something, and you stuck with it a little while until multiplying single-digit numbers became second nature. By the time you get into middle school, someone asks you “what’s four times six” it will become a knee-jerk process to answer 24, and you will have already been ’round the block on all these interesting mathematical quirks like, five times five is one greater, because n^2 is 1+((n-1)*(n+1)). The times table will have helped you get a start because you’ll have the ability to envision all this stuff in your mind. It is a springboard into the world of multiplying two-or-more-digit numbers; that’s how I see it, anyway.
Reviewing my son’s work with his teachers, my girlfriend and I made the discovery that kids today are working from much larger times tables, and for longer — not to get a start, but to continue onward. And it seems they aren’t being tasked with making their own. The tables are printed, laminated, and the kids are considered to be unable to get their work done if they happen to lose them.
And what I’m picking up from it all is this: “Knowing what you’re talking about” has subtly switched places with “giving the right answers.” And we see it in the ink-hand saluting slobbering Obama fans. They can tell us ObamaCare will balance the budget. And that Clinton left a huge surplus when he left office…if you quiz them on the hows, it ends up being embarrassing for everybody concerned. They haven’t got a clue. Oh, it’s painful to watch. They stammer out a few syllables about “it costs less to treat an illness in the early stages, or as a preventative measure…” and drone on from there into a disintegrating, dissolving, incoherent hot mess. How did Clinton fix the budget? Dunno. He’s Bill Clinton. Something wonderful, something amazing.
I’m also picking up that — and this may be right, it may be wrong — this all got started shortly before my school career (class of ’84, meaning something happened in the mid to late sixties) and the trend has accelerated since my time. The teachers are doing it, but they’re not to be blamed, I think the problem is lack of parental involvement. The educational institutions are thinking too small. They’re mired in the world of “Find a question, find the answer, put the answer in the back of the teacher’s book, ask the student the question and compare the answers.” Comparing answers is a swift, economical process. But the core mission of the educational establishment — assessing and building upon the student’s grasp of the concepts — has been neglected and is being further neglected.
And so we have these Obama zombies. They think “We’re all in this together” is an adequate substitute for knowing what you’re doing, knowing what you’re talking about.
Well, why should they not think that? They’ve been taught that every single day between K and twelve. And into adulthood as well. What can you do, in our ultra-modernized society, realizing success if and only if you really know what you’re talking about? Look around; there isn’t much. It’s scary when you think about it. Yes, the mechanic needs to know what he’s doing when he puts the lug nuts back on your car, or else the lug nuts will fall off and the garage will hear about it. But — again, procedure. Reattaching the lug nuts has been scripted. The mechanic follows a script. Maybe he’s made it his business to understand the concepts behind reattaching lug nuts so he can be the best mechanic he knows how to be…but he doesn’t really have to. He can follow steps.
Well what of it, you might say. The steps are the correct ones, and if for some reason they aren’t, they will be revised. Besides, Freeberg, there really is only one way to properly reattach the lug nuts so everyone should be doing it the same way anyhow. You’re complaining about nuthin’. And you’d be completely right, except for one thing: Properly understanding a realm of technology, beyond following the sequentialized steps, is essential if one is to build on it. What is it we like to complain about, when we’re done complaining about high gas prices and high unemployment and Al Qaeda attacking our embassies and old people can’t get their medicines: America losing her competitive edge. We came up with Penicillin and the light bulb and the automobile and the airplane and, ya know, maybe those days are all behind us…Germany is doing this, China is doing that, technology companies are knocking down Congress’ door to raise the work visa allowances so they can hire smart, talented young people from overseas who know what they’re doing.
The lesson we’re learning the hard way, at the expense of our youth and their future opportunities: Life occasionally assigns these knowledge-of-concepts-demanding extra-credit challenges. As homework. When there is no opportunity to do any emulating or collaborating. Peer interaction won’t get you anywhere and neither will memorization of a blessed script. And…we’re pulling down a long string of F’s here. By choice.
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