Edu-shmay-tion, or What I Never Thought I Would Say

My name is David I have over-competitive disorder. Sometimes, it can be a problem. Girls are not too impressed, for example, when I tell them that my three brothers and I used to compete to see whose ears produced the most wax when our Dad (a pediatrician) would bring home his newfangled earwax-extraction devices. In my defense, the competition was usually down-to-the-wire, edge-of-your seat entertainment. You might not know, but it is sometimes hard to predict earwax quantity.

Hmmm, this is by far the quickest I have veered off track in a blog post, but please stick with me. I need your help at the end of this post. And what I want to say is, I am currently in the running for an important competition to be the biggest nerd in our apartment. I am proud to say that I’m still in the running despite some………

formidable competition.

I have been grooming my nerd pedigree from an early age. I was a Library Helper in elementary school, took meteorology as one of my “electives” in middle school, and competed in speech and debate in high school. So, you can maybe understand why the sickness that has descended on me for the first time within the last few weeks—-that deadly pandemic known to some as ‘senioritis’—-is so disorienting. College juniors beware, if it can strike me, it might be able to strike anyone.

I don’t much care what grade I get in my Russian History class or my Chinese Writing course. I might spend more time complaining about writing papers this semester than actually putting pen to paper. And my attendance at Tombs Trivia might be better than my attendance in class.

And that might be a good thing.

Let me stop here and ask you to do me a huge favor: watch this video. It’s eleven minutes long (so…about 10:45 longer than my attention span). But I was hooked and could not stop watching. I think you will be too:

(FYI, I saw the video for the first time on a guest post on the blog of James Fallows).

The video is like some superchild creation of Bill Nye and Hans Rosling, and there’s a whole lot of ideas packed into the ten-plus minutes. But, here are the interesting points that stuck out to me:

Schools are a Recent Invention.

The narrator explains that before the nineteenth century, the idea of an education factory, or what we call a school, was very rare. Compulsory public education for children arranged in batches according to ‘date of manufacture’ simply did not exist. I imagine, then, that when formal education did occur (particularly for elites), the curriculum was far less standardized. What seems normal about schools might have seemed very, very strange not too long ago, and this is one compelling reason to question the current education structure.

Creativity is Fragile.

To see why, start the video at 7:40 and watch the section on ‘divergent thinking.’ It made me think of what school is typically like for me. Just today, I took a very routine test. And here was the process: memorize the IDs and write down as fast as you can the what, the when, the where, and the so what? for each term. Add a few fancy words, a comparison to another country or the present time period, and a nice-sounding conclusion, and  guess what? BAM! I will pass the test, forget the information, and move on to cramming for the next quiz. And that is success. I’m not sure I learned much, and I’m positive that I created no new knowledge or new understanding.

We Have Internalized the Consequences of our Current System.

Schools promote a false division between ‘academics’ and ‘non-academics,’ and the result is, to paraphrase the video, very demoralizing for lots of people. Perhaps closer to the truth is that all of us possess a constantly changing combination of multiple forms of intelligence (i.e. emotional intelligence, artistic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, spatial intelligence, quantitative intelligence), and that the vast majority of us can improve in even the areas that we currently flunk. For me personally, I have always done pretty well in school, but that likely has more to do with my competitiveness than my actual intelligence. In short, GPA is a crummy and even pernicious measure of smarts.

OK, so where to go from here?

The entire modern education system is not going to change anytime soon.  But what I came away from this video thinking is,

Take initiative. Do not export the responsibility for learning to your teachers and your school. If you want to understand or master or innovate within a field, then sign up for a public course. Join an online forum. Rent a great introductory book from the library. Talk to a person who knows more about it than you do. Ask to help out with a neighbor as he repairs his car. Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself on your first painting. Try learning one type of computer programming code. Whatever it is, don’t let the lack of a formal course at school on that subject stop you from mastering it.

I say ‘you,’ but this advice is really for me. Because like I said, I have a bad case of senioritis. The nice thing, however, is that I have a lot more free time now that I am doing less studying to do things like write really long blog posts. So now, I suppose it is time to make use of my free time and start learning….

And so: the challenge.

I’m looking for suggestions of what to learn—-and you need to help me.

In the next 10 days, if 10 of you readers leave a comment with a suggestion of a hobby to try, a book to read, a place to visit in DC or anything else that you recommend, then I will choose one and give it a shot.

And then I’ll write about it on here. (But there has to be 10, so that I don’t get stuck reading The Iliad or learning how to competitive speedwalk).

You endured an 11:00 video and a very long post and made it to the end.

Now, it’s your turn to contribute.

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12 Comments

Filed under Life, Our Generation

12 responses to “Edu-shmay-tion, or What I Never Thought I Would Say

  1. brodi

    better attendance at Trivia IS a good thing.

    although now since you said you took a meteorology elective, i’m bothered by our awful performance in round 1 last night…

  2. TheMidRangeGame

    Memorize the first thirty seconds of every song released since 1960 to fill in for Matt the RA

  3. joe luk

    i dare not read your blogs anymore, they’re pretty addictive

  4. Essentially your apprentice, spring 2011

    Volunteer to make a TeachUNICEF visit to the Peace Room because a) TeachUNICEF has some of the awesomest members ever and b) teaching there can be challenging, but also very, very rewarding.

    It’s a classroom that’s not really a classroom.

    The… fascinating opening blurb on Fb caught my attention.

  5. You should learn how to write sonnets. I’ve tried to write a few serious ones lately (in the past it’s just been for class assignments, and accordingly the subject matter was trivial – a three-hole punch comes to mind) and it’s definitely one of the creative processes that constricts you, twists you, makes you turn reddish in the face, and produces something really amazing in the end. Kind of like getting a deep tissue massage I guess.

    I’ll post the ones I’ve been working on on All of 100 when I’m done with them. With discipline, tonight.

    Also, senioritis is one of the greatest things. I don’t do classwork because I have more pressing matters on my mind – projects that are self-motivated rather than system-motivated. It’s comforting to know that even once you’ve left school, you’ll never stop learning.

  6. Jory Vaucher

    Have a competitive treasure hunt in DC, you know just like ones you used to make for Chris and I

  7. Since you do have a mild interest in cooking and an interest in eating well… find out how one goes about calculating the fat, calories, carbs etc that are in a recipe. Or maybe you should create a new recipe?? Maybe it could go in the Amateur Gourmet…

  8. M

    read: the art of racing in the rain (I have probably already suggested this to you, or maybe you read it on your own.. not sure)
    do: join a scrabble club

  9. sarahwhy

    okay, i know i’ve missed the deadline (and i’m sorry to be so creepy because this is the second time i’ve commented on your blog… and trust me, i never comment on blogs i follow… well, unless it’s some contest or giveaway. moot point). but since I have NO TIME in med school to do butt loads of fun things, I (hopefully) can live vicariously through you. so… I’ll throw in my 2 cents anyway…

    but first, i wholeheartedly SECOND the art of racing in the rain. it’s AMAZING. It helped me appreciate and respect car racing, life, humor, strength, and love. if you’re not swayed by all that live-life mumbo-jumbo, it also makes for a good cry and enzo (the protagonist) is a great name.

    second, kinda in the same note as a book — I recommend buying some cheese at Cowgirl Creamery. Any cheese. cheap/expensive/smelly/creamy/doesn’t matter. Eat it. and try to write about it (give it like 5-10 min. don’t try too hard). Then, go to a library and check out “Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese” by Eric LeMay. After finishing the book, pick out your favorite cheese LeMay writes about, go BACK to Cowgirl Creamery. Buy that cheese (and your original). and write about them. Compare entries. CAUTION: this might be life-altering.
    p.s. This is possible even if you are lactose intolerant — cheese made correctly shouldn’t have pesky lactose.

    okay, sorry to be super creeps and all. and sorry this is late. best of luck, and have fun, if you do it! if you don’t, i’ll hopefully be able to do it this summer!

    • Sarah, Thanks for the comment–I’m loving your cheese idea—I’m going to give it a try when I get back to DC in a few weeks. I’ve been to that cheese shop but never with a good plan like this one–I read Art of Racing in the Rain last summer–thought it was great and loved all the Seattle references. Dave

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