School is about to start and with it comes the reflections on learning, and on my experiences in school. I was thinking about it last night, and I thought about sharing with you some of my experiences with school, and about learning.
I have to start out with the most recent news from a school district in my area. Not my city, but one close by. If you'll recall, I posted earlier this year about banned books. Turns out, this was a timely post. I was checking facebook yesterday and came across a post by Mary Lou Wretched about how a local city has banned some books for the upcoming school year. This banning actually made national news, I read about it in the Christian Science Monitor. The big one, of course, was Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Now, I've made my feelings on book bannings pretty clear, but I feel like I have to make the point that its really sad to me that students are kept from leaning and expanding thier worldview because someone feels like a particular book doesn't jive with their worldview, or their morals. I feel like its important to remember that many banned books are interpreted incorrectly, or in some cases, are written from a view point that relects the author's disdain on the subject. The key word here kids is irony. It seems silly to not trust that a student reading a book on a controversial subject is able to interpret the important mores from a story on their own. Reading is not just leisure. Its meant to be a learning experience.
The books banned in this particular town are chalked up to being "too mature" for the high school reader. I think we need to be frank. The local professor who wanted the books pulled from the shelves wasn't thinking of maturity level. He was thinking about the Bible. He said so himself, and even if the local schoolboard wants to stay away from the moral issues concerned- they're there. Like it or not. Regardless, it kills me to think that any school district is attempting to pull books because they feel like they are too advanced for the high school reader. Heaven forbid we give them the opportunity to learn at an advanced rate. Don't make our students think. Don't give them an opportunity to learn something that might benefit them once they reach the college level. Make them wait. After all, the students in the US are far ahead of their world counterparts right? We have no reason to want them to learn critical thinking skills at an early age...
The solace I take in this particular act is I know the personalities of most the high school students in this area. The ones who weren't going to read it in the first place, the Cliff's Notes kids, well- they aren't going to miss out any more than they would have anyway. The advanced students who might have read these books? They'll be checking them out at the county library, or they'll be hitting out local Barnes and Noble or local bookstores to get a copy and see what the fuss was all along. I think they won't be suprised when they see that there isn't much there that's offensive or upsetting. No more than any other book they might be reading in class. Even then, though, it makes me sad to think that there are still people out there who are actively looking to retard the learning process for fear of damaging the blessed cherub's morals. I hate to break it to them, but the fact of the matter is, unless all parents are minding what their children are reading, and watching on television and at the movie theaters, and what they see on the internet...well, their work is in vain. And we all know that parent's now are spending less and less time checking in with their kids. If the local school board really wants to help their students grow they should be finding a way to to get the parents involved in their children's development. Fat chance.
While we're talking about school regulations, lets mention that in the state I live in (as of this school year) teachers are no longer allowed to friend their students via social media. To me, this is one of the studpiest moves they've made in a while. Partially because I know of several elementary and junior high teachers who use social media as an online tutoring tool, and its been helpful to those students. I know we want to protect our students from predators, but maybe screening new teachers, mental health tests and other proactive tools would be more useful than this reactionary response to the use of socal media as a learning aid. I think its clever for teachers to take the opportunity to help their students learn by untilizing a form of communication that their students understand and are familiar with.
Speaking of books, I might mention I found a fabulous article I came across the other day on Cracked.com. Its a great site, full of laughs, if you haven't visited before. This one was about books everyone, including most eanglish teachers, interpreted incorrectly. It was not only informative, but amusing. I had a great time reading it. Who knew that Jack Kerouac hated beatniks? Definately worth a read, if you haven't already.
It also gave me information that made me love Lewis Carroll a little more than I already did. Turns out Alice in Wonderland is all about how he hated advanced mathmatical theory. Apparently, as a mathmatics professor, he was frustrated at the use of imaginary numbers and strange theoretical concepts that his collegues were beginning to discover and teach. As a firm fan on 1+1=2 and I don't care about whether or not there's an absolue value or if the numbers are real or not and heaven forbid there be some sort of x or y that I have to solve for to get the 2, I was delighted. The book was fun to read to begin with. Now that I can approach it from a math viewpoint, I'm pretty sure its going to take on a whole new meaning. Take that, you smoking caterpillar, you!
As I was laying in bed with the girls last night we were talking about how little I like math. Anyone who's known me for any period of time will tell you not only do I dislike math, I'm terrible at it. This phenomenon is odd to me, because up until I hit high school I scored consistently high on math placement tests. I'm unsure if it was the insane, verbally malicious algebra teacher I had my freshman year, or if it was the emotional upheaval that seemed to continually wipe me out throughout high school, or if I simply stopped understanding it; but math became a huge challenge for me.
I was telling the girls in specific about my geometry class (which I ended up retaking my junior year) and how I struggled with it. Now, as an adult who is facing more math classes if I want to graduate, I'll say this- I think geometry will be easier for me now, because I understand the practical application of it. I hated when I asked my teachers why I needed to know it and they responded "because the school board and the state say so." I would have liked to know that baking a kick ass layer cake requires the ability to calculate volume. I worked on a construction site where I used geometry on a daily basis. I understood it too. All I needed was real world experience to make it useful to me. At the time, though, it made no sense.
I had a couple bad habits that really pissed my teacher off too. We had timed tests, and you were told you couldn't turn in the test until the time was up. This assumed you would want to check your work, etc. The scoring for all tests worked like this: 4 point for each problem. 1 point for writing down the correct formula or theorem to go with the problem. 1 point for the correct answer, 2 points for the work, which you always showed. Once, I was frustrated with a word problem for which I knew I needed the Pythagorean theorem. I wrote it out. After I had finished all the test I could, I went back and turned my 90 degree triangle into a peice of cheese. I doodled a little mouse and wrote "Pythagorus" next to it with an arrow. I even made a point to show the teacher that his tail was tangent to the cheese triangle. She was less than amused.
Eventually she ended up pulling me into the hall and yelling at me. See, in each class you got a "taste" unit of high math, supposedly to entice you to learn so you could do cooler math next semester. Unfortunately for me, Trig was the one we did with geometry. And it made sense. Like, the light bulb came on and choirs of angels sang to me. I got it. I loved it. I aced that unit. So I got yelled at because my teacher became convinced that I was just jacking off in her class. I swear, I wasn't. Also, I pointed out to her, it made me angry when Ilearned a shortcut from my tutor (yeah, I had one) because it always worked and she knew it did, but she wouldn't let me use it, even if I understood it and I got the correct answer when I showed my work. To this day I still think its massively unfair. She told me when I could proof my shortcut I could use it. As if I high school student who is struggling with the volume of a cone is going to be able to proof a mathmatical theorem. Hateful, I say.
So, that's me, and school, sort of. Its also me running out of time, I have to go to work. I'll be back tonight with more entertaining stories about life and me.
Love you all