Good one Matt

Earlier this evening I read this paragraph over Andrea’s shoulder:

Within you there is courage, grace, honour, integrity. These are things that are not advertised but that resound throughout your life with far greater impact than appearance. They do not sell products, they are contradictory to you becoming one, but they are of the utmost importance. They do not mean that you cannot be beautiful, only that without them being beautiful is worthless. – Matthew Good

In the few hours that have passed since I read Matt’s post, the struggle I have had has been not wanting to distract you from what he has said. There is probably not alot that I can say that will improve upon it. He has done an excellent job of contrasting that which is priceless and that which is worthless.

But, I do disagree with him on one small point.

My main purpose in this address is simply to convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it-this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment, and advertisement, and if it is one of the permanent mainsprings then you may be quite sure of this. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care. – C.S. Lewis

Snobbery (under the guise of different names) has been around for generations.

I’m a few years older than Matt. I grew up in the time when the aura of the 60’s was in it’s death throes. I do not believe I was under any less pressure to conform than my children’s peers are. What is obvious is that they are under pressure to conform to something different, somthing more superficial. What’s come to mind while writing this post is what happened to “friends” when I turned down offers to participate (in a variety of things). For example, I lost alot of “friends” by turning down alcohol. It turned out that I wasn’t a friend at all, but someone to drink with. What I’ve always found ridiculous about this was that if I had wanted to blame in on something (Andrea, the wagon, religion, etc.), I could have escaped the dissociation. But simply not wanting to drink was unacceptable.

A young person today is likely suffer the same fate if they are unwilling to be shallow, self-absorbed, manipulative and materialistic (or, at least, maintain the appearance of being so). I did say, though, that it was a small point. One of the reasons I feel that way is that the “60’s ideal” may take 30-40 years to catch up to you. But, I expect that “today’s ideal” of superficiality catchs up far faster than that.



Michael Pearl, I’ve added a category just for you.

I originally saw Doc link to this story. I’ve since seen it at Meg’s & Carrie’s.

We have talked about this subject at length in these posts:

Howard Gardner

I first encountered the name Howard Gardner using a university library search system looking for reference material for this paper. Within the online system there were a number of abstracts on his book “The Unschooled Mind”. And, of course, given the topic I wanted to write about, the title caught my attention. The abstracts consistently gave a relatively low opinion of the theories presented in the book. However, one of the abstracts briefly described the background/problem which lead to the theories. The theories had no relevance to the paper (I made no mention of them in the paper) but the problem was relevant. I could not find the book in the university library so I bought a copy online.

I have never actually read all of the book. I’d guess that I’ve read about half of it. The problem I believe that Gardner was trying to solve was the following:

…that in nearly every student there is a five year old ‘unschooled’ mind struggling to get out and express itself.

What I believe he was saying was that however long a person spends in school, there remains within them the learner who learned without curriculum and external control. For example, the learner who learned how to walk; the one that learns to ride a bike, roller blade, skateboard, etc. Gardner used studies to back his argument. One of those studies compared the working (practical) knowledge of basic physics of recent MIT engineering degree graduates with school students. Both groups were asked the questions in a way that was not consistent with test or exam questions. An example of the type of knowledge they were evaluating is if I throw a ball, after it leaves my hand, in addition to friction with the air, what other forces are acting on its motion. The MIT graduates only did marginally better than elementary students. The majority of both groups did not know the correct answer (gravity).

The studies that he quoted would suggest that for most people all the years in school and all the ‘learning’ in school have little impact on their perception of how the world works. In other words, most high school graduates have many of the same misconceptions about how the world works the most 5 year olds do despite the fact that the high school graduates’ ‘education’ corrected many of those misconceptions.

At this point you may be wondering where this train of thought came from. TBH, it’s partly (but only partly) Carlotta‘s fault. I left her the following comment last night on this post:

I have his book ‘The Unschooled Mind’. Whether or not you or I agree with his theories on intelligence(s), the book is a worthwhile read in that it directs you to thinking about what the current education system lacks and seemingly prevents children from learning.

What lead me to thinking about writing this post started with the conversation going on in the comments here (also last night). Last night when I was going to sleep, I was thinking of the difference between process and product. An example that I thought of was those craft times where a group of kids ‘make’ a craft. The teacher/leader prepares for the craft making session by cutting all the pieces, making all the shapes, writing step by step instructions to aid in keeping everyone together, etc. In many cases, the only thing left for the child to do is apply glue a few times. What I realized in thinking about that example was that it was an instance of the product being more important than the process. That the end result be more or less the desired product is more important than the child make something on their own.

And then it hit me. That is the problem Gardner is trying to solve. What school delivers to a child is a product. School is not about the process of learning. It is about absorbing a predetermined range of knowledge which is planned down to the minutest detail. It’s no wonder education is considered a commodity. But the contrasting thing is that until a child enters school, the child’s learning is primarily about process. A child doesn’t learn to walk because it’s coming up later on a test or they need a license to walk or it’s going to help them get a job when they are an adult. They learn to walk because they want to walk. They learn to talk because they want to talk. And Gardner’s unschooled mind is one that learns because it wants to.

Even though I had no intention of offering comment on Gardner’s theories themselves, I’ve changed my mind. You can come up with whatever theories you want about the way our intelligence works. In the long run, if they are attended to at all they will be used in hopes of fine tuning the step by step instructions of mass producing a product. Theories about intelligence(s) can tell you nothing about what an individual child will want to learn.

The rubber meets the road

Before I get into this post:

Tonight I took down the calendar and counted the weeks I’ve been working over here – 36. In the post of Andrea’s that I link to below she talks about a tentative deadline we have set for ourselves. I’m down to a theoretical 6 weekends. So, what I talk about below may be pressing primarily on me in light of that deadline.

Andrea has been regaling you with the trials and successes of our renovations. It may seem as of late that we are under trial. It had not escaped my attention that this minor setback occurred both within 24 hours of my writing about problem solving and on Friday the 13th. Now, I’m not particularly superstitious and since this is the first intersection of that day and something significant going awry in my life, I’m not about to dig out the aliminum foil hat.

If I were to conclude that the setback was somehow connected to my life in general, I would expect it to relate back to what I had been writing about the night before. Because I’ve found life is often like that. And what I said was:

The key to problem solving is identifying the problem.

Andrea eloquently described the symptom of the problem as follows:

I heard the toilet flush.

And then water started squirting out of the hole where the doorbell wiring is.

Andrea also mentioned that she was somewhat upset by the latest development. And that’s quite reasonable given we have been working on the kitchen for a few weeks and we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on the second key room in improving the prospects of a short time on the market when the time comes.

And for me, given the ongoing time away from home and the small windows of time which I have to divide between work on something like this and spending time with them while I’m home, this is one of those times when the rubber meets the road. It’s where theory meets reality. It’s the deciding point where in idea, philosophy or ideal becomes wisdom or platitude.

At the time Andrea told me, I had had a few minutes on the couch after the 3 hour drive home. So, unless it was critical that something be fixed right away, I wouldn’t have done anything about it that night. In this instance I didn’t even go look at it. Instead I mentally collected up all the things I knew about it:

  1. The waste pipe in question is a cast pipe.
  2. The toilet in question is the only fixture connected to the cast pipe above the basement.
  3. Including fittings, there is roughly 30 feet of cast pipe above the basement.
  4. Cast pipe is heavy. (I’ve since come up with a ball park estimate of about 5-600 lbs above the basement.)
  5. Because of the weight most of the cast pipe I’ve seen installed in houses relied primarily on gravity to keep it in place. Our house is no exception.
  6. The hole where the water came out is a relatively small in the wall.
  7. Until the cast pipe gets to the attic all of it is inside walls or in the ceiling/under floors.
  8. The toilet is not above the cavity where the cast pipe goes from the second floor to the basement.
  9. In addition to the cast pipe, there are 3 other unused water pipes (from the original heating system) that use the same cavity to get to the second floor.
  10. When I had the bathroom floor off a couple months ago I noticed that there was a block of wood wedged between the one side of the cavity and one of those unused pipes which might have been near the height of the hole for the doorbell..

Some initial conclusions that I drew were:

  1. It was not a small leak.
  2. Whether there had been a small leak before something had changed on Friday.
  3. The block of wood was likely partially responsible for the leak showing up in the kitchen.
  4. Removing the cast pipe or sections of it was going to be alot of work.
  5. The only way to determine how much work I was in for was to cut a hole in the wall.

And this is what I found:

If you look at the pipe in the picture you can see that it had been repaired before. The piece that is missing is a section of the flange that joined the elbow to the Tee. Given the layers of floor that I removed from the bathroom and what I had to cut through in the kitchen wall, my guess is that the last repair was on or before 1970. When our house was built 100 years ago, most things were made to last. I believe that the cast pipe is original to the house. The short of it would be that of the problems that I thought were likely this one is the best one of all of them to have to solve.

It brings back memories

Today was a wierd sort of day. I got lots accomplished but threading through it was a bizarre email conversation that lasted most of the day. I don’t really want to regale you with the conversation. Instead, I thought I might talk about 2 things that the conversation reminded me of. Every once in a while someone says something, often in an offhand sort of way, that is really profound. One of the reasons I think of these things as profound is that once framed as statement of some kind they become obvious. But often the issue they address is never approached.

Now the first of the two was a comment by one of my instructors in a class at college. This instructor walked into 3 hour classes with a single sheet of loose leaf, wrote a list of 5 or 6 words on the board, sat the sheet on the corner of the desk and then proceed to teach for 3 hours on subjects like processor architecture. One day I caught a glimpse of what was on the paper. It was the list of words that he wrote on the board. Once (and only once) in my second year he paused part way through class and apologized that he was going to have to look at his piece of paper. It was this instructor and a somewhat offhand comment that has been central to most of the work I do day in day out. What he said was:

The key to problem solving is identifying the problem.

I would expect that most would see the irrefutable nature of the statement once the statement is made. It’s so simple and yet I find that our society often does not apply this in trying to solve problems. For example there are all sorts of initiatives in places that attempt to deal with pollution and other environmental issues. I’m not dis’ing those ihose initiatives. Why do we have a pollution problem? Because we are a consumption based society. While environmentally friendly products may alleviate the issue, they will never be the solution because they don’t address the problem.

To try to relate this to the usual subject of this blog. In the same way, the education systems that exist today do not attempt to solve learning problems. Insteading of trying to ascertain why a child is not learning they attempt to ascertain why the child is not learning in the environment and by the methods the institution provides. And that might give you an idea of what I think the prospects are of the educational systems finding a solution to the problem.

After I had been out of college a few months I went to a weeklong series of seminars related to the equipment I was supporting. The first seminar is really the only one I remember anything about. And if I were to see the person who conducted it, I would remember where I had seen him instantly. At the time, he was one of the leading experts in optimizing the use of the equipment I supported. He traveled across Canada charging more for a day than I was making in 2 weeks. (He quoted a range of figures based on an inquiry from the audience and he wasn’t permitted to give an exact figure.) And what he said was,

The real world is a special case.

He went on to explain that he could not give us a list of technical facts/rules to follow that was guaranteed to work on our own systems. But, what this really translates into is that having a head full of knowledge is not really of much use to you when you get to a situation where the knowledge would be used unless you are prepared to think. It is through thinking that expertise in some area can be applied in a useful way.

Back to this blog again: What I set out to do as a parent and while I was an instructor was cultivate the ability to think and apply the knowledge that they have at their disposal. Knowledge has never been easier to attain. The ability to use the knowledge available has never seemed to be in such short supply. I guess it comes back to what problem are we trying to solve. I will leave how this relates to my day to your imagination 🙂

Outcome Based Learning II

sam asked whether outcome base learning took into consideration what the child wanted. One of the first things that came to mind when I read his comment was that I could not recall a time when public education and consideration for what a child wanted had ever been in the same train of thought. I realized afterward that was because in my experience public education had no consideration for what I wanted. I’m not saying that I didn’t have a few teachers who bent the rules a bit to make what they were teaching more interesting.

Although I’ve never been subject to it, I’m certain that outcome based learning would have even less concern for students than the process I went through. In outcome based learning, the only thing that is clearly defined is the end result. So, I honestly expect that outcome based learning is mostly an exercise in behaviour modification. That would explain the soaring number of behaviour related prescriptions.

PS. It seems in some cases I have been calling it object based learning. I think the slip of the tongue is a result of the train of thought I was following when I was writing the original post on the subject.

Object Based Learning

I’ve been away from the computer(s) and internet since I wrote the post below. The comments have given me reason to want to expand on the subject. I won’t have a chance to address all of them tonight. Carlotta referred to my suggestion of students being objects.

The biggest challenge I faced when I was teaching in college wasn’t differences in learning style, ability or interest. Surprisingly (at least for me) the challenge was that many of the students I had seemed to expect that I was going to perform some mystical process and when I was done they were going to be ready to work in a profession. The hardest fought lesson was getting students to understand that the primary object of the courses I taught was something other than pleasing me: that I genuinely wanted and expected them to learn and be independently skilled.

I actually had a student ask me one day if what I had just asked them to do was ‘busy work’. Of that term, that is the most memorable moment for me. It gave me alot to think about. One of the things I have concluded from it is that once they reach a certain age/understanding level many students recognize or feel that through most of their education they have been objects. If that is the case then that would explain the students I first referred to in the previous paragraph: they had surrendered to being an object.

Whatever reasoning and motivation might lie behind the approach is secondary. What gave me the most to think about was wondering when or if some of the young people in such a state will ever see their way out of it. It’s a weighty thing to contemplate.