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 🙂

Author: Ron

Homeschooling dad of 4 (ages 27 - 14), grampy to 3, WordPress core contributor, former farmboy & software developer by profession.

9 thoughts on “It brings back memories”

  1. “The ability to use the knowledge available has never seemed to be in such short supply.”

    Yes, yes, yes! I would go farther and say the willingness to use the knowledge available has never seemed to be in such short supply. I come across cases of ignorance-on-purpose all the time and it is a huge source of frustration.

  2. That last paragraph says it all. Brilliant. I love the way you think.

    And I think we should take that line about the problem and make a poster out of it for that blank spot on the kitchen wall. Or maybe do a needlepoint sampler or something.

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  4. Great post – and working as a helpdesk supervisor, I am spending part of every day tearing my hair out trying to get your statement about the problem through to ppl. Think I might start a quotes page on the wiki…

  5. Carrie: Yes, exactly. Now that you mention it I’m debating whether the lack of willingness is more prevalent than the lack of ability.

    JoVE – Thank you. Sometimes at 1 AM I have trouble getting a sense that I’ve said it well. Would there be room for it on a T-shirt?

    Jax 🙂

  6. *grok* … on several points.

    I was thinking about you and Andrea today when I was challenged by a hostile woman I hardly to know to prove that I was ‘teaching Jordan what he is supposed to know’. … because I am not well-spoken under pressure and I haven’t bothered to really define the reasons we homeschool. So while *I* understand it perfectly and feel strongly about it, I’m not as good at passing that information on, as you are.

    In the end, it went like this:
    me: “SUPOSED” to know? What do you mean?
    Hostile Woman: Well, who do you report to?
    Jordan: I LOVE being homeschooled!
    me: I don’t report to anyone. Private schools set their own curriculum and I set mine.
    HW: You must report to someone. How else do we know you’re doing it right?
    me: uuuhh.. It’s none of your business or anyone else’s if I’m doing it right, really. Whatever “right” is…
    HW: It is *someone’s* business, like the school board, or the government.
    me: Legally, no. It isn’t. Everyone can eduate thier child in the way they see fit.
    HW: No they can’t! How many hours do you spend do school each day?
    J: Wanna know what I did for school yesterday and today? It was great!
    me: We don’t ‘do school’ every day. How much depends on a lot of things.
    HW: There is some kind of minimum, I’m sure.
    me: No. There isn’t.
    J: We went APPLE PICKING! We picked THREE bushels. And then all day yesterday and today, we peeled and chopped them and made apple crisp and apple sauce!
    HW: *glare*
    J: I haven’t seen a school book in DAYS! We made TWENTY-SIX apple crisps!
    HW: *Huff*Glare*
    me: *grin*


  7. billie-Jean: 😀 First, I would have told her they don’t legislate parenting, and also the schools are not held accountable when they fail to educate, and I probably would have finished up with “pass the bean dip”. 🙂

    This is a prime example of what Ron and I call the “how DARE we have fun homeschooling and get away with it” arguments.

    Yay for Jordan, tell him to keep it up. 😀 She sounded like a real winner.

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