The Fine Art of Studying

Nobody likes to study. Anyone that likes to study probably doesn’t need to. The point of studying is to slam information into your brain that your brain isn’t all that ready to accept. As an example, say that I’m a big fan of model trains and I get a book about model trains. I would never say that I am “studying” model trains, but I would totally say that I am “learning about” model trains because they interest me and I want do what to learn more about them than I already know. “Studying” makes it seem like there is going to be some kind of test or written essay at the end that I need to pass and I don’t think my previously accrued knowledge is good enough to get me that high grade.

When I talk about “the fine art of studying”, I’m not so much talking about sitting in a clean room full of ferns with ocean sounds playing and a pile of books in front of you just begging to be slogged through. In fact, I’m barely talking about studying at all. I am talking about acquiring useful information – and not just for some potentially meaningless test. I know that there are plenty of people out there than can say they hardly ever use the stuff they learned in school, and while that does say volumes about the education system it just tells me that they weren’t looking in the right places for things to ‘study’.

Like I said before – if you really want to know it, you are not going to consider it to be studying. And you say “but sometimes I have to learn things that I don’t want to learn” and to that I will just roll my eyes and take you back in time to the myriad of things I have written about finding what interests you and using it to your advantage. Education is about perspective and it is about using what you already know (or in this case what you really really really would like to know) to your advantage. That is what ‘studying’ should be about. No matter what the information is, there can always be a way to make it work for you and be something that can be carried for longer than “until summer starts”.

As for what else studying should be about?

- Keep good, legible notes.
- If you handwrite them, type them later. If you type them, write them later. Repetition matters when it comes to having a better understanding of a subject.
- Keep those notes as long as you can. (there’s a good reason libraries will never completely go out of style)

It takes time to gain a good knowledge base for any subject, but just sitting in a study hall or trying to cram yourself full of words the night before some big test are barely enough concrete for a paver stone let alone a good foundation to build a future on. I know that sounds cliché and ripped straight from a poster with a surfer or a majestic eagle on it, but it’s the truth. Education should never be about survival, and studying as most people see it or remember it was nothing but trying to keep yourself alive.

If you want to be a good studier, be a good understander instead. Be a good learner instead. Information is not meant to be ingested and regurgitated. Your education is more important than that. Treat it like it is. I’m not asking you to be some kind of educational prodigy that knows everything about everything the second you lay eyes on it. I’m not asking you to pigeonhole yourself into a single subject and never explore. What I am asking is that you understand that your education serves a real purpose and that there is just as much an art to learning as there is to, say, composing a grand opus. That grand opus is your future, and while you may never be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that doesn’t mean you sure never play the figurative piano. If you really want to make the most of the rest of your life, you simply can not wait until you are neck-deep in it to try and claw your way out. Whether you like school or not, that school is handing you a chance at something better and it is up to you to use those tools to succeed. Why hum some old tune when you can create a symphony? You can’t just study instruments, you have to use them. That’s where the real knowledge comes from.

Class dismissed.

With Apologies To Myself

It’s been about five months since I last wrote anything of length or substance. That is totally my fault. What it all comes down to, sadly, is something I’ve spent a good bit of time on this very site deriding – apathy. It had become incredibly difficult to care about things like education because I got tired of seeing very little in the way of conscious advancements in the field. All I have seen lately are reddit-worthy photos of people’s trials and tribulations with things like Common Core and that more time seems to be spent debating its merits and muscling through its inadequacies than simply allowing it to fail and starting over.

I know I have made cases for failure being both good and very, very bad, but when something like Common Core can potentially affect (effect? crap…) the educational growth of hundreds of thousands of students it would be wise to have something a little more focused and less full of holes to be your foundation from which to foster the future.

But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about myself (mostly). I have been quite apathetic lately. I have not cared as much as I should about these sorts of issues. Wait, scratch that. I have never stopped caring about them, but I have not found myself with as much desire to *do something about it*. “What does it matter what I think, anyway?” is an honest thought, of course. I don’t know why anyone should care about any of my words. I don’t have children stuck inside the system. I don’t volunteer. I don’t seek out my local Board of Education with petitions while shouting hum-drum repetitive rhetoric. Should I maybe do those things? Should I volunteer? Should I stand on a soapbox outside of some wall of bureaucracy and try to make my points heard? Even if they listen, what good will it do? It’s hard to just be one man against this kind of system.

That was my train of thought six months ago when I started falling off this wagon. I was trying way too hard to be that one loud voice against that mountain of red tape and government machination. I needed (and need) to get back to what I feel really matters – the people like me. Not the people that don’t have children and still feel compelled to yell. No, I mean the students stuck in those classrooms just as I was for over half of my life. I still feel I can make a difference for them, no matter what the people in the offices or behind closed doors think should happen or want to happen. The students are always the ones who deserve the assistance, not the bureaucrats.

That is what I always should have been focusing on. That is why I’m apologizing – to myself for getting lost in the haze that is things like Common Core and all its ills and not making it abundantly and super duper crystal clear that what matters is that you learn new information and not how precisely you came about acquiring it. It was never important that I keep an encyclopedic knowledge base of how exactly to shade in dots on a multiple choice test, and yet I probably went over those instructions more than I went over the basics of primary and secondary colors.

Okay, now I’m rambling. Just…sorry, guys. I hope in the next few weeks I can get this train back on the right track. I don’t want to teach that apathy is acceptable. I want to destroy it. I hope you are prepared and, geez, I hope I am too.

Class dismissed.

What’s Best For The Student

I don’t understand why this seems to be such an issue. I really don’t. Almost every news story I see talking about education involves one or more of the following: cheating, athletics, politics, the economy, government funding, or various levels of praise or damnation for things such as standardized testing and Common Core standards. There are stories about Texas and problematic tutoring programs and New York state having troubles with kindergarten students and multiple choice testing. UNC has become the center of another scandal involving student-athletes.

Why is it so difficult to simply do what is best for the student and for their education?

You might say tutoring students is a great way to help them. It is, yes, but not when it appears that the businesses peddling these services are more in it for their own profits than for the ability to actually help students improve grades. Texas created a system that benefited the companies who used better advertising and recruiting techniques than anything resembling quality service. I am not going to say that there are no good tutoring services in the state of Texas, but when some of them are waving the possibility of free laptops and smartphones in your face (especially without the need to finish instruction), then alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear. Note: If you create a business where the goal is to help give students a better education – do it. Just <expletive deleted> do it. A good product, especially in this field, is its own advertising and marketing.

New York decided it wanted to test four- and five-year old children with multiple choice tests, despite many of these students having difficulty holding pencils, understanding the questions, or even being able to properly shade in a circle about the size of an eraser tip. I’m pretty sure I went outside the lines a few times in high school and college. I can’t imagine what a kindergarten version of a Scantron sheet would look like. What is ostensibly a system for determining the abilities of brand new students has them being asked to complete tasks that are so far out of their comfort level as to not even be relevant. It would be like going to your very first day of driver’s education and they suit you up in a flame-retardant suit and enter you in the Indianapolis 500 “just to see how much you already know”.

As far as UNC and it’s athletes goes, it seems to be a growing problem to treat those on sports teams as different from the rest of the student body. I don’t care if it was two professors, a talking parrot and a magical lamp that were the cause of the entire ‘scandal’, it’s not like this is the first time it has ever happened nor will it be the last. Athletes will always be treated at least a little differently because what they bring to the university on game days and the fact that many of them are not looking at their education as important as they should because when the light at the end of the tunnel has a 7 figure salary attached to it and it doesn’t involve knowing anything but how to hit hard or catch a ball, you tend to not want to do a whole lot of term papers. I get it. I’m also not saying that every single student-athlete treats college as an obstacle course to pay day. Contrary to the popular culture spin on ‘teenage slackers’ or ‘collegiate alcoholics’ (some of which definitely exist, my neighborhood’s police reports would probably attest to it), there are good students out there. There are good young people out there willing to try hard and work their tails off to get into good schools and get good jobs. It can just become disheartening when they see that these things that they burn the midnight oil to get through are treated as jokes by not just some of their fellow students but by the people that are put in charge of giving them the best possible shot at the future.

If you are in a position to help shape the future of even a single student – a single child – you owe it to yourself and to them to do what is best for them. If you are a student yourself then you know that above all else you can at least focus on your own hopefully important future. Just because other students around you don’t care what happens to them in two, five, or ten years (or whatever), doesn’t mean you should blindly fall into the current and hope the sound of the waterfall you hear in the distance is just your mind playing tricks on you. This isn’t about the economy. This isn’t about politics or paychecks. It’s not about “your team” winning the big game. It’s about learning and it’s about your future.

But what if you don’t know what is best for you? What if you are five years old and struggling to hold a pencil the correct way to fill in a circle? That is where the system needs to be tuned to be able to give you all the help in the world to succeed. If you work in the field of education and what you do does not have a positive effect on the ability of students to get a proper education (and don’t kid yourself – you know if what you are doing does or does not do this), then stop it. Go back to the drawing board. Hundreds of thousands of students every single year can not simply depend on themselves to know the right steps to take. It’s a group effort. Like I said before – education is everyone’s job, it just isn’t a job that should be associated with a tax identification number.

Class dismissed.

“Look What I Made!”: Your Child As A Product

I’m not a parent, but I know that being a parent can be an incredibly rewarding experience full of all sorts of life-changing moments. I also know that there is nothing that some parents like to do more than flaunt the abilities of their children. From first steps to career milestones, everyone loves having something to throw a parade about, no matter how much or how little they had to do with the outcome.

I do not want to sound like I am condemning the notion of being proud of your child’s accomplishments, but there is a fine line between pride and neighborhood (or social media) gloating. For a newborn or toddler, the child might not be very mentally invested; when they get older, however, this constant push and pressure can lead to all kinds of fantastic emotional and psychological problems. It can be incredibly difficult to be even the 95% child of a 100% (or more) parent. These kinds of kids are almost more apt to crack under the pressure than a child that has long since given up on making all their parent’s dreams and wishes come true.

None of this is okay. Okay, wait, back up. Being supportive of your children is wonderful and can pay very healthy dividends in both their lives and yours. It’s not exactly common to see a successful person say that what pushed them to be successful in a certain field was their parents telling them they couldn’t do it and should not even try and “why the hell aren’t you being a damn doctor like I told everyone you would be when you were still a fetus, anyway?!” Don’t force life choices on your child just because the choices they made annoy you. After all, they are their choices. Maybe you might want to be a little more active if you feel your children are doing something dangerous or illegal, but that’s a line one would hope you would never have to cross, and no, not crossing that line does not involve barricading up and patrolling every other possible line they might want to cross except whatever golden path you chose for them. After all, you could be incredibly wrong about what your child is and is not capable of, and pushing them to the breaking point because you always wanted to say you were the proud parent of a lawyer is selfish and quite frankly rude to the desires of your child – your child that you should be proud of regardless of whatever it is they decide to concentrate their waking moments on.

Good parenting is not about pressure, not about threats, and not about putting yourself above them because you aren’t happy. Good parenting is about guidance and understanding. Your child is not a brand that you peddle to show off how great you are. If your child is not in jail, the ground, or homeless, there is a pretty good chance you did at least a serviceable job of leading them through their younger life and into adulthood. No one is going to point an accusing finger at you because your child is Middle Manager Class III and not Middle Manager Class IV. This is not some kind of thoroughbred you are breeding to win races.

Your child is not a status symbol, and in the event that you do become extremely successful in whatever it is they chose to do, your child is not an excuse for you to act like a complete fool. If your child does well on his or her SATs or gets into one of those big fancy colleges with ivy on the walls, it is perfectly acceptable to shower them with praise and even give yourself a little pat on the back for raising them in a way that could put them in that position. “Well, my son/daughter goes to Harvard…” is not a phrase that should ever come out of your mouth in any form of daily conversation unless you are talking to someone who also has an affiliation with the school and you are about to tell them how great and wonderful you think it is and how proud you are of your son/daughter for managing to make it into such a prestigious university. I’m sure the person you are talking to will then say something along the lines of “you must be so proud.” which should be answered with a smile and a nod, not fireworks and streamers. This is especially useful if there are any Vassar alums in attendance. Nobody likes Vassar bashing.

Just remember: Pride is good, Ego is bad. Giving your child a sense that egomania is a natural emotion is like making Jack Daniels into an after-preschool snack. Put down the sippy shot glass (both of you) and pick up a book. It’ll be good for you, because nobody should live their life trapped in a bottle, especially if all their parents want to do is drink from it instead of help you not to drown on their own expectations.

Class dismissed.

An Insane Level Of Responsibility

Have you ever heard someone, usually in the act of staring down at you and rolling their eyes, say “just wait until you get out of school, then you’ll see real responsibility!” and then they scoff and harrumph and bah humbug their way to their front yard to shake their cane at the damn kids across the street playing stickball. Teenagers hear this bit quite a lot, especially when they are getting ready to get more responsibility handed to them than just the doldrums of school – like a car or a part-time job – and very quickly learn to absolutely ignore the pants off everything you are saying.

Why are these darn kids not paying attention to  your steadfast warnings? I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, well, even teenagers without jobs, cars, or even romantic relationships, still have an insane level of responsibility that not only did you and all your old fart friends also have, but that every generation seems hell bent on ignoring even more than those blaring fog horn warnings of the previous generations that also ignored them and forget they even existed once they get past the age of 22 or so.

You might not think that wasting an hour every weekday in Mr. Half A Bald Spot’s World History class is all that important. You might be arguing with your body constantly over whether or not it would be wise to slam your head off your desk and concuss yourself all the way to the nurse’s office to stave the boredom emanating from Day 3 of his magnum opus on the real root causes of the Spanish-American War that even the textbooks don’t talk about, but just before your hand clutches at the back of your head to initiate the final blow, he offhandedly mentions the sinking of the USS Maine that he is going to be spending the next four to eight days on and how it is inconclusive to how it sank and for some reason in the back of your mind there is this little spark of intrigue that could very well eventually turn you into one of those wacky people on the History Channel that spends their life solving all the great mysteries of times gone by.

Before that moment, there may have never been a thought in your young brain that this was even something you could do. You might have never even watched one of those shows (or even the History Channel!!) and now you are knee-deep in maritime technical journals trying to piece together something that happened over a hundred years ago. The ability for this kind of mental wavelength modification to occur is not just bone-chilling but it is also able to happen at any time and any place and just loves to happen to children and teenagers way more than any other age range because those are the ages when focus is less of a helpful ability to keep your sanity and more of something that you know you will figure out someday but for now will just get in your way.

That, in and of itself, is a tough bit of responsibility to deal with on a daily basis. You have to know that at any given second you might find yourself on some kind of tangent that may get out of your body in five minutes or could simmer and boil for five decades where you either use it to your advantage or keep it pent up in some kind of soul-squeezing crock pot because who in the hell looks at old wrecked boats for a living anyway?!?! and then about the time retirement kicks in you are suddenly standing at the end of a long pier in an ill-fitting wet-suit looking way too excited to pull your buddy’s fishing boat out of the lake and see if he happened to hit a rock or maybe was in fact attacked by Champ or the Loch Ness monster, despite being nowhere near Lake Champlain or especially Scotland.

You should have it in your mind by the time you get to the age of cars and flipping burgers for minimum wage that school is not supposed to be a place where you happen to waste time while also (hopefully) maintaining a social circle. You have a future to unravel, and the quicker you understand just how loony that sounds the better off you will be. Can you imagine telling a seven year old that they really need to pay attention in Music class because they might secretly be fan-freaking-tastic at playing Nick Mason’s drum set from the Pulse tour and even though you have never heard of Pink Floyd you might just want to keep your wrists limber in case someone in your high school inevitably starts a cover band and needs your magic on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”? That’d be a tough sell to anyone, let alone someone who potentially hasn’t done a thing on a drum set that didn’t involve a few pots, pans, and wooden spoons.

Yes, this is crazy making, which makes it all the more confusing as to why it is so vastly ignored as a part of growing up. School is not “do your homework, pass your test, get out alive” any more than dating is ‘holding someone down until they relent to your superior size and weight advantage”. Your time as a member of the educational system is meant to prepare you for the future in ways you can not even comprehend the first time you walk into a preschool or kindergarten classroom and try not to wet yourself as your parents (and/or guardians) leave you in the care of someone who somehow still has an active nervous system after years of dealing with two dozen 5-year-old children on a daily basis. Handling this responsibility takes hard work, dedication, and a whole heaping helping of effort and it is not recommended that you traverse this asteroid field in auto-pilot like so many of your wise and cranky elders think you are doing because they also think that is exactly what they did when they were your age even though they very well could have been wetting themselves way after kindergarten, up to and including standing on that boat dock and wondering why no one else is wearing a tank and weighted belt like you found on eBay to conquer the mighty waist-deep lake before you.

He might look silly there in that neoprene outfit and snorkel, but while you might think your childhood was nothing more than a little back yard pond at the end of a dirt road, it is actually an ocean full of wrecked ships, drum sets, broken hearts, soggy french fries, and billions upon billions of things that not only can steal away your attention at any minute but are absolutely required to do so and there is nothing you can do to stop it. If dealing with that kind of reality, every single day, isn’t the absolute pure definition of responsibility, then I don’t know what is.

Class dismissed.

 

 

L.A. Schools + iPads = Obvious Problem?

A big news story recently concerns the use (and then confiscation) of quite a high number of iPads in numerous Los Angeles, CA school districts. Originally, stories appeared reporting on a relatively small number of missing iPads (69 out of a 6-figure total), but soon the focus switched to reports of ‘hacking’ by students in order to use the devices in order to access video games, social media, and music streaming services. While the school district is working with Apple to strengthen the security of the devices, students (and even some of those that helped roll the program out) look at the issue as something that “obviously going to happen” (paraphrasing).

Alright, I’m just going to crack my knuckles and start with a few basic points:

1. To think this was not going to happen is bad foresight.

2. This is only a big news story because no one had tried a program like this before.

3. Strengthening security will help nothing.

Number one: to anyone in charge of this program that did not think this was going to happen should give up their career and try something like stressful, like putting together carnival rides with duct tape and adhesive bandages. Number two: The fact that any news outlet is attributing this to ‘hacking’ is laughable. While most due tend to place the word in quotations as I just did, the fact is that plugging a tablet into a desktop or laptop computer and basically rebooting it to an off-the-shelf model is in no way, shape, or form ‘hacking’. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the exact definition of what to do with the device it something happens to it that you either don’t like or don’t want and wish to get things back to normal. Number three: Buckle up, kids.

Your school handed you a $700 piece of technology with one goal in mind. They wanted you to use the device in about the same way you’d use a textbook, reference guide, or some kind of laminated visual aid from the dusty drawers in the library. They did not, under any circumstances, want you to use the device the way Apple intended when they first released them a few years ago. This was not something meant to connect you to the entire outside world as it was meant to keep you in some kind of weird educational walled garden (which worked oh so well for AOL, now didn’t it?) and you decided ‘hey, screw that, free iPad!” and not only are you now without these free devices but instead of taking the blame and putting it squarely on your shoulders you decide to point your finger at those in charge and say ‘they should have known we would do this!!!”

Alright, I guess they should have known you were going to circumvent their wishes and do whatever the hell you pleased because, again, free iPad. It is as though you were handed the Driver’s Education car and got it up to 120 mph because the car had the ability to do that and, hey, free car. While it is true that the school should expect at least some part of their population to be inconsiderate degenerates with no regard for what others are trying to accomplish, they were really hoping this would not be something that would become a public spectacle, which it totally has.

If you have zero (and I mean absolutely zero) access to the interconnected jungle that is the world wide web, then Facebook and Temple Run are not where you should take your first small steps into the technological future. If, however, you do have access to these things outside of this iPad, then you have no excuse to use it for this purpose. I don’t care if it was given to you to take home, it’s still technically property of the school district and should be treated as such. I’m pretty certain I never saw any students ripping apart History textbooks for paper airplane contests, presumably because replacing a twenty-year-old History book would cost about $6,000 bucks, at least to find one with only 46 stars on the flag embosses across the cover.

Technology, for the purposes of education, is really in its infancy for what exists out there commercially and has yet to be molded into something better suited for the classroom. I am a believer that products like the iPad, or whatever tablet computer you chose, could have amazing applications in the hands of students from kindergarten all the way through graduate school, but where as a 5-year-old might find themselves learning better hand-eye coordination through the treacherous pathways of Temple Run, maybe it’s best if these devices stayed out of the hands of all these fantastic, uber-mature ‘hackers’ until they can learn to grow up and see that the problem with the program isn’t in the devices, but in the users themselves.

Is there a reset button for that, anywhere?

Class dismissed.

Over-education Depression

A recent study posits that having “too much education” can lead to problems with mental health later in life. In this instance, “over-education” is short hand for “having too much education for your current career” and not just being someone who spent, like, twelve years in an undergraduate program because the girls were cute. While studies have been conducted in the past about the effects of having not enough education, this is the first time it has been linked to, basically, knowing too much instead of not enough.

I hate to have to agree with this study, but even anecdotal evidence seems to show that people do tend to be a little upset at themselves and the world around them when their lot in life hasn’t turned out as green and flowery as they had hoped it would. The problem is that this is not exactly an easy issue to fix, especially given economic trends these past few years. Corporations are finding it easier to do more with less, meaning open positions that do exist are few, far between, and being hunted by a much larger part of the unemployed (or even sometimes currently employed) labor force. In many cases, it’s almost a necessity to look ‘beneath your ability’ because then you are at least guaranteed to qualify for the job even if you may end up not getting it anyway.

No one should ever be forced to look for work below their skill level, but it happens. A person with a bachelor’s degree or better finds themselves at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder with no way to move up thanks to things like nepotism, managerial paranoia, and companies tending to cut their most numerous sectors (the drones) before clipping the wings of their fledgling management team. It seems that while unemployment is certainly a political hot button issue, ‘proper employment’ should be looked at as a much more damning evidence that there are problems inside the workforce just as much as outside it.

Getting everyone properly employed could be (and probably should be) considered an impossible task. We have hundreds of thousands of young men and women coming into an already crowded job market in a time when entrepreneurship is looked at with a bit of an upturned nose, usually from those that would have loved to have climbed that mountain themselves but had too much trouble even getting their boots laced that seeing anyone succeed as a lone wolf or in a small dedicated team is akin to a personal slap in the face. To other young dreamers, though, this does seem like more a viable option and with the rise of crowdfunding engines like indiegogo and kickstarter we can see that the fruits of this labor can be enjoyed and potentially used as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Does this mean that all of these new members of the labor force should get themselves some funding and go for broke? Of course not, but it is an option where much of the ‘old money’ refuses to look or, in the case of any large-scale successes, tries to copy after the fact (see: Pebble Smartwatch). If everyone capable of generating income through this channel did so, that would obviously lessen the burden of traditional businesses – and yet a larger beast would be looming over the horizon.

Let’s face it, a lot of people employed are not over-educated and depressed. They very well are exactly the opposite – they lack the necessary education and are happy no one has figured it out yet, content to ride the wave as far as it will take them while praying the undertow doesn’t reach up and drag them down into the abyss. It’s just too bad that the abyss is where these people need to go. There is no excuse for anyone to be in a job that they are not qualified for, and yet it exists all over (especially where animals like the aforementioned nepotism roam). Clearing out that dead weight, or at least shifting it to where it belongs, could potentially open up opportunities a little farther up the corporate ladder for those able to reach them. Then again, this would go completely against the current corporate culture of doing more with less and the economy doesn’t want to have it any other way.

What to do, what to do…

We have created a society that wants children to grow up to be the best and brightest they can be – something I shout from the rooftops as often as I possibly can – while simultaneously creating an ecosystem of employment that can not sustain the best and brightest (but does amazing work with compost and dung beetles). This flip-flop of ideals from the educational system to the capitalist system is not one that is easily rectified, especially now. The solution is to either cut back on education and hope no one notices (not exactly a fantastic answer, really) or overhaul society and do as much as we can to reward those that deserve it while also paying attention to those lacking in education and ability.  That part tends to scare people and cause them to yell things about welfare and taxes, but if we were properly rewarding the deserving there would be no issue with lending a hand to the less fortunate. Until that sense of having to fight for every nickel in our pockets fades away, we are stuck as two piles of muck in the same depressing swamp.

Too much education makes me sad…

Too little education makes me angry…

Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe….

 

…class dismissed.

 

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