So I’m running on a tangent today, partly because of a slight bit of fatigue and partly because I wanted to talk about the first book I read in my pile of thirty I am trying to get through. I recently finished Bill Bryson’s “At Home: A Short History Of Private Life” and, most of all, it made me thankful to live in the age that I live. I hate to say that I have a pessimistic view of society and my own existence (this blog in and of itself might be seen as enough proof of that concept), but this book showed that I was way off the mark of what could be considered awful living conditions or an awful existence in general.
The book takes you on a tour through Bryson’s countryside home, a former Church of England rectory, and as you pass from room to room with him he runs off on various asides on all sorts of topics about, as simply as I can explain it, how people lived throughout history. Like his other Short History book (Nearly Everything), he does jump from topic to topic with a bit of organized randomness that can be somewhat off-putting when he lands on a topic that you find interest in. The title says it all, it really is a short history, and it gives you just enough information that can make you want to find out more about things you had no clue even existed before you hit a certain paragraph or a certain page. I mentioned a few days ago about knowing the inventor of the lawnmower, and I got that from this book. It made me want to learn more about the lawnmower and about lawn care machinery and its evolution. About fifteen minutes on wikipedia and I had enough for a lifetime, but I didn’t feel let down by anything. Everything hit me with just enough of a punch to make me want to keep reading without burning me out on a topic. It was as though it had a deep understanding of what I wanted to know, how much I wanted to know, and when to stop. If I wanted more, like in the case of the lawnmower, I can use every other research vessel available to me to get that information without being upset that he didn’t spend ten more pages on something that is only important to me in a book that isn’t meant to be important solely to me.
A good bit of the book follows English history, but he does cross the pond when it matters, especially in showing how the Americas and Europe interacted in the years when America was coming out as a potential international industrial superpower. Just imagine being beaten up by your only child, and that is a decent enough comparison for the end of the 19th century going into the 20th as far as just everyday living went. I also want to take the time to tie this in to yesterday’s post, as there are many points in the book where a lack of change is shown as an inherently bad move and change can be incredibly positive. Of course, this isn’t always true, as only the major successes and spectacular failures garner press. Still, it shows that people tried, probably tried even more than we can every realize. I’m sure out there right now people are trying things that might never see the light of day. The private life of the inventor or the designer or the engineer can feature unbelievable attempts at drastic and unthinkable change. Some may work, some may fail, but I like to know that it is being attempted. So why in the public life, the majority at least, is there such a hatred for change?
If you want to see how change affected the world for good and a desire for rigidity, conformity, uniformity, and stasis has caused quite a bit of suffering. The chapter on sexually transmitted diseases (The Bedroom chapter, actually) is enough to show just how awful the mostly male medical field had almost no knowledge of the female body and caused plenty of problems (and potentially unnecessary death and disfigurement) occurred because no one was willing to try new things. That may be an extreme case, I admit, but it is still something that happened and yes, eventually, it did lead to changes and a more advanced medical knowledge, but even when doctors started breaking through the wall and looking deep into the female body (as well as bodies in general) there were still people, even their own peers, who looked at them like they were crazy and disregarded their writings and findings as complete hogwash.
This happens still to this day, in all sorts of fields and with all kinds of people. Again, if you are in this position and you feel as though people aren’t taking you seriously, you could end up being wrong, but you have just as much a chance of being absolutely correct. If one takes anything away from this book, it should be that. From the first page to the last, it is simply a tour of an English house, but there is so much change to be digested that even in a writer’s tour of private life you find yourself wandering through social history from the Romans to the present day. If you have read Bryson’s Nearly Everything and enjoyed it I think you will find this just as enjoyable. If you haven’t read any of his material or possibly only know him through his travelogue series of non-fiction then this will be seen as quite a departure but still in a style that is his own. Over the few weeks it took me to read through it I feel as though I learned about civilization itself, and no, that is not a hyperbole. It changed something in me, how I view the past, present, and future, and I think it will do the same for anyone else who takes the time to read it, at 422 pages (Kindle version, at least) it is hefty, and the hardcover version could probably be used as a burglar suppressant, but if you have any interest at all in history you will find it a very compelling read.
Regular class is back tomorrow.
Five simple words. It’s a joke, really. I almost am afraid to bring it up in public, but…this has to go. This doesn’t completely fall into the realm of education, but the idea that society as a whole seems to fear and disregard any talk of change just has to go. People hate the entire premise behind taking what they have now and making it different, even if the eventual difference is for the better. It has happened all throughout history and it just needs to stop now. We as a culture needs to let the change train go and if a derailment happens – we learn. If something completely unexpected but amazingly positive happens we will learn and embrace it.
We have a problem with embracing anything that means we might have to work somewhat harder to get to a better place. Honestly, even I don’t necessarily enjoy the idea of harder work for potentially no payoff. Obviously I am a part of a much greater whole of people that hate to see ability and talent go to waste. It is scary. It is one of those debilitating fears I have. I feel like I have spent way too much time in my life treading water and getting nowhere. But, I can at least acknowledge potential when it exists. Few else seem to be able to do that. I look at things like education reform and social reform and while some ideas are blowing smoke and partisan flag-waving, there are nuggets of brilliance amongst them. The ones I view as nuggets may not be the ones others are looking for, but whether we share the same opinions or not, if nobody is willing to take the first step forward toward a new tomorrow.
Yikes, I am starting to sound like some sort of crazy preacher or motivational guru. I want to see that brighter future, though. I really do. I see a world that needs to embrace change. At least take the chance and see what happens. There is so much in this world that would not exist the way we know it without taking chances, and given the timeline that stretches from the dawning of civilization to today, the amount of chances taken is a near miniscule amount compared to the amount of chances people wanted to take and could not bring themselves to take that first step.
“It” might be what it is now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Choose reform, on any level. Look around your own lives and see what can be done to improve them, even if it means smiling just a tiny bit more. Your small change might not ripple out to effect the entire planet, but enough small changes just might be able to. We have the mental capacity, we have the ability and we carry it around with us every single day. It is time we use it. That is what it should be.
Thanks to my friend Tom over at Bad Economist, I have decided today to speak on outcome-based education. This system is based primarily on students showing that they have learned the material or meeting a desired outcome set by their teacher. It has very little to do with how the student learns the material, although this does fall under the category of quote-unquote ‘reform education’.
With very little research done on this subject personally, it leaves me on the fence as to its usefulness. I have never been a fan of standardized testing, as I strongly feel that no two students are ever alike in anything they do, even if the current school system seems to want to mold everyone into some sort of informational assembly line. So this system gets rid of that, but I am not sure how well it replaces it with the idea of reaching outcomes. If you still have an entire class of students vying for similar outcomes and only one teacher to push to that goal, every student is still facing the same structure of input, even if pro-OBEers like to say that inputs are mostly irrelevant. On the other side, letting children move at their own pace through the system leaves whomever supervises their advancement could be left in a confused and jumbled mess of varying degrees of subject mastery. It is quite difficult to teach twenty kids on twenty different levels the same material. In fact it could be impossible. Trying to meet some sort of healthy balance is almost a complete undermining of the entire philosophy they are going for with the system in the first place.
What does that leave us with? One could say that every student’s educational career has a simple outcome – graduation (be it high school, college, etc) – and that if the input really doesn’t matter then just making it to that outcome is considered an achievement amongst itself. I hate to say it, but the farther I get out of school the more I see graduation as a pointless endeavor unless you were one of the top of your class and can use that to your eventual advantage. It’s always a bell curve, and it always will be. The only thing you can hope for is that the gap between the X and Y axis’ of that curve are as close to each other as is possible. This is the outcome the educational system should be striving for with everything they do. Period. I know it is quite a lofty expectation to think that every person that goes through the assembly line is going to come out of the other end even close to the same. This isn’t some sort of mass-market factory, obviously, and I hate the idea of putting any more work on educators than they already have to deal with, but something has to change.
Standardized testing, especially in the world of the dreaded essay question, is questionable at best. Bringing a human into the scoring system adds way too many variables to really have a “standard”. Now, we can’t just cut the essays from testing, even if the kids would absolutely love us for it, but this is my biggest peeve with the testing. You can train a person to look for grammar and spelling, but I could do each to perfection and still be a lousy writer when it comes to content (which, of course, is what should really be measured). If we have to stick to multiple-choice and show your work math and science for standardized testing, then so be it. Can we have a section that shows mastery, too? I talked about this with the Khan Academy post two weeks ago, and it still sticks with me. The most important outcome shouldn’t be a passing grade, because those can leave holes of missing knowledge or understanding. Here is my desired outcome – drumroll, please – At the age of the 18, or 21, 22, 23, et cetera have the system ready to present a human being who is capable of being a positive addition to society rather than something we can band-aid to an entry-level position and hope for the best. If you have to ask yourself what qualifies someone to be a positive addition, just look around your neighborhood, workplace, school, or anywhere really and count how many times you see someone who appears to be not up to the standard of being a positive addition. You will be surprised how quickly that number can skyrocket depending on the situation. Those people might not have failed the current system, but they are making a mockery of its use.
If the system is pushing over five million people (best estimate I could gather from population data) out of the high school system each year and five percent of them are at the bottom of that wonderful educational bell curve, then we have 250,000 people who still meet the standards of graduation but are seemingly far away from being ‘a piece of a great future’. This could be because of the student’s learning ability, motivation, personality, or it could be that there learning ability and motivation are simply suited more for a system of education we have yet to either discover or put into place on a wide scale. It’s a horrible realization that there are people out there right now that could be amazingly brilliant minds but are completely lost in a sea of knowledge with a broken mental compass and a lighthouse potentially leading them into more rocks and sea serpents the harder they paddle.
I hope one day that it will all be made as easy as I wish it was. Even if it’s a pipe dream, it’s a pipe dream I can and will support as much as I possibly can.
“Stuff” is one of the greatest terms ever devised. It can (and does) mean anything. It is the ultimate catch-all. There is not a better descriptive term out there. It tells you so little but oh so very much about our entire existence. It is one of the only reasons I write at all. I want to find out more about stuff. I have, as the title says, OCC.
Obsessive Compulsive Curiosity is simply my psychological desire to understand stuff. I am a scavenger for understanding, the knowledge of why I find myself attracted and repelled from whatever topic falls into my mental cross-hairs. I may have an itchy trigger finger some of the time, but once it is dead I can only burn the carcass and move on to the next savannah, next veldt, next wide open plain where more big game awaits to attract my ever-smoldering brain pistol. The thrill of the hunt, not genocide, is my passion.
Is that really it, though? Is my entire reason for existing just to live the life of the unsatisfied hunter, never happy with what I drag back home at the end of the day? I really hope there is more to it than that. The problem lies in the satisfaction itself. If I am out searching for anything, I do want to experience that big ta-da eureka moment eventually. I want to have that moment when I can sit back and realize that all the work I had done had paid off. I just never really seem to hit that moment. I’ve come close, probably hundreds of times in my life, but I never seem to really latch on to it and drag myself inexorably toward it like a lost space ship into a growing black hole. I don’t want to know what is on the other side of that hole – the other side of satisfaction. To finish the hunt is nowhere near as pleasuring as keeping it going for as long as possible, allowing the prey to escape even if it was never truly your intention. It always seems to escape me, anyway. I would probably do better with giant boxes of traps from the Acme Corporation at this point.
But is that really what I want? Do I want the Roadrunner cooked through on an Acme dinner plate? At this point in my life I do not see myself really looking to catch the Roadrunner as much as I enjoy figuring out all the millions and billions of different ways I might be able to catch it. To be fair, I have found myself staring down at a trap and finding little animals of knowledge stuck inside, just for me. It is a good feeling, but the second I swallow that down and hear that “Meep-Meep” of escaping and unattainable information speeding away I feel a sense of invigoration for what brought me all the way to where I am in the first place. I never cared about what I was finding on the savannah, veldt, or otherwise. I cared that I was there, that I was hunting, and that even with my brain firing at full-auto I was never going to catch everything, and thus there is always a hunt to continue.
See you next week.
So this is going to polarize some people. Well, at the very least it will end up being everyone else vs. me by the end of this piece. I am fully prepared for the emotional backlash I am about to receive and I wish to start with a disclaimer. I am not a sports person. I really don’t care about athletics on any level. I can watch some sports on television but for the most part I’m just sort of ‘whatever’ about the whole thing. I am not all that athletic or flexible and most of my speed is short burst stuff that usually leads to searing pain in that ‘i shouldn’t be running’ section of the lower ribs. With that in mind…
I just don’t understand the point of school sports. I get the “exercise” part, I get the “teamwork” part, and other than that I find it to be just a way for people to put themselves on an undeserving pedestal. In certain states/regions/cities/etc there is pretty much an unwritten rule that school athletes are supposed to be privileged and protected, especially if they are a cornerstone of a winning team. I’m being honest when I say this—I care an obscenely tiny amount for whether or not my high school or college or what-have-you does well in sports. I don’t care about so-called rivalries or homecoming or anything else. It places student’s priorities away from the classroom, especially when they get preferential treatment. I’m not saying athletes aren’t intelligent, but you would be blind and stupid if you did not think that there didn’t exist some percentage of student athletes that might not be up to part educationally and yet they somehow manage to make the grade just so they can make the plays to win the big game. Stanford University got themselves in a mess of trouble for allegedly pushing for their student athletes to put themselves in pointless courses like Underwater Basket Weaving to keep their grades up. Sure, they still are working toward degrees and I know that playing college-level football is physically and mentally tough. I get it. I also know that there are some students that don’t make it out of college solely because they do well enough in that realm to go to the professional level. This tells me that, to a point, the entire educational system was almost entirely wasted. I say almost because, well, of course the person did learn things. They didn’t go through twelve plus years as a meatheaded zombie. But it begs to ask what the point of it all was. Yes, the person is potentially well off financially and they used their strengths to their advantage, but – and I really hate to drag this dead horse out and beat it a few more times – what sort of precedent does that set for the rest of the students? Especially the ones that play sports and think that they may be good enough to compete at that pro level but just aren’t quite that good and never will be? So their teachers, peers, and parents push them and coddle them through their education only to see them fail at the college level and be stuck with a horrible educational background and no direction for their future. They thought they could play football, or basketball, or baseball, or __insert sport here__ but instead they are stuck in a letterman jacket and a liberal studies degree, perhaps the most perfect name possible. They studied liberally, and this is where it got them – to broken dreams and destroyed expectations.
I am not saying that there isn’t a place for school sports in the world, but when they take a front seat over building a child/teenager/young adult’s education then that is when problems start to arise. It also can’t help that schools can receive more funding for their sports programs than for anything else (I must admit I have no hard figures on this, so it could be a grossly exaggerated rumor – if so I apologize). Build an educated mind first, then work on the world championships.
Alright, more educational architecture! Of course today it is all about the classroom. Last week I spoke a little about combining every phase of educational development (pre-K through college) into one large campus, while today I am going to focus more on how to make the classroom the best possible environment for students to learn.
Everyone naturally wants to learn. Whether or not it is the subject you are teaching them is an entirely different story, but it boils down to most young people having a very vague or even completely nonexistent understanding of why learning what you are teaching matters. The second problem is that classrooms can be overwhelmed with humanity. I know it is difficult for a school board to push for smaller class sizes due to budget concerns and other factors, but when the numbers start to get high you are left with one brain in charge of the building of thirty, and those thirty sometimes do not have the skills necessary to notice the problem and provide assistance when they have become a master in the subject being taught. It’s a bell curve, plain and simple, and if the classroom can foster the ideals set forth in my post from yesterday, it can help create a stronger bond between students and give the teacher the ability to work with smaller groups amongst the whole.
We have all done group work in school, and moreover we have all had groups that seemed designed to cause us misery. Either you were the smartest one in the group, or the dumbest, or possibly even the only one remotely paying attention. Sadly, group work is important. It helps develop a sense of unity and being a team player. One just has to try and make sure everyone else is also playing along and not being dragged from the informational jungle by their ankles. While I have not done the research on its existence, I have always wanted to see modular school desks that are separate most of the time but can be easily moved together. Even without checking Google I am almost positive this exists in some form.
Communication should be encouraged. Okay, scratch that. Useful communication should be encouraged. I know it is usually an impossibility to control a mob of eight year old kids, but all it takes is some careful formation of groups and seating arrangements (and helpful doses of trail and error) to come upon a plan that works well not only for the teacher but for the students as well.
Classrooms should be as wide open as possible. Restricting movement and forcing children (especially younger children) into rigidity does very little for their educational future (even if it might potentially make them a little more behaved). This is not saying that every student should have a nice five foot halo of private space stretching out in all directions around them, but once students understand that their role is to learn and that the teacher will do his or her best not to impede their sponging up of knowledge, it can create a very warm environment that fosters creativity and understanding rather than strapping it down to a metal table and performing Frankensteinian experiments on it.
You know as a teacher what information you have to get through and what curriculum your school board or state government has indoctrinated you with the responsibility to teach, but very rarely do they give you explicit instructions on how to teach it or in what order. Everyone has their own style, and I am in no way advocating some sort of cloned “you must teach this way” system, but some styles only work on some students, and not always (re: never) do you have every student in your class able to excel at your style. Though I feel like I am asking the teacher to compound their workload and shovel on a million times more to their already hectic schedule, I believe this is a livable scenario. Create an environment that fosters as many learning styles as possible, group your class into the best possible arrangements both for ability, understanding, and control, and always always always have a plan of attack for the information you present. If something isn’t working, find out why and modify. Find Out Why and Modify. I just made that up. It may be the only clever thing I have said in two weeks, but I will accept it.
Everyone desires knowledge, even if they won’t outright admit it. Nobody wants to be seen as “the dumb one” or “the idiot” or whatever other childhood name-calling you can come up with. Harness that desire at a young age, cultivate it, and you just may find a student at the age of 20 or 21 looking back on you as what inspired them to reach their goals. I respect (most) teachers more now than I ever did as a student, but I don’t always feel they are doing things properly. I am no doubt sure I will get into that more as the weeks roll by. I can really get quite vicious when it comes to a job that is responsible for all but explicitly defining the next generation like teaching can be. I am still batting around ideas for the rest of the week, so until then…
Last week I started a piece about the perfect educational campus and while part two is set to hit the site tomorrow and deal with “the architecture of the classroom”, today will be more about everything in the classroom that doesn’t stay there overnight after all the lights go out. Of course, I am talking about the students themselves.
It is very rare that you will find a classroom that it solely devoted to helping one student (public classrooms, at least). Teachers, professors, aides, whatever – they are all in their positions to help everyone in the class to become educated. Sadly, for a lot of students, none of them seem to grasp that they are all in that situation together. Even non-teachers can walk into a classroom and almost immediately be able to tell a student’s personality based entirely on where they sit, what they wear, and what they might find sitting on their desk. It’s fundamental. Of course, friends might work together to help each other, but they are not doing it because they are trying to make their friend more intelligent or trying to get them through a tough subject. They are saying ‘hey, this is my friend, and he needs help’ and that is almost as far as anyone takes it.
No child wants to be singled out as the nerdy one or the smarty-pants suck-up teacher’s pet kid, but to a degree I am sure that is what every teacher wishes they had surrounding them for eight hours every school day. Good teachers want to teach and have a burning desire to make sure the children left in their care leave their hands better than they came in. That is the goal, after all.
So what is the goal of the student? Passing the class, that’s one goal. That’s the endgame everyone is trying to reach. Some might be trying for the perfect report card and others might be simply trying to make it through without drowning in a sea of information they don’t understand (or don’t want to understand), but they still want to get through. The psychological problems that follow the idea of educational failure (for the majority) are enough to at least get kids to push for that 70% if nothing else.
Compounded over years, 70% is much to shout from the rooftops about. If one watches the video I posted last week on the Khan Academy, he mentions how students must push for mastery of subjects or face gaping holes in their educational future. It is much more difficult to understand basic Calculus if one couldn’t get through Algebra I outside of the skin of their teeth. Add that up across every subject, and school is suddenly a nearly pointless endeavor past the earliest grades.
This is a message to the students or anyone in a group learning environment – the whole “No Child Left Behind” mantra means nothing if the children themselves don’t take up some responsibility not just for their own development but for the development of the class as a whole. You never know when a person you help in one subject might be able to open whole new doors of knowledge in another subject that you may be suffering through just as they were before you assisted them. Just be careful to not let your ego get in the way of your help, and don’t let yourself put down the other student or students. Teachers would get nowhere if they called everyone who got a problem wrong stupid. It’s called Positive Reinforcement for a reason – it is created by positivity and it’s outcome can be and usually is positive for all those involved.
Tomorrow I will delve into the classroom environment a little more from an architecture and interior design perspective. By the end of the week I am going to try to offer some of my thoughts on school sports and their use in the educational system plus tons of other stuff. Until then…
Earlier today I spoke about using your training as a way to escape potential trouble or responsibility in jobs and school. Everyone does it to some level, even out of simple fear of potentially disproportionate retribution from teachers and supervisors, especially when they are not familiar with their leadership style (or are familiar enough with it to realize that it absolutely will be disproportionate). This kind of scapegoating can easily lead to a sort of Intellectual Dishonesty.
I find it almost laughable to lie about what I know. I am not talking about family secrets here, either, but just pure and simple information. It happens all the time, and just like the apprehension spoken of previously everyone does it at times. It is as though we have some sort of fear of being smart or appearing eccentric in how large or specific our knowledge base might happen to be (even if it really isn’t). It usually involves the use of the phrase “I think” before saying whatever it is you know is absolutely correct. It doesn’t matter if it is the name of an old song, a phone number, retelling a story, or anything else. If you know it, you know it. If someone wants to look down on you for having a brain then that is entirely their own little emotional problem they need to deal with.
It is depressing that people wish to hide their intelligence from others. I guess I can say that it might not make the other person feel better about themselves if you jump in with an answer they have been looking for, but one has to accept that reality. There are billions of people on this planet potentially smarter than me and billions potentially stupider. If I need an answer about anything I would love to have someone waiting just outside of my peripheral to dive in like some sort of smarty-pants Superman to save my day. The internet was founded on people searching for information and easier ways to access it. Sometimes the information we find through the web is completely wrong, but there are tons of people currently looking at crowd-sourced answering (like Gina Trapani’s ThinkUp) that collect answers or suggestions from the ever-growing and omnipresent social networking superstructure. Sure, people can leave completely moronic spam comments or horrible mounds of silliness that can be collected, but they will be the first to be thrown on the dump pile.
Outside of the internet, giving someone a hint that you might be wrong (even when you know you are not) creates the kind of doubt that could leave your input heading straight to the trash rather than being used properly, even if all you are telling them is that Bill Murray was the name of the actor who starred in Groundhog Day. It’s simple…be honest, whether you are correct or not. In the off-chance that you are wrong, there is surely someone out there waiting to save your day. You just have to be willing to let them.
It’s not easy being a student, obviously. From preschool to master’s programs one is stuck having their education almost entirely under the control of whatever teacher or professor you have guiding you down the path of knowledge. Of course, the same situation exists among the working class regardless of position. The main problem I have witnessed over my school and work careers has been an absolutely disgusting amount of apprehension when it comes to the trainee/student moving away from the trainer/teacher (though of course there are exceptions).
Let’s look at this from the point of view of the student. We’ve all been there. We get placed into a job or a subject that we are unfamiliar with and given a guide rope to hang on to on the route to (hopefully) understanding. We follow our leader along the route and eventually we all reach the large clearing that opens to the vast openness that is the future. You have been trained up to the point of being acceptable at the tasks necessary for survival. While you may not be ready to be the teacher or the leader you are still a viable example along the trail for the next group through and this is exactly what the teacher wants, at least on the business side. On the educational side, the teacher wants you as close to mastery as possible to be able to move up to the next level of difficulty in the curriculum. This can be problematic when teachers are only given a finite amount of time with which to get you to that level, while in the workforce there is still a bit of a deadline, but it is much easier to blame your trainer for your shortcomings than it is to blame a schoolteacher that you might not have geometry grasped the way you need to.
This is where the apprehension comes in. Everyone knows that in the case of on-the-job trainer/trainee relations that unless the trainee is really at the top of Mt. Inept that the trainer will take more flak for the abilities of the trainee than the trainee will. It is incredibly easy to turn a supervisor on a trainer when you are just learning the ropes simply because you are just learning. It is acceptable to make mistakes. There is nothing inherently wrong with screwing up as a rookie (barring fields like medicine, bomb-making, and chemical mixing), let’s be perfectly honest about that. You are supposed to screw up. In fact, it is almost so ingrained in society that if you go into a job blind and do it well it comes as a total surprise.
This is how the apprehension is created. You are given a scape goat in the former of the person in charge of leading you and molding you into an acceptable employee. They take the blame, not you. Eventually this could snowball into all sorts of personal issues and intense fogs of hatred at your workplace, so it is key to balance the thin line of being able to do the work and yet still able to pass the buck when the moment is appropriate. Everyone knows how to do this. Everyone. It is almost depressing to see the aptitude people possess in covering their own behinds. If we applied our brains to the job as much as we apply it to Houdini’ng ourselves away from scrutiny we would have Renaissances stacking up like cars in NYC traffic.
So what is the point of all of this? Stop it. Take the blame. Give yourself up. The quicker you do, the faster you will learn. Trust me. But don’t just roll over like a dog who just got caught tearing through a trash can. Even if you have absolutely no desire to be an expert at your menial, minimum wage, blue collar position that you took just to pay your way through college you still need to allow yourself to be the target just as much if not way more than you dive out of the way of the supervisory danger. Showing that you are willing to be coached is looked at with a million times more pride and respect than those that run for the hills at the slightest hint of gray skies.
As far as education goes, just don’t give up. If you have to ask a thousand questions to get to the answer, fine. At least you didn’t throw your head up in confusion and throw your trigonometry homework into a burning trash can rather than ever crack open a textbook with numbers on the cover again. Failure is allowed and should be embraced so long as you continue putting your head down, digging your feet into the dirt and continuing to push forward. Success will come eventually, especially if you do not allow your own apprehensions to cut off that rope and that route to the calm, beautiful clearing of knowledge that you know is out there. It will embrace you harder than any failure. Trust me.
It’s called a ‘quarter-life crisis’, and almost everyone finds themselves smothered by it at one point in time or another between the ages of 20 and 30. Usually it hits just after college, and if not explicitly taken care of it can continue to bog down your reality for years to come and create a lovely pale gray future to trod through. In a way, I feel like I have been going through this crisis since I was 14 or 15, at least.
I liked school on the level of ‘potential gain’. I enjoyed knowing that I could go there and learn about things that interested me or discover new subjects and sponge up information that was not available to me in any other way (this was in the incredibly early days of the consumer 28.8/56k internet). I hated school because it appeared to me that nobody really cared about the fact that the potential gains were staying potential and never getting kinetically released across the student body. Did some rise above that? Sure, of course. I tried to be one of those people, but my own disrespect for the system clashed with my desire to be educated. I wanted to learn. I enjoy learning now. I almost laughed out loud when I realized most of the unread books on my shelves were in the realm of non-fiction, mostly due my back burner desire to be a successful fiction writer. I did write and self-publish a lovely novel, but it is nowhere near perfect. It has some spelling and grammar issues and a few inconsistencies, but the story in and of itself is sound and even in some ways educational. I am not trying to toot my own horn here, not at all. I wanted to write something that could make people look at their own lives in a different light and I think I accomplished that.
My main character is almost a Mary Sue. He is definitely an Author Avatar (thanks TVTropes) but I am okay with that. It happens. He wants to write, or wants to create. He keeps notes to almost the point of obsessive compulsion. I don’t take notes on that scale, but I wrote the story in (again, humorously) a non-fiction sort of bent, as though the author himself was writing about these experiences and getting inside his own memories. Sometimes, though not often, I find it odd when novels in the first person perspective do not address why they are being written. This is especially true when the main character, the I, doesn’t win in the end. I find it sadomasochistic from the perspective of the protagonist/storyteller. It is one thing if you are around with your friends and tell an embarrassing or depressing story and talk it over, but it is another thing to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to tell the world about the one time you lost on such a grand scale.
So what does one have to do with the other? I guess I just feel like I have been on a slight slide of evaporating potential the older I get. I am not trying to give myself any sort of age-related deadline. I am not one for the “big 3-0″ depressing fits of rage. In my story, the narrator succeeds, eventually. It takes about fifteen years from the first page of the novel to the last, and it pains me to even toy with the notion that I am far close to my page one than I want to admit. I know I am not the only one that finds themselves sitting in this boat at some point or another. Nobody wants to be trapped on page one or even within the horizon line of it. The problem is that some people, up to and including myself, enjoy driving in circles around page one so that they can always see it just over their shoulder. “Yep, there’s where I started!” It’s a comfort zone thing, or so I have been told.
The problem is that there is a difference between being comfortable and really enjoying that comfort on every level. People love comfort. They have a burning desire to be comfortable. The tourism industry is built on it, almost more than proximity to attractions. The existence of spas and massage parlors and vibrating chairs are entirely created for the purposes of comfort. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. As a society, most people have comfort. They live in some level of comfort that they have decided is at least moderately satisfying. Sadly, satisfaction is waning, fickle, and ebbs in and out at almost the same moments as the tides. What you loved about your job yesterday may make you want to punch children the next, and what bothered you in high school may be one of your biggest interests as a post-grad.
My comfort is on a sleep-to-sleep level. I am comfortable getting up in the morning, walking through my day, and going back to sleep at night. My mental comfort hasn’t been on a desired level since the idea of a career really sunk into my brain. It created a very introverted personality (typing not withstanding) that is disgusted in its own skin. Some find this hard to grasp, even if society in general seems to at least have a small percentage trapped in a similar malaise. That is why things like this blog (and probably numerous others) exists. I went through school and my childhood being told that I am apparently incredibly intelligent, yet I sit here at the age of 28 and do not see what the big deal is. Pop culture tells me I should have been good at football or basketball, music or acting, or that I should have started a retail company thirty years ago. Those are the successes I am stuck basing my own existence around. No wonder I am in such a ‘crisis’.
Everyone wants success. Being told you should be successful based on your brain and then failing to live up to it (regardless of the circumstances) is the pure, concentrated, gelatinous glob of emotion that leads you to having such a thing as a quarter-life crisis. If I am as smart as people have said that I am, then I plan to use this place to both be the writer I always wanted to be and hopefully use my intelligence to change the world as I have always wanted or at least make one other person look at their world in a different way, just as I had tried to do with my novel three years ago. I have no idea if I will ever accomplish that goal, nor am I absolutely sure I accomplished anything with this particular post this morning, but continue to stay tuned each weekday at noon and I will continue to throw up thoughts on all sorts of subjects. I want to concentrate on education but, honestly, whether I get a million readers a day or just one I am going to continue on down this path and go where it goes. I have no idea if I have begun to turn away from my page one comfort circle, but at least I know that apparently I’m smart and that is enough of a start for me.