This week at The Confabulator Cafe, I go on a bit of a rant regarding the idea of writers as role models. This is in direct response to a letter to the editor in the Lawrence Journal World about William S. Burroughs’s notes and journals being donated to the University of Kansas. Go check it out, if you are interested.
The only thing interfering with my learning is my education. – Albert Einstein.
There is a fundamental different between teaching and learning that we seem to be missing in our society. We have become statistic-driven. Our children, both yours and mine, are statistics in the war of education. Unfortunately, true learning has never been about education. While education is meant to facilitate it, more than ever it is interfering with it.
Education should be about learning. But it isn’t. We have become a country that cares more about teaching than learning. Tests are no longer an educational tool, but a means to gauge teacher performance. The problem is that teacher performance, true educational performance, cannot be measured by testing a bunch of kids.
When I look back on the teachers I had in my life and those whom I valued most, it comes down to a simple trait, easily observable. Those teachers who learned the most from, where the ones that taught me to learn, rather than just teaching me facts.
Facts are relatively pointless when it comes down to it. I know that the sky is blue because that is what they tell me. But, more interesting that that is the fact that the sky is blue because of the way the air molecules scatter light from the sun. I know my shapes, yet more interesting is the way that certain shapes combined are more universally aesthetic than others. Facts, while testable, are fairly useless.
Yet, as a result of the way our system is structured, we encourage teachers to teach to pass the tests, when our teachers should be teaching our children to love to learn.
Regurgitation of facts will get a student their diploma, maybe even a degree or two, but true love of learning lasts a person for their entire life. Love of learning is what gets you up in the morning. It gets you on the internet researching things you see on television. It makes you want to learn to play harmonica, speak Italian, read books, and a million other things.
We have endangered that love on learning for the next generation because we have placed to hard an emphasis on teaching. Rather than learning to learn, students have been taught how to know what the teacher wants to hear.
Unfortunately, what made or country great was not desire to tell people what they wanted to hear, but to go further. We are a country built on the backs of pioneers who wanted to know more and wanted to do more. They pushed their knowledge to the limits, always wondering what they could do next.
Where will that come from from this point on? I wish I knew.
I have taken great pains with my on son to teach him about thing in which he is interested. He loves dinosaurs, and so we read a lot of books about dinosaurs, we excavate model dinosaur skeletons, we talk about what different dinosaurs ate and how fossils are found. It’s important to note that my son is four, so I keep all of this relatively simple. All dinosaurs with plates on their backs are Stegosauruses, because that is what they are, but they are also “Spike-tails” because that is what they are on Land Before Time.
Recently, he found a book on anatomy that he loves because you take a body apart in layers. We have spent a lot of time since then going over names of body parts, where they are inside him, and what they do, yet at the same time, we chuckle when he calls the lungs “people backpacks.”
My hope, more than anything else, is that my son will learn to love learning. I want him to know that when he thinks something is interesting, there is nothing wrong with learning more. I want him to take the things he loves and explore them, finding out what makes them tick.
Teachers will be telling him what facts to regurgitate for his entire life, but I hope when all of that is done, he still feels the need to go to the internet, go to the library, and more than anything else, never stop learning.
Along with that, will come an added bonus, for me, a fellow lover of knowledge. I explore all of these interests with him. His interest in dinosaurs meant I needed to learn more about dinosaurs. His interest in anatomy means I will learn more about anatomy. Whether it be astronomy, robots, or trains, I will happily learn along with him.
The old saying went that if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime. Our schools have gotten comfortable with giving our children nuggets of information, shoving factoids down their throats, then declaring them satisfied. Don’t allow it. Teach them to love learning, and give them a lifetime of knowledge.
P.S. In an update from the NaNoWriMo front, the first draft of my novel was finished on the 16th. Way ahead of schedule. I am spending the rest of the month going back through and developing the setting a bit better. I found it was like driving a hundred miles an hour through the countryside. I got where I was going, but I never really got to stop and admire the scenery. I look forward to the rest of the month and the rest of the first pass through, so I can see where it was I went without having to worry about getting there.
Until next time, keep reading, keep writing, and for the sake of humanity, keep learning.
NOTE: I normally blog about writing and how it relates to life. However, I was so disgusted by what happened at Penn State this week that I could not help but blog my feelings. After all, in many ways that is what writing is about. In writing, we take life and distill it through words, expressing human nature. But, sometimes, our nature as humans is more important than the art that reflects it. This is one of those times.
There are things more important than our passions. Sometimes, we need to stand back and realize that. There are things, values, more important than any writing or book. There are morals more important than any film or art. There are justices more important than any sport.
People tend to forget that. They get wrapped up in the things they’ve used to define themselves, at the cost of universal humanity. We are writers, readers, athletes, liberals conservatives, artists, scientists…and as such, we forget that we are primarily human.
This week, a bunch of people at Penn State were reminded of the responsibility that we share as humans. It is our duty to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. These people are the young, the old, the infirmed, the otherwise unable to self-protect.
Children, especially, are in our charge. Why? Because we, as adults, take so much authority over them. We command them as teachers, as coaches, as parents, as leaders. Our children are told from an early age that they must listen and obey adults. We send them to other adults, whom we entrust with their safety.
Violations of that trust must be met immediately, and with severity. Those who stand by and allow it are as guilty as those who committed the atrocities in the first place.
People may disagree with me, but in my experience, there is no rehabilitating a pedophile. You cannot tell them to stop and expect it to happen. You most certainly cannot look the other way.
Last night, a bunch of students rioted because a beloved football coach got fired. I am ashamed of them, supposedly educated adults who were unwilling to hold a man accountable for acts that happened under his watch, simply because he won football games.
Football is not important in the grand scheme. Compared to the safety of our children, nothing is important. My son had been born for about a half a second before I realized that I would die for him. My greatest daily wish is for a single smile, a hug, an “I love you, Daddy.” I would defend him with my life, without hesitation.
But, I know my duty is much more than just the protection of my child. If I witness the abuse of another child, I must take action. This is what the athletic and academic administration of Penn State forgot. Pedophilia is not an internal employment matter. It is a public matter of justice. You do not call your boss when a co-worker is molesting children. You call the police. This is your duty, not just because some of you fall under the role of mandatory reporter, but because you ALL fall under the role of human being.
If you haven’t read the grand jury presentment, I urge you to. I warn you, it is a very hard thing to read through, but it is important. It is important to understand what it represents. It represents the destruction of nine young people who grew up to be most likely damaged adults.
Sexual abuse changes children for their entire lives. For most, there is no moving on. There is no getting over it. The abuse will haunt them for all time.
Victims of sexual abuse are victims of power abuse. It isn’t about sex, it is about power and control. Imagine, having lost all power and control over your own life, to have it all ripped away.
Regaining that control is a hard thing. Some people never manage it.
That is the real crime of sexual abuse, the destruction of humanity, of the victims, of the offenders, and of the witnesses. Joe Paterno and Penn State’s administration lost their humanity when they chose not to call the police.
They took away his keys and told him not to bring kids to the locker room anymore, essentially “don’t do it here.” That disgusts me. Out of sight is not out of mind, not for this. There is no forgiveness.
Every person who knew anything about it should be fired. Any who can be prosecuted for failure to report need prosecuted, and all of those who were victimized need to come forward and make sure that the man who stole their innocence stays in prison for the rest of his life. It is a chance for them to regain some control, the control he took from them.
There are things more important than football. It’s a shame so many people forgot that this week. I pray that none of them forget it again. I pray for the survivors who will have to relive the abuse they experienced, and I feel sorry that they have to watch while so many support a man who failed to support children when they needed him the most.
Joe Paterno may have been a good football coach, but he failed as a man. That cannot be forgiven. No more than the victims can will themselves to forget.
The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame – Oscar Wilde
September is Banned Book Month.
I have to confess that I never realized just how important it was while I was in high school. I was lucky enough to attend a school where The Scarlet Letter was assigned reading along with Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies. My English teacher lent me a copy of Catch-22 and suggested I read it for a book report. I remember reading these books and never thinking twice about it.
I wrote a paper on censorship and never caught that many of the books on the banned list could be found in my high school library. Looking back, I appreciated it. When I was studying to be a high school English teacher, I emailed my former instructor and told him exactly how much I appreciated it. It took courage for him to teach a curriculum that he knew may come under attack.
That courage is lacking many places. I don’t fault the teachers. Especially in this economy, it is a dangerous thing to stand up when the rest of your world is telling you to sit down. Teachers have been fired for daring to teach certain books. Generally, the argument is based on racial slurs, sex, or violence. Oddly enough, high school students have been exposed to all of these things, even without the masterpieces that they were denied the pleasure of reading. In spite of school districts’ best efforts, all of these things are still a part of high school life.
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953. He imagined a world that must have seemed ridiculous at the time. It was a world where firemen burned books, people spent all their time with their mind-numbing “families” and rebels committed entire books to memory. Montag was the unlikely hero, a man who suddenly realized what he had been missing.
As years have passed, I’ve become more and more frightened by Bradbury’s prophetic work.
Not long ago, the 3D television was released. Now, with the right equipment, we can be surrounded by television worlds of our choosing. Unfortunately, more and more of that television has been reduced to mind-numbing reality shows featuring dancing with D-list celebrities and people who call themselves The Situation.
In Bradbury’s world, the book burning starts with the simple tearing out of pages that each group found offensive. Recently, a university professor decided to neuter Mark Twain’s classic on racial tension in order to make it more accessible to students and less offensive to school boards.
Then, there is this quote: With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar.
We, in fact, now live in a world where the arts are axed due to budget concerns, but every school has a football team. State universities are cutting majors, while their affiliated athletic departments are thriving businesses, generating millions. Academics has become the after-thought, the athletics the main attraction.
Recently, I was told there might be a move to remove literature from high schools.
I wonder what book I should start memorizing.
Fiction may be subjective, in many ways. It may not be as test friendly as math or science, but it is just as important. Fiction allows us to look critically at a subject from a new perspective. It allows us to examine the darkest and brightest aspects of our humanity through a different lens. Fiction is about possibilities. There was a time in this society when we were driven by possibilities. We imagined where we could go next, and what it might mean to us. I shudder to think of where we will end up without that.
Animals are content to live their lives based on survival. Being human has always been more than that. Since primitive man first drew on a wall or banged a drum, we have known there is more to this world than simple existence. Math and science are survival tools. The arts give us a reason to survive.
Literature lets us see the world as it was, through the perspective of a writer who lived it, rather than a scholar who judges it from a distance. Literature lets us see how the world could be, good and bad. A world without literature is a world without stories, without heroes. A world without heroes has nothing left for which to strive.
Do I believe every student of every age should be able to read every book? Of course not. But, I guarantee you, our children see more offensive material in movies, music, and their real lives than you are going to find in any of the books on the banned list. We aren’t trying to protect our children, we are trying to protect ourselves from the embarrassment of having to actually talk to our children. Rather than discuss important things, we would rather pretend they didn’t exist. Our children are not stupid. They deserve better than that. A generation who grows up without controversy is a generation ill-prepared for life. Real life is never afraid to offend us.
If you have a high school kid who likes to read, I encourage you to expose him to some of the books on the banned list. Read them yourself. Discuss them. Love them. Share them. Do it, before it is too late.
Jules Verne saw a world where men walked on the moon. It happened. William Gibson imagined a world were information flowed worldwide like water. It came to pass. Ray Bradbury saw a world without books ending in war. Are you going to be able to outrun the hound?
This is a link to a list of frequently challenged books. Find one you haven’t read and take it in. Devour it. Love it.
The rage of one man is nothing to fear. It is generally pointless, aimless, and like a flash fire burning hot for moments, before burning itself out. It is a smoldering cigarette, extinguished by mere chance, or the proper placement of a boot.
But sometimes, that smoldering cigarette catches fire to nearby grass or leaves, it spreads and spreads till you see entire California towns evacuated due to raging wildfires. The same way, rage can spread from one man, to another, to another, and another. The rage of two men can be dangerous, but is directed in a single direction. The rage of many, like a wildfire, will consume everything around it.
Today, London is consumed by rage. The heat has become so widespread, that few could probably tell you from where the initial spark came. The problem with civil unrest, is that it’s victims are not the government, nor the authorities, nor any of the people who were in any way responsible for the unrest. The victims are people, just like those whose rage has consumed them, just like the people who are now victimizing the innocent, just because they can.
Civil unrest made us what we are as a nation. It is a great and powerful thing. It molded us into the single most powerful democracy on the face of the Earth, but it has lost its way. Not just in the U.S., but in London, as well.
I have been in a position to see a few riots, and to witness their aftermath. What was once a means of expressing displeasure has become a means of causing senseless destruction and committing senseless thefts. From the recent riots in Canada, sparked by the simple losing of a sport, to the current riots in London, which were at least partially sparked by a police shooting, as well as slashes in government spending.
I will make no judgements of who is right and wrong in those issues. I was not there for the shooting, and I am not an economist. Where I will make judgement is of the people who have used this unrest for the sake of looting stores and burning businesses to the ground. Did the owner of a family business that had existed for generations pull the trigger than gunned down a man. Of course not. But they burned his business to the ground. Did the manager of an electronics store slash government spending. Not at all, yet it is his storefront that has been destroyed and his stock that has been stolen.
The riots will come to an end. All rage, no matter how severe, eventually burns out, but the victims will still have been victimized. Meanwhile, people who would never throw a brick through a storefront or steal high-priced sneakers on their own are in stores, taking whatever they can carry. And tomorrow, when the riots are over, when they can no longer hide behind the name of social unrest, they will be simple thieves, minor criminals.
If by some chance, one reads this blog someday, on a laptop stolen in the name of some person they cared nothing about, or some budget cuts they really didn’t know about in the first place, I ask that person to look hard at themselves, then click to another page, because I don’t want you being part of my world, even the little piece that is this blog.
Rage, I will always understand, even if I don’t agree. Parasitic scum, however, will never have my sympathy.
Writing: 3000 words on a short story, re-writing past longer short for submission
Currently reading: What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, Strunk and White’s Essential Guide to Style, Burning Chrome by William Gibson, On Writing Horror by The Horror Writer’s Association
Recently finished: Starship Troopers by Robert Heinline.
Recently saw: Middle Men