10.0838 times & standards

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 8 Apr 1997 21:55:27 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 838.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: "Mark K. Gardner" (146)
Subject: Re: 10.0834 times & standards

[2] From: Francois Crompton-Roberts <F.Crompton- (24)
Subject: Re: Times & standards

[3] From: Haradda@aol.com (34)
Subject: Re: 10.0834 times & standards

Date: Tue, 08 Apr 1997 13:32:37 -0400
From: "Mark K. Gardner" <contact.the.commander@null.net>
Subject: Re: 10.0834 times & standards

I suppose I need to clarify that this statement:
> > It took all of us many tedious hours of what we believed to be
> > meaningless toil before we realized that "knowledge for knowledge sake"
> > was a worthy end unto itself, and then began to *really* learn things
> > not because we had to but because we wanted to.

This was written with particular emphasis on grammar/jr. high(middle
school)-aged students/curriculum.

> It did? My humanist credentials are as good as most, but I never
> responded to meaningless toil. I learned because I was fundamentally
> curious, and was too stubborn to be saddled with subjects where the toil
> was meaningless to me (and too well cared for: I had options).

I don't deny that children are naturally curious. But something has
happened that seems to be crushing the curiosity and drive for knowledge
out of many children today before they even get to high school, never
mind college. I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that
they expect learning to be easy and simple and fun because that is what
they have been taught during a very impressionable period in their
lives, and when it appears contrary, they prefer to take the easier,
softer way out and turn off. I only say this because it has been what I
observe happening; most *are* already turned off when they arrive in my

I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't find *anything* inherently
stimulating in grammar school and Jr. high about memorizing
multiplication tables, phonics, spelling, grammar and sentence diagrams.
I was much more interested in dinosaurs and space travel--that is what I
*read* when I got the chance. However, what I had learned, a great deal
of which seemed to me at the time to be quite toilsome and often times
quite meaningless, enabled me to do things like spell words I had heard
but had never seen; or to use a dictionary to look up words I didn't
know but could pronounce because I understood phonics. I remember
sounding out a new word in my head then realizing that I had heard the
word in conversation and often knew from context what it meant. Much of
this was self-reinforcing, since I did so much reading outside of
school, as did most of my friends. TV was not part of our daily routine,
and books were our primary source of entertainment/interest; we were not
passive about learning things that were of interest to us because our
education had made us independant learners in spite of ourselves. And
we were independant learners at a fairly young age; we had to be in
order to satisfy our natural curiosity. I did not need to be part of a
group to find a book at the library, and memorizing the basics of
grammar did not traumatize me *that* greatly.

> when I entered college, to make myself a scientist, I was dismayed by a
> Chemistry lecture delivered to 300, but turned on by my course in Ancient
> Greek -- and ended up majoring in the latter. Because I was interested.

But what were you expecting when you entered 3rd grade? or 7th Grade?
(Speaking for myself, I was mostly expecting to eventually become a 4th
grader or an 8th grader...)

> When that toil started feeling meaningless, I switched again, this time to
> poetry, poetics, literary and aesthetic theory in the English tradition.
> When my English professors warned me that all this time fooling with
> computers was better spent delivering conference papers (meaningless toil
> to me) I shrugged them off: by that time I recognized these voices
> sinister, having heard them before. ("Labor is virtuous! You must
> sacrifice what you love!")

I still hear those voices, but I don't listen to them either. That is
because I developed independant thinking skills thanks to my education
which gave me enough basic information to become an effective critical
thinker. The bottom line is that mastering a basic level of
understanding that is fundamental but not intrinsically intersting to
most learners until they can apply it later on (i.e. multiplication
tables, phonics, et. al. when applied to make sense of more interesting
and complex subjects) makes it possible to get through a chemistry
lecture and discover that one prefers Greek or Computer Programming.

My concern is that current practices use techniques that are supposed to
make students feel all warm and fuzzy when what they really need to be
focusing on is mastering the essential basics, which I will repeat and
stand by this: this requires a minimium amount of rote and memorization
in order to learn it quickly and effectively...it is not FUN AND GAMES
but rather *very serious business*! Until we can genetically sequence
the 7's table into human DNA, that is the reality of it, and to avoid
the issue is paramount to criminal negligence.

I have 14 and 15 year old students who:
-cannot tell time using a standard clock.
-cannot calculate problems using simple arithmatic in the course of a
history lesson.
-cannot sequence the 12 months of the year correctly.
-do not know the name of the ocean that lies about 10 miles away from
the school.
-cannot pronounce a word they have never encountered before.
-cannot *copy* the correct spelling of words from one place on paper to

These we things that *we* could all do when we were 10. Why is this so?
I am not going sit here and blame 3 billion years of evolution...

I am wearied by the
> "blame the students" mentality of many who notice the failures in our
> current ways of educating, even when it's disguised within the "students
> are victims: blame the system" topos (blame who?). We do not have to
> mutilate ourselves to be whole. Especially if we've been mutilated in the
> past.

OK, fine. But to me, an unexamined life is not worth living. I am
merely looking at the state of affairs in education, and making what I
believe are accurate diagnoses of *symptoms*. I can find plenty of
*unqualified* criticisms leveled at education. One recent frontpage
story in my local paper told about a teacher standing in line at a
store while someone jeered "Look at the teacher spending all that money
we pay her!"--while she had her arms full of construction paper and
other teaching materials she was buying *with her own money.* Talk
about the problem of perception of education! Bottom line, the "public
opinion" would not be satisified unless we were working for free,
donating a quart of blood every day while curing cancer and the common
cold: I find humility to be the best tool in combating ignorance of
that sort.

However, if anyone *is* qualified to be critical, it should be we in the
profession. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but
it seems like we already have in some respects, and the baby is growing
fangs...It's not a perfect world, but we should not lump the things we
can change with the things we cannot just because the self-examination
process may be painful...complex problems don't solve themselves,
generally. If we didn't have some humanist tendencies or care one way
or the other, we would certainly be doing something else right now. So
what are we going to do? As someone once said, are we going to be part
of the problem here or part of the solution?

> But this is not really about the technology. When is it ever? I want
> to affirm Francois' suggestion that it helps to work among learners at
> different levels (coupled with the implicit observation that large groups
> isolate us), and in an environment where mistakes and failures are valued
> for the experience they bring. Our intelligence is quickened by rubbing up
> against the world. Students only need some confidence and perspective to
> go with the desire they already have.

I agree entirely. We need to be enthusiastic about learning around our
students: it does rub off. But here are the stakes: computer
technology is here. It is moving into the classroom and is already
becoming deeply embedded in society. TV was hailed as a vast
improvement in communcation and many believed it would become an active
agent in education--instead it has contributed to the creation of a
generation of passive, disinterested learners. Let us not allow the
same thing to happen again. If educators as a group do not try to
become active in the process of computerization of education, then we
will have no one else to blame if it fails to rectify the current
"crisis in education." Vote early and often, I say. This is where our
humanist tendencies can really be of service: in the face of such
daunting (to the uninitiated) technology and change, let's find a way to
marry the values of good old-fashioned humanist curriculum with the new
standard of technology. We can't go backward, but for God's sake let's
have something to do with how we are going forward. That's all. Very
simple. Thank you.

But isn't it sad when we Humanists
> forget about Eros?

Well, *I'm* not doing this for the money...


Mark Gardner

Date: Tue, 8 Apr 1997 09:47:56 GMT0BST
From: Francois Crompton-Roberts <F.Crompton-Roberts@qmw.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: Times & standards

> It took all of us many tedious hours of what we believed to be
> meaningless toil before we realized that "knowledge for knowledge sake"
> was a worthy end unto itself, and then began to *really* learn things
> not because we had to but because we wanted to.

Indeed. In the UK we are in the throes of an election campaign and I
am despirited by the two main contenders' attitude to education:-

"Education is a Right" proclaims one side,

"Education is a Privilege" replies the other (or words that imply it).

Yet if you ask anyone undergoing education what they are studying
today, you will hear "Ugh, trig!" or "Ugh, Jane Austen!" or "Ugh,
tort!" or "Ugh! almost anything...". This is not new, I remember the
same sinking feeling half a century ago! Which all goes to show that
it is not a pleasurable activity (Princess Anne, the Chancellor of my
University, is on the record as having described going to College
as "a much overrated pastime" and that is quite true).

The notion that I would like to suggest is rather old-fashioned these
days. It is that _education is a duty_. You have not fulfilled your
contract with society until you have failed an exam, that is pursued your
education until you have reached your limit. Only then is your duty
to educate yourself to the maximum of your abilities performed.

Alas, if only a political party would reflect this approach, it would
certainly get my vote...

Francois C-R

Date: Tue, 8 Apr 1997 03:25:22 -0400 (EDT)
From: Haradda@aol.com
Subject: Re: 10.0834 times & standards

I have been thinking about this for the last few days. I think that there is
a viris that attacks boys when they get to be about 13 that gets them off
track as it come to education. They just don't see any purpose in school.
We use our schools to slow down people. To keep them from getting out and
doing purposeful useful things with their life. To keep them off the job
market I have to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping my children on
track. Keeping them them motivated to do the busy work that they are getting
in school. I spend hours at night pushing them to do the extra math, read
the important books and talk about the gols they should be making. A few
years ago my oldest son started having problems with math and I started
toutoring him at night. I went in to speak to his math teacher and I was
told that my son was an excellent student and I souldn't be concerned about
him because he would eventually get it and that he didn't have the problems
that the other kids in his classes had. The teacher had at least 20 children
that were being abused. Two of them had attempted suicide within the
previous two weeks. He said that my son would figure it out eventually and
that I wasn't supposed to worry about it. That in fact I had nothing to
worry about with my son.
I believe that we are spliting up in a societ where we have two groups the
specialists who rule and the unwashed masses who are ruled. We have dumbing
down because uneducated people are easier to control than educated people.
Educated people cause lots of trouble unless they are co-opted.
My children laugh at me when I say that video games are the revenge of Japan.
But they like TV distract you from payhing attention to the world, to
society, to your family. The problem that I see it is that we have very few
self actuated people. The educational system is against it, the controling
culture is against it, the political structure is against it. I tell my
children that it is still possible to learn anything that you want to learn.
There are still libraries and there are still schools and universities that
you can go to take the classes that you want and need. There are so many
resources on the web that you can read. People that you can learn from.
But you have to want to do that. My father use to say,"That you can lead a
child to water but you can't make him think." You have to be able to
motivate people into learning what they need so that they can do anything
they want.