Have We Failed Them?

A friend of my son told me that her cohort was the most educated generation ever. I disagreed. I told her that while I believe that hers could claim more degrees and graduations than ever before, I didn’t really believe they were truly educated. I feel like way too many college graduates have, more or less, just spent 4-6 years learning a trade, like engineering, or software, or psychiatry. They have a LOT of knowledge in a narrow field of study or two. They don’t come out exposed to the ideas and having had the struggles that teach a person how to use that knowledge in a wise way. For the most part, they aren’t exposed to the great literature, even English majors read excerpts and synopses. They’ve memorized a few dates of events and the capitals of a lot of the countries of the world, but they aren’t taught how empires rise and fall, how history can spin on the smallest of incidents.

This is not necessarily the students’ fault, though they could do much to educate themselves while they were studying for their degree. I believe our schools have failed them and failed us. We depend on this rising generation for their innovation and creative abilities to improve life on earth.

The imagination and curiosity killing starts in kindergarten.

“Don’t explore and play and think; sit here in this chair and color this sheet. No, don’t color it blue. It’s obviously an apple; it must be red.

“I don’t care that numbers ‘just work together’ in your head and you always get the right answer. I care that you follow this strict procedure, carefully and laboriously writing each smidgen of information down, in the proper order. No, 3 x 4 is NOT the same thing as 4 x 3 and 12/4 is not division, it’s fractions, and we won’t be getting to either of those things until next year.”

This is not a rant about it being better in the old days. This is not new in the high schools. It was the same when I was there. I didn’t learn to think and learn and explore and grow. I learned to game the system. Nowadays most kids learn early how to game the system and to do it better than I did. They learn what’s important. Like forming straight lines on the way to the cafeteria. Like making sure you fill in the entire bubble on the score sheet. Like finding out what the teacher wants and giving it to her by memorizing just enough to get by on the quizzes. And you learn to go to the pep rally to cheer on the “real” important high school subjects—sports, and winning at all cost.

What’s changed is that now that whole attitude of making kids open their brains to be spoon fed only what they need to get a job, or into law school or the like, has crept upwards and outwards until colleges are just 13th grade. Plus, going to college is so expensive that you have to rush through as fast as you can, getting the minimum amount of credits however you can. There’s no exploring. There’s no asking questions that won’t be on the test. There’s no remembering or letting what you’ve learned influence you beyond the test. High school was like that when I was there, but college wasn’t. We were exposed to a wide variety of thoughts and ways of thinking. We were challenged to examine our own shortcomings and areas of prejudice. We were exposed to new ideas that our teenage brains just hadn’t been ready for.

Now, kids are exposed to almost everything (thanks TV and internet) at a younger and younger age. This has not increased their thinking skills. It has inoculated them against surprise. It has made them think that because they heard about something when they were nine, that they understand it with the depth of a mature human. They read graphic novels of the great literary books and say they read the book. They can’t be forced to read the “dense” prose of even a couple of hundred years ago.

That’s a large part of why I homeschooled. I didn’t want my boys spoon-fed the “correct” curriculum. I tried to show them a broad range of thoughts and thinking and how to apply their thinking and analyzing to anything they encounter. To be able to learn anything they want to or need to. —If you don’t know something, get some books and find out about it. If you need to do something you’ve never done before, figure out how to learn to do it. Don’t be afraid to take on new things.

That’s how we get innovators, leaders, and artists.

If you disagree (or agree) I would love to discuss this in the comments

A Little Goes a Long Way…

Sometimes writers believe that adding a touch of their natural speak helps the reader feel more comfortable with their words. I believe this to be true to a point.

If you read Stephen King, you can almost hear that New England accent from many of the actors in his movies. If you read Charlaine Harris, you can hear the Southern drawl of the people from Bon Temps, Louisiana. Having that speech in your mind helps the reader hear what the characters are feeling as well as what they are saying.

But a little can go a long way in the written words. When the conversation of the novel or other work is so abbreviated or drawn out that it impedes the reading of the text, that is too much. A well placed “Y’all” isn’t too bad but making the Southern (or any other) lingo so heavy that it is unreadable or understandable defeats the purpose of writing the story.

This link provides an interesting view on when the use of translators is necessary even for people who are speaking the same language:

http://brave-new-words.blogspot.com/2006/12/translators-responsibilities-when.html 

Which brings me to another point. In worldwide blogging, we often run into blogs written in the native language of the posting person rather than automatically to American or British English. There is always a button at the top of the blog which asks if you wish to translate. I’m always uncertain about using the translate button. We’ve learned from auto fill on our texts that what we meant to say is not what is sent a good portion of the time. How do we know that the translate button really works? How do we know we are reading what the posting person wrote or felt?

It is a quandary I am facing daily. For the people who often use the translate button, how well do you believe it translates what might be regional or other versions of the basic language?

I would like to know your feelings.

Photo Credit: How many languages are there in the world? Stephen R. Anderson  https://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/how-many-languages-are-there-world 

 

What Makes Us Great?

Genius, talent, luck. What do those mean? Are they important? Can they be acquired, or are you born with them?

“You’re so talented. It’s easy for you.” Is this a compliment? Or have you just made someone’s ability mean nothing? Have you just demoted an accomplishment down to meaninglessness because of some magic called talent? Did you just tell that person that you know they didn’t really do this great art or music—that it’s just an accident of the universe and they happened to be standing in the lucky line when gifts were handed out?

All of us admire the gifted, the talented, the brilliant. And yet, some tiny little piece of our hearts will always be just a teensy bit jealous, too. We wanted to do that, or something like it. Why didn’t/couldn’t we accomplish something like what that artist over there did? It couldn’t possibly be that the artist put in hours and long hours of practice or struggle to reach their height of ability. Could it be that the talented artist had the maturity and level of introspection to say, “I can do this better,” while the most of us stop at, “Well, I could never do that”? It’s easier to just pretend talent is some magical gift that falls out of the sky on someone’s head.

Though largely discredited as taking an idea too far, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that talent was built. That 10,000 hours (his magic number) would make anyone a genius. Yet we see plenty examples of that not happening. A person practices years and years, every day on the piano, and indeed becomes perfect—as far as technique is concerned. However, listening to that person doesn’t move you, any more than listening to a machine play the piano would. That person didn’t love what she was doing. She was just working. She got what she put into it. Technical skill.

What does that talented person, that Yo Yo Ma or Albert Einstein, have that mere mortals don’t? That takes an act and makes it art?

Love. And stubbornness. And the ability to honestly examine themselves and to not be afraid.

People who become the greatest at something become that way because they have found something in themselves that they love, and love so much that they are willing to put in all the effort and denial and struggle that it takes to achieve that something. Talent is hard work and sometimes sacrifice. It’s scary, and people are afraid. It’s much easier to say, “Oh I could never do that,” than to be driven to struggle until yes, in fact, you can do that.

Artists who achieve greatness all feel driven by their creative spirit. They don’t think what they’re doing is easy. It’s not. Talent takes that interest or aptitude of a child and pushes him to learn, and create and refine. In the end, the genius (artist, etc.) makes it look easy. But you are only seeing the fine, finished effort.

Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of all time discovered his love for working with stone at a mere 6 years old. Luckily for the world, he had people and opportunities around him that allowed him to fully explore and practice that love, and a teacher that told him, “Talent is cheap; Dedication is costly,” thus setting him on the road to practicing and commitment. Still, it took 24 years of dedicated learning and apprenticeship to be ready to create his David. What are you willing to put 24 years into? That’s your talent.

I believe we all have some talents or another. It might be painting, or mathematical theory, or baking bread. It’s up to each of us to find that “gift” and to make it a reality.

Talent is not magic, and just because someone makes his or her endeavor look easy doesn’t mean it is.

 

 

 

Introverts vs Extroverts

It’s finally time to admit it.

I really, really like to think I’m an introvert. I do cherish quiet and alone time. I think I’m shy and retiring, and willing to let others take the stage. I think I couldn’t possibly be an extrovert.

But I am.

I don’t go out in groups that often, but when I do, I love being there. I have no trouble taking part in the conversations and I come home feeling energized and thinking I really should do this more often. These are not the qualities of an introvert.

I’m just a careful, considered extrovert. I want the attention, and to give others attention, but I’m selective about who I want to give that to. And who I want to receive that energy from.

No matter how extroverted you are, there are people that just drain you.

I wonder how many people who think they are introverts really are just surrounded by tiresome people. You simply don’t realize that social interactions don’t suck the life out of you because you’ve surrounded yourself with the wrong people. The people who would suck the life out of even the most manic of extroverts.

Be careful of the company you keep. They often end up influencing, if not defining, your view of the world and of yourself. If you are spending time with people you have to recover from, you are wasting your life energy.

Introverts and extroverts alike need reinforcement and positive feed back. If you’re an introvert, maybe the quiet time spent with a friend lifts you up. If you’re an extrovert, time spent laughing with several friends can lift you up.

I am lucky to have a wonderful mix of introvert and extrovert friends that help make my life full and complete. Thank you, you know who you are.

The important thing is to know which you are, and not fool yourself (like I’ve been doing) into trying to feed your soul from the wrong wellspring.

 

Real Life, Death and Everything

Life has hit me pretty hard of late. Just as the family was planning a Mother’s day celebration in conjunction with Thomas’s birthday, I received news that my stepmother, Jean, had died. It hit me harder than you would have thought losing “just” a stepmother should; it hit me harder than I could have imagined.

Mind you this was not totally unexpected. She was 77, and had been in decline for over a year. But as much as you prepare for something, as much as you think you’re ready, you’re not. There is no way to prepare for something like this. I cried like the 6-year old I was back when she became my stepmother. There was no thinking, only feeling. And sobbing. And, like a 6-year old, I called my mommy. At 2 AM. Only vaguely coherent. But she did the right thing, just comforting me until I got the words out. She was there for me. After all, she’d loved Jean too. Everyone had.

Jean was one of those people that just made you happy by being there. She was open to any and every person that walked through her door. She helped several teens by taking them in until it was safe to go home. The door to her and my dad’s house was never locked. Even if they weren’t home, you were welcome to come in, sit down, and have a glass of tea.

I didn’t come to live with her until I was 15, but those 3 years before college helped me grow in ways I didn’t know I could grow. I learned a different way of looking at things and a different way of being. I became a calmer, kinder, gentler person because she was kind and caring and poured her strength into you. All the kids and teens that knew her would tell you so. Your anger or fear or meanness just didn’t faze her. She reached out and helped you release it.

Others have said that the world is a littler darker without her. But I refuse to let that be. Jean wouldn’t want us to forget her love and comfort and be bereft. Her legacy lives on in me, and my brothers and sisters and countless friends of ours. We are now all her light. We can continue to live in the light, and with kindness, and she will always be here.

We love you, Jean.

 

Motivation

I completely lack motivation these days. A friend told me that it’s not about Motivation, it’s about Discipline. I should set goals with intermediate achievements sprinkled in as “mini goals”  and have an accountability buddy. It seems so easy when he says it. He said signing up for a class or a group would make me participate. It sounded good, and I tried it. And if I were a high schooler trying to make the grades to for getting into an Ivy League college, that would be seriously true.

Truth is, adults make excuses, and since there’s no teacher, no life changing goal, we excuse ourselves from the activity  “just this week.”

Adults need true motivations. Discipline is just another type of motivation. If you don’t have someone standing over you with a whip, discipline is just another inside motivation. You know that since you’re an adult, people will give you a pass on anything that their life doesn’t depend on. We need to bring back tests and roadblocks that allow a person to go on. Tae Kwon Do is a lot like that. Your goal is that black belt and the respect of your classmates. Plus you cannot progress to the next belt until you pass the test. Maybe support groups and learning groups should consider this.

Yes, I’m trying to find someone else to blame my failures on. It was too big of a responsibility.

We’re all just tired.

I am tired.

Not sleepy; I get plenty of sleep. Not physically tired, except right after exercise, of course. Not really even stressed and mentally tired, which is what most people I talk to are. Or think they are. I think it’s not really even that.

It seems like everyone I talk to is just plain tired. They would just like to set their burdens down for a little while. A friend said, “I just want to not be responsible.” She was “joking” she quickly claimed after that, with a nervous smile, afraid and not wanting me to see the cracks in her perfect life. But I know truth when I hear it.

I think we are all heart-heavy tired. We’ve gone as long as we can as fast as we can, being as perfect as we can. And we’re doing it all alone. We can’t admit to each other that we need help. We post all the good stuff on the social media. Proof that we are leading wonderful lives. We can’t post the bad stuff without carefully sanitizing and downplaying it. And then (if we dare have a flaw) we have to endure all the cheerful, well meaning advice and prayers and guaranteed cures and simple fixes. It seems ungrateful to not then perk right up.

We can’t confide in a friend that we ache, with a weariness deep down in our bones.

We are exhausted. But we look around, in this fast lane, and everyone else seems to be just zooming by. They all have their own lives, their own stresses. What right have we to slow them down?

We can’t even whisper about how close to the edge we are; it’s too scary. Speaking it aloud might make it too real.

Guess what. It’s real.

This rush rush I’m perfect madness can’t continue forever.

We can’t go on, shut up in our little bubbles of required enthusiasm.

I’ll go first, make it easier for you.

I’m weak, and frail, and exhausted. I’m just a hair’s width on this side of empty. I need your company, and your honesty, and your shared insecurity. I need to feel that you understand. And I need you to need me back, to let me walk in your darkness with you. To let me see that you’re not perfect either. To just sit quietly and hold hands, and be. Not fix each other, not judge or advise. Just be.

Don’t worry, I can handle it. It’s sort of magic that way. Everything we give each other, both good and bad, creates that energy, that Life that we need to keep going, to “fill our tanks back up.”

And thanks. For just letting me say that.