Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Posts tagged ‘Knowledge’

Seven in Nine

Jen Wagner tagged me for this meme where I’m supposed to list 7 things you don’t know about me.  It seemed like the perfect post to revive my dormant blog in 2009.

Happy New Year!

me-with-pocahontas-in-the-barn#1.  I got a pony and joined 4-H when I was eight years old.  I was too inexperienced to ride at my first county fair, so I was the stable girl.  We won the Golden Shovel award because I shoveled stalls so well!  I got a huge pink ribbon and my my first picture in the local newspaper.  I still have both the ribbon and the newspaper article.

#2.  I studied & traveled in Europe for 7 months when I was 19 years old.  I happened to arrive in Vienna, Austria just before the funeral of the last Hapsburg queen.  There was NO PLACE to stay overnight and no trains where we were headed, so my three traveling companions and I accepted the offer of a stranger in the train station to stay in the living room at his “boarding house.”  We slept on the floor in a roughly constructed “living room” and never saw another person there (he left as he was not, apparently, living there). It was very weird.  We left quickly very early the next morning when my friend woke up with a rose on her pillow!

#3.  In July 1992, I sang in Carnegie Hall with Akron’s Masterworks Chorale under the direction of THE John Rutter.  We sang Mozart’s Requiem and some Rutter works.  It was amazing!

#4.  I knew I wanted to marry John on December 28th, 1992 and wrote him a letter that day that I gave him when we got married.  He proposed on New Year’s Eve 1992, but we didn’t get married until October 22, 1994.  Sadly, the letter got lost sometime on our wedding day and was never seen again.

#5.  John planned our entire honeymoon himself and didn’t tell ANYONE  – including me – the destination.  I didn’t figure out where we were going until we got there – 24 hours after the wedding.  My mom insisted on knowing how to contact us in case of an emergency, so John said he’d leave her an envelope.  The envelope actually contained a note that said, “We’ll be back on October 29th” with no other info.  The envelope was never opened and is in our wedding scrapbook to this day!  My mom never knew.

#6.  When we learned we were going to have a baby, John and I read every book we could, went to all the recommended birthing classes and made a 3 page birth plan (yes, it’s in Emily’s scrapbook!).  Virtually nothing went according to plan – especially the emergency C-section.  In fact, “Nothing goes according to plan” is a pretty good definition of parenthood.  Megan was a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section), so I have experienced both type of infant deliveries.  (The C-section was MUCH easier!)

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#7.  In our pre-romance years, John and I played pinball on a Williams Cyclone machine at the student center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  Three years ago this coming April, we found a full-sized, working 1988 Williams Cyclone pinball machine on Ebay which now lives in our basement.  This machine actually came from Middletown, Ohio near Oxford where we went to school!

So now you know FAR more about me than you wanted or needed to.  Apparently, the last step in this process is for me to”tag” 7 more people to participate in this meme.  In the interest of continuing to get to know more personally the authors of the blogs I frequently read, the following folks should consider themselves tagged – and YOU should definitely check out their interesting blogs!

Bonnie Stewart from Crib Chronicles

Lisa Palumbo from qualcosa di bello

Julie Styles Mills from Pragmatic Compendium

Sarah Rohrer from A Princess and A Sailor

Allen from blog of kaiyen

Amber G from Skyward Journey and amber g photography

Jules from The Way I See It, Generosiprocity,and Late to Life (which I just found TODAY!)

Learning Today

This article on the Taste of Tech blog states, “I worry about how K-12 education can remain relevant and engaging as we continue to filter out anything that’s not on a test.”

The information may remain relevant, but not engaging. I think that’s why kids start to view school as a chore by 4th or 5th grade. (You hardly ever hear kids in lower grades complain about going to school – they almost all start out loving it). We have already seen a dramatic increase in testing and teaching to the test materials this year with our 3rd grader. Grades, test scores, and levels all matter to her a lot more now than they did last year.

The way in which material is typically presented slows down the learning process in an age when there is so much more to learn and so many more ways to learn it. Listening to a lecture IS typically boring. But creating dynamic, interactive, multi-sensory learning is hard within the current school structures of fixed class periods, divided subject matter, and fact memorization. Heck, I can’t even make a one hour Sunday School class interesting to 7th through 12th graders! I can’t imagine trying to do it day after day for a 6 hour school day. (This is why I’m not a school teacher, so don’t get too worried).

What’s worse is that parents are blocking educational progress as much as anyone. The attitude I see weekly is that “if my kid ISN’T being taught the same way I was, there must be something wrong with the school or teacher.” The reality is that if your kid IS being taught the same way, that’s the larger problem. It is hard to imagine a better way to learn than the one you personally experienced. After all, we came out ok, didn’t we? But the world today is FAR different than the one in which we grew up.

My kids are still talking about visiting Plimouth Plantation last summer, where they got to see, taste, smell, Megan Grinds Maizetouch, and live life in 1628. Before they went, they watched the PBS Kids show “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” where they watched other kids complete reality-tv-show-like challenges in Plimoth. So when they got there, there was huge satisfaction in being somewhere they’d seen on tv.

Then last fall, our 1st grader studied Plimoth at school with the incredible Mrs. Hricik. She taught our daughter and her class even more about that time in history through an interactive game, online research, hands-on building experiment, food tasting, and team activity that captured for the kids the emotional, human side of the pilgrims’ story. It was all capped with a program for parents and relative consisting of a series of short skits interspersed with factual presentations for those kids not as interesting in acting.

The beauty of this type of teaching is that it was relevant to a 1st grader’s perspective, engaged all types of learners in the class, involved all their senses in the learning, used a variety of media, and captured the human experience. You can bet the kids in this class will remember this info in context for years to come – and not because they needed to know it for any test. THIS is TRUE learning.

It’s also why we parents have to be engaged in our children’s education from day one. Children are natural scientists and eager learners. My kids were learning in formal and informal ways years before they started school. Learning happens through play, travel, experimentation, and observation of the world around us. It happens when we talk about something that just happened that wasn’t planned or expected. Learning doesn’t stop after school or in the summer. Learning happens in the tiny questions that pop up unexpectedly as we spend time together. This is self-guided learning; it is this type of learning that is lost when children spend more hours in daycare than they do at home with parents who care about answering the incessant barrage of questions that everyday life raises for younger children.

No Books to Read

This article on CNN today was supposed to be a quick read, but it stopped me in my tracks. This man from Ethiopia received a $1200 grant twenty-two years ago to buy books for the children in his home country – but he couldn’t because there weren’t any books written in the language. Can you imagine that? NO BOOKS written in that language, and no books relating the stories, poems, songs, history, and culture of an entire people. That boggles my mind.

So what did he do? He became an author! Bravo. He has since established a children’s library of 15,000 books in Ethiopia.

This story reminded me not to take for granted the vast wealth of knowledge and access to knowledge that my family and I enjoy every day.

Dumbledore: Does it Matter?

In the most earth-shattering Harry Potter news since book 7 was released this past July, author J.K. Rowling revealed at a reading at Carnegie Hall last night that she “always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”

harry-potter-7-release-night-in-hudson-oh.jpgAs a devoted Harry Potter fan (albeit a relative Johnny-come-lately since I didn’t catch on to the pheonomenon until 2002, several years after book 4 was published and before book 5), I must admit that I was shocked by this news – but mostly because that possibility had never really entered my mind! I regularly read The Leaky Cauldron for all news Potter, but I don’t read or post on Potter chat boards or read fan fiction where Dumbledore’s sexual orientation had apparently been questioned before.

I knew immediately that this news would cause a huge uproar, so it’s been interesting to watch the comments on Leaky and in blogs across the ‘net.

There are two sad things happening. First, that SO MANY people are saying that this news will give “Christians” another reason to hate the book. Those folks are very wrong. I believe that people who oppose the content of the book in the name of Christianity are misappropriating the title (of “Christian,” that is). The central message of the series isn’t witchcraft or homosexuality, but the power of pure, selfless love. And that’s the ultimate message Christ was sent to earth to reiterate to humanity.

The second sad thing I see is people questioning their own love of the character based on this new information. What has changed about Dumbledore? Not one thing, really! So why would someone who loved the character before feel any different today?

When I was in college, a dear friend of mine revealed that he was gay. I was taken aback at the time, and unsure how I would – or should – interact with him. But after much thought, I realized that not one thing had changed. Everything I loved about him as a person and a friend was just the same. He hadn’t chosen to be this way – no one grappling with the pain of denying who (s)he is for years upon years would choose that struggle – but even if he had, I don’t think it would have mattered.

Some people are criticizing Rowling for revealing this information about Dumbledore. I’m seeing comments like, “If his sexual orientation was so important, why didn’t she make it more apparent in the books?” The answer is that it WASN’T important! In fact, she revealed this aspect of the character for the same reason she has been revealing so many deeper aspects of so many of the characters – in response to direct questions from fans who, like me, have been so drawn into the multi-dimensional characters she created and fleshed out that we just can’t learn enough about them. (Thank heavens they are only characters in a book because it’s positively voyeuristic the way we crave more details about their lives!)

I’ve also seen some comments now criticizing Rowling’s humanization of Dumbledore in book 6 and 7, questioning whether she is somehow stereotyping homosexuals by making him more human. This is just patently ridiculous. In contrast to the first 5 books, when the character is less developed and more single-sided, the Dumbledore we know and love by the end of book 7 is revealed as more human, more capable of human failings and frailties, and yet more heroic and beloved in spite of – and possibly because of – them. In this age of flat, one-sided fantasy t.v. characters, Rowling’s devotion to very imperfect human characters is admirable.

[By the way, please don’t misunderstand me. I do NOT think homosexuality is an imperfection. Dumbledore’s human frailties, as discussed in the books and by Rowling herself, include an early lust for and potential to abuse power, a desire to manipulate and control people around him, and the tendency to trust people who perhaps should not be trusted.]

Baby, You CAN Drive My Car!

We need to redefine “education” in this country and we need to do it NOW.

Education in the 21st century must NOT emphasize memorization of facts and figures. Back in the 19th century (and even into the early 20th) information was not easily accessible – books were still a cherished sign of wealth – so it made sense for schools to drill facts and figures which might be needed later into children’s heads. Plus, far fewer people were formally educated, so there were fewer people able to personally pass information on to their children.

Society and culture have changed dramatically in the last 100 years. Information is readily available in books, at libraries, and online. Facts don’t need to be memorized, but they DO need to be retrieved efficiently. Education needs teach people how to retrieve the information they need and assimilate it with what they already know. In other words, education needs to teach people how to learn.

I touched on this subject back in August in my blog post titled “Old School Skills” when I argued that though learning to alphabetize is an important foundation skill, being able to look words up in a dictionary isn’t.

Now, I do believe that a certain basic body of factual knowledge is necessary for efficiency. Kids need to quickly recognize by sight commonly used words so they can spend their time comprehending the meaning of the text instead of sounding out. Knowing basic “math facts” quickly allows you the freedom to do more complex math more efficiently. A grasp of a general timeline of basic American and world history helps you see the bigger social picture. These are still “facts” that education should teach.

But over and over again, I interact with adults who rely on their knowledge of facts and have never learned how to learn. The “Taste of Tech” blog has a fantastic entry on this topic.

As an educator, I LOVE teaching people and seeing the virtual cartoon light bulb appear over their heads as they “get it” – that is, when they take a new piece of information, fit it into what they already know, and make it retrievable for them in a new context. But as the “Taste of Tech” blog points out, “If you are writing down step-by-step directions to do things, and blindly following them, you are hopelessly lost in this society. If you cannot do something you’ve never done simply because no one has taken your hand and shown you how to do it, I don’t want you teaching my kids.”

Six weeks ago, I was demonstrating some new software to a small group of people. One person in the group had been using the software for several weeks, had sat with me one-on-one for training, and had attended three other demonstrations in the past two weeks. She asked a very specific and completely off-topic question. So as not to derail the entire group, I mentioned that she could find the answer using the help menu or help icon . This person actually came up to me after the demonstration and asked to be shown the help icon – then tried to write down in her pages of long-hand notes where “help” was.

This person has her own laptop, has been using computers and Microsoft software for years, and was even a long-term school sub and high school teacher – yet she had no idea how to access the help menu. This person does not know how to apply old knowledge to new situations. She does not know how to truly learn.

dodge-charger-rt-2006-20060503040316497.jpgTo me, this is as ridiculous as saying you can’t drive a car because you’ve never driven THIS PARTICULAR car before. Most cars are so similar that 60 seconds of orientation is all you need to be able to drive someone else’s car, because you have a basic body of facts and general knowledge you can apply to this new situation. The key goes in, the ignition is ignited, you shift into drive, and you drive. I can even drive my parent’s 1/2 ton semi truck because the basic principles are the same. Sure, I won’t be as comfortable in an unfamiliar car – just as I’m not as comfortable in a new or different software program – but I know where the steering wheel is, how to work the pedals, and how to use the turn signals.

“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler

Do Not Call

CNN reported last week that the first people who registered their phone numbers on the national “Do Not Call” list will need to re-register in the summer of 2006 to keep their names off the list. This is due to a five-year expiration on requests established when the program started.

There is a legislative effort to make registration permanent and re-registration unnecessary, but until those efforts wind their way through the system, you might want to go to www.donotcall.gov to verify the status of your phone number. It literally takes 30 seconds to enter a phone number and an email, and maybe another minute or two for the information to get to you via email.

The creation of this list did wonders to significantly reduce the number of solicitation calls we received. Now if the government could only create similarly effective “Do Not Mail” and “Do Not Email” lists…

Informed Citizenship

I received a fascinating email today. The email me pointed to the results of a recent congressional vote on an amendment to invoke cloture on a habeas corpus amendment. This email expressed the forceful opinion that anyone who voted against the amendment was “a U.S. traitor.”

That email was quickly followed by a response from someone else wisely suggesting that the original author read the entire bill and all riders attached to it before judging those who voted. The author essentially reminded us that sponsors of amendments and riders often try to attach their legislation to “sure to pass” bills in an attempt to sneak pork through congress.

I did a bit of research myself and was about to “reply all” to add my two cents, when it occurred to me that the issues I was pondering would make for good blog conversation.

According to my brief internet research, “Cloture is the formal procedure used to end a filibuster. It can take up to three days and requires 60 votes. Cloture can also be used even if there is no filibuster underway, to ban non-germane amendments. If cloture wins, 30 additional hours of debate are allowed prior to voting, but they are rarely used. If cloture fails, debate would continue without limits. Instead, the bill is usually set aside.”

By my read, this means that voting FOR cloture truly means voting to limit debate on the issue, which in my mind is bad thing. Granted, failure often means the bill is set aside, but that’s a different matter and not the REQUIRED outcome of a nay vote on cloture.

Now, further research shows that this specific vote on cloture was held on a habeas corpus amendment which was attached to another amendment to the defense bill – how confusing! And trying to follow sound advice to read the bill and all the riders is practically (and I mean that literally) impossible. There are 96 different amendments to the original bill. The original bill itself is 12 pages of LINKS to text – and there are 4 different versions being considered in congress right now.

How can a relatively educated citizen desiring to be an informed democratic participant dig through this kind of bureaucracy to form an informed opinion?

Thomas Jefferson felt strongly that an informed populace was essential to the preservation of democracy and the avoidance of tyranny. According to data from the US Census Bureau, my attainment of a master’s degree places me among the top 12% of the U.S. population in terms of education. Yet I still often feel stupid when it comes to trying to be an informed citizen.

If we need to be educated and informed to preserve our democracy, yet even someone who should be considered educated often feels thwarted in her efforts to become informed, what does this imply for the future of our democratic republic?

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