Tag Archives: education

Those who can do, teach. Those who can’t do, bitch.

So I read this article that really got my goat about how young people are idiots.  It’s the standard blubber about how kids today are so addled by technology and instant gratification and being raised to have too much self-esteem.  What a load of tripe.  It makes me feel ranty.  Indulge me while I quote:

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter “literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else.”

While it may be mildly sad that this woman’s daughter does not have the mechanical wherewithal to figure out the workings of a can opener on her own, it is the mother who is the far bigger dumbass in this scenario.  How about getting off your duff and showing your kid how the bloody thing works by using it in front of her once?  I am so weary of the type of parent who disdains her children because they do not know what she should have taught them in the first place.

By teaching someone something, you do not only teach them the material at hand; you model for them a mode of being that (a) propagates civilization from one generation to the next and (b) happens to be really fun.  Isn’t teaching kids how to get along in the world the whole point of having them?  Are there people out there who have children because they think it will be fun to spend a few years sleepless and buried and poop, not to mention being crippled financially for decades?  It is watching those kids emerge from the primordial soup of their inchoate consciousness that is so wonderful–it is them knowing something because you taught it to them that makes the whole life-altering endeavor worthwhile.  And they are dying to learn, they are mewling with their maws open for you to feed them the world.

Yes, occasionally you run into a surly, spoiled kid who doesn’t give a shit.  As one who has worked in the educational system, I will tell you that such a child is the exception rather than the rule.  I have been consistently moved by the boundless curiosity of the young.  It would befit their elders not to lose this quality.

So, if your kid can’t figure out a seemingly simple mechanical task, may I humbly suggest that it would be more productive for you, the child, and the human race as a whole if you simply show the kid how to do it rather than bitch that they can’t.  And if you must be aghast at their incompetence, do so quietly, feeling a healthy twinge of responsibility that you saddled them with your poor can’t-figure-out-a-can-opener genes in the first place.

Okay, I feel better.  I will now resume life.

tell us this is going somewhere

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a fantastically fun text to teach.  It’s rowdy, hilarious, a touch dangerous.  It’s about conformity and imprisonment, themes that will be of special interest to any student.  A section that is especially worthy of discussion is the revelation that all of the inmates save McMurphy are in the asylum voluntarily.  Why are they there?  A rich and puzzling question to answer.  At that point I always like to say, “it’s a lovely day outside today.  Why did you decide to come here, to this airless, windowless basement room to have me talk at you for two hours?  Why are you here, now?”

because we’re expected to be
because they made us
because we’re bored
on the off chance you’ll say something interesting
on the off chance you’ll embarrass yourself
because a friend is here
because we lack imagination
we have nowhere else to be
because it’s better than a job
because it’s  better than nothing
because we’re scared
because we’re curious
because we paid for it
it’s not so bad
who says we’re really here?
because we don’t want them to hurt us
because we don’t want to hurt them
we want a future
they tell us we have no future unless we’re here
we’re used to it
we hope you’ll teach us something
tell us something that’ll make us ready for out there
because you’re kind of funny
because this a break from our other classes
because it’s required
(at least we think so)
(that’s what they tell us anyway)
because it fits into our schedule
because this is where everyone else is
we don’t want to be left out
on the off chance something weird happens
it gives us something to do
we’re used to it
it’s not so bad
we want
hey, why are you here, anyway?
tell us
this is going somewhere

domesticating subversive elements

From the Awesome Files: more people have reached my blog in the past month by looking up “Cheez Doodles” than my name.  This is due, of course, to this post.  Plus there has also been an uptick in public Cheez Doodle curiosity due to the fact that Morrie Yohai, Doodle Creator, died recently.  His life was kind of awesome.  I recommend googling him.

Lately I have been chatting with the English editor about the UK edition of my book.  There will be a few textual differences, plus the afterword will be a foreword because their copyright laws over there are intense.  You have to be really careful when writing a work of fiction based on actual artifacts, so much so that they are trying to cram my lyrical, dreamy-eyed background story full of painfully awkward legalese.  Ouch.  Such is life.

Lately I have also done a whole bunch of messing around with this blog.  If you’ve visited more than once in the the past couple of days, you’ve probably seen the color scheme change.  For a while I had it set up as white text on a black background.  It looked kind of sexy and made photos really pop, but I received such vociferous objections to its illegibility that I backed off into this cream-and-blue color scheme.  Not quite as striking, and thus it should prove less offensive to certain visual sensibilities.  Oh, and guess what?  I added an “events” page!  Because I am starting to get booked for events!  Very exciting.  I also added a placeholder “press” page.  Do check it in you’re in the mood for goofiness.  If you click on the photos, you can see them in their full-sized glory.

Today I read this rather interesting article on Slate called “The strange comforts of reading Mark Twain in the age of oppositional defiant disorder.”  It does offer some cheer with its sweetly quaint observation that children have always been the same, before their behaviors were pathologized with excessive medical diagnoses.  I didn’t buy the pat faux-nostalgia at the end of the article though.  Things were better for rowdy children in the nineteenth century because they could grow up to strike out into the wilderness?  Please.

Yes, the way we castrate the brains of unmanageable children with medication is shameful.  But it wasn’t any easier to be different back then.  Shaming and brutal corporal punishment don’t sound all that much more humane than Ritalin to me.  The truth is that society always has and always will attempt to smother subversive elements.  That is a great deal of what education is for.  Do you remember, I mean truly remember, how awful school could be?  I recall quite vividly sitting in science class in ninth grade, so painfully bored that my very personhood was slowly unwinding like fraying rope.  I was stuck there on my awful little hard stool between two shitheads too vain to get glasses who constantly tore mine off my face, without request or warning, when they needed to read something off the board.  I was quite convinced that when I entered that room, some lever was pulled that actually warped spacetime to make one hour into five.  One day it was so terrible that I wept, quiet and unseen.

This sort of dehumanizing, life-draining bullshit is what they do to prisoners to break them.  We do this to our children, every day.  Before I went to college, school was a veritable Calvary.  The most stimulating classes were, at best, barely tolerable.  They did teach me something valuable: how to float outside myself, how to ignore authority in a way that looked like cooperation in order to be left alone.  Most children are not gifted with my strange little mystic tendencies, however.  They will make their suffering known.

You might ask how I wound up working in, of all places, the educational system.  One of the reasons is that I wanted to give my students little glimmers of life from inside the grinding guts of the machine.  You will not believe how gratefully students react when you tell them something true, something a little wild that they are not used to hearing inside a classroom.  Literature is full of subversive elements, and bringing those out in an institutional setting can be liberating, thrilling even.  You don’t have to destroy the tidy little box society tucks you into, but sometimes–sometimes you really have to give it the finger.  Just that, just this tiny gesture of fuck you, I will not want what you tell me to want can be enough to stay alive.  I assure you, there are few things as wonderful as watching a room full of exhausted students domesticated by an oppressive educational system realize this.