Friday, June 17, 2005

Schooling is not education

I had an unusual educational experience growing up.

I clued into the fact that adults ask children to do strange and impenetrable things for no reason. In kindergarden we were to sit at our desks that had three sided shields taped on and solve a whole bunch of puzzles on paper. It was an IQ test. At other times we would have to trace out numbers and letters on weirdly colored pieces of paper, a color-blindness test. But I learned that no matter how strange it was just go along with whatever the adults wanted and they would be happy.

Of course there were more adults in my life then the teacher. My dad worked for PanAm and he would learn of all kinds of great deals in various parts of the world so it was not unusual for us to take a vacation during the school year, so I had to learn to learn on my own. Which came in very handy later.

Not that the school system didn't try. I ended up in speech therapy for a couple of years, which I though was odd, while I realized that I said a few words differently then the others no one really complained, besides I talked just like my dad. More often then not I was helping the other students who had real problems: stutters, lisps and the like. I also had to make up the lessons that I missed because of that time in therapy, which also made me learn on my own.

Then something strange happened, the speech therapist met my parents, the next day she came to my class early, took me out into the hall and asked my to list a bunch of words starting with various letters and sounds. Then she said something along the lines of, "You did great, you don't have to come to my class any more. Good-bye." Even I thought that was strange, but later learned that after talking to my parents she noticed that their English wasn't great because they were immigrants. Though ever since I have worked on making sure I speak as well as I can.

These were things that were the result of well meaning teacher trying to do their best, but then there were things that just seem crazy at best, active sabotage at worst. In junior high they kept moving me around into different classes, often more advanced, but after a month in the regular class I was way behind the others in the advanced class. I caught up but I wanted to, many of the other students won't have cared that much. The math teacher got a laugh out of my first hand-in, she was talking about squaring and cubing numbers, but I didn't yet know what they were, so I drew squares and cubes around the numbers.

Chemistry was much worse, being dumped into the middle of hydrates and oxides when the other class was still on atoms was a real pain, I got by but I don't feel I ever had a good chemistry teacher. Because of that I am somewhat indifferent to chemistry, but I do like it when it comes to cooking. But then cooking is the practical application of physics, thermodynamics, chemistry and biology to create food.

Most of my learning came from the textbooks and well timed questions. A well-timed question in class was invaluable. Teachers loved having a question that segued into the next thing they needed to talk about, but they would talk about it in a helpful way if you asked the right kind of question. Most of the time I could get several of my questions asked without asking them. It wouldn't work on teachers who didn't know the subject of course. They would talk for a long time and then ask if that answered my question, No, I think that they were hoping that I would have forgotten the question by the time they were done and would just say yes to let them keep going. I asked a question on some factor in statistics once and the teacher talked for 20 minutes and didn't even get close to what I was asking about. Back to finding the right answers for myself.


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