Category Archives: Education Commentary
I walk my kid to school every morning, and every morning we “philosophize” about stuff. It’s really just me asking questions about what he thinks about things (why is a leaf pile more fun than a dirt pile? for example) and sometimes me talking about how the world and nature works and him listening (the effects of the space vacuum on the resistance of things and gravity was the latest one), but “philosophizing” will do.
Yesterday as we walked to school I recited for him my favorite poem-within-a-poem, Wordsworth’s “Spots of Time”. The text of the poem is as follows:
There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.
To me, the poem has always been about the power of memory and imagination, and how when one is depressed one can call upon their memories to feel uplifted. I asked my kid what he thought it was about. “Trampolines”, he said. Confused, I asked him to elaborate.
“Spots are round right?” he asked.
“Sure”, I replied.
“Well trampolines are round too”, he asserted.
“Ok and what else?” I asked.
“And in a trampoline when you jump you jump really really really high and when you fall down it it YOU JUMP ANYWAYS HURAGHRGUFRAGHUR” (that last bit was him laughing at the idea of falling on a trampoline).
So he explained the spot, he explained the “when high more high and lifts us up when fallen” parts, but then I asked him “what about the part of the poem that says that spots of time make you feel nourished and refreshed when you feel sad?” He simply replied “well trampolines are fun”.
The only problem with his interpretation is that the trampoline was invented some 80-ish years after the first publication of The Prelude (where one can find Spots of Time), but my kid is 7 he doesn’t know that. His interpretation was fun and inventive, and while it may not have the grandiose metaphysical implications of more accepted interpretations, I think it was brilliant and incredibly relevant to him.
And what does this has to do with education? Maybe it’s time for adults to let kids interpret poetry more often and not stifle them when they suggest something. Adults should encourage kids to think and push them with critical thinking prompts (why?), not just tell them, as I was often told during my early education, “your interpretation is wrong” or “I don’t think that’s it”. Foster and build up curiosity, don’t rip it out and tear it down.
I actually had a decent experience with the school system in my state. When it comes to Texas, however, I have often commented on how some of the practices and policies put into place are ridiculous. A few days ago, a friend of mine shared some reflections with me that I thought were interesting. I should note that I don’t agree with her proposal of “voluntary schooling”. However, I do agree that everyone should be held accountable for their schooling, that some kids should be “left behind” for as long as it takes for them to “get it”, and that the school system should implement real (that is, not politically, ideologically, or economically driven) reforms. At any rate, here is my friend’s comment (name erased to preserve her privacy).
I often times think back on the way I approached high school versus the way I approached college, and it was something like this: high school didn’t mean anything, so I didn’t try at all; college meant everything, so I gave it my all. In high school, I made Bs and Cs in Calculus. In college, I had the highest grade in my calculus class (over 100). In high school, I barely popped open a book. At A&M, I graduated summa cum laude. At UTA, I had a 4.0. Why the difference? Because high school did not feel like a place to learn. High school often felt like it was a joke. That there was cushion along the way to make everything fine and nice and wonderful, and it didn’t matter. Didn’t really matter at all.
I often think the thing that might have helped me most is for a teacher to sit down with me and admit the farce. For someone to say, “You’re right. The academic system here is a joke. None of the students take anything seriously. There is no hard core learning to be done. The teachers are spread thin and underpaid. It’s all hanging together via band-aids. But, you can nevertheless work within the ridiculousness. Now that we have admitted that it’s ridiculous, let’s move beyond that and get some practice in for when it’s not one big joke.” Someone admitting reality would have helped me.
And, frankly, it was not a single teacher’s fault. They seemed as helpless as the students in terms of the core of the problem.
What do I think the core of the problem is? Education should be free, but not mandatory. If it’s mandatory, and passing students on to the next level is encouraged if not pressured, then students are not there out of their own desire. They are there for the system’s desire. It reeks of being contrived. And what it needs is to be real. What there needs to be is real-world pressure. And pressure can only really be applied if a school could take or leave a student.
If a system allows kids to stay in high school who take education to mean nothing, I have no respect for that system, and there is no obvious reason for me to put forth effort within that system. High school should be as difficult as college and completely voluntary. You go there because you want to. You stay there because you are actually accomplishing something, not coasting. It’s the atmosphere that’s the problem.
That being said, I had fun in high school. I may not have found a reason to care about it, but it was fun. So, maybe that’s something – having four years of your life to devote to having a good time before the next four are devoted to actual work and self-improvement.
When I was about 12 years old, I played my first RPG on the Sega Genesis – Shining Force. Even though I had been bilingual for as far as I can remember, it was Shining Force that woke in me the love for language. After playing Shining Force I moved on to the Phantasy Stars, then eventually to the Final Fantasies in the Super Nintendo. My growing love for stories and narrative led me to rediscover my love for reading, and when I asked Elle, a friend with a large library, what book I should read, she recommended that I pick up a series by Phillip Pullman called His Dark Materials. As I played my way through Dragon Force and Legend of Dragoon, I simultaneously read through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and Fred Saberhaggen’s Books of Swords.
My love for games led me to apply to my university’s computer programming major. My dream was to make a fully 3-d rpg with a compelling storyline and relatable characters. However, when I managed to land a job as tutor at the Writing Center, I got a different idea. The state of public education in my state at the time was largely pathetic (I’m not sure that it has improved a lot since). I looked at my friends and acquaintances and fellow tutors, all who went to pretty bad schools, very much like myself, and all who had exquisite vocabularies and excellent communication skills. When I asked them where they learned to communicate, they said that it was thanks to video games. One particular testimonial popped out in my mind (and still does), when my friend (let’s call him Ren for the sake of anonimity) told me that he learned the English language because of Final Fantasy VII. He would sit down with a dictionary and translate, and by the end of the game he was fluent. A few more years of playing RPGs and he had become good enough to land a job as a tutor at the writing center (where, at that point, I was student supervisor). “Wouldn’t it be cool”, I thought, “if I could somehow get a PS 2 in every classroom?” I asked my English professors about what to do, and they recommended that I go into education.