WIMBLEDON WIDGET WOES: Intelligent Individuals OutRank Factory Robots!

7 07 2013

Submitted by JJ Ross on 10 July 2006

So Standardized School is the opposite of World-Class Education,
not its divine incarnation?
Good then.
Let’s hear no more about the necessary sacrifice of consigning all children to one-dimensional forehand factories for high-priced, high-stakes stamping into quality-controlled widgets, by has-been and never-were corporate charismatics and labor union drones.

Do you know what words of advice inspire the greatest players in the world as they enter Centre Court for Wimbledon, to show what they know and can do?

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same”-
“If” by Rudyard Kipling.

IF we inscribed this on every standardized test booklet for every child our Congressional Coaches promise never to leave behind languishing in the locker room, IF we took it to heart ourselves, then we still might not win ’em all but maybe we could stop feeling like such losers?

I’ve long called test score mania (in both triumph and disaster) the two-edged sword, but “two-edged imposter” could work even better, might at least shut up the most rigid standard skunks — clever fellow Kipling.

Nurturing Intelligence on Any Surface
By SELENA ROBERTS

Surface players are out. Deep thinking is in. And yet, the nuance is
lost on an American system still leaning on production-line academies to
spit out the next mechanical marvel.

In one illuminating championship weekend, Nadal and Justine
Henin-Hardenne, two French Open champions, applied their creative minds and willful versatility to grass and ended up in the finals. . .
underscor[ing] the learned skill of adaptation…

Versatility isn’t a talent, but a desire to extend ability.

Where did Nadal find this spirit of court innovation?
Not at an American academy. Nadal’s parents resisted that siren’s song. He stayed close to home… far from the Nick Bollettieri-style compounds in Florida.

Instead, Nadal grew up with dimension, was raised a chameleon… Nadal applied his eagerness to learn and adjust as he decoded the subtleties of grass during Wimbledon.

Such court awareness isn’t a virtue of American tennis academies. And the forehand factories are not the answer to the country’s talent deficit. But in a desperate attempt to do something, anything, about the vacuum, the United States Tennis Association announced last week that it would house a new program to produce stars at the Evert Tennis Academy
in Boca Raton, Fla.

“We’ve got to do everything,” Patrick McEnroe, the United States DavisCup coach, said during a U.S.T.A. news conference. “We can’t sit there and say, ‘Hey, someone makes better widgets now, so we should forget how good we can make our widgets.’ “

The widget player is the problem, though. The numbing baseline games, the one-dimensional plans, the mechanical style, these characteristics will only send Americans down the rankings. Nuance has to be a part of the U.S.T.A. program at the Evert Academy if it is to succeed at producing players as resourceful as they are robotic. . .

Intelligence isn’t manufactured, but nurtured. None of the Wimbledon finalists — men or women — came directly from an American academy…
Welcome to the Federer Era, in which there is little room for shallow, superficial tennis.

Both literally and metaphorically, I blew out my knee a few years back — which hasn’t killed my intelligence or interest in either tennis or education, just my active play and coaching. Call me the Stephen Hawking of the School Universe and I’ll take it as high praise.

So I serve up a few (factory-unapproved!) ideas to stir individual imaginations toward world-class game plans here:

Public school protectionism is sorry public protection…

I think our kids need to learn differently and do differently, SO much better than we did and so far past school. Someday soon they’ll replace us as thinkers, caregivers, problem-solvers, diplomats, designers, and story-tellers. [and Grand Slam champions, natch]

I believe preparing ourselves to prepare them, will require new learning and creative cultural-political change on our part first, changes for which the lessons of our grandparents (as interpreted through our own schooling) didn’t prepare us that well, either.

And highly fit, highly intelligent, willfully versatile players tend to find fun games to play in strange places, like:

Most kids won’t become pro sports stars; obviously the only proper public response to this terrible problem is to force all potential pro athletes to acquire standardized academic skills in public school . . .
[one NYT] columnist proposes we declare that individuals paid for sports work are interchangeable cogs to be shuffled randomly and paid by schedule regardless of individual initiative, effort or performance (like schoolteachers, because THAT’S worked so well??)

and

… what’s gone wrong between school and education — we’ve institutionalized thinking and learning and productive work, and lost the individuals we meant to inspire and empower in the process.

or maybe

Are we …obsessed with trying to look and feel smart for each other, neglecting and perhaps unable to actually BE smart and DO smart?

[We face] stupidity both cultural and critical, a telescoping of intellect and imagination into a one-dimensional reflective surface…
the standard-narrowed, uncertainty-fearing, control-freakish Culture of School works in the opposite direction from open science cultures that celebrate real smarts.
If critical thinking is brain food, school is anorexia.

As a seriously balding if not quite doddering Royal Prince grinned indulgently and stood by quietly to honor her, newly crowned first-time Wimbledon Champion Amelie Mauresmo held aloft for all the world to see the Venus Rose trophy, engraved with the names of every ladies champion to claim its fame since before the turn of the century (oops, that’s obsolete isn’t it, I’m getting old myself, I mean the one BEFORE last, you know, rolling over from the 1800s?)

The Whole Game has changed so much over 120 years–were racquets made of wood then, or whittled whale bone, oh dear, not raw human flesh like the 11th century monks?? –that surely those early (almost accidental by comparison) greats would urge us to explore and adapt new ways of winning, rather than foolishly try to replicate skills and strategies from a different era.

We can’t legislate exactly which intelligent and creative kids will become our new world champions, or why or how. Whether we forbid their changes and sanction their styles or not, all we really can count upon them for is one way or another, to leave all us fans and armchair brandishers awestruck at their feet.

May they know the past without bowing to it, dominate the present without destroying it, and invent the future they can imagine, without giving any pontifications of our past-expiration expertise more than an indulgent grin.

Pat the Prince on his balding pate and play ball!
I just can’t WAIT to see what happens next . . .





Teaching Our Girls to Dance

1 09 2012
Something else from my old Culture Kitchen blog, original post from March 2006 and some additional comments and updates later, retrieved from the Wayback Machine:

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Talk about the dance of planned parenthood — I’ve known two families through their adoption of baby daughters from China.

Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America
Most of the children are younger than 10, and an organized subculture has developed around them, complete with play groups, tours of China and online support groups.
Molly and Qiu Meng represent the leading edge of this coming-of-age population, adopted just after the laws changed and long before such placements became popular, even fashionable. . .

The first was an older couple, financially and professionally well-off in their second marriage and wanting to be a family with children. They went through a Catholic adoption process and asked us to write a formal recommendation for their application, assessing the qualities we believed would make them good parents.

Although my family left the immediate neighborhood while the daughter they’d named Amber was still a toddler, we see them out and about, at the grocery store, park or credit union. Today she is a gawky, grinning ‘tween, strikingly similar in age, culture, cadence and affinities — for Harry Potter and chess — to our Florida-born son. The two obvious differences between them, race and sex, seem irrelevant.

The second family was younger, a physician and his philanthropist wife who had four children the usual way but only one a girl, excited about adding another. Baby Lydia soon began dance classes with her doting big sister. It took her a long time to say much, but at six she’s a regular chatterbox.

In both cases, I got to see the whole “planned parenthood” process play out, from the initial exploration of the idea, the decision-making and then preparations for the arduous trip itself — halfway around the globe to a foreign land where the officials literally holding your family’s future in their hands don’t speak your language and are communist to boot (you think our bureaucrats are hard to deal with??) and home again wrung out emotionally and physically, trapped over the ocean on an airplane as brand-new mom to a disrupted infant you didn’t make, don’t know and can’t even nurse to comfort or feed, and then the ever-after of adjustments and growth within family relationships, including all the questions about how much or how little to emphasize the child’s country and culture of origin.

Such planned parents by choice generally impress me with their healthy, open attitudes and beliefs, a wish to balance, embrace, discover, celebrate, blend and include rather than to define, delimit, or (that disingenuous codeword) to “clarify” racial differences and identity.

The busy mom of five determinedly made time late at night to read Mao’s Last Dancer, a culturally shocking and saturated memoir she later loaned to me and shared with other dancer moms, in a sort of cultural ripple effect:

“Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world.”

In turn I’ve ripple-recommended the book to planning and thinking parents as a dance metaphor for lessons that have nothing to do with ballet . . .

I noticed that even the names these families chose were blended, able to honor more than one tradition at the same time rather than set them against one another in “forced choice” competition — the first names Amber and Lydia sound solidly American-English, but their middle names are not only Chinese but carefully refer to each girl’s particular regional heritage within that country.

Those are positives that make me feel like dancing.

But I’m also feeling helpless, thinking it’s ironic and especially wrong for tens of thousands of Chinese girls to be displaced by repressive culture and government policies just because they are girls instead of boys, and then after we adopt them as daughters of America and lovingly raise them to be beautiful, brilliant, accomplished young women ready for college admission — they will be systematically disadvantaged all over again in OUR system and culture, just because they are girls instead of boys.

. . . the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.

. . .Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women . . .

More culture of dance? — girls as a group are better dancers (students) than boys, like it more, but still must wait to be asked, held back by the less-willling and able boys? How many girls finally become frustrated enough to just dance alone or with each other, forget about waiting for the boys to catch up? Seems to me girls already adept at the dance of cultural change will not wait long and will be right not to, that they’ll tend instead to make over their identity once again and never mind those trying to engineer their differences into some standardized social configuration.

Will our nation’s cultures and creeds, our empowered parents and our world-renowned educational institutions, merely keep up our stylized minuet as we go right on fancying ourselves the belles of the cultural ball, uniquely superior to all those backward places where geography and demographics are destiny?

David Brooks has me believing we just might:

Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.
. . . many Republicans have lost patience with Bush’s high-minded creedal statements. . . (and) efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn’t exaggerate how much we can change. . .

Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is . . .how much disorder and strain their presence creates. . . from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.

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More reason not be dancing in the streets about our cultural superiority in “From classroom to tar pits?” by Marion Brady:

James McGregor, an American businessman who has lived in China for 15 years, says Chinese leaders monitor the United States. It has led them, he says, to “admire, fear and pity” us, the “pity” coming from their belief that America is a country in decline. . .

Why, they wonder, when we’re digging ever deeper the hole they think we’re in, are we so caught up in what they see as trivia — arguing about where to hang the Ten Commandments, preoccupied by homosexuality, fixating on news about murdered or missing pretty white females, legislating steroid use in sports, punishing flag burners — getting all emotional about issues they see as only marginally or not at all related to what they believe is America’s long-term well-being and continued power?

We may not agree with the Chinese leaders, or may think they should be putting their own house in order rather than inspecting ours, but they raise some important questions for Americans in general and educators in particular.

I doubt we’ll meet those challenges. However, if there’s hope, it probably lies with the kids. . .

And more with how they think than how they test.

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Then in June 2009 I followed up on Snook with:  Teaching Our Girls (Boys Too) to Dance With Democracy





Coffee Pots, Cameras and Other Words That Start With “C” Like Capital and Capitol

10 01 2012

Washing up the coffee pot this morning, I mused about a good friend complimenting a couple of pots we shared over the holidays.

She returned to a grueling work schedule last week as most folks no doubt did, and had stopped in at a Starbucks for fortification during the latest cold snap. Expecting a little bit of holiday magic I suppose, she ordered up the same brand I’d served her — Cafe Verona. It disappointed her.

She later called to complain it had “tasted like ass!”

Why?

Same beans, same label, bigger and better equipment although I do have a built-in grinder that sounds like a jet engine revving for takeoff, plus Starbucks bean baristas are pros unlike moi, with training at making coffee that I’ve never sought or even thought about trying to match. I don’t take any particular pride of identity in my coffee — to me it’s a caffeine delivery medium, period. I take it hot and black and serve it that way too, unless lobbied by a special guest for special frills.

Aha! It hit me as I carefully washed out not just the pot but all the coffeemaker’s disassembled parts . . .

Could it be a question of “clean optics?”

Like camera lenses! Scrupulously clean optics are the secret to photography, or so I was taught by several fine photographers who tried to help me get the most from some fancy lenses I enthusiastically swapped out on my Nikkormat back in the 70s.

Good light and a good eye count, too. But even the best of both can’t compensate for the lack of squeaky-clean optics so that good light can pour through pure and true, where a good eye can make the most of it.

Coffeemaker cleaning is the same deal, I’ve learned (the hard way.) When oils from the coffee beans smear across even a little part of the mechanism and carry over into future production, the end product may indeed taste like ass.

Oh, it’s all very well to tout the beans and the roasting, the cost and the care with which the mechanism was created and is manipulated in the creative process. But clean optics are the key even though no one can see the difference. You can taste it.

I finished washing the pot and all the little parts, probably with even more care than usual.

Then I sat down with the last cup of coffee I’d saved from the pot before washing up, to watch the oiliest and most rancid governor in my personal half-century of Florida experience, giving his “state of the state” address to the oiliest and most rancid Legislative congregation of rich and selfish Capitol Capitalists assembled in my painfully experienced memory.

This is a fine state with good light and good mechanisms full of hardworking, vigorous and creative people.

That tastes more and more like ass.





Pregnant Woman Maced by Riot Police and Miscarries — Serve and Protect?

23 11 2011

UPDATE July 2013: a small measure of justice?

In some places the police were unbelievably violent in their quest to silence the Occupiers. Oakland, California was one of those places. . .This week the U.S. district court in San Francisco awarded a group of 12 protesters one million dollars after they sued the department for police brutality. The dollar amounts vary, with some protesters getting $20,000 and another getting as much as $500,000. . .

The settlement was a step in the right direction for the police department and it was a victory for the movement. The actions of law enforcement officials towards the Occupy protesters across the country were atrocious. Last year the University of California Davis offered each of the students who were pepper sprayed at close range by campus police $30,000…The monetary awards are small but at least they are an acknowledgement. The way the Occupy movement was silenced was a disgrace.

***************************************

What does it mean for armed authoritarian police in riot gear to “serve and protect” — and who is being protected from whom, for what, under what Authority? Are Thinking Citizens ready for this debate, finally?

Pregnant woman miscarries after being sprayed with pepper spray

What follows are comments JJ is making in an effort to marshal moral principle that might transcend a conservative man’s flinging his own authoritarian feces about, all while claiming to be a multicultural minority himself and more compassionate as proven by charitable donations than “liberals.”

About miscarriage following pepper spray, he said without a trace of self-mocking:

unlike many leftists, we believe in law and order and contesting within the system and established norms, and put our lives on the line fighting for it, and unlike anarchists and their fellow travelers, we dont worship killers of cops, judges and soldiers and dont automatically blame everything on police brutality.

That’s what got me trawled/trolled into the conversation, starting with a quote intended to describe the Authority Personality he seemed to fit and drawing a retort from him that he agreed with Fromm but “it goes both ways” (??):

“. . .the individual’s goal must be to become his own authority; i.e. to have a consciousness in moral issues, conviction in questions of intellect, and fidelity in emotional matters. However, the individual can only have such an inner authority if he has matured enough to understand the world with reason and love.

The development of these characteristics is the basis for one’s own authority and therefore the basis for political democracy.” — Erich Fromm, 1957, “The Authoritarian Personality”

If the “it” that goes both ways, is maturing in reason and love (so that we can transcend animal authority and become Real Boys and Girls) then certainly I agree.

Pregnant women are a very specialized “minority” btw. Even those of us who have been one know primarily how to live as NOT one, because it can’t last long. It might be interesting for us to think about that.

First, no one is born that way or stays that way, although Mrs. Duggar comes close.. 😉

And second, the whole community has a stake in pregnant women, both literally and emotionally: she biologically holds the power within her own body (corpor-al personhood?) to bring forth life and continue the human race, yet to do it, she becomes at her most vulnerable, and is often mistreated for it both by authoritarian individuals and authoritarian society’s rules, laws and cultural hierarchies.

Pregnant women — would it help to rebrand them as citizen creators? — tend to be stunned/shocked/struck (all violent weaponized police control concepts, think about THAT!) by just how dramatically their status change brings out the “authoritarian” in personalities! People get proprietary, want to touch us and tell us what to do and not do, where to be or not be, what to ingest or not, etc etc etc. They call it protection the same way cities and campuses are claiming police violence against peaceful citizens is protection. The same way America’s war-waging is called the defense department . . .

We could have our own reasonable and loving mature debate on, say,

RESOLVED: This culture is more authoritarian toward citizen creators and their corpor-al personhood than toward job creators and corporate personhood.





Beep Won’t Like This: Iraq War Vet Critical After Police Violence at Oakland Occupy Protest

26 10 2011

The Oakland Police Department fired tear gas on Occupy Oakland demonstrators Tuesday night as they marched through downtown, determined to reclaim the camp that officers destroyed that morning. As the marchers zigged and zagged in search of safe ground, authorities bombarded and barricaded the activists into a drawn-out stalemate that resulted in further arrests.

The local police’s use of force seriously injured an Occupy activist and Iraq War veteran.

Scott Olsen, 24, remains sedated on a respirator, in stable but critical condition at Oakland’s Highland Hospital after being hit in the head with a police projectile.

. . .New video posted to YouTube suggests that Olsen was hit [in the face] at close range with a tear-gas canister. After demonstrators rush to Olsen’s aid, an Oakland cop waits a few beats before lobbing a second tear-gas canister at the crowd. They are attending to Olsen when the canister explodes, sending smoke everywhere.

No, Beep won’t like it.
I don’t like it.
No one should like it.
WTF America . . .





What’s in the Word “Education”? Not a Single Consonant From J-O-B or G-O-P

12 10 2011

“You know, we don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, math degrees.

That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on.”

Think of it as electoral politics, not education policy or even jobs policy. Have you learned to translate rhetoric for reality yet? Mother Jones is getting the hang of it. This is no different than voter suppression laws masterminded by R-think tanks and pushed through R-dominated states all over what’s left of this once-great union. (“union”=ironic term in itself, these days.)

Rick Scott to Liberal Arts Majors: Drop Dead | Mother Jones

Florida’s unpopular tea party governor, Rick Scott, wants more of the state’s youths to pick up college degrees… but only if the degrees are useful to corporations and don’t teach students to question social norms.

. . .As opposed to conservative-friendly disciplines like economics and business management, liberal arts produce more culturally aware and progressive citizens, inclined to challenge ossified social conventions and injustices.

Eliminate cultural and social sciences from public colleges, and you’ll ultimately produce fewer community organizers, poets, and critics; you’ll probably churn out more Rotarians, Junior Leaguers, and Republican donors.

Then those “conservative-friendly disciplines” can be sold off piecemeal to the Koch brothers and other corporate titans, which has already started to happen here at FSU:

The debate is only starting over FSU (is it Florida State University or For Sale University?) and its decision to embrace a $1.5 million pledge from . . . one of the conservative billionaire brothers at Koch Industries, to be used for hiring in the economics department. In exchange, Koch’s representatives get to “screen and sign off on” the hires, essentially winning the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

Not just here and not just the Koch brothers, of course. No, that would be something the rest of you could blow off. But this isn’t:
Read the rest of this entry »





Favorite Daughter Makes a Star Trek Blog

4 10 2011

Meredith and Tim Watch Star Trek is a series of humorous and informative episodes recaps and reviews of the various Star Trek series and movies. Tim and Meredith have different approaches to analysis and interpretation of Star Trek. To learn more, see their individual entries below.

Well, It Was Better Than Learning Elvish, or, How Meredith Came to Star Trek

But Suppose You Maybe WANT Some Technobabble

Dunno how she finds time, what with grad school and working as a library/museum assistant at FSU, plus community theatre (next show opens Friday!) but here’s proof that she does:

I write the Trek summaries the way I see them: stories about people facilitated by technology that might as well be magic. . . .

Deep Space Nine has no good guys or bad guys, just complicated people with complicated views. DS9 is the darkest and most realistic Star Trek, treading fearlessly into topics of religion and politics, eschewing the black and white idealism of the older Roddenberry-helmed shows . . . The theme of this series is Moral Relativism vs Moral Absolutism.

My work is done. 😀