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 . . .





Did I Mention Liza’s Culture Kitchen Seems to Be Gone?

30 07 2012

. . .so gradually I am using the Wayback machine to bring up my old essays there, when the need arises to link them in some discussion or other; posting a version here gives me a link that can work without said magic machine. Today it was a conversation at Radical Unschooling about whether to “lie” to children by telling them about Santa . . .

Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed — but truth disbelieved?

January 2006

Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief Junior – the Home Game
Blogging with Lorraine about truth and lies, and whether we have the wisdom to know the difference, I commented that moms understand how children construct meaning that is both truth and lie, or to be more accurate, meaning for which the labels “truth” or “lie” have little or no meaning!

. . .just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.

Then this morning, I came across a book review of “Real Kids: Creating Meaning in Everyday Life” in which Susan L. Engel apparently pleads with us to be at least as interested in the ways that children think, their thought processing if you will, as we are in their outcomes or achievements.

(And JJ pleads with citizens everywhere to reject the lie that society’s Job One is to label the natural thinking processes of children as some unnatural problem or other, the better to impose years of professional intervention in the name of national security and all that is holy.)

Engel argues that children’s play
and storytelling provide clear evidence that children’s thinking is not a simplified version of adult thinking, but rather reflects a qualitatively different way of interacting with the world — a way of interacting in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable.

To which a liberally educated British dad now living here and homeschooling his own, added a snatch of T.S. Eliot — “humankind cannot bear very much reality” — and some pithy comments:

I think that anybody looking around after 9/11 has to agree that “the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable” for all of us. To give other examples, there’s the drive to impose Intelligent Design and the Strict Construction[ist] approach to the Constitution — two attempts to deny change and progress by imposing an arbitrary barrier.

So I’m beginning to think this could be the cultural conversation of our times.

Although speaking just for my own truth, before I could muster much scholarly attention for the Constitution today, I was as usual seduced by a powerful whiff of story, wafting my way from Eliot’s own “highly permeable boundaries between fantasy and reality.”

Was he American poet or British poet, I mused. Off to check.

Aha, both are factual but neither is true alone — these facts are dependent on each other for their truth, either is misleading stated as absolute and isolated fact. Was he a poet? Yes, BUT also schoolmaster and professor as much as brilliant artist — what does that inconvenient complexity do to the falsely dichotomous “truth” that

those who can, do;
those who can’t teach;
those who can’t teach, teach teachers?

[More snarling, never mind me – I come from a long line of professors, teachers and omnivorous intellectuals with extremely porous boundaries between fantasy and reality, not to mention between thinking and breathing.]

Summing up the power of story in today’s lesson, then, it seems likely to be true of Eliot that we don’t know much of what’s true about Eliot, not even supposedly simple facts of the type with which we love to fill reference books and test mental mechanics in schools everywhere.

“Never compromising either with the public or indeed with language itself, he has followed his belief that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry.”

So like a child’s mental constructs, lots of what we’re unsure we understand about Eliot is because he didn’t plant it in neatly labeled little standard rows of true-false and multiple choice, controlled to the nth degree by social common denominators and heavy pesticide applications.

Time Magazine in 1988 said Eliot “produced a body of work — poetry, criticism, plays — that permanently rearranged the cultural landscapes of his native and adopted lands. Exactly how he created himself and his era remains something of a mystery, the topic of continuing debate.”

And it is certainly true (but will you believe me? You’ll have to take my word for all this, unless Smoking Gun is having a VERY slow day) that I laughed aloud upon reading this puzzled yet gamely authoritative declaration, explaining what we know about what we don’t know:

It is rather difficult to find much information on T. S. Eliot, which is quite hard to understand, considering the profound impact he had on American and English literature. However, it can be explained that since Eliot was a very private man and also forbade in his will an official biography, the dearth of information on Eliot is justifiable.

Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed but truth disbelieved?

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

That essay was called “Junior” because I’d written an adult version about truth and lies a few days before, as had fellow blogger Lorraine as referenced in the first paragraph. Here’s that adult essay, introduced by the fuller comment I’d made to Lorraine and quoted above, which I guess we can now consider all part and parcel:

As moms, we know children construct meaning from events as they go along, in ways that depend on who they are talking to – just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.

Men — well, husbands at least — are like this. They quite truly believe we’d rather have a lie we can believe, than a truth we (and they) would all prefer to downplay. (Ah, there’s a thread for more thought – downplaying and playing up truth.) Our girlfriends are like this too. They temper their truths and calibrate their lies with astonishing sensitivity and responsiveness to their surroundings and relationships. I have been told lies with far more true love and uplifting beauty in them than the clearest, most factual honesty for my own good — haven’t you?

Which gets me thinking: whenever some purist or literalist rejects the relevance of interdependent environments, circumstance, backstory and relationships, how much actual meaning can any “truth” they muster possibly claim, and where would it come from?

January 2006

Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief – Truth, Lies and Videoscape
Talk about Power of Story! Literally *and* figuratively.

This week the news includes a provocative book about true believers versus doubtful thinkers, confessions and confrontations, legalized academic cheating, even a new lawsuit about God-given truth as fraud. Who is manipulating innocent masses, and with what lies? Can cheating and conspiracy to defraud ever serve the larger cause of truth?

What do we really owe people we believe are getting conned?

With James Frey versus Oprah as only the latest public chapter in this powerful story, we’re being forced on every front to face our ambivalence about truth and lies and how we confuse them to our own detriment — is my blogging either, neither or both? I feel a headache coming on, and that’s both truth and lie — so maybe it’s not surprising that now the Bible itself is legally challenged as fraudulent memoir rather than historical fact and redemptive truth, thereby duping those desperate to believe.

A righteously indignant Maureen Dowd labels Oprah the saint, Frey the sinner, his bestselling book “bunk” and our President no better than Frey, that he too defrauded us and the wages of his sin are death, not redemption.

She does this with a straight, Pulitzer-Prize winning face, omitting equally true facts of her lying news colleague Jayson Blair, and her venerable publication’s contradictory roles in the Wilson-Plame-Miller circle of cynicism — fact-stacking for dramatic effect, self-interested stonewalling and hype, and general manipulation of its public powers — which together left us with no one to believe about any of it.

Note to the New York Times, and to public and private eyes and spies everywhere: whatever competitive lying that whole mess turns out to have been about, don’t expect us to “believe” that any of YOU believed in our right to the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. (Sadly, even the guy on the white horse of truth, whom I liked and admired, apparently had rules and codes he believed in more than unexpurgated, unspun facts and truth.)

So our belief in academic and intellectual accountability is manipulated everywhere, in public and private acts big and small. Prominent historians such as Stephen Ambrose come under fire for fraud. Scientists defraud research journals. Teachers cheat with standardized testing, pandering to our need to believe they represent facts and truth and critical thinking. Charities cheat with money entrusted to them for making the world a better place, child protection employees falsify reports with tragic results, ad nauseum.

Thus we’re all too familiar with belief issues when it comes to public stories from textbooks to memoirs, politics and news. The new twist is religious issues as fraud.
Intelligent Design versus evolution. Catholic Church child abuse scandals, with institutional lying for generations to cover it all up.

(Isn’t Maureen Dowd a good Catholic girl? Hmm . . . she is right in the
middle of ALL of this, isn’t she? I may need to learn more about her,
connections keep popping up . . .didn’t she just publish her own somewhat dubious nonfiction memoirs?)

We lie to our friends and lovers, and whether we get caught or not, maybe personal lies aren’t different when it comes to the larger harm — Excalibur’s Merlin darkly warns his brash and ethically challenged warrior-disciple that “when a man lies, he murders some part of the world.”

Oscar Wilde said our supposedly harmless lie about telling the truth, the one we teach our kids about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, reflects how truth-worshipping our lying culture is, a point reiterated this week by Jerry Stahl:

” . . .The anecdote, Wilde noted, perfectly exemplifies the American psyche: all about honesty, and completely contrived.
Now, as then, we are a people grown fat on fabrication. The truth is just another artificial flavor . . .”

We scream for a little (head)chopping in the name of truth now and again, ho-hum, makes great fiction for the news and publishing industries, but all we can come up with
as society-wide solution — seriously?? — is re-labeling the other guy’s truth? And alternately defending and confessing our own lies while continuing to teach them to our kids? What good is that?

No wonder public schools are dysfunctional and public education an oxymoron. There IS no truth we can
agree on objectively, to teach kids. And the truth is we know it and won’t fix it.

Wilde again:

. . . tired of the intelligent person whose reminiscences are always based upon memory, whose statements are invariably limited by probability . . . Society sooner or later must return to its lost leader, the cultured and fascinating liar.


Catholic leaders claim The Da Vinci Code is
manipulation of belief
, fraud for profit, harmful lies we must warn the world to reject.
Now comes the titillating and, one supposes, quite predictable reverse play, the
crowning glory of the news and belief cycle (whoops, not to be redundant!) — historical Christianity itself challenged as fraud, with the courts as the objective Standard of Truth.

It’s being called “abuse of popular belief” by the plaintiff.
Can we even call these stories about the stories actual news — or is it closer to sensationalized fiction in service of larger redemptive “truth?” Words seldom fail me, let’s see, where’s the connected Power of Story in all this . . . yeah, “ abuse of popular belief” is a keeper.

I think it’s time we add it to our mandatory graduation standards — if we can find anyone qualified to teach the course.





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.





Favorite Daughter’s Extra Virginity Redux

20 11 2011
It’s not just olive oil -– women, too, now, are expected to come with a label that reads Extra Extra Virgin.

Remember Favorite Daughter’s Ruminations on Olive Oil and later — a seeming lifetime of growing up later — Let’s Talk About Sex?

Looks to me like these girls don’t know what the authority figures around them expect them to do –- or not do –- to remain “pure”. I’m eerily reminded of the 1950s, in which . . . people figured, I don’t know, if they didn’t mention it, the kids wouldn’t find out about it.

Now there’s a brand-new book all about the first. 😉

Sublime and Scandalous -- yep, that fits!

And in confluence sufficient to make ripening our conversation at this moment seem almost cosmically ordained, I opened this morning’s NYT to see their magazine cover story, “Good Sex” that illuminates her second sense in which we can understand extra virginity’s sublimity and scandal:

“Teaching Good Sex”
By LAURIE ABRAHAM

Introducing pleasure to the peril of sex education.

It starts with a whole other metaphor for how teens think and learn about sex — baseball — which it’s unlikely FavD will be writing about for you, because she’s not a big fan. So I guess we need homeschool-parent diehard Red Sox fans, like JJ (“what does it mean to girls, not just guys, to “throw like a girl?”) and Crimson Wife and Chris O’Donnell, to ahem, get this ball rolling Read the rest of this entry »





Who Are Doctors Who? Not That Kind of Doctor

15 11 2011
Learning is fun, not work. Schooling is work, not education. . . I believe school screws up such lessons as these, and all the hapless [not-very-doctor-like] folks who receive them.

So as I showed you right here at Snook, Young Son became the Doctor Who sort of doctor this year for Halloween:

Then this morning as I opened up and aired out my own mental Tardis with some sunshine, caffeine and my cable company’s connection to the cosmos — you’d know if you knew who doctors like us play in real life, that a Tardis is unbelievably larger on the inside — a jolt of recognition hit me:

All while I was sitting here
in my favorite Tardis-sized t-shirt: Read the rest of this entry »





Happy Halloween to Favorite Daughter and Young Son. . .

31 10 2011

. . .our poet and librarian who’s BEEN to Edinburgh! 🙂

Who left a tree, then a coffin, in the library?
It began with a “poetree” — an ornately-crafted paper sculpture left in the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh.

Next was a paper dragon.

Who was leaving these cryptic messages around town?

Indeed, FavD might have been to some of these surprise-sculpture-favored places?

Went to the Scotland Writers’ Museum today! Mostly consists of Burns, Stevenson, and Scott, which is as it should be.
Scotland writers museum in Lady Stair's house
We also wandered around ’sploring, and the long and short of it is: everything in Edinburgh is really cool.

UPDATE from Halloween Night:
Young Son as the Eleventh Doctor Who





Maybe If We Had Known That We Didn’t Know. . .

28 10 2011

This is headlined as “The Boomer Parent’s Lament”:

“Maybe if I knew that our children would be coming of age in an economy that would crush even the best and brightest among them, I would have cared a little less about their score on an advanced placement history test, and a little more about helping them find happiness in moments at the margin.”

UNSCHOOLING boomer parents though, knew this all along and we aren’t lamenting any such thing. Finding happiness in the moment and the margin AND smack-dab in the middle of the morning too, while everyone else was sweating yet another test — that was the whole program, the whole point, the whole power of our story.

Didn’t JJ just finish saying something like that? 😉

There was a book excerpt in the NYT Sunday magazine so stunning that I ordered the book online. I was waiting to read it before blogging anything about it but it’s been on my mind in every current conversation, now including this one. The book is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and its professor author Daniel Kahneman was a 2002 Nobel laureate in economics.

The big point is that we humans tend to hold fast to (often false) confidence that we’re doing the right thing and that we can “know” what that is, even when we’re smart enough to SEE that we aren’t, and don’t, and can’t.

The Hazards of Confidence:

We rarely experienced doubt or conflicting impressions. . . [but] as it turned out, despite our certainty about the potential of individual candidates, our forecasts were largely useless.

The evidence was overwhelming. . . our ability to predict performance at the school was negligible. Our forecasts were better than blind guesses, but not by much.

What do you think about the right way to school kids and prepare them for quantifiable success? How confident are you that you’re right about that? 😉