07 January 2013

while we're still on the subject of school....

while i'm on a blog post writing spree, i came across this particular gem on twitter this morning. i'll be going through large parts of this in this post, in the event you don't want to look at it yourself. i guess it's being referenced here in south africa, since school starts next week here -- the academic year is largely the calendar year.

but really? i can almost see some of this guy's point, but the fault lies, really, with the wahoos in texas who get to pick what textbooks most americans get, and in dull, uninspiring teachers. i know they exist, but i've never had any. or rather, i was just always so curious about stuff, that i would just raise my hand and ask a question whenever something didn't seem right. funnily enough, teachers like that. it shows you care. and because you care, they will care. .... which leads back to never having had dull, uninspiring teachers.

so let's tackle this bit by bit, eh?

That having been said, in honor of this school year, I have decided to give students some ammunition. Here are most of the subjects you take in high school, listed one by one, with an explanation about why there is no point in taking them.

Chemistry: A complete waste of time. Why? Do you really need to know the elements of the periodic table? The formula for salt? How to balance a chemical equation? Ridiculous. Most of the people who take chemistry in college, by the way, intend to be doctors and while there is chemistry a doctor should know, they don’t typically teach it in college. Why should you take chemistry? Because someone is making you. Otherwise don’t bother. You won’t remember a thing (except NaCl.)

do you know what got me interested in chemistry? like really interested? a little ditty in my 8th grade science classroom explaining why you should never drink anything in the lab. here it goes:

poor little willie
his face you'll see no more
for what he thought was H2O
was H2SO4

for those who didn't pay attention in class, H2O is water, and H2SO4 is sulfuric acid, both of which are colorless and odorless. [the latter tends to have a light fizz to it, though, when it encounters impurities in the beaker in which it's held]

i asked the teacher: will we not see his face because he used it to wash his face in the lab, or because he drank it and died from his internal organs being dissolved? [think about it. it's a valid question.] the teacher - who was later my cross country coach in high school - was actually stumped. gave me this 'the force is strong in this one' look, and said, "both could be right. wow."

that's what turned me on to chemistry. later i realised that chemistry is nothing but tactile math, and really? balancing a chemical equation correctly is really fucking important: it can determine whether you end up with something inert that you can hold in your hand, or a gas that can kill everyone on your street.

my inner pyromaniac likes chemistry. chemistry is fun.

History: Yes yes, those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. I guess no U.S. president ever took history because they have all forgotten the lessons of the Vietnam War, the history of Iraq and the history of foreign incursions into Afghanistan. You will learn untruths about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and World War II, all meant to teach that the United States is the best country in the world. Forget what they teach you in history. Read about it on your own if it interests you.

there is actually some agreement here, about the untruths about the details of those particular wars, and if you're really interested about them, you should look them up on your own. but humor the teaching-industrial complex anyway, mmkay?

but really? something else i learned in history? the roots of the white superiority complex. it helps me deal with the morons who leave comments on IOL, the often-misnamed thought leader, and even the hillbilly newspaper for the region where i attended school. the racist comments are a bit tamer on thought leader, to be sure, but on IOL and stateside paper, omfg. being a good student of history taught me why these people think the way they do, and how to just shoot them down when i'm tired of them.

English: There is exactly one thing worth paying attention to in English. Not Dickens (unless of course you like Dickens.) Not Moby Dick, or Tennyson, or Hawthorne, or Shakespeare (unless of course, you like reading them.) What matters is learning how to write well. A good English teacher would give you daily writing assignments and help you get better at writing (and speaking). By writing assignments I don’t mean term papers. I mean writing about things you care about and learning to defend your arguments. Learning to enjoy reading matters as well but that would mean picking your own books to read and not having to write a book report. Lots of luck with that.

no argument here. but in this age of 24-hour, 500-channel television [okay, 90 channels if you live in south africa], no one really reads anymore. in order to write well, one must be able to read well. and yes, it's even more difficult to get people to be able to read well if you live in a country with a functionally illiterate president. [hey, if you think president zuma struggles to read in english, you should see him reading in zulu - and that's his mother tongue. *sigh*]

there are only 105 non-dictionary books in my house in south africa, which is one-tenth the number i had when i lived in the usa. when i mentioned this to a south african, he said "that's a lot." i was appalled. i was actually at a loss for words. [think about that one for a second.].

Biology. Now here is a subject worth knowing. Too bad they won’t teach you anything that matters. Plant phyla? Amoebas? Cutting up frogs? It can’t get any sillier. What should you be learning? About your own health and your own body and how to take care of it. But they don’t teach much of that in biology. They teach some nonsense part of it in health class which is usually about the official reason that you shouldn’t have sex.

blah again. this requires far more reading than chemistry. i actually didn't like this class in high school because i had to read a lot more background info as to why snails die when you throw salt on them, and got an understanding as to why jews and muslims think pork and shellfish are bad. [yes, there are biological origins in this.]

but since mainly i like to blow shit up, knowing biology enabled me to understand exactly how much damage i could reasonably expect to inflict on someone/thing with the right chemical reaction.

Economics. This subject in high school is beyond silly. Professional economists don’t really understand economics. The arguments they have with each other are vicious and when the economy collapses there are always a thousand explanations, none of which will matter to a high school student. What should you be learning? Your personal finances. How to balance your check book. How much rent and food costs. How you can earn a living. What various jobs pay and how to get them. A high school student needs economic theory like he/she needs another leg.

full agreement here. i didn't take econ in high school because i took two languages -- in the usa that's kind of rare, but whatevs. full disclosure: i took the extra language to run up my grade point average to solidify my class rank as 2nd overall.

which leads us to.....

Physics. This could be important if the right things were taught. But they don’t. We use physics every day of our lives, but the formulas they make you memorize won’t help you much. The Wright Brothers did not have any theory of flight. They simply tinkered with stuff until their plane flew. That is called engineering. Trying stuff to see what works. The physicists came later and explained it. It didn’t help the Wright Brothers. Why don’t they teach engineering in high school? Because engineering wasn’t a subject at Harvard in 1892.

actually, the formulae they make you memorize do help, it's just learning the applications - which, again, comes down to engaged teachers. and the best way to have engaged teachers is to have engaged students, and the best way to have engaged students is to have engaged parents.

physics taught me how to win fights against people who were, on paper, stronger than me. with the laws of physics on my side, i can beat anyone who doesn't have a gun pointed at me. it's clear that this guy is a bit of a pussy who's never been in any physical altercation of note.

French. Another complete waste of time. Why? Two reasons.

You cannot possibly learn a language any way other than being immersed in it and talking and listening and talking. In school they teach grammar rules and nonsense to memorize so that they can give you a test. My daughter could not get an A in English when we lived in France despite the fact that she was the only kid in the class who spoke English. Why? Because she didn’t know the grammar rules of English. The same thing happened when we came back to the United States. She could speak perfect French (a year in France will do that) but still couldn’t get an A in French. Grammar is like a physics formula, nice in theory but useless in practice, because the practical knowledge we use is not conscious knowledge.

The second reason is more subtle. School happens not to teach the French that people actually speak. No one says “comment allez-vous?” in France. They say “ca va?” But we don’t teach students how to speak foreign languages — at least not well.

Immersion is the only way to really learn another language.

so this guy's daughter couldn't get As in english because her parents didn't know english grammar, and couldn't get As in french upon her return because she didn't pay attention to grammar while in france. that's funny, when i was in school - waves cane - i learned english grammar in school. i guess this guy tuned it out or something.

more importantly, my mother drummed grammar [in english, french, and spanish] in my head as i was growing up. so clearly part of this is the problem of the author. i guess this is a position of white middle-class privilege because my mother was determined that i not sound like either a country bumpkin [in french or spanish] or a ghetto bunny [in english]. my complete inability to sound "street" in either english or french is a constant source of amusement to my friends to this day.

immersion is the best way to learn a language, but it's not the only way. really. [but then again pillow talk counts as a form of immersion, doesn't it? that's how i've learned to be able to get by in xhosa. i have people convinced that my xhosa is much worse than it actually is. it helps to overhear conversations about stuff i'm not supposed to know.]

hm, let's see what else i can encounter to get really opinionated about.....

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