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Category: Buccaneering

This category focuses around ideas and discussions about self-education and independent learning, as explicated by James Bach in Secrets of a a Buccaneer Scholar. It is not anti-schooling, but rather recognizes that formal schooling is just one component of education.

Wisdom lies somewhere in here

Plateau

Whenever you seek to improve something like your communication skills, you tend to hit a plateau. It’s part of the learning curve, perhaps at the junction between conscious incompetence and conscious competence. In any case, despite putting effort into it, your advance seems to have stopped.

A lot of people quit at this point, especially if they’ve heard the self-help slogan, “Insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results.” Another version: “If you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same outcome.”

That’s a useful insight, of course. No one wants to keep beating his head against a wall.

But.

A paradox is when something is true, and its opposite is also true. Here’s the opposite truth: By this reasoning a hen looks stupid for about 21 days. It looks as if nothing is happening. But then something remarkable happens. A stone mason may hammer on his wedge a hundred times, apparently without effect. But then on the 100th or 110th or 120th blow, the stone face may suddenly shear off.

Just because you can’t see anything happening doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Consider the egg.

So how do you know when to quit (because it’s truly useless) and when to persist?

I don’t know.

I just know that most of us tend to give up too soon.

I think ultimately you develop wisdom that comes from experience, an intuition that allows you to sense changes where others see nothing. That takes a certain vulnerability, the willingness to be wrong, the willingness to make mistakes. You learn more from your “mistakes” than you do from your successes, but always be learning.

And learn to live with paradoxes.

Why current education models don’t work: it’s in our genes

Peter Gray at Psychology Today has posted a thoughtful blog article entitled Why Children Protest Going to School: More Evolutionary Mismatch. I find it an insightful argument in favor of homeschooling and several other education methods that do not lead to a factory model of schooling.

Continue reading

Fostering creativity

A little earlier I posted an article about the creativity crisis covered by Newsweek. They also posted a good practical article on fostering creativity called Forget Brainstorming. Here’s a summary of their points:

  • Don’t tell someone to “be creative.”
  • Get moving. Engage in aerobic activity regularly.
  • Take a break. This isn’t about stopping so much as a more effective approach to juggling multiple projects than multi-tasking.
  • Reduce screen time.
  • Explore other cultures. Cross-cultural experiences force people to adapt and be more flexible, and just studying a different culture than your own stretches your mind.
  • Follow a passion. “Kids do best when they are allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly—at the expense of well-roundedness.”
  • Ditch the suggestion box. Formal suggestion systems actually stifle creativity.

What’s the hardest thing on there for you to do?

Drop in creativity documented

Read between the lines of Newsweek’s report The Creativity Crisis, and you are likely to pick up the idea that America’s declining educational effectiveness stems, at least in part, from misguided federally-imposed standards.

The average person thinks “art” in its various forms when you say “creativity,” but as this article points out, creativity is much, much broader than that and fostered by disparate activities. Creativity involves bringing together divergent and convergent thinking–generating possibilities, then combining those possibilities and evaluating them for usefulness.

The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

I’m impressed that the scholarship that has tracked a group of “Torrance kids” who were tested and then followed for 50 years to see how well the tests predicted creativity recorded more than the stereotypical accomplishments, recognizing the creativity required in a variety of life activities.

[S]cholars—first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar—have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded. They tallied the books, dances, radio shows, art exhibitions, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed.

Only recently in looking at shifting patterns have those scholars been able to pinpoint 1990 as a year in which, for the first time, creativity scores among young people began to drop. Whatever the cause (and several possible are posited in the article) I find this paragraph to be one of the saddest observations of the situation:

Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions. [Emphasis mine: DK]

It’s not just the asking of questions but also the encouragement to ask them and then to seek the answers that seems to foster creativity. In many ways, colleges are now tasked with countering this trend toward decreasing creativity at the very time political and societal forces are pressuring them (us) to standardize curricula and move students through as quickly as possible into jobs. People need jobs, but I fear that we are completely misunderstanding the preparation required in order to be able to do them.

Creativity is hard to measure, and if we are to serve the needs of our nation and our world, colleges must resist the temptation and the pressure to engage in that which is easy to measure, simply because it is easy to measure.

You must be willing to create crap…

…in order to find the good stuff. That’s sort of what Anne Lamott advised in her book Bird by Bird. One of her chapters was titled pretty much that (using a stronger term than crap).

Daniel Pink posits a similar idea in his piece entitled Why you should come up with at least 1 bad idea today, based on a Wall Street Journal piece by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Believe it or not, Adams (not known as an optimist) puts an even more positive spin on the idea.

Lamott seems to me to be saying you have to write crap to get it out of your system, and if you’re willing to just let it flow, you will find amid the effluence some worthwhile material. Adams, on the other hand, says that coming up with bad ideas a) gets you started on the process of coming up with something good, and b) provides quality raw material for good ideas. Not just fertilizer, in other words, but seeds.

As I watch speech students struggle to come up with “the” right idea, right structure, right approach, I wish I could communicate this principle. Perhaps Mr. Pink will help do so.

Taking part in evolving model of education

I’m taking part in a course that illustrates in a lot of ways the changing face of education. Just as I don’t know exactly how that face will change, I don’t know yet exactly how the course works, but I get the feeling that the not know will likely be an integral part of both this course and that changing face.

The course is called Digital Storytelling, through the University of Mary Washington (I think). Here are some of the ways that (it seems to me) the course is emblematic of this cultural shift that is going on. Note that I’m using both “traditional” and “current” as amorphous terms. Much of what we now think of as traditional classroom education isn’t really all that traditional. Continue reading

Finding your passion

There’s a lot of discussion around passion and finding it for college students. No, not that kind of passion–get your mind out of the gutter. Passion as in caring deeply about.

Cal Newport’s guest post on the Zen Habits blog goes into many aspects of this. Here’s a quote from The Minimalist’s Guide to Cultivating Passion that summarizes a practical insight:

As Caldwell’s research reveals, true passion can’t be forced. You can participate in personality tests and self-reflection exercises until you drop from exhaustion, but it’s unstructured exploration coupled with aggressive follow-ups that most consistently leads people to a life-consuming interest.

He gives several practical examples. It’s worthwhile reading the article, and then thinking about what it means in your life, which is probably cram packed with activities. In light of Newport’s ideas, no wonder we have trouble finding or remembering our passion in life!

The changing “delivery” of education

We have many conversations going on in the Pellissippi State community concerning what constitutes acceptable or effective or “real” college education. I came across an interesting article that adds fuel to the discussions, potentially boosting velocity in several directions. When you first start to read “How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education,” you might assume it is a whole-hearted endorsement of “delivering” education as a commodity via the Web. This assumption will likely be exacerbated by the realization that it is published via Fast Company’s Web site, i.e., a business publication.

Read further. You’ll find that the article observes the need for caution in that assumption through statements such as Brigham Young University’s David Wiley. Keep in mind that Wiley is one of the “architects of education 2.0.” He has written, “If universities can’t find the will to innovate and adapt to changes in the world around them, universities will be irrelevant by 2020.” Although the article predicts that unless higher education folks adapt, they will join newspaper chains and record stores in near-extinction, Wiley also makes it clear he speaks not of simple packaging and commoditizing.

“If you didn’t need human interaction and someone to answer your questions, then the library would never have evolved into the university,” Wiley says. “We all realize that content is just the first step.” In other words, education is more than the mere mastery of information. To truly educate yourself, you will always need a teacher. But the nature of those interactions may come in many forms. Let’s face it, the classroom itself was at one time an innovation, a way to deal with the need to connect teachers and students in larger numbers. Few can afford the luxury anymore of wandering among the hills in small groups of one teacher and four or five students engaging in Socratic dialogue.

The question remains, though, how to maintain the quality that makes education more than mere aggregation of information. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of answers to that question, you will likely find material in this article that will both delight you and enrage you.

Education essence: knowing we don’t know

It’s an ongoing frustration of mine that I don’t have (or, perhaps, take) the time to write on this and other blogs. I can’t believe I haven’t posted since December. But the evidence is right there.

I still don’t have time to go into depth, but I wanted to share a post called What We Know, Don’t Know, and Never Knew. It’s from a personal finance blog, but it gets at something very much at the heart of education. I often tell students, “You must be willing to feel dumb on the way to getting smart.” Too many people quit because they’re uncomfortable, whereas if you’re really learning something you don’t already know, you are bound to feel uncomfortable. This post looks at another side: the likelihood that you will continue to feel dumb, even when most other people would view you as accomplished and competent.

New category, extending old principle

This is the first post in a new category for this blog, called simply “Buccaneering.” The idea comes from an approach to education explicated by James Bach in his book Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar: How Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success. Some people love the book, some hate it, but there is food for thought here. Learning is a much more complex thing, and yet a much simpler thing, than many in the education establishment would have it. I’ll have several posts jumping off from these ideas, but I’m hoping we’ll have some discussion around the idea of what constitutes education.

You can get some quick background by taking a look at Bach’s own blog, How I Learn Stuff.

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