Sunday, March 28, 2010

Get off the train

Yet another post inspired by the today's class lecture. Here's the quote:
...we had a visiting professor here. He told a story about his wife who went to work every day for ten years. This was in Illinois, over these lousy roads, to a lousy job that she hated. She was away from her family and just didn’t like the whole thing.

But after ten years, she finally said, "Wait a minute! I don’t have to do this! It’s not a law! Nobody’s making me do it!" And yet we ought to have this idea that you know we’re on this train and we can’t get off, and this is the only direction that it’s going, and somebody else’s life is going to be flashing before our eyes because we’ve got to stop the train and get off and say, "Wait! I don’t have to do this. You know, I’m in control."
But the problem is, it's not that easy. You can't just say "I don't have to do this." Because some of us do have to earn a living. Some of us can't exit one job unless we can get another job. And it's not worth doing if the new job is going to be even worse than the old job.

How to help

Something else from my class: a quote from Goethe: "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

That fits my experience and philosophy. So many people think they are helping me when they tell me how I ought to be different, but I don't find that helpful.

Student vs. learner

Continuing on with the lecture I started writing about in the post "Learner vs. Performer," the lecturer talked about how students often make up excuses about why they can't do well in a class -- the class is too early in the morning, the class is too big, the subject material is not interesting or relevant, they are sick. (He said there are times when a student is legitimately sick and needs to miss class, but other times they use being sick as an excuse to miss class.)

Then he talked about doing a study of young chess masters. He asked the parents how they keep their children motivated to practice chess, and the parents said they don't have to, the kids are dedicated to it.

He talks about this contrast as if he's telling students they should show that same level of dedication to their classes. As if the problem lies with student attitude. But it sounds to me like the problem lies with the educational system.

The lecture also quotes Albert Einstein as saying, "I have no respect for scientists who take a board of wood, look for its thinnest part, and drill a great many holes where drilling is easy." The lecturer says this refers to professors who do easy research just for the sake of getting published.

It makes no sense. They set up a system where students are rewarded for getting good grades, and then they complain that students are more focused on grades than on learning. They set up a system where faculty are rewarded for number of publications, and then they complain that faculty are too focused on getting as many publications as possible. If you want students to focus on learning and faculty to focus on quality of teaching and research, don't set up a system which rewards something different.

What to do with my life

I've read some things that say what to do with your life is to pursue the thing that is your calling, your passion. Just as you should not do things for the money and prestige, you should not do them because they are noble and good. You should do them because they fit you.

I've also read some things about how you should make your own things, live in small housing, etc., so as not to need so much income, freeing yourself of the need for a job.

What if I don't have a calling? What if I don't like to make my own things? Then what I'm left is finding a job that doesn't drain me too much, so that I can earn some money and have some energy left over to do the things I do want to do.

Are there things that I want to do? If I had time and energy to do what I wanted, I would
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Spend time outside, including near the ocean, grass, and trees.
  • Do physically active things including rollerblading, hiking, cross country skiing, kayaking, rowing, sailing, Nia, yoga, zumba, Morris dance, jazz dance, modern dance, African dance, and Afro-Caribbean dance.
  • Do folk music things, including radio shows, concerts, and festivals.
  • Read, write, and compile information.
  • Live in a house with solar power in an eco-village with friends and relatives.
  • Support locally owned businesses and organic farming, maybe volunteering for farmer's markets and community gardens.
  • Support the raising of children such that children are treated with respect and kindness, and are encouraged to develop their knowledge, ideas, and compassion.
So, I know what I want to do with my life in some sense. But I don't know how to earn a living. Is there anything I want to do that I could also earn a living at? Is there anything I could earn a living at that would leave me sufficient time and energy for doing the other things I want to do?

Learner vs. performer

I'm taking a class called Learning Principles. In the lecture, they said that learning requires hard work, it's not just a matter of you either have the ability or you don't. They talked about Bobby Fischer as an example, describing the many hours he devoted to practicing chess.

Then they talked about the difference between performers and learners. A performer does what they are told. They try to do well in the class. If you tell a performer that if you don't come to class and don't read the book, you will get an A, the performer will be happy that he doesn't have to do the work. The lecturer said a learner on the other hand would be someone like Bobby Fischer -- he wouldn't have seen it as a positive if you told him he could get an A if he didn't practice chess.

Someone in the class raised the point that it's not realistic to expect students to be learners when taking required courses that don't interest them.

No one made a connection to what was mentioned earlier in the lecture, that Bobby Fischer dropped out of school in order to do chess. Sometimes what a person wants to learn does not mesh with what the educational system tells them to learn.

What would I devote my time to? What am I interested in enough to pursue as a learner rather than a performer?

Or, am I a performer by nature? Earlier in this class, we talked about learning styles, and it was clear that some people prefer more structure than others. Doesn't that mean that it's okay if it's my nature to do the work that I am assigned, rather than to pursue open-ended things?