Thursday, May 15, 2008

Word Play (and procrastination)

I should be doing my homework but I've been doing a lot of reading lately (me? read?!) and I wanted to share a few of the thoughts it provoked. As a reader and writer I really enjoy language - puns, playing on the meanings of words, homophones and homonyms and everything else. I'm no English major but I know enough to get by in polite society, or so I like to think.

As a natural offshoot of reading, writing, and playing with words, sometimes I come up with questions - What is the connection (or separation) between condemn and condone? I know their definitions, but 'con' as a prefix didn't quite make sense to me in those words. So what do 'demn' and 'done' mean and how does that change 'con'? (demn is from damnare, Latin: to sentence; done is from donare, also Latin, to donate.) Stuff like this runs through my head in the shower and if I remember later I go look it up with Mirriam-Webster and friends at

That train of thought - how easy it is to pull out the electronic dictionary on a whim - sparked some additional insight on teaching. Teachers today many times run into kids who either claim that school is useless for them or that they 'already know it all'. In many cases neither of these claims is true, but it is getting much easier to "know it all", with a little help from our friend Google. I would consider myself an active learner; I seek to engage myself in learning experiences on a daily basis and when I don't get them from a classroom I try to make other connections. A few years ago I probably would have had to find someone nearby to answer any questions I had about etymology, etc unless I had the full (and very expensive) version of Webster's Unabridged sitting around the house. Most people don't even HAVE a dictionary these days, or so it seems - This article tells a touching but probably all too common tale of third graders who were completely unfamiliar with dictionaries and who did not own them at home. And yet I can open a new tab and type the right combination of key words (which might take a few tries) into Google and get you that very article without so much as needing to know it existed, let alone having to look up where it was published, dates, or know how to scan a newspaper database. Information is literally a few keystrokes away.

This kind of open learning environment is one I love, but I think for many people, the knowledge that the information is there is not akin to being curious or able to access it. Someone can now claim to be a know-it-all, and as long as they're sitting at a computer connected to the internet they can try to prove it with virtually no physical, social, or mental work required. They don't even have to read what they're telling you - "key words" do the work for them (although it's always a good idea to pre-read or skim what you plan to present as proof, as many researchers will tell you). The skills to utilize that kind of open information setting are what we should be (and in some cases are) teaching in schools, but for a student who has seen what Google and Wikipedia do for his/her older sister's history report and his best friend's knowledge of how to "get chicks" (even though at 12 he's never practiced) it's probably already too late to start teaching good research skills, how to find reliable sources, and all the other practical parts of learning that no amount of reading will ever give you.

I think in some respects the seemingly endless fountain of information available on the internet is liberating. It gets me out of the classrooms that I associate with powerpoint lectures and well-meaning teachers and into a realm of connections (links, key word searches, images, and video) which I can make or leave for later as I choose. I say "make" because for me reading the article on combustion engines will teach me something, but when I choose to read the connecting articles - on different fuels, maybe, or on rotary engines, how engines are built, or common engine problems, I am not just clicking links in the web, I am making more connections. I am adding more to that file folder in my brain that's now labeled "mechanics" so that later when I read something about fuel efficiency I can connect further. School sometimes fails to to this, but the tactics I learned in school to deal with forming and arranging connections have been invaluable to me as a denizen of the internets.

I love learning like this and I think many others do as well... but I worry about how this kind of learning experience is leaving some people behind (those without 24/7 connectivity or computer experience are foremost, along with those who are already lacking in the background cultural knowledge necessary to 'get' the jokes, arguments, and other things that show up in academia) and separating the classroom and the teacher from their preconceived purposes. This is not to say that the intended purpose of an educator and an education is today what it should be or has been. It is however a growing concern that students rarely see the use or legitimate claims of classroom knowledge in a world where the teacher often seems out of touch with rapidly growing technology and the administration even more so.

What is the solution to our information issues? Handing students the basic tools to explore their world and then letting go has been a wonderful teaching method in the past but there is such thing as information overload - and the internet in all its glory is certainly capable of causing it. It is also capable of sparking interest in "boring" subject matter, making things easily accessible for students of any age... and misleading us.

What is the role of the teacher in learning, if the student does not see a need for guidance in their search for information? Where and how do we set boundaries on what is to be taught, if boundaries are to be set? We can't enforce boundaries on learning if the student is determined enough to learn outside the classroom (which is actually something I would love to see happening!). And how do we excite the students who have decided that even with the knowledge of the world at their fingertips, they would rather not explore? What will bring them into the circle of lifelong learners? It's a very complicated issue... and Google doesn't have the answer! :(

Monday, May 12, 2008

Let's get Politically Incorrect!

Bored with the old layout, and I think it's time for an upgrade. Of course, my knowledge of CSS being what it is, and Blogger trying to make it all "easy" for me (without actually making anything easier at all, I'll probably not get any editing done on this that won't make it look awful. I noticed they've started commenting templates now (or at least the new one's commented where my old one wasn't) so that should help in figuring out what changes which aspect, but for as simple a thing as "I want to make the darn thing wider so my posts don't look so LONG!" I'll have to edit six or seven different pixel widths in various sections, and the method of 'change-preview-change-preview-change' seems like too much work for tonight.

My first summer class started today... "Health Aspects of Aging". It's a one-week seminar and we'll be doing very little actual work in the class if today was any indication. The entire body of the class except me (of course!) is there for an "easy A". I'm also the only female in the class and one of very few caucasians... It's strange to be a 'minority' for once after coming from classes which were predominantly white female students (Elementary education). I don't make this comment to be racist, but to show exactly how 'sheltered' I have been (still!) that it's a surprise to me when I walk into a classroom and don't see at least 1/2 the seats filled by preppy white kids. My expectations have obviously been crafted by years of repeated experience with walking into new classrooms, but that says something too. I know that IUP recruits a lot of students from the Pittsburgh area and I know that there is a pretty good-sized black population on campus... but I've rarely seen them in class! :/ Actually, it seems like many of them are sadly living up to the "ghetto" stereotypes that have been pushed at them by society and the media, and I wish a few more would - if you'll excuse my language - have the balls to actually follow any academic interest they might have, instead of caving to peer pressure and nearly failing classes just because being smart is "wrong" (and in some cases, it's "acting white" - a stereotype I strongly protest on behalf of all the supreme idiots who just happen to have white skin *coughcough*!).

I hear complaints at least once a month (which is as often as I bother looking for them via various media outlets) that "blacks" are still being segregated, looked down upon, not given the same opportunities as "white folk", etc. And all I have to say is that unless you're living in a very rural area, the opportunities are generally there for you and many people are willing to help you fight for your rights as a human being. In my experience, most people are so jaded to race that it's a non-issue until the ACLU starts another uproar about it. The main issue in my mind is that the black community in many areas has, just like other "minority" communities (never mind that there are almost equal numbers of blacks and whites), formed its own identity which it hates to let go of, which includes a lot of willful ignorance of the world and culture around them - and that identity is, unfortunately, partially the fault of the whites, yes. But it's also the fault of people who refuse to finish high school because they think it's useless or stupid, or worse, that it's for whites only. It's the fault of rappers who make living in the ghetto look glamorous and encourage violence in their songs, while a few struggle to tell kids that it's actually ok to get an education (and I am thrilled by the emerging black role models who can culture-switch... rapping to kids one minute and clearly articulating their thoughts to a reporter the next). It's the fault of teen girls who decide that they'd rather go get pregnant and live on welfare (because it's the easy way out) than struggle through perceived racism and sexism to get a better life for themselves and their kids. I'm sick of the "white guilt" BS. Some people might feel it and some people might deserve to, but it's time that throwing blame goes out the window and acceptance of history comes in. A lot of the things that have happened ARE history, and many of the "horrors" that blacks experienced haven't just been aimed at blacks. Many, many immigrants who came to America put up with the same kind of racist bigotry; even Mexican immigrants today in our 'enlightened' society have to put up with the KKK and their kin. Much of the "racism" I see and hear every day is created by the culture that the "victims" have accepted among themselves. I'm not blaming either side because it's a collaboration that goes beyond what either side would be capable of alone - if blame must be put, then I'm putting it on both sides.

I have not willingly oppressed any black person in my lifetime and I'm not going to feel guilty for a stereotype that, now that I am aware of it, I do my best not to perpetrate. I have an expectation that everyone around me should be working to better themselves and their community, or at least not to slide backwards... and that is indifferent of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, mental abilities (I expect you to work to the best of those, whether that means learning to tie your own shoes or solving world hunger), handicapped status, or any other "-ism" inducing mental or physical state. So when I say that the young black men in my class are living up to a stereotype and speak of them as though I were stereotyping them, it's not because I expect or require a stereotype. It's because I'm disappointed that a wonderful, intelligent girl I know who just happens to be southern, black, and Jewish can graduate WITH HONORS next to me, despite having had to deal with serious family issues and racism her entire life while these strong young men are often too scared to come out and admit that they are individuals and that something interests them in a classroom. She's not letting her racial identity get in the way of her personality, and I love her for it.

But back to actual class content analysis - Since I'm trying to get a job working with the elderly I'm glad to be taking this class. It will cover, in a week, conceptions and misconceptions about aging, terms used to talk about aging, ways to stay healthy and active as you age, and aging and sexuality. We're also scheduled to go out to an 'old folks' home' tomorrow to do some community service work, which seems mostly like landscaping but might also involve interacting with the patrons. I'm glad of the opportunity to go outside but I don't know if we'll get much done, or if the guys will decide to play it 'cool' and just stand around. It was also tossed up in class that since I am seemingly the only one with landscaping experience I would be a 'manager' of sorts... but I'd rather elect a committee to do the managing, or do things democratically than put myself in charge of a bunch of guys who I am admittedly uncomfortable talking to, if only because I feel I have nothing to say that might possibly interest them, or that I'll come off as a stereotypical "preppy white girl" myself. I'd say things would all be so much easier if people were the same shade of grey, but knowing that people enjoy pigeonholing, if we were all grey we'd probably start having issues with hairstyle-ism. >_<

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

In Other News...

Just thought I'd share a few thoughts.

Graduation is in 2 days. There's a lot to remember and I'm not sure where I'm going to be in line for the university graduation because I -just- put in the form for the major change. I might end up walking with the eled grads, although I'd rather not see them again and maintain my "quiet" exit from the department, or at least some appearance of a graceful and entirely by-my-own-choice removal from student teaching. I'm not looking forward to answering "Where were you the last month?", if they haven't already been told. But other than that things should go smoothly, and I'm quite happy to say that all the rest of my summer plans are slowly falling into place. Now, to get a job...

And on that note: I'm applying for jobs tonight/tomorrow with various state and local agencies, to see if I can land anything, since Lowes has not called me back. I wouldn't mind a job there but I'm not so dedicated to the prospect that I'll call them to beg/bug, and besides, does corporate business etiquette of calling to refresh the memory of the HR people/make yourself annoying apply at a hardware store? Either way, I've already sent in my resume to a health care job which involves mentally handicapped adults (pretty close to my current educational field, and $0.50 more per hour than dealing with mentally handicapped teens at Mickey D's!), and I'm filling out the non-civil-service application for PENNDOT and other assorted state jobs to see if I can land a clerk typist position near Indiana, or at the very least get stuck on flag duty on the highway for a few hours this summer. $20/hr to hold a flag and wear a stylish neon vest sounds pretty darn good.

In other news...
A volcano is burying a town. People are already comparing it to Pompeii, despite the lack of deaths (everyone but some livestock and wild animals got out just fine) and the fact that we'll probably uncover the town again in a few days. It's interesting news anyway if only because of the volcano's unexpected activity after years of dormancy.

Cereal is beating out Emeril in a new restaurant chain. Can we call it a restaurant? Anyway, they sell cereal. With any kind of milk you want, plus toppings. It's not as cheap as buying your own box but it beats a vending machine if you're hungry... and they've got franchise opportunities, apparently. If I could get a loan to open up a place in town, I think the college kids would flock to it... and I've always been tempted by owning and managing my own business. Eh, maybe next year...

New excesses in the realm of vacation fun! The world's largest swimming pool (so named by the Guinness Book of World Records, which we know to be a pretty solid reference for such things) is now open for business in Chile. According to a commenter they're using fresh sea water to pump in and out of the pool... I'd be interested to see how much fresh pee they're pumping out with the water (admit it, you know someone who urinates in the pool)! Either way, it seems to be a (relatively) environmentally sound tactic for pool-building, and it'll bring more business-building tourism to the area, which is good for the Chilean economy, so say the "experts". I'd be happy just to swim in an uncrowded pool, if I could afford the $540 to get in (mandatory 3-night minimum at $180 per night).

An interesting solar effect is coming soon in NYC; it's called "Manhattanhenge". Flikr has myriad pictures of the supposedly interesting sunset, all showing an orange-ish evening sun between tall dark buildings, but I didn't find any from a more striking viewpoint than a Manhattan street corner. If Google Earth's satellites could get a close-up of the whole area at that time it would probably show the effect far better than taking pictures into the sun. Heck, a helicopter could get a nice wide-angle shot from above. Still, the astrological interest factor is pretty high, since I don't think they planned the streets to do this.

An interesting mini-bio of Mr. Rogers. Having read it, I really miss him. I think I cried when I heard of his death, because I remember loving his show as a kid. What a guy...