Education is best without any structure but yours

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Learning. My learning style is to open a book and learn stuff, but only when I want to and only about what I want to learn. That had guided my level of academic mediocrity throughout high school and university.

I guess if what you want to use university for is to answer your questions rather than being guided as to what questions they want you to be asking yourself, then that is the path to acedemic mediocrity. Einstein was seen as mediocre in university and had an office job issuing patents to make ends meet before he offered the world his special and general relativity theories. The same was true for Newton, seen as a mediocre math student in Oxford before the Bubonic plague kept him at home thinking obsessively about optics, gravity, and calculus.

The polite thing to say about me is that I am – ahem – not smart in the same way, but the sameness is just in how other assessors saw us. Frankly, when Covid hit, which is a firecracker next to the dynamite that was the Bubonic Plague, I was gaining weight and struggling to stay motivated and engaged with life. No scientific or math breakthroughs for me. Any assessor who thought me as mediocre back in uni would have had their every observation confirmed during Covid.

I did coach, administer and mark several math contests over the past two decades. That’s something, and it is something better than mediocre. I am now leading math clubs, along with Computer Science clubs as my school’s only full-time computer science teacher. Again, not many people would volunteer for any of that. So yes, I may appear mediocre in some circles, but when the rubber hits the road, I gravitate to what is challenging, and rise to the challenge, while urging my students to do the same.

But what about academic achievement? I had to make up for what I didn’t learn on my own, due to my following my own curiosity in any academic programme rather than follow the curriculum. I never surrendered my natural curiosity to forces from academe, regardless of the carrot of higher academic honors being dangled in front of me. In our culture, it seems that learning, even from grade school, boils down to that kind of a tradeoff. I never get a sense that there was ever room for compromise.

Most people give up their special set of questions to pursue what they are told, and it seems they end up comfortable, but losing their natural curiosity, believing that learning is hard, learning is not natural unless you have a pre-digested curriculum with pre-digested questions to answer. These are questions you are not necessarily asking; questions you are not necessarily curious about.

I was always confused as a child as to why I did so poorly in school. I would ask my counsellor why he thought it was. He said he didn’t know. So, it was unknown to science or something? These days, it seems quite simple. My will to learn was never really tamed or never really broken to conform to other’s expectations. Pursuing learning for its own pleasure was one of the few pleasures I seemed to be able to have in my teens, and the nice thing about this pleasure is that it is perennial. So, as a result, I always favoured the self-indulgence of asking my own questions, doing my own reading, and finding things out for myself.

The energy I devoted to that meant I had less energy for the course material at hand. But on some deep level I also didn’t find the idea of giving up my freedom to learn in exchange for a high mark to be that worthwhile a tradeoff. It seemed that the way the education system was set up was to make you feel less competent to do basic things in life, which ought not to be rocket science. Making easy things seem hard is not the mark of a good educational system.

You can’t go back to the Garden

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You may not be able to get back to the garden, but you can buy your merch here!

It is difficult to get into the reasons why the 50th anniversary of Woodstock was cancelled this year, but it was set to go on the 16th of August. For that, you have to avoid the major networks and newspapers, and that means CBC, CTV, The Globe and Mail, CNN and the New York Times. The major media is not that much invested in the politicking and intrigue underlying the music business.

It is so much better to give a detailed read of the trade publications themselves, because, they can’t get it wrong, or be vague if a little more research or a few more interviews would give the story more flesh. What Billboard and Variety magazines provide is a much more sobering read about the ill-fated concert. I even got quite an education just from reading the comment section of Billboard, which is more than I could say for the journalists in the major media who are trying to make a living on stories like this.

It is a story of organizers getting screwed by promoters, venue changes when the old one couldn’t be secured, a lack of planning (apparently, very little thought to security or how to manage vehicle traffic into or out of a concert which had a target attendance of over 160,000).

Billboard is where I learned that, as a condition of performing at a large venue such as a theatre or stadium, many performers have a “radius clause” imposed on them, meaning that they could not have any concerts within a certain radius of the venue they signed up for. If these performers were performing, say in Virginia, or any place along the middle part of the American Eastern Seaboard, they had to cancel their Woodstock appearance when it was announced that Woodstock was being moved from Bethel, New York to Maryland.

Alas, it was not to be, and seven hours ago, the organizers cancelled Woodstock’s 50th anniversary altogether.

Woodstock 50 was to have among its lineup, original acts such as Santana, Canned Heat, David Crosbie, Melanie, John Sebastian, John Fogerty, Country Joe MacDonald and Hot Tuna (two members of Hot Tuna are from what used to be Jefferson Airplane); and a big name from “classic rock”: Robert Plant; and then a lot of “cool” modern performers, such as Pussy Riot, The Black Keys, and Brandi Carlile. It is not clear that Miley Cyrus fit the general theme of a concert like Woodstock 50, and many thought that by admitting her and some others, that organizers had diverged from the peace/love/positive vibe that they should have been conveying.

This is a parody by Christopher Guest for the National Lampoon from the early 1970s.

Truth and Action

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Pontius Pilate answered a life-and-death question with a question: “What is truth?” We recognize his response as a indecisiveness masking avoidance behaviour, since truth is well-defined, requiring evidence. Generally, even the answer to the question “What is truth?” needs argument and evidence.

But truth without evidence is undefinable. It can be anything we want it to be. “What is truth?”, asked as if truth were some abstraction, is a discussion that leads nowhere. Like watching shadows in a cave, we can never be sure what the substance of the shadow is doing if we don’t see it, but we can look to the shadow for evidence. True, we may get the wrong idea, but there’s a pretty good chance of getting most of it right. Our brains are wired to put such things together. And though our perceptions may be wrong sometimes, ignoring those perceptions and assimilations is normally seen as foolish and naive.

We can never see everything there is to see in life, but nevertheless, life expects us to make sense of the world around us given our limited perceptions and world view. And the critical decisions we make affecting our lives are almost never based on perfect information. But we often base decision on the degenerate data available, further informed by past experience, and often are expected to render such judgements, whether it is in our line of work, or our daily lives. More often than not, not deciding is often more damaging to one’s future than deciding. With a decision, at least you have a way to base a future plan for coping with any consequences. In life, there is no fence-sitting. Deciding not to decide is still a decision. And it is a decision with consequences.

 

Getting away from it

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At a Tim Horton’s, we ordered coffee, I ordered a doughnut. Denise wouldn’t have doughnuts. She seemed a little upset. I later found it was because she had visited her mother and became victim of her latest insensitive remarks.

“Why do you bother visiting your mom if all she does is hurt your feelings,” I ask. This always seems to happen, almost like a weekly routine.

“Well, she is my mother, and I am the only daughter, so I am seen as the only one who can do certain things for her once in a while. But when she says something hurtful, what I normally do is go home, think about it, write my feelings down somewhere, and then try to go about my life again.”

She went on, mostly elaborating. I was silent as she was explaining this to me. I could say that writing is only a temporary measure. It helps you to figure things out, but it doesn’t solve your problems. It might be a way of licking your wounds, but it alone doesn’t heal them. As I saw it, the only way she could heal was to not visit her mother, and to stay away from any other source of hurt.

I don’t think she wanted to hear that. There was a sense of security she seemed to feel about the rut she was in. She was, in her mind, coping splendidly. She would be hurt by people in the world around her, she’d retreat home, lick her wounds, then do the same thing again. With all that hurting and healing, there was no room left for anything positive. Certainly no room to make a positive contribution to society in general.

Debt freedom is a lot of work

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A while ago, I posted that I finally saw, for the first time in 5 years, $0 owing on both my credit card and my line of credit. The battle is never over, however. Unless I want to completely free myself of the luxury of a credit card and line of credit, there will always be the slow creep of regular payments, and short-term borrowing ($100 here, $200 there), which in my situation are unavoidable occurrences.

So, I will always have to pay down between $200 and $300 on any given 2-week period to maintain the zero balance. This is in stark contrast to the prospect of running up all of my credit in all of my cards (credit, store cards, etc), where I know I could be easily $25000 in debt in a week, should I be silly enough to do such a thing.

But there are other issues with money. In my opinion, credit is too damn easy to get. I really shouldn’t have access to $25000, because I know that paying back would be nearly hopeless. I would have to work past my retirement to do that.

In addition, we have grown too accustomed to people pushing product in our face. I have been working for weeks trying to cancel my cell phone contract. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to shake a salesperson off my leg from Bell, trying to push cell phones on us, both on the phone and in person. I have been alive for 45 years without the need of the ball-and-chain of a cell phone, I will live another 45 damn years without it. It is cheaper to use a pay phone. Way cheaper. Even at 50 cents a call.

The pushing of product in the form of a pressure sales job is a rising trend that I find alarming. I think we are at a point where we are buying so much stuff that we can’t pay for, that I find it hard to believe that it will be easy to come out of the recession. Pressure sales, to me, applies to any attempt to sell to you anything you were not considering buying before the sales pitch.

We all like to prioritize our spending to suit our purposes. Pressure sales is a disruption to that purpose. It throws you off-focus. The only possible answer must be “no” to these people. You have to have a steely resolve that they are wasting their time and effort on you. And so what if they think you are a jerk? To them, the only people who are not jerks are people who buy their stuff, so who needs the high regard of people with such shallow values? On the other hand, if your purchasing decisions are deliberate, then you can walk into the store, and give the salesperson the easiest payday they ever had. You get exactly what you want, and the salesman still makes money.

We live in a society utterly awash in the sales pitch, so it is easy to miss the fact that you are not anything but a wise spender if you just say “no”. Make every purchase decision a planned, deliberate one. It takes a great deal of mental discipline to do this. You need to separate yourself from the competitiveness and the materialism of society to be such a person.

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