Sunday, August 9, 2015

School, Learning from the Internet


(links courtesy of A-zu-ra)

I guess as a member of the internet generation I've been recently feeling a sense of pretty great gratitude at the fact that I can learn so many useful things from the web.  You know, things like cooking, living skills, how to clean xyz, how to charge sales tax, etc. (in addition to more "niche" things like how to work CSS and jquery).  The idea of learning these sorts of things in school really does make you contemplate things, I think.  If anything, many of the things that are taught throughout all levels of education are things that you should be able to just reference online/via wikipedia now.  I think there is very little value in learning something that is not a "foundation skill" (reading comprehension, multiplication, something that other things depend on) and can just be referenced very easily later on, so I think for those topics to have worth they need to be framed in the context of other things that are more globally applicable.

I don't think you can go and say that history is useless and should be an optional thing because there are things that have happened in the past that people should really learn about and think about critically.  Think about slavery, the holocaust, hiroshima, wars, even 9/11 should now be considered "history" despite the fact that many of you were around when it was happening.  It's difficult though, because I think at that age it's very hard to understand what exactly the ethical and moral implications of all of these things are.  For me personally, at least, we always had this idea implanted in our heads that "history is important because you need to avoid making the mistakes of the past", but I think that's a very cut-and-dry statement that doesn't really click.  We can learn things like "slavery is bad" and "we shouldn't kill people based on their race" but I think there's this big missing piece of how that actually fits into our social and ethical lives today.  I don't think many (any?) of us are going to have the opportunity to become a slaveowner even if you wanted to; how does this actually apply to us in the present day?  When I'm thinking about Hiroshima, am I understanding the ethical and moral implications of it?  Am I feeling how horrific it was, as an personal atrocity and not just as a set of numbers?  Or am I just thinking "omg, atom bombs!"

As an aside, nothing I ever did in school taught me how to write better or speak better, so I guess it's not really surprising at all that I see so many problems with communication happen in the workplace and in general.  I mean, I always just chalked it up to "communication is hard" and "people just suck at it inherently" but how should we expect anyone to know how to communicate properly and effectively when all we learn is how to write 5-paragraph essays and how to recite memorized speeches?  MaRo's article on writing articles is more applicable and important to my daily usage than even the best of what I learned in school.

Similarly for speaking--when you're at a large meeting in work and you need to make an argument or present information, do you really expect to have your 5 prepared notecards in front of you as you deliver your speech, remembering to make eye contact and use good body language?  What if something comes up in the middle of the meeting and you need to speak out about it?  Hold on guys--I'd like to use 5 minutes of my prep time before I speak next!  No...not quite how it works there.  In fact, I feel like there is an active stigma against people who deliver canned speeches.  If it feels like what you are saying is "practiced", people are going to pick up on it and feel that it's not genuine.

Perhaps the reason there is such a large fear of public speaking is exactly because of how it's presented in school.  We did all these presentations and speeches as we were growing up, and supposedly it's probably supposed to make you a better speaker, and more comfortable with public speaking.  But guess what?  Every time you do a speech or presentation for school, it's the worst possible situation because you are being GRADED for your performance.  The way you deliver your speech literally determines whether you are labeled as a success or a failure, and to make matters worse, all of your peers are watching you get judged.  Is that stressful?  Heck yes!  I better practice my butt off and memorize the entire thing because if I forget anything or get caught saying "hold on, let me think...", that's an instant deduction from my grade.  This whole process establishes this idea in my head that public speaking is a high-pressure situation where I'm being judged.  And you wonder why people get nervous when they need to speak in front of a group!!!

Back to the original point I was making on learning things from the intarwebs.  I think you could argue "but, cleaning, paying taxes....these are all things you should be learning from your parents!"  And to an extent, you'd be right.  There are a lot of things that are just easier or better learned from parents.  But there are a lot of problems with that, too.  For one thing, parents don't know everything.  Are your parents going to teach you what you need to host a website? (domain name, hosting, DNS records)  What if they never owned a business or sold anything; will they know how to deal with sales tax via Bandcamp or Etsy?  Have they advertised via craigslist or ebay?  Okay, so they know how to cook american or chinese food, but what about making cajun food?  Thai curries?  Fajitas?

The other thing is that sometimes the knowledge you get is just plain =wrong=.  This happens a lot in both healthcare (unfortunately) and cooking, among other things.  Cooking is the easiest to point to since there are all of these cooking myths like "searing locks in the meat juices by creating a hard crust on the outside" and "only flip your burger patty once" which have scientifically been disproven (flipping multiple times leads to more even cooking).  Even if the ideas =were= right 30 years ago, a lot of things change over the span of a generation. ("you should take CHEM230, back when =I= was in college it was a good course" doesn't really work out, particularly if that course number doesn't exist anymore)

I think the combination of being in a completely new situation and place (sometimes, growing up in America with split heritage identity vs immigrant parents) and the fact that the times have changed so much (in past times quitting your job to work at a new place was a sin, maybe kills your present times if you've been at a job for more than 4 years, prospective employers will see it as a red flag, maybe kills your career...) means that it's vitally important for people to first question tradition and the status quo and try to learn about the world around them, and second to be able to know where to look to find the answers to the questions they have.  Perhaps that's the case with -every- generation, but the existence of google wikipedia and other key players means there has been a paradigm shift in how we can find the knowledge that is important to us.

But above all just watch Steven Universe b/c who could ask for a better representation of humanity, relationships, love, morality, and hamburger backpacks?  Also play Journey. :P

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