How often in life do you get an idea that you can’t express verbally or in writing? Often a flash of insight will feel whole and obvious, but like dreams, when you try to explain them their logic falls apart. Expressing one’s thoughts is hard. Finding words to explain how you feel is even harder. Whether talking with your soul mate, best friend, or writing an essay for a bunch of unknown and unseen strangers, putting the exact words together is major work. It takes persistence.
How often have you not said anything rather than struggle to find the words? How often have you seen a fantastic movie that moved you at a very deep level, but when your friends asked you about it, all you could say was, “I loved it.”
That happens to me all the time. And since I blog I’m always trying to express an idea that feels obvious to me but one I fail to give whole to my readers, or even to myself when I read what I’ve written months later, after I’ve forgotten the original inspiration.
What we have here is a failure to communicate, as a line in an old movie goes.
Friday I read a series of articles in Scientific American about new educational techniques and my initial feeling was a kind of revulsion. I immediately jotted down some notes, and yesterday I wrote an essay about how I felt. The results aren’t what I intended. That essay was too generalized. If I tried again, how could I approach it differently?
The first essay doesn’t convey the revulsion of my initial reaction. I had A Clockwork Orange kind of image of educators forcing kids to learn. I imagined teaching machines that literally forced data into children’s minds, overstuffing their little heads until they were ready to puke words. At what point does K-12 education become cruel and unusual punishment, or even brainwashing?
Part of my initial reaction was to ask: Are we requiring kids to learn too much?
The secondary reaction to that initial reaction is: What is enough education? What information should everyone have at immediate recall to make them a good and useful citizen?
Another part of my reaction is personal experience. I read a lot of books. I’ve read thousands of books, and tens of thousands of essays and watched thousands of documentaries, and one of the things I feel at 61 is I haven’t processed that information very efficiently, and maybe learning about reality could be more systematic and concise.
We can never know everything there is to know. Not even close. But K-12 and undergraduate curriculums try awful hard to give students a good approximation of all knowledge. And part of my gut reaction to those articles in Scientific American was a criticism of not how we teach, but what we teach. But to get into that topic would require writing a book.
I guess the feeling I wanted to communicate whole about my reaction to what I read was this: Can our education system teach more by teaching less? Can’t we teach kids to be self-educators, to become highly efficient autodidactics that are hungry to learn on their own? Shouldn’t we reevaluate what the standard curriculum should be so that it’s a toolkit for learning and not a vast database?
JWH – 7/24/13
3 thoughts on “A Failure to Express Myself”
I like your thoughts about a toolkit for learning, but somehow I can’t help thinking that there is some basic knowledge we should all have so we can go through life being completely stupid… One case in point, I took a course at some point which was an overview of the Quebec Civil Code, the basic legal framework of the province. I used to call this course “how to be a more intelligent citizen”. Knowing the laws you have to respect (and the ones that protect you) is essential. And I sure wish I had learned that earlier in my life.
I guess that figuring out what is the basic stuff everyone should to be a functioning adult and citizen might be hard to define. Knowing more superficial factoids you can easily be tested on is not desirable. Being able to efficiently look up information when you need it and being able to assess it critically is much more useful.
Yeah, i’m in the “I loved it”, “Fantastic”, “Brilliant” camp. I always hate it when i attempt to express myself in more elaborate and clear ways. It never comes out as what it’s my head.
Also this era of “like” buttons makes it even easier to avoid even trying.
Kids are a captive audience, we all think we can teach them whatever we think they ought to know, and fill them up like buckets. To be an intelligent person, you need content, method and creativity – that’s it. So I think, anyway.