So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. There are several reasons. Of course, I’ve been busy so that’s one reason. Second, I’ve had another post mostly ready to go for some time but wanted to include some screenshots to better illustrate what I did. That’s a lot like documentation and no programmer likes to do that. Unfortunately, I don’t have a horde of followers clamoring at me to post, but perhaps most importantly, as a college buddy of mine once accused, I have little or no capacity to maintain even a bad habit, let alone a good one. But today, something odd happened. I slept until noon. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but for no apparent reason the house went silent, even with house guests so I just didn’t have the usual noise forcing me out of bed.
Well, I had things to do so I hopped out of bed, somewhat displeased with the loss of hours I needed to get things done and got myself ready for the day. I came out, saw some laundry needing folded and decided to do that first. Since the kids were all up in the loft still being surprisingly quiet (I went up to check on them just to make sure) I decided to turn on some music because I rarely get the chance. While the Roku TV was firing up though, I made a sudden change of mind and tuned into the Ted Talks channel instead. I went to the list of many, many talks I’d marked for listening and came upon this one:
I encourage you to take a moment to listen to it now, even if you’re familiar with it, it’s just over nineteen minutes long. This video is rather old now and I am seeing it for the first time, which is an interesting line of thinking all it’s own.
I marked this initially because of the title and because I’ve agreed with this sentiment for some time. What I did not realize was this is very likely my CORE dispute with the current public school system. I’ve chipped away at it for years now from many different angles. A child who scores literally off the chart in some areas while dead average in others, yet in the advanced academic program tended to score better in subjects he was not supposed to be good at. Getting C’s in class, not because he was getting C’s, but because he was getting A’s and zeros. Another child who scores high average across the board, in literally every subject but is not considered “advanced.” This might seem somewhat obvious, but the truth is, such a student is almost guaranteed to be bored in every single subject with not the slightest bit of challenge. This in fact proved to be true when he showed himself able to run straight A’s just because the school gave a goodie bag prize that was better for A Honor roll than A/B honor roll. While I admire the school administrators for finding a way to motivate students, I don’t feel the difference should be so easily attained, nor do I feel that should have been the end goal. While I may be a bit harsh on this point (or even wrong), keep in mind, this was the student who was NOT considered AAP qualified yet he had “mastered” everything they threw at him. Perhaps something more challenging would have been in order?
It was the above video however, that caused me to step back from the details and recognize what is likely the core flaw. I remember a story my mother once told about my first day of school. I was the oldest so like all mothers, mine was a bit unsettled by this first send off. She waited anxiously at the bus stop for my return. As I exited the bus she quickly asked me what we did today to which I replied, “we did everything, and I was good at all of it…”
Somewhat accidentally, I kept this viewpoint throughout school. I scored high, but did so with little effort and no focus. I did NOT score perfectly. I scored high enough on my tests to qualify for any university I wanted. I would later learn the difference between being qualified and competitive. In fact, I never did finish college, but this one trait created a career for me. I retained the ability to be “good at everything” which actually has nothing to do with actually being good at the particular task and more with having no fear of it. Another example: A friend of mine whose skills I highly respect was having a problem with a bit of code and in frustration, he handed it off to me. I worked out the issue and gave it back. After I explained the solution and how it worked he gave to me the best complement I have ever received. He said, “now that you’ve shown me the solution and why it works, it makes perfect sense. What I don’t understand is what in God’s name made you think to try that in the first place…”
To this day, I don’t recall the particular issue because for me it was the same as any other problem I’d worked on. I had worked myself into a niche where I would troubleshoot the problems that baffled the experts. This did NOT make me smarter than them and it certainly did not make me more qualified for those jobs. In fact, I used to explain this ability by stating my skills in such diverse problems came primary from NOT being crippled by actual knowledge. I had no preconceived notion of what could or should be done, so I had to work it out blindly. This simply allowed me to see past their assumptions.
The point of all this is, I retained a rather severe dislike of being wrong. In many ways, that is what drives me most. Now I know your first response will be, we all hate being wrong, but I’ll argue with you on this. By and large, most people hate getting CAUGHT being wrong and so will fight ferociously to retain the ability to still claim they are right. I on the other hand, actually hate being wrong. So much so that if you prove me wrong, I will switch sides in the blink of an eye, truly. Now for the most part, this won’t be obvious at first. I will argue my point as defensively as anyone because I’ve actually thought it through. However, should you actually present me with some evidence I was not aware of, or perhaps some insight that slipped past me, I will stop and switch my views right then and there. I realize this is a rather lofty claim, but I’ve done it and the reaction I get every time is to some degree or another the same; shock. Many will try to needlessly continue the argument refusing to believe I had truly given over. The most extreme version of this had a manager calling security because she thought I had snapped.
Now, it still remains to be seen how this applies to my own children. Are they like me and “good at everything” or do they have a single, true passion? What actually drives them? Regardless, how do I bring that out and mange or reconcile it with my notion of insuring they go to college? The only thing I do know for certain, is that for all the claims of public schools, they are most certainly NOT looking for that natural talent or interest in my children and so will succeed, only by the greatest of accidents.
P.S. I once thought a very good friend of mine was “wasting his time” studying Art in college. I had no doubt of this, despite his obvious skill. He is now illustrating for the likes of the New York Times, Time Magazine, the New Yorker and many others. I think it’s obvious now who spent their college years more wisely…