Category Archives: Education

Joyful Reading

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Read this sentence.

Okay, now see that same sentence without reading it. That is, only see lines and curves and closed spaces. Hard, isn’t it? Maybe impossible. It’s far easier to read it. So much so, when you see the sentence “Read this sentence”, you can’t help but see it as something to be read, and automatically do so.

In fact, as you are reading this blog, it is likely that you are hardly noticing the individual letters as your brain —  like with no longer seeing lines and curves and enclosed spaces unless specifically asked to do so — automatically perceives whole words (or more!) instead.

Stop and consider how bizarre yet wonderful that is. Once we learn how to read, and especially read well, it becomes so entrenched in our mental processing we scarcely notice this altogether extraordinary achievement.

And it is an achievement. It is something you didn’t possess at birth and had to be learned. A likely part of that learning involved folks reading to you and, if all went well, cultivating delight in the written word and all that it offers.

Today I had the pleasure of experiencing that early period of childhood development first hand. Starting my volunteering for Outreach at the Kellogg Hubbard Library, I went with its program veteran Ray to take books to All Together Now Community Arts Center for the preschool it operates.

The kids, mostly two- and three-years-olds, greeted our arrival with enthusiasm. We spread out the books we’d brought on the floor and they raced from book to book, looking for the one that appealed the most to them.

We adults — myself, Ray, and several staff — did not have to cajole the kids to engage them in this form of childhood learning. We simply sat on the floor or in chairs as the kids clustered around us with their prized findings and ongoing pleas of “can you read this next?”

The joy in reading and being read to was palpable, appreciated, and welcomed.

Yet far too often as we grow older, the want to of it metamorphoses into have to. ironically, this seems to happen as reading becomes so easy, so entrenched that it becomes a taken-for-granted feature. Perversely, it also seems to happen during the course of school years, where reading gets drained of its inherent wonder and becomes just another task; a chore.

How do we fix that?

Or, maybe a better question, is why do we let it break?

The Necessitation of Sexual Orientation Revelation

EMT Timothy McCormick was killed Saturday night.

He was gay, an eagle scout, and on duty. Those three words — gay, scout, and duty — are important ones and should be said loud and clear, in that order, over and over again.  They need to be Klaxon loud until deaf America hears.

To do so is not playing politics, pushing an agenda or showing disrespect. To NOT do so would be more accurately described as possessing such attributes and is exactly the kind of subtle inaction anti-gay factions promote in their fabrication of reality.

We are having discussions of the discriminatory sexual orientation policy of the Boys Scouts of America in the unreal world of there being no gays in the scouts. The real world is where gays are already there and have shown their mettle rising up through the ranks from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout. You’re damn right it is important that Timothy was an Eagle Scout AND gay.

We are having discussions of marriage equality in the unreal Micah Clark world of gays not caring about anyone but themselves. The real world is where gays not only care about others but are actively engaged — on duty — in jobs that serve and protect adults and children alike. You’re damn right it is important that Timothy was an EMT AND gay.

We are having discussions of sex education in the Stacey Campfield unreal world of gays wanting to recruit children. The real world is where self-identified LGBT children are being bullied and it is society as a whole that needs better sex education.

The fact that in the real world Timothy made an It Gets Better video empowering such kids is damn important, too.

A crucial step in disenfranchising a class is rendering that class invisible in the social sphere. This allows malicious artists of the unreal the opportunity to paint broad brushstrokes of generalizations. The best counter to such sweeping statements is specificity.

The kind of specificity that necessitates constant, continuous, and unrelenting revelation of sexual orientation.

Such call for action might be construed as a call for gays being in your face about their –and others — sexual orientation. You’re damn right it is such a call.

For It has to be that way as long as blind America keeps on turning its head and omitting us from obituaries, wedding announcements, and any other normal societal frame of reference that humanizes us and the people whom we love.

Timothy’s death was a tragedy, make no mistake about that. But to not draw attention to his sexual orientation would be a travesty.

Timothy McCormick, may you rest in peace.

And may the world in which you lived keep on getting better.

Ironing out Wordpess

Well, I reckon I have far too many wrinkles in my powered by WordPress site to iron them out in one fell swoop, so the title here is a tad disingenuous.

But hey, I like the wordplay of it, and although Beginning to iron out WordPress issues would probably be more accurate while still maintaining the iron and press of the play, such a longer title would be less aesthetically pleasing to me.

As a writer, I always try to please myself first. There is an underlying assumption lined with hope that I make here; that if I really do please myself, then I stand a good chance of pleasing some other folks as well.

Not pleasing everyone, of course, but I have no idea how to write for everyone. Nor do I think I would like to come upon such an idea. For I think it would cash out in practice more like pleasing everyone but me.

The same goes for my blog as I try to create a site to the best of my present capacity that I myself would find pleasing to visit.

As with my writing, I am constantly looking for ways to improve the nuts and bolts of it. Tonight I added to my website toolbox by attending a meeting sponsored by the WordPress Indianapolis Networking (WIN) group.

This ongoing meetup group covers a full range of Worpress topics, though the one tonight at The Speakeasy was Beginner WP Workshop.

Already, via their helpful presentation, I have gotten rid of one little wrinkle by a simple change to the permalinks setting:

The URLs for my posts used to end in “/?P=###”, but now they end in the respective post’s title.

Props to Tracy Foote for organizing the event and especially to Chris Carrel for presenting the helpful material, which went far beyond just the permalinks advice.

For the Love of Libraries

Tonight the West Indianapolis Library — my closest branch — had the pleasure of hosting an informal chat with Indianapolis Public Library CEO Jackie Nytes. She brought along with her Collections Director Deb Lambert. It was one stop of many they will make this month, which will see them visiting each and every branch for similar chats.

Some of the main points of discussion were:

  • The composition of the collection
  • Print versus electronic materials usage
  • Dissemination of what the library has to offer
  • Community needs and habits

Although diverse in topics, the underlying theme — and ultimate purpose for her chats — is  envisioning the public library of the future… and taking steps now towards making it a reality.

A decent public library is one of the hallmarks of a great nation. For it is a welcomed equalizer in a world that is often lopsided in distribution of wealth, resources, and good circumstances. It does this by granting power equaling knowledge to anyone who wants it, regardless of their current situation.

Vive la bibliothèque!

Epoxy, eh?

Many of the people I’m connected to on social media seemed to be frequently engaged in major home alteration projects like putting in floors, hanging doors, or installing windows…  all of which I thought were already present features in houses and you could thus forget about them.

I’ve seen pictures of their work and am amazed.

I strive for far humbler efforts of reconstruction, when I have to; and strive even more to avoid having to. For even the simplest things that involve the handling of raw materials for some higher purpose, like one of repair instead of replacing, become an ordeal. Maybe not quite rising to the level of tribulation, but still a hassle.

Worse, there is humiliation, too, as frequently the hassle is amplified by the hindsight of my having done something or somethings to add to its less than smooth trip towards success. Like the other day when I wanted to repair a plastic handle to our shed; a handle that allows for a lock to run through it and latch to an identical handle on the other door, thereby securing shed contents.

I went to the neighborhood hardware store, Fusek’s True Value Hardware Store, which is a store to which I only go when circumstances warrant it. They didn’t have a handle like the broken one, so I thought I might try my hand at repair.

“Epoxy, eh?”

“Yeah. It’s stronger than glue.”

So I went home with my little package of Devcon 14ml 60-Second Epoxy, choosing the 60 seconds kind because the least time involved in such an endeavor seemed best. As I was getting things ready, though, I noticed something tucked away at the end of the directions that I had stupidly and hassle-creatingly missed:

Does not bond polyethylene or polypropylene plastics.

I turned the package over and, sure enough, as clear as English language can be:

Bonds: Metal, Wood, Glass, Ceramics, Fiberglass

Yep, no mention of plastics, which is exactly of course from what my objet d’repair was made.

So back to the store. This time I brought home something called Plastic Welder. A lot longer set time, cure time and all around time, but Plastic in the title seemed encouraging. Even more encouraging was that on the front it said:

Bonds: Hard Plastic, PVC, Styrene, Acrylic, Ceramic, Fiberglass, Metal, Vinyl, Wood

I have no idea what PVC or Styrene is but Hard Plastic certainly sounded like my door handle, which was clearly plastic and clearly hard. But I’ll be darned if a similar disclaimer to my previous purchase, likewise tucked at the end of the directions was:

Not recommended for use on polyethylene or polypropylene plastics.

Granted it was a slightly less absolute warning. I mean, it didn’t say it would not work. Just that it wasn’t recommended. Though here some advice as to why it wasn’t recommended would have been helpful. Even more helpful would have been to write such an important bit of information in non-chemist language, maybe with an example or two.

I know I don’t have the greatest vocabulary in the world, but when did words like polyethylene and polypropylene enter the lexicon as everyday words. I know the word plastic, or thought I did, but obviously there is a lot more to that linguistic world than plastic or not plastic; a more that suddenly was crucial.

Neither staring at the object nor touching it provided any insight into its material composition. So I went on the Internet and searched the Web for images of the elusive non-bonding polyethylene and polypropylene plastics.

My reasoning here, by no means flawless, was that if none of the objects I saw looked anything like my particular object, I could assume the plastic wasn’t ethyl or prop. Which is what I did, and, after very carefully following the directions involving a double syringe of hardener and resin, air bubbles, a mixing paddle, and making more of a mess than what a person with greater aptitude would generate, I got the handle put together.

And, wonders of all-thumbs wonders just call me Mr Fix-it, it has held!

Learning at the Cost of Understanding

I drove Gary to the FSSA office today out on Crawfordsville Road. He recently got approved for disability and there was some additional bureaucratic stuff we needed to do via appointment.

This blog isn’t about that bureaucratic stuff.

Instead it is about the skills involved in the modern world to make the bureaucratic stuff happen. More broadly, it is about skills of that nature in general.

Sitting next to Gary in the cubicle in a maze of cubicles, I noticed how the worker had two computer screens at her desk, both with information up. On the primary screen she worked off of, she entered data, switched screens, then more data, and so on. At one point she got assistance from a supervisor on how a particular entry had to entered and was advised to enter such and such here, then here, then click here, switch screen here, enter such and such here, and so on. Then she was back on her own entering and clicking and screen-to-screening and turning the great bureaucracy forward for our benefit.

No doubt the program used is a very specific program and the person who knows how to use it — has such skill — is valued by the administration for possessing them … valued that is until the program becomes outdated, is abandoned, or otherwise no longer around.

I originally was going to call this entry high-level skills versus low-level skills. But I thought “low” in low-level sounded disparaging of possessing such skills, which is neither my intent nor focus. Also the word “skill” itself is a misleading term what with how much can be lumped under it. A significant amount can be lumped under “learning” and “understanding”, too, but I will cash them out in a way that will distinguish them and perhaps limit such lumping.

Companies like to trumpet that they encourage learning. Other companies promise to help you “learn new skills” to make employers snatch you up. However, often the learning and skills that fall out of that educational endeavor are short-term helpful at best to the ‘student’ but long-term harmful.

For knowing a skill doesn’t guarantee you understanding of something. Yet understanding is what’s most valuable because it is transferable and transcends the particularities of a situation.

Learning to me is gaining knowledge of “how” to do something. Understanding also involves a how, but that how encompasses the environment outside its current situation. Understanding embraces other one-word questions like “Why?” and “How?” while furthermore encouraging the world-changing “What now?”.

For example, we learn to avoid fire early in our human evolving because it tends to cause bodily harm to us. But understanding how fire is created, what it burns, and a host of other things about fire and its relationship to the world means we can cook with it, warm with it, and largely control it for purposes far beyond that initial “fire bad and scary” exposure.

Another, more modern example: knowing how to enter HR data into, say, Peoplesoft is a skill. But better is knowing how that data relates to the people it describes. Even better still, as an HR professional, is knowing how to most effectively put a decent workforce together. The latter knowledge requires understanding of such things as work needs, labor pools, and recruitment strategies, all of which can be used and leveraged regardless of the workplace specifics.

Yet we see a large chunk of the jobs in the marketplace where the person is expected — required even — to have experience with a “learned” skill instead of possession of an understanding. More and more you see this in job ads, which rencourages a rush to learn rather than to understand. This is very helpful to the company of course, as they can plug the person in the like a cog in a machine.

But for the employee? I say it is short-term helpful for the obvious: a “learned” skill gets you that niche job, you get paid, and you can buy stuff so you can enjoy little luxuries like food and shelter. The long-term harm here isn’t as directly visible as the short-term company paycheck, so I’ll try to cast light on it this way:

Imagine your life as a finite series of moments. Which it is, so that should be easy to imagine. Each moment can be used for either action x or action y, any combination you wish. But since there are only so many moments to go around, action x is always “Life – action y”, and vice versa. So more time spent on learning skill x is less time spent on understanding y.

Now granted x and y can — and should — work in tandem. Y may even require x. But…

Imagine having a car. You learn how to turn it on. You learn how to change its tires, check its oil, put gas in it. All of this is good stuff — good skills — and helpful to have learned. But what if you were never allowed to take it out of the garage, let alone out on the road? This is exactly the kind of environment the modern workforce seems like it is promoting with its emphasis on narrowly defined “experience”.

Which is all good and well for the gas company, the tire company, the garage company… for the whatever company that reaps huge benefit from the continuously exploited skill. But the benefit for the worker of such in-demand ability is drowned by the obvious:

Under such vehicular conditions, just how far down the road of a well-lived life will they have gotten?