Saturday, December 8, 2007


Eldest and I spent most of the day together, she had not one single pair of pants and about two pairs of socks. Something had to be done, despite my deep loathing of all things shopping...the kids have even commented on the fact that I am not so fun to shop with because I get so grumpy.

Ho hum

It went pretty well, she's got three pairs of pants now, and socks...turns out youngest needs socks too. Shoot.

It occured to me as I sat down to write and started to reflect on the day that I never really thought all day, don't get me wrong, cerebral activity was going on, chatting with eldest, dealing with traffic, finding our way through parts of the city we hadn't been too before, deciding on clothing, keeping my cool in the crowds...yet....

It amazes me sometimes how little we may really think in a given day.

As I said, I don't mean the standard day to day thought train that runs along as you work your way from moment to moment and meal to meal, but really thinking about something.

It is something we have been discussing lately as a family. The Spanish school system, in fact the Catalan in particular has been in the papers lately as one of the worst in Europe. (Hip Hip Hooray!!!) Looking at the work the students have to do now and further on, the biggest problem seems to me to be that they simply don't need to think. It is mountains and mountains of rote memorisation. I mean, really, get a load of grade whateveritiswhenyouare14 the kids have to memorise the periodic table of elements.

Now excuse me, but WTF????

Isn't that something that you can, you know, look up?

What about making chemistry and chemical actions come to life? Let them think and work with the material, blow a few things up, burn sonething, create clouds of foul smelling stinky smog. If they are interested in the field they will want to learn the table of elements, but I am sorry, will they even understand what the elements are in any meaningful way if they are just set the task of memorising their order?

It is one of the challenges I am finding here teaching English, so many of the kids cannot be bothered to THINK.

As a culture we don't encourage this scary process. We are permanently anaesthetised by our MP3 players, our Tvs, cell phones (HI! I'm on the bus!) and streams of constant meaningless imput that prevents any real cerebral activity.

It is also a challenge I have faced teaching adults in Canada, they want to get through the course, regurgitate the necessary facts sufficiently well to get through and be gone, paper in hand. Our goal on the other hand is to give them enough info to begin to interpret and think, and get them trained in techniques for analysis, record keeping and in THINKING.

They hate it.

It is so hard and alien for them.

And there are days when I come to blog and I am distressed to discover that while I have been quite busy all day, I have not really had a chance to stop and think.

Until I sit down to write.

This may indeed be, for me, a lot of why I like to blog, why I continue to blog. It forces me to stop and reflect and think, if only for a little while.


Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, I SO know what you are talking about! For me it's being on autopilot all day until something snaps me out of it and for my boys it's all about the teacher...if the teacher engages them they love it and learn stuff but if the teacher is dull then the kids tune out.

Anonymous said...

How very true in all regards!
BUT isn't the joy and satisfaction of seeing the lights go on in just ONE student's eyes, after all the effort you've both gone through to get there, more than worth it? IT'S WHAT KEPT ME GOING.
In my experience the danger of bucking the mindlessness of most of the demands you describe/face is putting yourself or your own child in a double bind - loyalty to parent BY bucking the system and conforming/accepting the demands and learning to deal with them in order to just get through/along with the teachers that make these stupid demands.
After all,you do need THAT PAPER, whatever your position is in all these questions and every job has it's 'MINDLESS MOMENTS'.
It's tiptoeing through the tulips and it's one hell of a hard job that needs a will of iron and a ballet dancers grace, endurance and discipline.
Your blog is great - makes me think about many aspects that I never incounter in my translation work.From that point of view ONE MIGHT IVORY TOWER compared to your world.GM

Sirdar said...

Ya'd make a great home school teacher :-) That is one thing that Dawn teaches the kids to do...think and learn how to find the shouldn't be about memorizing facts.

That being said....when I go to a course, I want to know what it is that I am learning and have a reference to go with it later. Most of my courses are like that. They are specific courses on learning about specific instruments, but they are helpful.

oreneta said...

Trish: It is soo easy to coast on auto-pilot...and yes, if it is too dull, the kids just never even really get there, it's like there is no one in the room with you.

GM: There is no doubt that there are times when you just need to get the darned piece of paper, it is nice though if the powers that be can also make it a truly educational opportunity.

Sirdar: I homeschooled my kids for years...there is no doubt there are times when memorisation are necessary, spelling and multiplication tables come to mind, but the real education is assisting in the development of the ability to reason, deduct and think...once you can do that, you can recognise what you need to memorise and what you don'

Helen said...

You and Brian should get together on this - he says exactly the same, and the Japanese and African nations are worse at forcing rote learning apparently. I was talking to a girl from Uganda who learned the subway map of Berlin when she was 14!! why???

Dawn said...

Many people lack the ability to think. I remember a person I worked with years ago, who went through the same degree program as I did. She got really high marks in school and had all the book learning in her head, but she would ask the stupidest questions about things that were so easy to reason out. She was terribly annoying as a supervisor, because I had to explain such remedial things to her.

I am trying to impart to my children the ability to think. I read a quote on someone's blog (perhaps here?), paraphrased because I didn't memorize it, 'There are no problems that cannot be solved, if you ask the right questions'. I have been working on that this year, teaching them to ask the correct questions. In math, they need to ask, "What information do I have?", "What do I need to find?", "What is the path I need to take?", "Is there something else I need to find to take the path?" and so many more questions.

A very good post.