Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

[She said she wanted to write 500 words on the United States. He (the teacher) said maybe she should start with the university's town. She came back with nothing to say. So he told her to write just about the main street. She still had nothing to say.]

He was furious. "You're not looking!" he said. ... The more you look the more you see. She wasn't really looking and yet somehow did not understand this.

He told her angrily, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The opera house. Start with the upper left hand brick."

[She handed in a 5,000 word essay.]

Schools teach you to imitate. If you don't imitate what the teacher wants, you get a bad grade. Here in college it was much more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A's. Originality on the other hand got you anything from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.

He discussed this with a professor of psychology, who lived next door to him, an extremely imaginative teacher, who said, "Right. Eliminate the whole degree-and-grading system and then you'll get a real education."


I love this book. I loved it the first time, the second, and now the third time, it has hooked me again. I think I could read it a hundred times, and still get more out of it. And one of my favorite parts is when he talks about eliminating grades and his experiences trying to teach rhetoric/writing to his college students.

Grade eliminating schemes are assumed to be for the benefit of the weaker students. To make them feel better or something. And I do believe that lower grades are harmful too. But as a top student, grades served not to encourage excellence from me, but complacency. I would hand in papers written in no time, with no rewrite, and get A's. I almost never studied or did homework, and I still got A's. At the time, I didn't understand it.

Eliminating grades from schools would ultimately benefit the best and the brightest the most. Because, unfettered by mediocrity, they would be free to excel. They would be free to learn as much as they could instead of as little as they could.

Because that's what grades really encourage: to learn as little as possible. Bullet points, headlines, italicized print, that's what is on the test. But the most interesting stuff is in the middle. Or rather, in between the lines. Textbooks are a function of this [little as possible] mindset. That's why they are so repugnant.

School teaches children to learn as little as possible -- and it is what turned me off from school, though I thoroughly learned the lesson.

And that is why my son will never go to school. I want him to learn as much as possible. I want him to feel free to completely not know anything about a subject, rather then think he knows about something because he took a class on it and passed the test. And if he does desire to go to school one day, he will be prepared to use school, rather than have the school use him.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What I made last week

Apple Juice

Well, first I made apple juice in the food processor, as I don't have a juicer. We cut up a whole bunch of apples, and whirred them around in the food processor for a couple minutes. Then I spooned them into a strainer and drained out some of the juice. Then I scooped them into an old polo shirt rag (that was never used for cleaning), and my son and I took turns squeezing the rag to get every last bit of juice out of the pulp. Caleb found this great fun. The juice was earmarked for making apple butter, but it was so good that we made another batch for drinking.

Apple Butter

To make the apple butter, we used 2 cups of apple juice, and then cut up enough apples into chunks to fill our crockpot 3/4 of the way full. I turned the crockpot on high for about an hour, then turned it down to low and let it cook for 2 days until it was brown and apple buttery. I smooshed it down with a spoon, but I didn't blend it because I wanted it a little chunky and homemade tasting.


I've posted our bread recipe on this blog before, so I won't reiterate it here. We finally got our oven hooked up, so we were able to make bread! Our first bread in our new home. It was a momentous occasion. I made cinnamon-raisin bread. You take enough dough for a loaf, and smoosh or roll it out on your countertop the width of your bread pan and about 3/8ths of an inch thick and however long the dough makes. Then dump loads of cinnamon and rub it around. Then sprinkle the top with raisins. Finally roll it up, and pinch the ends and bottom. Place it in the bread pan and push it down so it covers the bottom of the pan. Bake it at 450 for a half an hour.

Well, i also made myself wool mittens and more wool socks. And I made my son long underwear out of a cashmere sweater, but he's had enough of me being on the computer, so I'll save them for another post. Adios!

Toys are for FUN!

Why is it that toys can't just be toys? What's wrong with saying that your toddler is going to enjoy wacking away at this hammer and peg toy so much he'll leave you alone for long enough to check your email and maybe even respond to one or two of them? Is it wrong to play with something that won't make your child the next Einstein?

My toys are for fun. They are just something to play with. They won't promote hand-eye coordination. They are not "design inspired to enhance child development during these years." They won't teach your child how to be a genius or a builder or a cook. You don't need toys for that sort of thing. What you need is time.

You need time, and your child needs time. Your child needs time to play without you trying to teach her things or "stimulate" her imagination or compliment her on how wonderful her block stacking skills are coming along. He needs time without the TV telling him what to do. You need time to just be together so you can answer her questions and be a safety net. You need time so that your child(ren) can have time to play uninterrupted without being dragged around in the car to a hundred different stores, appointments, lessons, games, and everything else.

Toys don't really promote playing. When given time, children will play with anything. That's what they are programmed to do. Don't get me wrong. I love toys, but they aren't particularly important to your child's development. Time and freedom are what is most important.

When I buy toys, I don't buy them in order to enhance my son's development. I only buy toys made of natural materials: wood, cotton, wool, metal, etc. (my brothers and I saved all our Legos, so I never have to buy them). And I buy them according to the multi-use principle. How much play value do they have? How many different uses does this toy have? How many different scenarios could played out with this one toy? If part of it breaks, can I fix it? How is this going to look in 5, 10, 20 years? (That's why I make primarily unpainted toys, because painted toys get chipped, smeared and otherwise look dingy after a few years.)

Anyway, that was my rant about the toymaking industry. My message to every parent, aunt, uncle, and granparent is this: Don't buy toys to "educate" the children. Buy them according to their play value.