Grades are the currency of the system: Journal 33

I still don’t understand freshmen, where they are intellectually and how to teach to them, reach them. No abstraction, I know, stay concrete, and that’s more foreign to abstract-thinking me. Also, my top student, S., asked me during her quiz retake Friday what “underlie” meant in my question “Why did Dalton think atoms were what underlie matter” or something. I’m confronted by the fact that nobody asked about this on the first time through the quiz, nor even did any of the re-takers. So none of my students are asking questions, or something. And they got a little out of hand Friday during the measurement lab—a little loud, little off-task, etc. I can’t even understand what student M.C. is telling me: “8 of these bad-boys” as he casts down his meter stick on the floor. I can’t fathom his language, it’s so odd. A flaky child. And yet I don’t want to script him (or my attitude toward him). Keep up the positive expectations for all students, Matt. [Page 37-8, Sunday evening, 9 Sept. 2001]

Too late to write much but … So weird and fascinating to watch Grace dog try to find her rag doll after we hide it. Real thinking going on, a method to her searching. And in quarry pond now, I break ice for her to drink out of, and she drinks, then tries to pick out chunks of ice, usually with her mouth—submerging head until almost her eyes! And today I also observed her “splashing”/scooping water and ice out with her front paw. She doesn’t even do anything with the chunks once she gets them. She walks around with a chunk, or sets it on ice. Even they slide back in sometimes! I didn’t start her on this—she was doing it herself with ice; last two days I broke ice for her. Sometimes she crunches the ice, but not most times. No snow (beyond a dusting) this whole vacation, so no sledding. [Page 213-4, Friday night, 3 January 2003]

On my way home yesterday, it occurred to me that if I really teach all process, then I’m devaluing Newton and established, mainstream physics — If I want “Suzy” to develop her own theory of light, am I saying her theory is as good and as valid as the Accepted Theory of Light? No—this morning I can answer no, because I’m not saying they’re equally good. There are surely better and worse answers/theories.

After weeks of searching, I finally found some evidence for waves in Galileo’s Two New Sciences—he gave evidence that when you get a glass singing, there are waves in the water inside, and chisel leaves marks across brass plate. So there’s the evidence—but is it convincing? Is it compelling?

I think I need to go more process-based. Maybe introduce some history, I’m not sure, but I’m not trying to teach “physics” anyway—I’m not the Conservator of Physics–I’m teaching particular students. [Page 107, Tuesday morning, 22 Oct. 2002]

What I seemed to need (felt like I needed) was to truly do nothing—just lie and nap or just watch TV. Even reading for fun would’ve felt taxing on brain, like I was forcing myself to do it (as I felt reading Monkey Wrench Gang that day one summer). Normally, I’d have felt sick of doing nothing, I’d’ve felt the need to do something, and I’d have gotten up and done dishes or something. Never got that stir-crazy feeling today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel more like working, though maybe not, too. I’d really like to catch up on sleep and rest (separate from sleep ) so I felt better during week. [Page 145, Saturday evening, 16 Nov. 2002]

  • Exhausted, slept 6:30 to almost 8:30 tonight, grumpy all day, pissed off.
  • Puzzles, problems, concepts—these aren’t just dismissable “schoolwork.” These are also ideas not dealt with or taken seriously many other places—not in factories, for instance, not on sports teams, etc.
  • I show kids the big ideas, help them identify those, but let them fill in the details? Not bad idea.
  • Principal today was on me about grades—it’s just too much to do. I’m too busy, feeling run down, then that.
  • I was displeased with students, but realized mostly that was because I was feeling bad myself. My generalizations, as I’ve been thinking, are not valid.
  • Principal’s expectations (and by extension, the parents’ expectations of me) not meeting my own—a disconnect. He’s telling me a set of priorities, and getting grades into the computer is one of those priorities. Once again, it’s reinforced to me how important grades are to others, though they seem beside-the-point, an afterthought, to me. I forgot: grades are the currency of the system. My priorities are planning, and beyond that, planning thought-provoking activities. It’s just a reminder to me that that’s not a priority in the system. That’s how the system is, and once again I have to concede to the system. That’s the conflict of expectations. [Page 287-8, Wednesday evening, 26 March 2003, and Thurs. morning 27 March 2003]

Commentary in Trib today—English prof was criticizing other profs for not teaching grammar, mechanics, but rather being more open-ended in their teaching. I can’t defend what his targets did, but I considered that as possible criticism of what I’m doing in my classes. After all, I’m admittedly not teaching how to solve problems with formulae, etc. I’m not doing the standard physics class, and probably kids will leave class not knowing what some might think they “should know.” But I think I’ve thought about this enough to argue against that criticism.

First, that there are two approaches to teach: the rules of the system (any system), and empowering people to form their own rules and ideas (to not be tyrannical)—that is, the foundational split between what to think, and how to think. Students are entitled to their own perceptions and judgments. They might leave thinking I’m no good. I can’t do much about that, other than tell my side of the story.

Second, he’s accusing other profs of doing intentionally what they do. Lord knows I don’t intend to do everything that happens in class (“intend” as in logically think it out, reason for it, judge its pros and cons, etc.) and furthermore, I’m a new teacher, still feeling my own through things, this is my “rough draft year,” I’m trying out new things—that’s bound to be less comprehensive than others’ teaching, but I think it has its own benefits. Spontaneity—I told 1st hour the other day that I don’t plan ’til 7:30 before 8 a.m. class. That way, the teaching is fresh, not “day-old” (and I can’t plan as well the evening of the previous day—I’m too tired then, not mentally fresh).

Trib story on state test scores—I have so many objections, but mostly they are philosophical ones. A “letter to the editor” would not be the proper forum; only a full essay or book would be.

The strong, not always pleasant personalities of “geniuses” like Wittgenstein, Popper–so far removed from notions of “good teaching.” They didn’t need to be liked, so why am I worried about not tutoring for Mrs. T? Who cares if I say no, even if it pisses her off? Further, it’s interesting to me to see how both men (I’m reading Wittgenstein’s Poker) had neuroses and character flaws–they may not have even been “normal” like the people I meet everyday. They may have been truly odd, neurotic, not really healthy, not socially adapted. And I guess that surprises me because I must’ve thought (for much of my life) people are mostly singular, most people are basically like me. I’m not sure that’s a true or accurate assumption. People very often are very different. It’s truly hard to really understand another person. Journalists sketch a profile the best they can, but profiles are mostly inadequate.

In physics today, we talked about formal vs. intuitive knowledge. Formal knowledge is when one has to think things through, like learning Spanish. Intuitive knowledge is when one is fluent in Spanish, when it’s “second nature” to one. Doing any new skill vs. the unthinking proficiency of repeated use. You don’t think, you just do (as described in title essay of Breakfast at the Victory). Lecture-style physics is formal vs. seeing something first-hand, developing one’s own ideas. Is knowledge-becoming-intuitive how our brains can get used to operating in a world it sees upside down?

Telling students what to think is dead learning! Knowledge must be created anew, for each person, by each person, for it to be real. There are lots of ideas already thought and published, say, for example, in the history and philosophy of science. But I as a newcomer to science had never been exposed to these. I barely knew this was even a field of study! So I had to create from almost nothing, create anew for myself, because all these thoughts out there are all dead until they are explored and rediscovered by each new individual.

Why don’t these ideas get into the mainstream culture? It’s as if academia is where ideas go to die. Popular American culture, news, etc., is so vacant–so few ideas, generalized into meaninglessness and repeated ad nauseam. It’s like with the Trib article—it’s so establishment, siding with the politicians and the administrators. The press seems to take their side by accepting their terms and boundaries for the debate. It’d be hard for me to express my points as serious, legitimate points because I’m so far from that debate. Why does the press buy into the politicians’ terms and debates and perpetuate those? Why don’t they advocate for a new debate—or do you get marginalized, like I was as agriculture reporter at WILL. I asked about organics at the Farm Bureau and I questioned the National Corn Growers on labeling, but my norms were so far from theirs, their off-putting answers actually made my points.

No wonder the “public debate” (to what extent it exists at all) is so damn vapid, empty. Think of sources of info and discussion—TV, newspapers, Time magazine–each article is short, just a summary. You need length of article to spell out complete thinking. M says there’s no time given to most people to think now—speed of the workplace. Long boat trips, carriage rides gave more ruminating time? And there’s no time to think in school—thinking well takes time. No wonder adult discussion is so insipid—philosophy (not formal philosophy but the idea that there are ideas behind decisions, and not just self-interest) is almost absent from political and public discussions. This is a big idea—I’m bored with shallow reporting because there’s nothing there, no substance, all shorthand.

No wonder TV bores me–it is damn dumb! It felt dissatisfying, but I didn’t know why ’til just now. Actual thinking, good discussions are rich experiences. With TV, our minds are not being stimulated much.

Lack of time to think in school is one of my big frustrations now—time for me to think, and students, too. School schedule lacks unscheduled blocks of time to think. Creativity requires free time. Schools are essentially arbitrary the way they are set up to run—50-minute classes? Totally arbitrary, no relevance to learning (unless there’s some research on this?). But 90-minute classes are also an arbitrary choice, good for some subjects or topics but not for others.

So I’m not going to feel bad about taking all period for one topic! Or taking time for things—not every second has to be scheduled. [Page 136-40, Wednesday evening, 13 Nov. 2002]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.