Saturday, January 09, 2010

near random housecleaning thoughts

I hope this also happens to you... as I do less mindful tasks, my mind wanders. While I might regard these occasions as meditation opportunities--the attempt to control and empty the mind for spiritual purposes, I spent enough time on the banks of the Mississippi River to know that while a single drop from a faucet might keep you awake all night, a huge river of billions of gallons can flow in near silence. So the objective of meditation may not be emptiness but fullness, and at times my mind is full bank to bank, even though my hands may be involved in sweeping and mopping the floor.

Today's random thoughts sent me to Wikipedia to explore Evolutionary Psychology. How is it that intermittent reinforcement of behavior is so much more powerful than direct reinforcement? Can it be that we are genetically and evolutionarily predisposed to risk, development of skill, and behaviors that require us to closely examine and attune to our surroundings rather than taking the easiest way out? Anyway, I'm thinking about it.

We have a lot to learn from computer gaming. The first thing is that kids like things that are difficult and challenging, that increase in difficulty at a manageable rate. They don't want every effort to be successful, as that would deprive their efforts of meaning. If we make things easy for them in school we have deprived them of the value of their educations.

To build on this thought: We want things that we understand to be difficult and challenging so as to provide a sense of accomplishment, and so we welcome a degree of intermittent reinforcement, a blending of success and failure. In stark contrast, unpredictable behavior by our consumer electronics products can create a disproportionate level of anger in response. When the internal workings of such things fail in ways we can't fix we don't take such failings in easy stride. I propose that because we know so little about the inner workings of such objects, and their works are hidden from view, our complete lack of confidence leaves us feeling particularly vulnerable and insecure and prone to anger as a result.

And so, in light of this, I wonder why so much anger is directed toward schools in America. Why are they so often the targets of vandalism and violence? It is not that we have made them too hard for anyone, but perhaps because their workings are hidden from view. Has its purpose become too abstract? Has education itself become inexplicable as it has become more and more associated with standardized testing rather than filled with the experience of doing real things for home and community? Have I mopped myself into a corner? Or am I revealing something important, a river's full breadth?

Grab a mop, and help me with this one. Comment below.


  1. Anonymous1:56 PM

    A major issue HAS to be how uninvolved children are in the creation of the learning process. They play a completely passive role: show up for class, pay enough attention to pass the test, and move on.

    Nobody seems to care WHAT they want to learn or HOW they want to learn it. Children KNOW when they're being cheated, but they also know how powerless they are to change the system - so they learn to cheat it.

    I can clearly remember a palpable sense of anger and disillusionment in high school/college when faced with teachers who obviously didn't care about what they were teaching, and had no interest in helping us stretch our minds.

    When we build something, we understand it, own it, and work hard to make it succeed. When we involve children in building their educational curriculum, they will understand it to the core. It's not difficult, but it IS a paradigm shift. It requires a heightened level of trust in children, one which most adults are incapable of developing.

  2. (see my previous post)

    >>why so much anger is directed toward schools in America? Why are they so often the targets of vandalism and violence? <<

    Because the schools are doing the bidding of the corporations, which only want our children to know how to do just what they are told, how to work for a corporation, and how to spend all the money they earn on corporate-made products. This is a hateful thing for the corporations to do. Our children are not fools. Many children sense very well what is going on, and hate the schools right back.

    Of course, there are exceptions. Like Doug. Like the children who learn to think with their minds, and do with their hands at the same time.

    There is the old Tradesman's Triangle:

    Mind, Hand, Heart.

    The corporations don't want anyone to know about the Heart side of life. Fortunately we have folks like Doug who sneak into the corporate-controlled school system every day and show our kids the real connection between Mind, Hand and Heart.

    Good on Doug.

    by hammer and hand great works do stand

  3. Thanks for your comments. I think the internet is changing things in some profound ways. Here we are, having a conversation between cities, and yet seeing many things eye to eye.

    We have learned some important things over the last 100 years. One has to do with the profound capacity of children to observe and understand very subtle things... They know quite well when adults feel care for them. They are sophisticated sensing mechanisms, not the dumb things they were once thought to be. We still haven't caught up in general education to where Froebel and Montesori and others knew we should be going, but we are still capable of learning. There are lots of people working on it.

    The recession gives me hope, as it has encouraged people to think of other things. More selfless than selfish. A delightful change, but I still have hopes it doesn't get much worse to learn this important lesson.

    The third thing that gives me hope is the law of unintended consequences. The changes brought by the internet, and iPod have taken a great deal of music out of the control of the big boys, and put it squarely in the hands of the producers. So we have had Madison Avenue and the big banks trying to control us to their benefit. They try to control the economy, the money, but there is much more to human existence that is not monetary. Things are busting loose in good ways. There is a human response in volunteerism to the decline of economy... people doing for and with each other. It is rather amazing.