Modern Intelligence

I propose that, we, as a culture, are actually less intelligent than generations before. Sure, we’ve had technological advances but, have actually become dumber.

This is because of a few things:

1) a lack of physical movement and physical adversity.  Being uncomfortable and having to move daily, I propose, helps promote creativity due to new connections between mind, body, and environment.  Not to mention, necessity being the mother of invention.

2) Lack of connection with a complex environment.  Yes, our cities can be complicated but, generally, they rely on over-stimulation of the senses.  Instead, a less human-created environment relies more on skill in use of the senses and subtlety.  One is hit by walls of noise, light, smell in cities whereas in more natural environments they are all part of a multitude like birdsong, scent on the wind or colors of different plants.

3) The lack of environment means a disconnect and loss from all of the world knowledge required for survival and nutritional diversity.  For example, all the foods that one could forage if we knew what plants were edible outside of a grocery store.  Yes, those vegetables are obviously good for us but, what if we had hundreds of options or vegetables to mix together instead of the basic say, 2 dozen that we usually see in stores.

This knowledge of edible foods then includes not only what are safe to eat but, things that look similar and are not safe, remembering locations where those plants can be found, what sort of soil they prefer and who knows how many other important information related to those edible plants.

4) We no longer have a culture of story-telling or music-making.  Instead, we watch stories and listen to music, very few people actually create these as parts of the culture or even continue folk-songs and stories.  How much more creative would an individual be filled with myths, legends, lore and stories that are carried through being told stories at night?  Then mix in all sorts of different songs for different situations that they can start singing right away.

Essentially not having to work for food, worry about not having food or a variety of ways to communicate and share time together, has led us down a path of being able to do a few things particularly well but lacking in a much larger domain which, I think, can be limiting our intellect as a culture.

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Utility and Location

Online learning. Supposedly the thing that will help everyone become a participant in the economy and be able to educate themselves to become the new social entrepanuer, entrepaneur, business owner, newest new newey thing, etc.

But, what ever really comes out of online learning? Is there really any THING, that one can point to and say they’ve learned this or that in order to create a THING. Sure, you can learn some coding, in a very limited way that so far, I don’t think has led to any serious break throughs.

I think an important question never asked about online learning is, what are the things that online learning CANNOT teach? Really, it seems like all of the most important skills needed to be a human or to really be useful fall into the cannot-be-taught-online bucket. First example is every skilled trade: pipefitting, brick laying, carpentry, welding, plumbing, truck-driving, teaching (quality-wise) basically, if it has a union, it is something you cannot learn online and generally, if it has a union, we need it for society. Second, any and all physical sports, if you move on a field you cannot learn it online. This one is important for physical health, mental well-being and generally being social too in most cases (it’s the one situation where focusing on “teamwork” can be beneficial too). Third, food. Sure, there can be an online course showing how to cook food but, there isn’t an online course to get you to be a gardener they can teach the ideas behind it but, to actually learn, one must put seeds into the ground and then real agriculture cannot be taught online because there is no one-size-fits-all for farming, we’re just going to skip over the wisdom that one has to gain about weather, soils and everything else someone in agriculture has to know.

So, an online course cannot teach you how to influence the world, move through the world, or use the world to provide for a basic necessity. Sometimes it feels like online courses are just a conspiracy to make everyone feel good with more certificates to hang up and a way to show insurance companies that “we have trained our employees” and allow companies to make the trite claim that “our employees are our best resource” without actually accomplishing anything.

So instead of constantly being enamored with these free online courses and living online, take a minute to think about all the things one cannot do digitally, consider most of our analog existence, our analog skills and wonder, why aren’t we focused on those things more?

Physical Education

What if all of these new “movement specialists”, personal trainers etc. Spent part of their time working with p.e. teachers to improve our physical fitness programs in schools?

More importantly, I think that physical education needs to be re-imagined. The physical education program(s) I grew up in focused on basically showing us a bunch of different sports, only a few of which we could serious pursue outside of school (in the form of the organized sports provided). There was a little bit of “teamwork” sort of exercises and not much else to the entire program. Essentially, a waste of time for everyone involved and not useful in helping me learn how to be physically active or how to have a healthy lifestyle. No wonder P.E. departments are wasting away in the budgets, it’s simply not compelling in any way nor is such a program beneficial to the students.

Instead, physical education needs to become an actual education, not a biology course or a biophysics course mind you, but another lesson in the school day that is learning how to move and various aspects of having a physical body, we educate the mind, why don’t we educate the body with a programmed lesson plan in a similar way? First learning how to manipulate your own body then moving on to manipulating the world and finally combining both.

I imagine our physical health would benefit greatly from a real physical education, as would the student behavior overall if they were allowed to move freely and explore movement as children instead of being only stuck in desks 95% of the day.

The next issue is all of those “movement specialists” I mentioned earlier on.  Why are they not actually attempting to help education?  They want to “bring fitness to the world” or whatever yet they do absolutely nothing in the form of helping schools and P.E. teachers actually improve the world, instead, they only provide $500+ workshops in the major urban areas for those who are rich enough and/or able to travel during the day.  I would like to see something a bit different, maybe actually act how you claim once in a while.

Book Sets

Book sets should be planned out more often. Not just the box sets of a series or books written by the same author. I mean sets of books that combine in interesting ways to bring out an idea, theme, time in history or at least seem to show some sort of a conversation.

Reading some books in-tandem can lead to new ways of looking a the world due to the intersection of the two viewpoints or a back-and-forth between them to really expose the timeless conversations happening within books.  It can also be used to draw a different historical narrative or trace ideas through history or bring a new focus on a certain time period another set that I raced through was “Bowling Alone” and “The Seventies” those two mixed with my prior reading of “Generation of Sociopaths” and “Why Americans Hate Politics” led to a lot of interesting things to think about regarding where we are now in the U.S., the 1970s and our politics.  Along the same lines another set I want to return to is “Bowling Alone,” “Democracy in America,” and “The Closing of the American Mind.”  That last one may fit in better with the 70’s set but I think it would be interesting to read Tocqueville’s discussion on “self-interest rightly understood” and how our habits of social interaction have changed.

I would buy that box-set, “American Sociological History” or something like that. How much more interesting would conversations be if we had easy access to combinations of books built in this way? Also, how much better off would book stores be with this situation, selling books in groups like that only works well with physical books in my mind. Then again, I write in my books and end up looking like a lunatic with pencil in hand scribbling in the margins underlining, circling, taking notes, what-have-you while reading…..

Discipline

What if trying to “build a child’s self-esteem” is actually becoming detrimental to that self-esteem?

I mean, there seems to be a movement to help “build a child’s self-image” through talking to the young child (I mean early elementary or before).  Cutting deals with them and attempting to manipulate them in subtle ways in order to get them to do what the adult needs/wants them to do.

It seems that this is the preferred method because it “empowers” the child which then gives them confidence. What if this confidence is a weak confidence though; instead of creating a deep-set confidence which holds through any issue, what if confidence based on this empowerment is very shallow and not resilient?

Sure, giving a child a choice, if only of limited options delimited by the adult can empower the child; make them feel like they have control over parts of the world but, that feeling of control is fake and, I think, a root cause in people lacking resiliency.

Think about it, resiliency comes from many factors.  Some of those are: feeling in control, being able to let go of the things you cannot control and your emotional outlook towards events in life.

Giving a child options, instead of simply a “no, because an authority figure said no,” limits which factors grow in a child.  The child ends up always feeling good because they at least always have the semblance and feeling that they are in control.  What happens once that facade fails though?  Since they are less used to being in a situation out of their control, there is potential for all of their self-confidence to crumble.

Instead, the benefits of simply telling a child “no” and not giving them options teaches them that they are a) not always in control and not always going to be in control and then b) how to emotionally deal with that in a way that makes sense and teaches them to remove their personal feelings from the exact situation so that they can have a healthier emotional outlook on the situation.

So, what if resilient individuals come from slightly sterner upbringing?

Resilience

Floating around in business, self-help, etc. seems to be this idea of gaining resilience; gaining the ability to “bounce back” from set-backs and keep going.  I have not read many of those books, yet.   But, what if our current perceived lack of resilience comes from a lack of firmness?

I mean, I feel like, growing up (and in general), I learned to “go with the flow,” and accept things in life as they came.  As one book I recently finished phrased it, “…being generally groovy…” School never really helped me search for my ideals, we never even spoke of ideals that I can think of.  There was never time spent, going inwards and finding depth, figuring out what we consider most important as individuals. Now people are apparently feeling somewhat, out-of-control or at a loss and lack this resilience that is being looked at.  I think that these two things are connected.

I would argue that, for something to bounce back, there has to be a certain level of firmness in that same thing; a solid core if you will. That core is actually the thing that creates resiliency.

I always imagine a blade of grass or bamboo when I think of the word “resiliency.” The wind blows and the plant bends or sways but, as soon as the wind stops, the plant goes right back upright to it’s original (or close to it) position. That’s my mental image of resiliency.  Following that image, one part that the grass or bamboo has is a core, an internal structure which holds together even while being bent over.

That internal structure; that is the thing missing from people I think. So, what if instead of resiliency, we looked at a core? We, as a society, are generally too groovy I think, not to mention too schizophrenic due to our focus on television to have that discussion usually. Yes, I can even take a distrust of technology and make it old.

Back to being groovy, you know one thing I was never directly asked through grade school, high school and University: what do I value? I don’t remember that being on any college essay nor scholarship application. We certainly did not have a class on it at any point (maybe kinda-sorta with philosophy but not directly).

Even on a more basic level, some of the words teachers, parents, mentors, etc used were never clearly defined: “be kind,” “be nice,” “be fair,” etc. Those are non-resilient words, they are groovy ones and sway everywhere with the breeze yet have no core to retreat to.

(Yes, I’m enjoying a chance to constantly use the word groovy) 

I have generally been convinced of the power of language to shape thoughts and actions, following this line, weak (non-resilient) words would lead to weak actions and weak individuals since their internal cores are based on words which do not actually have substance, leading to squishy, non-resilient, cores.

As such, using words that have a clearer definition and helping students define those words and learn hard, real examples of those words would be the first step in creating more resilient people.  Defining those words and then using those words to help students define their values, I think, would be the way to create resilient citizens.  What if education spent some time on that sort of work?  The only down side, that I see, would be a distinct down-tick in grooviness.  I would consider that a fair trade for citizens able to handle uncomfortable situations though.

Play SHED

There is a lot of focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum in schools.  In some places there is a new tag-on so it is becoming STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & design, Math) instead as a disappointing attempt at bringing in innovation through arts.

First thing, I tend to have a habit of wondering, when so much money is being thrown at a problem, why does it seem like it still is not working?  An example of this is all of the money being thrown at STEM/STEAM curriculum, trying to show people how important it is for the future, etc. etc. etc.  All this time, effort and money thrown at a problem yet, there does not seem to be much headway; that tells me, it is time to reconsider.

People and organizations that promote STEM programming/curriculum always want to say that “no, but it is fun!” to kids and then make attempts to teach the STEM ideas through “fun projects” or something.  So, it seems that the STEM idea comes first and then is somehow worked into something fun.  What would happen if the fun part was first but, it built up and into STEM ideas?  Meaning, what if we cut the end-goal out and let the student(s) play first?  Looking into this idea I stumbled into the idea of “loose parts,” a short description is here.  Really, the inherent basis of science is curiosity I am pretty sure that is agreed upon.  Then, the basic elementary level teaching of the scientific method is to create a hypothesis and then test it, if I remember correctly: basically, problem solving.

Now, think back, which problems were actually worth solving for you as an individual?  Those which someone already had an answer to or the ones that no one really seemed to know and that had all paths open to you for solving?  I can say that I personally like the problems with no known answers and many options and it appears that the children I work with prefer their own problems and their own solutions instead of a problem I create and know the solution to.  When I attempt to do something like that, I usually get “I don’t know, can you show me?” from the children.  So, instead of providing the exact path to get STEM thinking in children, what if we started to let them have those loose parts and go where they wanted?

Continuing on the “loose parts.”  The Arts part of STEAM has been brought in to help promote some more creativity within the curriculum.  As mentioned in the article, loose parts promotes creativity in a material sense by their nature.  Another aspect of education that is becoming a problem is reading comprehension within schools by my understanding.  What if we started sharing “loose parts” with children in a reading sense?

These “loose parts” are actually inherently human to all of us: stories.  What if we started telling stories again?  I call them loose parts because, in telling a story, especially a story of a legend/myth style, children can pick up the parts of the story and imagine themselves as those characters in the story; they are loose, open-ended characters for them to assume and build a world with their friends with just the bits and pieces that were shared, they remember and find important from the stories they have heard.

Stories, in being told, do not have the visual aspect; that lack of visual is the primary opening for visualization.  Somebody can describe something as much as they want to but, due to the nature of communication, the mental image that a listener gets will be slightly different from all of the other listeners.  Those different images, when a child begins to try to turn them into a reality with their material loose parts, will lead to different things and creative solutions to the problem of different viewpoints.

Stories help do another thing too.  Stories help children create heroes, idealizations of an individual and how to act.  Having heroes probably leads to the children wanting to know more about them which can be the gateway to helping inspire them to read on their own, then they do not have to wait for the story to be told, they can read all they want about their hero whenever they want.  The idealizations of how to act can begin to lead to critical thinking and questioning how to be a good person, I doubt anyone has a problem with that.  So, with these sorts of thoughts I came up with a new acronym for curriculum: SHED.

Science, Humanities, Engineering and Design.  The whole thing is Play SHED.  Play first in order to have scientific thinking (problem solving with loose parts), the importance of humanities (story-telling), engineering (building with loose parts), design (art, creating something from a mental image).  Just an idea to consider.