Cogs

31 May 2001

What's wrong with the American Public School System, Take Four: yesterday in the San Jose paper, there was a grade school principal quoted as saying that they try to make classes of students interchangeable, so that any class can work with any teacher. This was a point of pride: that they don't take into account personality differences or learning styles. In the San Jose area, all students are the same! All teachers are the same! Everybody is a cog in the great educational machine!

I knew it was like this. I just didn't expect them to brag about it.

Does anybody expect that their kid is learning better because his or her school didn't bother to think about which teacher would be best? I suppose some people say, "Oh, you have to learn to get along with people of different personalities." This is true, but I think it'll happen even if your kid's teacher doesn't hate your kid, or can teach adequately to your kid. Your kid will invariably run into personality conflicts. That doesn't mean you have to magnify them or their importance.

I'm thinking of my fifth grade teacher, here. She hated me. She was asking the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. And when Amy said she wanted to be a ballerina, Mrs. Eppley cooed and beamed. But when I said I wanted to be a physicist, she twisted her mouth up and said, "Can you even spell physicist?" (Which was a dumb question, because of course I could.) The whole year was like that. There are teachers who want to teach the would-be ballerinas and teachers who want to teach the babygeeks. What's wrong with letting them?

The funny thing about having left physics a year ago is that I still think of myself as a physicist sometimes, but sometimes not. It depends a lot on circumstances. If I'm faced with a physics error, I cannot let it go uncorrected. Physically incapable of that. And I still get all happy with myself when I successfully tinker something into functioning again. In short, when I'm confronted with a minor physics situation, I still can't stop myself from going into physicist mode. I just don't usually think of myself that way any more, and it surprises me still when other people do, even when I deserve it. And when I'm around people who are still in physics, I get a little shy about it. I know how often physicists divide the world into "those who could handle a physics degree" and "those who could not handle a physics degree," with no middle ground for "those who could have handled it but didn't want to." So I know how it looks from their side.

Anyway. Yesterday, Tim came up and brought Driftglass and Melancholy Elephants with him. That's a pretty amazing pair. I would have been happy to see him anyway. And David found Wrack and Roll for us, too. I am such a spoiled M'ris. So many good books! I finished Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace yesterday, and it reminded me a bit more of The Handmaid's Tale than any of her other stuff I've read. Which is, in case you're wondering, a good thing. Maybe Atwood just needs to get out of her present/recent past constraints to go nuts. Could be. Now I'm reading Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon, borrowed from Tim. And I'm going to read Petersburg next, borrowed from David. I don't make friends just to borrow their books. Honestly.

I'm enjoying writing a bit of my snippy post-cyberpunk story at a time, while I do bigger work on Reprogramming. I think this is the sort of story I'm supposed to regret when I'm 80. I think that's the way to do it: say a few hotheaded, rash things when you're a young writer, and then you have to be nice to the Young Turks when you get older, so that they don't bring up That Story again. I think if you get to 80 and don't have anything like that, you didn't try enough stuff.

Hmm. Well. The plan for today is to make bomber bars before it gets too hot (which it will) and to finish the little bit of housecleaning I didn't get done before Tim got here yesterday. And to hang out with David a bit, and to read, and to work on Reprogramming, and to figure out what's for supper. Ago budo leftovers for lunch. (Mmm, fresh rosemary.) Isn't this getting thrilling? Next I'm going to tell you which room I'm going to dust first. Have a good day. Keep cool.

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