Wednesday, November 7, 2012

School is bulls*(&

Talking recently with a young man who's had a tumultuous path through college; he's through years of classes but has years more. He wants to get out into the real world and do things. I sympathize.

School is bullsh*(. It is a useful form -- good fertilizer, one might say? -- but it should not be confused with its goal. Government was initially formed as people realized they needed to team up for self-defense, for infrastructure, for management of resources. School was formed as people realized that teaching people to read, do arithmetic, converse, and think about abstract topics made business and life run better. Now school is a stamp. A requirement. It still serves many of the purposes it was initially made to serve, but of course we've lost sight of that. That is normal.

I'm trying to pinpoint what makes me happy and what doesn't. Mathematics: the way it describes the real world makes me happy. Sand ripples in a creek, cream swirling through coffee, Moroccan mosaics, pineapples. I'm not an applied mathematician but I love that stuff. I love modeling.

School, though. Calculus. Calculus! Of course calculus was born out of a desire to describe the world -- but do we care anymore? Calculus, like school and government, now exists to perpetuate itself.

How can I teach when I feel my students would be better served by being alive, active, dynamic, questioning? (This is the only way to teach! But somehow it is so hard.) That spirit is often crushed out by the time students get to college. What can I say at the front of the classroom? Should I show Dead Poets' Society? How do I avoid the deadness that sometimes creeps through classrooms and colleges like fog coming off the ocean into San Francisco Bay?

Students, wake up. School is bullsh(&. Use it to fertilize your real dreams.