Category Archives: Education

Content vs. Quantity

brown

 

There’s a famous quotation attributed to various people, but the supposed authoritative sources credit to Blaise Pascal:

I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.

When I first started writing this blog I thought that my goal should be to write and post something every day. Of course, at the time, I had plenty of ideas—some worth sharing, some not. Good, bad, or indifferent, I posted them. Like the codfish, I laid 10,000 eggs hoping a few would hatch. Now, I try to limit myself to thoughts worth sharing. Iay—or may not—be succeeding.

I’m a science junkie. If it were 1955 or 1985 (or for that matter, 1895) I could have been Doc Brown in Back to the Future. The biggest difference is that he had a family fortune to support him while he experimented, while I’ve got a steady job (just as valuable, but less conducive to experimentation). Nevertheless, as kindred spirits, he in fiction and I in reality, we try to see what the next step might be. Which brings me to today’s issue.

Today there is a huge emphasis on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math in the education biz, today—but there is no real commitment. It’s a lot of talk, but no real action. I’m not blaming the educators. God knows that I understand that there’s only so much you can do in guiding a teenager. However, among today’s teenagers, any interest in science is ridiculed. A student interested in STEM requires the commitment of the Maquis (that was the French Resistance in World War II); one must be willing to maintain a low—if not invisible—profile, only confide in a few trusted souls, and be willing to die a thousand deaths (of embarrassment) if discovered.

Kids today don’t realize that the person they call “nerd” today, will probably be called “boss” tomorrow.

In our effort to be politically correct and not impact anyone’s self-esteem we dare not put scientists, engineers, or mathematicians above athletes, gangstas, or “celebrities” who are famous for being famous. Personally, if I’m going to get my brain scrambled, I’d rather it happen in an experimental space craft rather than having repeated concussions playing football or via cocaine, meth, or whatever is the celebrity drug du jour.

Whatever happened to science fairs? High school science clubs? Achievement awards? When did it become shameful to be interested in science beyond the specific items included on the standardized test?

Think about it. To paraphrase Doc Brown, “Our future depends upon it.”

No Pretty Pictures

I often wish that my blogs would lend themselves to more pictures. I’m not a bad photographer, and some blogs are full of sunsets, beach scenes, Grand Lake up in the Rockies, or whatever. Mine—not so much.

I’ve been going through some physical therapy for some old injuries. The therapy has actually worked better than a variety of drugs that have been prescribed in the past. However, for it to work, I need to be consistent in my follow through. It struck me, that if there’s a common theme in life, that’s it.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice! Practice! Practice!

It’s true of music, physical fitness, painting, even math or science. (Do YOU remember how to solve a quadratic equation? We all learned how in high school.)

Calvin Coolidge was not one of our more noteworthy presidents, being known as “Silent Cal.” However, he did leave us with a great thought:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge
30th president of US (1872 – 1933)

Practice! Practice! Practice!

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Pearl

That was how Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States described December 7, 1941 after the Japanese attacked the military facilities in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor Navy Base received the biggest attack, but Hickam Airfield was also heavily damaged. The Japanese sank eight battleships and destroyed 350 US aircraft, most of them sitting on the ground. By luck or Divine intervention, the US aircraft carriers were at sea undergoing training; if they had been docked at Pearl Harbor, America might not have been able to resist the Japanese advances.

For good or for ill, this day does not live in infamy. Many people today are clueless about today’s significance, or even the fact that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Today Japan and the United States are strong allies. This is, perhaps, the best possible outcome out of any war. The worst outcome is to forget that liberty and security are precious gifts that are constantly at risk.

The opposite of war is not peace; the opposite of war is freedom.

Wow!

NCIS (But you knew that!)

NCIS
(But you knew that!)

Life is funny, and it sure gets in the way.

I’ve been so busy with my day job, my kids…

My kids—two are already grown up and the other two are suddenly almost there. My younger son just got his acceptance letter from his first choice college—and an early admission at that. Now, it’s kind of hard to chastise him for not taking out the recycling.

My daughter is a few years younger, but also a great student (My grades were never that god), musician (I was never first chair bassoon), and athlete (let’s not even go there). However, after her last birthday she seems to believe it’s necessary to remind me every 15 minutes or so that in in a few months she’ll start driving.

Naturally I’m proud of both of them, but I wonder, if I hadn’t blinked would they have grown up so fast?

Thankfully I have a Sherpa guide who has looked out for the kids and advised me. I’m speaking of my wife, of course. This is a challenge for her, I’m sure. She hasn’t had to resort to the Gibb’s slap on the back of DiNozzo’s head yet (for the benefit of NCIS fans) but it’s not because I don’t need a >HINT< from time to time.

So, thanks to her, even though I’m sports impaired, I’ve been a soccer dad, in spite of myself, which makes a world of difference to my kids.

However, in all fairness, I’ve done just fine as the science, music and school project parent.

If I haven’t been blogging as much as I should, lately, it’s because life has gotten in the way, and the people who are special to me—well, you know.

Wise Advice

Lincoln

(I had written this a few days ago, but life got in the way of posting it.)

Speeches, especially speeches by politicians tend to have a powerful opening and a powerful close. The rare speech is powerful throughout; even rarer, it is short..

On this day (19 November) in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In school, many of us had to memorize that speech, but too few of us could appreciate it at such a young age. Sadly, too few adults appreciate it either. I’d like to comment on two sentences in the middle of the speech, which was only two paragraphs. The first is the last sentence of the first paragraph:

The world will little heed, nor long remember, what we say here; but it will not forget what they did here.

Did Lincoln believe this? It’s quite possible given that these were merely a few words he spoke at a cemetery dedication. Maybe he believed that much of what he did went unnoticed, and that is true of all great men. History has a habit of airbrushing PhotoShopping the warts and frailties of its heroes so the person more accurately resembles the marble busts in hallowed halls; others, history relegates to the footnotes.* Hero or not, recognized or not, a great man or a great woman does what they know to be right regardless of the consequences. The truly great tend not to be on the covers of magazines or offered reality television programs. The truly great understand that there are things greater than them, so they stand by their ideals, and stand in the shadows behind them.

As it turns out, the world did heed and remember Lincoln’s address. It also remembers the important choices the man made. When some began to revise history after the Civil War, Robert Todd Lincoln, his son, charged the president’s two secretaries–who handled his communication and sat in on most meetings–to write the factual history before it was forgotten or corrupted.

The second and final paragraph began:

It is for us rather, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried forward.

That was not a charge merely to those close enough to hear President Lincoln’s speech, nor merely those in attendance, or even those alive in 1863. It is meant for all of us; we are all to continue the work of upholding the ideals of a democratic republic; To continue to view all people as deserving respect. We may be a nation of laws, but the laws are intended to provide order for the citizens. Some forget “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed” as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Surrounded by death, in the middle of a war that had split the Union, certain that he would not survive his time in office, Lincoln’s focus was to focus on the living, including us, and remind us to keep this precious gift alive.

* e.g. Millard Filmore

Cross-contaminated Art

Bay Youth Orchestra of Virginia, Wind Ensemble

Bay Youth Orchestra of Virginia, Wind Ensemble

My daughter played in a symphonic concert this weekend, and I was the designated (volunteer) photographer. I used to do a lot of photography in my younger days and still remember a thing or two. Of course that pales in comparison to what I’ve forgotten (e.g. if you own multiple digital cameras, put different lenses on them rather than trying to juggle two lenses at the same time).

Taking the pictures is the easier part, and while darkrooms are rare, many of the darkroom techniques have migrated to computer. So, when I got home, I sorted the photos. I then dodged and burned images, adjusted framing just like the old days, but without getting my hands wet. I’ve gotten used to this by taking the pictures at my kids’ soccer games. However, I began to think (always dangerous) that while sports photos are an American tradition requirement, photos of a concert are a bit different.

When you think about it, it just seems odd to use one artistic medium to share another. It’s true that music can reflect other arts—Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is an excellent example. However, it seems more difficult to work in the opposite direction. I don’t think that even a masterpiece painting could reflect a particular piece of music such that the viewer would recognize the melody. I suspect even the greatest choreographer could not create a dance that causes the audience to taste peanut butter. Mixing media is like writing a haiku explaining hockey—it just doesn’t work.*

So, my photos may not transmit, explain, or even reflect the melody, the harmony, the counterpoint, or even the thematic chords that were performed, but it does give the parents a chance to see their kids on stage.

Sometimes that’s enough.

* Although my son wrote his college entrance essay on soccer and its comparison to international relations.

You’re Wrong!

The_Thinker,_Rodin

In our politically correct world, we may have lost our intellectual way. Sometimes it is perfectly appropriate and necessary to point out what’s wrong.

  1. Having a healthcare background, I tend to look for a solution based on a diagnosis, which in turn is based on symptoms. If a patient won’t discuss the symptoms, it is easy to assume that everything is just fine. On the other hand, the symptoms, when correlated with other observations can lead to an appropriate conclusion; the patient complaining of a headache may be suffering from a brain tumor—unless an examination of the patient discloses a three inch nail protruding from his skull. However, the presence of the nail does not make a brain tumor impossible.
  2. A careful analysis of any problem requires the inclusion of potential errors and oversights. A devil’s advocate is a useful technique in fact finding. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the devil’s advocate is “a person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments.” In hindsight, the questions about the rubber seals on the solid state boosters attached to the shuttle Challenger were not given sufficient consideration in the decision to launch. Far too often, we wish away certain problems or issues, with disastrous results.
  3. Often, particularly in politics, data is intentionally skewed and intended to result in an emotional response rather than an intellectual one. For example, a negative ad by a political action committee may claim that, “Candidate Bob Smith says he believes in the sanctity of life, but it is a well-known fact that he has eaten dead babies.” This statement is true, in a manner of speaking, since just this morning Smith’s breakfast included scrambled eggs.

A conclusion is best based on facts—”pesky things” according to John Adams. It’s important to include all available and relevant facts–the good, the bad and the ugly in the equation before attempting to determine the answer.