To their delight, the other students have discovered that our history teacher can be effortlessly sidetracked. She encourages a lot of in-class discussion, and doesn’t seem to have any inclination to direct it or keep it pinned to any particular topic. Almost as soon as her lecture begins, someone sidetracks her into school gossip, celebrity gossip, movies, and other fragments of pop culture. From there it follows the logic of free association or channel surfing. Then as the class time runs out she’ll remember that she’s supposed to be teaching and assign us pages to read from the textbook.
Television network ABC produces a TV mini-series about the Soviet Union seizing control of the United States titled Amerika. (Which is obviously just a cheap attempt to take advantage of the popularity of the movie Red Dawn.) I’m not watching the series, but our teacher is, and she won’t shut up about it. She spends a good bit of the class recapping the latest episode and chattering with the other students about the characters and forming theories about what might happen next. This isn’t part of anything we’re studying, it’s just something she’s into and wants to talk about.
This is a setback for me, since I usually depend on lectures for my learning. I can’t read the pages in class, because I don’t know what pages she’ll assign. Besides, it’s too noisy for studious reading with all the chatter. I have to sit through this long gossip session between her and a few key students, and then she tells the rest of us what we’ll need to learn for on the test. So we end up doing the actual learning on our own time. What really annoys me is that the other kids sidetrack her on purpose. They think this is funny.
|That’s me, kneeling. Patrick is standing. Little Ruthie is adorable.|
“But wait a second,” I suddenly blurt out, “What makes you so sure these UFOs are space aliens?” I don’t even remember how we got on this tangent, which is light years away from anything that might be found inside the textbook.
“The galaxy is so vast, there just has to be something out there!” she says, somewhat annoyed. She was swapping recent UFO stories with a few of the chatty students, and doesn’t appreciate me derailing her trainwrecked lecture.
“Okay,” I allow. I’m not so sure we can make definitive statements like this about what is and isn’t out there, but I don’t know how to argue that point. I’m more interested in the absurdity of these UFO stories. Finally I stammer, “But how would they even find us?”
“You don’t know!” she says, as if to a child. A few other students nod in agreement. Clearly Shamus is simply lacking in imagination.
I want to attack this notion that space aliens could develop the technology to cross vast interstellar distances, locate other intelligent life, and then fly around over populated areas at night with ships covered in blinking lights. If they’re trying to remain hidden, they seem to have missed out on the crucial no-blinking-lights technology. If they’re here to make contact, then… what’s the holdup? Why aren’t any of the images in focus, and why don’t any of the sightings have more than one witness? Why doesn’t anyone ever get two pictures? Why don’t the sightings follow any sort of pattern and why does every sighting seem to look like a different ship? I’m not really against the idea of aliens, but these “UFO sightings” stories are ridiculous.
I try to make my case. How do we know there are aliens? The galaxy is so big there must be! How do we know they travel through space? There are so many aliens, one of them must have magical technology! How would they find us, and why? Naturally aliens that advanced would be curious about us! Why do they behave so irrationally? You can’t understand the motives of something so alien and intelligent!
The size and scope of the universe is used to justify any number of absurd assertions. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does this for comedic effect, but it really annoys me to see someone doing it with a straight face. They’re using all of the unknown variables of the universe to write themselves a blank check.
I’m stammering my way through this debate, and not doing very well. My position is the unpopular one in the room among the talkers, and I’m not very organized in my arguments. Suddenly I realize I’m helping to hijack the class. After weeks of grumbling about how the lectures never stay on topic, I’m dragging everyone through a debate on space aliens in a history class. I shut my mouth. She turns away, happy to win the debate. I sit there red-faced and ashamed.
Another teacher does much better. He’s supposed to teach us the nations and capitals of Europe. This lesson is the very picture of dull, dead-end education. Students are given a bunch of trivia to learn. They memorize it, parrot it back for the test, and then forget all about it. Students are chalkboards where information is written and erased again and again in a long procession of forgettable busywork. A few years ago Neighbor John managed to convince me to learn my states and capitals. I did it because I liked John and he was personally motivated to teaching me. Here we have something that is mechanically the same lesson, but it seems much less relevant. I have a lot of classes asking me to memorize random trivia, and I can’t bring myself to care about all of them.
This information is largely useless. It doesn’t give us an understanding of European politics, or culture, or government. Learning those might be interesting. Why are all of the European countries so small? Why so many languages? Why don’t they unite? Why do they seem to get along so well since World War II, when they seemed to bicker endlessly in centuries past? What do they think of us? Are they as worried about impending nuclear war as we are? But no. Just as history class is a list of dates with no context, “social studies” is a study of national borders without explaining why the borders are there or who lives inside them.
If anyone finds themselves in a position where they do need to know the capital of Moldova, then they will probably need to know a lot more than just the capital. On the off chance that any of us needs to know the capital of one of these countries in the future, we would just look it up. So for 999 out of a 1,000 of us, this information is useless and quickly forgotten. For the remaining student, the lesson is grossly insufficient.
However, in this class the teacher is doing something different. Instead of giving us a raw list to memorize through brute force, he spends a couple of sessions playing a game with us. We’re tasked with coming up with our own Mnemonic devices. The goal is to try and work the name of the country and its capital into a single sentence. After we come up with them, we go around the room and read our lists to the class, so that we all benefit from one another’s invention. Twisting the names or making absurd statements isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged.
For example: The capital of The Republic of Moldova is Kishinev, and one girl comes up with the mnemonic, “Don’t Kishinev a boy with Moldova on his lips.” (Don’t kiss a boy with mold on his lips.) It’s silly, but it works. Someday I’ll forget the name of this girl, the class, the room number, and the book we used but I’ll still remember that the capital of Moldova is Kishinev.
He’s not simply teaching us the capitals of Europe. He’s teaching us how to learn, and he’s using the capitals of Europe to do it. Years later I’ll remember this lesson and use similar mnemonic tricks to help me memorize loose facts.
Why I Hated Resident Evil 4
Ever wonder how seemingly sane people can hate popular games? It can happen!
Do you like electronic music? Do you like free stuff? Are you okay with amateur music from someone who's learning? Yes? Because that's what this is.
Was it a Hack?
A big chunk of the internet went down in October of 2016. What happened? Was it a hack?
TitleWhat’s Inside Skinner’s Box?
What is a skinner box, how does it interact with neurotransmitters, and what does it have to do with shooting people in the face for rare loot?
Bethesda felt the need to jam a morality system into Fallout 3, and they blew it. Good and evil make no sense and the moral compass points sideways.