Thursday, June 29, 2006

(Minor) Blast From the Past

On the plane to Atlanta for the fencing nationals today, the Pepsi we were served was Japanese — not only was all the text in Japanese, but the can even had a ring tab, one of those little detachable tabs that people used to make chains and even clothing of before they were discontinued because of the horrific dangers they posed when littered here and there where innocents could cut themselves on those sharp edges.

I'd completely forgotten cans used to open that way here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Odds & Ends

Posting here will be intermittent at best for the next couple of weeks. I'll be with my daughter in Atlanta for the US Fencing Nationals, so when I manage to get online, my focus will be my fencing blog.

This also means that anyone who's feeling slightly guilty about not having finished my Viral Learning questionnaire has got the perfect opportunity to get caught up and return it. Once I'm back home, I'll get seriously to collating and reading all the responses, and start proper work on the book.

Of course, I'll also get to start becoming accustomed to being officially finished with homeschooling, too. This October 1–15 will be the first since 1990 I'll not need to file a private school affidavit. How odd.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Pleasure of Learning

[Sorry about the long gap — random attacks of Real Life conspired with some Internet service problems to keep me offline more than I wanted.]


For years all those unschooling skeptics have ranted on about how kids won't learn anything if you don't make them. We unschooling advocates all have our anecdotal evidence of how our kids can't seem to stop themselves from learning, but it looks as though neuroscience has a bit to offer, too:

Neuroscientists have proposed a simple explanation for the pleasure of grasping a new concept: The brain is getting its fix.

The “click” of comprehension triggers a biochemical cascade that rewards the brain with a shot of natural opium-like substances, said Irving Biederman, professor of neuroscience in USC College, who presents his theory in an invited article in the latest issue of American Scientist.

You know, I get an odd sensation of pleasure learning about how learning can give you a sensation of pleasure . . .

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Thoughts While Cleaning the Refrigerator

It badly needed it—there was hardly any Tupperware left in the cupboard. My husband, especially, doesn't like to waste any food, so like many, we package up our leftovers and store them until they are unidentifiable, at which point it no longer seems so wasteful to throw it out.

And since one needs a certain amount of distraction when dealing with mysterious former food products, it's usually a pretty good time to think. Mostly, I was thinking more about Everything Bad Is Good for You, which I mentioned last time.

In Part 2 of the book, Johnson offers evidence for his contention (that modern popular culture is making us smarter) by looking at IQ scores since their beginnings. It turns out that if you look beyond the periodic norming of test scores, IQ scores have generally increased over the years. The effect is especially pronounced with the more abstract, nonverbal types of test items, which are relatively independent of school curricula and social class. (He plays it straight, too—instead of announcing that he's proved his point, he merely suggests that what he's found calls for further research.)

But if you take what he's described as the ways people learn these days, how video games and the Internet have created individuals who are adept at learning by exploring their environments, and you take what we learn as homeschoolers about learning, it's easy to decide that conventional education could well be making itself obsolete.

I've certainly found that I'm far less patient than I once was with classroom-based learning. I don't want to wait around for the instructor to catch up with my interests, I don't want to use a syllabus someone else has created. I want to learn what I want to learn, and I want to learn things my way. Partly, of course, this is a matter of age—at 53, I know a great deal more about what I know and what I don't than I did 30 or 40 years ago.

But I find it difficult to believe that the lecture-recall models of learning so prevalent in schools can survive in the face of the kinds of learning we can do on our own these days. Kids who design and maintain their own blogs or websites aren't going to sit still for lectures on HTML and CSS, and kids who've explored social theory in Sim City or Civilization may well find high school civics lessons a bit simplistic.

It'll be interesting to see how things shake out over the next few decades. What would a society in which most people are learning all the time, in the ways which work best for them, look like? What could we do with all that outmoded school infrastructure?

I should clean the fridge more often.