Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lucky me!

Lucky me! Won this scanner-printer from a draw at the IT Show.

Edit 01:
Now, I wonder if my luck was in the drawing of the right coloured ball from the closed box, or in the choice of game. There weren't all that many balls -- I felt only about 10 at the most -- and10:1 odds aren't bad for this sort of game. I suspect Challenger was just giving them away.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The value of a college education

Yay! New entry, which means I have made a significant enough dent in my assessment pile to lift my silence. It was due to the all-nighter I pulled last night, accompanied by a cold pizza and my wife who ensured I stay awake and alert that my conscience is clear today.

One of the things I'm grading is an essay on the relevance of a university education today. I'm quite disturbed by the number of responses that say otherwise, and the reason (note the the singular) they give is that Bill Gates (he went to Havard!), Einstein (he got his PhD at 26 years of age!) and Thomas Edison (homeschooled) didn't have college degrees and still made a success of themselves.

That argument is wrong on at least three levels: 1) The facts are off base; 2) these three are outstanding individuals and hence non-representative of the general population; and 3) to consider the three as representative of 'today' requires some discussion on how they contributed to creating the world as we know it today, otherwise we have to consider two of the three as recent history and hence dismiss them as irrelevant to the discussion. Am I being too strict?

Only eight and a half months to throttle up their secondary school prattle to undergrad standard. I forsee a breathless run to the end of the year. But if there's one thing that'll keep me motivated, it's my own belief in the value of a university education, regardless of what the kids are saying.

I'm flipping through STI, and I'm thinking I was so close to being this guy. I don't want my kids to end up like him either.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Normal service will resume shortly

We apologise for the excruciating quality of the previous entry. Normal service will resume when the pile of papers awaiting grading on Xmac's desk has been significantly reduced...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

What's inside the box?

I've got an article here that purports that secondary schools are an anathema to a child's creativity. It isn't the school's intention to do that, of course. We do want our kids to grow into thinking, creative adults, but our processes often send the wrong message.

I think there is a difference between (1) encouraging imagination and (2) nurturing creativity. Schools tend to focus on the latter at the expense of the former, which is what turns off most kids.

Imagination refers to wild flights of fancy, ideas that suggest "anything goes". These ideas are the most fun to play with, sometimes the most dangerous and scary too, but that's why imagination is so much fun, so outside of our mundane reality and existence. But when schools tell us to focus on the real and not on the imaginery, when they tell us to be practical, suddenly life becomes boring and our motivational engines sputter and die. All we want to do is sleep because we can't be our naturally wild and crazy selves any more.

But that's just imagination being curbed, which is not quite the same thing as creativity, though perhaps only one of creativity's more special ingredients. We define 'creativity' as 'out-of-the-box' thinking, but in order to achieve that level of intelligence, we need to know what's INSIDE the box first. That's what schools specialize in, putting students inside a package of social norms, rules, customs, expectations; wrapped in a common knowledge of science, math, languages, and occasionally humanities so that at whichever level we leave school at, we leave with a cohort of peers who know exactly what we know and so we all start out making lives for ourselves from the same, equal starting line. That's fair.

The assumption is that as long as we stay in the box, everything's nice, everything's safe and everything's fair. It's only a rare few who realise that it actually isn't, and they are the ones who start thinking 'outside-the-box', yes, the real creative ones.

Creativity (a.k.a. 'innovation') starts with dissatisfaction, and it seems that at JC level, only GP (and maybe elements of the Arts and Humanities) teaches that the world isn't perfect, that the world doesn't follow the rules that are supposed to work to keep society nice for everyone, that the world isn't fair in the way that math and the sciences with all their rules and formulae tell us it is. Just-follow-the-formula-and-everything-will-be-correct is nonsense in reality, but that's what's inside the box. It's a seductive message to be deluded by and take comfort in, but it's only the dissatisfied and unhappy who question the formulae and eventually become the creative ones.

Imagination, as I mentioned before, is a wild thing. Creativity is our ability to harness our imagination, tame it and make it go where we want it to go. We are creative when we can discipline our imagination, making it work for us. There's a riddle that goes, "what do you need to know before you can train a dog?" to which the answer is, "more than the dog!" That's where most of us are today, in the process of learning more than the dog, those of us who are looking to be creative in spite of our school experience.