Monday, June 15, 2009

Another Kind of Brain Drain

Seems like our culture/society has a warped philosophy when it comes to education that each of us can 'be all things to all people'. But we can't.

And so, I have oft contemplated another approach. And that approach was first broached to me by one of my elementary school teachers. What he said is that Russia's school system is so unlike our own. In Russia, he said, rather than forcing a child gifted in Math and bored to tears by Literature to pursue both, such children are allowed to forge ahead in Math, and leave Language Arts behind. Perhaps this was fiction – I have never investigated it to see if it was so.

Still, I do remember thinking, “How enviable the approach to learning that allows students to sidestep all that memorization of irrelevant stuff. Stuff like the time spans of various Wars, the winners and losers, and the names of long dead Presidents and Prime Ministers, and the years of colonization and discovery of so many places and things. Without all that I could really ace the rest of my studies.”

But how can that happen within an education system that tries to force every student to ‘be all things to all people’? Or within a system that for me created such a drain-brain, that I couldn't focus properly on any one discipline?

History was bad enough, but then there was the Science stuff that made for an even greater brain drain. The memorization of Chemical symbols and properties and how positive ions react with negative ions, etc. And the considerable brain drain caused by the puzzling situations I had to resolve through the complexity of the Laws of Physics. And don't even get me started on the most irrelevant of all - the biological mysteries of amoebae and other one-celled thingies and their uncanny ability to skip gender issues by physically contorting their bodies into self-impregnating acts. And I have to pity kids nowadays because added to that is all the memory and recall needed to learn both English and French and manage all the new technology.

We think of 'brain drain' as being the migration of our great minds to another continent or country. Is this not the same?

The coercive and forced migration of individuals’ very personal and somewhat limited brain cells into receptacles for meaningless junk. Obviously the measure of data that impacted on whether I passed or failed each progressive step in school created a serious brain drain. I was handed a volume of stuff to learn and memorize that was beyond the bounds of reason.

In fact, one time in discussing the content of a correspondence course I signed up for, the Instructor told me the assigned reading was impossible to do in the allotted time. So he suggested I keep in touch with him so he could define what was pertinent. Hey, everyone, hold on a minute here. If there is more than a student can hope to read during the allotted time, then this course is broken. It needs to be fixed. It isn't working the way it is supposed to.

But all that aside, it was this encroachment of too much stuff on my hard drive that drove me to hurry up and finish school so I could get the hell outta' there. Too much of my brain was being drained into irrelevance for me to happily pursue with unimpeded passion those things that really interested me. The things I could have aced well enough to walk away with one or two prestigious awards without even blinking.

So if my education had not been a series of commandeered courses, so many irrelevant to my passions, where would I be today if it had been up to me? I'd be known worldwide as the "Foremother of Nifty Handwriting" and the Governor General Award-Recipient for the new Literary Genre of “Wild Fact and Windblown Fiction", plus other honorable mentions.

And I would not just be ‘Roberta’ I would be "The Roberta" and my Blog would be influential and spellbinding.

I might not know you, but you would know me.


joared said...

You didn't mention your award for "Phantasmodical Thot." I remember well your award winning "Wild Fact and Windblown Fiction" creations. I know you, even if you don't know me.

Alas, now your blog posts are only intriguing, insightful, thought provoking, humorous and even educational.

Roberta S said...

And so, joared, the downward spiraling begins -- I so much expected, after all the brain cells that were stolen, that my posts would reach the level you suggest of "intriguing, insightful, thought provoking, humorous and even educational" but alas, the things I write still remain too close to all that acdemic input from my school daze. Close enough that my posts are more frequently dull, repetitive, silly, and everything overanalyzed to the puking point.

And so all I can say is --- I know you and we laugh together -- The Roberta and The Joared! (thanks for commenting)

anne partain said...

Hi Roberta, That is very interesting about allowing students to pursue those things that are interesting to them. I have heard of schools that run with this philosophy here. I think it would be so liberating for all of us, no matter what our age to just do what we want to do. Some might and do call this idea anarchy or insanity, but who cares what "they" think, really? We aren't kids any more.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Dear THE Roberta and THE Joared:

You two cracked me up tonight.

let's see, I might have been known worldwide as the Queen of the Merry-go-round, or Princess of the Locker Decorating Society had I been a student under a Russian educational ideology.

joared said...

Ah, we're honored by the presence of Her Highness! Perhaps, Queenie, or Princess, whichever you prefer, your lesser fame of today is fortunate. Had you been overly influenced by those Russian educational "ideagogs" you might have found yourself in a gulag. Also, forget you the destiny of Russian royalty?

I defer further comment to The Roberta of the stolen brain cells who despite her tragic loss renders mystically intellectual and aromatically stimulating epistles.

Anne's sane interpretation of this blog post's content brings a well-deserved breath of sanity to the underlying serious thoughts offered re educational systems. My apologies for bringing my madness here, Roberta.

Roberta S said...

Hi anne partain. Yes, you are most definitely correct how liberating this kind of freedom would be.

I know so many kitchen table computer techies and backyard auto mechanics, of unsurpassed wisdom that should be 'The Computer Whiz' and the 'The Expert Car Mechanic', but they were culled from the pool of experts because they couldn't get passing marks in other disciplines. Others are culled from distinguishing titles they deserve because of social disadvantages or insufficient backing for post-seconday loans. The country might be democratic but education is not.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, we kneel and weep over the brain-drain of our country when our lettered academics move to other countries, but how many do we throw aside with that fixation within our education system that only allows the students with pro-level skills in sports to bumble through university without getting a really good handle on ALL disciplines.

Roberta S said...

Hi Cowtown Pattie, thanks for visiting. I should clear something up here -- joared and I do not know each other except as corresponding blog entities, but we would know everything about each other if we had the notoriety we deserve.

And you, of course, would also be a celeb, known world-wide as 'THE Cowtown Pattie', if our education system polished the brain cells we have instead of stealing them for storing great wads and portions of irrelevant material to our particular passions and delights.

Hail "Queen of the Merry-go-round" and royal "Princess of the Locker Decorating Society!!"

Roberta S said...

Hi joared, just one small observation.

If I were in Russia and allowed to pursue only my passions, to luxuriate in my only particular delights, without laboring at physics, chemistry, etc., I'd be too delicate of body, too soft of hand, too smooth of skin, too deficient in muscle and physical tone, to be desirable as a gulag laborer, (though still desirable).

So I might, speculatively, be assigned a luxurious workspace wherein to write "wild fact and windblown fiction" propaganda ditties and journals.

I'm just sayin', that is how it might be.

Dick said...

There's a big difference between providing authentic choice to students within school and then giving them the opportunity to pursue their most powerful inclinations and placing them within an academic hothouse that incubates at the expense of breadth and variety. I've seen the Russian specialist model and it's horrific: narrow, prescriptive and exclusive. Surely in terms of communicability and relevance to the young, it's not so much WHAT gets taught as HOW.

Roberta S said...

Or one could also say, Dick, as a teacher once told me. We learn easiest and best, what we are most receptive to.

And that thought alines with what you said as well. In a coersive, slaved environment, students cannot be 'receptive' despite the thoughts expressed in this rant. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.