Once More, with Feeling

20170910_210451As the saying goes, “some things never change”. It’s an adage that I’m familiar with, being something of a history jockey and currently trapped in a never ending cycle in Darkest Dungeon (it’s the second least possessed achievement in the game that I seek; which means my sanity is about as ragged as my heroes), but the idea that there are simply some things in life that, no matter how you approach them, the method, or mayhaps even the result, will remain the same. In many regards, this can be a good thing. In others, a practice in tedium.

For myself, however, it actually bears more of a resemblance to the latter. Wednesday last week marked the beginning of my school year, in an exercise that I hope does not prove to be fruitless. I have significant doubts it will, though, as this first term will already be testing my mental mettle in a “winner takes all” sort of struggle.

To really understand this, you need to drift with me way back in my personal annals of history to the tailing ends of my primary school education. Back at the turn of the millennia, mental health awareness was starting to become more prevalent in societal understanding and common school faculty education. I know this less from fact and more from practical experience: quite recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, most of my teachers will ill equipped with the tools necessary to assist someone of my peculiar quirks and essentially non-existent focus. As such, my report card scores were, to put it frankly, not great.

This isn’t to say my teachers had it out for me, on the contrary: many helped in what capacity they could to spur (or, in some cases: drag) me through to my graduation from elementary to secondary schooling. I was able to drudge up the marks I needed to get into the Academic line of courses, and amongst my peers, the only real consideration for getting anything resembling a real chance for the future.

3450910519_0739fe4c95_bIn essence: if you were in the academic stream, you were smart. If you were in applied, you were dumb. In essential, you were basically a useless lump of flesh that wouldn’t amount to much in your future. This isn’t to say I agree with these prejudices, rather this was the common perception of the course options for those sagely early-teen minds. Sufficed to say, I didn’t want to be dumb, so I pushed my way into the academic courses.

Fast forward a few years to the end of high school. My marks were abysmal, classmates were making everything look sincerely easy and I was frustrated with being trapped in an environment that was practically written to work against what few talents I possessed. I’m not going to pretend I was “so smart the work was too easy so I got bored and didn’t try” line, because that is a blatant lie. Fact of the matter is that my mind is less than conventional, so typical methods of teaching and memory retention don’t jive well with me.

As such, I had basically given up on anything resembling an education and was determined to prove a point that, with a little hard work and determination, I could get to great places in my life.

Idealistic, if not horribly inaccurate.

Half a century ago this was the case; but in the society I was finding myself in, not having a $150,000 piece of fancy paper was proving to be a significant stoppage in getting anywhere in life outside of menial labour or factory work. As such, I bounced from dead-end to dead-end, still trying to scratch out a means to make a living for myself.

There are other factors involved in the reasons this didn’t work, but those aren’t my focus today, so let’s move along.

  1. I’m working a night shift stocking shelves at a grocery store. It’s winter, I haven’t seen the sun in a week and a half and had no social life. I was in a hell of a depressive slump and there was no real way out of it. I was stocking cans of pasta sauce to a shelf, listening to the cranky wining of a middle aged lifer behind me when it struck me: if I don’t do something now, this will be the rest of my life.

getty_rf_photo_of_merry_go_round_spinning_rapidlyScrews to that.

If the only way to make it anywhere in life was to get a fancy big-boy education, then so I shall. But first, I had a horrifying high school transcript to make up for. I enrolled into a certified adult learning centre and, after having research university options and discussing with a guidance councillor, I was decked out with a (while not impossible) workload and began my academic blitz.

I had a whole school year to make up for in four and a half months. The first term went well, the second: rather disastrous.

In all my years of education, math was never a strong suit. On the contrary, math had been the scourge of my existence, and physics (which is a great deal of maths) was not much better. Well, one of the courses I needed for the university programs I planned on taking was Chemistry. What I hadn’t known was how much physics are in chemistry. Or maybe there aren’t, I don’t really know for reasons that should become abundant rather shortly.

Last year, 2016, I was completely devastated when all my hard efforts and attempts at understanding chemistry was, basically, for nothing. The demoralization came not from the material itself, rather the frequent surprises that was “oh shit; I thought I knew this material, but now I see I have the brain of a spoon”. One of the things that had caused me the most anxiety and distress in high school had come back full tilt: I was completely confident I knew the material, but my test scores were averaging out to 35%.

Out of 100%.

And a lower score is not the goal here.

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Artwork by Ahmed Ali

All my courses unravelled very quickly after that term and my plans for an education pretty much dissipated from there. I buried myself in work in an effort to try to find something I could take pride in.

 

Again, time skip to a couple months ago. My interest in just working basic, dead-end jobs had completely waned again. It was time to re-approach university. I still very much wanted to pursue my interests in psychology and similar, but I wasn’t going to be able to working in the service industry. I reapplied for course upgrading, which leads me to today.

In a cruel twist of fate, I find myself back in the exact same classroom I took chemistry in, with the same teacher, and the same course breakdown that had so stupendously defeated me the year past.

This is it. Do or die. I largely consider this course to be the one that destroyed me last year, and so I will return and conquer this now. This is less a test of my mind, so much a test of my willpower. My brain is not well tuned to the abstract numerology and scientific notations that I’ll be taught. Not to mention that my memory retention is awful, and all my marks will be reflected upon that one trait.

If I want to pursue a career in conquering depression world-wide, I need to conquer grade 12 university-level chemistry.

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Rock-bashing makes for great leadership, I am to understand.

Granted, should I fail this course again, I can re-take it. But that’s kind of the point here: how many times can one person bash their head against a task in the hopes of surpassing it? Much like Stoic the Vast told his son Hiccup, he bashed his head against a rock until it broke. Much like Michael Palin told Terry Jones in The Holy Grail, he kept building Swamp Castle until it stopped sinking (and once, burning) and remained upright.

Divines above and below I will get this right eventually. And this will be the year for certain. I understand that this will not be the greatest test of my abilities I face in my future, but it will mark a milestone in my journey that I can look back upon in times of hardship and say “I beat stoichiometry, I can beat this”.

As Chumbawumba said, “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you’re never gonna keep me down!”

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Some Thoughts on Education – No Click-bait-y Titles Here

Anyone who has held a prolonged conversation with me can probably tell you there are several topics that will send me into a spiral or rants or musings, depending on the nature of the discussion. Oftentimes, we call this a “heavily-opinionated person”, and I can certainly attest to being someone under such a label (despite my general disdain for labels in general, more on that another time). My reasons for launching into these triads stem from a few different sources: the need to express an opinion, the desire to challenge my own thoughts and critical thinking and a plethora of minor reasons that are a little too tedious for my shockingly presently-focused mind to feel like rationalizing.

Chiefly among those reasons, however, is the need to voice my beliefs and thoughts about topics I have seen or read. My mind is a jumbled mess of thoughts and concepts at the best of times, and vocalizing these thoughts helps form them into concise statements and hypotheses. And one such topic that I find myself launching into rant-realms over is the land of education.

Now, I understand education is something of a hot-button topic (a phrase I didn’t think I’d ever use until now, which means I probably am misquoting or incorrectly using it), and everyone and their dog has an opinion on the matter. Teachers, students, parents, politicians, researchers and board members all have their opinions on what the educational system today is like and what it needs to do to improve, or conversely, what it needs to stop declining in quality.

It should come to no surprise that I, myself, am someone who has very charged and self-important beliefs on the quality of the school system in Canada (or at least in Ontario, as I understand there are minor nuances to the systems not only between countries, but between provinces as well). I mean, I possess all the warning flags of someone who has deep-rooted grievances with the current school system: I did poorly all through school due to a laundry list of personality and motivation flaws, I did not attend post-secondary education due to financial and personality flaws, and am largely against the commercialization of education due to financial and personal beliefs.

You might have noticed something of a trend in there somewhere.

Granted, I’m not so self-important as to believe that I am blameless in my current academic standing, nor do I honestly think that the problems that plagued me are anywhere near similar to those that bother other individuals or organizations. That’s why I make it a point to read up on different studies, articles or coverage of the ever-changing landscape of education. I also keep contact with several friends who are teachers at different levels in the school system (by that, I mean the range from kindergarten to high school, teachers to school board members, and even a couple of politicians) and am very careful to listen to those who have differing opinions on the school system than I (check out my piece on Echo Chambers in social media for more).

I also consider the opinions of those who have personal views on the nature of school because of life experience or spiritual beliefs, as these are both important aspects in understanding how we can better operate as a global community in our exceedingly diverse world. I’ve noticed several trends in these varied beliefs that sometimes I am, at first, inclined to argue against, but often have to sit back and think on until I can properly process what I’ve just learned.

There is one general consensus that I have noticed, however: very nearly everyone thinks the current academic landscape is broken or has gaping holes in operational efficiency/policy. Very seldom do we hear people discussing the accomplishments of a standardized educational system that has made significant leaps and jumps in how our brains have developed over the decades, let alone centuries or millennia of the history of education.

Instead, there seems to be an overwhelming belief that there is little good from our current school system. This generally stems, I have noticed, from small groups picking out an issue and inflating the damaging nature of said defect. This is not to say there are not dangerously broken systems in our schools; one needs only look at the academic disparities between both racially segregated or financially destitute schools to see things, two traits that are oftentimes linked. But some issues are only a part of a greater concern, and that is the need for hard evaluations on the intended direction that education serves as.

Now you start leaving the realm of hard, numerically provable evidence and get into the realm of cultural or philosophical reasoning. What EXACTLY is the purpose of education? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer as it seems the intended purpose changes based on personal views.

I know it seems that I’ve performed a complete 180 from my original statement, but bear with me: it’ll all tie together in the end. I think.

Note from Self: I can’t help but feel the “bear” that was used in the sentence prior is incorrect. I’m almost completely confident that it should be “bare”, but Microsoft Word is convinced otherwise. I might also just be losing my mind, which is exceedingly possible, as well.

I don’t claim to have the greatest knowledge of educational history, but based on what I do know, it seems that for the better part of western culture and history the drive for better education was a largely social need. In order to develop a more stable and prosperous civilization, better academic reasoning was required. To cultivate this sense of logic, students (or monks, before that) focused on the mathematics and sciences. As anyone who has built a tiny bridge in science class can tell you: understanding weight dispersal and fulcrums are not exactly guess-work when trying to plan for a bridge to navigate a tiny car across two desks.

But with the maths and sciences, so too came the humanities. Poetry and music can help maintain a semblance of order and sanity in large populations; they also further reinforce a sense of cultural identity and stress relief that maintains a higher quota of productivity than otherwise. And as time progresses, so too do these systems improve. Science and learning becomes more precise, and literature and the arts have more to draw upon as human nature and identities change with the times.

Now, I’m not even going to begin to speculate on eastern education, because I know very little about it. Based on academic rankings, though: they seem to be doing pretty well in the past couple decades.

Based on these developments, I’d say the nature of education is to improve upon the human mind in general. We can see this in the varied and diverse fields of study that can be obtained within the higher academic establishments; the only real limits to what you can learn comes down to ethics at that point. Or money.

And in that regard, the education system we have today has achieved that goal with remarkable success. Our brains are sophisticated machines that, as a result of the stimulation and information we’ve received through our developmental years, can process complex questions and scenarios that have built civilization as we recognize it today. The fact that we can even question these ideas on such a massive scale, potentially reaching and hearing millions of voices at a time with universal theories and scales to work with is testament to that accomplishment.

But this begs the question: what is the purpose of education now? Where do we go from here? And this is where everyone splinters into their different groups and beliefs. We’re all asking the same question, frankly, just in different words. And this is good. This is hella good.

I strongly believe that everyone who partakes in these conversations and arguments all have the same base goal: to improve upon such a fundamentally important system that our world relies upon. And if we’re all having that discussion, I genuinely believe that, as far as morals are concerned, there are very few wrong view points to have.

Except for anarchists. I do not like them, or their beliefs at all!

The funny thing is what sprouted this recent mind experiment for me. I was thumbing through a social media feed and happened across a post about the nature of education. It stated that home education was far superior because, as far as human history is concerned, it’s the one that’s been in use the longest and that established education was an experiment.

The implication was that established education was wrong and we should go back to individualized family-based learning instead. I can sympathize with the sentiments behind the post, but I largely disagree with the overall message. As a whole, our society is better for having an educational system in place. And while I, much like many, believe that our system is far from perfect, it is infinity better than having nothing at all.