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Conundrums of Motivation

March 31, 2015 1 comment

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. The idiom is classic and its accuracy profound. By what method can one make another do an action? For what purpose does one choose to activate the mind? As an instructor, this challenge of motivation remains the ever-impossible problem to solve. Can the motivational riddle be solved?

Many have tried: incentives such as food and cash have been attempted with diminishing returns. Are external motivators more powerful? The avoidance of the threat certainly works for students whose parents directly influence their performance in school. But are these techniques effective in developing life long learners?

Unfortunately the problem of motivation (seemingly its deficiency and not its excess) has existed forever. For what purpose should I do this thing? The “I” remains the factor. Only when it matters does the individual act. Is it culture that determines the value of an action? Fear might play a part and likewise motivations and the avoidance of punishment. And yet for educators around the world what legitimate action can be taken to inspire another to act. One can only do so much and ultimately the student and his or her cognition remain the single driving force between inaction and the action.

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Our Cake of Twenty-Three Percent

November 5, 2014 Leave a comment

As of 2013, Ohio’s population was thirteen-million people. Of those, 7.75 million are said to be registered to vote. This is 59.6% of the population. Only 3.1 million people cast ballots in the 2014 mid-term election. This is roughly 40% of those registered and a mere 23% of all citizens in the state. While lack of registration of election day means its impossible to vote, one does have significant swaths of time to register to vote. So-called “motor-voter” laws encourage voter registration by including the ability to register to vote at DMV offices.

One wonders why one wouldn’t vote. Yes, some argue that a single vote has no difference (reducing down to being a 1 in 10 million chance of being decisive), but statistics are unrelated factors here. Instead, I view voting as an act of participation. To be a citizen in a democracy is to be a member of a social machine of sorts, a human construct designed to have human representation as its gears and parts. We vote for representatives who form symbolic collectives of our community who then go on to represent our views in government. The idea is that these representatives will enact, detract or propose legislation that reflects our collective belief. This, of course, is Civics 101 and stupid, simple logic.

But what are we to make of a system where 23% of the population participate. Imagine society as a car. How would a car that is 23% complete function? How might a child respond to a birthday cake that is 23% whole? Unfortunately this is just the cake we’ve baked. Worse yet, while the solution remains in grasp (people can register and vote), the likelihood that they will remain highly doubtful. We live in a world where people will camp outside stores to buy the latest model of expensive electronic toys and yet find no reason to bubble in the teeny tiny dots of a ballot. What purpose does it have? some ask. One wonders where the hesitancy comes in? Is it useless? Well, so what. What other daily chores do we complete that have no functional utility? To vote is to participate and build the machinery of state. At the very least, vote simply to have the right to complain. See those who complain without voting as the baker’s complaining about how bad their 23% completed cake is. What would we say to them? Finish your work, do your job. Low voting rates are tragic. One wonders how such lack of concern for a civic action stems from a country where people died for such a right. Though I know that no one reads this, please, if so inspired take the second to register:

Devices: Self Control

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

In a September 15 article in Pacific Standard, David Destino writes on the powers of accountability and how a sense of being grateful leads to greater self control. Have a nasty habit? Crave the candy bar(s)? Destino says the best defense is thinking about the many positive features of your life.

Included in the article is the now infamous “marshmallow test” conducted by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s. As part of the test, a group of children were told that by delaying gratification they would be rewarded by a doubling of the treat. A child who loved candy bars would be presented with a single bar, told he could eat it now or wait a bit and receive another, and then left alone in the room. Mischel and his coleagues watched from a distance and observed the techniques used to deny the temptation to indulge. The children used a variety of techniques: some sang songs, looked away or found some other stimulation to distract themselves from the treat. Mischel went further and continued to gather data on his participants and found that those who were capable of delaying instant gratification then went on to lead more successful adult lives: they had less debt, more stable families and a slew of other features that suggested the long term power of self control. From Mischel’s work came a sense of the importance of cultivating self control in people. Is it possible to teach self control?

Destino notes the popular belief that because self-control is so important the process of cultivating techniques to assist in self control are important to teach children. He notes movements like Alcohol Anonymous which focus less on the personal factors that lead individuals to dangerous behaviors and more on techniques to avoid the dangerous item of desire. If the item can be avoided then perhaps the individual can resist the temptation. But what can be said of the success of techniques? Are there less alcoholics in society? Is obesity now a problem we read only of in textbooks?

Far from it.

Instead we live in a world rattled by addictive temptations. From food to technology it seems our every human feature has some item designed to stimulate our pleasure. We exist in a world of plethora filled with countless ways to find just what we want.

Destino offers a second way to defend ourselves from temptation. Choose instead the path of gratitude. Consider what you have to be thankful for and focus on cultivating these benefits. He notes of programs that force an individual to do a good deed if some undesireable action occurs. Termed “pre-commitment” some common actions are an automatic donation to a charity if an expensive item is purchased. Would less people buy the latest IPhone if in purchasing it a equally priced donation was sent to a charity? Might the dreaded candy bar consumed require an hour of service at a soup kitchen? While such actions can seem cruel they do create a greater sense or accountability. We might think we know what’s best for us but faced with the myriad of temptations we are weaklings in the struggle. Studies now show that our self control is like a muscle: use it frequently and it gets sore. Destino writes of a study where subjects were more likely to commit an undesirable act after fighting the temptation for a plate of chocolate chip cookies. We get worn out, it seems, and need something outside of our brains to keep us on the course.

 

Pattern Locking Patterns

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Behavioral changes are difficult to make. Patterns beget habits beget lock-in beget comfort. In our habits lie our sense of self and perspective on reality. Are we based upon our patterns? Do our needs for structure make our patterns a simple source of comfort in life? Though we refer to ourselves as free-thinking individuals we remain locked into a schedule. The work schedule, the daily meals, the daily grind of every social function: our gears for daily life.

Indeed our very biology is ruled by specific sets of patterns. Sleeping with its REM cycle is model for the perfect day: not too fast and not too slow; a perfect pace for progress. The reproductive system has its pattern and Circadian rhythms have been shown to have powerful effects on living things on Earth. From jet-lagged travelers to solar starved plants, these rhythms play a vital part in life.

So it’s no surprise then that these patterns are difficult to change. Changing sleep patterns or diet? Prepare yourself for war. Just a simple change of diet means a rapid sway to life. What defines the perfect diet? Does perfection actually exist? Too often we seek patterns in existence where a pattern just doesn’t exist. How often do I need to sleep? Are these curtains certified dark enough? From the big ideas to tiny details a swath of decisions must be considered. Ever different, the individual is impossible to simplify to specific needs and goals. There are various suggestions for the ways we live our life. What does he or she want? From what culture does she stem? Ultimately the ingredients that make up who we are are wildly different. The decision, in the end, remains with us. Though troubled yet we are we hold our power to our change.

Locks and Maturation

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

One model of maturation is the lock system for boat travel. Via the system, a boat moves through a series of water chambers that allow it to move directly over land despite a lack of level surface. No longer dependent on a flowing current, the boat can move quickly by flowing through the system of locks.

slowly, the boat moves further in its journey by progressing through each channel. In each chamber the boat starts near the bottom but the rises higher and makes its way forward.

Applying this model to maturation, consider the young person working through stages of experience. A child learning to drive will begin with basic steps of adjusting mirrors and the interior of the vehicle. Gradually more advanced skills are explored and conquered so that in time the individual who begins without any experience becomes capable of moving the vehicle at an incredibly rapid rate of speed.

As the boat moves through each channel its progress is individually tied to status. Likewise the child’s development is tied to personal progress. Difficulty at a certain level means the student does not progress.

This model of maturation is helpful in understanding the ideal progress of education. Learning is inherently an individual process and any system that presumes progress disregards reality. No reason exists for a student to be considered below or above grade level.

On the boat it is the sailor who is in charge of moving the boat towards its destination. For the student this guiding force begins as the parent but gradually becomes the individual. With maturation comes both the capability and responsibility to direct one’s progress.

Impersonal The Person

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

In her interview with Brian Lehrer, Danah Boyd discusses contemporary challenges in child maturation. Well-versed in technologies complicated relationship with parents and their children, her work bases its conclusions on anecdotal evidence with young people. Her arguments are cogent and well-researched, and present a slew of new ideas about technology. From Boyd it becomes clear that a new perspective about technology must be developed to educate both parents and children. How has the internet changed the way we mature? Clearly, the relationship between peers has been altered drastically by technology. In Boyd we hear the complicated levels of these changes: alterations both for peers in similar age groups and between peers of different groups.

Each generation relates to technology differently. The ways in which an older generation uses Facebook is drastically different from a younger generation. Despite a common platform the two groups both utilize and understand the technology differently. From this great void of understanding comes significant confusion. How do children relate to their parents posting on Facebook? What do children do when their parents refuse them Facebook access or insist they function as a gate-keeper?

As our relationship with technology develops so to will our relationship with those who use technology. Just as users of Facebook come to understand the platform, the means of understanding others who use the platform will develop. Will a sense of someone’s “Facebook-self” become more common? Are we capable of allowing someone to exist as someone else on the internet? The online world is rich with opportunities to be someone else. In these new identities an amazing wealth of power can be seized. Where confusion enters the picture is when these distinct personalities are blurred. With the use of alternative identities it becomes critical that distinctions remain intact. How do parents keep their children safe? Ultimately each family must reach their own conclusion; though, a recognition of the multiple identities of online life is essential. Disregarding this is to disregard the rules of the internet and the very reality in which we live.

 

Title Tales

January 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Legitimacy is a difficult nut to crack. “Too legit to quit”? Then your skills should go unquestioned and success always assumed. To be “successful” is a relative state. In those whose dreams have been accomplished and whose goals achieved it’s easy to assume it was guaranteed. Far harder to consider those whose dreams went unrealized. The successful don’t dream more accurately.

One’s dreams are not another. In the accomplishment of one exists a source of shame for another. Cook a great meal and your status as a chef is established. Lose the butler and the home and the service known for ages and successful meals are more reminders than indulgences.

For many the battle to achieve legitimacy is difficult. Our terms for certain roles in society are vague. What is a musician? Can one be called a writer if he simply scrolls some sentences? Must a writer be published to be considered a writer? These minor details must be defined by the individual. For some the act of writing is enough, while for others publication is foundation. Ultimately each individual must come to define life’s titles as he or she sees fit. Language fails us…again.

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