The Mother of All Books

Not so sure I would consider myself a victim… I have choices to make and I choose to question “why” when folks as “you should”. If the answer is bunk, I call it so and ignore them. Then folks said “you need to go to college and do exactly what we say” I asked “why”. The bunk that was provided as an answer has been proven wrong. I didn’t conform. But not I am not allowed to “play” in their sandbox of information.

As an example, I have been asked to get a specific certification for work. It is offered through only one university and the company has a “deal” with them to its employees. I go to enroll and am told “you don’t have a BS degree which is required to take this class”. Now the other folks that are signing up have never worked in the field, and most of them have yet to actually hold a job that is more than stocking shelves or delivering pizza. The company calls the uni and tries to explain that my application is part of the “deal” and to let me in. The response, as a quote from the admissions folks was … ready … “No”.

So here I am, 15 years of field experience, one who has mentored students at the uni (co-op), with an employer willing to pay to get me into a class, and the keepers refuse. Turns out could have taught the class (one of my employees went) and the company dropped the requirement for me. What purpose did their refusal serve? We had money to pay. near as I can tell, I was not one of the “lemmings”.

That last one is what frightens me with the educational mantra. Innovation, discovery, exploration are not on the path that is trodden by the masses. The great minds veered of into the side streams and backwaters to find those nuggets of priceless information. Yes, you have to learn the basics, but we are not “teaching” folks to think, but to be lemmings. The number of times the co-op or intern says “the professor said that XXX never happens” boggles my mind. I see this mind set all around me. The kid at the checkout who hits the same button over and over expecting a different result, the doctor who won’t consider alternate solutions (such as end of life pain mitigation), the mechanic who looks at the screen instead of the engine, the christian whose sole response is “my pastor said”. They are all heading over the cliff.

The power that you, Mr X, hold in your brain is not the power to control others, but the power to enable them to control their own destiny. The data becomes knowledge, the knowledge influences decisions, and the decisions change futures. This is the real power of knowledge. This is its pricelessness. Money is irrelevant when you are able to sift the data in your mind to predict the logical outcome of events. You know how to get more when you need it.

So even in our case the information that we have pile away in the attic is used to our profit. Profit not in terms of money, but in terms of fulfillment and happiness. We pursue those things that interest us with the self assurance that we can simply draw on our store of data to refill be bank account when needed.

The part that makes us, you more than me, is the desire to share our little secrete with others. I am a bit more stingy than you. But I think it has been well established that I may not be the best person on the face of the planet.

Glad to hear you holiday is lightening up.

Well, I’m really glad you don’t consider yourself a victim; I have known many who would!

I guess the difference between us in this is that you, as you say, were not allowed to play in their sandbox and so have built your own; I am allowed to play in their sandbox, but would rather build my own and invite others to play in it.

To sort of match your story in a sort. Many, many years ago, before I moved into Mac-land, I found the answer to what I wanted in LaTeX. I got quite good at it in my way, though sadly, I’ve now forgotten much. Anyway, I was at the University of Westminster, producing all my materials in LaTeX, on a Dec mainframe running vi, and occasionally getting in touch with the Sysop responsible for maintaining the server and helping people with LaTeX. One day, she rang me up and said she was going to be running a course for academic staff on using LaTeX, and she thought I’d be interested in joining it, so I did. There were twenty-four of us.

We had to take along some document we wanted to produce. At the first session, for the first part it was first steps in using LaTeX so I got on with typing in my text. Then it moved on to doing the first document, so I continued typing, and she came over to me at one moment and apologised for interrupting me. She said there was one of the others who was trying to do something — can’t remember what — and did I know how to do it as she had never had to do that before … some special bit of formatting. “Sure,” I said, so stopped typing and went over and showed him where he was going wrong. When I’d done so, as I was going back to my seat, she stopped me and said, “Mark, most of these people are really struggling. Will you take over the back half of the class for me, and I’ll take the front?” I didn’t get to type any more of my document that afternoon; the class only met once more, when virtually all of the others failed to turn up; she left soon after to a better paid and more responsible job as a Sysop at the Daily Telegraph.

Another point I like to make to my students is that there is no law of nature that the teacher is more intelligent than the students. I usually put it, “Someone had to teach Einstein.” I tell them a class is a collaborative project, where currently I am the one with the greater amount of knowledge/information/understanding, but that that will not always necessarily be the case. Their job is to get from me the information they need, and if they don’t play their part, they won’t get as much out of the course as they could. The latter doesn’t work terribly well here, because of the way the educational system works, where they have had instilled into them the idea that the teacher is right and they shouldn’t question, just take on board whatever s/he says.

Like an academic here many years ago, who over dinner one evening said something totally erroneous about English — like the vast majority of them, basically he thought his own Chinese-ish English was natural English as spoken by us — and when I demurred, he answered, “It’s correct. It says so in my book!”

On two occasions, I had students who were both more intelligent and also probably better linguists than me. I loved it; it really stretched me. With the second of them, a course in Generative Grammar … I always start with “Has anyone got any questions on what we did last week?” She always did. After a couple of weeks she said, “You don’t need to know my question,” but I insisted on her asking it. In the end, it almost became a game between us, because each week, her question was precisely the subject that we were going to cover that afternoon. Fantastic feeling to be working with someone who was so in tune with where I was going.

So I don’t think of things in terms of my having “power to enable them to control their own destiny”. I hope I have information and a philosophy of learning, if you like — which is part of a philosophy of life — that they can draw on if they will, to enable them to try to find out for themselves their way to happiness and success, in whatever terms they happen to think of that. I’m certainly not going to tell them. I’ll tell them what makes me tick, but I’ll never tell them they have to be like me. If they do decide the latter, it’s their decision; that is a burden of responsibility I cannot shoulder. I don’t want them to be saying, “My teacher says so.” My hope is that they will understand what I say and why I say it, and if they agree, make it their own.



… about the commercialisation of life, the universe and everything!

"The Deputy Party Secretary of the XMU Art College, Prof. Zhou Xianbao, gave a paper at the forum on the topic of “Culture Creativities, Culture Economics or Culture Brands?— The Development Strategy for City Brand & Soft Power Construction of Xiamen”. " <ugh!> :imp: