Confessions of a Reluctant Teacher

December 31, 2009

And an ‘Upular’ New Year!

Filed under: Miscellaneous — christinag503 @ 8:03 am

This remix video made my day. It was created by an artist named Pogo, who uses sound clips from movies to create totally original music.

I wasted spent the better part of an afternoon watching all the videos he has posted on YouTube, and this one was my favorite. I love how he retains the spirit of the original movie: the retro vibe, the sense of wonder, the sweet yearning underneath it all. It moved me, both emotionally and physically. (Seriously, try to resist dancing around in your chair juuust a little bit. You can’t.)

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


December 30, 2009

Learning-Disabled Robots

This article from a fellow WordPress blogger showed up as a randomly generated “possibly related post” at the end of my last article. I liked the saucy question mark at the end of the title, so I checked it out.

I loved her over-all point: the emphasis on relentless testing, along with funding difficulties, have elbowed out important topics like art, humanities, music, drama. I agree that literacy and computer proficiency open the world to young minds. (I especially liked her mother’s statement that “If you can read, you can learn to do anything.”)

However, I disagree with her conclusion that “students did not want to think.” They most likely just didn’t want to think about the things their teacher (or whoever designed their curriculum) wanted them to think about. Do you ever wonder how kids could be so entranced by video games? They are visually stimulating, sure, but they also engage the mind in problem-solving. If they weren’t interested in analyzing the world of the game, they wouldn’t play them obsessively until they’d defeated all the levels.

I think schools tend to discourage thinking in children. In class, we are punished for staring out the window, or not paying attention to the teacher. These are signs of independent thinking. It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Harrison Bergeron.” In Harrison’s world inequality is illegal. That means good-looking people have to wear masks so they are equal to unattractive people. If someone is physically strong, they must carry weights to make themselves equal to the weak. If they are intelligent…they have to endure a “mental radio” that emits a siren every three minutes. To interrupt their thoughts. So that they are incapable of achieving their true intellectual potential. (Bringin’ it home…) Sound familiar? (::cough::Teachertellingyoutopayattentioneverythreeminutes::cough::)

I recently read a super-cool article in the New Yorker about this group of scientists who are creating robots that can work with disabled people or autistic children, to encourage “physical and cognitive rehabilitation.” On page 4, the author describes watching some tapes of an autistic child working with a ‘socially assistive’ robot. The researchers are trying to improve his ability to engage with humans by having him engage with the robot. For example, if he moves away, the robot hangs its head in ‘disappointment.’ Or if the child presses a certain button on the robot, it blows bubbles. In a later taped session, the robot exhibits such behaviors randomly, not as a result of the child’s actions (like pressing a button). (OK, now I’m getting to the point.)

When the child can’t make the robot blow bubbles, he is disappointed and withdraws, refusing to engage further with the robot. The author goes on to say, “At the end of the session, the child turned to his mother and said, ‘I think the robot is learning-disabled’. ”

Before being diagnosed with autism (and, obviously, afterward), this child must have gone through several tests and many different ‘labels.’ And because children can be guileless and therefore brutally honest, he defined ‘learning-disabled’ as he had experienced it: that is what people call you when they are frustrated with you for not doing what THEY want you to do.

It made me so sad for him, and for so many other children out there who are ‘labeled’ in the name of education: learning-disabled, lazy, stupid, ADHD, trouble-makers. These are all condescending and humiliating ways of saying, “You’re not doing what we expect you to do. Therefore, there must be something wrong with you. Because there’s certainly nothing unreasonable or wrong about our expectations.”

I can get behind the statement that students today “don’t want to think” about the periodic table or the Battle of the Bulge or whatever, but tell me honestly: do you? And if you answered no to that question, would it be right for me to extrapolate and say that you must not want to think? To conclude that you must be mentally lazy and therefore will Never Find a Job, which in turn will cause the collapse of our economy and civilization as we know it?

Of course not. That’s not only ridiculous, it’s insulting. Even a learning-disabled robot can figure that out.

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