Friday, July 24, 2009

You can't say I didn't try

I decided to make a "day in the life" post for Learn Nothing Day, so I jotted down the stuff I did and the stuff I learned. Here's how the day went:

Midnight - Got a late start because Hotmail had been saying I had no new email when I did, so at midnight I got a whole ton of email all at once. I gave myself a few minutes to catch up on that. Then I watched Spongebob!

Overnight - Kept having really complicated dreams, which I can't remember now. We'll just have to hope I didn't learn anything in my sleep :)

9am - Watched Spongebob and had to fight the urge to check all my email and blogs! My mom assaulted me with some learning when I went to get cereal because she started talking about some paperwork or something. I had only been awake for 15 minutes so I didn't learn much.

10am - We decided we didn't feel like going to the beach, so I listened to some music and then took a shower. The Christian station my mom listens to was playing "Christmas in July" music so I sat down to listen to that. Unfortunately they broke in with news; fortunately it was religious-station-funded news about young-Earth creationism*, so all I really learned was that some people observe Learn Nothing Day every day. I did learn something a little later when they announced that this particular station broadcasts internationally via shortwave, which is pretty cool. I decided that was too much learning and went back in my room.

11am - I talked to Fez for a few minutes, which is risky but he managed to be nice and not tell me anything interesting. Then I was sleepy so I decided to lie down and watch UHF, which wasn't too much of a learning risk because I just watched it a few days ago. Still I couldn't resist thinking about what someone could learn from watching it. There's quite a bit, even though it's a fairly stupid movie.

Noon - Caved in and read a few emails. Learned something or other about the Sorooshians but that was about it.

12:30 - Well, here's where it all went to hell *grin* I decided to go outside and jump on the trampoline, and ended up learning how to do a sort of front handspring/somersault thing I have ALWAYS wanted to do and never had the nerve to try! I also went in the pool for a little while and learned something about dragonflies. What I *thought* I saw was one male dragonfly suddenly fall from the sky dead. I went to look closer and saw it was actually two dragonflies mating. A few minutes later the female flew away (I didn't even know what a female dragonfly looked like before this). I went over and saw the male still lying there, this time dead for real. So I learned that dragonflies are one of the insect species where the male dies during or after mating.

Note: Evidently I was wrong and this is not normal, so I don't know what was up with that. Maybe this particular female dragonfly was just evil or a succubus or something. Maybe they weren't really mating and she was just feasting upon his brains.

Note 2: When I went back to fact-check this today, I learned this about dragonflies: "They breathe through gills in their rectum, and can rapidly propel themselves by suddenly expelling water through the anus." Bet you didn't know THAT.

2:00 - Kinda zoned out listening to the radio and then did a fairly mindless Facebook meme. Caught myself trying to figure out what "A Horse With No Name" is about. I still have no idea.

3:00 - Had a cupcake and some soda, because hey, everyone knows you can't learn while eating sweets, right? Tried to play Bejeweled without learning, but I suppose I was learning patterns and strategy and whatnot. Also I noticed that "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey is about one-night stands or something. I'd never paid attention before. And I kept thinking about bad lyric writing, because classic rock radio is full of it. Seriously, if I have never heard a song before and I can predict what the next lines will be, it's not good writing. You followed "I like you best" with "you're not like the rest"? Really? Is that supposed to be creative?

I also learned from a commercial that Geico has been around for 70 years. I didn't *care*, but I know now.

4:00 - Went outside for a little while, and saw a spider that had somehow melted onto the glass table on the porch. I came in and did a Myspace survey, managed not to learn there... then Roni signed on and I told her about the dragonflies I saw earlier. She told me about mayflies, which I didn't know anything about - they look similar to dragonflies but they only live less than a day after reaching adulthood and dragonflies live a lot longer. She also showed me someone's Twitter feed; I thought I could take a peek without learning, but I learned that Wikipedia was claiming Jimmy Hoffa is buried under a restaurant in South Dakota.

5:00 - I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, and when I went to the Netflix site I mentioned to Roni that my recommendation page has a whole row full of Gene Wilder movies. She pointed out that he was in a ton of Mel Brooks movies, which I hadn't noticed before.

7:30 - Watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. When I went to Hulu I learned that they're adding a bunch of shows, including The Electric Company and X-Men Evolution.

8:30 - Was going to watch Spongebob, got distracted reading my Netflix recommendations, so I learned some things there. There's a lot of shows I didn't realize are on DVD. I also had a conversation with Roni, Spiffy and Justina about movies. I probably learned a few things in there, I didn't keep track.

9:00 - Listened to some music, and learned the worst song lyric I have ever heard: "Shush girl, do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips".

10:00 - Finally got around to Spongebob. Went to bed at 11.


So even with a real effort not to learn, I still did, although not a lot. But here's the thing I noticed: most people define "learning" as taking in new facts or learning a new skill, but even when I'm doing neither of those my brain is still working constantly. (Well I mean, of course it has to be so I don't die, but here I mean in an intelligent way.) A lot of the time I wrote down as just zoning out or listening to music or whatever, I was thinking about videos or art I want to make. In fact I almost feel like I was more creative than usual yesterday, so maybe not constantly taking in information is good for creativity.

That's what drove me crazy about school: they tried to cram us full of facts but didn't give us any time to reflect or process or recombine that information. If we sat and thought about stuff it was daydreaming and that was off-task. But if you can't take information and play with it, toss it around a little and see what it sticks to, then you can't make any connections with it. And if you can't make connections, what's the use of even knowing anything? If you just have a bunch of car parts scattered all over the yard and don't put them together, how are you going to drive?

For a long time I considered myself to have a short attention span because I can't read a book or watch a movie for very long at a time. What I've gradually realized is that this is because I like to savor new information. Usually by the time a movie gets about 30-45 minutes in it's given me some kind of new, exciting idea I want to go sit and think about. If I don't pause it and go process that information and pick it apart and play with it, I get antsy and can't enjoy the rest of the movie. Books are the same way: I'll read a little bit and then have to go chew over what I just read. I am one of the slowest readers I know, and this is why. When I went to community college, trying to read 40 pages of a textbook a week made me insane. The information in textbooks is so densely packed it's totally useless for me; I need my facts to come more slowly so I can actually use them. Somehow I don't think I'm alone in that.

The thinking and connecting and daydreaming that happens after a new fact is taken in is the *real* learning, and so by forcing kids to rigidly pay attention to whatever the teacher is going on about, schools everywhere are actively preventing learning from happening. I joked on Gail's Facebook that if only I could go back to high school for a day I'd have no trouble learning nothing, and I really meant that. It's a pretty sobering thought, and if I thought about it too long I'd probably get depressed.

But I won't, because I can do a handspring on the trampoline now :D

*I feel I should point out that I am not one bit offended by the belief that something may have created this universe; I share that belief. I am, however, bothered by people who blithely ignore every scientific discovery and insist that Earth itself has only been around as long as human civilization.

1 comment:

gail said...

Very cool post, Bonnie!!