what they teach, what we learn

Today I met a personal deadline for the application for the Environmental Management program. With any luck I will formally be listed as a “student” come fall semester. All I need to do is get a decent grade in my Biostatistics class.

Did I mention I am loving Biostatistics? I think the numbers and process of deriving meaning from seemingly spread out data is fascinating, and learning ways to interpret and play with data is great. I am actually getting into the math of it all, which makes me wonder if my “issues” with math aren’t so much with not being able to do it as with the way its taught. I like the teacher and his approach, and I can’t stress how important that is to my success in a subject area I feel insecure about.

Think back on teachers you have had. Does a bad experience with a teacher have the ability to turn you off of a subject? Or to make you think that you will never succeed in that subject? I think about how much support I had through my foreign language experience, and how much I received a lot of affirmation in that experience (with both Spanish and Chinese), and I think that directly impacted my determination with future study. If the same had been true of the foundations of my learning math and physics, I might have ended up in an entirely different area of studies.

That’s me. I was a good student, and it was hard not to affirm me since I was usually successful. Math was the weakest area of learning, and the only one in which I ever heard the phrase “I just don’t think you are capable of it.” That’s a death sentence to achievement because somewhere in the back of my head that is rolling around, and I only ever heard that from one of many math teachers. The rest sung my praises and advised studying architecture and design and engineering and any number of math related careers.

That never made up for that first statement of doubt.

How does that kind of sentiment grow if you hear it in other areas of life? I know how it’s stuck in my head for math, and I know how I struggle with it. Sure, some basic computation can be totally beyond me, but I have fun figuring out the changing rate of my drive time while on the road, or taking a stab at possible mortality rates based on power plant fuel consumption. The fact that I make adding mistakes all the time does not mean I am not capable of more challenging questions. The fact that a teacher couldn’t hold my attention may not mean that I’m an idiot (never mind that a classmate and I spent a lot of time in class talking because we were teaching ourselves the material).

I’ve always been fairly lucky in terms fo teacher/student ratios, and teachers willing to deal with my endless questions after class, and comments on inconsistencies or information that doesn’t gel with accepted convention. There are lots of people out there who aren’t so lucky. I had teachers that let me sit in a corner and work on a sculpture rather than sulk at my classmates. I had teachers that didn’t always punish me for being a slob. I had teachers that let me be stubborn sometimes, making me more willing to cooperate on things I considered totally worthless (like outlines).

Most folks don’t seem to be so lucky, or only find one or two people who do that for them. I think of my shares of struggles (which are few, comparatively speaking), and I wonder sometimes how people can make it since we try to cookie cutter out identical students that can perform to a set of standards that don’t really seem to do anything aside from show that you know how to jump through hoops on command.

I think if I were in primary or secondary school today, people would approach me differently, and those differences scare me because I don’t think I’d have had the measure of success I have today. What am I supposed to think of the treatment my nieces and nephew will get/get in school? They are already not getting the leeway I was given in school, and part of me wonders how long before they end up medicated.

In thinking about some of those self-value issues underlying relationships that I talked about earlier this week, I can’t help but think that these formative learning experiences contribute to the comfort or discomfort a person feels with himself, and that will echo through different outlets in life, including relationships.

Everyone has problems. Everyone has a problem family. Everyone has problems in school. I don’t debate those conflicts, and I don’t think we should remove them. Those challenges are fundamental to learning how to deal with the world. There ARE things we do poorly, and send the wrong message. Often the message sent seems to be that we’re less-valuable than someone who causes no problems.

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