Wednesday 21 December 2016

A little learning

Like many families in the electronic age there is a fair amount of poorly controlled round-robin e-mails. If we were ALL on Friendface, I guess this chit-chat and updating would happen there; but some of the crumblies are hold-outs from signing every detail of their personal life over to the apparatchiks of Zuckerburgshire. A tuthree days ago, for example, we were informed that one of the teen-generation had featured in a video made a the Chester-Beatty Library. You won't be able to guess which of the girls is being tribbed because she doesn't look a bit like me - no grizzled grey beard for starters.

When the girls were educating themselves at home, we used to approach the home-education get-togethers with a certain amount of dread. You wouldn't see other families for a few months and so the talk often started off on a catch-up of what had been happening in the interim. Partly because several months would be compressed into several minutes and partly because the Home Ed community has its share of truly extraordinary kids, the lives of others seemed to be replete with prizes and achievements. By contrast our own girls seemed mainly to have sat on the sofa binge-watching Desperate Housewives or House MD and making a lot of cakes. Of course that brought on a twinge of feeling that we had somehow failed the girls with our laissez-faire ideas of education. I don't think the other parents were being boastful or trying to put one over on our family and its inadequacies. At the time I wrote about Celebrating the Ordinary. Now that the girls have left home to plough their own furrow, I like to think that by minimising the pressure on them to Achieve, they were given space to develop their true selves. Apart from a Gap Year in a Woowah Steiner College during which she turned 18, Dau.I has been, like her sister, an autodidact in the University of Sofa Life. She did also spend three weeks of the Summer she was 15 at CTYI in Dublin. And the next year she did a week-long Arvon Creative Writing course in Yorkshire. There is a certain kind of home-educated girl who is a read-all, read-all-the-time, reader and Dau.I was one of those: Shakespeare and Jane Austen; Busty Women on Flying Horses; Essays and Novels;  Cookbooks and Travel; yes even Harry Potter and the Streetcar of Greenbacks. She could also bottle-feed lambs, shovel chicken-shit, paint a wall or paint a picture, make a roast dinner and be kind to old people.

While at the Woowah college in England, she secured part-time work in the Veggie-Crystals-Woowah café in town and when the academic year finished, she parlayed that into more nearly full-time work as well as a bit of drama teaching. She continued to acquire books, visit the library and read. It's not quite true to say that she's never had a lesson in her life, but she 's had not more than 30 minutes a week on average of formal instruction in anything and everything. This November, after 5 years in the monarchy next door, she returned home to open the next chapter of her life.

On the first Friday of December she cadged a lift into work so she could catch a bus up to Dublin to hang out with her CTYI pals of yore. I had to be in work at 0900 but her bus wasn't until lunchtime, so I left her in my office to surf the web on company time. On my desk were the October and November multiple choice quizzes MCQs for my Human Physiology course. After exhausting the delights of Facebook and Snapchat, she turned to these tests to see how much she knew about how her body ticked. MCQs are a bit of a fudge. If you answer at random you're going to score 20% and you can usually eliminate 2 or 3 of the options as clearly wrong, If you do dibs on the remotely possible answers you should be able to score 50%. Actually this is why I do assessment in this way, because for that course I run a no child left behind policy.  You can be a perfectly competent pharmacy technician without knowing anything about HumPhys. I try to make the material relevant and interesting and crack a few jokes along the way but if they come through not knowing that a red blood cell is smaller than the pancreas then it's no biggie for the pharmaceutical industry or the local chemist.

The quiz asked perennial Bob-questions like
  • shift these from alphabetical order to order of size:
    glucose haemoglobin mitochondrion pancreas T-cell 
  • ditto reorder from top to bottom:
    colon esophagus duodenum stomach rectum
  • how wide is a capillary?:
    8% 8μm 8rbcs 8πr2 8mm
  • the coronary artery a) has pressure receptors b) is found in the neck
    c) is blocked in a stroke d) carried deoxygenated blood e) serves the heart
  • which A helps control blood pressure?: Alcohol dehydrogenase;
    Antibiotic; Angiotensin II; Atrium; Angina
  • which C is found the a cell's nucleus?: Chromosome; Cytoplasm; Chloroplasts;
    Cellulose; CFTR
  • how many chromosomes do you have in each cell?:
     One: two: 23; 46; 3 billion
Now I think many of those things are what any educated person would / ?should? know. If you have no idea of what's happening inside you among all the wobbly bits, well, it shows a want of curiosity. They are the kind of things that a previous mentor of mine referred to as "a Time Magazine level of knowledge" about whatever. I'm not a politician but I have some idea about what's going on in Syria; I know the plot of Romeo and Juliet; I know when the French and Russian revolutions occurred; I know that DNA forms a double-helix . . . because these things have been covered in Time Magazine or your local equivalent.
ANNyway, Dau.I scored 78% and 88% on the two physiology quizzes. That put her in the top quarter of the students who have spent the last term learning this stuff. It sounds like a home-ed boast [see above] but it's not: she's not a rocket scientist - she's widely read and she's curious and she has a good enough crap-detector to reject 3/5 of the possible MCQ answers. If a reasonably intelligent person with a bit of General Knowledge can score 80% on an assessment like that and the average mark is 62% then it's rather an indictment of my teaching. Or it's an indictment of the education you get out of 12 years in school. What do they teach people in school biology if nobody knows how many chromosomes humans have? All that maths and they can't make change in their first job as a cashier in the local shop. Years of 'geography' and they've never heard of Oman or Oklahoma or Omsk.  It's as if the innate, persistent, annoying curiosity of a six year old gets the stuffing knocked out of it in school.

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