Sunday, August 16, 2009

Do you look at the world with an easel or a scanning electron micrograph?

Well howdy binge thinkers.
It's been a while and as per usual my poor old melon has been racing around with a million imponderables.
Today's topic: What price a rounded education? What is a rounded education?
Parents want the best for their progeny. It's as natural as, well, something really natural. What "The best" is, is about as subjective a concept as I can think of.

Science is important to me. Really important. Without a basic understanding of science an internal combustion engine, or an antibiotic is indistinguishable from magic. Here's a quick example; as part of The Bobette's ongoing treatment for a gastric complaint we have a rather wonderful Paediatric Gastro-enterologist, at the last appointment Dr E wanted to send The Bobette off for another XRay. I asked if an ultrasound would do the same job, Dr E looked at me with that look usually reserved for vegans - a mixture of pity & contempt. I expressed my concern that The Bobette had received many many pelvic Xrays and I want to limit her exposure. Why? because I have an understanding of XRay radiation and the attendant risk of cumulative doses. Remember the old lead aprons we used to get at the dentist? they weren't for fashion, they were to protect your next generation still swimming around in your shorts or loitering in your ovaries if that's how you are plumbed. On this occasion Dr E agreed that the Xray wasn't necessary, so I saved the Bobette another dose. Someone without that understanding would have blithely said yes Dr. - Better living through a scientific understanding.
I also believe there is beauty in some science.
Darwin's (or Walace's) klanger Evolution through Natural Selection changed our understanding of our world. Old sex mad Karl Linnaeus revolutionised our understanding of the flora & fauna we share the world with. The scientific method - observations, repeatable experiments, peer reviewed publications & collaboration may not be the only way to study the world, but it beats the living p!ss out of opinions based on intuition if you are developing a new cancer treatment. Quite apart from the utility of these & other scientific achievements they are (IMHO) beautiful ideas in their own right.

The creative arts are also hugely important to me.
I spent 6 years failing to complete a 3 year Bachelor of Arts. I love some sculpture & painting and I wish I knew more so I could appreciate it more, I love some literature. Dance leaves me cold and I think poets are largely a waste oxygen & real estate but that's just me. I believe there are some questions that are best explored through the arts. A dry statistical report could never deliver the understanding that say "The Killing Fields" or "The year of living dangerously" could. 1984, Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451 changed my head- radically & permanently.

So how we understand our world is based on our understanding of & appreciation for two quite distinct ways of arranging our thinking.

The Bobette is coming into her last 2 years of secondary education and has to select subjects for these last 2 years. She is wonderfully creative and expressive. She is hugely talented in a performance sphere and can write fit to kill. She wants to pursue a career in journalism. I am passionate about the role of journalism in a democracy. (Ithink it is at least as important as the judiciary.) I am a keen and (I think) discerning consumer of news. I shot news for regional & metro newsrooms for almost five years, so I have an insiders view of the trade. I recognises the shortcomings & pratfalls inherent in the business, yet I still 100% support her decision to undertake an important & (sometimes) honourable trade.

I have been strongly urging her to do at least one science to balance her creative arts subjects.
This has been met with that same high carbon steel will that her mother is known for across several continents.
Now I am under riding instructions to pull my head in.
She is her own person. What is important to me is not necessarily important to her.
The best way to guarantee that she hates school & her parents and drops out to become a Meth Ho is to force her to do subjects she hates.
A B+ in drama will count better to her tertiary entrance score than a C- in Chemistry.
High school is not the end of her learning.
I (apparently) hold unrealistic expectations of what a 17 year old should know.
All reasonable points, so why do I feel she is getting the educational equivalent of fairy floss (cotton candy) & a caramel thick shake for dinner?

I was discussing this with my work partner, he suggested that I was being as narrow minded and closed as the Jesus freaks who want to banish evolution from schools. Just 180 degrees opposed in view. I disagree, I think the comment would be valid if I campaigned for pure maths science. But I'm not, I'm just looking for something anything on the quantifiable side of the ledger.

I seem to have had a minor victory tonight getting Geography onto the list in position 5. At least that's something.

That's it. That's all I've got for you.
Not world shattering or hysterically amusing, but if you wanted that you'd be over @ NatV's or The Good Dr. Yobbo's joints.

Aribear, there you go. You only needed to ask.

Shalom & go the Wallabies.


  1. I watched a show on SBS or ABC yesterday...never sure which one I'm watching. But it was about how art and science aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

    One example was conceptual art and its influence on space, and space travel. I guess the 2010 movie is a classic example of art plunging into science and asking questions about the path versus the destination. Same was with the world ABSOLUTELY being flat way back when and artists visualisation of our fears of what could be at the horizon with images of large octopii...pusses...whatever, taking down ships and with Davey Jones ready to take you out. It's interesting that those stories haven't really changed nor has our fear of the horizon and what's out there with examples of Aliens standing ready in some far off....or not so far off solar system.

    To me it shows how important all areas of thought and question are ABSOLUTELY needed for the individual and the masses alike. Your kid NEEDS to know about tectonic forces but equally they need to know about the artistic beauty in mountains.

    Learning SHOULD NOT be dictated by people who've been ideologically stamped one way or the other by life. How is it learning when Christians damn evolution out of schools and how is it learning when Atheists dictate the content. Kids should be given all the information available and allowed to decipher it all for themselves. We are worse off as a society if we don't allow that to happen.

  2. Lots of interesting thinks there NBob - here's my take (cheers for the shoutout too btw)

    First of all your work mate has the wrong end of the stick completely. Exposure to science is about giving the kid the opportunity to work it out for herself (it being life the universe and everystuff) by giving her a framework for putting the observable world into context. It's not about force-feeding a world view, it's about giving her the opportunity to open her mind. Dogma-bashing religious hard-cases are completely the opposite, I'd argue. It's their view or no view at all.

    Having said that I don't think there's anything to gain trying to force the issue for a couple of reasons: one, heading into science with a closed mind is a good way to learn nothing from it other than a bunch of rote-learned factoids for regurgitation and immediate abandonment straight after the exam; two, as I recall high school science pretty much WAS just rote-learned factoids for regurgitation and immediate abandonment straight after the exam, without much discussion of the philosophy and utility of science as a world view as distinct from superstition; and three, as someone has already mentioned it seems, education doesn't stop at high school.

    Just as a point of reference my HS subjects (NSW HSC mid 90s) were 3U Maths, 3U English (no idea why on either count), Physics, Chemistry and Ancient History. Note the following: swimming in humanities units, which were my best subjects at HS, and absolutely no biology, to which I had pretty much no exposure until first year uni. That may be why when I was exposed to biology properly by some kickarse lecturers in first year at UNSW it made such an impact - or because biology is the coolest and most dynamic of the sciences anyway. I didn't pursue the humanities as I was pretty sure I didn't want to be a journalist or a English teacher, which was about the only career choices that were available there apart from inquiring as to whether sir would like fries with that.

    So basically, you're right, but pull your head in because she's gonna have to figure it out for herself, and you're gonna have to hope that she finds inspiration in the same stuff you do.

    Totally with you on the beauty of ideas.

  3. personally I prefer a Leopold x10 sight to view things through....

  4. I didn't dig scientific ideas until I was at least thirty years of age...the magic of the world kinda feeds the drive to understand...but it might take longer in girls. I'm afraid my fifteen year old self would have felt differently...the thought of having to learn the periodic table made me asphyxiate...that Dad made me do Geography...! You've gotta root for that one!

  5. Actually, if you really think about it - science IS magic, much of it sympathetic, as in oooh look, what I just hypothesised would happen, did! Scientists just think we think they understand it - in the same way that magicians think we think they can perform magic. I'm yet to be convinced that the Enlightenment is the best thing since sliced bread. It's caused a fair bit of HAVOCK since its conception.

    Re Bobete's desire to be a journalist - send her up to my publishing industry workshop and I'll sort her out. Much more fun to be a publishing maven. At least she'll drink better quality booze. I can tell her stuff like: you'll never get to go on an all-expenses-paid author world tour with Dr Karl if you don't at least understand the basics of quantum physics.

    Back in the olden days when I was a Bobette, you couldn't even DO science if you did arts (well, not if you were a girl, anyway.)

    No science never hurt me, and I've got a bookshelf full of the stuff to prove it. If you can read you're set.

    She'll be fine - you're still going to be her father. Just keep asking questions that will drive her crazy enough to do the research and leave plenty of cool mindfock science books lying around the house.

    heheh Nat. In year 10 I somehow managed to learn the entire periodic table one row out in the list. They couldn't fault the math in my chemical equations, but I managed to get the only 0 ever recorded in the school history of physics and chemistry exams.

    Science is like garbage. Sure, I know what's in it, but actually doing something with it is a boy job.



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I was the proud recipient of the worlds first monkeys ass to human face transplant. Friends of the donor monkey says it took well, I'm not so sure.