11/18/2001; 8:02:55 PM

Dori Smith wrote: “Net result: according to Jake, he hated outlines for years. From what I read in his piece, he also still believes that, just because he’s smarter than the other kids, he shouldn’t have to do the same work other kids do.”

I don’t think that just because I’m smart that I shouldn’t have to do the same work others do. I didn’t think so then. What I wanted was a reason why I was asked to do what I had incorrectly identified as “make-work”. It wasn’t make-work. It was a bootstrap for teaching how to analyze a text, and organize my understanding of it in a structured way. It was a creative assignment, but I hadn’t learned yet that I could approach any assignment in a creative way.

What got my goat, and the main reason I wrote the piece, is that as a 9-year-old it should be no surprise that I didn’t understand the assignment, but my teacher should have understood it, and been more than willing to explain the reasons why I should do the work. Instead she took my question as a challenge to her authority, and tried to reprimand me for it. When I wouldn’t go along with her, she finally resorted to insulting both me and my mom, in a vain, misguided attempt to get my mom to reprimand me. How sad that a teacher would say to a kid’s mother within earshot that they were already washed up at age nine. I mean really.

Outlines put a bad taste in my mouth, because I naively misidentified them as part of the cause of all this conflict. “To hell with them,” I thought, that is until I started working with computers a few years later… But that’s another story.

Dori went on to say: “IMO, this would have been a great chance for his mother to teach him about the importance of make-work in this society. It’s a useful skill, and learning it earlier would, I’m sure, have helped him later in life.”

While I can understand why you might see this as a wasted opportunity to teach me the value of make-work, I have to point out that my mom, by defending me against my short-sighted teacher taught me a couple of, IMHO, more valuable lessons:

1) There’s a lot of power in asking questions. You can learn an awful lot about someone by their response to even the most simple and seemingly innocuous question. I learned that my teacher didn’t know why she was giving the assignments she was giving, and that her authority was more important than her students’ understanding and learning. (I have more evidence of this, which I’ll write about if anyone wants to hear.)

2) My thoughts and opinions are valuable: My mom respected me enough even at age nine, to first hear the whole story from both sides, and then defend me against my teacher. She could have simply punished me because my teacher was supposed to have authority over me, but she didn’t. The high value that I now place on my thoughts and ideas, is probably 90% attributable to my mom, though not just for this single incident.

A little pushback to both Dori and Wes about make-work: The thing is that there’s no such thing as make-work; there’s only work you’re not interested in or don’t want to do.

Every activity can be a creative learning experience. Whether it’s the work itself, the thoughts that it spawns in your mind as you do it, the activity of working with or along-side others, and seeing the differences in strategies people use to solve a common problem, or any number of other things. There’s always a value in it, an opportunity for learning and for self-growth.

I learned more about this the following year, when I was given an assignment to do some make-work, writing an essay for the Why I Like America contest. That too, however, is another story… ;->
8:02:55 PM  

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