All programming is basically simple. It may not look that way at first glance, especially for those who’ve never done any programming. But like any skill, you start out small and build on it. You wouldn’t ask an infant to press 500 pounds of iron, yet one day, that very same infant might grow up to lift that much in weights.
Consider the following:
This is a simple example of
HTML <bold>Bold</bold> text.
When this line of text is shown in a web page, it includes Bold text right where the tags surrounded it. Anyone can do this. It’s easy. The more practice and the greater your familiarity, the easier it all becomes. Some people may lack the understanding, but gain skill in it simply by repetition. So, whatever IQ God gave you should never be a barrier to outstanding accomplishments. Faith can conquer even this. I love teaching, and I love the idea of everyone finding out how true it is that creating a website is easy.
Creating a Website is Easy and a Course to Prove it
A couple of years ago, I created a course on this topic at Udemy.com. It has 34 lessons, including about 5 hours of video and 4 handouts packed with resources, plus 2 quizzes to help reinforce what you learn. Each of the main lessons includes hands-on, step-by-step projects to let you create your own web pages. Sound like fun? See, I told you. Creating a website is easy.
For my loyal fans, this course is available at a discount. Instead of the regular $20, I’m knocking off 25% to give you the course for only $15. Udemy includes printable certificates with all its courses, so you can have a physical record of your accomplishment. There are a few lessons that you can preview just to see if the course is right for you. Udemy even offers a 30-day, money-back guarantee, so your satisfaction is assured. More than that, though, I want your feedback so I can make the course be the best it can possibly be.
Why am I giving such a big discount? These are 3 reasons:
Udemy pays me a larger share of the course fee if students come from my website. The more I make, the more time I can spend helping students. I can also spend more time improving the course by adding more modules. You can take them at any time later for free.
For the discount, I’m asking for something in return: A few seconds of your time when you’re done to give the course a 5- Star review, or add Discussion to tell me what’s missing.
One of the courses I’m currently teaching at Benedicto College, Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines, is college algebra. Most of the students seem to harbor an unnatural fear of mathematics. This got me to wonder about the origins of such fears.
Is a fear of mathematics social? Is it learned from other students as sort of a shared hysteria or paranoia? Did such fear derive from poor teaching earlier? Or is there something intrinsicly terrifying about math? What is the source of a fear of mathematics and how do you overcome such fear?
Fear, by itself, can blind a person. It can overwhelm the senses and the intellectual logic of a person, making them incapable of seeing solutions that are otherwise quite obvious. For that matter, any strong decision about reality can alter one’s perception of reality. One symptom of this we typically call “arrogance.” In eastern philosophy, it’s sometimes referred to as the “full cup,” because there is no room for them to learn anything new.
If you can get rid of the emotion, then some sanity can go to work on the problem of understanding. I started the semester with the bold statement that math is fun. I received some nervous chuckles, but mostly looks of disbelief. Then I had the gall to say that math is easy. I wrote on the board, “1 + 1 = 2.” I said, “Math is easy as this.” I hoped that I had planted a seed which would help them overcome their fear of mathematics.
A few weeks into the semester, before the preliminary exam, I mentioned again this notion of fear and reiterated my earlier statement that math is as easy as “1 + 1 = 2.” The laughter seemed more relaxed this time. I told them that if they can at least laugh at the fear, then the fear becomes weaker. Without that fear, it becomes easier to see possible solutions.
Conquering the Fear of Mathematics
For all my life, math has been easy. Perhaps I have had an unnatural gift. Or perhaps it is simply an appreciation of simplicity.
Einstein once said that if you cannot explain physics to a barmaid, then you do not know physics. The truth behind this statement is both profound and beautiful. Rote memorization of steps is not the same thing as understanding. Anyone can go through the steps of mathematics and teach those steps, but if they don’t understand what those steps mean, then they will be uninspiring as a teacher, at best. At worst, such a teacher will instill an even greater fear of mathematics in their students, because the steps the students are being taught have no connection to reality.
I ran into a little bit of this when one student said that the method I was teaching did not match how they had been taught. When moving a variable or constant from one side of an equation to the other, they merely switched signs. As a method, it can work, but there was no understanding for why such a thing was done. Teaching this method without understanding can only cripple a student’s appreciation of the subject. Rote memorization of steps is a poor substitute for simple understanding. My thought, earlier, that poor teaching had contributed to their fear of mathematics became reinforced.
Equations have the property that both sides are balanced with each other. If you add a value to, or subtract a value from, one side of an equation, you need to do the same to the other side in order to maintain that balance. I’ve seen students do some crazy things, because they did not understand this simple idea. No matter how many times I repeated the simplicity, students still kept making the same or similar mistakes. Perhaps they were still in the clutches of that ever-present fear of mathematics.
Yet, some students seemed to be thriving. They loved mathematics. In one of my classes, I had several students make exceptional grades. With a little research, I found out why. All of them were accounting program students. If they were entering a degree program in accountancy, they already loved numbers.
At first, it surprised me when most of the information technology students did poorly. Then I realized that the students had little idea what they were getting into. Computers are all about calculations. Math is essential. To them, however, computers were all games and Facebook. They did not have a clue.
I have heard of programs being implemented in the United States that seem to make subjects like mathematics more friendly to students. They seemed to make it okay to get the wrong answer and seemed to imply that mathematics is subjective, anyway. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Has the government gone entirely nuts in America? Perhaps not yet, but they seem to be ruining the education system.
I believe in God and the Bible, but some people interpret the Bible in funny, dogmatic ways that seem to ignore reality. And when people are detached from reality, they are living in delusion. Declaring that the universe is only 6,000 years old and that science is evil is not helping education, either. And when the school board members of Texas, in America, where a great bulk of America’s textbooks are published, try to sway the curriculum of the educational topics, I fear education may become corrupted with false teachings and religious dogma.
I know that some very good teachers will not put up with it. Bless them all. With them, we can help a few students overcome their fear of mathematics. We can help them learn well enough to understand the meaning behind the steps.
Have you had problems with a fear of mathematics? Have you found any solutions of your own?
This article was originally published 2014:0720 on InfinityDynamics.org
Stupidity seems to be rampant in America and gradually getting worse. SAT tests have needed to be re-centered downward in recent years, because the average student is now less capable of entering college.
Citizens of America have been assaulted on numerous fronts:
Media (entertainment and news)
Health (food and medicine)
Selfishness Breeds More Selfishness and Contributes to Stupidity in America
Self-concern or selfishness is the root of all evil. Some say, “the Love of Money” is the root of all evil, but let’s look more closely at that claim. The word “love” in the statement refers to a form of selfishness or personal need. That feeling motivates people to do things that could harm others while it benefits self. But what about activities that harm others, benefit self, but don’t involve money? See? This symbolic wisdom was describing with its symbolism a far larger problem. And selfishness has led to the creation of abundant stupidity in America—some by accident and some by design.
The “Love of Money” quote comes from the Bible. Some people simply don’t get it. Biblical translators will do the best they can, but sometimes will translate a passage in a way which mangles its original intent. Between the King James version and the New King James version, the difference seems subtle, but the implications remain huge.
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”—1 Timothy 6:10, KJV.
The original King James version isn’t perfect throughout the Bible, but its meaning with this passage is far more potent than the watered down, “New” version of the same passage:
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”—1 Timothy 6:10, NKJV.
The second, newer version masks the clear symbolism of the phrase “love of money.”
What about lust, sloth, pride, murder for revenge, lying to avoid punishment or to shift the guilt to a blameless party, slaughter of innocents, genocide, tyranny, negligence which results in suffering and more? These have nothing to do with money and everything to do with self-concern (selfishness, ego).
What does selfishness have to do with stupidity in America? Lots!
Stupidity in America: in Education
In 2006 and then again in 2011, television journalist, John Stossel reported on many of the educational system problems in two programs each entitled, “Stupid in America.” The first was for the ABC news magazine, 20/20. Later, he did a similar program, also called “Stupid in America,” for his own television series, Stossel.
Selfish teacher’s unions make it nearly impossible to fire awful teachers. While protecting incompetence, they are harming their students. That selfishness—looking out for their own selves—is costing our children dearly in time, confusion and lost opportunities. Bureaucratic governments (federal, state and local) make it difficult for parents to choose which school to send their children. Parents usually don’t have a choice. So, like the employees in the worker’s paradise of the Soviet Union, most educators don’t have to try very hard. There is no incentive. The students are their slaves to do with as they will.
To the teachers who belong to unions, corporations are the evil ones. While there is some truth to this so-called “liberal” viewpoint, companies which hire teachers to educate children, and can fire them at will, remain far more competitive—driven to provide visible results. Why? Because their students’ parents can fire the school, if they so choose. That makes the private, non-union schools work harder. And those private schools do it for less money and pay their teachers more.
In 1995, the SATs (college entrance exams) were recentered, because the score averages were falling. Some attempted to explain away the slipping average score as indicative of the greater diversity of those taking the test. So what? While it’s likely this had an effect, changing the standard creates an illusion—a lie. But score averages continue to fall even after the fudge was done. Recentering the SATs have supposedly made it easier for kids to get into college, but they could merely have stated that they were letting kids with lower scores in, rather than changing the meaning of the scores. You don’t achieve excellence by hiding mediocrity.
You don’t achieve excellence by hiding mediocrity.
Robert Holland, a journalist writing for the Heartland Institute, criticized one obvious flaw in the recentering strategy. “The College Board said the recentering was done to help clarify for test-takers what their math and verbal scores meant. But given the readjustment of past scores, can the College Board credibly boast of a few points’ rise and a 30-year high?” Holland added, “Dr. George K. Cunningham, a testing expert at the University of Louisville… regards the College Board’s press release touting a ‘30-year high’ in math performance as ‘propaganda.’” Holland also pointed out that questions which stumped the test takers were dropped, making the SATs easier. In conclusion, Holland quoted an education reformer: “Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, said of the purging of questions, ‘rather than hold all children to high standards, the SAT was lowered to reflect the poor education that some children receive.’”
Charles Krauthammer, writing for the Chicago Tribune, compared the SAT recentering to many promised government handouts. “It means that every child in America will get something like 100 free points added to his score.”
It’s almost as if someone does not want America’s children to excel. Passing a student to the next grade level when they did not understand the material is a sure path to scholastic disaster and lifetime failure.
Testing standards may be slipping, but so may the image of education with many of America’s students.
When a personal friend of mine was able to get her 14-year-old son to move to America from Thailand, he could not speak English very well. He had done poorly in Thai schools, but the school system in Los Angeles placed him in the next higher grade, because he had been learning, in Thailand, a year ahead of his same age group in America. The first few months, he struggled, but before the end of his first year, he was at the top of his class. Then the bottom fell out. His grades plummeted. Upon investigation, his mother had discovered that the young boy was purposefully failing, because being smart was not popular.
But why has being smart become so unpopular?
Stupidity in America: from Media
For years, the entertainment (movies and television) have made idols out of the class cutups and dropouts while demonizing the smart ones as arrogant, boring and quite simply “not cool.” Movies and TV have also made idols out of criminals. If anyone cool was smart, they were frequently the bad guys—bank robbers, assassins or terrorists.
Other forms of entertainment, like reality TV, have not contributed to critical thinking skills, but may well have helped corrupt the ability of America’s youth to think clearly.
The news media has not helped either. Today, news is dished out by emotional sound bites and propagandistic appeals. In America, war has long been a “peacekeeping action.” The countries which America invades don’t think it’s at all very peaceful. This kind of language distortion is like something right out of Orwell’s chilling dystopia, 1984. In that novel, the government aimed to control every individual thought and action. Personal freedom was considered unsustainable and undesirable. Ironically, the United Nations thinks the same thing. Their Agenda 21 reads like an Orwellian playbook.
Stupidity in America: Created by the Health and Dietary System
There is an old saying that you are what you eat. If you eat junk or poison, you end up far less healthy. If you eat like a pig, then you end up looking like one. And today, Americans are, on average, far more obese than they ever have been. Oink!
On January 29, 2012, I wrote an article for the popular site, HubPages.com, entitled, The Shocking Truth about Cancer Statistics. I happened to have been researching for another project when I noticed an interesting correlation between cancer rates and national GDPs (gross domestic products). What would the economy of a nation have to do with individual health? Then I noticed that there was a pattern of divergence. High GDP had low occurrences of cancer in nations that did not have strong ties to Western culture—Arab North Africa and the Middle East, India, most of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippines, Mexico and Bolivia. But the Philippines is strongly aligned with America, isn’t it? Why is it included in my list? Why aren’t the Filipino cancer rates as high as those in America? Perhaps because most Filipinos cannot afford to eat packaged American food. The same goes for Mexico and Bolivia. Most of the people are too poor to afford such deadly “luxuries.”
The highest rates of cancer were to be found in USA, Canada, all Western European nations, Scandinavian countries, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. South Africa, though nominally aligned with Western nations, has only an 8.4% white European population. That nation’s 80.2% black population is not aligned with Western nations—again, too poor to buy Western toxic “treats.”
As I’ve already hinted, things like government affiliation and economic strength are not the sources of cancer—food is! Or, more accurately, food additives are. The correlation is huge. Though correlation sometimes does not mean causation, food remains the most logical culprit based on these simple statistics. And food is the one huge ingredient which people put into their bodies on a daily basis. The fact that some doctors ignore or even ridicule the notion that nutrition has anything to do with health says something very dark about Western, so-called “modern” medicine. For all their fancy machines and volumes of knowledge, people are getting sicker, and some doctors remain ironically baffled. America has the most expensive health care in the world, but far from the best health, on average.
If cancer can be so prevalent in America, what are the same toxins doing to people’s abilities to think? The fact that SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) have had to be “dumbed down” in America is only one frightening symptom of this phenomenon. Neurological problems amongst children have skyrocketed.
On the flip side of health—treatment—the problem runs far deeper. Corporations have a fiduciary duty to increase profits—nothing more. They have no responsibility to make their products safe or effective. In the long run, they need to make them merely “safe enough” to make it to market, and “effective enough” to allow marketers to recommend them. So, when pharmaceutical corporations come out with drugs which kill people by the thousands, they pay a small fine and go back to business as usual. No one goes to jail for lying about the drug tests or for taking shortcuts in the approval process.
Government agencies which ostensibly protect the public’s health are filled with former industry executives with ties to their former employers. The approval process becomes skimpier and more streamlined, against the warnings of their own agency scientists.
CDC scientists in 2004 found a relationship between MMR vaccine and autism, but the head of the CDC told her scientists to dump the incriminating data—scientific fraud and a crime. Not long afterward, that CDC executive went to work for Merck, a major manufacturer of the MMR vaccine. If you smell a rat in this mix, you’re not alone.
Autism rates have skyrocketed in recent years, going from 1-in-10,000 to 1-in-50. Critics of this correlation say that it’s simply a matter of better detection methods. Older teachers, who have had 30 or more seasons of students, beg to differ. To them, their recent students are nothing at all like their first batch of students at the beginnings of their careers. Far lower attention spans, more emotional instability, lower intelligence—all of these are part of the mix with increasing vaccination schedules which have never been tested for safety in such combinations and frequency. Vactruth.com states that a child in 1950 received 7 vaccines by age 6. In 2013, this had jumped to 36 vaccines by age 6—a 414% increase! Again, zero studies have been done on the safety of vaccines done in combination or in such an aggressive schedule.
There is a more telling fact that debunks the “better detection methods” reason for more alarming autism statistics. If the rates had not skyrocketed, but had always been at the same high level, then we’d be seeing millions of 30 and 40-year-old autism sufferers. These sufferers don’t exist, because the rates were far lower in the past.
Thimerosal (a form of the toxic heavy metal, mercury) has been used in vaccines for nearly 90 years, but was never adequately tested for safety. Never! The one test done had all patients die from the disease against which they were inoculated. That one test proved that thimerosal did not kill those terminally ill patients, but it did not show that this mercury-based preservative was safe to inject into the human body. No long-term studies were done on the health effects to different organs, including the brain. It is known that mercury is extremely damaging to the brain (Mercola.com). “A new study found that primates that received just ONE vaccination containing thimerosal, the mercury-preservative found in many vaccines including the new swine flu shot, had significant neurological impairment when compared with those who received a saline solution injection or no injection at all.”
Manufacturers of vaccines are well aware of the fact that thimerosal is cumulative. In other words, the more vaccinations a child has which contains this preservative, the more mercury there is that accumulates in their body.
Some pro-vaccine advocates remain deluded to think that thimerosal has been removed from all vaccines. This remains far from the truth. The mercury-based preservative is still used in most flu vaccines, including those given to pregnant mothers and infants.
But thimerosal is not the only toxic substance included in vaccines. Others include aluminum derivatives used as adjuvants, formaldehyde (embalming agent), MSG (monosodium glutamate, a neuroexcitotoxin) and dozens of other substances. Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease (Dr. Joseph Mercola, 2014).
All too frequently, children are given drugs to treat their behavioral symptoms. Many studies have shown that some of these drugs create far more problems than they solve. It’s quite possible that all of them create detrimental effects to the mental health of the children. According to Dr. Mercola (2013:0720), “In contrast, one in 10 US children is now claimed to have ADHD, which is a 22 percent increase since 2003.” Nearly all of them are given mind-altering, psychotropic drugs. Whatever problems the children are getting from their toxic diet and aggressive vaccination schedules, these are being made far worse by the drugs being given to treat their symptoms.
On another front, the fact that American dentists continue to insist on using mercury amalgam fillings in teeth remains problematic at best. Mercury vapor coming off of the fillings has been detected and such vapor is easily absorbed through the skin or ingested.
Sodium fluoride is another toxic substance too readily used by humans. Dr. Mercola wrote for Huffington Post, “A recently-published Harvard University meta-analysis funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that children who live in areas with highly fluoridated water have ‘significantly lower’ IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas.” He went on to add, “Despite the evidence against it, fluoride is still added to 70 percent of U.S. public drinking water supplies.”
Stupidity in America: Caused by Government Programs
Common Core is one program in the United States which has made a horrible education system far worse. Even the experts who helped to develop the Common Core program speak out against it. Their recommendations were not followed, yet their names and reputations were held hostage—forever linked to Common Core.
An educator from Hudson, Wisconsin gave an example of Common Core’s lunacy. “Little kids in my state were sent home—third graders—and given the following writing assignment: ‘Tell us how the state is just like the family, but better.’ That was their writing assignment. And this… I’m now giving away the game. If you ask me—if you put a gun to my head and asked me, What in one word Common Core is—that’s it, it’s statism. It has nothing to do with education. It is a concerted effort on the part of the government to convince your kids that they belong first to the government and second to you [the parents]…. to make kids wards of the state” (Corbett, 16:17).
Ironically, similar wording was apparently voiced by one of the Rockefellers to the late Aaron Russo. It seems the Rockefellers have been behind many of the problems facing America. Sometime before 2001, Russo had become casual friends with Nick Rockefeller. In one discussion over dinner, Rockefeller told Russo that his famous family had supported Women’s Liberation in order to double the money they made from American taxes (perhaps because they are part owners of the Federal Reserve System) and in order to destroy the American family by making children dependent upon the state, instead of their parents.
Common Core has helped to water down the critical thinking skills of children. Drew Desilver, writing for the Pew Research Center in 2015, included a chart which gave the grim news about America’s standing in the educational world. For mathematics, America placed 35th, with many East Asian nations ranking far above the USA (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macao and Japan bringing in the top 5 positions). Also far above America were Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Vietnam, Austria, Australia, Ireland, Slovenia, New Zealand, Denmark and Czech Republic.
In science, the picture is not quite as grim, with America placed at 27th, behind many of the same countries.
Julia Ryan, wrote in 2013 for The Atlantic, “The U.S. education system is mediocre compared to the rest of the world, according to an international ranking of OECD countries. More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012.”
In the PISA study, America ranked in reading at 24th place, again behind many of the same countries. Should it embarrass Americans that Polish and Vietnamese students are better at reading?
Writing for Good magazine, Liz Dwyer wrote, “Back in 1964, American 13-year-olds took the First International Math Study and ended up ranking in 11th place. Considering that only 12 nations participated, including Australia, Finland, and Japan, our next-to-last performance was pretty abysmal.”
In a Washington Post article, David Drew related, “Fragmented evidence suggests that American schools demanded much more of their students in the 19th Century and early in the 20th Century…. But we have no systematic comparative data about what other countries were requiring in those earlier eras.” What lost teaching methods did the 19th century educators use? Will we ever be able to recover them?
What Can Be Done About Stupidity in America
First of all, stop manufacturing and selling chemical additives and food with such additives. Stop selling meat with toxins (hormones, arsenic and others). Stop selling pharmaceuticals that have not been thoroughly tested for safety alone and in combination with other medicines or vaccines. Prefer instead to use natural methods of healing, using nutrition as the first line of defense.
Outlaw teachers unions. Make schools competitive. Attach the money to each student, not to the district.
Stop using fluoride in water. Stop using mercury in dental fillings. Stop putting toxins in vaccines and produce unbiased studies of the efficacy and safety of each and every vaccine and combinations of vaccines. Such studies should not be vaccine against vaccine, but vaccine against placebo (yes, this hasn’t been done!). The test should not be whether or not an immune response is stimulated, but whether or not the vaccination protects against the disease (again, never tested!). There have been too many instances of vaccinations causing the disease against which they were meant to protect. Too many instances of vaccinations killing their patients or crippling them for life.
These suggestions won’t be easy to implement, but American citizens need to realize that corporations are not their friends, even if the citizens work for a corporation. Corporations have stolen their government, right out from under them. Owners of corporations have an interest in dumbing down the population to keep them compliant—a not-so-subtle form of slavery.
We need an educational system which makes learning fun. It needs to captivate the children’s interests and make them wake up each morning excited to get to school.
We need an educational system where the teachers and professors are not afraid of social justice wusses who complain about their feelings being hurt by criticism and by demands for critical thinking.
Imagine what the world would be like without the selfishness and self-concern of corporations, unions and other groups working against our children. Imagine the genius in each child unleashed and energized. We might get far more Einsteins, Picassos and Hemingways. We might also get far more Florence Nightingales and Mother Teresas. The world could be a far more beautiful place without selfishness. Stupidity in America could very well disappear. Impossible? Taking up the challenge makes it possible. If you never dream it, of course it will never happen. Daring to dream big opens the door to achievement. Next, you merely have to step through that door.
The InDyn Foundation is co-sponsoring a new course on critical thinking. This is one of the skills most lacking in modern education. The old classical education used to include this.
Learning facts and reciting numbers learned by rote do not help anyone get along in the world. Solving problems and analyzing data are the skills that allow people to change the world. It seems that the educational system, more and more, is cranking out sensitive robots. If you say the wrong thing, you hurt their feelings. If you challenge them with a tough problem, they resent you for the burden.
When I was in school, I thrived on the challenges. I enjoyed stretching my mind to learn more and to solve more problems. In creative writing class, I put my writing out there more than anyone to have it critiqued. My ego received a thrashing, but I bet I learned far more than any of my fellow students.
I personally feel that all students need to be taught,
Love of challenges.
Too many don’t understand these things. Take humility, for instance. For some, “humility” means groveling or being mousy. It can mean these, but this is not the attitude of the truly humble individual. Humility is part of what makes a true hero. They are not self-concerned and self-obsessed. Too many students these days whine about what is being done to them.
I had many students in my first semester of teaching at Benedicto College complain that I had made it too difficult for them to learn. Yet, I had bent over backward to slow down and to help them—teaming them into groups to help one another. They looked at challenges as burdens rather than opportunities. Certainly, there were a few students who took on challenges with heroic effort, but they were far too rare.
Critical Thinking Academy
The Critical Thinking Academy is being hosted at Udemy.com. The price is $20. But if a student wants an easy discount, all they need do is to follow the link, here, which will take them to the Tharsis Highlands page for the course. The link there will give them an instant 25% discount. As course creator, I get a larger share of the revenue for bringing students to Udemy, so it’s a win-win for everyone concerned.
Personally, I wish I had had this course available to me 50 years ago. This topic means so much to me, I’ve already started to design new modules to add to this course, to make it even better. If you have a topic you think would be good to include, please let me know.
This article was originally published 2016:0517 on InfinityDynamics.org.
When I first went to school, computers were experimental. Memory was likely less than a kilobyte for a machine which took up a large room. Hard disk storage was still science fiction. The idea that software, or computer programming, could help in education may have been someone’s dream, but it remained out of reach for many years.
Science and industry explored the possibilities and pushed the boundaries of the technology until computers no longer needed an entire building, but could be carried in the palm of your hand. Today’s cell phones have computers on board that are far more powerful than the computer on board the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Module. At first, computers were too expensive. Only businesses, the government or large institutions could afford them.
The Best Kind of Educational Software
As a teenager, I remember my late father once brought home some work and asked me to help. It involved drawing computer flow charts. That was my first taste of programming logic. My father worked for Documentation Incorporated, a business which had lots of computer hardware and specialized in renting processing time out to businesses which could not otherwise afford to buy the equipment. Doc Inc had only recently acquired a contract from NASA to catalog, process and publish data for its many space projects.
At that point, I had been keenly interested in space travel for more than half of my pre-teen life. Quite often, my father would bring some of their publications home to share—press releases of the upcoming Gemini flights, unmanned photography missions and much more. I was in heaven.
One of my fondest memories from school came from grade school in the late 50s and early 60s. There were many films showed in class, particularly science, but one series of films stuck out in my mind—the Bell Telephone science series. They combined science, cartoon characters, animation, documentary footage and more to illustrate the points being made. They were engaging and enlightening. They combined several layers of learning in one educational vehicle. Not only that, the films were entertaining.
Software needs to be like this. They need to be entertaining, engaging and they need to engender a sense of wonder, awe and discovery. I like the idea of the industry leading the way on this, but too much freedom without awareness can lead to disasters. Is software empowering students to think, or is it turning them into robots? We need to stay critically aware of the impact of such educational software.
3D Astronomy Space Educational Software
For 25 years, I attempted to visualize the stars around our solar system. I started out with a handheld calculator. This was before personal computers. When finally I had a computer powerful enough, I created Stars in the NeighborHood—educational software to help me visualize how close stars were to each other. Software like this can help students become more deeply engaged with a topic. For instance, this software allows the user visually to tag individual stars with one of 7 color markers. Stars known to have planets have their own special marker. Users can also change the names of individual stars and add notes to them as they discover new information about them.
Creation Story Video About this Educational Software
Recently, I started a new YouTube channel called Space Software. My first video there is shown below. This tells of the inspiration which led to this educational software. I hope you enjoy.
This article was originally published 2015:0522 on InfinityDynamics.org.
Rudolf Flesch wrote in 1955 his most famous book, Why Johnny Can’t Read. He spent the better part of his life preaching the pragmatic approaches to education and communication. It seems he was a proponent, amongst other things, of lawyers using plain English. Imagine that. Right on!
I can relate to this pragmatic approach to education. I’ve seen my share of obfuscation (the concealment of meaning in communication, making it confusing). Some education is like this. Some textbooks are written using obfuscation. Was it intentional? Were the authors attempting to impress their peers? Or torture their students?
An Example of Why Johnny Can’t Read Mathematics
Case in point: calculus. In 1975, I was working on a short story that involved another world. I wanted to make the story as realistic as possible, including the nature of its atmosphere. I soon found out that the mathematics used to describe the properties of atmospheres involved calculus. Okay, I thought. Math was easy for me in high school. I took advanced algebra and trigonometry, and aced it. Calculus should be easy. I ran down to the local college bookstore and bought two calculus textbooks and then dug in on one of them. I soon found myself wading through dense and cryptic prose that had my head throbbing.
I looked at the other textbook and found it equally cryptic. Yet there were differences. I found the same subject area in the second textbook and found that the differences aided me in understanding what the first textbook had been trying to say.
“Oh, is that it?” I asked myself. “That’s simple! But why did they have to make it so difficult?” If the authors had been more competent on writing, perhaps we could’ve eliminated one of the hurdles why Johnny can’t read such subjects.
It seems that calculus is all about the study of rates of change — everything you ever wanted to know. However, no textbook I ever saw stated this simple description. I suppose, to those who wrote the textbooks such an idea was obvious. Thanks for not cluing us in on it.
Knowing the context of a subject makes a world of difference in studying a subject. If you don’t know the context, you can’t hook the details to anything. A mass of floating details equals confusion. I wanted to know more about this subject that had been made unreachable for so many.
Later, I also picked up a couple of comic books on calculus, published by one of the universities. It did nothing for me. The concepts were there, but the cartoons were merely dressed up symbols. The art did nothing to contribute to the understanding of the concepts. What a big waste.
Months later, I was at one of my favorite bookstores — Pickwick (later, B. Dalton Pickwick) on Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California. I found a book on calculus that changed everything. It was Calculus Made Easy, by Sylvanus P. Thompson. Okay, I thought, this is one of those trendy “made easy” books I’ve been seeing so much of lately. I was wrong. This book had first been published in 1910! It had enjoyed dozens of reprints. Mr. Thompson was an outsider who couldn’t understand why mathematicians were making a simple subject so difficult. Tell me about it!
Do mathematicians think it not dignified if the writing is clear enough for anyone to understand? Are they aiming for exclusivity in their “club for higher learning?” Only those with a PhD in mathematics can take this entry-level course? Yikes!
What is the purpose of education? Cut it to the bone. Let’s get simple. What is education really about? And what is the responsibility of the educators? Why are they letting Johnny fail to read?
If the answer is to help students understand, appreciate, and gain the ability to use a subject, then I would be happy to see education live up to this promise. If an educator or textbook writer creates a mile-high hurdle for students in understanding their subject, they’re at odds with the purpose they should be supporting. What a betrayal! I suspect that it’s not intentional. Let’s see, what else could it be? Incompetence?
If Johnny Can’t Read, Give Him an Unreasonable Teacher
East Los Angeles must be full of Johnnies. “Johnny can’t read” must be their anthem.
One of the most highly acclaimed educators was the subject of a feel-good movie named, “Stand and Deliver.” This was the story of Jaime Escalante, an educated man, from La Paz, Bolivia, who wanted to give something back. He took on the thankless, underpaying job of a teacher in East Los Angeles, an area famous for Latino gangs and high school dropouts. He is most famous for teaching calculus to the kids at Garfield High School and having them successfully pass the Advanced Placement exam for calculus. Wow! It is unbelievable that he received so much grief from some of his fellow educators. Jealousy, politics and ego should not be included amongst the barriers our kids face in their education.
Mr. Escalante is noted as saying, “Students will rise to the level of expectations.” So, if Johnny can’t read, what do you expect of him?
I had read a few years earlier that a teacher had discovered this the hard way. They had been given a classroom full of ordinary, inner city youths, but were told that they were exceptional students. The teacher was also informed that the students would try to weasel out of hard work. The teacher’s expectations had resulted in grades far greater than the students had ever known. Again, wow!
I Was Johnny
In 1956, I started my first year of grade school. I had high expectations and had them dashed when I found out we had to take a nap in the afternoon. Huh? I was expecting the space academy — not to be treated like a kid at a babysitter. Right from the start, I had a hard time learning to read. Somehow, the alphabet seemed unnatural to me. I don’t know what I was expecting. Chinese characters? Despite this difficulty, even then I was a storyteller. My tales of other worlds and aliens had gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion with my Texas teacher. For my creativity, I was given a paddling and sent home with a note pinned to my chest. My mother had strong words with the teacher the next day. I’m glad corporal punishment has been thrown out, but hey, guys and gals: let’s not throw out all measure of discipline.
In late 1956, my family moved from West Texas to Southern Oregon. What a change! This was in the middle of the school year. When we moved to Oregon, I continued to have trouble with reading. My new teacher, though, saw that my math scores were at the top of the class. She talked to my parents and suggested one-on-one tutoring after school. Arrgh-h-h! I thought I was being punished. It took me awhile to appreciate the time the teacher took. Years later, I sent her a copy of my first published novel, autographed with a “thank you.”
With all that I’ve experienced concerning my own education, learning of education methods, and the successes of others, I’ve become convinced that each child has their own genius. Frequently this genius is left untapped. There need not be any more statements that Johnny can’t read or any other such defeatist attitudes.
How Do We Fix the “Johnny Can’t Read” Syndrome?
It distresses me when a young mind is told that they have failed an entire year. What cruelty! Do you realize how big a portion of a young person’s life that is? If a student isn’t making it in the first week, put on the brakes! Stop! Find out what went wrong and then fix it! For heaven’s sake! That’s such a simple solution, but why aren’t we doing it? Is it because the “old way” is the way we’ve always done it? That’s a lame excuse. Our children deserve a lot better than that from us.
The way the classes are built now, some students are bored to tears because the class is too slow for them. Some are overwhelmed because they have no idea what the subject is about and can’t connect to its details. Why not let students go at their own pace? What would it take to make that work?
Why not let everyone get top grades? No it’s not what you’re probably thinking. The students still have to work for their grades, but everyone gets top marks, or they have to restudy the material they have not yet mastered. And no multiple choice! Students need to demonstrate their understanding, not throw darts in hopes they get a right answer. Multiple choice is a lazy way to test. Teachers need to be trained how to elicit those demonstrations from their students that they do indeed understand the material.
Education should be tough. Okay, that’s probably the wrong word. It should be challenging — not the mysterious and bewildering kind, but the fun and exciting kind. Is it not dignified making education fun? Who says getting your PhD needs to be solemn and deadly serious? There’s enough stress in the world. Add more fun to education, but challenge the students to fly.
Before my father died, he dreamed of creating an interdisciplinary foundation called, “Infinity Dynamics,” or “InDyn,” for short. This foundation has now been started. It is a meager beginning, but with big heart, and big dreams. Education is one of its key areas of interest. As more develops on this, the details will be available at this website.
It bears repeating: our children deserve far better. Let’s give it to them. Let’s not ever hear again that “Johnny can’t read” or think for himself. And Jane, too!
What would you like to see in our educational system and why?
This article was published 2013:0616 on InfinityDynamics.org, and originally published 2008:0923 on BlogAncientSuns.com.
What is a creativity block? Quite simply, a creativity block is a barrier that stands in the way of some activity. It manifests itself as a scarcity or complete lack of ideas.
Why this topic is important should be self-evident.
Education is about far more than memorization, repetition and obedience. It has to be about learning to think and to create. Part of that ability to think is the ability to solve problems for which you have not yet learned a procedure. In other words, students need to learn to navigate uncharted territory. Perhaps surprisingly, they can begin to learn this at a very early age.
When a student learns to be creative or to express an innate creativity, we need to nurture that ability. When the student runs into a wall, where creativity suddenly stops, the student needs to be able to figure out ways to overcome those barriers, whether it’s writer’s block, artist’s block, music writer’s block or even rap writer’s block.
With the techniques, below, you can cure writer’s block or any other kind of productivity or creativity barrier.
An Example of Overcoming a Creativity Block
Many years ago, a gallery owner in downtown Los Angeles wanted to display my artwork in a one-person show. There were a few paintings available that I had not yet sold, but I needed to paint several more to supplement the display.
I was ecstatic. However, when I returned home, my mind was as blank as my next canvas. For several minutes, I sat in terror that I might come up short. Then I had an idea that broke through my “artist’s block.” I call it “priming the pump.”
Whether you’re a writer, fine artist, graphic artist, fashion designer, entrepreneur, or scientist hungering for that next breakthrough, these techniques can be useful for removing a mental logjam.
7 Ways to Restore Creativity
Priming the Pump—Do something simple to practice your skills. As an artist, I took out my sketchpad and drew several things in my immediate environment. Within minutes, I had more ideas than I had time to produce. As a scientist and also as a writer, I have written detailed descriptions of objects near me. This can do wonders for getting the creative juices flowing again.
Brainstorming—Having a few friends with good attitudes can be very helpful here. No judgment of ideas until the brainstorming session is done. The wilder the word association, the better. When you’re done, you may have some real gems in the rough.
Take a Break—Frequently, a problem can seem to become worse with a frontal assault. Dropping your attack altogether can sometimes melt the barriers between you and a solution. Take a long walk. Exercise. Watch a favorite television program or watch something completely different.
Sleep on It—I’ve lost count of the times I’ve meditated a minute on a problem, then went to sleep, waking up the next morning with the solution. Sometimes, I’ve even woken up during the night with the answer I needed. I remember a story of a scientist attempting to understand the molecular structure of benzene. He had a dream of a snake seizing its own tail. The rest is history.
Parallel Inspiration—If your creative block is in one field, visit a different field of endeavor. Look for inspiration there, but also enjoy it for what it is. If you are an astrophysicist, try a lecture on forest ecology, or go to a ballet. The key is to grant value to everything around you. If someone can invent lasers by looking at traffic signals, your next breakthrough might be sitting at your elbow.
Confidence—Hold an attitude in the background of your mind that a solution is yours. Don’t leave room for doubt. The breakthrough to your creativity is waiting for you to find it. I snap my fingers and say, “Got it solved!” And I do this with feeling. I make it believable to anyone who may be watching, including myself.
Humility—Be willing to admit that you may have asked the wrong question. If you’re looking for a creative way to win the heart of someone special, be willing to realize that the right someone special may not be the person to whom you have been directing your efforts. If that other person despises you, then your confidence (above) could descend into arrogance. “I’ll make her love me!” Humility can also help confidence find a different way to overcome the barriers. The solution may be something of which you have not yet thought. As an artist, humility can be useful in keeping your art fresh. Even a Picasso can reject their own work and strive for something better.
These last two can work together and with the other methods. Humble confidence is a powerful combination, though at first it may seem counterintuitive. The key to this combination is to have an attitude that you will reach your overall destination, but the path may be something completely unexpected.
Now, imagine an educational institution that teaches these things and empowers its students to go beyond what is taught. With such an ability, overcoming writer’s block, artistic block or any kind of creativity block, becomes easy.
What applications can you see for these techniques in your own educational environment?
Learn More About Creativity — Buy The Spark of Creativity
There are an infinite number of sources for creativity. This book shows you how to find them. The author gives real-life examples and step-by-step guides to building your own level of creativity. Whether you merely want to spice up your life or want to write the next great novel, this book will give you everything yo u need to establish a solid foundation in creativity and turn into a powerhouse of ideas. Buy now…
This article was published 2013:0625 on InfinityDynamics.org, and originally published 2009:0913 on Blog.AncientSuns.com.