Progress

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m reading a fascinating book right now about “margin.”  Since it’s on my Kindle, I’m not even sure of the name of it.  But it talks about a phenomenon I have witnessed and even thought about but never put into the words or the context it does.

It talks about progress.  What progress is.  How it is accomplished, and most of all the downfalls and pitfalls of progress.

Briefly, progress is the ever-slicing-up of something.  So one person learns how to make an engine work.  Another “differentiates” the various components of the engine to progress in how to make that engine better.

In education, this would be seen as a teacher explaining English:  This is a word.  A word is made up of letters.  Each letter stands for a sound.  You sound each letter out to hear the word.

But it doesn’t stop there.

There are types of words.  There are single-syllable words, double-syllable words, and multi-syllable words.  There are hyphenated words.

There are also classifications of words:  nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs.  And each of these can be differentiated as well:  Nouns can be a person, a place, or a thing.  They can be proper or common.  They can be used as the subject of a sentence or the direct object or the indirect object.

This is how nouns are used (or misused) in a sentence.

(Stay with me, I’m going to make a point that you’re going to want to hear.)

In school, I was never much of a history buff.  Oh, I knew enough to get by on tests.  I learned it for the test and quickly forgot it.  The one thing I always remember about history was my mom saying she was glad she was born when she was because I had four more chapters in my history book than she had.  Well, I think my daughter has about 10 more than I had!

The interesting point of all of this is that sometimes what we call progress–the understanding of ever-smaller bits of knowledge can sometimes lead us down a path of complete overwhelm.

When I was in school, for example, we learned about cells.  There were certain types of cells in the body–blood cells, tissue cells, organ cells; and each type did a different job.  A couple years ago, my daughter in fourth grade had to make a model of a cell.  Only it wasn’t just a cell–it was all the things INSIDE the cell.  The mitochondria, the reticular something or other…  When I was in school, this stuff was being studied not by fourth graders but by research scientists at Harvard!

And it’s not just cells.  They had a chapter on weather that would have blown your mind!  How weather patterns move, what they mean, how rain is formed, how a thunderstorm is formed, what causes a tornado…  and on and on and on.

The tests my sixth grader took this year in science were simply frightening.  Different types of organisms, electricity (that would have made an engineer cry!), space, magnetism…

There’s no end to how much they are EXPECTED to know.

And that’s just science.  Then she’s learning about all different types of civilizations with questions like, “Who conquered *a place I can’t even pronounce* in 1310 A.D.?”  Who knows?  Who cares?  Other than the people who wrote the textbook.

My other daughter came home the other night trying to learn and map every country in Africa.  I’m sorry.  Some of those countries won’t even BE countries in a few years.  What is the POINT of this?

It’s like minutia of minutia.

Now, if physics is your thing.  Great!  Study it.  Break it down.  Understand the minute issues of particle theory.

If history is your thing, terrific!  Learn who conquered who in 1545 and why that matters.

If English is your thing (like mine), great.  Learn what a noun, verb, etc. is and be able to diagram a sentence.

But why does every person have to know every miniscule piece of information about EVERY subject?

What is the point of that other than either weeding people out into worth it and worthless, OR just overwhelming everyone?

When my daughter was studying cells and complaining because there was too much to know, I told her, “Well, say a prayer for your kids.  Because by the time they get into fourth grade, they will have to know the six or eight things inside every one of THESE pieces.”

I’m not saying progress is wrong, but this focus on ever-slicing of our existence and this demand to that every kid has to know all of it is simply ludicrous.  No one should have to know all of this.  And honestly no one can.  So find what you’re good at, or what your kid is good at and focus on that, rather than playing this crazy game of trying to “know” everything about everything.

That’s my rant for the day. 🙂

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