02 May 2006

On Education and Knitting

Some notes from my English 363 reading, both of which are irrelevant to the class, so I thought I'd rant them here. For reference, here's the reading assignment:
The Dynamo and the Virgin - Henry Adams
Venus Transiens - Amy Lowell
Roman Fever - Edith Wharton
A Life Apart - Edith Wharton

"Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts." - Henry Adams

I thought that the Henry Adams piece was very interesting. His statements on education seemed very perceptive. So much of modern education focuses on accumulation of fact, partially because we generate so much knowledge every second that it is overwhelming. There are so many facts that we need to learn that there is no time to sit and talk about what they mean. I think particularly of high school. People are taught to regurgitate facts so they can get the right answer on a multiple choice test or spew them out into a list-of-facts "essay." It's an age of information bulimia, so to speak: we read and read, injesting masses of information, but once the final is over, we throw it all back up, taking little if any important nutrients from the facts to feed our starving minds.

Any digestion of the facts into comprehension, enlightenment, and understanding is left up to the student without the aid or encouragement of the educator. It seems we've decided that it isn't fair to grade students on intellegent thought, only completion of materials. We want to only test them on what the class has taught them. We fear testing students on their actual abilities. Witness the outrage of 4.0 students who score poorly on the SAT because they "can't take tests." What they mean is that they can't take tests that test their ability to think instead of their ability to repeat information. In my personal experience, SAT/ACT are a really good predictor, not of a person's success in school, but of their ability to come up with independent thought. (Most unfortunate that the two don't correlate.)

Whatever happened to demanding essays, research, thought? In high school, it was a rare class in which we wrote an essay which demanded any outside research or thought to write an "A" essay. Simply repeat what you were taught in class coherently with decent grammar and *poof* get a great score. I imagine outside of my honors-track world, it might be much worse. I think more essays need to be present in school. We need teachers who will teach children how to think or, more importantly, how to convey their thoughts to an audience when they write. Teachers seem to shy away from essays, mostly because students complain about them (a lot) or because of the grading workload. But hard work or unpleasantness do not mean that these things are not extremely important.

And now for something completely different and much shorter . . .

"'And you see—' Half guiltily she drew from her handsomely mounted black handbag a twist of crimson silk run through by two fine knitting needles. 'One never knows,' she murmured. 'The new system has certainly given us a good deal of time to kill;'" - Edith Wharton (Roman Fever)

Interesting how knitting is portrayed in fiction. I never noticed this before until 1) I became a knitter and 2) I started knitting in my English classes. Now whenever we come accross a passage about knitting, people stare at me until the teacher notices. Anyway, I think I might like to write a paper on knitting in modern literature sometime. I might have to broaden it out to all sewing arts, but still, there's some interesting stuff. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad's nod to the fates is through two old women knitting at the office in Belgium (? I can't remember), which to me tips knitting as a sinister and mysterious practice. There was one other text in my Brit Lit class about it, but now I can't remember. In this Edith Wharton story, knitting is a sort of "opiate of the masses," assuming that by the masses I mean the upper class. It's a sort of anesthetic to keep you from noticing how truly pointless your life is by giving you something harmless and seemingly productive. Interesting.

I could see how this might be true in my own life. I do tend to knit when I am stressed, nervous, or bored. I should really write this thing. Anyone else know of any knitting in literature that I could add to my list?


bawb said...

Mad props for defending standardized tests as indicators of intelligence. Unfortunate how un-PC that stance has become.

(Found you through belcinisimo.)

Liz Muir said...

Yes, I know who you are. :D I do read the board sometimes.

Jacquie said...

Don't forget Madame Defarge knitting in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

I knit a lot too.