Friday, September 30, 2005

Two memories

When I was in 6th grade I was really hoping to get the presidential fitness award. I had just barely missed it the year before, and I was running around to the Star Wars theme a lot more in 6th grade, so I was more fit than past years. It (the presidential fitness level) seemed to come so easily to Matt (Lohner) Seth (Trammell) Scott (Cloward) and the like. They could do the 50 yard dash in like 7 seconds consistently, no problem. I kept missing it.

Finally I asked Mrs. Hill if I could try it galloping once. She was a bit confused by my request. I told her to trust me, just man the clock, and let me gallop. "Please. You'll see, I'm positive I can gallop faster than I run." Soon she would see, I imagined, that I was well within the presidential benchmark. She finally gave in to my pleadings. I imagined obliterating my best time and the rest of the class—first blown away by my speed—lining up to learn how to gallop. I galloped the 50 yards, feeling that my speed was pushing nature's boundaries, and impressing my classmates and other kids on the playground. I approached Mrs. Hill in a sort of "told you so" attitude, and she told me that I was a little bit slower than my previous run.


To get the hiking merit badge, I had to complete a 5 mile hike through a city/village/or otherwise developed area. I asked Willard Gardner if he could be my counselor. I requested to do it like this: we would walk 2 miles to McDonalds, I would then order and eat a 20 piece chicken McNuggets, then we would walk back the long way home. He agreed, and that's what I did to complete my hiking merit badge.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Number 5 is alive

As a reward to my loyal readers, I'm letting you know before we've even told our families: We are expecting #5, due May 15.

Where I stand on global uniforms

So where do I stand on the whole global uniform issue? Briefly: I'm for it. But so I don't look too coo-coo, let me make as strong a case I can for rejecting a global uniform.

First there is the knee-jerk: I like to pick my clothes. Like probably many of you, I don't want to be "forced" into a “uniform” even if everyone else across the globe is doing likewise.

I think this knee-jerk reaction is probably pretty typical, and not just for silly reasons. Clothing has near universal religious, and cultural significance. Practically speaking, could there be a uniform that is acceptable to stringent clothing standards for e.g. the female face-covering apparel in the Mid- and Near East, that all others could get on board with? Not likely. And it's likewise not likely that we can easily get them to adopt something quite different. This brings up an important part of the issue. In considering a global uniform, we can't just flippantly disregard the religious and cultural significance of clothing. More generally, we can't look at clothing as simply a neutral "covering", and then go about pragmatically making the most sensible covering. So—to be clear—there is nothing that is straight-forward about the proposition of a global uniform, it is rife with controversy, we seem to run into significant religious and cultural obstacles the minute we even begin to explore the possibility.

Now I move from religious and cultural significance, to a more generic social tool that clothing plays. Not only from a human encountering another human needing to make some justifiable judgments--do a sorting of sorts--perspective where the efficiency of such sorting is dramatically increased when clothing is not uniform. (You and I can have a certain expectation about what kind of interaction we will have with: a man with a new suit and tie, a woman with a long, vibrant fur coat, or a young man with no shirt, cut offs and worn out Converse All Stars.) But also from the perspective of the man with a new suit and tie, the woman with the coat, and the skater; these people can create a sort of identity, and take on a persona that is deliberate and personally fulfilling. Not only can they take on a persona--and join in the tradition of people wearing suits, fur-coats, and cut-offs, but, to put it in more common terms: they can create and express their individuality. In today's world, and the forseeable future, such expressiveness is not only a basic human right, it’s basic to human dignity. To require a global uniform is to infringe on our basic humanity. Do you want to infringe on others' basic humanity?

Response: I genuinely have the knee-jerk reaction mentioned at the outset, and I appreciate that the issue is sensitive and complex. However, that our initial response is negative, and that a solution could be difficult is not reason to abandon any effort. At a time, emancipation seemed overly difficult and unappetizing, but it was in the end (as I hope all will agree), necessary and inevitable. It does suggest, however, that a persuasive enough case be made to motivate our best efforts to making a solution.

Now a few advantages: efficiency, improving social interactions across cultures and economic status, the result of schools that have tried suggest its good. So, first, efficiency. Obviously all costs associated with clothing take a nose-dive because of economies of scale. This in turn affects interactions between groups from differing socio-economic levels and makes perhaps the most frequently used prejudice obsolete (i.e. prejudice based on clothing). Schools provide an insightful lab. Schools as you know have conducted experiments with uniforms. Talk to a parent that has a child at a school where uniforms are required, chances are they are delighted that there is a uniform, it simplifies their child’s mornings, wardrobe, school anxiety, etc. Schools that have a required uniform don’t suffer from lack of individual expressiveness, rather, that expressiveness must turn to more creative forms than simply “apparel”. I would argue that that is a good thing. Further, schools that require a uniform systematically avoid problems of prejudice that more easily arise in non-uniform-requiring schools. Granted schools aren’t society, they do have characteristics of a social system—they are a sort of microcosm of society, and inasmuch as a simple adjustment can have important beneficial effects in this microcosm of society, I think it is worth exploring the possibilities of extrapolating from that experiment to society at large. What if we find the same or similar results? I think the promise is too great to neglect the effort, notwithstanding the difficulty it presents (let's be very realistic here the work ahead will be difficult).

At a fundamental level, I disagree with a claim, or at least an unstated assumption that individuality can only be expressed if one can pick his or her clothes. I think it is narrow-minded to think that we can't express our individuality if all share a global uniform. Do you really require your clothes to express yourself? To take a page from science fiction--which in a provocative sense makes a frequent portrait of future worlds with inhabitants as it were inevitably adorning a global uniform--Star Trek showcases heroes, heroines, sidekicks, intellectuals, villains, etc. Within the confines of the starship enterprise, we meet (metaphorically at least) the full spectrum of human possibility, yet for the most part, and for all intents and purposes, all share a uniform. Undoubtedly there are contemporary stringent religious and cultural dress codes, if we are talking about a 1-2 year solution, I think global uniforms are a stupid solution. But I think the problems associated with global apparel, and therefore workable solutions are much deeper and broader than that. I think it is near-sighted to only invoke the contemporary when a solution is sought for millennia. Obviously there is a lot to debate here, I will sum up my side by saying that if we can imagine a future world where there is a global uniform--however it got there--and I think conventional imagery of the future shares this imagination, why be so irrationally tied to the present?

Perhaps the most basic questions are these: What are the advantages of a global uniform? What are the disadvantages? Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? If yes, then aren’t we obliged to explore in depth the possibility of realizing a better solution? I think they do and I think we are.

Friday, September 23, 2005

On exposure to target language

A respectable language learning program must expose students to a rich target-language environment. It shouldn't be so rich that the student is overwhelmed and "turns off", nor should it be so simple as to either not push the student, or be reducible to a list of words to master. Proper abundant exposure to the target language is, or ought to be a fundamental consideration of any (language) learning program. Swap 'discipline to be learned' for 'target language' in the previous sentence, and the same holds true for any educational program. The ideal level is perhaps best expressed by the popular 2nd language acquisition notion of "i+1". 'i' represents the linguistic level of the student (in the target language), and '+1' suggests that the program is a small push beyond that (too small or too big and students turn off). Noted language acquisition scholar Stephen Krashen says it like this: "[Language][a]cquisition is brought about when you talk to acquirers so that they understand the message, and when the input includes a little language that is somewhat beyond them." Comprehensible input, my esteemed associates, is a (if not the) holy grail of language learning.

There are numerous ways to make language comprehensible. A couple examples are diglot weaves and demonstration lectures. In diglot weaves, a student's native language is weaved together with the target language so as to provide a comprehensible context. The "stuff" that can be weaved ranges from individual words (When the boy was younger, he would often pick his nariz. This disturbed his parents, who told him it was bad manners for a boy his age to pick his nariz in public ) to language structures--so if a student is a native English speaker learning Spanish, the teacher speaks mostly English but according to a Spanish structure (the hombre no has the desire to eat the sandwich) Another example is a demonstration lecture. The idea is a lecture whose meaning is at the same time demonstrated, the meaning is clear because of the context, and the language simply accompanies. For example, imagine I have a white paper, a yellow paper, a white pencil, and a yellow pencil. I could say something like this (all in the target language): "This is a sheet of paper. This is also a sheet of paper. This is a pencil. This is another pencil. This paper is yellow. This pencil is also yellow. This paper is white. It is not yellow. These two are pencils. These two are papers..." In both of these examples, the underlying principle is bridging from familiar to unfamiliar. In diglot weaves we bridge from the familiar native language vocabulary and structure to the target language. In demonstration lectures, we bridge from familiar objects and descriptions to their expressions in the target language. We also avoid drilling vocabulary and phrases outside of a meaningful context. A more traditional approach would be to give students a list of words and phrases and demand that they memorize them. By being deliberate about making a rich "i+1" situation, we can delve into a richer linguistic environment, retain a comprehensible experience, and avoid the drudgery that typifies most language learning programs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup* Sports Challenge began in the Summer, 1999. The Stanley Cup consists of 10 events which change every year. If you were to add the scores of each participant from each Stanley Cup, I am likely in the top 3, if not the outright top spot. Put briefly: I am a force to be reckoned with in the Stanley Cup. Of course, if you know the Stanleys, this may not be saying a whole lot. Following are some highlights and events from past Stanley Cup Sports Challenges:
1. Pulling a compact car 10 feet on level ground with a rope.
2. Dips
3. Ping-pong tournament
4. Dodgeball
5. BMX biking around the block
6. Who can gather the most pennies from the bottom of the pool over two minutes
7. Race to the top of Black Hill in St. George**.
8. High Jump
9. Bocce
10. Batting cages (note for next time: it's hits that matter, not power)
11. Laser tag
12. Bean bag toss from Josh's hot air balloon
13. Stand up comedy routine
14. Who can hold his breath the longest under water
15. Archery
16. Joust
17. Peg-board
18. Sportsmanship***
19. The winner of each year's competition gets the bronzed guzzler and the Stanley Cup plaque with the names**** of all past winners.

Some notes:
Q:Isn't it sexist to not involve female participants in the Stanley Cup?
A:I suppose so.

Q:Could you explain the Stand up comedy routine?
A: Yes. This is one of my personal favorite memories. The Stand up comedy routine competition took place in the Stanley's back yard at about 2:30 in the afternoon, the sun was bright, the seating was limited, and the audience was comprised of the other participants and 2 judges. Each participant had one minute to perform his routine in front of all the other participants (who had a vested interest in NOT thinking the other participants were funny). Imagine continuously striving (for 60 seconds) to be funny to a hostile, quiet crowd standing about 5 ft from you in bright daylight. I didn't do very well, but one joke I told that I still love (co-developed with Weston Spencer ca. 1989) goes like this:
Q: What is the longest thing known to man?
A: String

*My wife's maiden name is Stanley. The Stanley Cup takes it's name from her family (the Stanleys), and the Cup is a "bronzed" Guzzler used by my late Father-in-law, Mike Stanley.
**The Stanley Cup typically takes place in St. George, all legitimate Stanley Cups have been held here, except the one in New York.
***Sportsmanship is a separate event each year. This ensures that all participants conduct themselves in the spirit of good sportsmanship. It isn't actually true that sportsmanship is an event each year or any year.
****Each year's winner actually selects a "nickname" to go on the plaque. Past selected nicknames include: Jed, Snaggle-tooth, Pony-boy, and Pac-man. Technically, Pony-boy has never been selected.

Saturday, September 17, 2005