15 til John Green

Hey there!

I recently learned that there is a name for the condition I suffer from. It is tsundoku: the tendency to buy books and leave them on the shelf, unread. I always get so excited about reading books that I’ll buy four at a time and only end up reading some of them. And now that I have a name for this terrible habit, I feel like conquering it. More on that in a moment.

I have also recently discovered the vlogbrothers, the greatest nerds on YouTube. John and Hank Green are two brilliant, immensely thoughtful, creative, and influential brothers who created a YouTube channel to communicate with each other from opposite sides of the continent. A community of nerds, or nerdfighters, has sprung up around the vlogbrothers and their mission to decrease world suck. I bring these guys up because 1) if you’re reading my blog, you will probably enjoy their insightful and silly videos, and 2) because John is an author of a handful of books that I desperately want to read.

However, I couldn’t justify buying four new books with so many unread books already in my possession. So, I challenged myself to read 10-15 of the books I already own before I buy John Green’s beautiful box set. Luckily, fifteen rhymes with John Green and I’d rather read 15 books anyway. Thus, “Fifteen til John Green” was born!

My progress so far:

  1. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood is set in Kingston, the town I live in September to April. It’s based on the true story of a famous woman convicted (possibly wrongly convicted) of murder and sentenced to life in the women’s penitentiary in Kingston. Psychology was a budding field back then, and people didn’t really understand how our brains worked all too well. So, Grace Marks claims to not remember the murder or how it happened, many people believed she was just lying. A young psychologist wants to discover the truth behind it all and spends the majority of the novel interviewing her and listening to Grace’s version of her story. A long, but very interesting novel.
  2. Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert was fantastic. It’s a non-fiction book about how truly bad people are at predicting what will make them happy five minutes from now and five years from now. I’d heard this book mentioned so many times, but I forgot about it after I bought it. I guarantee that you will have a small identity crisis reading this book, and you will most definitely say “Other people may think like that, but I sure don’t!” at least once. It definitely lets you know that you can loosen up a bit when you’re trying to make the ‘right’ decision…because you’re probably making the wrong one either way. It’s not too long a book, and it’s absolutely worth every second.
  3. I also read a small collection of Sherlock Holmes adventures. All I will say on the matter is “WAY better than the movies, almost as good as the TV show”. I can’t wait to read the whole collection.
  4. Pride and Prejudice is one of those books I can’t believe I hadn’t read (or finished) yet, especially since I wrote an essay on it in April. I’d seen the movie and heard teachers analyze it before, so I was always like “Yea Lizzie! Yea Lizzie’s dad! You guys are awesome!” But then my English teacher last year turned the whole concept of the book on its head and made me think about all of it in a totally different way. It is definitely worth it to critically analyze this book as you go through (even if that sounds about as much fun as stabbing yourself in the eye with a fork). It really gives you a new perspective on love and social relationships.
  5. The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman was short and brilliant. I could hardly bear to put it down, so I finished it in one very interesting day. It’s such a weird book that asks you to just let go and accept things as they are told to you, even if they seem really weird. Even as I finished the book, I realized that I didn’t know what it was about, but I had enjoyed every page. I still don’t really know what it’s about. I guess I’ll have to read it again!
  6. I finally finished The Fellowship of the Ring! Some people warned me that I wouldn’t like it because it’s super detailed and historical and geeky, and I was like…do you know me but at all?? It was bloody flippin’ incredible! (I don’t think I actually have to say it was better than the movie, right?) The only problem with it is that I only bought the first one along with The Hobbit (which, to my horror, didn’t even match!), so now I’m dying to buy part 2 and 3. But that doesn’t really go along with my “finish 15 books before you buy four more” thing. Maybe I can do this challenge again. Something like… “Ten more til Mordor”? …okay, I’ll work on it.
  7. And I’m currently reading The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, which, so far, corroborates everything I know about the suckiness of school, but backs it all up with scientific facts! My day is made!

I have really enjoyed all of these books, but if I had to recommend one….I couldn’t do it. I can recommend two though. Read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It’s incredible. And definitely read The Waterproof Bible. Kaufman is a Canadian writer and the book takes place half in Toronto, Ontario and half in Morris, Manitoba, so it was fun for me to recognize all the street names and the horror of being in downtown TO in traffic. I think that was redundant…downtown Toronto and traffic are synonymous, right?

That’s all for now folks! Enjoy your week and DFTBA,
Kenzie

Question everything.

There are many people who have moulded me into the person I am today, and influenced what I’ve accomplished so far in my life, and what I will accomplish in the future. But there is one person in particular who made this life path of reading, writing, learning, and wondering available to me. Mr. G , my Grade 8 History teacher, offered me a way of seeing the world in which questioning the way things are is both vital and fulfilling, as the way things will be is up to us, the students.

One thing that gets me fired up and frustrated and desperate for change is the approach to education in high schools. Despite this frustration, I don’t yet know how to fix the education system. I haven’t learned enough about how brains learn just yet. However, I do have an idea of where we need to start. And Mr. G has unknowingly provided a foundation for me that has directly influenced the development of this idea in my head.

Firstly, we don’t need better curriculums. Fantastic curriculums exist already. Albeit, they seem to only exist in extremely expensive private schools, but they DO exist! So we DO know what to teach kids. What we need more than that is a different attitude to learning. And that change starts with annoying children…

Note to all parents: scientists confirm your suspicions: each kid can ask dozens of questions every hour. From my own observations of parents and kids, it would appear that after a few rounds of “But, why???”…it is no longer cute or funny. According to Frazier, Gelman, and Wellman (2009), parents only give explanatory answers to their kids’ questions 50-60% of the time — less for younger children. And we know that kids really are asking questions to learn, not just to get attention, because kids react differently to explanatory answers (“You have to stay close to mummy when we’re at the mall because getting lost can be dangerous and scary.”) than they do to non-answers (“Because I said so”, “Ask your dad”, and “Not now”). Explanatory answers cue kids to be more curious and to ask more questions, whereas non-answers force kids to ask the same question again or make up their own answer. Furthermore, kids either learn that asking questions is a fruitful activity: self-directed learning is good!; or that asking questions gets you nowhere: people will tell me things if I need to know them.

Too often, students are encouraged not to ask disruptive questions like “But why did that happen?” or “But what if I did it this way?”. We are asked to learn the information as it is, without questioning it. Parents and teachers: when kids ask “Why?” , they are learning to learn. If toddlers and kids and teens get solid answers and are encouraged to be curious, the cycle will continue and they will learn all the things! If they get shut down every time they ask why things are the way they are…they’ll stop asking. And that alone is utterly terrifying to me.

Back to Mr. G… He once told my class,

“A good teacher is just a student who had a bad experience in school.”

And that thought has stuck with me for 7 years. But it’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I did some research. Mr. G, if you’re reading this, it turns out you were exactly right. Ronald A. Beghetto has done a lot of research on teachers, creativity, and the learning experience. One of his studies confirmed that “prospective teachers who viewed promoting creativity of students as highly important were significantly less likely to report that they enjoyed school” (2006).

Mr. G taught me that being inquisitive is one of the greatest, most admirable traits someone can have. Because the people who ask “Why?” are the people who effect change. They are the people who make all the difference in the world.

Mr. G made it okay to nerd out. He gave the go-ahead for students to be who they wanted to be and learn how they wanted to learn. And (though I was a brat when I graduated from his class) his lessons and encouragement have had the greatest impact on my life, now that I’ve had time to think about them. And I won’t ever be able to explain how grateful I am for that. Because I am now one of the biggest, proudest nerds you’ll ever meet. I love learning. I love going to class. And more than anything, I love sharing what I’ve learned with other people. Before Mr. G, I was one of those kids who tried to dumb it down to look cool (or something approaching cool), who tried to hide the fact that I powered through a book a day, who had stopped asking questions.

Mr. G was a teacher who didn’t just “teach”. He didn’t recite and quiz and discipline and check our notes for accuracy. He did everything in his power to light a spark in students that made them want to learn on their own. Maybe we didn’t see that then, but I can certainly see it now. He gave us permission to question everything, including authority (even his own), because authority is not always right by default. He did an incredible job of giving us the clearest, most accessible, most enlightening answers he could. And that is the greatest gift any student could ask for.

Parents and teachers are teaching kids that asking “Why?” all the time is disruptive and generally a bad thing to do. I propose that we start teaching kids the way Mr. G taught me: Yes, asking “Why?” IS disruptive. And that’s a damn good thing.

What are your thoughts on high school education? Did it work for you? Did you hate it? Did you have your own Mr. G? Let me know in the comments.

I hope you’re enjoying your summer thus far! DFTBA,

Kenzie

P.S. If you’re looking for more on this topic, read The Power of Why by Amanda Lang. It’s going on my newly official list of books teachers and parents must read.

P.P.S. My writing hiatus was longer than anticipated. I got super bored without writing and ideas were starting to get really crowded in my brain. More posts to come!