Monday, January 31, 2011

Schooling vs. Education

            What does schooling do for the average child? The “correct” answer is that it opens up opportunities for children concerning what they will do with their lives. Another obvious, more specific answer is that it teaches them life-skills like math, science, English, and many more. But what if these “right” answers are actually wrong? What if schooling actually gets in the way of a child’s education?
            I was speaking to one of my friends a few days ago, and we were talking about reading. He made the comment that few people read these days; in fact, he said, he couldn’t think of many people who read more than he or I did. I answered that my reading level drops drastically when I am at college since all that I have time for is my textbooks. My friend cited this as an example of where my schooling was getting in the way of my education.
            At first this statement seemed preposterous to me. After all, school is designed to educate me, isn’t it? From kindergarten until entrance into the workforce, we are taught mathematics, English, science, and a whole myriad of subjects that are very useful to us in life. On further examination of my friend’s statement; however, I began to understand what he was saying. While schooling does teach many skills that are useful when applied, standard schooling techniques rarely apply these skills to real situations. Free time to read materials other than text books as well as time to investigate topics learned in school in the real world is where real education takes place, and overloading a student with school assignments often stunts this education.
            Another problem with schooling techniques today deals with the fact that they segregate subjects into separate categories. Mathematics is taught in one class, Physics in another, English in a third, and history in a fourth. While some of these segregations are appropriate, the separation of many of these subjects results in an inability to use them together as is often necessary in real life.
            A third problem that I was able to identify with current education methods is the complete absence of some skills that are vital to our lives. Skills like self-reliance, self-motivation, initiative, and leadership are all but ignored because of the difficulty involved in teaching them. These skills are just as important if not more so to the success of a person as mathematics and science are simply because without self-reliance and initiative, a person will not be able to effectively use the others.
            Even if the schooling system that we currently have is not the best, what other options do we have? I would personally recommend a method of education that is nothing like the one that we have in place now. First and foremost, I would remove education from the control of the government because practically everything that the government touches withers and dies. In the education system, this can be seen by a peak in American graduations (around 77% of students) well before the formation of the department of education. This percentage has been decreasing ever since. A second change that I would enact is to not make formal education mandatory. The reason for this is because not everyone learns most effectively in a classroom. In addition to this, it has also been shown that even those people who do well in a classroom do not necessarily fare well in the workplace. Obviously the education of an internship in a workplace would address this problem. Finally, I would encourage a form of education that emphasizes not only math and science but also important skills like leadership and self-motivation.
            The problem with the American Education system is that it has been centralized. Since it deals with so many people, it is not flexible and consequently unable to address each person’s individual needs. (This fact can be seen by comparing standardized public education with flexible private education) Because of this, it sometimes gets in the way of students education. Therefore, it is necessary to reconsider the whole of the education system and decide whether it is a good and helpful program or one that needs to be retired.

Thank you for taking time to read my blog. Any input or feedback that you have will be appreciated.

Sincerely,
Peter Last

Monday, January 24, 2011

You Are Not Special

To whoever reads this:
The following is the speech that I wrote and gave at my graduation. It shocked the socks off of some people at the beginning, but I think that they understood my point by the end.



Fellow graduates:
           Congratulations on this achievement. We all know that it is not an easy task to finish high school and graduate, yet here we are today as a testament to our dedication and hard work. Consequently, it is with utmost sincerity that I congratulate each and every one of you.
            Of course, we all know that this is just the beginning of the journey of life, and as you begin this next leg of that journey I would like to leave you with one guiding thought: you are not special. Not exactly the inspiring graduation speech that most people expect, I know, but before you throw the garbage and rotten tomatoes, hear me out. When I say that you are not special, it does not mean that you are not unique. Every one of us is different in his own way; that is what makes us who we are.  Let me explain my statement this way. Every snowflake is supposed to be different from any other one, yet to an Eskimo, any one snowflake is not particularly special. So it is with human beings. Each one is different and yet none of us are special.
            I would like to point out that not being special is much better than being special. The world that we live in today makes money off of the idea that everyone is special. Twittter, facebook, myspace, and texting all cater to this idea. With these new inventions, everyone is able to inform everyone around them of exactly what they are doing at the moment. Many people do this so much that they hardly have time to read about what other people are doing much less participate in the real world. Instead they are held prisoners in a million technological worlds in which each and every one of them is the center of the universe.
            This is not how things should be, with each person being so special that they do not have time for anyone else.  Sure, they may communicate with lots of people every day, but they do not have time for them in the real world where each person has real problems. Instead they are too busy thinking about their next status update to care about anyone but themselves.
            But we live in the information age; times are changing and so must our life styles. We face greater challenges and more temptations than anyone before us; that is why we live the way we do.  So goes the argument against me, the argument for social networking where there are a million different universes with a million different centers. “Just look at the economy,” these people will say. “It is obvious that we face more challenges today.” Perhaps the economy is worse than it was ten years ago, but look back to the Great Depression and you can see that what we are experiencing is not new. As the Bible states in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter one and verse nine, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” You see, the situation that we are in now has happened before, and it will happen again.
            The only choice that we have in our lives is what we will do about the situations in which we happen to find ourselves. It will be hard to make the right choices, not because we will not know what they are but because they will not be popular. It would be much easier to just retreat into our own little worlds of technology, but that is not what we are called to do. Rather God tells us to be fishers of men and to make disciples of all nations, two tasks that we cannot accomplish when we are wrapped up in our own specialness. So you see, we need to put aside the ideas of our specialness so that we can do the work that is appointed for us to do.
            Previously I made the statement that each of us is about as special as an individual snowflake is to an Eskimo. We are different than snowflakes in one important way, though. While a single snowflake does not have a large effect on anything, we can have a large and lasting effect. Consider a single match in a dark room. The flame is small, yet it still casts a great deal of light. Even so, it is not able to banish the shadows from the room; however, it is able to light a candle which can then light another candle and so on until the whole room is bathed in light. This is how people are when they make the right decision. Everyone can see the example and people will follow that example until a real difference can be seen. Therefore, in closing, I would challenge you to not take the easy way. Take the hard path, the path of truth, and you can make a difference that will be remembered.   


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Any feedback that you have will be helpful and very much appreciated.

Sincerely,
Peter Last

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why are Blogs Called Blogs?

            Most of us, if we are of an inquisitive nature, have questioned the world that we live in. I know, of course, that there are people that don’t question anything about their lives. (Of course those pictures appear on the TV; no questions asked. Of course when I call someone I can talk to them from long distances; no questions asked. Of course there’s a flying saucer in my backyard that carries aliens that eat human flesh; no questions asked) Other people are WAY TOO curious about their world. (While being pulled on a sled by his friend: “Hey Fred, assuming that you are pulling at an angle of 45o from horizontal, and assuming that I and the sled weigh exactly 95 lbs. and assuming that the coefficient of kinetic friction is .5, and assuming that we are moving at a constant speed, what force are you pulling with?” Fred: “I don’t know. Hey look there’s another alien eating human flesh.”) Fortunately, there are normal people in the world who wonder about things, but not too hard. Coming from one of these people, here’s a question: Why is a blog called a blog?
            To understand the origin of the name “blog,” it is necessary to examine the history of the blog. In ancient Rome, when people wished to make know their political views, their views on a particular topic, or just tell the world what their day was like, they would write on a piece of paper and “post” it in the city square. Nobody actually cared what was written by these early bloggers, and as citizens passed the square and caught sight of these posts, they would utter statements like “blah” (Latin root often used by itself to dismiss the importance of something) and “ugh” (Latin word used to express disgust with something) Also, if the population caught a blogger posting in the city square, they would chase them off with sticks and rocks. Interestingly, this behavior increased the number of blogs written by masochists and people trying to toughen up to be a gladiator. Then one day, on October 8th, sometime between the years of 50 and 75 AD, two people caught sight of a blogger’s post at the same time. One said “Blah” at the same time that the other said “Ugh.” A passerby heard this and identified the consolidation of the two words to be “blahg.” Later this got shortened to “blog,” the term that is used today.
            Interestingly, the word “blog” was also developed independently in China. The original Chinese bloggers didn’t post their writings in city squares; rather they used fireworks to make their thoughts known. Using different fireworks and different colors in much the same way as their symbols, they were able to communicate over long distances. When Marco Polo visited China, one of the things that he witnessed was a fireworks display that was given by a blogger. When the concept of the fireworks display was explained to Polo, he hated it whole heartedly. He complained about how dangerous the fireworks were. After this complaint, the Chinese asked him if he were French because of his wussy attitude. Polo’s next complaint was that the fireworks conveyed a message that no one wanted to hear anyway. He suggested that they should be beaten or flogged for creating such a useless display. The Chinese agreed with him on this point, after all, who wants to hear about some random person whose cat ran away. They commented that, knowing their country, it might have been dinner the previous day. (After this they asked Polo if he was English since he used the English words “beaten” and “flogged.” (It took several hundred years before the Chinese actually believed that Polo hailed from Italy) After Polo left, the Chinese, not being incredibly well versed in English at this point, adopted the words “beat” and “flog” as names for the fireworks displays instead of the punishments for people producing them. Later these words were combined and shortened into the word “blog.”
            If you know anything about history, you realize that the last two paragraphs were intended entirely for their comedic value and are completely false. The real story behind the word “blog” is much more boring. It was in the 1990’s that the technology became available for online communities (which blogs are a part of) to exist. The modern blog came into existence as people, under the mistaken impression that other people actually cared, stated to keep personal diaries on the internet. Justin Hall, known as one of the first bloggers, started in 1994. As time progressed, more and more people began to blog, not realizing that since everyone else was blogging as well, no one was actually reading anyone else’s blog. In 1997, Jorn Barger coined the term “weblog” (web being a term for the internet and log being a large part of a chopped up tree) for online journals. In 1999 Peter Merholz, a man with a good name and a decent sense of humor, broke the word “weblog” into the two words “we blog.” The term blog caught on, and was used as a noun for online journals and as a verb for creating and writing online journals. This term survives even today and is universally accepted to be the name for an online journal.


To whoever has read this:
While a lot of this article was obvious made up, the entire last paragraph is factually true.

Sincerely,
Peter Last

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dragons

To whoever reads this:
As you probably guessed from the title, this is a piece on dragons.


                Dragons are the stuff of fantasy. They fly because it is majestic for them to do so, not because there is any way that their puny wings (at least in most pictures) could possibly lift their massive bodies from the ground. The breath fire because it is impressive, they have razor sharp teeth and claws because it is fearsome, and they have tough scales to make them impenetrable. In essence, dragons are everything that people hope to be; beautiful and majestic, but at the same time impressive, fearsome, and untouchable. But is it possible that there is any truth to the legends about dragons? Could their fire breathing and sharp claws be based on reality? What about their fire breathing and impenetrable scales?
            As with the majority of questions on the world, the best place to start on this one is in the Bible. The Bible has insight on moral issues, it records a great amount of ancient history, it is useful for religious purposes, and it even delves into science when it tells us how the world began, but is it of any use for a fantastical topic such as dragons? To answer this question, grab a Bible, any translation should do, and turn to Job 41. For anyone unfamiliar with the Bible, Job is just before Psalms, the book the exact center of the Bible. Read through the entire 41st chapter of Job. It’s a little surprising what you’ll find in the Bible, isn’t it?
            Well, if you read Job 41, you’ve probably already determined that the Bible has something to say about dragons. The beast mentioned in this passage is called the leviathan, and boy does it sound like a dragon. Does it breathe fire?

18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light; 
   its eyes are like the rays of dawn. 
19 Flames stream from its mouth; 
   sparks of fire shoot out. 
20 Smoke pours from its nostrils 
   as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. 
21 Its breath sets coals ablaze, 
   and flames dart from its mouth. (NIV)

If “flames stream(ing) from its mouth” doesn’t sound like a fire-breather, I really don’t know what does. So this leviathan breathes fire. That sounds an awful lot like a dragon already, but what else does the Bible say about it.

 12 “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, 
   its strength and its graceful form. 
13 Who can strip off its outer coat? 
   Who can penetrate its double coat of armor
[b]? 
14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth, 
   ringed about with fearsome teeth? 
15 Its back has[c] rows of shields 
   tightly sealed together; 
16 each is so close to the next 
   that no air can pass between. 
17 They are joined fast to one another; 
   they cling together and cannot be parted. (NIV)

Also

24 Its chest is hard as rock, 
   hard as a lower millstone. 
25 When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; 
   they retreat before its thrashing. 
26 The sword that reaches it has no effect, 
   nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. 
27 Iron it treats like straw 
   and bronze like rotten wood. 
28 Arrows do not make it flee; 
   slingstones are like chaff to it. 
29 A club seems to it but a piece of straw; 
   it laughs at the rattling of the lance. (NIV)

It appears that the creature also has scales. Or at least it has an “outer coat” that no one can “strip off”, a “double coat of armor” that no one “can penetrate”, and “rows of shields” on its back “tightly sealed together” so “that no air can pass between” them. Well, if that isn’t scales, it’s definitely close enough for a layman to mistake for scales especially when javelins, arrows, sling stones, iron, and bronze have no effect on him.
            The leviathan has the ability to breathe fire and an impenetrable hide that sounds an awful lot like scales. Those are two of the trademarks of a dragon, but what about the not so obvious traits that dragons have? Dragons are strong, they have sharp teeth, they have spikes, they are graceful and majestic. How does the leviathan live up to these traits? Verse 14 of Job 41 says that the leviathan’s mouth is “ringed about with fearsome teeth,” so obviously It’s teeth fit the bill. Verse 12 speaks of the creature’s “graceful form,” so it has the grace of a dragon. As to strength, the Bible has a bit more to say about it.

8 If you lay a hand on it, 
   you will remember the struggle and never do it again! 
9 Any hope of subduing it is false; 
   the mere sight of it is overpowering. 
10 No one is fierce enough to rouse it. 
   Who then is able to stand against me? (NIV)

Finally, the Bible has a small passage on its spikes.

30 Its undersides are jagged potsherds, 
   leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge. (NIV)

It is pretty obvious that the translators of the New International Version of the Bible were simply in denial when they inserted the footnote saying that the leviathan might be a crocodile.
            So it’s true that dragons existed; however, there are a few things that are not mentioned and few that are mentioned in Job 41 that do not line up with a traditional view of dragons. First and foremost, there is no mention of wings or flying in connection with the leviathan. Second of all, there is a very strong implication that it was a water creature.

1 [a]“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook 
   or tie down its tongue with a rope? (NIV)
7 Can you fill its hide with harpoons 
   or its head with fishing spears? (NIV)

31 It makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron 
   and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment. 
32 It leaves a glistening wake behind it; 
   one would think the deep had white hair. (NIV)

Finally, verse 18 says that “its eyes are like the rays of dawn.” I have heard this explained as the dragon having some sort of eye beams. While this is possible, I believe that the wording of the verse simply implies a bright, possibly intelligent look in the creature’s eyes.
            So, does the Bible have verses about dragons? Yes; however, they do not confirm a classic view of the dragon. Is it possible that flying, four legged dragons existed? Of course it is; however, they are not alluded to in the Bible. And finally, what was the point of this long, drawn out piece on dragons? Most obviously it was to give Biblical proof of the existence of dragons. Not as obviously but more importantly, this argument on dragons hopefully has shown you that you should not take anyone’s word on a subject. Instead, you should read the Bible for yourself (you’ll be surprised what is in it) and read it with an open mind. Only by doing this can you know what God says in His word. And if you do this, you will not be easily led astray.


I hope that you enjoyed this article, and as always, thank you for reading my blog.

Sincerely,
Peter Last