I’m on a quest… and it’s not a quest for a shrubbery…

May 30, 2016 by
Student struggling in class

One of the things that I'm highly interested in is self-improvement. It's something I study quite often. When I was growing up, a majority of my teachers stated I wasn't smart, couldn't learn, etc. This assertion was primarily due to my overall grades, my apparent lack of effort, desire, and motivation to do school work. More specifically, I never did my homework.  My parents spent a lot of time, money, and energy trying to determine what the issue was. Eventually, it was determined I was "hyperactive," or what would now be called ADHD, but none of the teachers knew how to teach someone like me at the time.

What was funny though was, if you removed the grades I got for my homework assignments, suddenly I had some of, if not the highest, grades in all my classes. This became abundantly clear my sixth year of school, where I came across a teacher that didn't require homework. Suddenly, my grades were above everyone else's. It was my first taste of someone treating me as being smart instead of a nuisance, disruptive element, or class clown. It also sparked my interest in learning how to learn since it was obvious the rest of the teachers I had weren't interested in helping me learn or learning how to teach to someone with my disability.

After I moved up to seventh grade, it was more of the same. The teachers didn't want to deal with me. In fact, one of my teacher's would send me down to the principal's office on nearly a daily basis, and at one point told me to 'just go vegetate' in the principal's office. It's actually where I was when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. So yes, I know where I was when that tragedy happened.

Shortly after that, my family up and moved to another city, where I could get a fresh start. It was in this new school district where I blossomed. I finally had teachers that supported me and my learning style. It's also where I learned to overcome one of my greatest disabilities, that of being unable to write well. At that time, I had a huge difficulty putting anything down on paper. Looking back on it, I realize that a major part of the issue was most likely writer's block (something I fully believe is a real affliction and can be overcome, but that's something for another post.) One teacher, after seeing me struggle trying to write something, decided to try something unorthodox. They had been working with my Mom and knew that I spend a significant amount of time on my computer, both a Commodore Vic-20 and then a Commodore 64. With that insight, she had me try and write my homework assignments on the computer they had in the classroom. Suddenly, the words just flowed out of me. It was another piece of the puzzle that was part of my disability.

It was also at this time that I came across a book called Superlearning. It was a book that I read cover to cover several times. It expanded my mind and thinking. It made me realize there was a whole world of ways people could improve their learning ability. What I read in that book sent me on a lifelong journey to see what I was truly capable of.

Which brings me to now. I've spent the better part of thirty years studying and collecting tools and techniques that can improve a person's ability to learn. It made me realize how sad our current state of education is. We all hear the news about how we're trying this or that to improve education, but by and large, we're still teaching new generation of students the same way we were over a century ago. In fact, we're doing a worse job of it than we were then. Before the rise of calculators, or even slide rulers, students were taught methods to memorize information (some dating back thousands of years), how to do most calculations in their head, and other things that would be considered nearly unheard of today.

Take for example the SAT test. It tests vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing, and math knowledge. What if I told you that, with something in the neighborhood of two to three months, an average student could be taught techniques that would allow them to walk into a testing facility and, without using anything besides their own mind, be able to ace the test? It'd actually be pretty simple to do. Yet our education system continues to decline, trying to use a cookie-cutter approach to teaching that is failing miserably when it comes to preparing our next generation to succeed in an increasingly competitive and technical world. Instead of teaching students how to learn, critically think, and remember, we're instead just force-feeding data into our children's minds. We're just, as the phrase goes, teaching to the test, not teaching for learning's sake.

For the past few years, I've been slowly assembling the framework for a book I'd love to write that, if the education system took to heart, would cause us to go from being near the bottom of the list when it comes to education to being at the number one spot. I fully believe that it's possible. What's more, I honestly feel it could be done in a generation or less. The only reason I think it would take even that long is, the older students have already started getting set in the way they think and learn. If these students took the material available seriously, then there's no reason they wouldn't be able to do as well academically as the younger students.

We could bring about a generation of students that, based off of current methods of measuring intelligence, would most likely rank in the genius level. Think about it, most of what an I.Q. test really analyzes is how much information you've been able to memorize. Even logic tests are based off what a person knows about specific laws of nature, science, and other areas of study. If a student had perfect recall of those pieces of information, how would you be able to determine who's a genius and who isn't. It's not that far-fetched. There's memory techniques that used to allow ancient philosophers the ability to memorize entire books of knowledge and be able to recite them flawlessly. It's just a matter of training.

That brings me to the quest I mentioned previously. Unfortunately, due to my ADHD, I never practiced any of the methods long enough for them to take serious root in my mental toolbox. Sure, I dabbled with some of the techniques, but I never made them a part of my normal learning process. I realize that, if I'm ever going to write my book, I'm going to need to be able to practice what I preach. That means being able to do all the things I'd list out in my book. More importantly, I need to be able to demonstrate it at a moments notice. Otherwise, I run the risk of being called a liar, a snake-oil salesman, or just a scam.

So, with that in mind, I realize I need to really start putting in the effort to actually start making these methods my own, to learn them and be able to use them fluently. At the same time, I need to start actually outlining and working on the book I've described. Between the research and assembly of the book, along with regular practice, I hope to bring this book to the world within the next three years or so.

To keep me honest, and to keep me on track. I'm going to try and keep a regular update of my progress here. That way, if anyone else wants to follow along, they'll be able to see what resources I'm using to develop these skills in myself. Maybe we can start a movement to finally overhaul our education system and raise a new generation of people who yearn to discover new worlds and reach for the stars. Even if we miss, we'll still land in the heavens.

1 Comment

  1. Heather

    Great blog post!!!!

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