2013-12-11

Insecure

I'm doing a virtual class in linux networking via WebEx Training Center. At the end of each chapter we are presented with a poll.

I found tests exciting when I was in school. Partially because they were a way to get attention and praise, but also because they contained all of the interesting parts of class. For example, math was a drudgery of the same thing over and over, only rarely did we got to do the practical application questions --
If a train leaves boston and 10PM travels at 60 miles/h...
-- a test was one of those rare occasions and a test would contain quite a few of them. Writing essays were another favorite; it allowed me free reign to express myself (I thought so, anyway and grades varied because of that). Any context in which I was either supposed to figure things out or express knowledge or skill in free-form was eagerly anticipated.

The excitement slowly dissipated through high school. The first seven years of school were gradeless. We got only an evaluation: below average, average or above average. The evaluations were overall, not applied to individual tests. The were scores, of course, and the teacher would scribble Great! in the margin at times, but beyond that there was no pressure.*

In grade seven we started getting introduced to topics I found difficult to absorb, functions of one variable, vectors in physics. In retrospect, I wish I had tried harder, because as I said figuring things out brought me supreme pleasure. I had, and still have, trouble absorbing abstract concepts. At a minimum I need an imperfect metaphor as a jumping-off-board, and in we weren't taught that way. It scared me that I didn't get it, I took the who-needs-it-in-real-life attitude to heart and found the lessons boring.

In grade eight we started getting grades. Grades are a very concrete expression of accomplishment. I wasn't really able to separate my performance from me so a poor grade meant that there was something wrong with me.** With a fatalistic attitude low grades were unavoidable. Over time tests lost their novelty to self loathing.

As we advanced in grades we also lost latitude. You had to solve problems the right way or follow the proper format. I'd devised a way to do percentages without rational numbers, but even though I arrived at the right answer I didn't get any points. When we got to pick a third language I was very excited, but when I prompted the teacher for stuff that went beyond the exercise book I was rebuffed and quite harshly told to do my exercises as given.

I think we might be obsessed with classifying ourselves. Classifying others



* There were admiration and respect of peers, but it was arbitrary at best. Our teacher liked to have the good essays read aloud, "good" was almost completely unrelated to the reaction of the audience.

** There were a number of factors -- this student, that student, many other students --that contributed to the notion of my inherent wrongness.

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