Friday, April 29, 2011

A discussion here and this post shortly after got me thinking about just exactly what the purpose of education actually is. (Sure, to enlighten people, prepare youths for the world, etc. And more generally it depends on what part and what kind of education you're talking about, and whether you're talking about what the purpose is or what it should be, etc. etc. etc.)

While I was in college or maybe just after, I spent a little time as a substitute teacher. My dad was a high school principal and my college's school year ended more than a month before his school's did, so subbing was a job I could start the day I got home while I looked for something for the rest of the summer.

As temp jobs go, it wasn't that bad. I was called in for a few days to sub for random teachers who were taking sick days or whatever. But then I got called for an extended job: a teacher had to move for some reason before the end of the school year, and they wanted someone who could fill in on a full-time basis for the remaining three weeks or so, working off of lesson plans the previous teacher would leave behind, and I fit the bill. It was a computer or communications-type class. The final project was a PowerPoint presentation, intended to test their skills with MS Office, Internet research and public speaking, and the first most of all. There was a plagiarism policy (don't do it), which I had explained to the students in advance. I checked that by Googling key phrases from the presentation and found that one kid had copied most of his presentation verbatim from some Web site, so I gave him a failing grade for that.

Should I have?

Let's assume for a minute that the plagiarism policy really was adequately explained, was strict but not unreasonably draconian, and that I stuck to it. This was six years ago if not more; I wouldn't swear to any of that from memory, let alone all of it. But right now I'm not wondering whether I covered my ass or was too lenient. The thing is, does a strict plagiarism policy make sense in a high school computer class?

It makes sense in college, where I had just come from, in an academic environment where professors and would-be professors live or die by their Academic Integrity, and where in some fields there's a lot of money riding on who really did certain work. (Not in my field, of course, but, you know, biotech or computer science or something.) And it makes sense in journalism and writing in general for the same reasons.

But in high school? There's the obvious problem when a student copies something else and passes it off as their own original work; if it's cheating to copy off someone sitting at the desk next to you, then it's cheaping to copy something off some stranger in a book or on the Internet.

I guess the thing is, that's the one case where enforcing plagiarism doesn't matter too much - where the student isn't getting graded on original work - but such a situation is rare enough that it might make sense to continue to prosecute it seriously in all other cases. So I guess I argued myself away from the strong "who cares about applying standards of high academia to other contexts?" position that was my gut reaction to the Unfogged discussion.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Exercise: for most of my life it's just been a chore. True, I enjoyed martial arts when I practiced them, although haven't fit them into my schedule for the past five years or so. And I like the nice views and breeze in my face of biking on country roads, but my bike has remained in Vermont all the time I've lived down here in the DC area. And in college, it was really convenient to work out for a while - I had more free time than I do as an adult, of course, and the gym was just around the corner from my dorm, and for a while I was going there anyway for physical therapy for my bad knee. But I've never got any physical activity worth mentioning at work or in hobbies pursued purely for fun in the past 10 years. This means that if I want to avoid visible obesity I need to either eat like a bird or set aside regular time for relatively strenuous exercise. And I wasn't interested in eating like a bird.

I've tried to do exercise regularly ever since at my current job, with varying degrees of success. But like I said, it was a chore. I've read people talking about enjoying it, getting a pleasurable sensation, some kind of visceral rush from exercise. For quite a while that used to leave me curious and wondering if there was something wrong with me. I don't remember ever noticing that before the gym this winter. I'm certainly proud when I do unusually well at something or other, and like I said the wind in my face while biking obviously feels nice, but I never actually enjoyed exercise itself at all until I started going to the gym three times a weekly like clockwork. Weird.

But even that was a problem. 20 minutes jogging, once you count time to change clothes and warm up and cool down and shower and change clothes back, seriously added up to almost an hour for me. Doable if you're serious about it, but quite a lot of time to carve out several times a week. So even once exercise is mildly enjoyable, it's still a big time commitment, and for my adult life the idea has been to find the best way to squeeze it into my day without interfering with anything else.

All this is a roundabout way of leading up to the discovery of something better: biking home. I sign out a bike from a station near my office (sort of) and sign it back in at a station near my house, and it only actually takes 10 minutes or so longer than the metro. I planned to start Monday but realized at work that I'd forgotten my helmet. Tuesday, though, I biked, and it went even better than I expected. If I can stick with this - and I see no reason not to, barring the occasional day I need to get home ASAP or go somewhere else after work instead - then I'll bet I can lose 15 pounds by winter. (Hypothetically I could lose more than that, of course, but what's the goal here?)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I've deleted several recent work-related posts and reposted them on a new blog I've created specifically for that kind of thing. I may go back and do the same for other posts of the same type. I also have a few posts in mind still waiting to be written, but I'm not sure where they'll go - here, there or both.

It's the old anonymity thing again, but I'm handling it differently because I'm now at a different place in life. Nothing I wrote about work here set off definite warning sirens, but I want to continue to write about work without worrying about it. So I'm trying to avoid details on this new blog that would identify me, and it is not linked to from here and vice versa. (Yes, I know that since the posts were here for a while, Google has cached them. In hindsight I wouldn't have done that, but it seems like a small enough risk. I'm creating the second blog as a precaution against the possibility that I decide to start dishing out dirt, not that I definitely will or have already done so.) I may tell people about it on request, but then again, maybe not. We'll see how it goes.

This blog may focus more on my personal life with more musing, or I may go back to my less-than-once-a-month posting schedule of 2008-2009. Who knows. (Or maybe the other blog I'm experimenting with will die a quiet death and I'll go back to posting stuff about work here.) And of course, I will probably continue to maintain this blog until I get tired of this "Internet" fad and move on to something else just because I'm used to using the links to the side there. But it seems like I have a lot to say these days that's work-related, and putting it all here would make me worry about someday, somehow, saying the wrong thing.