Narrowing the Choices

I spend a minimum of an hour a day grading papers. Some days it adds up to as many as three hours. In a normal week, it works out to about ten hours of marking up papers, sifting through sentences and paragraphs, evaluating the evidence of learning.

One of the side effects of all this activity is the inability to let my mind off the leash. I tend to approach every part of my life with the left brain, viewing everything I read through critical eyes, including my own words. If a person needed a cure for writing and reading too much, having an English teacher grade everything would put an end to even the most fervent love of words.

Alas, I do not need to be cured. I need to write more, read more. But it’s pretty hard to sit down and read for enjoyment or work on my unfinished novel when I’ve been bleeding red ink all day.

Nor do my students need to be cured. At an age when their minds ought to be soaking up information, they have learned to hate reading because it always comes with a not-so-secret agenda. “Read the following passages and answer the questions by filling in the circle corresponding to the correct answer. Be sure to darken each circle completely, using only a number 2 pencil. If you change an answer, be sure to erase completely. Do not make any other marks on your answer sheet.”

If the only point to reading is to prove that you read something by bubbling in answers, or writing short answers and extended responses, or occasionally making a book report, why would they want to read? Reading isn’t fun, it’s a test.

Modern education revolves around testing and grades. More

Creative Boredom

Computing has given us the useful word multitasking – “to schedule and execute multiple tasks (program) simultaneously; control being passed from one to the other using interrupts.”

The part of that definition that is usually ignored is the ‘interrupts’ — i.e. the processor is not really executing all tasks simultaneously; it is switching between tasks, giving the illusion of parallelism.

The same is true of multi-tasking in humans. It is an illusion.

Everyone seems to be trying to do more things simultaneously. Driving and texting, listening to music and reading, talking on the phone and typing, memorizing Latin verbs and writing on people’s Facebook walls — I could think of many other examples, but you get the idea.

It’s a bit like juggling. If you don’t drop a ball, it’s considered a success.

But work, school, socializing aren’t as simple as balls tossed into the air; they are activities that can be done with varying degrees of completeness and finesse.

Some people claim that they work better when they are trying to do three things at once — the more, the better.

The truth (and I am not talking about computers here) is this: doing two linguistic tasks simultaneously is not possible. Our brains can’t do that. You may think you are writing your essay and talking to your friend, but you are actually switching between tasks. And you are taking twice as long to do it.Thirty minutes of working on essay + thirty minutes of talking to your friend = two hours of real time. And the essay is probably crap. More

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