Tag Archives: learning

Frustration

20 Jan

A lot of America’s pre-college education seems to focus around making sure that kids know things. I think it should focus more on teaching kids that they don’t.

We teach kids the equations they’ll need for their plug-and-chug recognition homework. “Question type a takes equation process type b with steps c through g.” It focuses on making sure that kids can recall what chapter heading a certain phraseology fell under and and what process they were told in that chapter they should use to solve it. “Do you know what sort of thing it is that you needed to know in order to attack this problem?”

But we never teach kids how to handle not knowing what they need to do to attack a problem.

It’s a problem I first ran into in college. My math and physics problems, they were derivation and proof based. “Here are the theorems and axioms, have fun figuring out how to build your own damn process.”

Uh, no.

Especially since by “figure out your own damn process” my TA’s definitely meant “recreate the already universally-accepted specific series of variable translations we’ve written down in our solution set. No no, don’t do math, originate it.”

Now, there is a dichotomy in me. I am not a math or physics person. You start to say either of those words at me, and I’m going to run screaming into the nearest hipster humanities student-filled coffee shop. I’m writer. I’m also a biologist. Once Caltech finally prints my diploma, it’ll say I earned a B.S. in both.

But really, the workings of biology are something that make much more inherent sense to me. I spent months’ worth of free time hours over the course of my high school career lolling around on my bed, Google searching the shit out of my laptop and staring at the wall while playing around with concepts and generating designs in my head for ways to tweak biomolecules into HIV-attacking machines. There was – is – no set process to calculate the cure for AIDS. That meant I was free to run around with factoids in my own imagination, hurtling through a tunnel of question-answer-roadblock, question-answer-roadblock, as I tried to use what I knew and what I could learn to fill in the blanks of what I didn’t know while wrestling with this problem. Nobody was grading me on how I worked out the problem. No one was going to tell me I had to figure it all out by a certain time and then slap some red slashes and a hopefully two-digit number evaluation at the top. The project was entirely mine to work on. There wasn’t the pressure of expected performance to numb my thinking capacity with adequacy-anxiety. I had the time and mental freedom to think and rethink and unthink and think again without anyone telling me I wasn’t doing it well enough, fast enough, proper enough.

The work I did entirely on my own self-motivation and un-judged learning capacity ended up getting me into a lab the summer after my frosh year of college to work on a project that was in fact trying to build a new sort of biomolecule, a grandaddy triton of antibodies, essentially, to overcome the whole HIV-has-ridiculously-sparse-spikes, oh-shit-normal-antibodies-can’t-get-good-avidity-to-that. ‘Course, that’s when I found out that while for me the mindwork of research is tantalizing, I despise petri dishes and aliquots of clear liquid with a passion so fiery it burnt my enthusiasm for the underlying problem to a dead crisp. And so ended my lab career.

But anyhoo, I tell all of that to contrast it to those terrible math and physics problems I had to grapple with on my frosh and sophomore college homework. The problem there was that there was a particular blueprint for building the process. I couldn’t just fiddle around dreamily with the nuts and bolts, wandering around in factland away from the glowering stare of a deadline. Because those math and physics homeworks were due tomorrow. And I needed to know how their axiomatic parts fit together by, like, yesterday. Probably by last week, actually.

But, despite going to one of the top universities in the nation, I was at a school full of smart researching professors and smart ready-to-learn students where the smart researching professors didn’t know how to communicate with their smart students through the language of lecturer for shit. I had the axioms chucked at me in a lump and never had time spent or given to think about their implications. Sure, there was this phrase, and it said this thing, but goodness knows I was never given a chance to properly think about what the fuck did the phrase actually mean. And when it came to those homework proofs and derivations, there was no set protocol or process for doing them. This wasn’t “how do you do this computational procedure?” This wasn’t “how do you fit these parts to this process?” This was “what tricks of second-order cleverness do you need to play hide and seek with these notation symbols and thus pop out in Neverland?”

How. the fuck.

And, because I’d gone through high school being a good student who’d always made sure she knew what process a question was asking her to proceed with, I naturally looked at these procedureless questions due in a matter of hours and began to cry.

No, actually. My hours of struggling through physics and math sets are more saturated with tears and skin-grating frustration than anything else. I didn’t know how to go about figuring out the problem, and I was time-limited enough that I felt too pressured to spend time playing around with its components to see if maybe something I did would work. I expected myself to know what I was supposed to do, now. And I didn’t.

I was paralyzed. I didn’t know what I needed to know, and I had very little confidence that I’d be able to figure out what I needed to know before the set was due in any manner that wouldn’t result in my brain feeling like a nuclear bomb had gone off in it a despairingly short time in, and so I froze. I hated myself. I felt so. fucking. inadequate. All because I’d not been taught how to figure out a solution – because there was a known, set solution already – from scratch. Because with all the good lectures did me, I was approaching my homework sets with an effective knowledge base of zero.

Sure, there were lots of issues going on with my math and physics education for those two years, and those problems weren’t all because of my lack of mathematical capacity or the style of my pre-college education. (Take, for example, the unmedicated clinical depression I had at the time.) But the fact that I wasn’t emotionally or conceptually prepared to handle not knowing at least what it was that I should have known to figure out a problem – that was still a factor.

So, three years later, having gotten my head out the mire enough to figure out how to at least somewhat productively stumble around in the muck of it all, I do say that freshman-me might have benefited quite a bit if my pre-undergrad education had focused a mite less on “let’s check if you know what to know” and more on helping us learn how to bear up against when we wouldn’t know. I’d have appreciated learning how to the statement, “Okay, kids. You don’t know anything.”

“Now, deal with it.”

It’s a big wide world out there.

9 Dec

 

Especially when it comes to sex.

multiple sexualities

Today, I came across this awesome comic and decided to read through, given that while sure, I had heard about and had a vague understanding of the sexual label it was talking about, I still wasn’t entirely clear about the details or what people who identify with that particular label experience culturally right now.

Over and over again, I’ve found that people tend to have a vaguely hazy idea at best of what certain terms about sexuality mean. And while in they end they are only labels and word usage can change and shift over time and cultures, it still is helpful to understand how others that are not you might think of themselves, in their own terms. It’s easier to accept and make connections between you and another person when you speak the same language. So, while some of you may be going “definitions, eeewwww” right now, I’ve decided to throw out a post defining some of the sexual orientation labels that are out there right now.

Now, before we start, let’s be clear about something. Sexual orientation refers to how a person experiences sexual urges. The categories associated with sexual orientation generally correlate with how a person finishes the sentence “I enjoy having/want to have sex with [blank].” While commonly lumped in with sexual orientation, something else called romantic orientation is technically different. Falling in love with someone is not the same as falling into sexual attraction with someone, though the two do often occur together. Along with sexual and romantic attraction, there’s also a third general type of attraction sometimes called filial attraction, which is basically the sort of liking that happens between friends.

One more thing to clear up before we get on to those definitions y’all are waiting for – sexual, romantic, and filial orientation/attraction are NOT the same thing as gender identity. Gender identity is how one thinks about one’s self in relation to general female/male/neutral-ness, to put it very briefly. What’s more, how a person may choose to display their physical assets may or may not be tied into their sexual and gender identity. “I like when I look this way” is a VERY different statement from “I want to have sex with [blank]” or “I feel inside that I am the gender [blank].”

Now, as for those definitions:

heterosexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to the other.”

Most commonly, this means attraction of a cisgendered person to the other cisgender binary. However, this can also include attraction of a cisgendered person to a transgendered person of the other gender binary.

So, some examples of heterosexual relationships would be those between:

– a cisgendered male and a cisgendered female

– a cisgendered male to a transgendered female

– a transgendered male to a cisgendered female

– a transgendered male to a transgendered female

 

homosexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to the same.”

Again, most commonly, this means attraction of a cisgendered person to the same cisgender binary, but can also be applied to attraction of a transgendered person to the same transgender binary.

So, some examples:

– a cisgendered female to a cisgendered female

– a cisgendered female to a transgendered female

– a transgendered male to a cisgendered male

 

pansexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to all.”

And by “all,” pansexuality is still usually a term meaning sexual attraction to all within a given species. So, pansexual generally means that a given individual isn’t attracted to one particular set of gender/sexual identities, and any pairing could happen. Cisgendered to cisgendered, transgendered to transgendered, cis to trans and trans to cis, same gender binary to different gender binary, same gender binary to same gender binary – the individual finds themselves capable of being sexually attracted to pretty much any form of human expression. Often, those who identify as pansexual will describe their sexual attractions as depending on a certain person, not on a certain mold.

asexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to none.”

Yes, it is that simple, and that complex. Those who identify as asexual just generally don’t find the idea of their genitals mashing up against someone else’s genitals all that attractive. It doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t still like hugs, or that they can’t still fall in love, or that they don’t want friendships. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t occasionally have sex. Sometimes, for example, an individual who identifies as asexual will still have sex with a partner who doesn’t identify as asexual in order to gratify that partner sexually. Now, some of you may be going, “Well, if they can stand to have sex sometimes, are they really asexual?”

Yes. They are. Sexual orientation is a descriptor of what you’re sexually attracted to, not what you will do sexually over the entirety of your lifetime. And think about it. How many people have done the dishes or taken out the trash for their partner, or given their partner a foot rub, because they know the other partner would really appreciate it, even if the person themselves find it mortally boring to do the dishes, or intensely disgusting to take out the trash, or really gross to rub another person’s smelly toes? People venture outside of their comfort zones to show love and affection, no matter what sexual orientation they are. For a really good description of the asexual orientation and the discrimination they do unfortunately face in today’s culture, check out the comic I linked above.

Phew! That was long. Hopefully, some of you learned something. Or had some thoughts sparked. Or raised some questions in your brain that you want to go find out more about. And while I know that with every letter I type this is getting even longer and I’m keeping you all staring at even more of my rambling, I’ve got one more point I’d like to make.

Some of you, maybe, didn’t like this post. Not because it’s about sex, but because of what I’ve said about sex. Some of you may be objecting to the fact that I talk about types of sexual orientation falling outside the heterosexual paradigm and seem to be doing so as if they are all right and real and natural and valid.

Well, it’s because I think they are. I won’t go into the thought and deliberation and experiences that have brought me to that opinion, but it is my opinion nevertheless. You may have a different opinion. I am not going to tell you that you should not, that you should have my opinion instead. But I am going to tell you that however you think things should be, that has no bearing, in this moment, on how things are.

Whether you think sexual orientation should only occur under one paradigm or not, the reality is that there are people who experience sexual orientations of multiple types, and regardless of whatever religious or political laws are in place, are going to keep feeling their sexual urges and doing their sexual acts. And yelling at them or telling them that they are wrong is not going to make them or their urges or their acts go away. It is only going to make you feel uncomfortable and make them feel shitty.

We have to learn to deal with the world that we live in. Just because I think that hey, I live in Southern California, and it should not be anywhere near this cold is NOT going to change what temperature it is outside. And if I go outside in shorts and a t-shirt because I don’t want the world to be the way it is, it’s only going to result in  my being unhappy. The coldness isn’t going to go away one bit.

So, even if you disagree with the idea that there could be multiple sexual paradigms, the fact is, people are going to keep feeling and acting as if there are. The world will become a lot less frustrating if you learn about what this means and how you can be a reasonable person and deal with it. Go ahead, put on a coat. Yelling at the cold isn’t going to make it go away.

But learning to be okay with shaking its hand and treating it as just as much of a person as you are does have the potential to make this place a whole lot warmer.

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Like this post? Whatever your sexual orientation and practices, comic artist Erica Moen over at Oh Joy Sex Toy has LOTS of information on how to make your sexual experience safer and more fun!