Monthly Archives: April 2011

Twenty Things You Won't Learn in School

There’s a lot of stuff that you don’t learn in school that is really important in order to get by in the world. Here is a list, in no particular order, of 20 skills that I never learned in school (although I may well have picked some of these skills up along the way) and I suspect most other people don’t, either. Certainly some of these skills are required to get by in school, but instructors often assume that people will pick them up almost magically.

  1. How to feel good about yourself and be happy. Most people consider this to be very important, yet a lot of people aren’t happy, so it seems like a lot of people could benefit from learning this.
  2. Interpersonal skills.
  3. Verbal communication skills.
  4. Living in a democracy, how to determine whom to vote for, how to be involved, and the like.
  5. How to decide what is right and what is wrong. In olden days, people would get these lessons from parents, churches, and the like, but not anymore, with the result that they never really learn how to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, and so there’s a lot of immoral people out there.
  6. How to decide what values to live your life by. Similar to the previous point, but, while the above point refers to the decisions made on a day-to-day basis, this point relates to making long-term decisions about how your values are going to direct your life.
  7. How to decide on a purpose for your life.
  8. How to find meaning in your life.
  9. Critical thinking. This is taught in many universities and sometimes in high school (although not while I was in school), but it doesn’t seem that it’s always effective.
  10. Cognitive biases This is a relatively recent discovery in the field of psychology, which may explain why people don’t learn about it in school.
  11. How to use your brain to the limit of its potential. The human brain is capable of incredible feats ofcreativity, discovery, calculation, memorization, visualization, and the like. The people who perform these feats generally are not of genetically superior stock, so it would seem likely that we could teach people how to use these skills. Perhaps you won’t find this in school curricula because we don’t know exactly how to do this yet.
  12. How to detect change. This isn’t something that humans are good at; most people only notice change afte it’s happened, and they then say, “Wow, things have really changed.” What this point refers to is noticing the process of change itself.
  13. Learning skills such as study skills and time management. I guess we just assume that, because someone is doing alright in school, that they’ve mastered these skills. There’s always room for improvement, though.
  14. How to learn, especially how to learn independently.
  15. A love of learning. Most children are naturally curious and love to learn new things. It doesn’t take long for school to put an end to that.
  16. How to be creative. It’s hard to teach true creativity in school because a lot of school consists of teaching kids not to be creative, to do what they’re told. Even when schoolchildren are doing something creative, it’s only a sort of ersatz creativity.
  17. Developing the intuitive mind. This can be hard to do in a traditional classroom, because the intuitive part of the brain is developed through having real-life experiences, not sitting in a classroom day after day.
  18. How to choose a career. How to make a good career choice that really fits. Most career choice stuff done in school involves filling out questionnaires and getting results, which doesn’t mean much.
  19. How to make decisions.
  20. How to select friends and other important people in your life.

Fortune Cookies

I got a package of fortune cookies the other day and shared them with my family.  I always find the fortunes interesting.  Here’s what I got:

  • “You will touch the hearts of many” (2x) – Does this involve becoming a surgeon?
  • “You will be traveling and coming into a fortune” – I thought this one was sort of ironic, as I had just come upon a “fortune” when I opened the cookie.
  • “Your genuine talent will find its way to success”
  • “Others take notice of your radiance”
  • “An important business venture may soon develop for you”
  • “You’re interested in higher education whether material or spiritual”
  • “You will soon receive pleasant news of a personal nature”

Nothing really amazing or significant, but it’s always interesting to see what’s in them.  What interesting fortunes have you found inside fortune cookies?

National Procrastination Week

It’s National Procrastination Week this week.  I would have wrote about this a bit sooner, but I’ve been putting it off.  I think that, under the right circumstances, procrastination can be a good thing.  For most people nowadays, their to-do list, whether they actually write one out or not, is never-ending, and if someone were to abstain from enjoying themselves until they finished everything on their task list, they would never again have fun during their lives.  I think that the second week of March is a perfect time for National Procrastination Week as well.  There isn’t much to do outside, and it’s a lot nicer to kick back and relax inside and just enjoy yourself.

…Oh, wait, it’s the second week of April already?  Oops, I seem to have put this off for too long.

All Those Exclamation Points!

If you read this regularly, you’ve probably noticed that trivial coincidences interest me!  So, it’s no surprise that I found it interesting that the last four “new posts” all end in an exclamation point!  Didn’t intend it to be like that, but that’s what happened anyway!  How about that?!

April Fools! There's an Election in Canada!

Is it just me, or are more and more companies getting into April Fool’s Day nowadays? Yesterday, Gmail announced “Gmail motion”, which would allow users to check their e-mail in the same manner as they play PlayStation Move. Reddit, after having previously introduced a “Reddit Gold” account option, announced a new option, “Reddit Mold”. The Huffington Post announced subscription-only access, but for New York Times employees only. Kodak announced the introduction of “photo diapers”, and Ikea announced a new product, the Hundstol “dog highchair” (my dog would love that!). I could go on and on and on.

One group that seems to be missing from the flood of April Fool’s jokes are Canada’s political parties. With that in mind, I’ve created some of my own for them (one day late, sorry, but they kept me waiting):

  • Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who has been looking for star candidates to run in various Toronto ridings, announced that Julian Assange would be running in Toronto Centre. Harper brokered a secret deal with Sweden to have all charges against Assange dropped (the details of this arrangement have not yet been leaked, er, released).
  • Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced yesterday that his party would be seeking better foreign relations with Russia, through pushing for the restoration of the Russian Empire. Ignatieff’s family, who would be nobility under the Russian Empire, would cultivate improved relationships with Canada. Ignatieff would also push for the return of Alaska from the United States to Russia.
  • NDP leader Jack Layton announced yesterday that, in order for the colour spectrum to align with the political spectrum in Canada, and because his party is to the left of the Liberal party, he would be changing the party’s colour from orange to infrared. You can expect to see infrared lawn signs, TV commercials, and the like starting next week.
  • Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe announced yesterday that his party, instead of only running candidates in Quebec as it has done up until now, would be running candidates in all ten provinces and three territories. The candidates outside of Quebec would run on a different platform than those in Quebec. Instead of promoting Quebec separating from Canada, they would be promoting the other nine provinces and three territories separating together from Canada.
  • Green party leader Elizabeth May announced that she would, in fact, be on a nationally televised debate this year, due to a CTV network insider who is a Green supporter. That same insider has also excluded Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton, and Gilles Duceppe from the debate. You can see the debate on CTV April 18th at 7:00. One thing that the news release didn’t mention is that it’s 7:00 am, Newfoundland time.

CBC's Vote Compass and Voter Apathy

It’s been about a week since the federal election was called in Canada.  As part of their election coverage, the CBC has published Vote Compass, designed to show Canadians which party’s political views are closest to their own. Several issues with this tool have been pointed out.  I think an interesting flaw was pointed out by Queen’s University professor Kathy Brock. She tried the survey three times; the first selecting “somewhat agree” for everything, the second “somewhat disagree” for everything, and the third “strongly agree for everything. Each time the survey scored the results as being closest to the Liberal party (the article didn’t say what the results were if you strongly disagreed with everything, but I tried it out myself and the result was also Liberal).

The people that designed the survey pointed out that the questions were split between the left and right of the political spectrum, so if you answer all of the questions the same you’ll answer half to the left and half to the right, which presumably averages out to the centre, which presumably corresponds to being a Liberal (only in Canada). Fair enough; if you are an independent thinker and have these half-left-wing, half-right-wing views, possibly you’d be happy with a party that’s in the middle rather than a party that drives you up the wall 50% of the time.

Let’s assume that there are two hypothetical voters out there, one of whose opinions is such that he/she would answer “strongly agree” to each of the CBC’s questions, and the other would answer “strongly disagree” to each question. Further assume that they take the advice of the CBC’s survey and both vote Liberal. Now, if the Liberals were to win the election (which I doubt, but this is all hypothetical (-: ). Now, the Liberals can only take one position on each issue. Since these two voters have opposite views on every issue, at least one of these two people is going to be unhappy with every action that the Liberals take, even though both of these people voted Liberal and even though the Liberal party is closest to both of these people’s views.

This isn’t something that only happens in fantasyland; it happens in real life as well. No doubt, assuming you’re old enough and occasionally vote for political parties that win, you’ve had the disillusioning experience of voting for some party or another, the party getting elected, and then the party doing all kinds of things you don’t like. This isn’t because the party decided to break all of its election promises. It’s because there are so many issues and the party simply can’t have the same views as you do all of the time.

I think that this disillusionment is the cause of a fair bit of of voter apathy, another topic that is often in the news around this time of year. Who wouldn’t get tired of year after year of voting and then not have the party in power doing what you want?

I feel that this is a problem that technology can solve. Looking back to the dawn of democracy in ancient Greece, the people (well, at least those people who were citizens) would participate in the political process directly, instead of electing representatives to participate for them.  This would require that those participating in the democratic process spend a significant amount of time away from their farm or their profession, which was rather inconvenient. Thus was born the practice of electing political representatives, instead of people representing themselves. However, in a world where people vote for their favourites on Dancing With the Stars and American Idol every week, it seems way too infrequent for people to only have one chance to voice their political opinions every three or four or five years.

It doesn’t seem likely that we can just immediately ditch the existing political machine and replace it with one where people directly represent themselves electronically. On the other hand, I think that, with modern technology, it would be important to create something where the general public can actually influence government decisions. I think that the best way to start would be to create various votes along the lines of referendums (referenda?), which bind the government to taking some action or another based on the result of the vote. These should be held online in a manner that it’s not prohibitively expensive to hold. We should probably start with matters that aren’t too significant, as I’m sure there will be flaws in the system to start. I suspect that giving people this sort of direct involvement will stimulate their interest in politics, and turn “voter apathy” into a thing of the past.