It’s Unlikely You’ll Ride in a Spaceship Today.

Earlier this week, a problem in one student’s math workbook asked:

What is the possibility that you will ride in a spaceship today?

The answer choices were listed:

a) impossible

b) certain

c) unlikely

d) likely

I re-read the question and answers twice. It read to me like a question of opinion not a question of fact usually found in a math journal. Maybe it was possible that the individual answers were going to be used in a lesson on surveys or graphing. Nope. There was a “correct” answer as listed in the almighty answer key.

Impossible. The “correct” answer was impossible.

My own idea leaned heavily towards unlikely, I am not willing to rule out that I will ride in a spaceship today. And I’m not even a sci-fi nerd! I once asked a friend to pre-read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and remove any reference to personal spacecraft and replace it with ‘car’. I struggle in finding interest in fictional space travel, but I am enamored by the true feats of our space program, begged to go to space camp as a child, and can watch the NASA channel for hours.

2012 marked an incredible year in science, where feats once deemed ‘impossible’ then relegated to ‘unlikely’ were realized and accomplished. Felix Baumgartner’s skydive or the fact that we are exploring Mars again. Each year developments once considered far-fetched dreams of unrealistic idealists become reality, fact, the new truth.

We see this progressive thinking in many aspects of our culture, but in education it seems that we are stuck in the dangerous school of group thought. There are right and wrong answers. Answers that are black and white, figuratively and literally (an entirely separate, but equally important, discussion). Understanding there are certain truths that are considered infallible like 2 plus 2 equaling 4, there is little room for independent thought in the way our students arrive at these certainties. More importantly, we teach our students that there is an almighty ‘they’ that determines their rightness or wrongness and in order to progress it’s important to adhere to those predetermined paths.

The idea that there are things in our world that are considered impossible achievements severely stunts the growth of our nation. The limitations that are placed on thought starting at a young age means we raise generations taught to think inside the box. That term ‘outside the box’ was simply created to give people the perception that they are on the fringe with their independent thought, little do they know ‘the box’ is actually a box within a box within another box and so on.

The best part about education is that it seems to draw in the dreamers and the innovators. There are many ways that teachers and administration are working to fight back against creating the status quo, but they run into the inevitable challenges of money, time, and cohesive effort by boards and governments. When it comes down to it, it’s not the education system that is at fault, it’s yours. (Yours in the societal sense, of course.) It’s the distorted value system that has developed in the last 237 years.

This is not simply another of my diatribes were I scale the crumbling sides of my sarcastic soapbox to tell you about everything the world is doing wrong. Well, technically it is, but I also have a plan. It’s complicated, takes effort, and is probably more a result of my tree hugging youth than my career in education, but it is the direct result of not relying on the answer key.

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Do You Know This Woman? Either do I.

A picture of possibilities. Possibly outside Luray, Kansas. Possibly Sara Marion Evert Evans. Possibly my great-grandmother

A picture of possibilities. Possibly outside Luray, Kansas. Possibly Sara Marion Evert Evans. Possibly my great-grandmother

I can only assume that the defining moment of my grandfather’s life was a moment that never came. A moment that he may have waited for or wished on, prayed for or merely held on to in slight hope. I wonder how often it crept up on him on those long nights as a young sailor and I wonder how many of his last thoughts fifty years later in that hospital bed were of the mother that he never knew. 

I did not know that my great-grandmother was not biologically his mother, although it didn’t matter much, as I met her once and despite fond memories, they are few. As happens when the morals and social norms of the past meet with the liberalized views of the present, I have difficulty in understanding why my grandfather was never told who his mother was and why she was not a part of his life. The sensitive nature of a possible affair or child-born out of wedlock is lost on one from a generation where these are, essentially, accepted practices. But I question the reasoning in the weighing on the potential harm that was done. Is being shamed for your indiscretion worse than raising a child forced into ignorance about his heritage?

As my grandmother, father and I push against time and those records and memories lost to it, our frustration grows. The information that we do have is only as useful as the audience it reaches. We have half of what we need. We knew the man, the father, the grandfather, the husband, but we’d like to know the son.

My grandfather, Victor Taylor.

My grandfather, Victor Taylor.

The information that we do have is limited, as we have been unable to find a birth certificate. We believe he, Victor Taylor, was born December 1924 in or around Luray, Kansas. His father’s name was Roy Taylor. His mother may have been named Sara Marion Evert Evans, although we have not been able to confirm that information through our research. We’ve also heard that she may have died before he was two.

Unbutton Your Cardigans and Loosen Your Buns

I’m one of those annoying adults who still use the phrase, “When I grow up, I want to be…” Yeah, it’s not original nor cute, but it’s true. I haven’t reached the point where I’m comfortable having a “career” versus a “job.” I do have a strong list of possibilities including Indiana Jones in heels, a NASCAR driver, and, the slightly more likely, librarian.

I get nerdily excited about books. Especially the musty ones with the yellowing pages that slide through your fingers with a certain gritty, greasiness only possible from years on a shelf. It’s why I don’t like e-readers and won’t use them. The experience of reading a book isn’t the same. You don’t get the feeling of accomplishment or, minimal, caloric burn as you do when cracking a spine or turning a page. Although if you have children, I bet you still get that greasy, gritty feel under your finger when sliding across the screen.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my books, but not my library. Recently Salon senior writer, Laura Miller, published a piece encouraging the return of the quiet library. “Bring back the shushing librarian” cited a Pew survey indicating that “…quiet matters more to library patrons than special programs for kids or job-search resources or access to fancy databases or classes and events or spaces for public meetings.”

Miller continues that an unquiet, social library risks becoming places “…as lively as a cafe, street corner, park bench or the Apple Store, but we already have those places to go when we want to sit and visit or to congregate around a screen.” She asks, “Where will we go when we need some peace?”

How about the woods or a park? An abandoned factory who’s workers have been displaced by an economy that transfers jobs overseas necessitating job-search resources in a community space? Beyond those community-building resources provided by many libraries, the idea that silence is the best practice, overlooks the fundamental use of a library: the transference of knowledge.

Author’s and illustrators possess the ability to transplant knowledge into anyone. To conjure questions, fear, curiosity are all paramount to learning and, therefore, opening one’s mind. If this is being done in solitude, tucked away in cubicle or hidden lounge chair, is it not prohibitive to the very point? Or when it’s done on a park bench or Apple Store or cafe, it lacks the ability to research and expound with thousands of references at your whimsy. And if you are thinking the internet counts in these situations, it doesn’t, as it is mostly like the first search result will be Wikipedia.

When I’m in a library and I read something that is instantly emotional: interesting, saddening, exciting, angering, the first thing I want to do is find the nearest person, shove the book under their nose, and yell, “OH SHIT! Look at this!”

In a previous blog post, I lamented about the idea that people talk too much without consideration for the actual content, caring only that their opinion be the one that is heard. I’m not reversing my opinion on that by suggesting that as soon as someone develops an idea after reading that it should be immediately and obnoxiously shared with others. I’m suggesting that the library be a place for that type of spontaneous discussion that encourages viewing ideas from alternate sides. The unquenchable thirst that plagues many of the insatiable knowledge seekers and life-long learners could be satisfied with these impromptu gatherings, but a quiet library discourages the very idea.

The silence of a library is scary. It is uncomfortable and it forces me to be hyper-aware to every noise that I make, which is turn causes me to make A LOT of unintentional noise. I bump into shelves, knock over books with my purse, and just generally take the role of proverbial bull that has inexplicably found themselves  in that damn china shop. It’s not in my nature to be particular graceful, nor attempt to do so quietly. This overall anxiety about my awkward library etiquette also means that I don’t ask questions that I actually want to and I don’t engage fellow patrons for fear of imposing on their, possibly forced, silence.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has these anxieties about library silence, although it may be heightened by personal quirks, but why not, as suggested by a library staff member quoted in Miller’s article, use, “…smaller cubicles…(and) quiet spaces…not…in any open areas,” thus reserving “..the main part of the library (to the hustle and bustle)?”

While the Pew survey claims to include a cross section of the public, I’d be interested to see a survey broken down by age. I think it could be successfully argued that for younger patrons the progressively social aspect of the library is welcome. The library hasn’t been a hip place since Rome, so any attempt at drawing in a variable cross-section of the community that includes the “cool kids” is probably aiming to high, but constructing a less intimidating environment for the casual nerd might be the key to the extension of public funding and the necessary elimination of those embarrassing Shh… finger tattoos.