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How I Learned Paperback – December 7, 2011
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
About the Author
Shamus Young is a programmer specializing in old-school graphics techniques. He's the author of the blog Twenty Sided. He's the creator of the webcomics DM of the Rings and Stolen Pixels. He's one of the hosts of the videogame commentary series Spoiler Warning. He's tired of writing about himself in the third person.
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Shamus is someone I believe could tell you the tale of painting a wall and waiting for it to dry in such a way as to make it hard for you to stop reading. He wrote a fan-fiction novel called Free Radical a few years ago that I still hold as one of my favorite science-fiction books on artificial intelligence. Reading this autobiography gave additional insight into the story that made the man.
I enjoy that he honors that public education has it's place, but that it is.not.for.everyone. It's also interesting how the flaws of one-size-fits-all seep into the corporate world because...well that's where most of "those people" were educated.
Even better, you don't have to agree with his conclusions (or understand all the "techie speak") to appreciate his outpouring.
I'd add more, but I'm not a writer ~ so just get the book.
Note: "different" does not equal "special". Plenty of normal kids learn better in unconventional ways.
Eagerly awaiting his next book.
It would never have occurred to me that there were smart kids like Shamus, full of curiosity and doing interesting hobbies, who had no interest at all in doing well at school. It also never crossed my mind that all the note-taking, test-taking and homework I did without much complaint was a nearly useless imitation of education.
I discovered this when I tried to teach myself computer programming at age 13 (this was in 1971, before there were high school classes in it.) I had been told I was good at math, I had gotten A's on everything, and yet I couldn't solve the kinds of unstructured problems you run into when you write a program. Homework had trained me to expect all the relevant information to be stated in the problem, with nothing missing and nothing extra. I didn't know how to experiment or test theories of what was wrong with my programs. I didn't know how to do research or organize what I knew.
I realized my entire education was like that -- a museum tour of knowledge behind glass, not a hands-on training to actually do things with that knowledge. Due to his stubborn temperament and resentment for authority, Shamus seems to have realized this much earlier than I did!
The book will take you down twin paths -- private exploration and learning, developing real competence with computers and writing, and public frustration with schooling, to the point of hating the entire system.
There's plenty of tension and surprises too. I'm constantly wondering as I read this, "How did this kid turn out alright -- even successful?" He seems to have the odds stacked against him, with resentment and failure the most likely result. It just shows how a few key breaks here and there can make all the difference in life.
Most kids never have such a difficult time fitting into the system. Instead, they do what's expected of them, jump through all the hoops, and end up with a nearly useless education. Shamus struggles the entire way, fighting against all of this, but ends up doing exactly the job he always wanted to do, and doing it brilliantly.
It shouldn't have to be this way.
"Did school help this person to reach their full potential?" No, it absolutely did not.
"Could they have learned more on their own?" Oh yes, and most of what I did learn came from my own extra-curricular reading and exploring.
"Could they have learned faster using some other system of instruction?" Absolutely. I can't begin to count the times I had to sit while the class went over and over and over a point of instruction that I knew before the teacher opened her mouth, or I got on the first explanation.
Industrial factory schooling is not a good fit, in fact, for most kids, not just the obvious misfits such as Shamus. Kids like Shamus are the canaries in the mine of the public school. They're the first ones to show that there is a problem, and we need to read his story with the understanding that when the most susceptible children react so very visibly to experiences in a "normal" school, then we need to be seriously worried about how it is affecting all of our children.