Thursday, November 5, 2009


Well, it is time for the Gang of Five to wax eloquent on a topic of my choosing. I mentioned several times during first quarter that what we are reading in World Lit is "stuff" you need to know. How Gilgamesh saw himself as a king, how Socrates sought to teach Glaucon about knowledge, how Pushkin turned a cliched perception about autumn on its ear, how each of these writers revealed themselves as they wrote--all these examples can only add to your personal life database. Is life all about adapting, about making choices? And how do you make good choices without information? You don't. Hence World Lit and the opportunity to add to the hard drive called your brain.
So.....I recently came across a list of "things you need to know" on a teacher's blog.(See here. Read it. No need to read the comments unless you find  them interesting.) It occurred to me that though the list seemed like a useful one to me, also a teacher, you might not have the same reaction. Is your education providing you with the tools you need? I'd like to hear which items on this list are indeed essential for you and your peers as you assume leadership of your future. More importantly, what items do you think may be missing from the list? I would like a short discussion of those ideas you like along with a description of what may be missing from this article (and your education). Aim for 250-300 words, and I will not complain if you write more. Make sure to see what the others are thinking--it may inform your choices for the list. Your entry should be posted no later than November 25, 2009. Humble me!


  1. As far as the ideas that I like are concerned, I never really thought about any of them in my high school career. My goal was simply to maintain a 4.0 and I did this by memorizing and later dumping the information I had gained. This list has opened me to new views. The idea that hit me the hardest is “how to distinguish truth from fiction.” By simply memorizing things that I was taught, I never contemplated that teachers could be teaching me false information. The tips on how to evaluate truth from fiction seem very useful in everyday life. Another idea that I found interesting is “how to be creative.” I had always thought that creativity is either there or it is not. Understanding creativity as a pattern, I realize that it does take hard work and a significant amount of knowledge to be innovative. A third idea that has changed my view of school is “how to live meaningfully.” I now realize that I have been getting an education just because it is something I thought I was expected to do. Now that I think about it, I want my education to lead me toward a rewarding career as a nurse. Maybe this will inspire me to actually retain the information that will help me to achieve excellence in this career.
    This list is very insightful, but I feel it could have included information about the stress of school and how it affects learning. Schools put too much emphasis on grades instead of learning information that will prepare students for life and future careers. In fact, this list might not even be necessary if students went to school to actually learn something and use it in everyday life rather than merely memorizing facts briefly for an exam.

  2. While I completely agree with a few of his ten points, I believe some points are valid yet incorrectly explained and others unnecessary for success. In my opinion he bases these ten points too heavily on his own background in writing and the media and not nearly enough on a more broad sense of what is always necessary to succeed. His 10th point on how to live meaningfully is the most important in my mind for a successful life. You have to be able to find something to do that actually means something to you, not just something that will earn you enough money or fame, if you really want to enjoy life. I also completely agree that you need to be able to communicate effectively and be able to predict outcomes to be successful. He speaks of the necessity to value your self but I do not believe he completely explains how important this is. Obviously it is essential to value yourself to remain productive. However I think the key point here is to have confidence in your self. Confidence in your self leads to other people’s confidence in you. If you doubt your own abilities, others will doubt them as well. In order to thrive, you must not only have an inner value for yourself, but you must project a certain level of confidence. One point I do not agree with is the importance of knowing how to read. While I do believe you must have a basic ability to read and interpret I do not believe it is essential to be able to find indicator words in texts, how sentences are formed together, the four types of writing, etc. This is where I believe the author draws too much from his own literary and media background. It is more important to be able to interpret situations quickly then to be able to interpret text quickly.

  3. I believe that the author of this blog made some very significant and relevant points. One such point is about the topic of “How to Read”. In this section, he describes a breakdown in education that I feel happens very often. I agree with him in saying that students today, including myself, are not taught how to interpret literature or drama because we do not know what words indicate which form of writing (description, argument, explanation and definition). I feel that if I learned words to indicate which of the four forms I was reading, I would have understood literature a lot more, and would have been more inclined to read. If I had understood what I was reading without a teacher explaining it to me, like Shakespeare for example, my level of appreciation would be a lot different. Another point I agree with is that staying healthy is important. I know that if I am not exercising and eating right, I get complacent in every aspect of my life. My grades suffer and in turn, I feel bad. This makes me feel overwhelmed and the vicious down turning spiral continues. A point I disagree with is teaching students to be empathetic. I believe that empathy is learned at a young age from watching your parents or guardians. A teacher cannot teach students empathy. They can impact them in many ways but empathy cannot be learned, not easily anyway.
    I believe a key point the author is missing is that students today need superb time management. Most students juggle school, sports, clubs, a job, friends, and family. Teachers generally do not change their schedules because there is a big game or you have to work until eleven tonight. Students need to prioritize and make sure that they can handle everything they have on their plate without letting one aspect suffer. Students need to know their limits. If they can’t do everything, they need to know what to drop or cut back on so they don’t get overwhelmed. Overall, I believe he compiled a good list.

    nf skeeterv

  4. This post reiterates my opinion regarding some of the facts which students are expected to memorize in school. I wholeheartedly agree with Downes’ opinion that a majority of these facts are useless to us in everyday life. Most teenagers today are so focused on their grade point averages and their college applications (like Kasey, for example) that they do not even bother with any attempt to retain the knowledge they have gained in school. They simply memorize the information, take the test, then empty their minds and focus on the facts that will be on their next test. The method of modern teaching is ineffective in preparing students for their future careers.
    All of the 10 skills on this list, however, would be very beneficial for students to acquire. The most vital skill on this list is “how to predict consequences.” Many people, especially teenagers, live in the moment without giving a single thought to the possible consequences of their actions. It would be advantageous for everyone to learn to predict potential outcomes of situations, whether they are on the road, in the workplace, or at a party. Mastery of this skill might deter people from making risky decisions, thus avoiding unforeseen predicaments. Other important skills include “how to empathize” and “how to communicate clearly,” which go hand-in-hand. Egocentric people often have difficulty communicating, leaving out key details because they are incapable of viewing the story from another person’s perspective. Thus, acquiring the skills of empathy of communication would help prepare students for their future careers, teaching them ways to communicate effectively with both their co-workers and their boss. Another ability that would give students an advantage in their training for their job is “how to learn;” this would allow people to be able to not only memorize information effectively, but also to be able to retain the facts longer. Effective learning would be very useful to those training in the medical field, for example. Less years of schooling might result from this essential skill. However, Downes left out one important subject that should be taught in schools: a subject that helps students to discover their passions. Granted, many schools offer a mandatory guidance class that attempts to guide students towards a potential career path, but this class is inadequate. High school should be more geared towards career selection and training rather than random facts. For example, what is the purpose of teaching calculus to an aspiring kindergarten teacher, who would never be required to know calculus for his or her job? Furthermore, who actually uses calculus in their job, anyway? True, some scientists might occasionally apply some calculus techniques, but other than that the subject is an excess of purposeless knowledge. It would be much more beneficial to arm students with knowledge that can actually be applied to everyday life.

    I thought the author brought up a few very interesting points that I had not considered before reading the article, but I also felt that some of his points have been ground into our minds since the very beginning of our education. The point I enjoyed thinking about most was “How to empathize.” I whole heartedly agree that this is a very crucial element humans should learn before venturing out into the real world. Even in the school setting it is important in communicating with our peers. “When you are empathetic you will begin to seek out and understand ways that help bridge the gap between you and other people,” states Mr. Downes. Too often I see my friends clash in argument because they are too stubborn to take the time to see the situation through the other person’s eyes. If we acted on the words of Mr. Downes than I believe the social setting would be much more peaceful if we took the time to empathize; learning to empathize starts in the school. I believe our school prepares us very well in this field. Mr. Downes says that if you want to learn how to empathize it is important to take courses in religion and philosophy. From freshman year through senior year, a student will take a total of 6 religion courses (the junior and senior courses focusing more on applying the morals of our faith in our lives). Mr. Downes also says it is important to study Drama, such as Shakespeare, as well, and both our drama department and English department prepare us well in that manner. Another point that Mr. Downes brings up that I found very helpful and influential in my life was “How to stay healthy.” Between an 8 credit curriculum, five extracurricular activities, my part time job, and making time for friends and family I’m constantly on the go, so it’s difficult to find time for a two hour work out and shopping for the healthiest foods. But Mr. Downes suggests a much simpler route to staying healthy for those who are busy like I always am. “Even if you do not become a health freak (and who does?) it is nonetheless useful to know what foods and types of actions are beneficial…” This line is probably the most encouraging piece of information to me, personally. I also think the St. Mark’s Health course does an excellent job of teaching its students “how to stay healthy.”
    However I do think that the points of “How to Predict Consequences,” “How to Communicate Clearly,” and “How to Value yourself” are very repetitive of information and lectures students (myself included) have been hearing since the fifth grade. I thought the points were valid, but not helpful, only because I have heard the same information a thousand times before.
    Overall I thought it was a very informative article that has influenced me in more than one way. I thought the author touched on all the major points of learning how to live a rich life and did not leave out anything that I could think of.


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