How Amazon made me a hypocrite.

The title is a little unfair, Amazon didn’t *make* me a hypocrite, they just enabled me to do so and I just didn’t realize it at first…

A little back story first! The other day, I wanted to buy a song. For those of you interested in what song, it happened to be “Cool Night” by Paul Davis. It’s a great song! That’s neither here nor there though. Now sure, I could listen to it on Youtube for free, but I wanted to put it on my phone which I use as my portable music device.

So I went to Zune to go buy the song and discovered that I couldn’t. Zune found the song in it’s library just fine, but it was grayed out, I couldn’t purchase it. Now, I know why I couldn’t purchase it (Zune doesn’t have license to sell some songs — this isn’t a unique problem to Zune, for years you couldn’t purchase Beatles songs digitally anywhere), but it didn’t stop me from complaining on twitter about it.

“WHY WON’T YOU TAKE MY MONEY!?!” I lamented. I *wanted* to pay the artist (well, I guess his family or his record company more likely since Paul Davis is dead) for his work, and was told “Nope, go away.” Why on earth would *anyone* refuse to sell their work to someone, that seems completely ludicrous!

Err, wait a minute. A while back I made my latest book available through a program Amazon offers called KDP Select. This makes my title available for free borrowing to members of Amazon Prime and allows me to have “sales” days where I can give my book away for free, but in order to join this program I have to list the title on Amazon exclusively for a period of 90 days (it auto-renews at the end of every period unless you opt-out before the renewal).

When I first heard about the program, I thought it was a great idea! I signed up and was happy about it. Yet, looking at it now, I’ve just done the exact same thing I was complaining about a few minutes ago. If someone with a Nook wanted to buy my latest book, they *wanted* to give me their money, I would be telling them “Nope, go away.” Pot, meet kettle.

Unfortunately, this epiphany happened a few days too late so I’ve already been auto-renewed in the program until September, but after that (and all future books) will be available on as many platforms as I can manage, and “exclusivity” will not be something I give in to again. Don’t get me wrong, I love Amazon and the Kindle, but I don’t like being a hypocrite.

I wonder if all authors go through this…

I’ve talked about my “next” book here a few times. I even got off on a few rants about religion since my “next” book had a very strong religious component to it (you may have even called it an allegory). Yet, even though I have almost the entirety of the plot mapped out in great detail, and even a lot of it written down, I can’t seem to finish it.

Not because of a lack of writing though, but because an entirely different story has taken over my mind. I spent weeks (which turned into months) trying to force this new story back so I could finish my “next” book. Alas, I could not, and eventually (ie, now) I gave up. The story inside of me that needs to be told right now is this new idea, and that will now become my “next” book.

It all started with a simple idea. “What if one day you woke up and discovered you had an ability that changed your life? How would you handle it?” This simple question is the heart of the new book.

For fans of my previous fiction book, I can say that this one is much more psychological than simply gruesome. Of course, that can be even scarier sometimes, so maybe that’s for the best! I plan on having this new book published before Labor Day this year, which gives me a scant two months to finish it up and get it out there. Luckily, I’m almost there!

Once this one is out there, then I will go back and finish the one I was working on earlier this year. Well, unless I get engulfed by yet another great idea. As the title implies, I wonder if all authors go through this song and dance of starting one book before getting side tracked with a completely different book/idea. I need to just let the stories come as they do, rather than trying to force them out. That never seems to work for me.

Little kids say the darnedest things!

When you see your five year old playing with his imaginary friend “Jonathan” you play along with him. Sure, you can’t see his friend, but it’s kind of cute, and look at how imaginative your kid is! Of course, kids get older (as they often do), and soon your little five year old is now eight.

Of course, even at eight, he’s still pretty young. He still talks to Jonathan, but there’s not a lot of harm in that.. You gently hint to him that maybe, just maybe, Jonathan isn’t real. Of course, your kid knows that isn’t true, after all, he can see Jonathan! You talk to other parents and they all same the same thing; it’s just a phase he’ll grow out of it.

As your kid gets older you worry more and more. He’s a teenager now, and he still talks to his friend Jonathan. You try to reason with the child, show him that Jonathan isn’t real and doesn’t exist, but nothing works. Your child is talking to Jonathan daily now and you’re beginning to worry so you take him to a doctor. The doctor provides medication and therapy, but nothing seems to work, your child still talks to Jonathan every day. Worse yet, he is now saying how Jonathan tells him to do things.

Your child has grown into an adult. He still talks to Jonathan daily, but no one aside from your son can see him. No one believes Jonathan is real. Your son has been deemed to have very strong mental issues and is currently locked away in a home because they believe he might be a danger to himself or perhaps even others. Sure, he says Jonathan is only telling him to do good things, but he’s already talking to someone that no one else can see, who could risk what he might really do.

Now your child is 35 years old. He’s spent the majority of his adult life in various hospitals and homes refusing to acknowledge the fact that his friend Jonathan isn’t real, and still talking to him every day. His life has been tragic. Oh, not because he’s been in a hospital for all of his adult life, but because he missed one very important detail.

According to half of this country, had the friend he spent his whole life talking to been named “God” rather than “Jonathan”, he’d be fully qualified to become President of the United States.

Those kids, they really need to think about the names of the imaginary friends they have before they start telling everyone about them.

I am an atheist, and so are you.

My upcoming book has a very religious thematic story which almost certainly comes as a shock to those who know me well. My house is secular, and if I ever do get on the topic of religion I never come down on the side of those who have faith. I picked the topic I did for this book series though quite intentionally; namely that using religion as a framing device you can make very powerful moral statements. Since the main protagonist of this first story started out as an atheist and needed to be “converted”, it was an interesting thought experiment to try to write something that would convince me to change my mind. I can’t say that I am as naive as my book characters though.

In doing research for the book though I’ve realized I have a lot to say on this topic that doesn’t quite meet the narrative I’m going for in the book. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject and I hope that I won’t plagiarize much some of the very intelligent folks whom I whole-heartedly agree with (such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens). Let me also preface this with a disclaimer of sorts. I will almost certainly say something someone finds offensive, so if you’re one of those people, well you’re probably religious, so remember those teachings and forgive me.

As the title of this post says I am an atheist. I do not believe there was a creator of the universe. I do not believe there is any type of being who spends time watching what I do, reading my thoughts, listening for my prayers, caring how I use my body sexually, or any of that (honestly, I believe it to be the height of narcissism if you actually do think that). What’s more, I think you are an atheist as well, and it doesn’t matter who you are. Everyone is an atheist.

Take for example myself; if a Christian walked up to me and asked “Do you believe in God?” and I told them no, most every Christian would agree that I must be an atheist. I have denied the one true god. What if the situation were changed though? What if a Muslim walked up to that Christian and asked “Do you believe in the one true God Allah and that Muhammad was his prophet?” That Christian would say no, and be considered an atheist to that Muslim, just as he considered me one. Actually, ask people if they believe in Thor, or Zeus, and most will say no to that as well. Why? They were considered God’s just as the one’s nowadays. It seems quite logical that every person on the face of the earth would be considered an atheist by someone, hence we’re all atheists. Of course, logic and religion rarely mix so I’m sure folks will disagree on that.

I’m also quite annoyed at how many people who consider themselves religious like to imply (if they are not outright saying) that my lack of belief in their imaginary friend makes me less moral than they are. Let’s ignore for a moment the total hypocrisy in that (if there’s one thing religion is good for, it’s for hypocrisy) and just look at the morals of, say a Christian. Take this thought experiment.

Imagine two young men. One was born into poverty, one was born into excess. The one born into excess used his wealth to hire the best lawyers in the world while he went off on an immoral display that would embarrass Satan if he existed. He lived off his family’s fortune and never worked a day in his life. He tortured animals when he was a child. He abused drugs, he raped women. He became a serial killer, kidnapping and murdering young children. He caused pain and suffering to all families he came in contact with.

Now imagine the other young man born into poverty. He worked hard his entire life. Studied hard in school, became educated. He pulled himself and his family out of poverty, became a doctor. He then developed the cure for cancer, saving the lives of millions of people around the world. He had a loving family and made everyone around him better and happier.

I have a hard time imagining anyone who would say the first man was more moral or a better person than the second. I know for certain that I would not; the second man was a better person and much more moral than the first. Yet, let’s add a few more details. The first man was born to a Christian family in the United States. On his deathbed he realized the error of his ways and found Jesus and accepted him as his one true savior. This was very sincere, and he truly believed and repented. The second man however was born in India and was raised under Hinduism which was his belief system. He did not believe in the one true God, or Jesus.

So according to Christian beliefs, the first man is going to spend an eternity in Heaven while the second will spend an eternity being tortured in hell. Actually, let’s go a step further. Many Christians believe that at the end of days Jesus will come back to earth to save all those who believe in him in the rapture. He will lead the armies of God into battle against the armies of Satan (in this case, including any who doesn’t believe in him). Which means that if this event were too happen before those two individuals died, Jesus would be trying to *kill* the man who spent his entire life helping others while the child molester/raper/murderer fights alongside Jesus and the cause of “good”. Who in their right mind would call this behavior “moral”?

I’ve read the bible. I honestly can’t see how anyone can read the bible and come out as anything but an atheist. Plainly put, God is simply evil. No one can truthfully read the bible and believe that it teaches anything about morality. It’s contradictory amongst itself; take for example the ten commandments. One of the commandments is “Thou shall not kill” (how that one gets listed after idolatry and some of the others is baffling). Well, don’t kill unless of course a woman wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night, then stone her death. Don’t kill unless you see your neighbor working on Sunday; he certainly deserves to die. Then again, God killed the entirety of the human population save Noah and his family, so what’s a little more genocide.

The world (rightfully) considers Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews to be one of the most evil acts in human history. Some even consider him the “antichrist”; pure, unadulterated evil. Yet when God himself murders almost the entire human population, that’s somehow not evil. “God moves in mysterious ways.” As if our feeble human minds are incapable of determining what God’s intentions are, yet when something happens we believe is good, we thank God and say “God is good.” This is intellectually dishonest at best; blissfully ignorant at worse.

Millions of young children die every year. Before you’ve finished reading this post, very likely a young child somewhere in the world will have died. Some of these millions of children that die each year undoubtedly have parents praying for them; the children themselves may be praying. Many, along with the parents, are scared and going through unimaginable pain and grief. Yet, the prayers will not be answered. Worse, many of those children will be spending an eternity in hell because they don’t believe in the “right” god. Any ‘being’ that would allow millions of young children to die every year, causing such pain and misery for the families is evil. Either that or incapable of helping those children; in which case, why call this being “God”?

Of course, “God has a plan” is what you will hear. This is the most ludicrous statement I ever heard as it completely eliminates the possibility of free will. You cannot have free will if God has a plan. Also; if he does have this master plan; why does he allow evil in the world to begin with? He must be a sadist as well as a psychopath.

Despite all this, religious people tend to believe that *I* am the one who lacks morals? I do not need an imaginary friend to tell me what’s right from wrong; particularly when that imaginary friend preaches bigotry and hatred.

Why is this important at all though? Why shouldn’t I just let people believe what they want (which seems to be a common refrain)? Let’s ignore for a moment the hypocrisy of the religious folks who constantly try to push their beliefs unto others and look at the larger question. Why are religious beliefs any different than any other beliefs? If someone wants to believe that heroin is what keeps them going in life, why shouldn’t we just let them believe that? Of course we don’t, we put them in jail. If someone wanted to believe that 3+4 was equal to 132, would we let them believe that? No, they’d be told how they were wrong. Just because billions of people believe something doesn’t mean it has any semblance of truth. The entire idea of “faith” is believing without evidence, and in any other area of our life doing such a thing would be considered ill-advised at best and outright crazy at worst.

On top of that, our country is sliding in decline so fast it is unimaginable. The only real good “products” we make anymore are in the high tech industry and industry born of science and mathematics. Yet, almost half of the citizens of the United States don’t believe in evolution. We have people actively fighting to stop teaching evolution in school so they can teach more religious “intelligent design”. Ignore the separation of church and state for a moment and think about that. The religious folks are using mythology from over two thousand years ago to fight a war against science. The future of the world will be coming from science, not from a book that supports slavery and killing innocent people of thought crimes. Yet, if these people have their way, we will abandon science to wallow in superstitions from two millennia ago. The fall of America will come because our population will become too stupid and brainwashed to do anything on the world stage. We’re already a laughing stock when we have so many people (who are doing quite well) running for President of the United States who willingly say they don’t believe in evolution. I’m ashamed that these people could get any votes; much less the millions they will get.

These people also don’t stop to realize that the very reasoning they don’t believe in evolution simply proves God doesn’t exist. They say “anything so complex as humans couldn’t have been evolved, we had to be created, and God created us.” Yet, by extension this means God is more complex than humans, which means by their own definition he *had* to be created, and so on until an infinite regress.

This doesn’t even approach some of the other world religions, such as some of the extremists who flew planes into the world trade center because they believed that is what god wanted and they would be rewarded for this. Then you hear Christians telling us how evil they are, ignoring the fact that Christianity was responsible for more terrorism so far in the world than the Muslims have been; did they forget about the Crusades? We even called those times the dark ages.

So it’s very true that I am an Atheist. There is simply no evidence to believe anything different. Of course, so are you, and so is everyone else in the world. I suppose this means I can never run for political office now…

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow…

I’ve always wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo in years past, but never did because I was afraid of spending so much time writing. Afraid my ideas wouldn’t be good enough or coherent enough or that I wouldn’t want to “waste” so much time doing little more than writing. That was before I actually got the nerve to release my first fiction book. It was liberating and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, bringing an entire new world and story alive. Leaving readers with a sense of moral uneasiness with enough ambiguity to wonder what happened.

So this year, not only will I participate in NaNoWriMo, my second fiction book will be published at the end for whatever I come up with. It’s a little scary still truthfully because here we are the day before starting, and I still have no idea what the story will be. As I mentioned before, I have a lot of ideas in my head, but they’re all intermingling and nothing really coherent exists in here at all. So this should be fun and interesting. To abuse a quote I’ve read in my past, I’m just going to start writing, continue on until I reach the end, and then stop. The story should take care of itself.

You can never finish something if you don’t start.

Public Education is broken..

As the title implies, I’m not a huge fan of public education, but I also don’t want you to think that means I don’t value education or teachers in particular. I believe most teachers try to do the best job educating youth as they can. I believe that some are even trying to make the huge changes our education system needs but are being thwarted by circumstances out of their control. I believe teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the country, I believe teachers are underappreciated, and I believe they are underpaid. Keep this in mind during the rest of this diatribe. I’d also like to pre-apologize for the length of this post, because I already know it will be long.

For those who are unaware, I will give a bit of history of myself. Many people would consider me “successful” (based on their definition of success) since I work at Microsoft, make enough money to provide for my family, have a house, wife, kids, etc. You would find many people who think my life fits the “american dream”. To be clear, I do consider myself successful, but I define success in a much different way. I am successful because I enjoy my life and do the things that I love to do. Anyway, I want to start this out with a story about my past, since I didn’t exactly come to this “success” in the ordinary way.

In 1982 I was in second grade and I was seven years old. Now granted, I was very young, but even at that young age I had been through enough in my life to know a simple truth. When I “grew up”, my life would be different than what it was then. I won’t go into huge details or a big “woe is me” story, but my father was gone, and my mother (while trying her best) had problems of her own. Things got better as time went on, but I knew at an extremely young age that no matter what I was going to *be* when I grew up, I knew it would be something more than what I saw around me. Education was my ticket out, and I knew this because my teachers told me so. This meant that I was going to be the best student I could possibly be, as that was the only way out.

Now, in 1982 and in second grade, this was easy. School was little more than memorization of facts, and I had lucked into a remarkable memory. Even today, I can remember some extraordinary things from a very long time ago. If it’s a fact I am supposed to remember, I remember it for a significant amount of time (although to be fair, if it’s mundane useless knowledge like what I had for dinner 3 days ago, i probably couldn’t tell you). I was also lucky in the sense that I didn’t go to a “normal” public school, but instead the education system had decided I could go to a “magnet” school. I can’t actually tell you what the qualifications for this type of school was, or if it was really better, but they told me it was and I was 7, who was I to argue?

The teachers all agreed on one thing though. I was “smart”. Of course, to them, what “smart” meant was I could memorize facts better than anyone else in the class (and probably better than the teachers themselves). This obviously meant I was “gifted”, and they could tell that I was bored. While it is very true I was bored, their solution to “fix” my boredom was puzzling. They decided that what I really needed was to be advanced to a new grade. So halfway through my second grade year they asked my mother for permission to take me out of my second grade class and put me instead into a third grade class. My mother was worried about this (I was already small for my age) and she thought this would just make things worse for me. She thought “bullys” would pick on me since I would be even smaller, etc. After some persuasion from the teachers though she relented and I packed up my desk and moved to the third grade.

Now, I had missed the entire second half of the second grade curriculum as well as the first half of the third grade curriculum, so obviously I was going to be very far behind right? Most people who believe that the job of education is to teach children would say that I almost certainly had to be behind. The fact was though that I was not behind in the slightest because the goal of education (particularly at that level) was not to teach me anything, but rather to measure how well I could remember facts, something I was already inherently good at. So now I was in third grade, still getting straight A’s, still just as bored as I was in second grade. For me, nothing had changed at all aside from the person giving me the facts to memorize and the other kids sitting near me in the classroom.

This went on for years. I would go to school, do well, get essentially perfect grades and I would be bored out of my mind. They tried to get me to skip other grades but my mother couldn’t be convinced again, I can’t really decide if that matters anymore. I doubt I’d be in any different spot now than I am had she chosen differently. To be clear, I absolutely despised going to school. It was so mundane, dreary and absolutely boring. I put up with it because I believed that it was the only way to get out of the situation I was in though, and I made sure I did well. Fast forward a while.

Now, in 1991, I was a Junior in High School and fifteen years old at the time. Nothing had really changed yet, math occasionally had me do something more than memorize facts (albeit not really), and not a single class had really ever given me a lesson or assignment where there was more than a single answer. In the real world here, it’s very rarely the case that any given “problem” a single right answer, yet that’s the way the majority of lessons are taught in school. Along with being a teenager who knew everything (as most teenagers seem to), by this time I had also grown disenfranchised with the entirety of the public education system. I had straight As in all of my classes, I was a model student the teachers would tell you, and I was completely sick of it. I could have passed the G.E.D. test probably in 5th grade (and probably earlier, that’s just when I happened to see it the first time and realized how easy it was). Why was I going to school at all?

It was a bit of an epiphany for me at the time. I no longer believed having an education was my ticket out of the situation I was in, and I found the entire idea of school to be ludicrous and beneath me. So in my 11th grade year I decided I would simply stop going and that’s what I did. Now, I was still a kid in the eyes of the law, and public education is compulsory. I (along with my mother) could actually get in legal trouble for me not going to school, particularly if I was out roaming the streets. I had a friend at the time that was older and most days would go hang out at his house doing things that young teenage boys would do (playing games, watching movies, etc). School was the last thing on my mind. My grades naturally suffered for it, not because I no longer knew the information (i still did, my memory hadn’t changed at all), but because I wasn’t there to turn in assignments.

When my mother found out what I was doing, she was livid. I was punished, read the riot act, told how I would never amount to anything, all that fun stuff. My teachers had equally dire warnings; I was throwing my life away, not living up to my potential, wasting my talent. What talent exactly though? My “talent” of being able to memorize everything? If you would have asked me why I was doing this back then I probably would have told you it was boring (because it was), but I couldn’t actually articulate the real reasons like I can now. A few years before this I had discovered computers and before that had discovered computer games. I was completely enthralled by them, that was what I wanted to do with my life and I knew it then just as I know it now. I took all of the computer courses in school, but for whatever reasons the teachers responsible for those courses had no knowledge to teach computer programming.

So here I was, a young kid but I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. What’s more, I could see that education, and this school in particular didn’t have a path leading to it. Coupled with the average teenage angst and rebellion most kids go through it is easy for me to see in hindsight what happened. I went to school enough the rest of that year to barely pass all of my classes (ruining my GPA in the process) not because I believed it was important, but really just to please my mother. She felt it was important that I graduate High School, so I did. I found college to be a complete waste of time as well but my little story has gone on long enough so I won’t get into that portion. Suffice it to say I didn’t attend college, and look at me now. I’m still just as successful now as I would have been had I gone.

Fast forward again to now. I have two kids both in the public education system. My son is now a junior in High School just as I was earlier in my story, and he is essentially just like me. My daughter is two years younger, and she is very little like me. My son has a memory much like mine and he can memorize any set of facts he needs to. However very rarely does he actually do it because he doesn’t see the point. His grades suffer for it as well since despite knowing the material, he doesn’t bother doing any of the work or even when he does do the work he can’t be bothered to turn it in. My daughter on the other hand gets great grades. Teachers and people who look at each of my children via education transcripts would invariably agree that my daughter is “smarter” than my son. Yet, if you asked her that question, I bet she would say that she was not. Hell, she asks him for help with her homework because she knows that he will know the answer and be able to explain how to do the work to her. Why do they think she is smarter? How can the people in charge of education and who “define” what intelligence is be so mistaken about the reality of the situation? To be clear, I’m not saying my son *is* smarter than my daughter, I think they both excel at different things.

I am a huge fan of Sir Ken Robinson and I share a great deal of his views on education. People familiar with his lectures and books may find many similar ideas in the things I’m about to say. I fully support and agree with his contention that we need to drastically restructure the way education is doled out to our youth and redefine what intelligence really is. From my own experiences though, here are a wide variety of things I don’t understand.

Why is school taught from 6am until 2pm? I am most certainly *not* a morning person at all, and I know this about myself. It has little to do with the amount of sleep I get I’ve discovered. If I get 8 hours of sleep and wake up at noon I function better than getting those same 8 hours of sleep and getting up at 6am. Honestly, I could get 4 hours of sleep and wake up at noon and function better than any amount of sleep waking up at 6am. I simply can’t think straight in the mornings. I rarely do great work before the mid-late afternoons, and I do my absolute best work late in the evenings. In the real world at my job now, I’m normally the last one into the office, and many times the last one to leave. I get the majority of my work done much later in the days than many coworkers. There have been plenty of studies that show that some people work better in the morning, some people work better at night. Why are public schools all run in the morning, and not only the morning, but so early in the morning?

My son is just like me, and at 6am he is barely functional. When I was in school, I was barely functional then as well. I suppose it’s a good thing that school never really required us to think because we simply can’t. Yet all schools seem to enforce this notion. Why? Not only is school boring, but I resented it for making me be awake when I didn’t want to be. I’m sure there are a class of people who would say to this “quit whining, and just deal with it” and these people are missing the point. Nowadays I’m an adult, and if my job required me to be fully functional and become a “morning person” when I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t “just deal with it” at all. I simply wouldn’t take that job. Kids don’t have that choice though, school is required, and that’s when it’s taught so that’s when they go. Of course, the “quit whining and just deal with it” mentality is part of the problem. People take too many things for granted, such as the notion that school starts early, or that kids should be taught in groups by age, or that the entire concept of education works the way people thinks it does.

Why are some subjects in school considered more important than others? Why is math so important? There are many jobs in the world where math isn’t useful (or used) at all. I picked math intentionally because I loved math, and math is used extensively in my line of work. However it only is used in one of my passions. Readers of this are probably aware I love writing as well, and math is essentially useless for that. Why are the languages so important? They’re very useful in my writing of course, but almost useless in my development job. Plus, if you look at the grammar of the majority of young folks in the world today on various social media platforms, you could argue they aren’t listening anyway. Why is history considered so important? I’ve never once in my life thought to myself “Whew, I’m glad I knew that the hundred years war lasted more than a hundred years.” Well, aside from when I was playing Trivial Pursuit. Why was science considered so important, what point did learning anatomy and physiology have? I didn’t want to become a doctor or a nurse, and I’ve never once needed that knowledge in my life.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you know what I have wondered in my life before? “Why don’t I know how to dance?” Why isn’t dance taught in school? Why is dance, or drama, or music relegated to second banana in school while math, science, languages and history are bubbled to the top? I’m sure you’ve all heard a teacher say that you should ignore music, you won’t grow up to be a musician, or artist, or dancer, or any other variety of things. Do we expect people to grow up to be history teachers or lawyers though? Are all kids going to grow up being a doctor or nuclear physicist? Why would the public education system ostracize some subjects while pushing others down kids throats.

Kids nowadays are inundated on all sides by a menagerie of distractions. This age is a completely different world than when I was growing up. Information is everywhere and I could probably learn more in a single night browsing the web than I ever learned in the entire course of my public education. When I was young I had very few distractions outside of my own imagination. We had 7 television stations, the radio and books. Nowadays kids have the internet, video games, books, hundreds of television stations, computers, mobile device, so many ways to be distracted, and then we punish them for actually being distracted. We would rather them pay strict attention to school work, which almost everyone agrees is the boring stuff! Most kids find some subjects boring (for myself it was all of the languages, history, and health type classes), while they find other classes to be quite fun and interesting (again for myself those were math, and some of the sciences such as physics). The lucky kids will find some of the “important” classes (important in the eyes of education) exciting and useful. The unlucky kids will not, they will find something like dancing or theater exciting and they will be told (even if only implicitly) how useless those desires are and how they should instead focus on things were they have no passion. Why?

People like to often say that the “smart” kids who do poorly in school are simply lazy. I am very guilty of this myself, having told my son that I thought he was being lazy by getting poor grades when we both knew that he *could* get better grades if he cared enough to try. It strikes me that the last part of that sentence is the important part though, if he cared enough to try. The fact is he does not care enough to try and I have a hard time convincing myself that he’s wrong here. The classes that are exciting to him (math, etc) he does well in, getting A’s in almost everything. He’s bored in those classes as well, but he finds the work exciting enough to do well. The classes that he has no excitement in whatsoever (English, history, health, etc) he does poorly in, so much that at times he is failing (or has failed) those classes. He will do fine on the tests and in class assignments, but his grades suffer because homework and the like he sees no point in doing so he simply doesn’t. The zero’s he gets on those assignments bring his grade down, yet it is plainly obvious that he knows the material by the test scores.

So if the goal of education is to teach this boring material, and the student demonstrates he knows the material, why would they be failed? The easy answer is because the goal of education isn’t to teach the material and if this wasn’t such a long post already I would argue the real goal of education is to cultivate a bunch of young workers who obey instructions blindingly, but I will digress from that topic until another time. You could make the argument that turning in all of your assignments on time teaches responsibility, and while I can see the merits in that argument it falls flat to me.

Instead, people call these kids lazy, and as I said, I used to believe that as well. Why? In the real world, if I’m told that I have to do something boring that does nothing to advance the things I love, I don’t just accept it and blindly go do that boring thing. No, I either do not do it or I find something else to do. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that would call me lazy though because everyone who knows me knows that I work hard and do a damn good job at the things I do. I do such a good job and work so hard in these areas though because the things I do are the things that bring me passion. So why, when I do the exact same thing as these kids do, I’m celebrated for it while they’re called lazy? They’re making rational adult decisions, the same ones I would make, and being punished for it.

My wife and I have vastly different ideas about the role of schools and public education in general. She very much believes in the myth of public education and considers school to be a vital part of a young person’s upbringing. You can imagine that the “struggles” I’ve described my son as having above are extremely frustrating to her. So while I do disagree with a lot of her beliefs in this regard, I do find it important that parents approach kids with a united front, so when we discuss these things with the kids, we do so from her point of view (or I should say we usually do).

I’m sure that many people would think that one of our kids doing poorly in school means that the parents simply don’t care, which also couldn’t be further from the truth. In order to get our son into the mode where he’s “doing well” in school we’ve tried countless different options. We’ve tried rewarding good work, punishing “poor” work, strict rules, all the way to treating school just like a job where his grades determined his “pay”, and privileges were “bought”. None of these things changed where his passions were or his behavior, and really, why would they? Let me tell you another story.

In 2004 while I was working at Microsoft I was developing some amazing technology. I loved my job, and my passion for my work was immeasurable. My wife was annoyed because I loved my job so much I would lose track of time and work very long hours while she was home alone with the kids. The management of my group at Microsoft though did not find my work to be valuable and decided that instead of continuing that project I should instead be reassigned to a completely new project they needed help with. This project contained none of the things I was passionate about though, and I told them as much. I said no, I didn’t want to do it but was given the choice of doing it or finding a new job.

Now, I seriously considered simply finding a new job. The only reason I didn’t do that immediately is because the project I was working on originally was so important to me that I was afraid it would be lost completely if I did and I didn’t want that. So I was faced with a tough choice, doing a job I knew I would hate and keeping the project I loved alive or abandoning the job I loved and go find something new. Meanwhile the management in my group knew that I did amazing work so they decided the best way to convince me to do this new project was to bribe me. Now granted, they never told me they were “bribing” me, but that’s how I took it. For years they hadn’t cared about all of the hard work I had done, and now all of a sudden when they want me to do this new job they gave me an award for a lot of money for all the “hard work” I had done.

I had already decided I would stick around though because I had decided that losing my original project wasn’t something I was willing to do. I was given an incentive to do a good job (essentially promised a promotion), was given an award to try to help motivate me to do a good job, and I knew the punishment I would face if I didn’t do a good job (low review scores, no raise, no bonus, no stock). This is a very similar situation to my son and his grades on the classes he finds boring. So what did I do? I was an adult, very rational thinking with very clear goals. I obviously did a good job on the thing I hated and the story has a happy ending yes?

Of course not. I despised the work and found every excuse I could to not do it to the point I was eventually taken off the project completely. It is still to this day the only time at Microsoft that I ever received a poor review score and didn’t get a bonus or stock. I had every reason to do the work, knew the consequences for not doing it, and I still did not do it. Yet, in a similar situation why would I be surprised when a kid made the same decision.

Now I’m sure there are folks out there who would call me lazy or stupid or some other mean words, and by extension kids who make similar decisions. Why? Because I value doing something I love over doing something I don’t love? We should be ostracized for not doing what I was told when I had a choice?

Why does education teach that for virtually all problems there is a single solution when the reality is that’s very rarely the case? How can a teacher ask a student to write an essay that is their opinion on something and then give them a grade as if their opinion could be wrong? Hell, most times schools would never ask to get an opinion to begin with.

While I’m on a roll, can someone explain to me what the point of homework is? My kids currently go to school for 7 hours per day, and I’ve had the teachers tell us that we should expect them to have up to 3 hours of homework per night. Why is school expecting kids to work 10 hours per day when the standard work day for an adult is only 8 hours? How many people with jobs they hate continue working when they get home anyway? I work from home sometimes, but only because I love what I do.

I have a lot more to say, but this has already rambled on for entirely too long so for now I will end this. I agree with Sir Ken Robinson, we need to dramatically reform education, and the way we view intelligence.