Tag Archives: education

Khan Academy: The (Near) Future Of Education?

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In talking about education, I’ve highlighted issues that give me fever dreams about my experience in high school and those that give me hope for future students. While I know it’s not a very sexy topic, it does matter a great deal.  A society full of idiots is only good for creating embarrassing YouTube videos and Chuck Lorre sitcoms, but not much else.

Our current method for education people in the western world has a lot of room for improvement. Some, like South Korea and Japan, do it better than others. Others, like the state of Texas, are easy punchlines in jokes about stupidity and I’m not just talking about their laughable record on sexual education.

Let’s not lie to ourselves. Education is hard. Every human being is wired different. Kids are especially tricky. Between puberty and sugar, it’s hard to help them learn, especially if they don’t want to learn. Our brains weren’t wired for assembly line style education that requires memorization, lectures, and standardized tests. They were wired for survival, reproduction, and avoiding hungry bears.

At some point in the future, we may be able to tweak that old wiring to make education easier. Companies like Neuralink are already working on that. However, that kind of brain building is years off. While it is promising, there are many who may lament that they or their children won’t get to benefit from this kind of innovation. They’re stuck using textbooks and number two pencils.

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Well, for once, I’m not going to fantasize about an advancement that’s way off in the future, like smart blood or sex robots. There are some amazing advancements in this field and they don’t require a brain implant. They don’t even require a private tutor from South Korea. Big changes to education aren’t just some far-off future fantasy. They’re actually happening.

That brings me to Khan Academy. I’ve mentioned them before, albeit not in great detail. I kind of feel bad about that because it’s doing some amazing work in the field of education. It is, very much, a game-changer to the way we think about education. It has the potential to educate people all over the world at a cost that’s almost negligible.

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What is Khan Academy, though? Well, that’s not an unreasonable question because it’s one of those things that is known in some crowds, but not others. It’s also fairly new. Khan Academy started only ten years ago and it started by accident, which happens a lot more than you think.

The story of how it came to be is actually pretty remarkable. The man who created, Salman Khan, didn’t intend to make it into one of the biggest innovations to hit education since the invention of pocket calculators. It just played out that way. Several years ago, 60 Minutes did a story about it and it reveals some pretty amazing insights.

However it came to be, Khan Academy’s mission is as bold as it is important. It seeks, in their own words, “to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.” At a time when the cost of education is rising frustratingly fast, Khan Academy dares to be bolder.

It doesn’t require big, fancy schools. It doesn’t require an army of trained teachers, some of which may or may not be qualified for their job. It doesn’t even require students to leave the house. It only requires someone with a computer, an internet connection, and an ability to access a website. These days, those are skills that most kids learn to do right out of the womb.

That’s not to say it’s better in every way. There are some things that you can’t just learn by doing exercises online. You wouldn’t want a mechanic, plumber, or gynecologist only learning their trade through online videos. You’d want them to have some kind of training.

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Even so, the value of having a cheap, effective way of educating young children cannot be understated. Beyond simply knowing how much to tip at a restaurant, education helps children think and reason for themselves. It helps them make sense of a world where the Kardashians are celebrities and Johnny Depp still makes movies.

We, as a species, need societies of kids and adults who can think. Until we perfect neural implants, education is still going to be a challenge. That’s why innovations like Khan Academy are so valuable.

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The Future Of Education (And The Demise Of Idiots)

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In his seminal book, “Outliers: The Story Of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell explored the factors behind some of the world’s most successful individuals. In that exploration, he stated that it took approximately 10,000 hours of correct, focused practice to master a skill. It’s an often-repeated rule espoused by athletes, artists, and YouTube stars.

It’s also somewhat debatable. If that figure really were accurate, then I should’ve mastered writing three years ago. I don’t think I have. I still find new ways to improve with every book and every blog post. I get the message of Gladwell’s rule. To get really good at anything, you do need to practice and practice well.

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Then, we see movies like “The Matrix,” where Neo mastered every martial art ever created in the span of a day. Even though it was a work of fiction, it presented a scenario where practicing a skill was for suckers. Neo didn’t have to practice anything. He just sat in a chair, plugged a gizmo into the back of his neck, and just like that he knew Kung Fu.

That scenario may have been pretty extreme at the time. Keep in mind, though, that the Matrix came out in 1999. Back then, a flip phone was still considered cutting-edge technology. A lot has happened since then and I’m not just talking about our ability to watch porn on the bus.

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The ability to upload knowledge directly into our brains, effectively learning a skill in an instant, is one of the most underrated technologies in science fiction. It’s never more than an afterthought or plot convenience at most. In terms of its utility and impact on human society, though, it’s right up there with flying cars and sex robots.

I’ve talked about the ongoing deficiencies of our education system and the human brain’s limitations when it comes to learning critical thinking skills. Now, I’d like to stop spitting on my own species and give everyone some reason for hope. I do believe that our species will one day make idiots, as we know them, a relic of the past, much like circumcision and the orgasm gap.

That’s because our species, despite its many limitations, is really good at one particular skill. That’s the ability to build tools. As we speak, the fine folks at DARPA, also known as the United State’s Military’s “mad science” division, is working on a form of accelerated learning that would make Neo proud, albeit unimpressed.

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It’s not the same as uploading a skill the same way we upload files to our phones. They call it Targeted Neuroplasticity Training, which is a fancy way of saying it seeks to directly stimulate the human nervous system to facilitate the learning of an advanced skill.

From a pragmatic standpoint, it makes sense for DARPA and the military to want something like this. A lot of time and money goes into training soldiers, pilots, officers, and operatives into mastering a specialized skill, be it flying a plane or interrogating a suspected terrorist. Not every military recruit has the skill or sex appeal of James Bond. Most have to work at it.

This new form of training will cut down on the amount of time soldiers and recruits need to learn various skills. Like many other advances that got their start in the military, it may only be a matter of time before this sort of technology finds its way into classrooms.

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There’s already a potential business opportunity, thanks to Elon Musk’s new company, Neuralink. I’ve already talked about the potential of how brain interfaces will make us smarter and sexier. The current research with DARPA will provide a viable method for using that interface to improve learning.

Once this technology matures, and there are plenty of financial and pragmatic incentives behind it, then we’ll have to completely rethink how we educate ourselves and our kids. Old methods like catchy nursery rhymes or standardized tests, which have a limited effectiveness at best, would instantly be obsolete.

The school of the future may not involve big, bulky buildings full of lockers, overpriced textbooks, and wedgies. It may just be a simple office building where an individual, be it a kid or an adult, sits down and links their brain implant to a computer. Then, through a mix of direct neural stimulation and machine interface, we learn the kinds of skills that used to take decades to master.

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That means every kid, from the age of five, can learn the kind of critical thinking skills usually reserved for college grad students and NPR talk shows. It also means learning technical skills like how to operate a computer, fix a car, build a birdhouse, or paint like Bob Ross are as easy as downloading an app to our phones.

Make no mistake. There are people working on the technology to download knowledge directly into the human brain. The incentives are just too strong and I’m not just talking about the military. Between big business and professional sports teams looking for an edge, the idea of just downloading a skill into a person has too many potential uses.

The impact this will have on society cannot be understated. It’s an impact that few, especially an aspiring erotica/romance writer, are equipped to imagine. Education is one of the few policies cited as a major tool against poverty. Also, a society of fewer idiots is a healthier society by nearly every measure.

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While education is, on orders of magnitude, much better today than it was 100 years ago, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. There are just so many practical and logistic issues that come with educating over seven billion people from different backgrounds, cultures, languages, and what not.

The ability to download knowledge and stimulate the brain directly could be the key to finally closing what remains of the education gap. That gap is still pretty wide and a huge factor in many unresolved issues, from job opportunities to sexual education. There are huge swaths of the population that still don’t know how condoms work.

As this technology improves, the barriers that keep entire swaths of people from knowing and understanding the world critically will crumble. That has major implications for the multi-trillion dollar education market, as well political parties that rely too much on idiots voting.

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It also has major implication for our love lives, our sex lives, and everything in between. Whenever I’ve talked about human enhancement, I’ve pointed out how smart people tend to make better decisions in both their love lives and their sex lives. In matters of intimacy, it makes sense to know how your partner’s genitals work. That’s just common sense.

The extent to which accelerated learning would affect our personal and professional lives is still hard to quantify. As society becomes more and more educated, we’ve had to rethink and re-imagine what it means to be in love or make love with someone.

Like Morpheus pointed out in “The Matrix,” though, our system of education is still governed by a set of rules and limitations. Our brains and bodies are still stuck on the same settings they were during our caveman days. We’re only beginning to unlock and rewire those settings.

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That means there may indeed come a day where won’t just be able to circumvent the 10,000 hours of practice that Gladwell espoused. We won’t even need practice in the first place. When that day comes, we’ll all be Neo.

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How Idiots Fall In (And Make) Love

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I know I’ve been talking about idiots a lot lately. I’m sorry if I give the impression that I’m belaboring an issue that doesn’t need to be belabored. We’ve all had problems with idiots at some point in our lives. Most people know that they tend to complicate, obscure, and frustrate many productive endeavors in life. Anyone who thinks otherwise just hasn’t dealt with enough idiots.

Well, there’s still one last aspect to this issue that I want to touch on. I was going to talk about it in my post about how idiots affect our love lives and our sex lives, but I felt like it would’ve derailed the underlying point I was trying to make. For this particular issue, I want to focus on method behind the idiocy. Specifically, I want to apply that method to love.

That kind of insight matters to me, particularly, because I’m trying to be a quality erotica/romance. That means it’s not enough to just know how to craft meaningful love stories with plenty of sex appeal. I also have to be mindful of how these stories can go horribly wrong and the quickest way to do that is to mix idiots with love.

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Make no mistake. Idiots can ruin love, sex, and everything in between just as they ruin so much else in life. It’s rarely pretty. It can be downright tragic. Most of the time, though, it’s just pathetic. People have a low enough opinion of the human race thanks to idiots. They way they can undermine love only strengthens that opinion.

So what are the specifics of idiots screwing up love and making life difficult for aspiring erotica/romance writers? Well, there are a number of dynamics at work, but they’re best summed up by this chart I found a few days ago while doing my other post on idiots and love. It’s as humorous as it is uncomfortably true.

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It’s usually difficult to sum up complex subjects into a simple piece of clip art, but this comes pretty damn close. Sure, it’s a bit cynical in some areas, but the message is clear. Stupidity is not a key ingredient to meaningful love.

Let’s break down some of the dynamics at work. For the most part, it comes down to a mix of incentives and motivations. When a smart guy and a dumb girl get involved, there aren’t a lot of factors that would lay the foundation for a meaningful relationship.

A smart guy won’t be able to share deeper emotions with an idiot woman. She’d do more to frustrate rather than inspire his passions. She’d be immature, childlike, and annoying. Being an idiot, chances are she’d find a way to screw up contraception so the odds of her ending up pregnant would be pretty high.

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The man, in this case, would have both the opportunity and the means to exploit the woman’s stupidity. It would be less about developing love and more about getting some easy sex from someone too stupid to know understand what was going on.

This kind of dynamic appeals to the kind of smart men who tend to be assholes. Even if they want to find love, they’ll jump at a chance for easy sex. It’s productive manifestation of their biological imperative. Sure, their offspring won’t benefit from having an idiot mother, but it’ll still put the smart man ahead of the game in terms of evolution.

A similar dynamic plays out with smart women and stupid men. Let’s face it, there are plenty of stupid men out there who don’t know a healthy romance from a wet fart. As a man, I freely admit that such stupidity can make for comically toxic romances that are even worse than the ones we see on “The Big Bang Theory.”

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A smart woman may have an incentive to avoid having an idiot man’s stupid kids. However, she also has an incentive and means to extract as many resources out of him. Being smart, she could easily manipulate him into a situation where he marries her and is legally obligated to provide for her.

Some women are able to do this to smart and successful men. Just look at Anna Nichole Smith, may she rest in peace. If men like that are unable to avoid those kinds of legal pitfalls, then idiots don’t have a prayer.

Smart women will rope them into unfavorable arrangements that involve giving them a significant chunk of their income. Those same smart women will easily be able to outwit their idiot husbands into cheating with far smarter, more attractive men. If they’re really smart, they’ll even get the idiot husband to provide for a kid they think is theirs. When it comes to human biology, it’s basically a perfect win/lose scenario.

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Again, this kind of dynamic depends on one part of the romance being kind of an asshole. Idiots are easily manipulated and doing so requires more than a few dick moves, to say the least. The kind of smart people who take advantage of these situations are, by and large, bullies on the same level as Biff Tannen from “Back To The Future.”

It’s not quite as tragic when two people who are equal idiots get together, but it’s just as inane. These are situations where two people are too stupid to understand what meaningful love is, the role that sex plays, and how to make something of it. If you want a perfect example of that, just watch a few episodes of “Married With Children.” That’ll tell you everything you need to know about how idiots approach sex and love.

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If you need a real-world example, there is one clear sign that seems to come up often among those who may not realize that they’re being idiots. I’ve seen it happen a few times in my own life. I’m sure others have experienced it too in some form or another.

It often happens in a casual conversation with friends. It probably happens with women just as much as it does men, although I imagine the men are a lot more eager to jump into the realm of idiocy when given the chance. The conversation usually unfolds like this.

“So how are things going?”

“Well, I’m thinking about asking him/her to marry me.”

“Really? Um…why now?”

“We’ve been together for a while now. This is just what people do.”

Read over the last part a few times to get the full context of the idiocy. Even on the surface, the logic is shallow. Does just being with someone for a certain amount of time mean you have to marry or commit to them? Some may make appeals to tradition, but those traditions can sometimes be more excuse than reason, which can cause a whole host of problems.

I’ve heard real people make these arguments. They’re good people who sound smart most of the time, but when they make these kinds of excuses in their love lives, you almost want to hit them upside the head to restart their brain. It doesn’t help that sometimes they’re the only ones who don’t realize they’re in an unhealthy relationship. It’s tragic, but that’s what happens when you’re an idiot.

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It gets even worse when you start to mix idiocy and sex. In this instance, I’m not talking about people who put themselves in bad situations that make them victims of serious crimes. That’s a whole other matter that’s neither sexy nor funny. Instances when people are just stupid with their sex lives are far more common and far less reported.

It’s not just men who don’t understand how a vagina works. It’s not just women who overestimate a man’s coordination when he’s horny. Idiots will eagerly have sex at the wrong times for the wrong reasons. It’s one thing to just have sex because you’re horny. It’s quite something else when you have sex to accomplish something stupid.

We’ve heard these kinds of conversations before. If you’ve ever been to high school or known someone who attracted all the wrong people, you’ve probably heard something along these lines.

“We’ll have sex and that’ll shut him/her up.”

“I’ll have sex with him/her to stop them from breaking up with me.”

“He/she wants to have sex with me and I’m not sure how to go about it. Should we break up?”

The people who have these conversations may not be drooling idiots, but their logic and understanding of a situation utterly fails. They treat sex as a means more than an end. They think it’s part of some unwritten rule that they don’t understand. It should be a general rule of them. If a rule is unwritten and hard to understand, then chances are it only applies to idiots.

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Idiots having sex and falling in love can cause all sorts of problems. Sometimes, as is the case with “Married With Children,” it can be hilariously entertaining. Most of the times, though, it can be tragic and downright toxic.

That leads me back to the top of the chart I cited earlier, namely the part that identifies what happens when two smart individuals come together. They’re not idiots. They’re not making excuses. They’re together for the right reasons, sharing honest, meaningful emotions. That, my friends, is real love, the kind that makes for much hotter sex.

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Idiots can fall in love. Idiots can have sex and make idiot children. Even when it’s comical, it’s still more a cautionary tale than a meaningful story. That’s why I leave those kinds of stories to the Chuck Lorre’s of the world. I’d rather tell stories about non-idiots finding and/or making love.

That’s the kind of love I try to pursue in my novels. I made a concerted effort to forge that kind of love in my latest book, “Passion Relapse.” Whether or not I succeeded is up to the reader. At the very least, I made sure the story wasn’t derailed by idiots.

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Idiots And How They Effect Your Love (And Sex) Life

For certain topics, there’s just no way to be subtle. There’s no way to soften the blow. The facts are just too plain and too true. This is one of them so I’m not going to try and be funny, witty, or sexy about it. I’m just going to come out and say it.

The world is full of idiots.

I doubt that sentence will shock anyone. Hell, even other idiots would agree with it. There are so many idiots in this world that it’s hard to keep up.

There are people who kill each other over what they think happens when they die, but fail to see the irony. There are people who pay more money to drink water from a bottle than from a faucet, even when the water from the faucet is just as good. There’s just no way around it. The world is full of idiots.

I bring up this simple, inescapable truth to highlight an issue that is both relevant and timely. At the moment, the school year is ending for many kids out there. While I’m sure plenty of them are looking forward to a summer of sleeping until noon and then taking a nap, the issue of education as a whole is much bigger.

Also, and you knew this was coming, it does affect your sex life. I’m not referring to the inherently futile issues surrounding teenagers and their insatiable desire to bone either. I’m talking about our collective sex lives, both as teenagers and adults. Education does affect that. It affects our sex lives a lot, often in ways we don’t think about.

For me to talk about this must make me sound like a hypocrite to some extent because I’ve repeatedly and excessively bemoaned how much I hated high school. Let me make one thing clear before I continue. Yes, I hated high school. No, that doesn’t mean I hate education in general. I actually enjoy learning and not just with respect to comic books, cartoons, and female breasts. I’m a curious person in general. I like learning new stuff.

Curiosity is one of those universal traits that’s hard-wired into our brains. We see such a crazy, complex world around us and want to learn more about it. That’s a good thing. By understanding it more, we’re able to adapt, survive, and prosper. It’s one of the few instances where caveman logic works to our advantage and doesn’t screw us over.

The problem is that when it comes to education, we’re still going about it like idiots. It’s like trying to get an idiot to fix your computer. Sometimes, he or she might do something right by accident. Other times, however, they’ll just make things worse.

Idiots are a reason why we still have so many problems. Crime, corruption, injustice, and inequality are largely driven and/or propagated by idiots. That’s not to say those idiots are malicious or cruel. Being idiots, they just don’t know any better. They see what they’re doing as right and can’ think on a level that allows them to understand why their approach is stupid in the first place.

Idiots are also a reason why we have so many problems in our love lives. Think about it. How many bad relationships or failed romances are a byproduct of stupid decisions from people who didn’t know the difference between genuine love and hopeless obsession? Why else would we have creepy stalker pop songs and iconic romances that are uncomfortably unhealthy?

Beyond the dumb decisions we make in our love lives, it gets even worse when we apply that to sex. Even though nature wired our anatomy to ensure that even idiots can successfully reproduce, we still find ways to screw it up.

There are still boys who don’t know the first thing about how a woman’s vagina works. They don’t understand there’s a right way and a wrong way to ensure their partner enjoys the process. At the same time, there are girls who don’t know the first thing about how a man’s penis works or how to keep it working. They either overestimate its durability or underestimate its efficiency.

This is why we have issues like the orgasm gap, which I’ve discussed before. It’s also why we have people who develop unhealthy attitudes about sex, love, and relationships in general. It’s not just that they’re idiots. They’re never given the kind of education that would allow them to improve the situation.

Make no mistake. Education does a lot to improve our situation. It improves our job prospects. It improves our ability to make informed choices about the economy. It improves our ability to form stable, loving relationships that turn into successful marriages. It improves our ability to raise our children. It also improves our sex lives. If a man or women knows how their lover’s anatomy works and can maximize that knowledge, then they have everything they need for a great sex life.

This isn’t a controversial position. Everyone from every side of the political spectrum, with the exception of some religious zealots who want to keep society locked in the first century, agrees on the value of education. They may not agree on the type of education that we should champion, but they do understand the value of having a society with fewer idiots.

In a sense, we’ve made a lot of progress on educating the human race and reducing the number of idiots in the world. Literacy, as a whole, is at an all-time high. More kids today have access to schooling and educational resources than at any point in human history. This is an objectively good thing. It’s why poverty has gone down. It’s why violence has declined to its lowest level in history, despite what the news may tell you.

However, there’s still room for improvement. There are still some woeful inefficiencies in our education system. I know this because I, and anyone else who survived high school, have lived through those inefficiencies.

There were times during my schooling where I really didn’t learn much. There are a few painfully long stretches where the only lesson that stuck was how much I hated school and how to count down the seconds until it ended. Pretty much every year after the fourth grade was like that for me.

Conversely, there were some times when education taught me a lot and really sharpened my thinking skills. A lot of this happened in college. That’s where I learned a lot more about the world and how to make sense of it. That’s also where I refined many of the writing skills that I employ now on my novels. Getting a college education is probably one of the most enlightening experiences I ever had.

That education didn’t come cheap, though. I know I’m lucky. There are some who simply can’t afford getting the kind of education I got. It also doesn’t help that the rise of student loan debt has turned an entire generation of otherwise well-educated students into debt slaves, which is almost as bad for society as being an idiot. That’s a major flaw that prevents too many people from enjoying the benefits of an education.

There are some countries that do a better job. The education systems of Finland and South Korea are well-known for their achievements in education. It shows in their rankings as first-world nations. They are, by nearly every metric, some of the most prosperous nations on the planet. There are other countries that are catching up, but it’s a race with no losers in the long run.

If there’s one message I’d like to belabor when it comes to education, it’s that the world needs less idiots. There are over seven billion people on this planet and it takes only a few idiots to ruin something for the rest of us. By having fewer idiots, the world is inherently better for our societies, our families, and our sex lives. Even if you hate school, chances are you still hate idiots just as much. Whether we’re still in school or graduated decades ago, we should all remember that.

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The Horrific Consequences Of Human Stupidity

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We all make mistakes. We’ve all done or said things that make us feel stupid. I certainly have. One time, I tried to impress a girl by claiming I’d eaten a live caterpillar. She just took two steps back, gave me that repulsed look, and made it clear that she did not find that sort of thing attractive. Needless to say, I never got a date with that girl.

Mistakes are a part of life. They’re an understandable part of the human experience. We’re bound to make mistakes because the world is chaotic. Our decisions are bound to be erratic, misguided, or just downright wrong at some point. Even the smartest among us is prone to making mistakes. Just ask a certain high-ranking general who got busted having an affair because he foolishly used unsecured emails.

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Mistakes are one inescapable element of life. Stupidity, however, is the 800-pound, machine-gun toting gorilla in the room that we can’t stop poking with a stick. I’ve spent all week preaching the importance of education. I did so despite all those times I belabored how much I hated high school. I still don’t think I can overstated just how much it matters.

More than anything else, education matters because stupidity comes at a cost. In fact, it can become very costly very fast if you let it. Stupidity, by definition, ensures that we’ll do more than make mistakes. We’ll actually find ways to turn a bad situation worse.

Remember that little story about me trying to impress that girl? Well, I’m lucky I’m not that stupid because if I were, I would’ve doubled down on my claim. Even after she’d been repulsed by the caterpillar story, a stupider version of me would’ve taken it a step further. He would’ve gotten on the floor, found the first bug he could find, and licked it up as though it were the last piece of chocolate fudge. That’s the power of stupidity.

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It doesn’t just hinder our ability to impress the opposite sex either. Stupidity can have huge, world-shaking consequences. I’m not just talking about the brilliant scientists at NASA losing a probe because someone didn’t know the difference between feet and meters. I’m talking about real events that shaped our history due to spectacular acts of stupidity.

It does happen. We humans are capable of that level of stupidity. For better or for worse, a part of why our history and our civilization has manifested like it has is due to some ridiculous acts of stupidity. Some of it is just an honest mistake that just snowballed. Some of it is just stupidity in the highest degree.

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The number of events incurred by human stupidity are too vast and voluminous to list. I could probably start a whole new blog with the sole purpose of discussing how stupidity shaped our world. For now, I’ll keep it to only nine, thanks to the fine folks at Listerverse.

A couple years ago, they did an article that discussed some tiny acts of stupidity that had huge consequences on society, civilization, and the course of history. Granted, there’s no way these people could’ve known at the time the sheer breadth of their stupidity. Hindsight being what it is, though, there’s just no getting around the results.

Listverse: 9 Tiny Mistakes With Monumental Historical Consequences

Read the article and then dare to have a high opinion of the human species. If you’re not much for reading, here’s a few highlights that are worth mentioning.

  • The event that sparked World War I, and World War II by default, hinged on some idiot driver making the wrong turn in Sarajevo.

  • The failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 was an unmitigated disaster because someone in the American military stupidly forgot about the existence of time zones.

  • The fall of Constantinople, one of the most important cities of the Medieval Europe, was almost entirely due to some idiot forgetting to lock the gate.

Some of these mistakes have had huge consequences on our world, even today. There’s no denying the impact of events like World War I or the fall of Constantinople. Without these events, history and society as we know it today just doesn’t exist. How odd/frustrating is it that so many of them hinged on acts of gross stupidity?

Again, hindsight being what it is, it’s impossible to know what could’ve happened had certain people not been so stupid. It’s also important to maintain some sense of perspective when it comes to the stupidity of the past compared to what we deal with in the present.

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We’re actually in the midst of an unprecedented time in human history. As recently as 1820, only 12 percent of the population could read and write. Today, around 83 percent of the world’s seven billion people are literate. That is not a trivial shift. A world with this many educated people is unheard of and nobody really knows what kind of impact that will have on the course of history.

Despite the progress we’ve made, though, there’s still plenty of room for stupidity. Thanks to the internet and social media, we can expect our various mistakes, spectacular or otherwise, to be documented for all to see until the end of time. It’s part of being human, making mistakes and never living them down. Let’s, at least, acknowledge the extent to which some of those mistakes have affected our species.

 

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Why Standardized Tests Make You (Feel) Dumber In The Long Run

A new study finds that higher test scores don't translate into better cognitive ability.

As I write these words, there are millions of young people out there who are either dreading an upcoming exam or recovering from one too many all-night cram sessions. This is that time of year, after all. The sweet freedom of summer vacation is almost within our grasp. We just have to survive a few more soul-crushing, brain-draining final exams.

Like the final boss in a video game, exams and standardized tests are the migraine headaches of modern education. They are that stabbing pain at the base of every teenager’s spine. They know it’s coming. They know it’s going to be stressful. The most they can do is brace themselves, study, and hope they don’t throw up at some point along the way.

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I get the logic behind these tests. I think even the students do, minus the ones whose only goal in life is to become an Instagram model. I don’t doubt that the intentions behind standardized tests are good. They’re supposed to help gauge the effectiveness of our education, revealing just how well we’ve retained the material.

I don’t doubt the merit behind that. A team of underpaid, under-appreciated teachers just spent nine months of their lives trying to cram a bunch of information into our developing brains. At the very least, they want to make sure that time wasn’t wasted. How devastating would it be if the found out all that time, effort, and chalk board lectures had been for nothing?

Well, with the utmost respect to the teachers and students who have to deal with this crap, there might be a repugnant stench in the air. As good as the intentions may be with standardized testing, they have a long list of issues. Just last month, the Washington Post listed at least 34 problems with these tests. With the memory of these tests still painfully fresh in my mind, I have a hard time believing there are only 34 problems.

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That’s because, and I’ve said this before whenever I’ve talked about the horror show that was high school for me, these tests don’t really measure how well you know the material. They only really measure how well you can take a test. That may help you get a driver’s license, but it won’t help with much else.

There’s a growing body of evidence that standardized testing does not translate into better cognitive skills. It doesn’t lead to better memory, better attention, or better reasoning skills. It doesn’t even reveal how well you know the material. Even if you do remember enough to ace the test, it’s rare for students to actually retain that knowledge.

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That shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially those whose memories of high school is still somewhat fresh. Depending on how traumatic your teenager years were, you probably remember not caring much about actually knowing the material at hand. You only cared about passing the test and not triggering an awkward parent/teacher conference.

In essence, that’s the biggest issue with these tests. That’s why, in the long run, they make us feel dumber. Just passing a test doesn’t make you smart. It just makes you good at passing a test. A lot of people can throw a football well. However, just being able to throw a football doesn’t make you as skilled as Peyton Manning. Just ask Ryan Leaf.

It’s just as bad for the teachers. They dedicate their time, energy, and patience to teach a bunch of immature kids and hormonal teenagers what they think is important. However, their effectiveness, as a professional, is entirely contingent on their ability to get these thick-headed kids to pass a goddamn test every year. Even doctors and lawyers don’t have subject themselves to that kind of frustration.

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I can certainly attest to the inefficiencies of these tests. It’s pretty much the only skill that was regularly emphasized throughout high school. Every subject in every class felt like a prelude to one goal, which was to pass the test. That was always at the forefront of my mind. Actually knowing and caring about the subject was always secondary.

The only subjects I did know anything about happened to be subjects I had a genuine interest in. I liked writing, history, science, and even math to some extent. However, a lot of what I learned on those subjects wasn’t necessarily taught. I sought that knowledge out on my own.

Contrary to popular belief, not every teenager is a total slacker whose sole goal in life is to live out the rest of their days on the couch watching Netflix. Many are genuinely curious about certain topics and not all of those topics are related to food, sex, and punk rock music. If they want to learn more about something and you give them the opportunity, they’ll take it.

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For me, personally, it was writing. No teacher or guidance counselor needed to guide me to do that. It’s just something I started doing. My parents already had a computer so I had all the resources I needed. Thanks to a vivid imagination inspired by comic books and cartoons, I had plenty to write about. I haven’t really stopped since.

There were other topics that intrigued me too. Growing up, I was also interested in history, especially 20th century history. There was a period where I watched every World War II documentary on the History Channel I could. It got to the point where I knew the names of generals, battles, and dates better than my teacher.

It culminated one fateful day during my sophomore year of high school. I was in my history class and, much to my relief, we were focusing on early 20th century history. My teacher was lecturing, going over the textbook as they so often do, and at one point she got a date wrong. I, having the piss-poor social skills I had, just corrected her on the spot.

For some teachers, that would be a one-way business class ticket to getting detention. For this particular teacher, though, she smiled at me and thanked me. That was a proud moment for me. Later on, when we did take a test, I got a perfect score. I didn’t really need to study for it either. I knew the material because I wanted to know it.

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That’s both the key and the paradox that dooms standardized testing. It tries to create a one-size-fits-all standard with which to gauge every student. It ignores the fact that not every student is going to want to know the names of every Russian Tsar or how to use quadratic equations. Some students really are smart, just not on certain subjects.

On top of that, some students just aren’t good test takers either. I know this because I’m one of them. I often had to give disclaimers, of sorts, to my teachers about my test-taking skills. Some of it was due to nervousness. Some of it was just due to the mental fog that comes with the stress of taking a test. Some people can manage it well. I can’t.

The only exception, in my case, were the essay questions. I loved the essay questions because I knew I’d ace those. Writing is, I like to think, one of my greatest strengths. If I could’ve exchanged every standardized test I ever took for an essay, I’d have done it in a heartbeat. I’d have been the valedictorian of my high school.

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I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Standardized tests made me feel dumb, but I know I’m not dumb. I couldn’t manage this blog, keep track of major events in comics, or stay up-to-date on the status of sex robots if I were. I genuinely worry that a lot of impressionable, vulnerable kids will feel that same sentiment by taking these tests. They may never realize that these tests are not a reflection of how smart they are.

The issue of standardized testing is still ongoing and still controversial. There are a lot of moving parts to education, especially in large countries with diverse populations. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but an important first step is acknowledging the problem.

As usual, John Oliver has already done a far more astute job of exposing the problem than I ever will. He dedicated an entire segment of his show, “Last Week Tonight,” to it. I’ll let him fill in the blanks that I wasn’t able to cover in this post.

So to all the students out there still dreading their final tests of the school year, I can only urge you to hang in there. These tests will not determine the course of your life. These tests will not determine how smart you are. You will come out of this. Life will get better as an adult.

Sure, you have jobs, families, and taxes to worry about. Take it from me, though. If you can endure the stresses of exams and standardized tests, you can endure almost anything an adult life can throw at you.

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What I WISH I’d Learned In School

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I’ve said it multiple times and in multiple ways on this blog. Expect me to say it again in many other ways there is and even a few some thought impossible. High school sucks. I hated it with a passion. When I look back on my life, I’ll always see high school as one of the bleakest, most miserable experiences I had.

There are so many reasons I hated this point in my life, too much to list in a single blog post. Hell, I’d need a whole series of novels to adequately convey the misery I felt every day I had to endure that rancid swamp of standardized tests, cafeteria food, and adolescent hormones. The most I ever learned from high school was never wanting to be that miserable again.

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I like to think I learned that lesson well. My entire outlook on life changed for the better the day I graduated high school. Everything I did after high school, from going to college to getting my first book published, feels like a step up from where I was. Sure, it helped that I got into shape and fixed my horrible acne problem, but that shift in outlook still shaped a significant part of my adult life.

Even though I feel like I’ve done fairly well with that life, there are times when I look back at high school in ways that don’t give me night terrors. Other than not wanting to be so miserable, a lot of what I learned in high school hasn’t really helped my adult life.

I’m not just talking about quadratic equations or knowing what the hell T.S. Elliot was talking about either. A lot of the meaningful lessons I’ve learned came from experience, family support, and internet access. These are all things I could’ve learned without gym class, exams, and stale pizza. High school never really prepared me for adult life. It only ever prepared me to pass a goddamn test.

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With that in mind, as well as the knowledge that many kids are eagerly awaiting the end of the school year, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on all the lessons I wish I’d learned in high school.

These are lessons that would’ve helped my adult life in so many ways. I worry that the kids preparing for summer won’t know just how important these lessons are until it’s too late. Some have to do with life skills. Some have to do with understanding how the world works. In any case, these are the lessons that I wish high school had taught me.


Lesson #1: How To Start A (Non-Awkward) Conversation With A Stranger

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This is something that should come naturally. Having a conversation is one of the most basic elements of non-sexual communication there is. Other than a handshake, it shouldn’t need to be taught, right?

Well, this is where high school, ironically enough, gives teenagers too much credit. It’s half-true that most people know how to start a conversation. The problem is that for most of our lives, to this point, all the conversations we’ve had are with family members, relatives, or childhood friends that we’ve known so long that we remember the brand of diapers we used.

Starting a conversation with a friend is easy. Starting one with a total stranger that isn’t awkward is much harder. It’s also an important skill when it comes to making new friends, working with others, and even finding a lover. The hardest part of any new connection is starting that conversation.

Some high schools do teach social skills, but still give a higher priority to reading Shakespeare and passing a math test. I’m not saying those things aren’t worth learning. I’m just saying that better social skills will help people make friends, improve teamwork, and get them laid. No math test can ever do that.


Lesson #2: How To Tell Someone That You’re Romantically Interested

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A big part of what makes high school suck is loneliness. Unless you’re an athlete or an exceedingly beautiful girl, you’re going to feel lonely. On top of that, puberty is rewiring your brain to make you want to kiss, hug, and hump others in ways you thought were gross as a kid.

Teenagers may be melodramatic and prone to emotional meltdowns over a lost shoe, but they still have genuine feelings. They still feel love for others. Having that love and not knowing how to express it makes for some pretty awkward situations, some of which can be downright traumatic.

I had more than my share of crushes in high school. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to actually talk to these girls to let them know. For this one girl, I actually wrote a note and put it in her locker. I never heard from her again. That’s a clear indication that there’s room for improvement.

Having someone to love and to share your emotions with is healthy, regardless of whether you’re a teenager or a grumpy old fart. Knowing how to explore and express that love with someone goes a long way towards tempering that loneliness. For those enduring the rigors high school, less loneliness can only help.


Lesson #3: How To Spot A Scam

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As teenagers, our understanding and assumptions of the real world is painfully limited. That’s unavoidable because teenagers haven’t been on this planet long enough to have any real idea of how it works. Most of what they know comes from media, their family, or ugly rumors circulating around the cafeteria. To say that’s an imperfect perspective is like saying Kanye West is slightly eccentric.

In the real world, there are a lot of liars and frauds that will exploit the hell out of anyone’s imperfect understanding. When I was in college, I noticed a lot of school email accounts got bombarded with those Nigerian Prince scams. Some actually fell for those scams and lost real money because of them.

Beyond the scams in spam email, there are other elaborate frauds like work-from-home gimmicks, fake lottery winnings, multi-level marketing, and online dating scams. Those with limited life experience are especially vulnerable to these schemes and falling victim to them could ruin your life. Just ask anyone who invested with Bernie Madoff.

It wouldn’t be too hard or take too much time for high school to teach us the basics of scams and how to spot them. Teenagers are already cynical, by nature. Learning how to spot cheats and hucksters won’t just help them save their money. It’ll help them avoid being conned out of their faith, their trust, and their panties.


Lesson #4: How To NOT Freak Out When You Watch The News

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This is something I’ve brought up before. It’s a lesson I learned in college, but one I really wish I’d learned sooner than that. In the age of the internet and smart phones, it’s easy to get bombarded by all sorts of weird news stories that scare people into thinking the CIA put fluoride in their water to control their minds. For hormonal teenagers with limited life experience, it’s even scarier.

The world the news presents us is not the same as the world around us. The news can only ever highlight tiny bits and pieces of a much bigger picture. Most people don’t realize that until they’re adults. If they’re unlucky, they learn the hard way and spend too much of their lives hiding in a bunker, hoping that the Illuminati doesn’t send assassins.

Perspective is an important thing and teenagers struggle with that. As I said before, their life experiences are limited. They just emerged from childhood and began making sense of the world. The least any public school can do is help them.

That means telling them that the news rarely tells a complete story. It also means reminding them that the reason why something is news in the first place. These horrible stories we see every night are news because they’re rare. The world and the people the news describes are only brief glimpses at best and click-bait at worst.


Lesson #5: How To Craft A Resume (And How To Pad It)

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A major part of learning, be it in high school or pre-school, involves acquiring skills that will help you find meaningful work later in life. It’s not just enough to know how to read, write, and do basic math. Most people can learn how to do that for free these days, thanks to online services like Khan Academy.

To give you a better chance at finding a job, it’s important to develop other skills. Unfortunately, the only skill high school ever really teaches you is how to pass a test. That may help you get a driver’s license, but it won’t help with much else.

Even if you have skills, putting them together in a resume is a skill most people have to wing. I’ve actually taken classes that help with crafting resumes and none of those classes were offered in high school. I had to find those in college and after I graduated.

It’s a simple fact of modern life. To find a job, you need skills and you need to sell your ability to make those skills useful to others. That’s what will help you get a job. That’s what will help you find a lover. That’s what will help you get laid. Some skills don’t require college. Others may require a master’s degree. Learning how to seek and market those skills is far more valuable than just filling out a test form.


Lesson #6: How To Invest In The Stock Market The Right Way

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This is a topic I don’t blame high schools for avoiding. When most people, including highly educated people, talk about the stock market or the economy, it usually flies over everyone’s head. I would go so far as to say only a small part of the population is even wired to understand investing and finance.

However, there are few skills in life more important than knowing how to manage and invest your money. Anyone can just go into a bank and open an again. Knowing how to actually manage that money so it grows over time and isn’t undercut by inflation is a skill that’s often overlooked.

A teenager’s limited perspective of the world makes the stock market too complicated to understand. However, most teenagers do understand the value of making money. Why else would they make such a big deal about getting an allowance or a part-time job? That understanding, though, will only take them so far.

Contrary to popular belief, investing in the stock market isn’t just fairly easy. It’s actually pretty effective at building future wealth. It doesn’t just beat inflation. It beats nearly every other investment out there.

I didn’t learn anything about stocks in high school or college. Everything I learned came from a small booklet that a relative gave me. That booklet only had one real tip. Unless you’re going into the financial services business, the only real investment you need to make is in index funds.

Despite what the Jim Cramers of the world may tell you, nobody can beat the stock market. Nobody knows what it’s going to do today, tomorrow, or a year from now. You can’t beat, but you can make it so you don’t lose to it either. In some parts of life, not losing is just as good as winning. With money, it’s one of those lessons you don’t want to learn the hard way.


Lesson #7: How To Find The Job That Best Fits You

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This might not be something that can fit into a typical high school class. While most high schools have guidance counselors and career counselors, a lot of what they do is just sell you on the idea of going to college. They’ll help you find an education path. They may even help you find a career path. Finding a job that fits you, however, is not exactly a priority.

It happens all the time. People will make it through high school, go to college, and get all the right degrees for a certain career path. Then, they find out that the job they thought they wanted didn’t fit them. They either end up miserable working a job they don’t like or overwhelmed at the prospect of starting over. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

That’s why I think it’s more important to help teenagers figure out the kind of work that fits them. Some like making things with their hands. Some are more creative. Some are analytical. Some have personality traits that make working in a cubical akin to a prison sentence at Alcatraz.

I’ve worked more than my share of jobs that I hated. A lot of people endure that, even famous celebrities. Finding a job that actually fits someone’s skills and makes them want to do that job is a lesson too valuable to overlook. High schools are in a perfect position to help teenagers do that. The fact they don’t only makes the situation more tragic.


I know it’s too late for me to salvage my high school experience. It was a long time ago and I’ve since learned a lot about life, namely how to not be miserable.

However, I still feel like I started way behind the curve and have only recently caught up. How far ahead would I be now if I’d learned these lessons in high school? It’s impossible to know. All I know now is that high school still sucks and it’ll always suck for me. I’m okay with that. Hopefully, future generations will not know such misery.

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