Goose, gander

“What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

While this phrase actually refers to sauce, it can also refer to life. If you want to learn if something is sexist, put each gender’s face on it and see what it looks like. If it seems odd, then maybe something is up.

I’m specifically thinking of books right now, but you can do this with anything.

Teen girls are bombarded with books about how to get and keep a boyfriend. How to lose weight. How to do their makeup and hair. How to dress.

There are no similar books for teen boys.

If they read at all, the books they read are science fiction. Boys rarely read books for fun. This needs to be addressed, but it isn’t the topic of this post.

So if it is OK to teach girls that their focus in life should be on their image, and subsequently, how to catch and keep a mate, how come it isn’t something we teach boys?

Maybe we shouldn’t teach girls this at all. Maybe we should teach them good character skills rather than good cosmetic skills. Maybe instead of teaching them how to dress for success, we should teach them how to be a success. Maybe instead of teaching them how to find a mate we should teach them how to find themselves.

“Computer illiterate”

Fairly frequently, people come into the library and they tell us that they are “computer illiterate” and they ask if there is someone who can help them with the computers.

They don’t ever tell us that they are illiterate and want someone to read the books to them.

Several years ago, they would say this with a certain amount of pride, like it was a good thing. They would say it as if dealing with computers was something that other people did, and they were above it. They would say it as if computers were just a passing fad that they could ignore.

They’ve started to realize that they aren’t going away, and that being “computer illiterate” isn’t such a great thing.

The library does teach classes in computers. They are free, and open to everybody. Our system also has books and DVDs that teach you how to use a computer if you can’t get to one of the classes.

The odd part is that often the people who say this are those who have to get on the computer to apply for a job. These days, a lot of job applications are online. No paper, no typewriter. It is all online, in part because the job itself uses computers. If you can’t fill out the application, you probably can’t do the job.

It is a hard, cold truth.

These days, being computer illiterate is the same as being illiterate. It is out in the cold, left behind, stuck with a low paying job.

The funny part is that these same people will say that their seven year old grandchild does better at computers than they do. The funny part there is that the only reason that a seven year old can work it is that the five year old doesn’t know he can’t. He just looks at it and tries. He thinks about the options and gives the best available one a try. If it doesn’t work, he tries something else. This is how anyone learns anything. Try. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Maybe they should get their grandchildren to teach them how to work a computer, and for that matter, life in general. Maybe they have forgotten that the secret to everything is to give it your best guess and see what happens.

Knitting, sewing, and the relay race of knowledge

My Mom tried to teach me how to knit. In a way, she did. She taught me how to knit insofar as she taught me how to move the needles so that I added to the piece.

But she only taught me the fun part of knitting. She didn’t teach me how to cast on (to get started) and she didn’t teach me how to fix the problem when I dropped a stitch or picked up another one. Most of the time I didn’t even know I had a problem. I certainly didn’t learn how to prevent it.

Part of being a good teacher is making sure your student can do everything on her own. If she still needs you around then she hasn’t really learned anything at all. The goal is independence.

I had the same problem with her and sewing. We had an old Singer sewing machine that was in a standalone cabinet. It was a huge piece of furniture. While it was cool how the machine folded up inside this thing that served as a sideboard when it wasn’t in use, it wasn’t cool how it worked as a sewing machine.

Of course, I didn’t know that the problems I was having were the machine’s fault and not mine. I thought that when it would jam up it was because I did something wrong, and not because it had a faulty design.

The problems were that my Mom didn’t tell me this, and that every time there was a problem she would fix it for me, rather than teaching me how to do it myself.

After she died, the sewing machine became my nemesis. A friend had taught me a little bit more about how to sew but I still was having a problem loading the bobbin or with having the top thread get stuck and jammed up with the bottom thread. It seemed like I spent more time fixing problems than sewing.

Somehow I came up with the idea of buying a used, portable sewing machine rather than getting that one fixed. It think it was cheaper to get a used one that works than fix the one I had. The new (-ish) one came with a manual. With pictures. I read it and understood how a sewing machine worked for a change. Somehow in time I learned that the Singer sewing machines were known for bobbin and thread problems. If you have bobbin and thread problems, you don’t really have a sewing machine.

I learned that my problems with that machine were not because of me. I learned how to work my new machine. I learned how to sew, for real.

To be a good teacher, you have to teach the good and the bad. You have to show the student the fun parts of the subject to get her interest, sure, but you also have to show her everything else. She has to be able to do it all on her own. Ideally, you’ll teach her everything you know, all your tricks and tips, all your hard earned knowledge, so that she will then be able to learn even more and pass that on.

It is the only form of immortality we have.

We can’t live forever. Our lives are far shorter than we realize. But our knowledge can last far beyond our bodies. If we pass it on well, then we have improved the lives of everyone who lives past us.

It is like a relay race. Every person does her best so that the next person can do her best. The team gets further along with each person who pushes herself. But if we are stingy with our knowledge or are just inept, we might as well not have been in the race at all.