What Is Work?

On Competing with Self & Others
“Being home schooled, I am finally on my way to wailing.”
What Is Work?Chapter: SchoolLess Speaks
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W alking to the tennis courts with one of my friends who goes to Hunter, we got into a conversation about who does more work, each of us having different opinions about what work is and if all work is equally useful and purposeful.

At one point during the conversing, he said, “So, you’re doing like dirt analysis and stuff like that, right?”  I am not.  He made it seems as though a lot of work means good work, and that dirt analysis is extremely advanced and more complex than anything I might be doing.  I picture him in a high-tech science lab with chemicals and beakers around him, and then I see myself in my kitchen.

Currently with Scitcha, my science teacher, we are doing an experiment on heat created mostly by me.  We froze a bottle to varying temperature.  We then put a coin covered in oil, for suction, on top.  The particles become excited inside the bottle, due to the sudden heat, and increase the pressure on the coin, making it click.  We find our data using only a bottle, a freezer, extra virgin olive oil, and a dollar coin.  I learn about particle activity and the relationships between temperature, volume, and pressure.  Simple?  Rudimentary?  Yes.  Less challenging?  Less useful?  Less creative?  Definitely not.

But I do worry sometimes about the level I am working at.  What I do throughout my day may be helpful, but may not help me do well on tests.  I don’t even know what other seventh graders are doing in science.

When Skeptic says, after I just saw a friend, “So, how’s school for them?”  I tell her we just don’t mention it.  We want to talk about anything else.

Another time I was hanging out with the same friend and I told him I thought I was doing more work than him.  I said this because I am a little insecure, but also because I was tired of hearing his complaints about work, which ended up really being brags.

He responded thoughtfully:  “No, you’re not, feel my backpack.”  I did, and it was heavy.  He felt mine, which had only book, sheet music, a box of reeds I had forgotten to take out, and a draft of this blog entry.  He then told a story about how he had 39 science questions and 43 math problems to complete that night.

I have given up on this subject.

In a way, what he thought was impressive was actually proving my point that a lot of work isn’t always good.  Are 39 or 43 or 376 questions really necessary? Repetition is good, but what if it stops people from reading and playing music and cooking and socializing and relaxing.  My math teacher at Senesh had a magnet that said:

Why Study?

The more you study the more you know,

The more you know the more you forget,

The more you forget, the less you know,

So Why Study?

But that didn’t stop her from giving us tests to study for and sheets to practice on.  I may have answered a few questions that night, but mainly I asked them.  I played an hour or so of clarinet, and read 100 pages.  And being well read, inquisitive, and musical doesn’t matter in life, obviously, right?

Sometimes I cook breakfast for myself, my dad, a guest, or all three.  Yes, it takes out 20 minutes of “school,” but how is it not useful?  Is it bad because that’s 10 fewer math problems, an extra draft not done?  It would really suck if you got to be older and had kids and a family, and didn’t know how to cook them an omelet, wouldn’t it?  If I gave my Hunter friend an egg, a pan, a spatula, and maybe, for a challenge, a knife and some onions, I don’t even know what he would try to do.  And think about it, adult reader, what score do you think you would get on a seventh grade algebra test?

When I was in Wilton visiting my grandparents for Thanksgiving, I was called into my grandfather’s office.  He wanted to talk.  As you may expect, I was nervous being called into his office.  I thought I was in some kind of trouble.  His office has hundreds of rows of stacked paper work from I don’t know when and is extremely intimidating.  As he sat me in the most comfortable “non-vegetarian” (woohoo!) chair in the world, I calmed down.  Turns out, he wanted to talk about my home school experience.

During the Q and A, he “Q”ed me about this very broad topic in more specific sense.  “So do you analyze the stuff you’re reading, you know, like book analysis?” I hesitated, and decided to “A” him with a very vague answer on how I analyze them in my head and with my dad.  I don’t really know what the definition of analysis is, or if I’m doing it, but it seems to be the “way to learn.”

My way of coping with school during my sixth grade year was to study for a test, take the test, get a good grade, and forget it all.  It wasn’t a conscious action, and I think it happened to most everyone.  In schools, they ask you questions like “What year did Hatshepsut die?”  A better question might be, “Why do you think Hatshepsut was so powerful?” But, sadly, the latter is rarely asked in schools, and when it is, students often say, “Well that’s a stupid question.”  Mostly they mean hard, thoughtful, different.

My whole life I have excelled more in music, writing and other arts, as opposed to what is on standardized tests. I have always wondered why schools teach certain things that may never be used in the real world.

My thought of life has always been to get good grades in middle school, high school, and college, and then forget it all and do what I want (TBD).  As one of my heroes, Charlie Parker, said, “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”

He’s not saying it’s pointless to practice.  He’s saying it isn’t the final goal.

In normal schools, you can never wail, just practice.  Being home schooled I am finally on my way to wailing.

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