Let’s get something straight.

I understand that the human language is flexible. I understand that words have meaning that change and evolve over time, and I understand that people are going to use words how they want to use words. I understand that the original definition of the word “hack” meant to tinker with or achieving a goal through non-conventional means, okay? I get that.

But I hate the oversaturation of the word now in 2015.  I was born and raised in the generation where I was taught “hacking” was the cracking of a computer system. When I hear someone describe something as a “life hack,” I’m sorry,  but my skin crawls. I am a tech freak at heart, and unless you’re breaking a code or calling someone a hack, other uses do not jive with me. Okay?


Photo CC- by bareform, and THIS IS HACKING OKAY JEEZ

“Hacking” Education

So, a young fellow by the name of Logan LaPlante gave a TEDTalk at an age where most of the people I know were still bumbling through angsty adolescence and could barely decide what color of ripped jeans to wear.

Mr. LaPlante’s message is simple: we need to reform education. We need to make sure kids are happy and healthy above all else, and we need to foster their passions rather than squash them with conventional, ineffective education techniques.

Bud Hunt wrote a blog post with similar ideas entitled “Make/Hack/Play,” stating that the three things we need to emphasize in education are creation, innovation, and freedom.

I’m on the fence with this one, ladies and gentlemen. I’m 100% on board with emphasis on freedom, on happiness over test scores, on pursuing passions over outdated curricula. What I am not 100% on board with, is the recent tendency to fetishize innovation over all else. People eat TED Talks up. How often do you watch one, feel an immense burst of inspiration, and then… do absolutely nothing with it? I know I’m guilty. This is my problem: this emphasis on radical innovation creates an environment in which laziness breeds rampant. We can feel better about ourselves for not doing anything to change the world, so long as we listen to and agree with people who have good ideas about how to do so.

Public school is the sharpest double-edged sword there ever was. Kids learn social skills, make friends, and give their parents 8 hour breaks from their hormonal outrages. School also forces kids into cliques, fosters an excellent “dog eat dog, kill or be killed” social environment, and gives many people debilitating anxietal and self esteem issues from day one. Too smart? You’re a nerd, and you’re a faggot, and you make everyone else look bad because you’re a freak. Too slow? You’re a retard, and a moron, and you should just give up now. Like the color black or skateboards? You’re a stoner, and you’re a goth, and you love drugs, and you’re a delinquent who will never amount to anything.

That’s public school. It forges some of us in steel and makes us strong. Others become brittle in the process. They look fine on the outside, but inside, there’s pieces missing.


Photo CC-by Feggy Art

Is There an Answer?

I have no blanket solution toward fixing the broken education system. That’s what it is: it’s broken. I don’t care about dissenting opinions. Students in certain European countries go to college for free. Then they churn out more scientists, doctors, and credible artists than we could possibly dream of. A system where the amount of money you’ll be rewarded for an education is relative to how well you fill bubbles in on a ScanTron is fundamentally fucked up. Period.

I believe people like Mr. LaPlante and Mr. Hunt are on the right track. Public schools attempt to teach obedience and discipline over all else. We claim recess is only for little kids, but anyone who can throw a football reasonably well is perpetually carried through high school, and a lot of colleges. We expect kids to know enough about their passions and their lives to dictate where they go between ages 16 and 18. Kids haven’t experienced a fraction of their lives or passions at 18, yet school systems expect them to choose ONE major through college and stick with it, lest their wallet now and forever be perpetually raped by the United States Government.

It starts at a ground level. Not every school is going to get to have a curricula that involves skiing or glass blowing or anything like that. Some people are so staunchly in favor of a broken system that it’s quite baffling.

Teachers: foster creativity. Foster passion. It’s okay to like football. It’s also okay to like dance, computer science, Calculus, scratch drawing. We need critical thinkers, we need analysts. Enough of the “out of the box” bullshit. Forget the box altogether. Thinking in or out of the box keeps you firmly in the status quo. Be the teacher that cares enough to not talk down to your students, but not let them breeze through. Don’t let students think learning is “for fags,” don’t let them think failure is all they’ll ever amount to.

I’ve had 2 types of teachers talk to me in my life. I’ve had teachers who’ve told me “y’know, teaching is an alright gig. It’s job security. It isn’t my first choice, but eh,” and I’ve had teachers who told me, “If you don’t feel the call to educate, don’t waste your own or anyone else’s time.”

I think I understand the difference now.

Docendo discimus

  1. brittanylenz says:

    Wow, I feel like you exert a lot of rage in your posting. Maybe it’s just passion but I felt like you were mad through most of it. You have a ton of passion (I’m thinking) regarding the educational system. From your posting, you don’t like finding easier ways of doing things (hacking) or the educational system of the United States. I don’t have much more to add. You provide great information but it’s stated in such a way that I’m a little scared to add any comments. For real.

    • jamcfarland says:

      Bahaha, I’m sorry I frightened you!

      I write for a living (somewhat), and I haven’t been in awhile. I wind up like a shaken-up soda if I don’t say what’s on my mind. I like to think I’m passionate about the things that matter, but lately I’m just burned out on the constant negativity and cynicism the internet has to offer.

      That being said, I don’t mind finding easier ways to accomplish things. I just don’t like calling it “hacking.” I prefer problem solving, or adapting, or any other already existing word that does the job just fine.

      For future reference: I always welcome any comment, dissenting or otherwise! Don’t let me fool you, Dr. Ellington is no stranger to how stand off-ish I can be, but I’m always up for a dialogue.

      • brittanylenz says:

        OKay, I’m glad I didn’t upset you. I can tell you are very knowledgeable about these issues & passionate. I am new to the term “hacking” in a positive aspect so I was just taken back by your strong feelings on it. But I’m with you, I think problem solving, improving….something along those lines emphasizes productivity instead of the word hacking. Great posing though, now I know your writing style, I’ll have more to add next week.

      • jamcfarland says:

        No sweat!

        I think my big problem with the computer definition of “hacking” is that it’s almost always negative.

        In defense of the way we’ve been using it this week, hackers usually compromise security systems on computers to expose the holes and offer ways to fix them. Anonymous (probably the most famous hacker group) regularly attacks the websites and social media accounts of terrorists and other organizations like that. So, I can see how hacking can be used as a term for problem solving and finding shortcuts.

        …but I still have to get used to it. lol.

  2. I just want to reclaim the word because the notion behind it is awesome–taking what exists and improving. Though I agree with you: school is broken. I’m not sure it can be fixed. I say throw it out and try something new! But of course that’s not going to happen, so we’re probably stuck with hacks.

    • jamcfarland says:

      I like to think of us trying to fix the education system being a lot like coming across a bad plumbing job that someone jury-rigged with gum and duct tape. Effective, but messy.

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