Social Promotion and the Death of Education

High School Daze

Good luck guessing which one is me.

For those unfamiliar with the term, social promotion is an educational practice where a student is advanced on to the next grade level whether or not their performance deserves it, in order to keep them with their peers. The theory behind this is that holding them back to repeat the year might cause undue mental anguish and scar their emotions and self-esteem for life.

My response: SO THE EFF WHAT.

I’m old enough to appreciate the value of a child’s (especially MY child’s) education, and young enough to clearly remember what school was like in my day (answer: difficult but fun). And let me tell you: social promotion is a crock of BS.

If your kid is doing badly in school, and you let your teachers advance her a year just so she can be with her friends or to spare her some grief, then you fail as a parent. Consider the following points:

1)      You’re doing your child a disservice. You’re teaching her that it’s okay to be lazy, that it’s all right to have low standards, and that you can advance through life by failing.

2)      The kid is going to hate being left back. Let’s get that clear. It will cause her emotional distress. It will seem like her world is coming to an end, all because she won’t be able to advance a year level. But (and here’s the key point) she’ll get over it.

3)      Putting her in another year level is not going to crimp her social life. She’s going to see her friends outside school anyway. If anything, she might make even more friends. Hopefully the right ones, this time.

Social promotion seems to be pretty widespread in North American schools, but from what I hear it seems to be creeping into Philippine schools as well (including my alma mater, much to my disappointment).

So here’s my request to you. If you’re a parent, make it clear to your school board that you won’t support that kind of policy in schools. Tell your kid’s teacher. Tell their principal. If the child is struggling in school, don’t ask for an easier test. Help your child study for it. And above all, don’t take flak from your kids. If they plead, cry, beg, wail, complain, bitch, comment, or express dissatisfaction at the fact that school is hard, take them aside, wrap them in a comforting hug, put on a sweet, parental smile, and tell them:

“Deal with it.”

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After The Dream

It’s the modern-day dream. Being able to work for yourself without being tied down to an office, a boss, or a company. No dream comes free though, and all freelancers have to take the good with the bad. But who are you to complain. You’re living the dream, right?

Right.  

That’s what I always thought until I spoke to Hollis Bartlett, a freelance web developer and designer I met a few days ago. He’s been building websites since 1996 and loves what he does. He’s built a very successful business for himself, and even hired an assistant developer to help him with the workload.

Unfortunately, the nature of the business just became too much for him, and he decided to hang up his mouse and keyboard and (partially) retire. Here’s an excerpt of his email to me:

I’ve grown to dislike the business. It’s a shame, because I still love creating designs in Photoshop, and oddly enough I love love love creating web design using css & html. I love putting together CMS templates with all of these components, and my favourite part is still helping people get their business online properly. The business part afterwards, however, sucks the big one. Waiting for invoices to get paid (usually late). People not paying attention to what you tell them, and constantly bugging you for shit you already told them 10 times. People don’t read emails. They assume they can call you at any time of the day, on any day of the week including Sundays.  I had one show up at my house unannounced on a Sunday afternoon.

You can read the rest of it here.

The reason I find this so poignant is that many people (myself included) dream of being able to support ourselves and our families by doing the thing we love. We work hard and put ourselves through hell to make it happen and, through luck and blood and sweat, some of us do. Hollis did.

What Hollis’ experience taught me is that there’s always an after. Always. Life doesn’t stop once you reach that dream. You don’t watch the sunset through your home office window and cue the credits to roll. Things still happen. Projects fail. Clients complain. Bills come in. Your motivation dies. The dream fades to gray.

By that same token, you don’t have to stay there. Things can turn sour, but there’s always a way to make it better. Hollis took the leap by retiring and moving to a new city. I’m sure other freelancers who got sick of the job adapted in their own way as well, whether by retiring or evolving into different services.

Will I ever be able to support my family with my freelancing? Am I ever going to be a published author? It might happen. Once I do, will I eventually get sick of it? It’s possible. What am I going to do when it actually happens? I have no idea.

Do you?

The War Against Factoids

I was listening to a radio show this morning and the host said something along the lines of: “Did you know Jon Bon Jovi’s first band was named “Raze”? I thought I’d share that interesting factoid with you.”

I’ve heard many people, both on TV/radio and in person, using the word in that context to mean a novel or insignificant fact, much like trivia. And every time they do, it drives me nuts, because they’re using it wrong.

The original definition of the word “factoid” is

Dictionary

Still the most misunderstood book in the world.

…something fictitious or unsubstantiated that is presented as fact,  devised especially to gain publicity and accepted because of constant repetition.

Now, I’m not normally a grammar nazi. If you want to misuse a word, fine. But what irks me is that some people use this as a way of sounding smart when they’re actually exposing their own ignorance (and it’s not the only word they get wrong, either).

What they’re actually doing is stating a fact and then unwittingly defining it as a falsehood by using the word factoid. Even Wikipedia has taken note of the misuse, and apparently it’s been used so often that the other, wrong definition has become common usage! So the factoid is, itself, a factoid. Very paradoxical (yes, I just did that to sound smart).

Anyway. Old man rant done. I’m putting my cane away and you kids can go ahead and play on the lawn again.

Fool Me Once, Shame On Me

I had mentioned in a previous blog post that I had a certain delinquent payment that I was trying to resolve. I wouldn’t say I was chasing the editor down. Rather, I was just emailing every single person on the magazine’s contact page until I found one that would respond. Very reasonable, right? No cuss words or stalker-ish phone calls or anything. And it just so happened that the person who responded was their publisher!

Perfect! Attention from the top!

This person was very polite, even after I sent her the delinquent invoice of $80, and said the payment would be taken care of in short order. Sure enough, after an hour, I received a payment in Paypal. But it was only for $25. Huh?

I was by turns confused, concerned, insulted, confused again, and finally curious. There had to be a mistake somewhere.

And there was. Just not where I was expecting.

I mentioned (in very polite terms) the agreement that the editor and I had at the start of the project. I referenced the amount in the job ad they’d posted, which was the same amount the editor and I discussed over the phone. $80. The publisher politely but firmly instructed me that there must’ve been some confusion, and to consult the contract I’d signed at the start of the project.

Uh oh.

Did you read?

I checked. And there it was, in black and white. $25.

Now, I could’ve gone ballistic and yelled my head off about not getting the agreed upon amount. I could’ve sent a nasty email about the bait and switch that these people were pulling on contributors who work in good faith. But really, all I could muster was a resigned thought: They got me.

1st rule of freelancing is to always check your contract. Always. Golden rule. So this situation is really my own fault. The magazine may have been sneaky and underhanded, but they did nothing illegal. I signed a contract that I didn’t read. Lesson learned, watch out next time.

And honestly? I’m just glad I got paid at all.

Parenthood and Power Tools

My father was (and is) a very “handy” person to have around the house. Despite being a high-ranking white-collar professional, he was never afraid to get his hands dirty whenever something needed fixing. He did it so well, in fact, that my siblings and I came to rely on him whenever something needed done. As you can imagine, this led to us being rather dependent on his skills, which stunted our (my) growth in that area.

Yes dad, it’s your fault I can’t fix the sink.

(Just kidding).

All kidding aside, my dad (and many others of his generation, I’ve noticed) has a solid understanding of the basic trades. And I’m not talking about assembling IKEA furniture, either. This is a man who, in the two weeks he’s stayed at my house, has repaired an electrical fixture, did a high-wire balancing act to change a twenty-foot-high light bulb, fixed the bathroom plumbing, and is about to replace two very runny valves on my hot water tank.

I find myself rather jealous.

Don’t get me wrong. I know my way around a toolbox (hammer is used to hit things). I can fix minor problems. But in terms of skill, it’s like comparing a little league pitcher to Bo Jackson. It’s not just the know-how: I’m mechanically inclined enough that I could figure things out given enough time (and with a little bit of help from Google). But my dad is also fully confident in his skills, his ability to assess what needs to be done, what he can do, and what he has to farm out.

As for me? Farming out is the default option. There’s just too high a chance that I’ll screw it up and make things worse. This sucks on so many levels. I should’ve paid more attention growing up.

I know that fatherhood is more than being able to change a light bulb or build a  three-piece dining room set in your garage workshop. But right now? When there’s a huge repair bill staring me in the face? Damn if it isn’t making me think.

This is definitely not me.

Job Postings from Hell: The Fantasist

As a freelancer, I’ve come across my fair share of horribly written job ads. Wrong grammar, unrealistic terms, and horrendously low pay. But I recently stumbled across one that takes the cake, if only because it involves something close to my heart: fantasy fiction.

Here are some of the choicer bits:

I’m not going to lie my book does need some serious work.
How bad is it?
I don’t know I’m not an editor. but the previous editor told me it took her 45min to an hour per page.

45 minutes per page? Writing something from scratch would be faster! I’ve often had to struggle with horrible writing, but come on!

the book is about 70 pages.
the Word count is 30,500

A 30,000 word fantasy novel? That’s shorter than a single chapter from Game of Thrones.

the book is an action adventure book with mythical creatures, magic and sword fighting, hilarious moments, and hints of romance.

This better not be going in your query letter, buddy, because you just described nearly every fantasy novel in existence.

Condensation to be discussed, and agreed upon during the project.

I think I’d rather discuss my pay, and not my house’s moisture level.

I’ve got a news flash for you, pal.

Ouch.

Trust me on this.

5 Hints on How Not To Sell

I can understand how salesmen and business owners LOVE to use every available opportunity to pimp their company and products. Who doesn’t want to be a success, right? But there are certain tactics that just don’t work. Take a hint. Take 5.

Don’t #1: Don’t ambush your potential customer as he emerges from the bathroom.

Don’t #2: Don’t pitch when you’re in a public corridor, and not in an office of any kind.

Don’t #3: Don’t just shove a business card in the face of your potential customer (really a victim now, at this point) and expect him to take it well.

Don’t #4: Don’t launch straight into your spiel: “We’re xxxx. We can do xxxx for a great price.” Not even a faux conversation to pretend you find me interesting? For shame.

 Don’t #5: Don’t drop the bomb and move on to the next guy. It’s not “efficiency”, it’s rude. But then again, you won’t have to watch victim #1 toss your card into the garbage.

This morning I experienced all five in the space of five seconds, and five hours later I’m still annoyed as hell.

I call this the “Pop, Drop, and Flop”.