Can you circumnavigate the world by clock and fist?

This post is a comment to Chris Brogan’s post on education that quickly got out of hand. More was written and deleted than is shared below, but my education also taught me about discretion. Let’s leave it at that and I hope you enjoy the opinion.

I went to school in an age where teachers had rules and a fierce expectation that you learn your multiplication tables without using your fingers, that you learn how to read and write by reading and writing a lot. Turns out, the more you read and write, the better you get at it. The more you know, the more you want to know.


10 Replies to “Can you circumnavigate the world by clock and fist?”

  1. Wait a minute. I just Googled “circumnavigate the world by clock and fist” and the number one hit was this post. The rest of the hits were sailing results. The Bernadine Sisters who launched my journey into snooty intellectualism would take umbrage at your generalization here mister. I’m telling sister!

  2. @Paul The Sisters of the Order of St. Joseph that trained this puppy would lay waste to the flimsy rulers your Bernadine Sisters brandish! The reference is nautical being able to tell where you are in the world with nothing but a clock and fist to chart your course by the night sky… For that, you need lots of math, a good dose of self-esteem and an unwavering faith in your own abilities. (the nuns would throw a few other things in like faith in God, prayer, etc) It probably helps to speak a few languages other than English along the way and to know what plants and animals won’t kill you and to make fire with nothing more than sticks and all sorts of other facts you could look up on the Internet if ComCast had a 25,000 mile cable.

  3. Well the Bernadines who taught me brandished a helluva ruler, let me tell you. I knew what you quote meant, I was just looking for the context. It’s a colorful expression and I’d love to see how it came to be. Despite the barracks-like school they ran, they did manage to light the fire in me so they must have done something right. Although in retrospect, I think the primary motive in making me memorize times tables and the periodic chart was to distract me from impure thoughts and self-abuse.

  4. … 3×3=9, 3×4=12, 3×5=15, 3×6=18.. hmmm.. nope not working.. pre-Internet may have made that strategy more effective 🙂

  5. It occurs to me that the original book upon which this post is based is not referenced. Here it is: The Stars By Clock and Fist by Henry M. Neely It is out of print, but available in libraries and used book stories.

  6. Hate to admit that I did not read that book (not a big reader) but I agree with your post 100%. Part of the problem with education (not having read the original Chris Brogan post) is the education of the teachers. Teaching (Liberal Studies) was my major in college and my fellow students seriously scared me. There were more than a dozen failing a math class we had to take on fractions (4th grade math). In California the CBEST test is a joke. It was easier than my matriculation test to get into college. I appreciate your tweets and blogs. You’re pretty awesome.

    Bridget (you know me best as @rigginsconst)

  7. My college education was in the days of typewriters and card catalogs. Writing a 20 page paper took discipline, thought and organization, much more so that the copy-paste efforts of most undergrads these days. I like to think my English degree is far more valuable than any earned in the past 15 years of computer-aided education. Students don’t do as much “work” in college, even though they may require more classes. I’ve seen my son’s (BFA ’09) and daughter’s (BA ’12, cross fingers) syllabi. Of course, I entered college, jettisoned off the heel of the boot of a Catholic high school… college — even armed only with a typewriter — was a cakewalk after that 4 year experience. They made us write 50-page term paper on the back of a shovel using lumps of coal. 🙂

    Thank you for your comments. I’m really just average in a world of way more talented and awesome people. But they let me sit at their table and I am happy to soak up a small piece of their aura…

  8. Hmmm. When I was learning arithmetic under the tutelage of Benedictine nuns, I found memorizing multiplication tables hopelessly dull. My mother had been a secretary and could do a tremendous amount of arithmetic in her head. I was not motivated to memorization. Somehow I just KNEW the calculator would come along. I recall Dr. Wang’s early calculators – about the size of your typical desktop pc today and around $20,000, but it sure could multiply and divide! And things were all uphill from there. I did my MBA with a $300 business calculator you can get today for maybe $15, so life is good in that respect. I think what you are addressing is not so much the duller parts of education but the overall tenor of our society’s view of education right now. I loved algebra, calculus, and the theory of probability (the formulas not so much) in high school and college. If you can look it up or mechanically do something, this is not so much teaching as torture. Young people need to learn enough of those mechanical and reference things to appreciate why and how to use the tools. We are tool users, after all. The tools are changing. And when the power goes out we are left with …. hmmm, only what we really “know” how to do. My impression is that we are in a period of significant change, technically and probably politically and socially (we can only hope). I don’t recall the Starship Enterprise’s electronic gizmos ever having dead batteries. Things will keep evolving and we need to teach our kids to use them. Surely some young people will be motivated to learn the tricks behind the tech. What to teach young people and how is another topic!

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