How to Build A Fictional Education System

Few things say as much to me about a culture as its education system. What a society values, it teaches to its young, and that means its values are at the core of any system designed to teach and enculturate children.

Education is a big issue right now. People are drowning in student debt, but many of them are unable to get jobs in the fields that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire qualifications in.  We’re wrestling with questions about what education is for, what constitutes a good one, and how much it should cost.  Eventually, questions like that will (or should) filter into our speculative fiction.

There are lots of middle grade and YA books where schools function as a setting element.  Harry Potter, Vampire Academy, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid come to mind. In those stories, if education is relevant at all, it’s a catalyst for adventure or an obstacle that the characters have to deal with while trying to get what they want.  So the education systems are familiar: residential English school, American-style public school. They’re a backdrop, or a motif, not a problem in themselves.

Adult lit doesn’t spend much time on education at all, unless we’re dealing with some kind of magical initiation and training. In those cases, again, the method and problems associated with the educational system are usually not discussed beyond the protagonist whining or complaining about the hardass mentor. I’m betting we’ll see a shift in the next 10 to 15 years because more and more people are returning to school later in life, and we have increasing numbers of college grads who can’t get the jobs they want.

Check out The Foxes of Synn by Rose B. Fischer

I’m also betting on this because, in the past five years, I’ve had two long-term, large-scale spec fic projects up-end themselves and decide that they were suddenly going to start making a HUGE DEAL about how the education systems in their societies are broken, holding people back, and need to change.  Well, I’m not a political writer, and I’m not a psychic, but I do pay attention to social movements, and I listen to what is important to people.  I didn’t plan to write about education, but I figure if both of my story worlds have decided that education needs to be written about, I’m gonna go with it.

So, when I realized this was happening in my work, I took a step back and started asking myself some hard questions. What is the purpose of education? David’s tackled that here in a Feminist Friday Post and here in an analysis of education in Naruto. What does the ideal education system look like? Who should have access to education, and who should pay for it? Is education really the social equalizer? The more questions I asked, the more I didn’t have good answers – and I still don’t, but that’s okay with me because I never want to preach to my audience.  I want to pose questions and let my readers make up their own minds.

I decided to get more purposeful about the education systems in my universes, though, and to that end, I came up with a list of “ideal education system criteria.”

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Weekend Coffee Share – Time Runs Out Edition

If we were having coffee, I’d ask you where the time went. We’ve reached the end of my time home with the Geek Baby. We’re traveling for Thanksgiving this coming week (look out for some great contributor material!), and then the following week we’re working on transitioning into a home care situation.

And it’s not like the Geek Baby is all grown up and saving China, but it’s still sad to be at the end of this time I’ve had. We’re of course super grateful that we’ve found somewhere at all for her to be watched – one of us staying home full time would not be at all economically easy.

Thanks student loans.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you there’s a lot that I thought I was going to be able to get done during these several months. I’ve talked about much of it before. Well, none of it really went well.

For instance, there was my Warmachine Journeyman League. The League ended and… I was last place. Well, I guess second to last – there was someone who played one game. Some of it was most people played their most games the first week, and I missed the extra games session they were all at because I was working. After that, we played more points and the games were longer, and could play fewer in a week – so there was never a chance to catch up on games. Meanwhile, my starting army (chosen for me because it’s based on what they sell as the starting pack) was awful and I was losing all those games anyway… and winning later. Wasn’t enough to catch up at all.

And I got no painting done, which is funny since I got some done in advance of the League starting… I didn’t even get my new stuff I got for my birthday fully built. Although, started on that…

Getting somewhere finally with building my Prime Axiom! #convergenceofcyriss #warmahordes

A photo posted by @comparative_geeks on

Then there was the Superhero Entertainments class that Holly and I were taking online. Yeah, that ended up not happening past week two for us. There’s another session in the future, so who knows, maybe we’ll take it yet. Interesting – but finding the time to watch, take notes, visit the forums, do the quizzes… plus, watching stuff together it only counted as one of us watching stuff and they track that for completion, so we were going and having to basically have a device watch all the videos for us a second time.

Speaking of classes, there’s a class I’m doing online now as well for professional development that my work paid for. I’m at least off to an okay start there – though I’m going to have to do all of next week’s while traveling, pretty much. And I haven’t made it to the chat sessions yet as they’ve been the same time as doctor’s appointments for the Geek Baby.

Then there’s the sketching NaNoWriMo I was working on. Well, it was off to an okay start. Sketches, anyway, not completed drawings like I was hoping. I’m realizing that’s a lot of process – and I see why professionally it’s done by many people, and why webcomics have a spaced out schedule. There’s a lot to it.

And I eventually fell behind, discouraged, and stopped.

I was playing Kingdom Hearts 2… Fell off the completionist wagon there, and moved on to a variety of things. TV, where I finished my long-haul re-watching of Star Trek: The Next Generation at least. Oh, and watched Firefly and Serenity again. Then back to games and played a little Diablo 3 with the expansion… and then Fallout 4 most recently.

We have a stack of board games that we’ve bought, intending to play and finding them at a good price… that have yet to be played. We’ve had to stop ourselves from considering any more, really, until we give these a go…

And not a lot of reading even happened, though I’m hoping for a bit of reading time as we travel. Along with doing classwork. And trying to maybe get something written for a university publication by December 1. Oh, and vacationing.

If we were having coffee, I would fall into the cliche of having to say that watching a baby is a lot of work. We all know that as a haha, yep, that’s a thing sort of a fact… but in actual practice? Like, a LOT of work. TV and gaming tended to happen during naps, often with her asleep on me (or Holly, before me).

We’ve kept the blog going, at least… but any growth plans, including stronger coordination with the contributors, has not happened. Sorry, contributors. If you have any blog post ideas, please, I’m all ears. Or, well, fingers and eyes on the computer, I guess?

If we were having coffee, and thinking about contributors, I would point out that we haven’t been the only ones busy. Though I of course haven’t been doing much blog reading either, I am in touch with a number of other bloggers. Many are at the seasons in their life where their blogging plans are changing, or they are starting whole new blogs. Things have gone quiet over on Sourcerer.

And there are things I could have been trying to cram in – freelance work I was thinking I could do while home. I guess it’s good – I never really heard back from any of my clients on doing stuff either. So I guess I didn’t have an opportunity to find out if I could have pulled that off…

It’s like not just we have gotten really busy – everyone has. A lot of our peers and friends, people our age, are all starting to have kids as well. The Geek Baby is suddenly going to be just one of the oldest of a large group of kids. But that also means a likely change in the seasons of our life, as we move towards kiddo get-togethers and play days, things like that.

Where did the time go? Do you know?

First Impressions Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones premiered today and after Daredevil David and I were excited to see what this show would be like. Currently we have watched the first two episodes and so far it does not disappoint. The first episode introduces us to Jessica and to the main plot for this season. They have done a good job in the first couple of episodes of introducing us to the main players in the story. Of course we have Jessica Jones the private investigator and her pushy best friend. Then we have the unbreakable Luke Cage, a lawyer that hires Jessica for odd jobs, and the mysterious villain. We understand that Jessica has a history with the villain and that what happened between them still affects her. At the same time it is a villain that is beyond the standard law enforcements capability to handle. It will be interesting to watch the rest of the episodes because it is already pretty intense. (Minor spoilers for the first episodes of Jessica Jones) Continue reading

For the Love of Sims

The Sims is a series of life simulating games that allow you to fully control the lives of your Sims, whether for good, evil, mediocrity, or fun. You can build and decorate their house, create the Sims’ looks and personality, and either help them succeed in life or watch them struggle and fail. It’s possible to make generations, and watch the whole town change and grow.

I love The Sims. I don’t know what is so appealing about simulating another person living life, but it’s a lot of fun. Sometimes I just want to play someone working their way up a career, sometimes I want to create the perfect love story, and sometimes I want to create the coolest villain ever. I currently have a game going of a Villainess who lives in an all blue decorated house and loves to be snobby and evil. It’s the most fun I’ve had with the game in a while, but the coolest thing I use the Sims for is character creation for writing.

I don’t know why, but being able to use the character creator and simulate the character I’m writing helps me brainstorm. It helps me work out the kinks, and also come up with realistic character traits, especially quirky ones. In order to avoid the “Mary Sue” trap of having a perfect character always, the Sims gives me ideas for how to make them just a little imperfect but still amazing. Maybe they are very brave and confident, but just a little bit of a couch potato? Or vain? It’s easy when writing to want to create the Perfect Character who does Everything Perfectly and is also The Chosen One in the Universe because they’re just Wonderful and Perfect. But character creation on the Sims has always helped me dial that down a bit. Plus maybe they passed out that one time because they hadn’t gotten enough sleep, and wasn’t that embarrassing? Or maybe they caught their significant other flirting with someone else, and I should consider making their relationship not so perfect in my writing?

When The Sims 4 came out, I was super excited to play it. It seemed like the developers were coming up with even more ways to make the game realistic. It makes it easier to have group conversations and activities, and Sims now have emotions that have an effect on everything they do. As someone who not only plays the game for fun but also uses it as a creative catalyst, it seemed like a dream come true.

For some reason though, I’m not 100% happy with the results. Sure, the character creator is amazing and the Sims have never looked better (thank you more realistic hairstyles!) But the game lost the ability to completely customize everything, which was one of the best parts of the Sims 3. The ability to customize every color and pattern and every inch of the game was fantastic. Now, my characters seem to always have one of the same three hair colors that I like. There’s not enough variety, even though there are more options of styles than before. It feels oddly limiting; lots of different styles to choose from, but maybe only 5-8 colors for those styles.

Unlike other Sims fans, I wasn’t that upset about not having pools or ghosts right off the bat. They never featured too prominently in how I played. But there were aspects like not having the decorating tool that made me miss playing the Sims 3. I also miss the way that the town changed so much in the Sims 3; you were able to set it to Story Progression and the entire town would change as people moved in and out, got married, had kids, died, etc. The Sims 4 progresses some, but not as much. The lack of memories bums me out too, but that didn’t come with the base game of the Sims 3 like it did with the Sims 2, so that’s not too huge of a loss. It may be coming in an expansion.

I’ve wondered though whether or not I also miss the features of the expansion packs I had with the other games or if this one does fall a little flat. A base game will obviously not have as many features as one flushed out with expansions, but I still just feel some like it’s missing some things that made the others so much fun. While it is awesome and amazing the little things that they improved, like being able to drink coffee while also eating breakfast, that make the game more realistic, the way that the emotions and everything else play out just don’t feel the same to me as past games. Still, even with that feeling I find myself playing it a lot, and it does help with character creation. Maybe once I do have the time to add on the two expansions that have been released I’ll find myself loving it even more. For now, though, I’d say it’s 3.5/5 stars for me.

First Impressions – Fallout 4

So as I mentioned yesterday, we got an X-Box One. And not just any X-Box One (is there such a thing? They seem to all come with a game…), but the Fallout 4 X-Box One.

Now Fallout 4 was not a game that was really even on our radar. We’d played only a tiny bit of Fallout 3, only a smattering of Skyrim, and as we mentioned, had to eventually give up on Elder Scrolls Online. So we’ve had a rocky recent relationship with Bethesda. But then my news feeds starting filling up with stuff like this…

And I began to wonder what we were missing… so when the Fallout 4 X-Box One was $100 cheaper than the Halo 5 X-Box One, it seemed like an easy choice… And once I had it, it was time for a try, right?

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