Tag Archives: Education

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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Interview of Luther Siler: Author, Teacher, Geek

Our blogging friend Luther Siler of infinitefreetime.com has a book that came out this week, Searching for Malumba. It’s about Education, a topic we’re passionate about. Links below to get you to the book and many other writings by Luther!

CG: Hi Luther, you’re a new name here on Comparative Geeks. How about a quick bio for those new to you. You know… Kind of a station identification, if you will.
L: I’m a teacher and independent author who has spent most of my life bouncing around between Indiana and Chicago.  I’m married to a lovely and patient woman and have a four-year-old son.  I spend most of my time online at my blog,www.infinitefreetime.com, and on Twitter at @nfinitefreetime.  I have at least three books out right now depending on when you run this interview, since the fourth, a book about teaching called SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA: WHY TEACHING IS TERRIBLE… AND WHY WE DO IT ANYWAY comes out on October 27th.
One of these days, I hope to own an ocelot.
Snowpiercer CoverCG: So one of the most interesting posts I’ve read on infinitefreetime.com is your Snowpiercer review… A movie you did not like. You made me go back and read my own review… And how I talked about it being such a departure from the comic. Hmmm, not really a question there… tell me a blog post that you really liked!
L: Aaugh, that Snowpiercer review.  It’s the #1 Google result if you search for “Snowpiercer stupid.”  A bit of perspective: my site right now has just under 200,000 pageviews over its entire lifetime.  The Snowpiercer review is responsible for sixteen thousand of them.  My wife keeps telling me I should watch the movie again, liveblog why it’s stupid minute by minute, and then put the entire thing on Amazon for $2.99.  It would outsell all of my other books by a ridiculous margin, I think.
As far as a blog post I really liked?  Hmm.  There is a story of attempting to be a good parent called MOAR BUTTZ that I think is pretty good.  My wife nearly laughed herself into a heart attack the first time she read it.  It’s here.
CG: OH. MY. GOD. Everyone should follow that link.
It sounds like you’ve turned some of your blogging and other non-fiction writing into Searching for Malumba. Tell us a little about what that process has been like.
Searching for MalumbaL: I’ve known the title of my book about teaching was going to be called SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA (available here, in print and digitally!) for almost as long as I’ve had a teaching career, and I started in 2000.  Most of the material in the book has been previously published somewhere, but the majority of it isn’t available any longer and you would have to have been reading me for a really, really long time, I think, to feel like you weren’t getting your money’s worth. It’s basically a Best of Luther Siler on Teaching; if you read my blog and you’ve enjoyed my talking about my job, I think you’ll like MALUMBA quite a lot.
The process itself involved learning to work with a new program– this was my first book written in Scrivener– and an awful lot of reading and thinking about my career.  I’m so ADORABLE in those early essays.  I almost left them out, but every teacher is adorable during their first year or two.
CG: I haven’t spent too much time with it, but I do really like the IDEA of Scrivener.
Malumba is about education, and so I have to ask, a topic we’ve hit on a few times here on the blog… what do you think is the Purpose of Education?
L: That’s a difficult question for me to answer, honestly; it’s like asking what the purpose of light or air or gravity is: I dunno that it has a purpose, per se, but I know I can’t live without it.  I’m one of those people who is almost never satisfied with how much I know about anything, and one of my lifelong difficulties with my job is a serious inability to connect with kids who don’t want to know things.  I don’t care what it is.  I want to know more about it than I do now.  Education is the background radiation of my entire life.
CG: I now have a burning desire to write a series of posts about the Purpose of Air/Gravity.
Of course, education isn’t the only thing you blog about… read any good comics lately?
L: Man, I’ve read almost nothing BUT good comics lately.  The Iron Man relaunch is really promising.  Gail Simone’s CLEAN ROOM just started and it’s great.  DOCTOR STRANGE.  THOR.  KARNAK.  MS. MARVEL. SAGA.  COPPERHEAD.  All of the comics– yes, ALL of them– in the recent STAR WARS relaunch have been great.  So long as you don’t touch DC, we’re in the midst of quite a renaissance right now.  There’s more good stuff out there than I can read.
(There have been times where I’ve been quite the DC fan.  Right now nothing they’re doing appeals to me.  I keep trying, though.)
CG: Yeah, I had almost gotten into the New 52 when they ended it.
Comics related question: if you could have any one superpower, what would it be?
I’d go for one of the super-scientists, Tony Stark or Batman or Reed Richards or Hank Pym without the domestic violence.  The ability to make stuff to solve whatever other superpower needs I happen to have seems promising.
CG: So basically, you want to be Forge. Sounds good!
When you’re not writing non-fiction, I hear you write fiction. I think it’s my Amazon account telling me that, since I’ve picked up a couple of your books (as yet unread, sorry…). You’ve got short stories and novels both – which do you find easier to write?
The Benevolence ArchivesL: Short stories are easier, but novels are a lot more fun.  My BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES series is a novella with six short stories and a full-length novel, and the next project in that series will be another (novel-length) short story collection.  My other series, which is going to be called THE JOHANNES CYCLE as soon as the second book is out, is full-length novels, the first of which is called SKYLIGHTS.  That said, what I’m working on this week is two short stories.  So what the heck do I know?  🙂
CG: I hear you know something about promoting Mars exploration stories around the time Mars exploration movies come out…
You have self-published your work. Any advice for others looking at self-publishing – or finding a publisher?
L: I have an article here I keep pointing people toward, about how to publish your book.
My problem in life is that I have very little patience, and my computer skills are versatile enough that I’m not especially terrified by any of the technical demands that come with self-publishing.  Since I have no patience, the thought of slaving over query letters so that I can wait six months to be told no and then start all over again is not something I’m super interested in.  As of this precise second, my books have been downloaded or purchased 2,244 times since May of 2014.  There are writers who are not that successful and there are writers who are ENORMOUSLY more successful than that.  But not a single one of those books would be out there had I not decided to self-publish.  Sooner or later, someone with some pull will read something I’ve written, and if it’s good enough, that’s the day my life is gonna change.  I’m just gonna keep hustling until that happens rather than waiting to get lucky in a slush pile somewhere.
As far as advice?  Write every day.  And if you decide to write a book, start writing it and DO NOT STOP until it is good.  That’s how you write a book: you start, and you don’t stop until it’s good.  It sounds snide, but it’s as close to the truth as I’ve been able to get.
SkylightsCG: You have to choose, favorite thing you’ve published. Go!
L: It’s actually not that hard of a choice:  SKYLIGHTS, the first book of the Johannes cycle.  SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA is really close, though.  I love THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES a lot, but it’s not as personal as either of the other books.
CG: And finally, have I talked you into reading the Snowpiercer comic yet?…
L: I’ll try anything once.
CG: How about Hickman’s Avengers?
L: One of these days, man, I’m gonna have some extra money in my pocket at the comic shop and come home with a ton of Hickman trade paperbacks.  (Sidenote: I just bought the TPB of Warren Ellis’ INJECTION, a series I’d bought on inertia without any real idea what was going on, and it was SO MUCH BETTER in trade form.)  For my money, the best Avengers story ever told was the “Under Siege” arc Roger Stern wrote, in issues 270-276.
Thanks so much for the interview, David and Holly!  I really appreciate it!

And thanks to Luther for the interview! Hopefully you’re not even here reading this now… you’re off perusing Luther’s books and blog – or maybe some of his stuff on Sourcerer! In closing: #LutherForHugos!

Superhero Entertainments on Coursera

If you don’t know, Coursera is an site that helps advertise, host, and run online courses – generally free. Or, to quote their self-description:

Coursera provides universal access to the world’s best education, partnering with top universities and organizations to offer courses online.

https://www.coursera.org/

Time and circumstance have kept us from taking any classes yet, but something you may have noticed here is we like education. Well, Holly has found a few to take right now – and she invited me to join her for one. If you noticed the title of this post, I think you see why. Superhero Entertainments, a course taught by Professor Ian Gordon at the National University of Singapore. A university whose course offerings would not generally be on our radar…

Here’s a link to the course:

Registration closes today. So I guess this is a PSA that if you’re interested in this course, act now! I don’t know when they’re counting today, from, either – Singapore? It’ll be 8 weeks, and it’s dipping back into the past, then coming forward all the way to DC and its movies and especially TV – and “Making Movies the Marvel Way.” It says it should be 1-4 hours a week of work.

We’ll likely blog a bit on this as we go, or at least be reacting to some of what we learn! But if you have interest, join us in the class. Act now!

Edutainment For Everyone

The popularization of edutainment is not new. I remember learning all kinds of helpful things from TV shows like Sesame Street, as a kid. When I had children of my own I even ordered a set of School House Rock DVDs. I’ll assume at least a few people still remember that program. They were single subject cartoons (history, times tables, etc) that ran between kid’s shows, almost like a commercial. They had catchy tunes, and singing one of that show’s songs is still the only way I can remember the preamble of the US Constitution. And I’m sure the School House Rock people should get full credit for me passing Pol-Sci 101 freshman year of college. My professor never once tore off his polyester tie and broke into song.

Someplace between Mr. Rogers and National Geographic reruns, innovative people discovered most adults want to learn new things too, as long as that teaching moment fits into our frenzied lifestyle. With the aid of YouTube, more single subject short videos are coming out everyday, and they feature a host of fascinating topics.

Here are some of the shows I think everyone should be watching.

Periodic Videos:
The creation of the School of Chemistry at The University of Nottingham, this show makes understanding the periodic table of elements a brain party! Using controlled laboratory experiments and slow motion video, these guys are willing the blow the crap out of their laboratory, so you don’t have too. Want to see what happens with Hydrogen meets flame in a Hindenburg inspired pairing? Of course you do! And these fine people have got you covered.

Recent video: Underwater Sodium (Yes, there will be a BIG pow!)

Minute Physics:
Using lots of colorful cartoons and slick one-liners this show is half stand up comedy routine, half smart pill. Best of all, it really is a one to two minutes time commitment, not counting the massive sponsor messages at the back end. With Minute Physics around, you no longer have a valid excuse for telling your kids you have no flipping clue why the universe is flat.
Recent video: The Counter-intuitive Physics of Turning a Bike (Dull name = interesting physics.)

8 Bit Philosophy:
This show (and the next one) are from one of my favorite YouTube channels, Wisecrack. As far as geek chic shows go, this is the grand prize winner. Old school 8 bit video games and graphics re-purposed into 3-4 minute shows that distill complicated philosophical concepts down to their core. The shows are easy enough for kids, but thought provoking for adults too. One of my kids used Plato’s Allegory of the Cave the explain something to his 4th grade class and rocked his teacher’s world.
Recent video: Is Batman JUST? – 8-Bit Philosophy

Earthling Cinema:
The tagline for this show is “Your favorite movies get probed by aliens.” Movies represent this century’s mainstream cultural art form, as well as our dominant entertainment source. This show is all about seeing these creations and what they say about our society through the wide eyes of a future alien race. The show’s narrator reads and misreads all the movie’s social cues in brilliant and often humorous ways.
Sort of recent video: The Shining (over a month old, but I really liked this one)

The divine search for knowledge and trivia consumes me, or maybe I just like YouTube. I’ve come to the conclusion I’ll watch anything. Once! Except unboxing videos because those are just weird. With all the shows currently available, if you don’t know enough tidbits and factoids to impress your family and resemble a modern day Renaissance Man/Woman/Person, you have only yourself to blame.

Science Fiction Today – Everything

EToday we’re going to do something a little different. Some of the reason is because a lot of hot topics start with the letter “E.” The rest of the reason is that we’ve covered a lot of these topics already!

Rather than rehash a topic, I’ll link to the previous posts we have on the topics we had in mind for “E.” So if you’re racing through A to Z posts, today’s like a breather, and you could save this post for later… but otherwise, here are some great posts from the archives!

Clearly we had the letter “E” already covered. You can read these and all our Science Fiction Today posts by clicking this link. And day by day throughout the challenge, that link will grow all the more awesome!

readallthings

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!