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When I was in graduate school and going through a period where I couldn’t write anything–I do not go through periods like that often, and they don’t usually last long–I decided to keep a journal.

Keeping a journal is the kind of thing writing teachers are always suggesting you do.  Writing magazines like that kind of advice, too.  I’d done my best to stay away from writing courses throughout my academic career, but I’d managed to pick up this thing about keeping a journal, and I decided I’d try it.

What happened next was either a wild success or a complete disaster, depending on how you’re defining each of them. 

On the plus side, I wrote.  I wrote a lot.  I wrote almost compulsively.  I’d often write as much as ten to fifteen pages a day, while taking a full courseload and working as a TA.

On the minus side, it took about a day and a half of that for all my writing to become distinctly suicidal.

I’m not exaggerating here.  I wasn’t writing about suicide, but I was writing things that were increasingly self-abusive:  I was stupid, I was ugly, I was at base a congenital liar, I was never going to be a writer because I didn’t write and what I wrote was bad anyway.

And on and on and on.

It would be funny, except that the more of this kind of thing I wrote the more depressed I got, not in the modern “oh, I’m depressed” sense, but in the sense of no longer being willing to eat or get out of bed.

So one day, I took the notebooks and tore them to pieces and threw them away.

I tried the experiment again a couple of years later, with the same results.

And that was the end of me and journals.

I’m bringing this up at the moment because I’ve noticed myself doing something similar here.

Oh, I don’t get suicidal, and I don’t get obsessive about writing endlessly every day.  It helps to have a life.

But I have noticed that I get very pessimisstic on certain particular subjects, and that I get that way even when I start a post not intending to write about them. 

This is sort of what happened in my last post, when I was having a perfectly good day, and ended the post on the usual whine about anti-intellectualism and schools.

Except that I am, in fact, really depressed about the situation in schools and in colleges. 

But I wasn’t intending to go there.

If you see what I mean.

Anyway, I’ve done all this in preface because I want to go back to schools for a moment, and this time to elementary and secondary schools.

And I’m aware of the fact that we’re at a disadvantage here because I think I’m the only one who has had any actual contact with elementary and secondary schools in the last ten years.  Lots of you remember your own experiences in that range of education, and what you remember is a world that is dead and gone.  Nobody reads Silas Marner any more.  They only read Catcher in the Rye in honors classes.

So, I want to answer a question that’s been put to me very often and that up to now I think I’ve answered sort of in a round about way.

What should students learn in elementary school?

The purpose of elementary school is to

a) impart basic skills necessary to functioning in the school’s society


b) give children a rudimentary understanding of their culture in order to recruit them to the defense of it.

What is the purpose of secondary education?

Both of the above, on a higher level of complexity and completeness, plus the foundation for college work for those who want to go on to it.

I think that, if I started there, I could manage to construct a decent curriculum for any particular child.  I could even manage to construct a decent curriculum for a school, although I think that would be harder.

But that’s for another day.

There’s a cycle of America’s Next Top Model I’ve nearly missed entirely, and I’ve got to go see if they’re doing an encore marathon today.

Okay, it’s silly, and it’s not Bach.

But sometimes I get silly, and ANTM is my favorite form of idiocy these days.

Written by janeh

November 28th, 2010 at 8:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Outlines'

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  1. I find keeping a journal (I still prefer to call it a ‘diary’) mildly useful and interesting when I’m doing something unusual, like going on a trip, and mildly helpful when I’m in an absolute rage about someone or something and know I need some safe way to let off steam – and that kind of stuff usually gets destroyed as soon as I’ve calmed down a bit. Speaking to another person isn’t as good for me, not in the initial stages, because you end up having to deal with their reactions as well as your own.

    I don’t find that ‘journalling’ either starts or helps deal with obsessive self-abusive thoughts, whatever conventional thought is. I have difficulty with the idea that one’s journal is supposed to be personal and honest, and one is also, in various educational settings, supposed to share it around. To me, the two don’t go together, particularly when you have no choice in the sharing and the result of the sharing is part of your evaluation.

    I also don’t find digging around for root causes much help in difficult situations – and that’s kind of like the type of journalling that degenerates into the ‘what an awful person I am’ stuff. Finding *immediate* causes for one’s problems, sure, that’s essential for learning and growth – eg noticing that every time I do, say, think X, the unpleasant or dangerous Y happens is useful; speculating that I do, say or think X because my parents didn’t treat me right when I was a child is a rather pointless and useless activity if my problem is Y. I’ve never been one of those people who suddenly change their entire life because they now accept that they were abused by a bully in elementary school and have internalized his taunts, or whatever.


    28 Nov 10 at 12:54 pm

  2. OK, my experience is just under the 10 year mark with a child in an AP program, and a little more recent with a niece and nephew who weren’t, but I didn’t track them closely.

    Purpose of E&SE as stated sounds reasonable, but you could generalize the concept. Once you have defined the objective, you can usually work out the options for achieving it, and there may not be many. A depressing percentage of spectacular failures in many fields boil down to “no one was in charge” or “Sam was in charge, but couldn’t make up his mind.”

    Next most common boils down to defining the objective too narrowly.

    Not to let the journals off the hook, but did you start them when you weren’t writing both times, or just the first? I have my own periods of black moods without any journals to blame.


    28 Nov 10 at 7:38 pm

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