The Longest Now


Teaching old hounddogs new tricks
Friday June 13th 2003, 9:06 pm
Filed under: chain-gang

[This needs to be turned into a story about learning potential, and how communication between teachers and students changes over time.] 


It’s clear to me that a certain kind of learning potential is natural during youth, and has to be regained once one is more conscious of one’s surroundings [perhaps only if one falls from that state to begin with?  but nowadays most do].  Most of the methods people use to regain that learning zone are discipline- or activity-specific.  More general methods have a mythical aura about them — consider enlightenment, or hypnosis.  As Gerry Sussman likes to say, once you learn how to learn, you can do anything.  In any case, few people try to actively regain this ineffable quality; that doesn’t keep them from improving their ability to learn, or in suddenly rediscovering how to walk, sing, play, write, observe, react, or imitate naturally, an important first step.  
      Slashdot recently had an IT-centered discussion on ageism in the workplace and how much  the modern glow of youth is justified.  I’m sorry I didn’t see any world historians offering comparisons to other civilizations and times, but here are a few noteworthy quotes:



I’m a flight instructor, and it’s easy to see where the illusion that young people learn better/faster comes from. Despite the popular notion of today’s youth, they’re not as cynical or as questioning/probing of your instruction as adults are. As an example, if I tell a 16 year-old kid that when you bank the airplane to the right, there is an initial yaw to the left because of a phenomenon we call “adverse yaw,” he’ll probably say “OK” and correct for it on the controls. If I state it so simply to a 40 year-old student, he’ll ask why. So who has learned it better? The kid is immediately compensating for its effects, and is flying the airplane properly a bit sooner; but does he know why he’s doing so? The adult understands the reasons behind the correction; but has delayed implementing the knowledge because of the time spent questioning.

Over the course of learning any complex task, these moments add up to a perception that the adult isn’t learning as fast or as well as the younger person. In fact, they are. You simply have to tailor your training and your expectations for the difference in approach.
                            –delcielo, via
slashdot on ageism


Ken Williams, the founder of Sierra Online felt a missionary zeal in converting people to the belief that learning how to program a computer could change your life. Ken met Bob and Carolyn Box, who were an older married couple in their fifties. Bob was “…a former New Yorker, a former engineer, a former race car driver, a former jockey, and a former Guinness Book of World Records champion in gold panning.” When they both tried to get a job working for Sierra, Ken told them to “put up something on the screen using assembly language in thirty days”. According to how the story is told, they both became very able assembly language programmers. Roberta Williams (Ken’s wife) considered the Boxes “inspiring” and felt that learning how to program “rehabilitated their lives”.
                          — paraphrase of Steven Levy’s Hacker’s, via the same thread


My son and I started taking drum lessons 8 months ago – together. There is no comparison. While he may be more technical and able to do the marching snare roll, etc. I rock all over him on a kit. We both put in the same amount of practice time. 
      But I love the looks I get from the middle age women as I walk out of the lesson room. Which is probably the root of the problem. Most middle age folks don’t think someone their age should be learning new skills and definitely not having fun!
                         — Black-Man, posting to the same thread


I’ll be updating this post at some point, perhaps replacing it with a story-link.  For now, send me your thoughts.


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