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       What will happen when school tries to resume next month? It is unlikely that regular classes will return, at least for the start. In California, Los Angeles and San Diego, the state’s two largest districts, have already announced that the fall quarter will again be online. What about everywhere else?
       In the feature article of the 17 July 2020 issue of Science (“Not Open and Shut”), Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, Gretchen Vogel and Meagan Weiland noted “Continued closures risk ‘scarring the life chances of a generation of young people,’ according to an open letter published last month and signed by more than 1500 members of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). Virtual education is often a pale shadow of the real thing….”
       Over my decades of teaching, I have found that too many students let their minds atrophy over the summer vacation. The beginning of the year was spent just getting their minds reattuned so that they were able to succeed at learning new material. Time had to go into reviewing material from the previous year while also getting them attuned to a receptive state.
       The three months of online learning at the end of the last school year will only magnify this problem. Several of my students put in no effort during that period of time, and quite a few others displayed only a minimal effort. If the year starts with more online sessions, I fear that some students will experience true academic problems.
       At this point, parents should be encouraging their children to undergo mental exercises to help address this. That is not achieved by watching TV or video shows, nor by playing passive games that are not actually challenging their minds. Similarly, busy chatter or argument does not exercise the mind unless some meaningful thought is involved. As a teacher, merely giving facts to my students was not teaching them unless they had to apply and use that knowledge.
       To counter this serious problem means doing reading and engaging in activities that require actual thinking. It necessitates finding questions that are not answered simply, but instead spark an interest in our younger populations’ minds so that they want to exert their minds to work toward finding a solution. Some scientists spend a lifetime working toward a solution without ever reaching a final actual answer. For myself, a problem sparked by the guest lecturer on meta-Pythagorean math in a college course I attended when I was in eleventh grade led to eleven years of work on my own part to reach an actual solution.1 Another three years was later invested to expand and generalize the concept.2
       I am not expecting everyone to take as deep a question as I did. However, it is important that our youths are exercising their minds by being creative. All of my grandchildren are doing this. They are creatine games or puzzles or theatric performances. The subject is not important. What is important is that they are not merely filling their time with passive activities. As Patrick Rothfuss said in The Wise Man’s Fear: “It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.”
       I would like to close by sharing the thoughts of three other authors. The first is important, as it questions the concept of rote education. In The Cult of Success in the Winter 2011-2012 issue of American Educator, Diana Senechal noted: “It is as though students had no say in their own performance—as though their very mental workings could be controlled by an outside force.”
       In his autobiography titled Time Traveler, Ronald L. Mallett stated “I eventually became a firm believer that people can build intellectual power just like physical muscle through exercise; the more one’s intellect is stimulated, the stronger it becomes.” And, as a closing point, I would like to quote T.H. White from The Book of Merlyn: “Neither force, nor argument, nor opinion…are thinking. Argument is only a display of mental force, a sort of forcing with points in order to gain a victory, not for truth. Opinions are the blind alleys of lazy or of stupid men, who are unable to think….”3
       1 – “Expansion of the Pythagorean Theorem Reveals New Constants”; Journal of Recreational Mathematics; Volume 29; Number 3; December 1999. [Note: Shortly after solving the challenging problem, my first child was born. Getting the paper published was a secondary issue and was not addressed until all of my children had left home and gone to college.]
       2 – “A Generalization and Unification of Fibonacci-like Series”; Connecticut Journal of Science Education; Summer 2019. [Note: It was about a decade after the first paper was published that the thought of expanding the concept even came to mind.]
       3 – In 1958, The Once and Future King by T.H. White was published. This tale of King Arthur was based on Thomas Mallory’s 1485 book, Le Morte d’Arthur. T.H. White’s book is one that everyone should read at some time in their life. The 1967 musical drama, Camelot, was based on this book. Similarly, Disney’s 1963 movie, The Sword in the Stone, was based on the first chapter of White’s book. The Book of Merlyn is the final chapter of this book, but it was published separately, posthumously, in 1977.
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