Research the old-fashioned way

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by cheri block, Mrs. Sabraw, Cherylann B. Sabraw,

My dear friend Richard in far-off England sent me a Boris Johnson solution for peace in the Middle East in commemoration of  the 100th Anniversary of the Balfour Agreement on Friday, November 3, 2017.

My kind-hearted high school friend Bruce up in the California gold country sent me an article this morning from the Daily Signal which chronicled the plight of a small  Indian school–the Havasupai Elementary– located at the base of the Grand Canyon– which can’t seem to stay open for the business of educating its children. Bruce and I both have concerns  about government-run educational institutions.

I am, at times, an old-fashioned girl: I like soda fountains (and sodas), nylon stockings, patent leather belts, British cars with stick shifts, and libraries ( especially the Dewey Decimal section of 813. 52 on literary criticism).

“Libraries, you say? Are those places where Cicero’s works are now housed? Who goes to libraries any more? Why would we NEED to go there when we have Siri???”

This morning, as I cogitated over the material Bruce had sent me, I wondered if the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is housed under the Federal Department of Education.

So, I asked Siri, who in her robotic sexiness directed me to Wikipedia.

When responding to Richard–and I know Richard will forgive my staccato and over-simplified answer to him–I asked Siri the following:

“Hey Siri, what is the difference between Fatah and Hamas?”

Siri wanted to help me. Sincere Siri. That’s who she is. She was not crude as those on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update with Dan Aykroyd.

But Siri sent me a link for the difference between feta cheese and hummus.

It seems like only 1950 that I finished my Master’s thesis in 2014. Where was Siri when I needed her then? To think of all the databases and Google Scholar (an oxymoron, for sure) references that I called upon in trying to support my ideas. To think of all of those 40-mile treks to the Green Library at Stanford, the bridge toll, the parking, just to sit in a study carrel  and ruminate over my chosen topic. To think!

At heart, I believe in 813.52 and here is my 2009 blog post which I offer to you as solid evidence that shows how all  of us will go to any length to cut corners.

Oh, and btw, :), ;), I asked Siri the following:

“Hey Siri, what IS the difference between feta cheese and hummus?” Siri responded, “Hello Sheree, what is the difference between FedEx cheese and hummus?” and sent me some links.

813.52

by cheri block sabraw

In the days before 1995, in order to read literary criticism,  students had to go to the library, use the Dewey Decimal System, and browse the stacks with heads clicked to the right, ear to shoulder.

This is a story of repetitive ambush  the old- fashioned way.

As usual, this is my story.

But it is really the story of cheaters, the story of parents who want their kids to go to Stanford at any cost, the story of desperate over-scheduled  kids who are too busy to think for themselves, and finally, this is the story of a teacher who had nothing better to do on her Saturday and Sunday afternoons than to…..well. Let’s get on with the story.

Good Morning everyone.

Sorta Good Morning, Mrs. Sabraw.

OK. We’ve finished The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible and now it is essay time.

[Sigh.] Can’t you put this off?  All of our other teachers have given us way too much to do this weekend. Pleeaasseee.

No way. You guys enrolled in too many A.P. and honors classes for your own good.

No way. Listen. Just listen, Mrs. Sabraw. Just listen.

For physics, Mr. Van Bloy assigned an egg case design. We have to insulate an egg that, when we drop it from a crane, won’t break. That assignment alone will take us all weekend.

[Mrs. S is thinking about this request, and the awkward use of English.]

And Mrs. Needless is having us translate part of Moliere this weekend.

O.K. As I said five minutes ago, it’s essay time.

But before I pull the screen up to reveal your essay topic, I’d like to discuss how I want you to go about the assignment.

First, you are not to contact last year’s students or read any of their essays. Everyone, put up your hand and repeat after me: I, state your name, will not contact a senior about his/her Scarlet Letter essay.

I, state my name (ha ha), will not contact a senior about their Scarlet Letter essay.

That’s his/her. Everyone is a singular indefinite pronoun.

[Groan. Ticked off, but trying to maintain sycophantic façade.]

Second, you are to do your own work. No tutors, no older brother’s help. No Cliff’s Notes. Remember [ I take my worn and underlined yellow/black copy of Cliff’s Notes out to show them I know it by heart.] Everyone put up your hand and repeat after me: I, state your name, will do my own work and will not contact a tutor, an older sibling, or use Cliff’s Notes.

I, [grumbling]   James Lee, Iris Wu, Kavya Bulgari, Anu Pommu, and Chris Johnson, will do my own work and will not contact a tutor, an older sibling, or use Cliff’s Notes.

Third and last, reading literary criticism and then restating it in your own words without citing your source is cheating. Since you all are so overloaded this weekend, you might be tempted to plagiarize. Desperate people can do desperate things. Do not go to 813.52 at the library. Just think for yourselves.

Repeat after me: I, state your name, will not go to 813.52 at the library.

I, [highly irritated but hatching a plan]  Caleb Kim, Emily Geddy, Vijay Singh, Trinh Tran, and Mario Puzo, will not go to 813.52.

Great!! The paper is due on Monday.

[Bell rings and the week is over.]

On Saturday afternoon, around 1:00 pm, I arrive at the library, dressed in jeans and one of Judge Blah’s old army t-shirts. I have my camera, a stack of dittos with the pledge taken only a day before, solemnly and sincerely.

I find a study carrel, one near the window [for the view], one hidden from the stacks.

I am here.

At 813.52.

Before long, I hear voices, voices of accomplices who plan to get in and get out, quickly, so they can get back to the mink-lined egg case they are designing.

In their hands are small ripped pieces of paper, with numbers hastily scribbled on them: 813. 51, 813.67, 813.82.

Titles accompany the numbers.

I wait until at least four of my students are standing in front of literary criticism, heads cocked, searching for their falsie [so to speak].

Hawthornian vocabulary circles my intentions. Phantasmagoric. What an ignominy. Certainly, they are on the scaffold with their sins.

Flash!!  [Photo taken.]

Hello. What are you guys doing here?

We are looking for notes on Moliere.

Or gravity.

Or poultry management.

 

 

 

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Education, Life, My childhood, My Thesis, People, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Research the old-fashioned way

  1. wkkortas says:

    One of the wonders of the digital age is the sheer volume of information it puts in easy reach; one of its perils is that it allows us to grab the first easy answer.

    • Cheri says:

      The key word in your comment is “easy.” The Mississippi used to be called the Big Easy in reference to the easy-going lifestyle in the Deep South. With all the “easy” spawned today because of technology you would think we would be relaxed…

  2. Brig says:

    Never been a fan of Siri, she doesn’t know as much as she thinks she does.
    I still like going to the library, and have learned to be cautious about results when researching things online.

  3. Richard says:

    I was glad to find we were in wholehearted agreement about the naïvety of Boris’s “solution”.

    I watched the clip of Weekend Update. That would never have been aired in England, however amusing, for fear of self-styled PC watchdogs.

  4. Christopher says:

    As someone who has never operated a dishwasher because they are too complicated, and who is unable to operate a TV (I don’t have one) because it’s now too complicated, it follows I don’t use Siri or GPS, although I’ve observed people using them.

    Quite apart from my not using Siri or GPS because they would be too complicated for me, I also don’t use them because I like to use what still remains of my unaided intelligence and judgement, that I think superior to Siri and GPS.

    It is my opinion that our over-reliance on machines to do the simplest thinking is going to cause our individual intelligences to atrophy irredeemably. This process may already have begun, despite that our technology and scientific discoveries continue exponentially to scale ever more vertiginous heights.

    In this connection, allow me to post an extract from something I wrote as part of a discussion on someone else’s blog:

    “……..mass collaboration and organisation are the keys to technological and scientific discoveries. Hence just because the ‘West’ is currently the richest, and the world’s leader in science and technology, doesn’t mean individual ‘Westerners’ are smarter and more enterprising than individuals in ‘backward’ and poorer societies.

    Ironically, it’s likely that people in ‘backward’ and poorer societies are on average smarter and more enterprising than ‘Westerners’ because they have to develop the drive and skills to overcome so many more impediments to survive.

    And it’s entirely possible that your average ‘Westerner’ – not having to do much to get by – is becoming stupider with each generation, despite the ‘West’ continuing to achieve ever greater feats of technological and scientific wizardry……..”

    I should have have included in the above comment, but will do so now, that the ‘West’ – particularly the USA – now imports most of its “brains” from the poorer non-western societies.

    Discuss.

    • Richard says:

      “… I don’t use Siri or GPS … because I like to use what still remains of my unaided intelligence and judgement, that I think superior to Siri and GPS … ” .
      May I suggest, Christopher, that you embrace change and apply your undoubted intelligence to the challenge of the new technology.
      “… over-reliance on machines to do the simplest thinking is going to cause our individual intelligences to atrophy irredeemably … “
      Not if the individual resolves to participate and adapt (as you have done or you would not be a blogger) and perceives the challenge as an opportunity for further betterment.
      “ ‘……..mass collaboration and organisation are the keys to technological and scientific discoveries …’ “
      Not so. The most revolutionary ideas have been conceived by individuals working alone. From time to time science and technology reach a stage of such bewildering detail, complexity and specialisation that it necessitates an overrarching intelligence to discover an underlying simplicity to bring about revolutionary change and begin the process again.
      ” ‘….Hence just because the ‘West’ is currently the richest, and the world’s leader in science and technology, doesn’t mean individual ‘Westerners’ are smarter and more enterprising than individuals in ‘backward’ and poorer societies …. ‘ “
      Nobody seriously suggests this. Otherwise early Man would never have migrated out of the Rift Valley to populate and dominate the planet, explore the universe and travel to the Moon.
      ” ‘… it’s likely that people in “backward” and poorer societies are on average smarter and more enterprising than “Westerners” because they have to develop the drive and skills to overcome so many more impediments to survive … ‘ “
      This is a case for a meritocracy and a market economy, Christopher.
      ” ‘ …..And it’s entirely possible that your average “Westerner” – not having to do much to get by – is becoming stupider with each generation, despite the “West” continuing to achieve ever greater feats of technological and scientific wizardry……..’ ”
      Who is this ” Average Westerner”‘? Clearly some Westerners achieve these feats and others simply rely on them to do so. This is a question of individual morality. You seem to condemn that very concept behind the Welfare State to provide relief to those unable (rather than unwilling) to fend for themselves.
      “…. the ‘West’ – particularly the USA – now imports most of its ‘brains’ from the poorer non-western societies.”
      What is your source for this statistic? It is remarkable to me that any such data is gathered in sufficient detail for such a conclusion.

    • Cheri says:

      Well, I can’t agree that dishwashers are too complicated, Christopher. They do use a lot of water though. When my dishwasher “broke” last year, I was able to fix it by watching a YouTube video.

      In my own studies, I have come to the conclusion that most significant discoveries, inventions, and scientific/medical breakthroughs have come via the individual, not the masses.There are myriad examples in science, mathematics, medicine of one person with an idea laboring for years, often in terrible conditions, who discovers and furthers an idea that benefits us all.

      Masses tend to group-think and not particularly outside the box.

      As far as your comment, unsupported by fact, that people in underdeveloped countries are smarter and more enterprising, it seems to me you are equating survival with intelligence.
      Not all cultures are equal. Can we say that the Italian culture and the art created during the High Renaissance is equal to the aboriginal art of Australia?

      Survival is a whole different topic.

      When I wrote this current blog post, I thought it was funny, especially the Siri translation of Fatah v Hammas.

      But most readers did not respond to the humor which tells me that the elbow that technology has stuck in our side has delivered a debatable punch.

      In terms of the US importing its brains….whew. While we have many engineers from India here on visas, we have a ton of really smart homegrown enterprising young people who I meet every day. Americans they are.

      • Christopher says:

        I said “… over-reliance on machines to do the simplest thinking is going to cause our individual intelligences to atrophy irredeemably … “.

        This is simply my opinion. Your opinion may be different. Whether or not what I said will happen will only become apparent in about 100 years. I’ll check back with both of you then.

        I said “……“ ‘……..mass collaboration and organisation are the keys to technological and scientific discoveries …’ “.

        I should in this context have said “technological and scientific achievements” rather than “technological and scientific discoveries”.

        I agree that technological and scientific discoveries are usually made by brilliant individuals. But to develop them and put them into practice requires mass collaboration and organisation. Two good examples are the Manhattan Project and the race to put a man on the moon.

        I said ” ‘… it’s likely that people in ‘backward’ and poorer societies are on average smarter and more enterprising than “Westerners” because they have to develop the drive and skills to overcome so many more impediments to survive … ‘ “ and ‘ …..it’s entirely possible that your average “Westerner” – not having to do much to get by – is becoming stupider with each generation, despite the “West” continuing to achieve ever greater feats of technological and scientific wizardry……..’ ”

        Again, this is my opinion, so yours may differ Incidentally I was careful to put qualifiers in, like “it is likely” and “it’s entirely possible”. And again, what I opined may only be apparent in 100 years or so. I’ll check back with both of you then.

        I said “……the USA – now imports most of its ‘brains’ from the poorer non-western societies…….”

        Currently, over 60% of foreign-born engineers and scientists in the USA are from Asia (non-Western) , where most people are poor. And, when I was at school, 60%, being more than half, meant ‘most’. I’ll assume it still does.

        • Richard says:

          And what is the proportion of foreign-born engineers and scientists to home-grown ones? (I only ask.)

          • Christopher says:

            I can only find this “……In 1994, there were 6.2 U.S.-born workers for every foreign-born worker in science and engineering occupations. By 2006, the ratio was 3.1 to 1…….”

            Based on the above, and extrapolating, I’m going to assume that today (2017), the rate would be 2 or less US born workers in science and technology for every foreign-born worker.

            • Richard says:

              I see.

              Your conclusions are little speculative, perhaps, with only two points on the graph and without analysing why foreign workers in science and technology are attracted or their length of stay or their circumstances in their country of origin, their field or their seniority in it.

              I would rather assume homogeneity of intellect among in the human race and in their capacity for application.

              It is arguable that pioneers are the consequence of wealth. Consider the achievements of ancient Greece or the progress in science and technology following the Enlightenment. It is a question of having time on your hands for creative pursuits rather than devoting your whole life to basic survival. There are notable exceptions, of course.

              Is not this internationalism a matter for celebration rather than a dark judgment about the hosts, who appear to lead the field in peaceful migration?

              Given the doubt, at the least, concerning your methodology, care has to be taken to avoid a racist, ideologically political, religious, xenophobic or ethnic approach to these matters.

              • Christopher says:

                “…….concerning your methodology, care has to be taken to avoid a racist, ideologically political, religious, xenophobic or ethnic approach to these matters……”

                Ah……..Political Correctness!!

                Actually, these statistics highlight points made in *this article* from Forbes magazine.

                Is Forbes, by producing this article, engaging in “…a racist, ideologically political, religious, xenophobic or ethnic approach…..” to this topic?

                This is decided only in the eyes of each beholder, I think!!

              • Richard says:

                In this context, the strictures are not political correctness, firstly because I seek no sanction and secondly because, knowing your principles, I make no moral judgment. I simply seek to isolate the core issue.

                I read the link about graduation in China compared to elsewhere. This, I suggest, is more the product of teaching methods, which are a result of the culture. You may say that this corroborates your hypothesis that the compulsion to succeed is propelled by want. Rather, I propose, economic progress, the result of a partial acceptance of market forces, has provided the nutrition and time for study.

            • Richard says:

              Let me make it clear to anyone happening upon our conversation that there is nothing personal in our deliberations.

              So now I shall break with this rule and say you are kind and generous to a fault, thoughtful, knowledgable accurate and painstaking. Your record shows you are decidedly non-racist and free of the prejudices which dog so much of society.

              You have a gift for the English language and write most entertainingly. You have an infectious love of literature and reach out to those whose background or origins are different to yours, sometimes at the expense of those most similar to yourself.

              Your political opinions are sincere but, in my view, over-entrenched (like mine) almost to the point of blind obsession and a teeny bit judgmental. When engaged with those with whom you differ you can be crotchety (wth a small “c”).

              It is my personal joy to have encountered you as a consequence of a casual browsing of the web and I wish you well and all the happiness in the world.

              • Christopher says:

                “……..You…….reach out to those whose background or origins are different to yours, sometimes at the expense of those most similar to yourself………..”

                I’m not sure if I do. But if I do, it must be in the genes I inherited from one of my great-great grandfathers, who was in the latter 19th century, Chief Justice of the Malayan Straits Settlements, which comprise today’s Malaysia and Singapore.

                Here’s a paragraph from a book he wrote:

                “…..It is one of the most touching and painful facts in history, that from the days of the first Portuguese discoveries to the present time, the natives, whether of India, China, Japan, Java, or the South Sea, received their first European visitors with open arms, and everywhere they met with ruthless treatment in return. We have advanced, no doubt, beyond the conquerors of the 16th and 17th centuries; but even now it seems that the less civilised races of men cannot come into contact with us without enduring suffering and wrong…….”

                My great-great grandfather – knighted, as were all Chief Justices of British-ruled Malaya – appears to have been the most blue-blooded of Englishmen, and I think his words were targeted particularly at his fellow Englishmen, many of whom – maybe even most of whom – would have bridled at what he said.

                He seems to have been able to look at his fellow Englishmen – those most similar to himself – through the eyes of others. A most admirable trait, I think,

                Anyone reading this paragraph will be struck by the Political incorrectness of some of the expressions used to depict the native peoples of that region. However, my great-great grandfather was an Englishman of his time and place. They said and did things differently then………

              • Richard says:

                This is most interesting and I agree with everything you and your ancestor say, although it appears criticism is directed more against the Portuguese than the British, or if not that, that progress has been made for the good – under the British Empire, perhaps? I don’t know. After all, he swore to uphold the law – British colonial law.

  5. shoreacres says:

    I love libraries, and the Dewey Decimal System, and the smell of old bindings. My favorite study carrel was in the University of Iowa library: third floor, isolated enough for napping, with a high window that would allow sunlight to shine down for about an hour a day.

    My current favorite library may be a small local one in Arkansas. They still have a fleet of bookmobiles, and you can check out rods and reels for a week. If you’re late bringing one back, the fine is $1/day. If you want to try one of the fly rods, there are classes offered that will teach you how to tie a fly. Try that with Siri.

    • Cheri says:

      Oh that study carrel sounds like a perfect spot. Many of them in old libraries provide just that quiet and isolated safety that the brain needs to put so many disparate thoughts together into one piece. That library in Arkansas is surely a lending library. I don’t think I have ever heard of one that lends fishing equipment, but the $1.00 per day seems steep.

      Today, I remembered to meet my friend for lunch at the Petite Cafe. We were talking books; I suggested The Last Painting of Sara De Vos. “Who wrote it?” she asked. My iPhone was asleep in my purse so I woke it up and said, “Siri, who wrote The Last Painting of Sara De Vos?” Siri repeated my question: Hello Sheree…Who wrote The Last Painting of Sara’s divorce? but then, Siri gave me the author….

  6. Christopher says:

    @Richard – About what I quoted from my ancestor, you said “……it appears criticism is directed more against the Portuguese than the British, or if not that, that progress has been made for the good – under the British Empire……”

    My ancestor had said “…..from the days of the first Portuguese discoveries to the present time, the natives……….received their first European visitors with open arms, and everywhere they met with ruthless treatment in return……”

    From the above, I don’t see it as criticism against the Portuguese more than against the British. I see it, rather, as criticism against all the European colonisers generally, who would include the British, unless you’re a rabid Brexiter.

    I’ll now quote the paragraph that followed:

    “……Let us not, then, be surprised if they [ie the natives] shrink from contact with us. Let us not wonder if native chiefs in and beyond India are not enthusiastic for the aid and advice of a British Resident; or if, as happened only the other day in Tibet, the mere rumour that English explorers are likely to enter their country, creates such terror as to lead to orders being issued to break down all the bridges on the road of such visitors. Will the day never come when we shall teach weaker races that the words of Christianity and Civilization, which are always in our mouths, mean for them something else than conquest and oppression? Shall we never earn the name of being a people that had self-respect enough to be just to them, or heart enough to show mercy upon them?……”

    The only Europeans referenced here are “British Resident” and “English explorers”. Hence when, in this paragraph, my ancestor used the pronouns “us” and “we”, he was referring to his fellow Englishmen. So it was his fellow Englishmen who he was chastising in particular.

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