As If – My Subject in a Box Rant

Warning: This post could be somewhat disjointed and rambly…and ranty.  Go figure…

Yesterday on a bike ride with my friend, we discussed his upcoming book, “The Smartass Buddha” – just talking about different things – chapters he was trying to work through, philosophies he was sussing out, things which were vexing – that kind of stuff.  Eventually, this morphed in a discussion (or rant on my part) about being active vs exercising.  That for most people, ‘exercise’ is this very specific thing that you go out and ‘do’. You have special clothing, special shoes, special accessories, and special pieces of equipment. And for some – if all those elements are not there, there is no exercise to be happening.  I’m not saying that people riding bikes don’t need, well say, a bike…my typical beef is that they need ‘the best bike with all the riding clothes and blah, blah, blah…as if being active is impossible if it’s not relegated to this special time and place with all the special things.  As if you cannot incorporate ‘being active’ into your everyday life; as if you can’t park your car far away from a building (or worse, a gym) because you don’t have your $150 cross-training-walking-from-parking-lot-to-building-shoes on.   AS IF.

Which, of course, lead me to a typical rant I have about what I call Subject in a Box.

Basically it’s this insane way we teach things in our society – every subject is relegated to this idea that it exists in a box.  Now it’s time to teach Math, then it’s time to teach History, and now it’s Lit time! As if these general subjects just exist in this time frame of 3rd period, 10:00-10:40AM. As if history, in and of itself, is some sort of preordained dot on the timeline that has to be committed to memory. As if the concepts of Math have no relation at all to anything that has to do with the box subject of History.  Which leads to another rant about history… this wonky idea that history ‘happens’ in some sort of linear fashion. History is not a dot on a line; it is a continuous and ever expanding circle with millions of dots all over the place.  History is ALL THE TIME. Everything is history – not just 1492, not just 1066, not just 1199. Those are just dates – they mean nothing if there is not a context of the world around them being discussed; it is meaningless if we don’t understand the time and place. It is useless if it’s just something rote committed to memory for the next few days or until ‘the test’.   I understand that there’s a practicality to having subjects taught as specific subjects, but what annoys me is that there is very little connecting between the subjects.  None of these things exist in a void.

In one of my university humanities classes, there was the typical whine from one of the students… why must I take classes in humanities if I’m an engineering major?  Well, I don’t know…Archimedes?

This steams me up every time. I’m a firm believer that one can learn something from any kind of class – or any kind of situation.  Just because I’m studying X, doesn’t mean I should be closed off from Y & Z because chances are there’s a connection between X, Y, and Z.   To reiterate, nothing really exists on its own – so why do we teach things as if they are in a box??  Fractions had much more meaning to me when I learned to bake rather than just writing the answers on a worksheet of random problems.   But conceptually, those two things were never introduced together in my math class.  Why? Because baking was a home ec class – not a math class.

So to bring it back round to the original exercise vs being active topic, I think that this idea that ‘we have to go exercise’ as if it’s something completely separate from our normal every day activities, derives from our exposure to the ‘subject in a box’ methodology of teaching. It keeps us from realizing that we can be active in a variety of ways throughout the day instead of just in a specific place, at a specific time with specific things.  And to be clear, I am not against going for a run, taking a planned bike ride, going to the gym – but these are not the only times one can be active. That’s really what I’m trying to get at. I think.

Rant over… in a box.


About Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

I'm a research librarian for Public Television, story teller, bike commuter, baker, music fiend, lover of reading & books, mother, wife, friend - and many more descriptive adjectives and nouns.
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58 Responses to As If – My Subject in a Box Rant

  1. Pingback: Naughty Bits | The Mercenary Researcher

  2. Valid points and well made! Fractions definitely make more sense when put into a practical context. And you can get some incredibly wordy maths questions in exams these days. Plus, without physics, and chemistry, and biology, we wouldn’t have a planet for us to live on and we wouldn’t be here anyway.

  3. electronicbaglady says:

    Brilliant! I feel the same about education policy. Apparently education is just preparation for work now and not about learning. GAH!

  4. Elyse says:

    When we lived in Switzerland, all the bicyclists had clothing to match their bikes, and the tire rims were color coordinated, too. Ughhhh.

    One of the best teachers I ever had was a high school English teacher who too it upon himself to teach us history simultaneously with literature. You can’t understand Shakespeare without knowing about the Tudors or the seeds of French literature without knowing Bout Charkemagne. It was wonderful. Suddenly, books made sense in context, not just as good stories.

    Great post

  5. Fabulous post! Some of the smartest people I know weren’t good students in traditional school but they’re good at stringing together information. They probably could’ve used progressive education!

  6. I don’t what you mean by disjointed. Seemed same as usual to me. 😉

    There’s a large group of bikers who file by my house every Sunday morning. Bicycle bikers. Not bad-ass bikers. It seems there’s a very strict dress code that must be adhered to. Each one is in spandex with bright colors. They look like superheros.

    You want students to think outside of the box and ironically, they’re in an institution that encourages conformity. I heard Kurt Vonnegut speak once and he said that writing programs RUIN more writers than they do CREATE because they strip out an individual’s voice.

    That comment was a bit disjointed, wasn’t it?

  7. Amy Reese says:

    Yes! Yes to all of it. It helps if exercising is fun. Then it becomes an activity. A way of life, something you like and need to do.

  8. Twindaddy says:

    When you’re sure of what it is you’re trying to say let me know, then I’ll come up with a clever retort. 😉

  9. Paul says:

    Hi RtMR! Interesting post. You’ve written about subjects that most of us have likely contemplated at one time or another, if only in passing. I think the general issue is that it is a part of our hard-wiring to find ways to do things easier. This human trait has surely served us well over the millenia creating our modern society with machines to make us more efficient, organizations to accomplish what individuals can’t, building materials to keep us warm and safe, etc. Like all attributes, this constant seeking of easier ways can be either negative or positive – laziness or efficiency. Same with education: for sure it is much more effective to train individuals one on one(as in the early days when daughters and sons worked with their parents and were taught that way) but it is more efficient to put the young in class rooms and teach them en mass. This can certainly be improved upon with some thought – i.e. the cross-cirriculum that Ross mentioned in Quebec.Or, as they get older, work-sharing, mentoring, internships, etc. I personally think more of this would be of help.

    The questions you ask RtMR are a part of our very fabric. They have some answers but will likely follow us as long as we exist. Personal decisions, like parking further from the mall entrance or walking short trips to the store rather than driving are part of the answer – it boils down to the individual choosing.

    And great rant! Thanks for the brain food. I enjoy your posts, they make me think. Keep up the rants!

    • I like the thinking! And as a subscriber the path of least resistance – I totally understand your point. I just like thinking and ranting ~ and I’m probably a hypocrite about a lot of it what I wrote 🙂 – because, ya know, we’re a paradox, and enigmas and all that jazz.

  10. El Guapo says:

    Yes to all of this!
    It;s probably a mental thing to have separate definitions for “activity” and “exercise”.

  11. Robin says:

    So true about learning not happening in a silo. I find this particularly true with parenting–I can’t tell you how much I learn for myself, as a result of problem solving parenting situations. As for exercise, I do think you are right, we all need to be active more during the day and it can be done while doing other things. For myself though, I did get in trouble a few years ago when I “thought” I was active, running around after my kid, but it never really was amounting to much: you know, sustained heart rate or movement. When I’m on a hike with my kid? We stop at every bug he sees and I wasn’t getting much of a workout. I have since carved out my “exercise” time for each day as a necessity and try to maximize activity the rest of the time so I just don’t have that one spurt of “exercise” and then sit on my bum the rest of the time. Thanks for the fun rant!

    • You’re welcome. But I think that running around with your kids, taking a hike and stopping are still valid – sure we are not ‘sustaining’ a heart beat but it’s still being active and keeping your body in shape. Our bodies just want to move – we have decided what it meaningful and what is not.

      I’m like a greyhoud, I’m super active and then a complete couch potato.

  12. Carrie Rubin says:

    You’ve just summed up why I love the Montessori education my kids received. Everything is connected. When they work on a project, they do so from all angles–math, science, humanities, economics, informatics, etc. Both my kids are much better outside-the-box thinkers than I’ll ever be, and I suspect a lot of that has to do with how they’ve learned to approach things.

  13. I totally get this! I have this “discussion” with my husband all the time who whines that he doesn’t get time to work out, and gets on my case for not working out. But I am in constant motion with the kids, house, etc, etc. People never used to take time to work out; they went bike riding with their families or spent their weekends in the garden or whatever. Yes, exercise is necessary if you’re otherwise sedentary, but when your life is already active, why not account for that?

    • Right! When I was in Weight Watchers, at a meeting, someone was righteous about not counting anything but strict ‘exercise’ for their activity points – which to me is redonk – if I’m painting a room, working in the garden, doing some hardcore cleaning, that’s activity.

      If you don’t have time to go ‘work out’ – it’s kind of cool to see if you can get something going at home. Ready to hand is often easier to maintain over the long haul.

      • Life takes a lot of calories already. I was in a lifestyle “game” with some women I didn’t know well, and I often counted playing at the park or whatever as my daily activity, because I was working harder at that than spending time staring at the Food Network on the elliptical. Other women called me out for that because I didn’t spend 32 minutes on the treadmill instead. To me, forcing yourself to carve out time in your day to do an anti-social activity is unhealthy. Some people love it and that’s completely fine by me, but it’s not how I roll.

        • I have whole rant about fake exercise – and not being mindful of your movement (like reading on an elliptical or worse yet, WATCHING THE FREAKIN’ TV) – but I don’t want to put people off by being preachy (just ranty) and at least they’re moving…but for them to judge your activity is ludicrous. Live does take a lot of calories!

  14. TheLastWord says:

    Very interesting! There is a very interesting book by Brown and Duguid who separate “learning about” and “learning to be”. I quote that all the time. What school does is teach us “about”. It does not help us “be”. I understand the reason why, but what it also does not do is show us how we can apply what we learned about to help us be….Maybe at that age we’re just not ready for it. I do feel sorry for those who do not learn. I ranted about that once.

    As far as the equipment goes, I do expect my $250 driver to compensate for my$0.50 cent golf swing. But then I also own a $750 guitar and a $100 amp, so am not totally bad!

  15. rossmurray1 says:

    I dig it. As crazy as the place is I call home, the Quebec government a few years back did implement reforms to make courses more cross-curricular — the period being taught in History dovetails with what’s being read in English, for example. Making board games in Math class, that kind of stuff. My only gripe is that students no longer write essays; they write “responses.” But I’m old and grumpy and am happy biking in my cargo shorts.

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