Becoming a tinker tailor

Recently I’ve found myself doing things…a lot of them. For someone who used to bunk off PE in favour of eating chocolate sarnies with a pal, this is quite a change of gear.

‘Cual es su nombre?’ I hesitated, I couldn’t remember my own name, let alone this question… and this was only the start of my Spanish GCSE oral test. Uh oh. After telling the examiner that I had ‘peras’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner I concluded I was no good at languages.

Or that’s what I thought until I discovered meta-learning through Timothy Ferris’s blog. Two weeks of applying it while I was in Rio, and I was confidently conversing with Cariocas entirely in Portuguese, even conducting a fifteen-minute doctors appointment without a word of English.

I got back and discovered that somewhere in Rio I had decided to be a cook. Rewind a year and my standard dish was a stir-fry, it was the only thing I couldn’t mess up. but three weeks after returning home and 15 people are in our front room while I whizz around the kitchen “plating up” for our supper club, using recipes and techniques I tracked down online and from our local Portuguese café deli.

It turns out loads of the things I’ve been saying and thinking I’m no good at, aren’t actually as tough as all that. In fact a combination of unfounded fears and a lack of access to learning that actually worked had frightened me off from making and doing a whole load of things that are actually ridiculously fun.

‘I can’t believe someone of your age can make such an inferior product’. These were the words crisply boomed out by my Home Economics teacher Mrs Wibberly as she held up the pencil holder I had spent half a term painstakingly trying to sew. Then she (literally) pulled it apart.  I was 13 and it seemed clear I had no natural aptitude for sewing, so I didn’t touch a sewing machine after giving up that class as quickly as possible…until last week when I took a local sewing class. The teacher is a no-nonsense northerner, within one class she taught me the thrill of the material whizzing past my hands and any fear of making a mistake had vanished with the excitement of making a bag.

I hadn’t bothered to question the words of Mrs Wibberley and other teachers, and they had turned into accepted assumptions. But what if it wasn’t me being innately bad at these things, what if the teaching just wasn’t right for me? I’m not blaming the teachers, I listen to my teacher friends who say they think the education system itself that needs to change. Radically.

I’m excited by these changes in education. Recently alongside breakfast I wolf down a TED talk. Who the heck knew neuroscience, quantum mechanics and fashion could be fascinating and easy to understand? If those bite sized chunks aren’t enough MOOCs are really rocking things around in education. Perhaps even more disruptive that moo-ing cows invading classrooms, MOOCs are massive open online courses, which you can take from Harvard, Stamford, Oxford and other top uni’s. They’re free online lectures, which you follow alongside an international class, normally with time set aside each week for online lecturer contact, and in the class forum’s you can end up learning just as much from the other pupils too. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, Clay Shirky explains quite how much these early stage educational transformations are shaking things up in his blog post here.

So nowadays you can find me growing my own veg (a year ago I believed I was a nemesis to all flowering and fruiting life…turns out I just never bothered to learn how to grow), learning computer programming, taking a MOOC in networks, painting, or learning to boulder. And I seem to be getting even more adventurous, last week I was hanging off scaffolding drilling some logs together! Next week? Happily, who knows…

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