Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Learning through hobbies

I have learned a lot from a young man I know. Sixteen-year-old Ben has taught me many things about history, chemistry, math and more. He learned all of the things he’s shared with me, through his hobbies of metal detecting and coin collecting. It was actually Ben’s coin collecting that led him to discover the hobby of metal detecting.

He happened to see a coin collection display at the Mentor library, several years ago, and learned that many of the coins in that display had been found through metal detecting. Ben thought it would be more interesting and more fun to find coins rather than to buy them. He attended a meeting of a local metal detecting club, soon after seeing that display and he began asking questions and listening to the advice and information he received from the members.

Through an ad in their newsletter, Ben learned of a used metal detector that was being offered for $175. Ben thought that was a good deal and when he asked some experienced club members, they confirmed that it was not only a good deal...it was a steal. The detector was in “like new” condition and it was a good quality detector for a beginner. Ben was ready to begin. He learned that he would need to buy headphones to hear the tones the detector was sending out as various metal containing objects were found and that it was important that those headphones cover his ears completely to block other distracting sounds. He purchased those and he was ready to begin.

Ben has been detecting ever since. I asked Ben what advice he would give to others who are interested in metal detecting as a hobby.

1. Practice in your own backyard, first. If you live near a beach, that’s a good spot for a beginner, also. Sand is very easy to dig.
2. Find a local club and attend their meetings. Ben says the information he has received from the older, more experienced members has helped him immensely, when buying equipment, learning techniques of hunting and learning more about the things he finds.
3. Know where you can hunt. You should always get permission to hunt on anyone else’s property. Most park systems require a permit. If you join a club, the club may have a permit that will cover you as a member. NEVER hunt in a National Park. It is not permitted.
4. Don’t give up. It can be frustrating sometimes when you have a period of not finding anything, but junk. If you persist, you will find valuable and interesting objects.
5. Learn how to cut plugs, when you find a target item, so that it doesn’t kill the grass. (One of the reasons, it’s good to begin in your own yard.)

A beginner can probably purchase a good, used detector for about $200. If it’s less than that, it probably is not a good quality detector. In addition to the detector, you will need good headphones and a shovel or sand scoop.

Ben says his most exciting find was a gold ring with a diamond and onyx stone. He found it at the beach and, when he first heard the tone, he thought it was probably trash. It had no identifying marks on it and Ben was not able to trace its ownership. This made the find even more exciting, because he could keep what he had found.

Metal detecting can become a business, also. Ben has used his hobby to find nails and screws that fell to the ground during one family’s construction of a tree house. He, also, has found surveying pins to help homeowners who are unsure where their property begins or ends. He has even searched large trees which were being cut down to send to a lumber mill, looking for any metal such as old clothesline hooks that may have been embedded in the tree and that could have damaged expensive saws at the mill.

If you are interested in learning more about the hobby of metal detecting, check out these web sites:





Just the Facts, please....

Two interesting items, on the same theme, came to my attention in the past few weeks. The first is a book, entitled, “The Language Police” by Diane Ravitch. This book details the methods used by publishing companies as they prepare textbooks. It seems that there are numerous groups, both liberal and conservative who find many things offensive. That is not surprising. What is surprising to me is that textbooks are commonly altered to ensure that no one is offended. Words, topics and images are changed, shortened or deleted to avoid offense to anyone. If you’re concerned about what your child is reading, this may sound like a good thing, but is it? Here are a few examples:

“Women cannot be depicted as caregivers or doing household chores. Men cannot be lawyers or doctors or plumbers. They must be nurturing helpmates. Old people cannot be feeble or dependent; they must jog or repair the roof. A story set in the mountains discriminates against students from flatlands. Cake cannot appear in a story because it is not nutritious.”

In many cases, descriptions of historical events are changed to prevent offending anyone. In a story about the ancient Egyptians, a description about the various classes of people (rich, poor, etc.) was eliminated so that it would not appear elitist. In another instance, a true story about a blind man hiking up Mount McKinley was dropped from a textbook. The committee determined that, although the story was very inspirational, the fact that it was about hiking in the mountains would show “regional bias” against any students who do not live in the mountains. They, also, felt that it would make it appear as though persons who are blind are “worse off” that those who are not blind. A story about George Washington Carver and his work with peanuts was changed because it mentioned that peanuts were nutritious and the panel felt that children who were allergic to peanuts would become confused, since they were not allowed to eat peanuts. Many of the stories used to illustrate the censorship that takes place in textbooks are so strange that they almost seem unbelievable.

I recently taught an Ohio History class and as I prepared my lesson plans, I was surprised how often books differed on “historical facts.” At the time, I thought that the writers of some of the books, must not have researched thoroughly or just made inaccurate notes before they prepared their final draft. Now I wonder, if the facts in some of the books were changed to avoid offending anyone.

Just as I finished “The Language Police”, I received a copy of George Lucas’ educator’s magazine, Edutopia. It contained an article entitled, “The Muddle Machine: Confessions of a Textbook Editor.” By Tamim Ansary. This not only confirmed much of what I had read in “The Language Police,” but made even more startling claims. Ansary states that when a new textbook is being written, the first order of business is to take all of the other textbooks on the same topics that the publishing company can find and combine them into one text. Editors then delete any repetitious information; and put what’s left into a readable format. After the book is complete, the publishing company contacts various “authorities” in whatever subject area the textbook covers and asks for permission to use that authority’s name as the author. That seems a little backward, don’t you think?

If you use traditional textbooks for any part of your learning experience, I would highly recommend that you read these two interesting writings.

Edutopia Magazine, Issue 2, November 2004
The Muddle Machine - Confessions of a Textbook Editor
by Tamim Ansary

The Language Police - How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn
By Diane Ravitch
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2003