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Thinking, About Education

Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2003 01:00:39 -0800 (PST)
From: "Justin Pittman" <pittmanjr_wtcc@yahoo.com> Add to Address BookAdd to Address Book
Subject: Thinking, About Education
To: "Matthew Tedder" <jmtedder@mac.com>


This time last year, I was finalizing my move to
International Hall at UNC-Greensboro. Shaken my many
things, one which you know of, I drifted into a
psychology black hole, resurfacing only to find a job.
I still feel an urge, a need even, to continue my
education. In long conversation here and there, you
might recall me mentioning this educational urge.

I know what fields interest me, and believe these
should guide my decision toward a Bachelors. Here are
my fields of interest:

Education - Ever since a boy, I played teacher on a
chalk board!
Computer Science - I do this for a living; dislike
business politics, yet enjoy creating programs.
German - I enjoy speaking it, and being around its
Astronomy - Did I ever tell you about my telescope? I
do recall telling a few friends about my exobiological
research for NSF (National Science Foundation).

To link these fields to a Bachelors degree, I went
looking, and asking for career advice. At Cameron
public library, a librarian pointed me to a guide ('My
Personality's Career' or something) suggesting careers
similar to the above fields. It claimed Myer-Briggs
IST/FJ personalities excel as teachers, computer
programmers, or geologists. Geologist? Okay, 'keep
and open mind' I told myself, even though I never
thought of probing rocks!

The website for Appalachian State's geology department
all but eliminated that career. Their students fly
over the world, taking sedimentary samples while not
using cutting-edge technologies (such as computers).
One professor developed Pascal programs to simplify
some complex calculations. But his project seems less
than cutting-edge, since those files were last updated
in 1992. :( I moved away from geology (and BTW: their
webmaster sucks! see

Back to the librarian. According to a more
conservative 'blue volume' ("Occupational Index" or
something), Astronomers are akin to Physicists. Both
fields embrace idea, thinking oriented personalities
who are proficient in mathematics. Well, I am not a
math genius, like Kevin and yourself; thus, its
requirement of mathematical proficiency scares me.
What kept my interest is the activity at Appalachian
State's astrophysics website.

Their guys are searching for planets!
NSF and NASA are funding projects, such as observing
solar systems that support orbitals (possibly
planets), that use the department's telescopes and
computers. To me, those are signs of quality and
progressive education; one where a student could
embrace new technologies, such as computing, with his
studies, mentored under instructors recognized (i.e.
funded) by their field.

Why do I lean on Appalachian State? am I wavy with
uncertainty, because last year I chose UNC-G? I chose
UNC-G to reduce my expected graduation. They transfer
more hours from community colleges, especially from
Applied Associate degrees like mine, than any other
in-state university. Earning a Bachelor in less than
four years would be preferable. Yet, I almost always
prefer quality over quantity (or consumption, in this
case; consumption of time). While still considering
UNC-G, I remain more concerned with matching my fields
of interest with quality education.

Appalachian and I have some history. Post graduation
day at Enloe, I was heading to Appalachian for a major
in History education. Okay, at age 17, at least I got
the education part right! History? Perhaps my father
and counselor influenced that career more than I.
Thankfully, my German friends rescued me from an
incorrect decision! To not go off on a tangent: North
Carolinian teachers respect Appalachian for
integrating its majors with teaching licensures. (I
know this after three years chairing Enloe's FTA,
Future Teachers of America, chapter). Practically any
major I chose at AppState allows me to elect courses
in teaching. Those courses would fulfill my interest
in education.

German is almost a mute field of interest. I am not
excited about translating or teaching German. What is
subjunctive to a clause is interesting, but not
exciting. German is more my hobby than a possible
career. Both AppState and UNC-G offer German, even as
minor concentrations, so it also does not lean me for
or against those universities.

I am exited about astronomy! A physics major would be
challenging. I would need to compensate my lack of
mathematical ingenuity with my computational
experience. Appalachian offers an interesting major
that seems to match that goal: a BS in Computational
Physics -- applying computers to solve physical
problems. See:

What if physics, even an applied concentration in
physics, is still too abstract? The few people I am
close to recognize my reliance on applying theory, not
abstract thinking. Almost every personality article
links me to a computer career. An ISTF's analytical
skills, such as my ability to easily find faults, and
ability to concentrate, coding while alone, match
computing to a tee. I feel (here comes my warring
Feeling versus Thinking sub personalities) pure
computer science leaves me void -- a computer can
churn numbers, but does my number crunching improve
science, or serve business?

What do you think?

Your Friend,



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 25th, 2005 07:30 am (UTC)
A Letter From Matt: 1st Part

Next, your career choices. Let me first tell you about two quotes that
came to mind when I read your e-mail, and then I'll tell you my opinion
on your quandary. These quotes remind me that life is not always about
following a formula or getting to the top as fast as possible, whatever
the "top" may mean for you. On June 1, 1997 Mary Schmich, using
graduation speech inspiration, wrote her usual column for the Chicago
Tribune, but her simple column would go on to more unusual ends. Later
that same year, the exact words were used for the song "Sunscreen."
This song has special meaning for meaning for me, because it was
addressed to the graduates of 1997 of which I am. Schmich says, "Don't
feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The
most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do
with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know
still don't." Really I can't predict the future any more than the rest
of us can. And I don't really know what I want to do with my life;
hopefully, there will be enough of it to figure something out.

All is not lost though, and I came across a real graduation speech by
Loreena McKennitt, the accomplished singer and song writer. She spoke
to the graduates of Wilfrid Laurier University in December of last
year. An excerpt of that speech reads, "I set out to be a veterinarian
and then found that music chose me, rather than me, it. As a result, it
not only afforded me an unusual relationship with my "art" but it
taught me at an early age, the humility - that no matter how much you
think you know what you want, life sometimes takes you by the scruff of
the neck and offers you surprises and changes, other possibilities and
opportunities even in the heart of disappointments, and that your
talents and potential, your capacity to affect change, may lie in
completely different areas than where you thought they were, and
sometimes you just need to go with this." These words embody great
power because they are based on her real world experiences, not just
the usual niceties or wishes some speeches have. Personally this
shakes me because over the course of these past few months, I have
realized that I have a talent that before has remained dormant and
unrealized. You know I love to think, and I have spent many hours of
my life in contemplation on all sorts of topics. I think I'm decent at
expressing my thoughts verbally, but never have I been truly challenged
to put them in print. Now I find myself writing more on occasion, and
many people have enjoyed what I say. Is this perhaps life grabbing me
by the "scruff of the neck" to tell me where I should direct myself? I
don't really know, but it makes me wonder.

When I first got your e-mail, I read only the first half. Frankly I
was just not in a mood to give such a weighty and heart-felt letter the
attention it deserved, so I put it away until later. Initially, I
thought he likes German and teaching and that would be an ideal
combination. On reading the remainder, I see my initial impression was

Sep. 25th, 2005 07:32 am (UTC)
A Letter From Matt: 2nd Part

As your friend I must be frank about what I see, and I'm only
deriving my opinions from what you do and what you say. I know you've
got a brain in your head, and there is more to you than just meets the
eye, and it is a great privilege to know you as well as I do. You seem
to have a great struggle within you. It comes out of you by searching
for knowledge. What you do not know, you seek to understand. I don't
know what you are looking for from the outside world. It seems you
direct a lot of your energy into finding more about computers and
software programs. On the surface this appears to bring you temporary
happiness and joy, but it fades and then you take a slump. You work
very hard to cover this up, and you do a good job; it's just that I've
known you so long that I see when you are in a slump. In general
computers don't seem to be for you entirely, at least not the direction
you have chosen thus. There maybe other areas in computer science you
could pursue to make you happy, but I have very limited knowledge on
that subject. I'm not telling you to give up, just to look in larger
directions if computers are going to occupy eight hours out of your

You say that you are a tactile person. This gives you a great strength
to teach others, but in a limited way. As you well know, there are two
parts to any subject, application and theory. Even in the world of
computer science, you need to understand the logic of a program and
it's language before you can just "do it." Some people can incorporate
a language so well that it becomes like human speech to their thinking.
For example, I had a friend who loved to program, and he claimed he
could see the code in his head before typing. That is a tremendous
skill, but when queried about how it functions or works in a particular
way, he stalled in trying to explain it to me. Here he was good at
application but not so good at theory. The only theoretical
discussions we've had so far center around a few topics, religion,
electrons, light, and relationships. However you seem to have a
tendency to seek an all encompassing unified theory to explain a
particular phenomenon. Your drive is admirable, but your goal blinds
you. If you could grasp better the theory behind the application you
would make a powerful teacher, but what do you want to teach?

You have excellent negotiation and sympathetic abilities. This coupled
with your aptitude to apply things would make you an excellent teacher
as you are. But there is something in the way you phrase "Ever since a
boy, I played teacher on a chalk board!" that bothers me. There seems
to be some innate desire for power in you. Just from some key
observations, you can be manipulative if you want to be. (I most
certainly am not excusing myself from such a charge.) In being placed
over 30 to 40 students, can you resist the urge to control them? No
doubt, you have to keep order in a classroom, but high school students
don't take their work, families, or even their own lives very seriously
these days. How far are you willing to go to maintain your view of

You feel most excited about astronomy but talked little about it in
your letter. For myself, I know hardly anything more than how to pick
out a few constellations in the sky. Based on just your excitement
over the subject, I say look more into it.

Sep. 25th, 2005 07:33 am (UTC)
A Letter From Matt: Last Part

The two physics courses I took in college focused heavily on
application and only a small bit on theory. I'm sure you would like
physics initially, but many higher level classes require you to delve
more into the theoretical aspect. Physical theory even boggles my mind
too; physical chemistry was my worst chemistry course in college. I
can't recall who's theory it is, but there is one that states if we
have an electron in space we are able to determine through these
special equations either it's speed or it's position. Once making our
initial calculations we will only be able to determine one and not the
other. The "why" to the above statements can be found in several
physical chemistry text books; let me know if you figure it out,
because I certainly never did. Physics also require a large amount of
math and that you abhor. I say look more into it and talk to some
physicists or physics students.

In the end you must be ultimate force in decided what you want to do.
Maybe something interesting and inspiring will come along for you. It
may happen today at work, or it could be a year or so down the road.
Ultimately you must be satisfied with who you are and what you are
doing. Everything else are just the superficial constructs we use to
keep our sanity, or at least that's how I see it.

Let me know what you think about things on my end. I'm definitely open
to anything you have to say.

Your true friend,


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )