RL378 - Lion, Tiger, Horse, Monkey

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John has rarely driven a car hard and hung it up wet, referring to an idiom you can say when you take a renal car and do terrible things to it and rally it around.

The show title refers to a game where you have to guess which animal does not belong in the group.

Happy Spring! It has been spring for a while. There is so much pollen in the air that it looks like it is snowing yellow crusty pollen and John is super messed-up. He had a chocolate egg for breakfast. That is what you get!

John had a heck of a dining day yesterday. That is the kind of diet that gets you an article in Lancet and you get a case study. ”His skin turned grey, he could interact with plants!” (find tweet)

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

School work asking what animal does not belong in the group (RL378)

This morning John and his daughter were working on some schoolwork and all of the questions were pretty obvious except this one: "Here are 4 animals. Which one does not belong in the group? Lion, Tiger, Horse, Monkey". This question was not made for grade schoolers, but it was still messing with them! Merlin says Monkey because it is closest to bipedal. He became an overthinker after he studied Liberal Arts and he can make two cases for each one of those off the dome. They continue to talk about the reasoning for different choices one could make in this game.

John and his daughter made their own scale to measure those animals and came up with the lion being the outlier because it is the only animal that is not in the movie Aladdin. If your teacher tells you that the solution is something else that you had considered and rejected, then you have to make your case for your own scale! The point is not to be right on this stupid question and maybe it is a Kobiashi Maru and there is no correct answer and they just want to see how you handle an unsolvable problem, like at a Google job interview. "How many angels fit on the end of a pin?" (see OM195)

Buying used cars (RL378)

John used to give his cars away to the monkey helpers, Helper Monkeys. He had that old Audi of his dad, no, the first one was his van when the transmission fell out of it while it was otherwise in good shape and John didn’t think it was worth that much money anymore, but there is this group that trains helper monkeys for people who need a helper monkey. Merlin donated their car to public radio KQED. A monkey can put your food in the microwave and make phone calls for you, they are wonderful, and instead of saying ”Hey Siri, can you order 50 rolls of toilet paper from Amazon.marketplace” you could just say that to a monkey!

John gave them his van and when his dad’s Audi started to be a burden on him he gave it to them as well and when his dad’s Chrysler no longer met their needs as a car he gave them the Chrysler, too! They will sell the car and use the proceeds for training those monkeys and you don’t have to deal with going on Craigslist and all that. There are so many people in the world whose whole livelihood is going to auctions and buy things and put their special skills to work. John had the lady friend with the jeans.

John would sometimes go on the auction site of the City of Seattle. They are getting rid of stuff all the time.

John’s mom has three times bought cars from rental car agencies 1.5 years later. What if you get a car where a teenager did some terrible things in? Rode hard and hung up wet! 97% of all car rental are just somebody who picks it up at the airport and drives to the hotel and puts their clip-on tie on, go into a meeting where somebody reads them a PowerPoint demonstration and then they drive back to the airport. Most people don’t take their car out and rally it, but John is exactly the type of person who would take his rental car out and brody it around some parking lot, but although he has rented 400 cars in his life he never rode one hard and put it away wet.

John’s mom bought those 1-year old cars with 30.000 miles on them and they have been meticulously maintained. It is the same with buying cop cars, those guys do really ride their cars hard, but they are also super-duper maintained. She had really good look with it and swears by it. John isn’t sure about it because it is 40.000 miles of people farting in the seat, but that is true of any used car!

John’s daughter going to a Montessori school (RL378)

John put her in a Montessori school this year because she was having a lot of trouble getting hard bullied at the public school. They worked on it for a whole year, what to do when you get bullied, and John got all the way to ”Here is how you hit them if you got to hit them!” - ”Don’t teach her how to hit people!” The school gave all appearances of being responsive, but in the end nothing changed. They had a meeting and talked to everybody, but they were constrained, but not because of resources, but the vice principal said to John: ”Well, it is kind of a he said / she said!” - ”I don’t think we are saying that anymore!”

It was a male kid and he had gotten a whole group of kids on his team and had tormented her. Ultimately, from a 1970s standpoint, he had a crush on her, but she is not in the mindset of being receptive to crushes and he went dark on it.

Her Montessori is a small one, no one that has 900 students, and they have struggled financially and identity-vise. Their principal left and one of the teachers got a job in San Francisco and then some other teacher got a job somewhere else. There was a lot of turnover and every time that happens a couple of parents pull out. The school is a tight-knit little community, and they were entering it halfway into the game and a lot of the kids who started when they were 3 already knew how to do a Japanese tea service and can already ride a hoverboard.

It is an educational philosophy, a play-based economy, and John has no idea how they are educating the children. He looks at the homework and he goes in and sits in the class. 3rd grade should be times tables, but they don’t do times tables, but they give them eleventy-five oranges and they discover multiplication by using an orange juicer and these colorful blocks. There is a lot of discovering, and John’s daughter will frequently tell him about interesting experiments they did where they put this, this, this and this in a jar and added salt and nitroglycerin and threw it off the roof and tried to hit a seagull with it. ”What did your learn?” - ”I don’t know!” Shrug and walk off.

When John asks the teacher what the point of that was, the answer is always the magic of discovery. Merlin suggests that John maybe hasn’t read the book yet to understand the philosophy. Merlin’s daughter has been on 4 schools in total and one of them really urged him to read the book to internalize it. In public school a lot of it is about studying for the test. There are 15 books about Maria Montessori that John should have read, but he does believe that if they are in 3rd grade they should still be experimenting with education and learning and the world in a free space without a ton of imposition of adult anxiety and rules and memorizing because all that stuff is going to come out at the end.

John’s mom used to laugh because she read Dr. Spock (Benjamin Spock). When John was born they wrapped him in a blanket and put him in a nursery where his dad could look at him behind a piece of glass and they would take you in so mom could hold you and feed you and then they would take you back and you would sit there for a week and a nurse with a mask would hold you up for your dad and he would smoke a cigar. The first time she ever held John when she wasn’t nursing was when they wheeled her out of the hospital a week after he was born!

Dr. Spock said: ”Have you ever met an adult who didn’t eat green beans?” - ”No!” - ”They all end up eating green beans, so don’t force them to eat food! If they are picky, just let them be picky! They will figure it out!” and John ended up not eating green beans until he was 27 or something. John’s mom always laughed because sometimes you have to teach them to eat green beans.

In Montessori if you get into conversation with any two parents, it becomes a thing where you can hear them really excitedly talking one another into the philosophy.

John went to a parent/teacher meeting and there were a lot of parents in the meeting where even John was thinking: ”Did you not read the book?” because there were a couple ambitious parents asking: ”How are they going to compete at High School level?” - ”Shhhh! At High School level 98% of Montessori kids are already in NASA, they already built their own nuclear-powered submarine. Don’t worry! 95% of all heads of state of all 198 countries in the world went to Montessori. Don’t worry!” and then the agro-parents who clearly have tech jobs and are 49 years old say: ”Well, I don’t know about that!” - ”You are sending your kid to Montessori. What do you think this was? Even I know that you joined a cult, so just be in it! Shush! Sit down!”

John teaching his daughter times tables, the cardboard furniture his mom had (RL378)

The story about the cardboard furniture was also told in RW42.

Since the quarantine John has been doing school work with her and has been Gen-X modifying it. At a certain point a week ago he said he is happy to do this lion tiger monkey bear thing all day, and they can put nitroglycerin in a jar of oil and throw it at a seagull, but after they do that, let’s sit and talk about what they have learned, if anything. Also, we are going to memorize the times tables because there is no reason not to.

When Merlin was in 3rd grade during reconstruction around 1870 that is what you did: You get a green sheet of paper with 100 multiplication-problems on it and you keep doing it until you get 100% He is not here to stand for that as a great paradigm of learning, but he did battle through his 7s and 8s, 56 being almost difficult for him, but he did get through them and now he knows them and doesn’t have to think about it.

When Merlin’s daughter was in 3rd grade, all teachers agreed that they are not going to do homework this year. They are also not going to teach times tables anymore, but told him between the lines that if he wanted to do that at home it would really help. Like Bob Parr and the old lady at the insurance agency (from The Incredibles). Merlin really encouraged that, but his daughter hated it because it was drudgery and it was a mixed message because at school they said she didn’t have to learn that stuff, but to Merlin they said it would super-help a lot.

Everybody John’s age memorized their times tables. It was just a thing. They hit you with the hickory switch and dipped your pig tails in the ink well until you learned your times tables. When John’s house first divorced his dad she bought a bunch of proto-proto-IKEA furniture that was made out of cardboard tubes, like a thick map tube, and the end pieces were little 3-way plastic pieces that would slide into the tube and you could put two more tubes on it at right angles and you would build coffee tables and so on.

The tubes were red, like the tubes you get when you get to the bottom of a roll of Christmas wrapper. The reason she bought that stuff was that she was desperately poor and of the mental nature of someone who was going to do this on her own and not take any help from anybody. They rented a house and when she left Alaska she took nothing with her except what she could put into a bag. She wasn’t abused or anything, but she left in the middle of the night, like when Millennial Girlfriend left John, the only thing his mom didn’t do was take his dad’s Filson bag.

John’s mom left in the middle of the night because she was dramatic and it mattered to her that she was going to do this on her own.Merlin went through the exact same thing. They got a two-bedroom house that smelled like cat pee, $250 a month, and the single most important thing for his mom was that she was going to break from this life and his man and he didn’t want to even see him ever again and her new life starts at the end of this sentence. In her head this had been done longer than Merlin realized.

His step-father was the worst and his son owned her house and they came home one day and there was a letter on the table saying that they were evicted because Randy, the son, didn’t want her and Merlin in the house anymore. She found two big burly guys to come, said: ”Put that in the truck, put that in the truck!” and it was one of the greatest triumphs of his mother’s adult life and he will always admire her for the way she fucking sliced that shit off clean. It was done! It really frustrated his step-father because he had thought he was going to watch the woman ball. He was still really creepy and park outside their new house and stuff like that. This was in 1982.

The difference between 1972 and 1982 is profound! Amongst Merlin’s friends, divorce was virtually unheard of in 1972 and in 1982 it was way beyond 50% in Florida. In 1972 some of the challenges were that a women couldn’t get a credit card without her husband’s cosign and everything was in his name. John’s mom had her own bank account because she had insisted on it and had gamed the system 5 years before for some reason why she needed it, probably apocalypse-prepping. But a single woman renting her own house would have raised a bunch of eyebrows, it was hard for her!

She bought this furniture. On table top on the cardboard tubes was thin plastic, just thick enough that it could support its own weight and you could put a drink on it, but if you took it off it was just a piece of plastic, maybe 1/8” thick, or even thinner than that. If you sat on the table it would come apart before it would break. But it worked. Their coffee table was that.

By the time John was in 3rd grade they had this furniture for a long time and she had been working for a long time in her programming / management job and she could afford furniture, but because they were a depression era family they still had this furniture. One day she said: ”I don’t think the schools are teaching you the times tables with much alacrity!” - ”Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas said it is fine!” (reference to the TV-show ”Free to Be… You and Me”) and she took the table top from the coffee table, put it against the wall, and took a ruler and a permanent marker and made a grid on the underside of it.

John was watching her with a lot of attention like Richard Dreyfuss and the mashed potatoes (reference to the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind). She did a times table and leaned it against the wall in the hall and every time John walked out of his bedroom she would say: ”7x8?” John can still see this times table. It didn’t feel punitive, but it quickly felt like something they were working on together. They got the times tables into John’s head and the sacrifice of the coffee table did not feel like a mountain of mashed potatoes on the living room table, but it felt like the coffee table had given its life to this.

Young Generation X, people who were born in 1975-77, who John for a long time said they were not Generation X, those people never learned their times tables. Merlin had a time in his life when he thought that this was almost as bad as being illiterate. It would be a sign of a very undereducated person!

The other day John said he cannot live like this, he cannot live in a Montessori world where they are throwing nitroglycerin at seagulls, but his daughter needs to be able to do multiplication. John didn’t turn the coffee table upside down, but he got a big piece of board and told her to make a 10x10 grid ”Why?” - ”You will find out!” and she did and had fun doing it because making a grid is fun. Then he told her to write the numbers 1 to 10 across and down and she did it and she was hooked. He also made her write the odd numbers in a different color and it was interesting to see that there were by far fewer odd numbers than even numbers.

Now they are working on it and right now she is upstairs, memorizing her 8s, and when John is done recording this episode she is going to show him that she knows her 8s. They have discovered that a multiplication table is also a division table and as they were learning multiplication they were also reverse-engineering division. John doesn’t see how during a quarantine, if you learn your multiplication and division, that that is ever going to hurt you. They are having fun with it, it is not a bummer, and they are having a project together that is called ”Impress Momma who is born in 1977 and doesn’t know her times tables”

At the end of this, all these question of how to teach our kids when there is no school anymore… how do we even live? So much stuff we are doing for the first time! There is this Johnson (LBJ) and Roosevelt (FDR) level shit going on on at state level in these different places. It is almost like keeping the nation healthy, employed, fed, sheltered, clothed, and having meaning ends up being important in the poverty (maybe Merlin is referring to this article, Great Society meets the New Deal).

What do you remember learning in 3rd grade besides being able to hold your pee. Merlin remembers SRAs.

Having to download some long division packet as homework (RL378)

Another Montessori thing is that they had to download some packets to work on. Merlin’s daughter has a good work ethic, probably out of shame because she has her roots in Colonial America in the Midwest, but after the year of no homework they both thought: ”Holy Shit! This is such bullshit!” It is insane to make the kids do a monkey-ass version of stuff they did in school for another hour tonight as well. For what? You are mostly just creating something they can disappoint you with!

John absolutely loved school until he got to a point where homework turned into doing worksheets and doing the same problem over and over 25 times, at which point he bailed out of it. Why would he do that? He kept going to school and enjoyed the social aspect of it, but he had tuned out.

Merlin had the same in 8th grade. He had straight As all the way through 7th grades, he had the best deportment in military school in his entire company of a couple of hundred kids, he never got a singe demerit. Then he went to public school in Pasco County Florida and there were some mix-ups about where he got placed and he ended up in consumer math, the how-to-write-a-cheque-class. It was very remedial and Merlin was tuned way the fuck out. He should have been in pre-algebra or algebra and that led to him having to take algebra twice and having geometry when he was a senior and he was in a class with 9th graders.

Merlin continues to talk about how there is a lot of ”because I said so” and what it did to him.

Nobody ever explained to John as a kid what all this was in service of. They would just say: ”You are going to need this one day!” - ”When what happened?” The problem was that the school converted the parents into thinking that they were working on behalf of the schools and the child is the enemy, the thing that the schools and the parents and the culture and the city are allied against. John’s attitude with his daughter has always been that they are on the same team. They are not against the school necessarily, but if the school puts them in a posture where they need to, then they will be against them together and they will be along with them together as long as it makes sense. Every question that comes across their bow John tries to explain his daughter what it is in service of.

Sometimes it is in service of an abstraction, like waiting your turn. Trying to tell a 5-year old to respect other people’s feelings is useless. Part of the Roderick credo is that one of the things you learn in life is to suffer for a time quietly because if you can do that you can survive anything.

They downloaded some packet and there was a long division problem. She had never seen the long division diagram because they are teaching her with beads and pieces of cake and half a seagull and do a Japanese tea service. John taught her how to do long division. It was a 4-digit number divided by a 2-digit number and the answer was a repeating decimal. This was insane and he had to explain her that this was the same as a fraction, but fractions can also be represented in decimals.

John asked the teacher about it and she said: Montessori philosophy is that they give all kids access to all material at all times, so if she is in a class with a bunch of 4th and 5th graders the material is there if she wants to explore it and if she wants to put half of a seagull and half of a piece of cake down and teach herself Algebra II. But that is weird to put into a packet to do as homework, but the teacher said that they would just do a remainder in a situation like that. John hadn’t thought about a remainder probably since 4th grade because as soon as you learn decimals you never do a remainder again. Like if you have 21 donuts and 4 people, there is going to be a remainder and Daddy always gets the donut and Daddy gets the three bolts (?).

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