Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Australian Web Think for ME

You can’t have an A without a B.*

I need to learn how to think Australian.

I was educated in some rigorous American schools. I got all of the left-brain things American schools teach and caught a couple of the right-brain things too. School was about teachers and textbooks. Every teacher had a textbook, and every textbook had a table of contents, an outline really. Outlines were key to the curriculum. They were also what formed my thinking.

Seventh and eighth grade raised outlines to be gods. We spent hours building new outlines in their image and diagramming sentences in tribute. Few Americans that grew up during that time can hear the proclamation about an A and a B without knowing that it refers to outlining. It was as if every junior high English teacher attended secret meetings, and this sentence was their password.

Apparently the gods smiled upon me, because I became a textbook publisher. Which meant that I built tables of contents for a living. I wrote them, worried about them, revised and edited them—all the while hearing myself repeating to young editors why they could not have an A without a B. For years I worked with textbook publishers in other countries developing outlines for products that we would build together. The world made sense to me. Every A had a B, until I got to Australia.

In Australia, young children are not raised on the food of the outline gods. They don’t use textbooks in elementary schools. Australian teachers teach from books of their own choosing. They do not have math books, science books, and reading books. What they have are books. Teachers used children’s information books and storybooks to teach kids to read, do math, and explore science. However, few books for young children have the detailed tables of contents that are the hallmark of an American textbook.

Over the years that I worked with my Australian friends, it became clear that they—educational publishers like myself—aren’t nearly so obsessed with high structure as we, Americans, are. They didn’t get the aforementioned A without a B mandate branded on their brains. They know what it means but when I ask about it, they give me the “she’s asking one of those questions again” shrugs that I get often enough to recognize.

Does this A without a B really thing make a difference? You bet it does. It’s not a right or wrong difference, "It's a "Hey, there’s another way to think about this” kind of difference.

Australians organize nonfiction in ways that Americans and Brits would never hold still for. They have no problem publishing nonfiction books without chapters because they are unwilling to give up a wealth of detail that refused to be hoved neatly into boxes. They didn’t start at age 8 carrying around textbooks arranged in outline form. They weren’t taught to think in the top down linear chunks of outlines. They seem more comfortable in exploring tangents, tracking back through nested ifs, and linking ideas in more than one direction simultaneously. They speak of “dipping in and out of books;” as much as reading them completely.

Which is not to say we don’t do these things, only that it’s not our heritage. So I’ve been thinking that if I could learn Australian think, I could lighten up on my need to impose order on the Internet. I need drastic measures—a hurricane to blow the old thoughts out of this brain..

I catch myself believing that I live down the street from the Writers Blog Alliance, which is in the same neighborhood as So I Blog and just around the corner from Nedfulthings. In my mind Technorati and Google are downtown. I find myself wondering who lives on the east side of town. Before I can stop myself,
I hear myself answer PubSub. I’m only catching on to the power of links and yet I describe them as the currency of the internet. My need to find an analogy in my known world is great.

Still I wonder how many ways my experience with books, where I am flexible and fluent, must be tripping me up on the web? It has to affect how I view things, how I interact, how I organize territory in my mind. What am I not seeing because my basic paradigm is too concrete and linear?

I just know that with more Australians around, the urge to name and label things wouldn’t be so great. A louder chorus of “ No worries,” and the noise of the random thinking might quiet some. We could have a cultural exchange—people going both ways, sharing information. I’ve been looking for a reason to go back . This could be it—a wish on my boomerang necklace to be in Sydney learning to think Australian.

Hey—Americans already think I’m weird, what have I got to lose? boomerang necklace to be in Sydney learning to think Australian.

Hey, Americans already find my thinking weird, what have I got to lose?

I do know enough not to stand under the koalas.

By the way, the reason you can’t have an A without a B is because you can’t break something into one part. Teachers sometimes forget to explain that.
—me strauss Letting me be


Ned said...

I had some friends from Australia visiting just a couple of weeks ago, and yes they are wonderful people-open and gregarious.

Sometimes it is the way we process information as much as the information we process.
It never hurts to try new ways and avenues for learning and exploring the world.

BTW, thanks for link. :)

ME Strauss said...

What a great way of saying it--sometimes it is the way we process the information. It's true. We are what we don't that we're thinking.

I wrote the words as they came to me, the links like the words asked to be there. :) You're more than welcome.

rhein said...

also, we can't get to B, without first finding A.

ME Strauss said...

You have a point there Rhein.
Though I must say, there have been times I've tried. I've tried.


Mark said...

I don't what you are rambling on about here Liz. You live on the other side of your link at my site, and are always just a click away.

You can't much closer or more available than that.

Mark said...

Here is the 'know,' '?' and the 'get' I left out of the previous comment.

You're an editor. Put them wherever needed. :)

ME Strauss said...

Mark, At first, I didn't "get" what you mean, but know I "know." Basically the point I was making is that sometimes I don't whether it's a right click at the light or a left click at the light to get to your neighborhood. :)