?

Do you think a school where students enter competitions all year long is more beneficial?

Poll closed Aug 15, 2017.
  1. Yes, it's more beneficial than the traditional school system

    3 vote(s)
    30.0%
  2. No, the traditional school system is more beneficial for students

    7 vote(s)
    70.0%
  1. imperiex

    imperiex New Member

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    Looking for a reason for the protagonist to enroll in an unusual school

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by imperiex, Aug 8, 2017.

    Hi, I'm a teacher with an interest in education reform. I want to write a story (or even a whole novel) about a new kind of school where students enroll to enter competitions of all kinds, all year long. There's no formal classes, exams or even teachers. The adults manage the school, help train the students, find equipment or outside expert, etc.

    The idea behind this story is I want to show readers that entering competitions can teach us more knowledge and more things about life in general than in traditional schools. I originally wanted to write a non-fiction book to explain this concept, but someone told me that I would be better off putting out this idea in story form to appeal more to the masses.

    You can read a more thorough explanation of this school's concept here that I posted on reddit.

    Right now I'm stuck at getting the main character, a kid who is disillusioned with the normal school system, to actually enter this unorthodox school. The plan is to get him into the school and have him experience how it's like to be a student there. He's already disillusioned, but I can't find any sort of believable motivation for him to leave the school and enter this newfangled system. (Especially the fact that he's still a minor and his parents would have to fork out the money to enroll him).

    I need a reason that will also resonate with the reader, as the main aim of this story/novel is to convince the reader that the normal school system is worth leaving for this new model of school, and for policymakers to consider this new model alongside the traditional system.

    Please help a teacher out! Many thanks.

    p/s: just for fun, there's also a poll here on whether you think a school where students enter competitions (e.g. NaNoWriMo) on a full time basis would be more beneficial than the traditional school system. Please do vote.
     
  2. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    1/ If the "adults" (presumably the parents) are going to run this school, how are they going to manage that and manage to do their day job, to be able to afford the fees? And why, if they're going to run it, should they have to find fees?

    2/ Most of the kids who are disillusioned with the current school system come from families where there is no respect for education (which resonates with 1/ above...in that such parents aren't likely to be the most effective at running a school). It really is hard to come up with anything that would motivate such a child to enrol (note the correct spelling) in any other school.

    3/ Do you know how you "win" NaNoWriMo? You win it by writing 50k words within the month of November. Everybody who writes 50k words wins, everybody who writes 49,999 words or fewer loses. Doesn't matter whether it's dross or pure gold. I can remember having to write lines as a punishment at school...write out "I will win NaNoWriMo if it kills me" 6,250 times...If that's the kind of competition you're advocating as being a better way of learning...
     
  3. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    I think you should keep the disillusionment, with an explanation for it, and could also latch on to an individual's (or a group's) desire to win or wanting to build on earlier successes. Winning's addictive (ask any gambler). Lot's of people see education as pedestrian and tend towards obtaining rewards through more immediate means. < With it being for kids though I guess those traits may have to come as much from the parents too—in order to sanction the move. I'd say that's bit of a stretch given the generational difference and the ingrained (more sedate) attitudes of parents in general. Also, are the competitions limited in scope? I'm sensing you're meaning contests that, for one to win, rely less on luck than on talent? And you're not meaning stuff like a group joining and trying for a junior X prize in one class? Or some caber tossing in another? The school would need a lot of funding I'd say, if it didn't specialise, so it could facilitate the preferences of the students/entrants/parents.
     
  4. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    When I was a kid, the fastest way to get me to do almost anything was have my parents tell me not to do it.
     
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  5. imperiex

    imperiex New Member

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    In reply to the two substantial replies here..

    I've already got the details of the school worked out; the management, curriculum, assessment, graduation requirements... I have even drawn a map of this fictional school. So as far as the setting goes (which shadowfax and sethloki's replies are actually about), I've got it down pat. Like I mentioned in my post, my first intent was to write a non-fiction book, so I have already compiled all the necessary notes and references, chiefly from AS Neill, Clark Aldrich and Maria Montessori's writings. Since this is a forum on plot, I didn't want to clutter it with stuff about the setting.

    What I want to know is how to kickstart the plot, aka how to actually get the hero into the school. I suppose the question would still stand if I want to write a story where the hero was an orphan and the unusual school was a school for wizards, or if the hero was a regular boy and the school was an academy for space cadets.

    TLDR: I've done the background work on the setting (the school) for my intended non fiction book, but I don't know how to kickstart the plot.
     
  6. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    Apologies @imperiex – I did try to thread in the plot/kick-starter motivation in my reply. Probably was a bit camouflaged inside my written postulations ( I did this to get up to speed on the topic). That of having your story hero's motivation to win and the lure of the challenges + rewards a school like this may present.
     
  7. Rascotes

    Rascotes New Member

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    The motivation doesn't necessarily have to come from the student, does it? Might it be even more engaging if an interested third party, maybe an aunt or uncle or family friend, was instrumental in convincing his parents to send him to this new approach school. In that case get the built in conflict of the protagonist resisting this different kind of school but also slowly coming to accept that he might actually be benefiting from it. Additionally you get the fun secondary hook that this benefactor may have some benign or nefarious agenda for the boy being in that place.

    If that doesn't work for you, perhaps make it a matter of necessity. Your protagonist is expelled after being falsely (Or not falsely) accused of cheating/plagiarism/fighting/prank gone wrong/etc and has no choice but to accept going to this new school, the only place that will accept him.

    If not that, maybe a friend of his went to attend the school the previous year and he is willing to consider it after hearing how much it helped the friend. This allows for a built in transition character to socially acclimate your protagonist into the new landscape.

    Maybe the kid if desperate to get away from home or his home town and is willing to accept this new and different school so long as it means he can get away. It might not be tough to convince disinterested or busy parents that he would be better off out of their hair.
     
  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I don't think your heart is necessarily in the wrong place but I think there's some problems with the concept.

    Firstly, from a narrative sense constant competition is not really conducive to good fiction. A book is seriously not that long. And just when you have the audience actually following along with what is happening in the contest and seeing why it matters then it'll be over and you're doing something new and have to start from scratch again. How many competitions are you going to look at? If few, how are you going to show that this is actually something genuinely positive in the long term and not just a novelty that stops working as soon as the kids end up competing over something they don't care about? If lots, where are you going to fit it all in? You can't keep saying "No, this is the one that really matters, double promise" and expect the audience to continue investing. I mean, they know the conceit, they know that this is a continual process. So how do you make it into a big deal every time?

    Second there's more what you might call 'real world problems'.

    I am with you all the way that our typical schooling system doesn't work worth a damn, but I don't at all agree with this kind of radical change of form. The problem with schooling isn't the idea of a school, it's with the teachers and the administrators. By trying to standardize and stratify education we've made it almost impossible for teachers to do their damn jobs effectively and that's the biggest problem with it. We demand huge amounts of paperwork and prep for things that teachers are supposed to already know how to teach. For teachers who do know it's just busy work, for teachers who don't then they shouldn't be teaching. Teachers don't get the latitude to actually engage with their students on terms that actually work. We don't trust teachers to go off script and the result is that now very very few kids get a decent education.

    I think that a better question to be trying to answer isn't how to deal with disillusioned kids; it's how to stop kids becoming disillusioned. Kids are curious and energetic and excited and want to ask questions. They are naturally amenable to school. So why don't they stay like that? Because school is not engaging them. It absolutely can and it doesn't need some radical change in it's form. With the best will in the world; schools worked really well for well over a hundred years in their current form, broadly speaking.

    Here's why modern schools create disillusioned kids. When we talk about disillusioned kids what we mostly mean are boys. Boys are the ones failing academically. The worst the school the further behind that boys fall. Boys are the ones who make up the majority of so called behavioral disorders and the ones who are vastly more likely at risk of getting involved with crime or pretty much anything bad outside school that they care about more. And the reason for this is because we threw men out of teaching. Boys naturally look up to men. And men are vastly more capable of handling rowdy boys. Women will always have a hard time making boys respect them and can't handle them when they don't. This is the biggest problem of modern education. When boys aren't engaged in their education they will find something else to care about and for a lot of boys that means getting in trouble, or getting stoned, or playing video games. They will find something else to throw all their energy into and won't put a single thought into their schooling.

    But it doesn't have to be like that. Firstly you need to put boys and girls in different schools. Then you need to get men back into teaching boys. Then you need to pay teachers worth a damn and clear out the ones who aren't worth the money. And finally you need to let teachers actually instill some discipline in their class. And that doesn't mean that teachers need to be strict or that teachers need to hit kids or anything. It just means that kids who respect their teachers are critical to schooling and you need discipline in the class room to achieve anything. Teachers need to be firm but fair. Once you have a classroom where the kids will shut up and do as they are told then you are done; you will get good results. Even for less able kids they will vastly improve as long as they are trying.

    I agree that schools need to have an element of competition. Actually I think that removing overt competition in schools is a lesser reason why boys don't engage anymore. Because we don't let them make exams and tests into a point of pride. We don't let them show off how much they know or work to impress the teacher and get to lord it over their peers when they do well. Boys love competition. Absolutely love it. You can absolutely get them to compete over their school work that means that someone has to win and that's something that we have apparently deemed unacceptable now.

    I agree with the idea of more competitiveness in education. But I don't agree that you can just make everything into a literal contest. Because kids do need to be taught. There's some stuff that you just have to learn by heart and make sure that it sticks. If you can't spell or do math then it doesn't matter what else. Kids are still learning the basic tools of education even at 14 or 15. You can't just hand a year nine kid a text book and say 'figure it out'. Because a book is not the same as a person to tell you where you are going wrong. And that's what all of the 'independent learning' ideas miss out on. Kids can be clever but they aren't wise. A lot of the time if there isn't someone to help them they get frustrated and give up very quickly. They don't know enough to know what their mistake is. And most of the kids will go out and look for a contest project that lets them use something they already know and doesn't really ask that much of them really. Either due to being lazy or being frustrated they won't push themselves without an actual teacher to show them what comes next.

    I dare say there are some kids who would benefit from this kind of education but I doubt it's many and I strongly doubt that it would work for kids who have struggled in traditional education. Those kids need to re-learn the concept of education; they need to go somewhere with discipline and with teachers who can handle them as well as who will reward them for working hard. They need to see that education is worth doing. The novelty of competition might engage a very few kids but it'll pale very quickly the second it moves away from subjects they are already interested in. For a kid who is really into music then doing a music show is awesome. But what about when he has to present a physics project? If he's a kid that's already had problems then he probably doesn't know any physics or even math. And now he's in a contest against people who maybe have a real aptitude for those subjects. How long is he going to stick around? Do you think he's really going to be happy to pick up a remedial workbook and crash his way through it in a week in an attempt to beat a kid miles ahead of him? Not a chance. And the same for the physics nerd who has to put on the music show.

    These kind of tactics are good things for kids, sometimes. It's good to give kids the chance to stand out and shine and to push themselves. But they need the baseline work in class too. They need to be exposed to new things and taught the basics of new subjects. And, notably, they need a wider education. I totally agree that there's some kid out there who might wonder how a speaker works and just explode into physics or electronics and go way further than we expect from their age. Sure, that's true. But you could spend you whole life learning those things and never stop. And at some point you need to sit down and learn about literature and history because you need to be a well adjusted human being.
     
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  9. Walking Dog

    Walking Dog Active Member

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    You may have given yourself the plot without realizing it. If your techniques excel at teaching, then your school could be a last-gasp for hopeless cases. Some kids don't do well in a classroom setting. This doesn't mean they aren't bright. My teachers frequently told my parents I had my head in the clouds. I never had my head in the clouds. I may have been fighting dragons or pitching no-hitters in the World Series during lectures, but in the clouds? No, not the clouds.

    Start the story with an otherwise bright kid failing school - not paying attention, not completing assignments. The child has been set back a grade once already. The parents consider dropping the child out of school. A new school is opening. The format is different. It offers your method of teaching...
     
  10. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Perhaps they should have sent you to...
    [​IMG]
     
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  11. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

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    Hi,

    Not sure I like your idea of a school based around competition. Not all kids are going to benefit from this approach. In fact I suspect most would lose out. Remember the whole point of competition is that someone wins - and therefore someone loses. I suspect that since more people lose than win you're going to get many more disillusioned kids. I don't know how you get around that.

    Also you said you'd done your research which is good. And the Montessori school system is an interesting place to start. But you might want to look at the educational outcomes for children who go to those schools. They aren't all rosy I'm afraid. The entire free, self directed and guided learning approach again only works for some students. Others very much need direction. If you look at Summerhill - which was a similar approach to schooling - the number one criticism from students leaving the school was that they didn't feel they were pushed hard enough to achieve and they missed out on subjects. They might have been happier, but their achievements weren't so hot.

    The same is going to be true for every different schooling philosophy. Whether you go for competitiveness, structured academics, freedom, or some other, some kids win and some lose. It's simply the nature of the beast.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  12. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I haven't read the other comments, but your premise made me think of the program my son is in. He's 16 and is in high school and college at the same time. For college he is going for Mechanical Engineering, and once he gets that degree (which he should complete and receive at the same time he graduates high school) he is going back in for robotics.

    Anyway - he had to compete to get into this program. They took 2 students from each school in our area. Teacher recommendations were required for them to be allowed to compete, but they had to compete in academics, logic, problem solving, etc. He was one of the two chosen from his school (in 8th grade) out of 87 kids who competed (just from our school). Perhaps starting off with a competition like that to get into the school would work? Then you already know you have competitive kids going in.

    The program my son is in (which again, is a college program, so not some hokey off the books thing) is focusing on teaching kids through doing. They aren't sat down at a desk for 8 hours to learn angles and math - they're given a project that requires they learn those things in an applied way to complete the project. My son is ASD and ADHD and has struggled extensively with school despite above average intelligence. In this program, he is THE top of his class across the board, and already has internships lined up for two major companies. Needless to say, this kind of competition based learning (they have teams and compete on projects) has made him LOVE school and as a mom, I couldn't be happier.

    I like where I think you're going with this, and look forward to learning more.
     
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  13. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I kinda really like the idea of an intellectual agoge. Sure, not everyone would thrive in a situation, but those that did would not only gain book smarts but the smarts to succeed in the competitive world that waits after school.
     
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  14. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not in favor of the "competitions" part. I find Alfie Kohn's No Contest to be pretty persuasive about the negative effects of competition as opposed to accomplishment. (And in fact the negative impact of competition on accomplishment.) Working hard and improving skills and accomplishing things doesn't require the added fact of somebody losing.

    If a kid in this school had a great idea and a great plan for carrying it out, and even a convincing way to prove that everyone on the project was learning and contributing, but winners and losers weren't involved, would his proposal be rejected?

    Edited to add: Can you clarify why the centerpiece is competition rather than, say, accomplishment?

    Imagine, say:

    - A kid who comes up with, and implements, with the help of ten other kids, a plan for creating a low-water, low-maintenance, high-producitivity garden for a local food bank, one that serves a centerpiece for the food bank's community outreach event, and also provides some fresh produce, the thing that food banks often don't have.

    - A kid who runs a regular Friday trivia contest with the help of ten other kids.

    Both efforts involve planning, scheduling, leadership, interaction with others, etc. The second plan involves competition. The first one doesn't. Does that really make the second inherently much, much more educational?
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2017
  15. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Competition or lack of it is not in itself educational, but it is seriously motivational. Motivation is something that everyone needs and some people need something like healthy competition to get them learning about things and memorizing facts even if their only motivation is to win something. Regardless of why they did it, that education is still with them. Like I said earlier, not everyone would thrive in a highly competitive system, but removing competition altogether provides just as much of a disservice as too much of it. And, like it or not, we do live in a world where competition is one of those things we're going to have to deal with as adults. Even if we're not teaching our kids to revel in competition to a level bordering on blood lust, leaving them completely unexposed to it could be seriously detrimental to a persons functioning and happiness as an adult.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    From most of my reading, it's actually not. It seems intuitive that it would be, but it's not. Try Drive by Daniel Pink, in addition to No Contest by Alfie Kohn. I think that Dan Ariely also addresses motivation in some of his books, but it's not the whole focus of any one of his books.

    Edited to add: Huh. Looks like Ariely wrote a book called Payoff that is indeed about motivation. I'll have to get my hands on it.
     
  17. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Are you looking to serve ideology or story? I'm not saying you can't do both, but what you're describing as your "main aim" sounds more like the mission statement of an argumentative treatise than that of a novel for entertainment. Readers can smell an agenda like a fart in the shower if it gets in the way of the story.
     
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  18. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Just from one of the most recent journals I've read:

    Our results suggest that networks that emphasize social comparison among members can be surprisingly effective for motivating desirable behaviors. The results from the combined condition, where adding team performances to a supportive environment significantly increased exercise levels, suggest that the introduction of a minimal competitive reference point into an otherwise support-based environment can change ineffective health networks into highly motivating social resources.

    -Zhang, Jingwen et al. “Support or Competition? How Online Social Networks Increase Physical Activity: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Preventive Medicine Reports 4 (2016): 458.​
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I found the study, and I'd juuuust barely call that competition--in fact, the conclusion refers to the "minimal competitive reference point" as "social comparison" rather than competition. Some groups of people attending an exercise program had visibility into the efforts of members of a peer group, and some didn't. So some people were able to compare their efforts to those of other people.

    That's rather different from a mandatory win/lose competition being placed at the center of education.

    Edited to add:
    Kohn, referring to the book Competing, by Harvey Ruben, said:

    "In subsequent chapters, we are told that all acts of comparison, as well as the act of joining a group, are intrinsically competitive behaviors."

    Kohn disagrees with that idea, and so do I. Avoiding competition does not require avoiding comparison.
     
  20. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Y'know, I'm thinking this thread is two threads. The title suggests a pure help-with-my-plot thread, so that even if I disapprove of the school concept, there's a question to answer with regard to the plot.

    But the poll invites debate.

    Should the thread move? @imperiex, which of these two purposes is the primary one, as far as you're concerned? If it's the plot part, maybe you should remove the poll? If it's the debate part, it should probably move to the Debate Room, or at least the Lounge.
     
  21. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I'm sorry it didn't live up to your expectations. I'd find you a better study in a more prestigious journal, but I'm not really in the mood to spend an hour in the stacks just because you disagree with me. Point is, in all the years I spent in university, there has been a pretty clear consensus across the board that competition is motivating. From psychology, anthropology, and the evolutionary sciences to economics, they all say the same thing. There's even an article in Economics Quarterly (?) arguing that competitive workplaces disproportionately motivate male employees more than female employees. Though I respect you and your opinion, the five or so general science novels that you've read are not going to trump the years of education and hundreds to thousands of peer reviewed studies I've been forced to scrub through in those years that back my argument.
     
  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    You realize that when I refer to a book (A nonfiction book, by the way, not a "novel"--you know that a novel is fiction?) that book wasn't written by me, right? Your argument is with the authors of the books. Maybe your education and accomplishments and your extensive work in the area of motivation outclasses theirs; confirming or denying that is pretty much your problem, not mine
     
  23. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I'm not arguing the credentials of the author one bit, but the scientific books found on the shelf of your local bookstore have far more liberty in speculation and bias considering they don't actually have to be reviewed by anyone other than their editor before publication. With peer reviewed journals, they are reviewed, by the authors peers, other scientists that agree that the article has merit before publication. I'm not even denouncing general science books, I find them fun and educational. I'm particularly fond of Mary Roach. As interesting as I find her books, though, Mary Roach isn't actually a scientist in any of the fields she's written about. Her research and information is aided by and comes from other people that have actually studied in those respective fields. She is then free, at liberty, to chose whatever information she finds most interesting to her to pass along to her readers. Even now, I'm not really sure how you can still deny the correlation between competition because as you may have notices, the past few posts, there has been somewhat of a friendly/maybe-not-so-friendly competition between us and we have both been somewhat more than rather motivated to prove our own viewpoint and come out on top. During this I'm assuming we've both been challenged and I'll assume we both learned something from it which means we've both overcome and benefited from it. So I'm really not following on how competition is a bad thing.
     
  24. imperiex

    imperiex New Member

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    @ChickenFreak , my intention is not to stir debate. I really need help with the plot, since I'm not good with writing stories. I can remove the poll, but I think the topic of the thread by itself will be a cause for debate, and I can't stop people from having that.

    @Homer Potvin , my original plan was to write a non fiction book to espouse the concept, but a friend told me that a story works better to reach the masses. She gave the example of Atlas Shrugged as a tool to promote Objectivism. Also there are many things that the public wouldn't care about if it weren't for movies or books made about them. Hence why I try to write a story to get this out to the public.

    @Trish , thanks for your input on your son's program. I will add it to my notes!

    @Walking Dog et al who responded with plot suggestions, thank you for your effort and time to read my post. I appreciate it.

    I don't wish to contribute to the debate since this is a place to discuss plot, but I will be following along and noting down anything interesting you guys are saying (and there are plenty). But if gets out of control and the mods want to move this thread, be my guest! At least I'll know to revert back to my plan for a non-fiction book, or I'll just write a story about an unusual school for wizards...
     
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  25. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Eh...actually, my feeling after reading your last post was, pretty much, "Oh, forget it. This discussion isn't worth having" I thought that that was also your feeling--though you seemed to be communicating something closer to, "Your failure to acknowledge and defer to my superiority is annoying me."

    I'm not interested in a fistfight; I'm interested in a discussion. Your position seems to be the reverse.
     

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