When teaching becomes an abstraction and not something real, the learning doesn’t stick in the student very well. Imagination must first be grounded in a hard reality.
As we move closer into living in a 24/7 virtual world, it is important for all of us to keep in mind that learning is best fostered using real things, in real-time, in the same, real, room with each other getting real. That is important in all human interactions, not just the classroom. We’re always trying to learn from each other and doing it with real objects is a powerful experience that binds.
When you’re teaching about a flower — is it better to show a computer image of a flower, or hand out a flower printed on a piece of paper, or is it best to share a real flower plucked from a garden in your alive hand?
A real flower authentically engages every bodily sense and creates a sensation in the mind.
Every plan has a hole. Every ship has a leak. Every internet session is insecure. These are the new universal writs of living in the new ancient world. I learned that lesson in an especially troubling manner that forced me, in an instant, to reassess my role in the world as a Midwestern White Man teaching at-risk minority undergraduate students at a major New York City university.
I thought the assignment was simple and universally understood. I’d used a similar teaching plan at other universities with great success; but, in reflection, I realize most of those successes were found in mainstream classrooms with well-schooled students who were taught that learning was a priority in the home.
In my new teaching role in the inner city, many of these students working on a B.A. did not come from the same font of mandatory educational opportunities. They scraped by to earn understanding. They fought for what they grasped while others around them had learning handed to them.
There was a great divide of the mind and cultural experience that I quickly had to bridge or the entire end of the semester was at risk of failing, and the blame would solely be mine as the instructor for not being able to quickly re-adjust and move the field lines to be fair to my students so they could find success.
Are you already yawning while reading this?
If you are speaking to someone — in a formal or informal setting — and they keep yawning in response, are you insulted that they are tired and not paying attention? Or are you in some way complimented that someone is showing you the back of their throat?
For much of my life, I took a yawn from someone as an affront that I was somehow boring the point of my interest, and if a student dared to loudly yawn in class, that was of even more concern that I was losing the accrued interest of a topic I was divining to share.
Then I met a good, and ancient, friend, who happened to also be an excellent stage director — and professional theologian — who taught me my thinking was wrong.
A yawn is a compliment, he argued — a good thing — and you should work a room, and conversations, to get that open mouth staring back at you.
I have been following Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s journey in space for some time now, and on May 13th, he stepped down from his command of the International Space Station. He has been on the artificial satellite since December 2012, when he arrived as part of Expedition 35, a six-person crew.
There’s a lot of righteous arguing on The Internets recently concerning the way religion and science are cleverly being mashed up by fanatical Christian fundamentalists to create a whole new anti-science, anti-reality, anti-educational rhetoric that is being fed to our children as something real and true and factual when it is not. The monsters behind this religious terrorism of the mind are the same evildoers who invented the “Creation Museum” where they argue that people walked the earth with the dinosaurs even though there is a 65 million year gap between the last dinosaur and the first human.
Last night, Janna and I were rushing home after teaching in New York City, and in the middle of Times Square, I had a moment I hope I never get to repeat. I tripped — over my own two feet, or the curb, or a break in the sidewalk — and instantly fell long and hard on the sidewalk. I was stunned for a moment and didn’t quite know where I was. Janna was behind me somewhere and I remember one woman bending down to ask me if I was okay.
I currently teach in an old Midtown building in the center of New York City that used to house a secretarial typing school. Legend has it that because there were lots of nefarious “students” in and around the “school” in the past, video cameras were placed in every corridor and cranny to record any crimes for the police that might take place.