As part of our unit on The Value of Life, my elective class called Contemporary Studies watched Randy Pausch’s lecture called “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Knowing he was dying of liver cancer, Pausch delivered a funny, moving, and inspirational talk on how to live a good life in which he described some highlights of his journey as a family man, a student and a professor. The best-selling book he published called The Last Lecture expands on the stories and lessons of his 75-minute speech.
Pausch’s lecture contains so many meaningful lessons, but the one message that most resonated with me on this viewing was HELP PEOPLE. That’s a given in an educator’s job description, but it also describes an attitude for anyone in any profession or any role, including student. We can learn so much from connecting with others without expectation of personal gain. The beautiful irony is that, with that mindset, we often get back more than we give. Pausch calls that a “head fake” or indirect learning, where in the doing of a fun task we learn something difficult. My own beloved father Angelo Ozoa preached that lesson and lived it, as a doctor and community leader whose legacy includes an annual medical mission to needy areas in the Philippines. So go do what Randy and Angelo said — help people!
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Lately I’ve encountered problems where the ancient advice of stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius served me well. It’s easy for teachers to fall into the trap of taking events personally or feeling responsible for fixing difficult situations or reacting defensively. But sometimes our professional best can only take us so far. When we hit a wall in frustration, all we can control is our own reactions, not anyone else’s behaviors.
Sorry for the vague post. I never feel comfortable even hinting at details about problems involving students. Suffice it to say that putting myself in their complicated, emotional shoes helps me to react with compassion, not anger, with empathy, not enmity, with solutions, not punishments.
In other news, one of my favorite 20% Time Projects in the past two years was an AP Language student who read four biographies, including one of Marcus Aurelius, and ran the stock investment club at our high school. He wrote a 7,000 word guide to stoicism and value investing called The Stoic Investor, and self-published it on the Amazon Kindle store.
For the first time in my career, ALL my students are reading science fiction at the same time. I am in geek heaven! My juniors are reading 1984 and my elective students are reading Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. The latter is tough to get into, especially for the non-readers in the class, but they find the story’s “what if?” fascinating, that this humanoid race is androgynous. What if WE lived in a world with no distinct gender roles?
Before getting too far into the novel, I train my students to identify the Cognitive Strategies (see Carol Booth Olson’s research) they use in reading so they can read more intentionally and closely. We do a fun activity where they record themselves reading and thinking aloud, then identify three strategies and document them, including the recording, in a Google Slides presentation. Students enjoy using their cell phones for schoolwork and hanging out outside on a spring day in SoCal to make their recordings.
Yesterday in class I apologized for what felt like an entirely too lengthy passionate rant about the value of literature. But my students encouraged me to continue and one said, “It’s okay; it’s like a TEDtalk.”
I had the pleasure of hearing UCI Dean and Vice-Provost Michael Dennin, a physicist, speak on “Understanding Creation and Evolution: How the Bible and Science Provide Insight Into Our Origin.” Much of his talk is detailed in his book, Divine Science: Finding Reason at the Heart of Faith.
At the risk of oversimplifying his argument, I’ll comment only on one particular metaphor that struck me as powerful. He explains that the Fullness of Reality includes the physical world AND the world outside our understanding that is other parts of God’s creation. Science describes the rules that govern physical reality as accepted through experimentation. He likens physical reality to the existence of a fetus in the womb, evolving but knowing only what its limited senses can perceive. The Fullness of Reality is like the mother who nurtures that fetus. She is a creator whose reality extends beyond what the fetus can experience. Only after the fetus emerges from the womb can it understand the Fullness of Reality.
It’s not perfect, but this metaphor works for me to account for the mysteries of faith and the yet-scientifically-unknown. For example, my own babies seemed to recognize the “Jeopardy” theme shortly after birth. I attribute that to my watching the show almost every weeknight of my pregnancies.Years later the internet abounds with articles on how to teach your baby in utero by placing headphones on your pregnant belly.
We have added so much to our scientific body of knowledge over the centuries, but I doubt we’ll ever learn the Fullness of Reality without embracing more than our five senses or instruments that augment them. Emotion? Intuition? Faith? I wish more than ever I could time-hop or visit parallel universes.
“Joy” drives my choices now. Not the “see yourself in it
” kind (if you got that, you’re retro), not the JLaw film
(although I want to see it eventually), but the idea of only keeping stuff if it “sparks joy.”
That’s the guiding principle of successful de-cluttering behind Marie Kondo’s best-seller, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up
is a good write-up from the Washington Post; multiple support groups exist in Facebook.
I made awesome progress on my clothes when I first tackled the program, but have stalled on books/paper due to time. The end of the semester is nigh. Still the mantra “Does it spark joy?” has informed everything I’ve chosen to bring into my life for months, from purchases to freebies to what I eat.
For example, I love geeky graphic t-shirts, but now I’m content to save a digital image without owning all the cute shirts. The only ones left are high quality, extra-meaningful, and well-used until it’s time to “Thank them for their service” and recycle. My kitchen is becoming streamlined as I cull out non-joy-sparkers so that I’m surrounded only by joyful items. I pass up taking conference swag if don’t love or won’t use it. Even my food choices my pass the scrutiny of joyful AND good for me (which is inherently joyful).
I’m not perfect but I’m learning, and I forgive myself for my fails (frequent attempts at learning). So I progress…
On Saturday (while watching poor Brazil lose to Netherlands for 3rd place in the World Cup) I read a tweet from one of my favorite educators on Twitter, Amy Burvall (or @amyburvall): “Big ideas from Jonathan Gottschall’s “Man, the #Storytelling Animal” http://t.co/6kdng4KBI0 @johnkao”
So, of course, I had to click the link, then, of course, I had to download a sample chapter of Gottschall’s book for my Kindle, and, of course, I had to order the book itself. Essentially, it posits that humans make meaning through stories. This resonates with me as a reader, but also as a literature teacher and writer. Ironically, though, I spend much of my teaching and writing time presenting ideas or conclusions in lessons and essays, not stories.
What this brief, but pithy, episode on the internet reminded me is to make sure my students hear my stories and CREATE their own stories or, at the very least, CONNECT the ideas in my lessons to their own stories.
I can’t wait for the fall!