A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What are we preparing students to be able to do?

What I like most about recorded books is how audio books enable me to meet my built-in predilection for always being on the move, while satisfying my insatiable appetite for distinctions, connections, and strategies, i.e., tools, which I use to make fast-paced decisions of long-term consequence. One of my most recent four books that I have "ripped" from CD's borrowed from the library is Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin.

When I consider the work avoidance strategies of students like Pablo, Peter, and Kendall, in my minds eye I can envision an awkward little fish, clawing its way out of water to escape bigger fish with bigger teeth in a scary, fish eat fish Devonian landscape. To students with learning disabilities, tasked with the learning the same curriculum at the same pace as typical students, who enter my classroom lacking essential understandings, performing step-by-step, recursive Mathematical procedures must feel like being chased by a host of toothy Devonian predators. 12 year-old boys don't automatically see potential STEM job opportunities in science, i.e., job opportunities in technology, engineering, and manufacturing. According to certain prognosticators, these oft-heralded promises are, likely, mirages, since exponential advances in cognitive computing are increasingly making such job opportunities obsolete.

Motivational speaker Brian Tracy describes recorded books as a source for "rich, mental protein," and in 2014, one of my continuing goals is to become increasingly mentally fit. Thus, I will continue my habit of listening to recorded books as I remain always on the go.

While spewing out this blog post, a supreme effort, because while writing it I am forced to remain in a sedentary position, in the background, my mind is chewing the cud, digesting the implications of how humans have been designed in response to our evolutionary past, particularly at critical phase shifts such as the transition from life as a fish in water, to life as a fish out of water, as evidenced both in the fossil record, explained through Paleontology, and in our DNA, as explained through Embryology. The origins of adaptations such as the hand, the inner ear, our eyes, noses, throats, teeth, bi-pedal gait, and even the very existence of our bodies have been traced to moments when our lineage diverged. The realization that we are all descendants of pond scum is both humbling, and humorous on so many levels.

Shubin explains the what, the how, and more importantly the why morphological changes that led to the capabilities needed to type these words, broadcast them, and read them occurred. Shubin describes the awe of discovering in the fossil record of the Devonian Period a fish that lived in stream beds with precise bone-to-bone analogs of how our arm bones connect to our shoulders with quasi-religious fervor, which explains why I am drawn like a moth to the light to well written adventures about the history of science. From the misty Devonian past was left an imprint by our first ancestor fortunate enough to have a fin with a bone structure which allowed it to climb out of the water.

Zig Zeigler presents the importance of controlling what information we allow into your brains hilariously: "You wouldn't allow somebody to come into your living room and dump a load of garbage on the floor!" We need to protect our minds, control what we allow in, in order to make fast-paced decisions of long-term consequence. The academic viability of students depends on how well we prepare them. My focus over the holidays has to prepare myself so that I prepare my students.

By leveraging the power of recorded books, I've been able to feast on The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, On Truth, by Harry G. Frankfurt, a follow up to his award-winning book, On Bullshit!, and The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff, all while driving to fraction, decimal, and percent interventions with Pablo and Salvador, plus Aung, a child with Asberger's, and his sister Chit, who has come home from UVA to help her brother with mathematics over the holidays, while driving to Culpeper on my adventure to Taste Oil Vinegar Spice,  while restarting my workouts at the gym, while enjoying dog walks with Mabel, and getting myself prepared for IEP meetings, and business of teaching.

Listening to recorded books has been a welcome reprieve from the toxicity coming out of Ashburn, described succinctly by Thomas Boswell in his editorial which was the lead story of yesterday's Washington Post. Listening to The Last Lecture, in stark contrast to the tragedy in Ashburn, has led me to chew on what I should be doing to prepare my students, my wife, my boy to a world entering phase transitions as dramatic as the change from water to ice, and water to land, which will require a new level of resourcefulness. Considering the scope of change heading our way like a bullet train, the firing of Coach Shanahan at the tail end of 2013 doesn't seem all that important.