Tag Archives: teaching

Teaching Peace

Teachers, preferably unarmed, are some of my favorite people. While the travesty of a government muddles along in the District of Columbia I think back on my own education and wonder what went wrong. I’m sure you knew kids who hated school; I certainly knew plenty. For whatever reason they didn’t want to be enclosed in a classroom with everyone else, learning stuff for which they could see no practical application. Reading doesn’t appeal to everyone. Memories of advanced math still send shudders down my spine. And what was the point of gym class if it wasn’t to make those of us who liked reading feel bad at that awkward stage of life when you discover your body isn’t as well-made as that of others your age? Education isn’t perfect, but it’s what we now need more than ever.

There’s no way that everyone will learn to enjoy reading. We aren’t cookie-cutter people. Thinking, as my own mathematical experiences demonstrated, can be very hard work. No one person knows everything. That’s why, at least in my day, after you reached sixth grade you started to have teachers who specialized in subjects. What I didn’t realize as a kid is how hard these modern-day saints have it. Pay scales are low. Hours are long for those dedicated to being good teachers—the brevity of the school day beliefs the amount of work done after hours. Increasingly our educators have to hold down a second job to be able to survive. The least we can do is learn in gratitude.

School shootings are so tragic because many of the victims are those who haven’t had a chance at life yet. We elect uneducated presidents and wonder what could possibly go wrong. Education, if done right, becomes a lifelong journey. The day that passes without learning something new is the day I come home and go to bed depressed. More than simple evolving, life is learning. Teachers are those who set us off on that track. The young, it is true, have more flexibility in learning. There are more options open to you before your thinking gets set in its way. I ran into seminarians who, no matter how much you’d offer, had already made up their minds. No education required. Perhaps what we need to teach at the youngest possible age is that school never ends. The formal classroom experience may cease at grade twelve, the baccalaureate, masters, or doctoral degree, but the learning goes on. And it’s a good thing, not some bizarre punishment. For that teachers, unarmed, are those to whom we should be grateful. If only we’d be willing to invest in them.

Fresh Thinking

Lateral Thinking_0001Creativity receives an immense amount of lip service. Too bad that doesn’t correlate to actual appreciation. I’ve been working since I was 14. In all the jobs I’ve had, the first was the one that used my creativity most fully. I was a teenage assistant-janitor, doing manual labor. Laborers have great incentive to be creative since it can reduce the amount of work you have to do. Of course, at other times it can create more work. While I was teaching (the second-most creative job I’ve held), I picked up Edward de Bono’s classic, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. Shortly after purchasing it I lost my teaching job with a change of administration and I’ve been involved in the least creative phase of my career ever since—publishing. I hope that I’m still a lateral thinker, and I read de Bono wishing to verify that I might be.

Lateral thinking, simply put, is the ability to see things differently. Logical thinking, with which we’re all familiar, is linear, or what de Bono calls “vertical.” Each step is based on the previous step and each step has to be right all the time. My mind, however, finds avenues out to wander among the daisies during the whole process. My interior dialogue is often a long stream of “what ifs” and questioning why things are done the way they are. I guess it’s no wonder that the church was leery of me. Lateral thinking, de Bono notes, does not sit well with dogmatism, nor with the arrogance of presuming you’re already right. If you’ve already got the answers, you need not ask any more questions. You go to seminary to learn to shore up the party line. Individual thinking is unwanted, and what’s more, it’s even dangerous.

So I have moved into the realm of business which, it would seem, stands to gain the most from creativity. Instead, standard business practices hamper, if not actively discourage, creativity. Having people sit in cubicles and maintaining rigid, often long, hours, and performing tasks that a lemur could be trained to handle. This is hardly the breeding ground of new ideas. I’ve attended “brainstorming” sessions in the industry where the leader shoots down immediately any idea that doesn’t lock-step with where s/he believes the company should be going. That’s not brainstorming, it’s brainwashing. Creativity may indeed lead to a temporary loss of profits. The truly creative business mogul will know, however, that it will lead to great leaps ahead further down the road. If you want to find the truly creative among the company, I suggest one place to go. Ask the janitors. Their ideas are likely the most creative of all.