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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lost in a Wave

Lost in a Wave
Let me help you set the stage:  some mandolin with a groovy beat that causes an instant desire for a Pina Colada, add some guitar, and then a raspy voice, “I got troubles oh, but not today /  Cause they’re gonna wash away / They’re gonna wash away…”.  This song by Joe Purdy ends the third episode of Lost called Tabula Rasa. It also ignited a fever of creative learning among my students.
                To back up for a moment, we had just entered into the second semester ( and if you don’t remember, while you were in school, the desire to jump out the nearest window just to be outside…shame on you.) Anyway, as we began the second semester, I could tell some kids were beaten down, some felt like failures, some victorious but tired, and all the rest suffered from three year early senior-itise. As I was searching for themes in Lost episode three to share with my kids, I came across Joe Purdy’s song at the end of the show and bought it on ITunes. It made me feel good, so I decided:  Hey let’s use it…somehow.
                This is what I did:  as the bell to start class rang, Joe Purdy’s song was playing in the background.  For the most part, I knew very few students would actually listen to the words – but at least it created a nice mood.  While the song was playing and shoes shuffling to their desk, there was what teachers and administrators call a “Do Now or Bell Ringer” on the ActivBoard.  It was a few paragraphs about some dude named John Locke who apparently did something long ago and whoopdy-do.  But as the students read, they learned that this guy from long had this idea that people may be born with a Blank Slate, and more importantly, people could be in charge of their own future. These ninth graders where then asked to think why this idea might be radical with a king as a leader.  A few of them got it.  They realized that during that time you were pretty much born into whatever you were going to be: a farmer, a blacksmith, a cobbler, and no matter what poor.
                They were then asked what importance this theory might be to them especially at second semester.  But here’s the kicker – they had to analyze the song’s lyrics that had been playing and compare and contrast that to John Locke’s idea of Tabula Rasa.  To my delightful surprise, they got it - that everyone has the ability to change where their lives were going; to, in a sense, get a blank slate or a fresh start, and just like Joe Purdy’s song, some things just need to wash away. The class went on to have a creative day.
                But, even in teaching, I realized something: maybe it’s education that needs to get “Lost” in a wave and have some things washed away.  Ken Robinson said, “One of the enemies of creativity and innovation, especially in relation to our own development, is common sense. The playwright Bertolt Brecht said that as soon as something seems the most obvious thing in the world, it means that we have abandoned all attempts at understanding it (Robinson 32).” It seems that most of the educating world sees it “obvious” that data and standardized test is the way to measure our kid's aptitude all the while creating zombie like minds that lack creative outlet. Walter Isaacson write about Einstein, “As a young student, he never did well with rote learning. And later, as a theorist, his success came not from the brute strength of his mental processing power but from his imagination and creativity. He could construct complex equations, but more important, he knew that math is the language nature used to describe her wonders.” It amazes that even after some many years we try to beat our students with rote learning and neglect to foster creative outlets. (Robinson 50)
                I find it interesting that if you look at the characters in Lost that do well on the island, it’s the characters who accept the fact that the island has provided a Tabula Rasa experience – a new beginning, something that most humans thirst for.  The characters that buck against the chance at a new life, like Jack, struggle over and over and over. Much like Jack, the education system is buckling under the tides of pressure. It’s time for the education system to have a Tabula Rasa and get lost in a wave because “I got troubles oh, but not today /  Cause they’re gonna wash away / They’re gonna wash away…”. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Just get LOST!

Lost in Education
“You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you don't know for sure.” This quote comes from the hit movie Inception; however, I think that this quote is an accurate description of most people’s thoughts on public education.  We all want to get on this train; the train feels like it’s going, but no one knows if the train is getting where it needs to go. An error that I see in education comes from the perception of Sir Ken Robinson, which is education tends to only feature three avenues of thought: One, schools focus narrowly on certain academic ability that being critical analysis and reasoning. Second, education creates a hierarchy of subject, which forces academic conformity of a narrow view of intelligence.  Third, the schools are relying too much on standard assessments. (Robinson 13) As Sir Ken Robinson states, “These approaches to education are also stifling some of the most important capacities [in our children].”
I have, to my own frustration, observed this type of ‘stifling’ in my own classroom.  That I, myself, have been beaten down into a narrow view of education. Students are too busy trying to rush through things just to find the “right answer”, or too busy decoding to understand, or worrying what test they have to pass next. Creative thought is not allowed to flourish because the environment that they are asked to perform in is only concerned with ‘not what they think’ but what “right” answer they know. My students needed a little spark or creative universe juice to get things flowing again.  To do this, I endeavored on a journey.  I decided I would use the T.V. phenomena known as Lost. In short, showing Lost allows the students to forget on focusing on finding the right answer, because there are no answers in Lost; hence the title.  Instead, it embarks the students on a fantastical journey of myth and theme. “The allusions [made in the story] invite the viewers to initiate a discussion [or thought process] on a higher level (Stuart 1).” Even one of the writers of the show, Damon Lindelof, states, “one of the things we’ve always enjoyed as storytellers is the intentional ambiguity…you’re asking the audience: What do you think? We want people to turn to the person next to them and engage them in a conversation. As William Yeats summarized, “Books are but waste paper unless we spend in action the wisdom we get from [them.]” Lost allows thematic ideas to germinate in the mind of the student.  For example, Lost deals with themes such as free will, faith, redemption, community, and the individuals desire for an external savior, and trying to understand life. Sounds like high school survival needs 101
And, this is where this blog will begin. The story of frustrated students leaving behind what they know or rather what they hate to forge a new way of thinking about the skills they need to acquire. Lost simply acts like a little miracle grow to stimulate the mind so that it can receive the knowledge they need to be successful.

Works Cited
Robinson, Ken Ph.D. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.
Stuart, Sarah Ph.D. Literary Lost: Viewing Television Through the Lens of Literature. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011.