Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A woodworking teacher friend, Joe Novak suggested that I, every once in a while write something in the blog for students. And as Joe rightly points out, "we are all students," so it is hard for me to know what to say, except to talk to myself, which is what writing in a blog tends to be like. You really don't know if anyone is out there except when someone like Joe Novak, or Joe Barry, or Mario Nunez takes the time to write.

When you are a student in school, there are some perceived barriers. There are old guys (and gals) running around that seem to have lost their cool years ago. In many schools, students look right past these old guys (and gals) without noticing. You may learn not to jump on top of the bookcases when they are in the room or throw stuff in the hallways when they are in sight... if they notice you they might send you to the office where you'll have to endure stern looks and lectures, sidelining you from the action with friends. So you do keep an eye out for them just to avoid trouble, but you don't take much time to look close. So, here goes, something for students from an old guy. Don't worry, I won't try to be cool. Just real.

Something you may notice about learning. It can be fun to learn new things. Most people love learning if they give it a chance. Learning is why human beings have survived as a species and why we have music and iPods. We have the music because people learned how to play, how to sing, and arrange and record. Surprisingly, most learned through long hours of practice. We have iPods because other people learned about the fundamental nature of reality and then how electrons move through circuit boards and chips, and memory cards. Surprisingly, this started back with Ben Franklin and a bunch of other goofy intellectuals in the 18th century and has been building every day ever since. Human beings learned how to make things, starting with stone tools and wood starting way back at the dawn of human time. The funny thing that you may not know is that most learning doesn't happen in school. Even when you are not in school, you are learning important things. So you can see that what Joe said about us all being students is an important thing, and it never stops.

One of the things you will notice about learning is that learning is more fun than being taught. So if you have an interest in having a fun life, plan a life in which you are challenged to learn something new each day, even if it is in school. I'm not talking about getting the facts or forming an opinion. Facts will help you win a game of trivial pursuit, and that might impress your friends for a minute or so, but the real challenge is in learning a skill. The difference between learning facts and learning a skill is that a fact might make you feel smart, but a skill will enable you to do smart things that make your life better, improve the lives of others in your community, build a career, and change the world. To make the world a better place means we have to work to get better and then better and better at something.

Schools these days seem to be much more about knowledge than about skill, which is a shame, but there are still important skills you can learn there...simple things that will pay off big in life. Reading with precise understanding is a skill. Doing math is a skill. Doing anything with accuracy involves skill, whether it involves lab work in chemistry, or shaping a clay pot on a wheel. Some skills are inside the head and involve the clear processing of information. Some skills are equally in the hand, like the cutting of a dovetail joint. Skill only arises in a person's life if he or she cares enough about things to work and develop over time. In other words, skill is all about caring. And the very sad thing about schools is that caring doesn't seem to be regarded as cool.

Have you ever noticed how teens will joke and kid each other? Have you noticed that sometimes things can get carried away, leading to fights or hurt feelings? Have you noticed that sometimes people just hurt other people on purpose because it somehow makes them feel more powerful? One of the scary things about caring about something is that it can become the point at which you express your vulnerability. If you are cool and don't care, the mean ones don't have a place against which to launch their attack. But if you care and openly express your caring, they can tease, they can taunt, and they can torment. It is like wearing a target for the oppressors. So the life of a teen in America is not an easy one.

A quality life, which is what all teachers hope for all students, all comes down to care. You've got to care to make it, whether in debate class, on the sports field, or in the wood shop. Life is only a bit about knowledge. It is much more about skill, and skill only comes through taking a chance on being teased and tormented and caring even when it isn't cool.

Now, I would like to explain an important thing about teachers. This applies to teachers in general, and much more to woodworking teachers. Teachers have the responsibility to keep students safe in their learning. In the wood shop, we have sharp blades and chisels and things spinning at high speeds that can sever fingers or poke eyes. Parents get really mad if they think that their children are in danger. When you are a parent, you will understand this. But for now, just take my word for it. In addition, teachers have some responsibilities to the people that hired them. In our school, for instance we have a sprinkler system and for some reason the sprinklers don't have protective cages over them. If they were hit by a soccer ball inside during lunch, the sprinkler heads could go off and flood the building. Being an adult, I see the possibilities. I've been around long enough to see some awful things happen. Having dealt in the past with a flooded building, it is the kind of incident I don't want to repeat. So, despite my being kind of a nice guy at the core, I get tired of having to repeat the same thing over and over again... and I get just as bored having to stop impulsive, thoughtless or dangerous behavior as some of the students I have to talk to must feel about hearing me. So cut your teachers a bit of slack. Notice them sometimes. Thank them if you get a chance. They've worked and learned and practiced their skills to get their chance to take part in your life and your education.

That's all for now. I didn't intend to write so much. This is way too long for any student in his right mind to read at one sitting. Sorry, Joe, you did ask for it.

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