I posted this on my Facebook wall a week or so ago. I don’t think a lot of people really know what he is saying. At least I don’t think many people took the same meaning from it as I did. It crystallized some thoughts I had been having about teaching difficult students. Let’s call them fish.
Fish rule the world. Or at least the parts of the world that make it interesting. Einstein himself was a fish in many ways. For all of his mathematical brilliance, he was rather one-dimensional. He never really set the world on fire in school he was consumed by his thoughts. It has been said that not only did he fairly regularly get lost trying to get home but also at times he would not recognize his house when he got there. Can you imagine what he was like as a third grader. I can just hear the faculty room talk, “that Einstein boy is driving me nuts! Is it just me or does he have the attention span of a gnat? Somebody sneak some Ritalin in that boys lunch, please!”
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, John Chambers CEO of Cisco, and Charles Schwab all reportedly have ADD/ADHD (Whatever they’re calling it this week). Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy, though never diagnosed had symptoms of what we now call ADHD as well as Beethoven, John Lennon and Elvis. The world of acting is chock full of people with that gnatlike attention span: Robin Williams, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, Will Smith and even Alfred Hitchcock to name a few. And athletes are ADD in amazing numbers. Greats like Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Bruce Jenner and Michael Phelps suffer or suffered from lack of attention. They are all fish.
If these fish would have been judged by climbing trees everyone of them would have been a failure. At the singular activity though they were or are phenomenal. I don’t believe that it is a matter of overcoming the obstacle, I believe that the so called obstacle is what made them great.
The link to teaching then is that we are keeping a large number of kids from finding their greatness. There are a myriad of reasons and they go back way before standardized testing. Standardized testing didn’t make it any easier but it really isn’t the blame. The blame is on an educational system that everyone has bought into. A system were being different is condemned and thinking creatively is not rewarded. Where the number of ADD students in a classroom is seen as a hassle and not a reward. Just think what it would be like if you had Einstein, Franklin, and Hitchcock in your room. Would their ideas fit into your rubric? Would you give them a “C” because they didn’t use commas?
So, what is the solution? In my estimation the solution is to favor thinking over content. Teaching students to use the tool they were born with for something other than to memorize the states and capitals. Most people won’t want to hear this but I believe the goal of the Common Core Standards is to do just that. Not just to teach that 1+1=2 but to teach why. And from that tiny sprout of why, encourage students to continue to ask “Why” until that blossoms into asking “How?” and eventually to students exploring the “Whys” and the “Hows” that interest them.
Fish know that the information is out there. They need to know how to access it. Fish know that they have brilliant thoughts all the time. They need to know how to develop and expand them. Fish, as I’ve said before, don’t understand your games of due dates, assignment planners, rubrics, and standardized tests. They do understand when you don’t try to understand them.