Summer Thoughts on Teaching

Rules are the backbone of our society.  I love rules.  I crave the structure that rules provide.  I often invoke rules for myself: Eat ice cream after working out, brush my teeth for five minutes each morning, and no listening to music of the artist you are going to see on the day of a concert.  Simple and effective routines for keeping my life on track.  Rarely do I break one of my own rules, and when I do, I feel absolutely awful, like my life is thrown into chaos.  However, last night on the car ride back home from celebrating my in-law’s 4oth wedding anniversary, I did the unthinkable.

The ride to Canaan from Merrimack is quite an easy one.  Get on Route 3 North, merge onto 93 North, and then turn onto 89.  The ride is simple enough.  I’ve done it so many times that I could probably drive it asleep and make it home just fine.  Don’t worry though, I will not be trying that anytime soon.  The only real problem with the drive is that once I get on highway 89, access to radio stations is limited.  One country station, one classic rock station, one pop station, and a bunch of talk radio stations are all that come in somewhat clear enough to hear.  I have a rule while driving in the car: No talk radio.  If I wanted to listen to someone talking about a banal subject that has little to no impact on me, I would talk to myself.  When in my car, I want to jam out to some rockin’ tunes.  In NH, the hands-free law was recently passed and so since I did not set up my iPhone to play music ahead of time, that option was out of the question.  So, what do I do, I thought?  I listened to bad pop music for a while until my ears started to bleed.  Then, I scanned the stations over and over and over again.  Nothing.  Then my ears perked up.  Hey, is that the voice of America’s sweetheart Luke Burbank I hear on an NPR station?  No, it can’t be.  He hosts a show out of Portland, OR or Seattle, Washington.  There’s no way that is him.  But, I listened anyway.  Then I realized that it is him hosting his show Livewire that he does for NPR.  Oh boy!  You’re probably asking yourself, who the heck is Luke Burbank.  Now, while I don’t listen to talk radio while I am driving alone, when my wife is in the car, we do listen to the podcast TBTL that is co-hosted by Luke Burbank.  It’s a fun little imaginary radio show about life and a bunch of other mundane things.  We like it, my wife and I.  So, I recognized his voice even though it does sound very different on a podcast.  Anyway, I started to listen to him hosting Livewire.  And that’s when I realized I was violating my own rule: No talk radio in the car.  Oh no, what do I do?  Listen to the City Colour CD I have in the player that I have memorized or break my rule and listen to talk radio?  I decided to live on the edge and break my rule.  What’s the worst that could happen?  I’d be bored for an hour?

Luke was interviewing two comedians who had recently gotten married.  They were talking about the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony they had had.  It was quite humorous.  Then there was a musical guest that did not tickle my fancy and so I started scanning for a new channel.  Nothing, still after 15 minutes of driving.  So, I turned the radio back to Livewire and listened to Luke some more.  His big guest for the episode was Sebastian Junger, the author of War and The Perfect Storm.  Oh, I thought, this might be interesting.  He’s written a new book entitled Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.  It’s all about how humans are evolutionarily wired to live in small communities or tribes.  It’s how we survived through ice ages and disasters.  We rely on each other for support, help, need, and care.  However, due to advanced technology and access to money, many people no longer need to live in tribes.  People can venture off on their own, move away from the town in which they grew up, and start a whole new life for themselves.  What Junger found through his research is that this has caused the breakdown of American society.  With people no longer living in tribes or groups, rates of depression and suicide rise.  However, when people join the army or fight for our nation abroad, they live in small tribes and the bad issues go away.  During and after disasters, people usually rally together in a communal way, forming a big tribe.  After the 9/11 disaster, suicide and depression rates dropped in New York City because tribes were being formed again.  This is so interesting, I thought.

But what does it have to do with me?  In the classroom, I teach students to think for themselves and to work independently.  When students are struggling to work together, I help guide them to the realization that working alone would be more beneficial.  I’m creating a culture of aloneness in my classroom, at times, which completely goes against our basic human instincts that have made us such a successful group of living things for so long.  Rather than helping students figure out how to effectively work in tribes or groups, I’m teaching them that it is better, sometimes, to rely on one’s self to solve problems.  From personal experience, when I taught by myself in the classroom, I was not as effective an educator as I am today through co-teaching.  I needed to be a part of a tribe to realize my full potential.  So then, why am I working against what humans are meant to do?

This caused me to think about next year and how I might structure things differently.  Sure, tribes fight and argue and have their problems, but that’s part of the process of living and working in a community.  I might begin the year by introducing Junger’s research to the students so that they realize why we spend so much time working on teamwork skills and strategies in the classroom.  I might also get away from providing students with an option to separate from a group or partner when the going gets tough.  I will try to work with them to figure out how to solve their problems by working together.  I’ll try to reinforce the ideas that Junger talks about in his new book.  I’ll try to capitalize on the evolutionary traits that all humans have and need to build upon in order to live in a thriving global community or tribe.

So, the moral of the story here is that sometimes, when rules are broken, chaos doesn’t ensue.  Sometimes, rules are meant to be broken.  By breaking one of my own rules, I learned something new that I think will be of value to me and my students next year in the classroom.  So, thanks Luke Burbank for filling my car stereo speakers with your soothing voice last night as I ventured home in the fog and mist.  You gave me a reason not to fall asleep or throw my car radio out the window.


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