My dad’s current favorite line is that the only thing we talk about at the dinner table is education. Back when I lived down south and even now my father is surrounded by educators. My mom has been a middle school teacher since I was 10, I have wanted to be one since I was 15 and my brother is getting his multiple subject credential right now so he can teach the tiny people. My father on the other hand is a scientist. He is a bio-chemist and a genius. I don’t use this term lightly. In what he does (his very specific field) he is the smartest person in the world.
He came up to visit me this weekend and I talked with him a lot. Talking to my dad is sometimes hard because he speaks about 7 levels higher than whoever he is talking to. So when he says something about conjugates and antibodies and tests testing for 10 things at once instead of understanding everything you cling to the eight words you understand and you smile and nod and grasp for even a peripheral view in to his world.
But every once and a while he hits on something profound in that it connects to my life perfectly. Today it was this: He could cure cancer if only his mortgage didn’t depend on it. Here’s what he meant: If your livelihood didn’t depend on it and if you were smart and given background knowledge and then told to go play without fear you are more likely to come up with something amazing and new.
This is the idea of real motivation. Intrinsic motivation. What my dad doesn’t understand is even though he is not talking about education I am thinking about it. I listen to what he is saying and what I hear is, “Why can’t we give students in schools problems that make them want to find solutions?” Why isn’t school an environment where failing is encouraged so long as real effort and thought is put forth? How can we build a curriculum that encourages students to say, “I want to learn that so I can solve this?”
(I understand this is not a new thought, just something that really hit me again today)
The other thing he said was: In order to really flourish we need to stop going down paths that people are already going down. We need to go down other paths and try things that aren’t being tried yet because down those paths there is a lot of room to thrive. Down those paths discoveries are waiting to be found.
(i just love the idea of this and my dad.)
I know these aren’t new ideas and I know that this is education stuff that has been talked about before. But my dad, the scientist, the eternal optimist, the man who is often four conversations behind is making me think.
He is making me think about his least favorite topic: education.