think different show different be different

Part of the art of teaching is the ability to rearrange the world for students – to force them to see things in a new way. I’ve known too many stupid intellectuals to believe that education and wisdom come as a package deal along with facts, it’s your perspective that counts – your ability to see differently, not just to see a lot.” – Sunny Decker, An Empty Spoon

R – I love reading quotes by other people, because they synthesize and implore us to expand our own ideas about things. I’ve spent no shortage of time and space on this site articulating my beliefs about spot on teaching, that it must embody developing the student as a person, developing a love for the subject area and developing (and assessing!) functional literacy of the subject area. But I’ve also talked often about my undergraduate education professor, Stephen Smith and his insistence that education is about getting students to “unlearn the irrelevant”. Sunny Decker brings these two distinctly independent views together for me in her quote. She wrote An Empty Spoon, describing her first year teaching experience at an inner city school in the late 1960s. In that single year she developed a “perspective” that I will never achieve in my entire career. But it’s a perspective we can learn from…

“More” does not equal better, “better” equals better. It’s one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek statements that, “he who dies with the most ‘stuff’ wins”. We know that’s not true. Can the corollary also be drawn that, “he who dies and knows the most stuff wins?” I’m concerned that our schools are teaching students “more” instead of getting them to dream. Our schools are teaching students “more” instead of getting them to think deeply about things. And having them discover the joy of doing so. Our schools are teaching students “more” instead of teaching them about themselves. Our schools are teaching students “more” instead of igniting their minds. Sometimes the biggest difference between the “A” student and the “B-” student is not one of academic accomplishment but one of mental and emotional health… and in my experience, the “A” student has not usually been the better off of the two.

In 1997, Apple created the “think different” campaign and it included many different posters that displayed influential figures/events in recent American history. I love these for the slogan, but especially for the choices of subject matter. Jim-Henson-Muppets-Think-DifferentThese posters didn’t feature presidents or senators. They didn’t include people “hired” to be leaders. They featured people like Cesar Chavez. Miles Davis. Pablo Picasso. And the one who graces my office at school, Jim Henson. None of these people on the 29 variations of posters were born as any great thing. But they had one common thread… Steve Smith would have called every one of them, “responsible radicals”. Steve Jobs would call them people who thought differently; they reflected their different thinking in their actions, and were different people as a result. Sunny Decker would say that their unique and outside the nine dots perspectives were the overt diving boards from which they jumped, morphing them into the people they were destined to be. Steve Jobs laid this quote on his audience in a speech he gave in 1994:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again. 

Jim Henson was not necessarily any great man, and he didn’t stop or prevent wars. He didn’t offer the world any spiritual foundation either. He made puppets. But you know what he did do? He thought different. He behaved different. He was different. And instead of conforming to life as he knew it, he took a dream and a passion and created a new reality for millions of people. But consider this: if he had created a whole new reality that positively impacted only one person, would he still be legitimately considered a “success”? You bet your life he would. And if we’re not embodying and teaching our kids that, what have we been doing with them?

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One Response to think different show different be different

  1. Jeff Barry says:

    I suppose it’s no coincidence that you also think different, Rob. This is a great read and a great perspective from a great educator!

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