Red Stoves and Brilliant Minds . . . see if you can figure that out

stovesSunday was an adventure.

The “problem.”

How do you remove a 300 lb wood stove from your house when it’s 10 below?


Bring over two brothers and a nephew and scratch your head helplessly and say, “What shall we do here?”  (P.S.  It helps if the brothers are Bairds as Bairds love a good problem to solve.)  Jeff comes in with dual jacks and wearing wool overalls and dragging his son Ryan along.  I could tell he had been mulling over how to get the job done and he suggests we build a crate around the stove to protect it and to make it easier to haul.  Bring in 2 x 4s, 2 inch foam, a screw gun and an hour later four of us are hauling the stove out as if it were a coffin.  The second brother shows up in time to say, “Good job.”  (Also a smart Baird trait.)

While Jeff was building the crate Ryan was quizzing me on our straw bale house.  “Okay, so I know the pros of your house–what are the cons?”   What a great question, Ryan.

The new natural gas fireplace was not as difficult to bring in and put in its place.  The door and top are removable and it fit perfectly into the space.

Now, my thoughts move to a new but somehow related place–school.

How do you get reluctant learners to understand that they are only reluctant because they don’t want to fail.  These two things (my stoves and my students) do have common ground.  In reality, the human brain loves nothing more than to solve a problem, to be presented with a puzzle, or to be asked, “What shall we do here?”

Unfortunately, we have been trained like little puppies to care more about “performing” than we do about “learning.”  In a performance-based system, the goal is to get the grade, move to the next level, get the degree, get the job . . .     In a learning-based system, we care about the quality of the learning, the depth of the learning, the connection of the learning to the learner.

I love the way my mentor, Rita,  says that human beings are born to learn.  We love to learn.  Learning makes us high.  Learning is what we do best from the moment we stumble down the birth canal and land in a world that is filled with fun puzzles to solve.  Is this a finger?  Is this finger attached to me?  Is this my foot?  Are you my mommy?  It (the learning) doesn’t end until we stumble into the grave at the end of life.

I am just so pissed off that such a basic thing about how human beings learn is so overlooked in our school systems.   How is it that we take this rich and beautiful desire to learn and somehow shut it down until learning actually becomes painful?

I remember asking “What happened here?” a long time ago when I was a substitute teacher.  I was jumping in and out of classrooms every week.  One week I was with a bunch of extremely agitated and excited junior high kids.  We spent a week together getting high on learning.  One incident I remember was reading a bit of history about Edgar Allen Poe.  Poe was such a rebel that when he was sent to a military academy, he showed up to an early line-up wearing only a necktie.  As we were reading this, the students had gone into “Oh boring, now we have to read aloud mode” and didn’t even catch that line.  I stopped the class and began to build the picture of Poe standing in a rigid line of soldiers in training wearing only a tie and his bare-assed birthday suit.  (Naturally I didn’t use that word.)

As soon as the kids began to see the “picture” the giggling began.  The little girls blushed  . . .  they boys punched at each other and we began to connect with what we were learning.  A week later I was in a senior high school classroom and the cold death of education had begun to set in–students shuffling into classroom and parking their gangling bodies at uncomfortable desks and shutting down nearly all brain functioning for an hour.

We don’t have to “teach” people.   They teach themselves when they are interested, motivated, and are given a good problem to solve.   With the right conditions, good teachers just get out of their way.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a couple of wonderful women who work to offer good opportunities for learning to our communities.  We had a highly spirited 2-hour meeting about how to inject some life back into the learning environment.  What struck each of us as very sad is that so many of our students don’t fit the go-along pattern of simply performing a series of tasks like little puppies or monkeys and so they get labeled as slow or stupid or poor learners.  Maybe they just want more?

So, pretty red stoves, brilliant brains, delicious problems to solve–who could ask for anything more.

By the way, as you are moving out there to buy gifts for precious little children, remember that the research says we should never buy a toy that suggests itself.  Children love to be given strange unrecognizable items and then have to figure out what to do with them.  It builds creativity.  A tea set is, well, just a tea set.

Unfortunately, don’t ask my children how much they appreciate weird tool boxes filled with pipe cleaners and eye balls and markers.  They would say they wanted the transformer after all–but my children are so creative . . .

Love to all of you in this special season.  Keep things in perspective.  Keep your feet on the ground.  Stay warm.

Peace is the reason for the season.

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Red Stoves and Brilliant Minds . . . see if you can figure that out — 2 Comments

  1. I absolutely love this post Jamie. You have expressed the truth of education and our consumer society with just the right words. We do not have to teach people, we have to inspire and believe in people.
    I love the method used in Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound. The topic of interest is unfolded through mystery poetry and galleries filled with artifacts to uncover. Learning is led by the students themselves and inspired by the creativity of the teachers to intrigue them.
    Bravo my dear friend.

  2. Jamie, you have it just right–every word! If only we could convince every school, every educator, every teacher-training program that this is the natural way to make it possible for all students to be the natural, engaged, successful learners they are born to be!

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