I stand in front of my students. I say, “Listen, it’s your decision. Research it, make the call.” Blank stares. Pause. More blank stares.
I explain. “I’m not the Jesus of education…I’m just a nerd. You need to interpret things the way you want.” I give examples using facts, figures, case studies…
“How will I know I’m right?” Students need that sense of “I must define the right answer so you can give me an A. I MUST KNOW!!!” Right answers are seldom right. Only shades of right. It’s a lesson nearly impossible to teach–one I’m still trying to learn.
I tell them, “You’ll know you’re right because I’m the one reading it. It can’t be wrong if you back it up.”
“You see,” I say, “Life doesn’t work that way. I think I have a plan for school, for business, for life…but it changes constantly. Life evolves. Real learning is about taking the input and research–whatever you can find and whatever comes your way…and using it to be awesome. Digging deep, defending, explaining, pitching, selling, convincing…to do that, you have to collect knowledge.” Rake it into a pile…jump in the leaves.
“Then trust yourself and take it to the next level. Who knows what the right answer really is? No one. That’s life. The answer is that no one knows the answers. That’s really what happens. I wish I had something different to tell you.”*
“The good news is, you can get used to that and blow by the people who can’t.”
Eventually, one student cracks a smile. Then one more… until a whole bunch of smiles light up the room. Students begin to re-engage, finding solutions to the problems of the world once again. Because I’ve told them that each one of them is a genius, and the world needs their contributions.**
*The actual phrase was “loose corners.” (Kamal Ravikant). Truly the best of lessons. I’ve passed it on. The best of lessons, kept to oneself, simply withers up and dies.
**Angela Maiers asks the question, “What breaks your heart?” then makes students solve those problems. For real. I’ve brainstormed these things, even called my students geniuses, but never made them iterate on the ideas. And that small paradigm shift, I see, makes all the difference. The power of one single student can light a thousand cities. Amazing to behold. Angela–I hope you are proud. I am.