Author Jenna Marks

“Why do we need to know this?” [Connecting the classroom to the real world]

This past week the rethinkED team participated in a day-long think tank on how to re-invent the American High School, in an effort to develop a proposal for the XQ Super School Project. While I am excited to share some of the ideas we had, today I thought I’d start by thinking about one really powerful idea that kept me thinking long after our session ended:

“Why do we need to know this?”

^ This question is one that often pops up in the classroom. Quite frankly, students often do not see a connection between the abstract and tedious work done in classroom and their lives outside of school, both future and present. This lack of connection is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. Without this vital connection, we often encounter the “inert knowledge” problem; students learn something but they don’t know how to use it. This relates more broadly to issues of transfer: how can we help students to use something they have learned in one context, at one time, or on one type of task in a different context, time, or on a different task? I am currently taking a course about Transfer of Learning. While transfer is arguably a main goal of education, research has generally found weak support for transfer. Students often do not learn content in ways that facilitate applying knowledge later in life or in different situations (I hope to talk about this more in upcoming weeks!).
  2. A second issue is the lack of value assigned to content learned in school. Without understanding potential applications of a skill, students see little value in learning it in the first place. If I don’t value what I am learning, I am less motivated and engaged.

Connecting classroom and community through project and problem based learning…*

With this in mind, I loved hearing this TED talk by Cesar Harada: How I teach kids to love science. He connects science to real community problems, both local and abroad. From developing an invention to estimate plastic in polluted oceans to analyzing seabed radioactivity near the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was damaged in 2011, Harada’s students work on real and relevant work problems in their science classroom. This sort of problem and project-based experiential learning can help students see the relevance of science education. Furthermore, Harada is cultivating a generation of innovators and problem solvers. His classroom is a workshop. Through rapid prototyping with tools, his students have become scientists and inventors. As he says,

“So citizen scientists, makers, dreamers — we must prepare the next generation that cares about the environment and people, and that can actually do something about it.”

THE POWER OF CONNECTION

By connecting science skills to real-world issues, we can increase the relevance of school education and give our students much needed experience in using skills in a meaningful way. As illustrated by Cesar Harada, connecting schoolwork to real life problems has benefits beyond increasing value and transfer; we can empower students to be innovators and problem solvers.

This process of embedding learning in the community and in real, complex problems is something that we hope to include in our XQ proposal. By providing students with a variety of contexts in which their knowing can be directly applied, we can create a more engaging and useful education that has applicability far beyond the classroom…*

 

[rethinking Purpose & Passion]: multipotentiality vs. one true calling… *

rethinking passion…*

Last year, both Elsa and I wrote about rethinking passion [here and here]. I argued that childhood should be about exploration, rather than passion. I also cited the importance of hard work, setbacks, and struggles in developing passion. Similarly, Elsa spoke of shifting from a “passion” mindset to a “craftman’s” mindset, which she describes as “a relentless focus on activating one’s unique potential by continually pushing to develop one’s skills and acquire new ones” A craftsman mindset involves deliberate practice of valuable skills.

what is purpose?…*

This year, rethinkED…* has been thinking about purpose and how to instill purpose in students. Yet what is purpose? Personally, I argue against the notion of pushing students to define one unified purpose for their lives. Instead, I believe we should cultivate multiple purposes and overall purposefulness in our students. Rather than having just one purpose, do with purpose.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?…*

Especially in today’s society, it seems rather rare to have just one passion. With this in mind, I was enthralled by a recent TED talk by Emilie Wapnick, a career coach who speaks to those without “one true calling.” Recollecting the overwhelming anxiety of the question “what do you want to be when you grow up,” she explains that it is not that students have no interest but rather than they sometimes have too many. She says that,

“while this question inspires kids to dream about what they could be, it does not inspire them to dream about all that they could be”

This question is part of the overall societal pressure we place upon children to pick one thing, to choose which of the things that they love and make a career out of it. She continues,

“The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling, the idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is and devote your life to it.”

However, we leave many, many people out of this narrative. People who do many wonderful things across their lives, who have many things they are curious about and many different things that they want to do. People she calls multipotentialites.

MULTIPOTENTIALITES…*

She defines multipotentialites as those with many pursuits, the modern-day “Renaissance” men (and women). Rather than thinking of this flitting from interest to interest as a limitation, Emilie cites three super powers that multipotentialites can possess:

  1. Idea synthesis- Combining two or more fields and finding something new and exciting at the intersection. Innovation happens at these intersections.
  2. Rapid learning- Multipotentialites are comfortable at being beginners or “accomplished novices”.
  3. Adaptability- With many skills, you can morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation.

She states that there are many complex, multidimensional world problems that need solving right now, and the ideal team for such problems is a specialist and a multipotentialite paired together. She concludes by stating

“…embrace your many passions. Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly — multipotentialites, the world needs us.”

ARGUMENT AGAINST THE MULTIPOTENTIALITE..*

Overall, Emilie does not advocate for one path through life but rather believes that we should support individuals who aim for breadth (multipotentialites) as much as we support individuals who aim for depth (specialists). This fits with the idea of exploration alongside passion.

However, one criticism that could be put upon Emilie’s argument is that most students would rather be multipotentialites, flitting from interest to interest, rather than dig in and put hard work into one specific thing. In terms of grit and deliberate practice, it is far easier to shift gears when something gets hard or tedious. In terms of success, research suggests that being gritty and putting in the work is very important.

Purposeful, gritty pursuit of multiple passions…*

Instead, I would argue that the ideal falls somewhere in the middle. We should encourage students to pursue multiple passions, but we should also discourage students from straying from an interest when it simply becomes too challenging. Further, in order to use the “idea synthesis” superpower, students must actively reflect on the themes and ways in which their various interests connect. I am passionate about education research and studio art. I can cultivate these two passions simultaneously. More importantly, I seek inspiration from my artwork in my research. I seek respite from the intellectual rigor of school in the flow state I get when painting. I integrate the two when I design research studies and develop compelling presentations. My overall philosophy on life, truth, and knowledge is inextricably tied to the meaning I’ve distilled from these pursuits.

Your life does not need to be played on a single instrument. Yet only through hard work will you play any one instrument well. And only through learning how to combine the sounds of each together in harmony can you create a symphony…* 

 

#RethinkHighSchool with XQ: The Super School Project

This month, the rethinkED team is getting excited about XQ: The Super School Project, Launched by Laurene Powell Jobs, this design challenge invites teams to reimagine the next American High School. Winners will receive support and $50 million to make their idea into a reality.

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Source: http://xqsuperschool.org/challenge

According to the XQ institute, XQ is the agile and flexible intelligence that prepares students for a more connected world, a rapidly changing future, and a lifetime of learning. It is a combination of IQ (cognitive capabilities) and EQ (emotional intelligence or how we learn in the world).

Soliciting “What If..”s from the world, the XQ project is a design thinking challenge operating on a massive scale. The challenge is broken into 4 phases: 1) Assemble a team, 2) Discover the landscape of education, 3) Design a super school for the community, and 4) Develop a formidable plan.

RethinkED is going to team up with other innovative and talented individuals for an intense day of dreaming and designing next week. As you’ve seen, we have a lot of ideas surround character education, interdisciplinary pedagogies, and community-focused learning, and we are excited to merge these into a coherent plan of action to #RethinkHighSchool.

P.S. The rethinkED team has recently grown! We have two new members, and we are super excited for you to meet them.

 

Hip Hop + History = Alexander Hamilton: The Musical…*

Hip hop history…*

Back in 2014, I wrote about Pentecostal Pedagogy and the idea that we can increase learner engagement by relating to students — particularly urban students — through modes of communication that they relate to, such as rap. This was at the forefront of my mind earlier this month when I went to see Hamilton: The Musical – a new broadway musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the “making of America”… through hip hop music.

Hamilton…*

The play was by far one of the best Broadway shows I’ve ever seen. An educational, witty, and fairly accurate portrayal of the beginning of our nation, Hamilton converts what could feel like a very dry topic and put a fresh spin on it, communicating through a fusion of hip hop, jazz, and broadway music that is fun and relatable. The writer Lin-Manual Miranda chose Alexander Hamilton – an immigrant and orphan – as the protagonist of this historical play. He cast himself – a man of color – as Hamilton, and overall the cast is far more diverse than one might expect for a story about a bunch of old white men.  In doing so, he creates a relatable story for many Americans who may have trouble empathizing with the old white men that dominate our history books.

With verses like the one below, he paints the picture of a man born without privilege, who succeeded through hard work and beat the odds to become a founding father of our nation:

The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter.

One of the repeating lines of the play — “I’m just like my country – I’m young, scrappy, and hungry. And I’m not throwin’ away my shot” — speaks to the timeless passion of ambitious youth.

The play uses rap battles for cabinet meetings, succinctly explaining Jefferson and Hamilton’s differing opinions on monetary policy or whether or not to send aid to the French Revolution.

The musical also approaches high-level issues, such as the way in which history is spun by those who live to tell the story. It develops multidimensional characters, such as Aaron Burr, displaying the complexity of politics and “right” and “wrong”.

Hamilton serves as a wonderful example of how to make history approachable and engaging for students. This play could be an excellent Preparation for Future Learning activity that would set the stage for a more traditional classroom discussion about the revolutionary war, our founding fathers, and the subjective nature of history.

While you are waiting to get your hands on tickets to this incredible performance, I’d highly recommend checking out the soundtrack, available on NPR FIRST LISTEN and also available for purchase on iTunes.

 

 

 

 

unleashing creativity with d.global…*

Hello, fellow rethinkers! I took a break this past summer from posting, but I am excited to be back and to share excited ideas about education with you.

This past weekend I participated in a d.global workshop, a design thinking challenge that the d.school at Stanford is taking around the world with the goal of unleashing the creative potential in all of us.nycinvite

In this seven-hour workshop, we went through a design thinking process to seek new insights and understandings towards large problems attendees were facing in their day-to-day lives. We began with three postures – short activities meant to establish a culture with specific norms and values. I discuss two below:

creative postures…*

Our first posture – “I am a tree”- brought everyone into the mindset of stepping forward and taking risks. This is an improv game where one person begins by standing as a tree in the center of the circle and states “I am a tree.” Next, another team member steps in and states what she is to complete the setting. For example, “I am a bird.” A third person then steps in and could say, “I am bird poop.” The first person steps out of the scene and chooses one person to remove as well, and then the game continues. Here’s a youtube video of an improv team performing “I am a tree,” since it is far easier to understand if you watch it happening.

After reflecting on risk-taking, we began our second posture – “Tada!” This game seeks to reframe failure. Teams of two play a variety of counting games where it is very easy to mess up. After reflecting on how our body language and demeanor was affected by these mess ups, we were instructed to instead shout “Tada!” each time our group failed, complete with a step forward and spirit fingers.

design challenges…*

In an ideation session, we developed questions pertinent to our own life goals and struggles. I focused on how to seek a work/life balance and how to better structure my days.IMG_7768

We then shared and synthesized these questions into more broad goals that groups of 5-6 could rally around. My group asked “How to design a life that has meaningful impact and is meaningful / life-giving to you?” Other questions are included in the photos below.IMG_7766IMG_7770

In a surprise twist, we were then tasked with seeking inspiration and ideas to solve another group’s problem, rather than our own. Our group was looking into the question “how to find passion and a reason to get out of bed in the morning” We spent time with the other group, building empathy and deeper understand of their question. We realized that the members of this group had diverse reasons for asking this question. Some were overwhelmed. Others lacked focus or drive. Generally, they all had issues around goal-setting and motivation. With this in mind, we began our three hour exploration of NYC, seeking inspiration and new perspectives to bring back with us.

how to life a motivated and passionate life...*

Our journey to seek empathy and new perspectives led us to talk to many people, and the conversations we had were wonderful and inspiring. A barista at a local coffee shop spoke of how his day job paid the bills while his passion was to become a theologian. He was slowly obtaining a Masters in Theology at night. He advised us to first focus on what has to get done, and then focus on what you’d like to get done. An employee at Old Navy worked two jobs during the day and found both to be fun and fulfilling. Outside of work, she was an aspiring dancer. Her advice to those who dread leaving bed in the morning was to be patient and to mix it up every once in a while.

Last, we spoke with a highly regarded trainer at a luxury fitness enter. He spoke of setting a combination of short and long-term goals and holding yourself accountable by writing things down and telling your friends or family about your goals.

Our final task as a group was to create a gift for the group we were designing for, based on our experiences that day. We decided to combine all of the nuggets of wisdom we noted throughout our exploration into a “choose your own adventure” poster, shown below:

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HOW TO LIVE A MEANINGFUL AND LIFE-GIVING LIFE…*

The group designing for us gifted us with a line from the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson shown below. This line is a beautiful representation of the desire to do good in the world that our group was struggling with.

I felt invigorated by the exploration of my city and inspired by the wonderful minds I spent the day designing with. This year, I hope to bring a similar experience to the Riverdale community.

Thank you, d.global, for a tremendous experience!

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Mentor a child, change her life…*

Mentor a child…*

About a year ago, an acquaintance of mine from college made a Facebook post that deeply affected me. This man was currently attending a prestigious business school, had already worked a few years at a prestigious financial firm, and graduated with me from a top liberal arts school. His post was a picture of himself and his mentor from the program Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring organization that creates relationships that transform children’s lives. In the post, he credited his mentor for helping him obtain the life he has today. I was so moved that I immediately started googling “mentoring in NYC,” determined to make the kind of impact that his mentor did.

In a nation-wide study of Big Brothers Big Sisters, researchers found that children who were randomly assigned to the program versus those not yet in the program were more confident about school performance, had better relationships with their families, and were:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip school
  • 37% less likely to skip a class
  • 33% less likely to hit someone

(source: bbs.org)

With results like that, it seems like creating one-to-one partnerships could be one powerful solution for improving educational outcomes for low-SES students.

My Mentoring Experience…*

I’m not completely new to the mentoring game. In college, I led a small female-oriented mentoring group called Ophelia’s Girls that worked in group sessions with middle school and high school students in a nearby very rural town. We provided a safe space for students to talk and aimed to serve as role models for these girls who – statistically speaking – were likely to drop out of high school before graduating.

As a 20-something, I was now hoping to have more of a one-on-one relationship where I could potentially make a greater impact on one girls’ life. I ultimately chose to participate in iMentor, a school-based mentoring program where matches email once per week and see one another at least one time each month. iMentor’s mission is to build  “mentoring relationships that empower students from low-income communities to graduate high school, succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions.” Students participate in iMentor through their high schools, where they have iMentor class once a week and stay after school for events that generally revolve around college preparedness and goal-setting.

One year ago, I signed up for a three-year match in the College Transition Program with a student that I would mentor from 11th grade through her first year of college. I was matched with Madina*, a girl living in Brooklyn who had just moved from Uzbekistan a few years ago. Over the past 10 months, we have slowly built a relationship, navigating a strong language barrier and a myriad of cultural differences. Madina speaks 3 languages fluently but still has a lot of trouble communicating in English. She juggles working a night job with her schoolwork and helps her parents take care of her younger sister. She knows she wants to go to college, but she lacks a tremendous amount of cultural capital around what college is and what different occupations entail. Together, we struggle to stay openminded about each other’s customs and cultures; she is from a conservative Muslim background, and I am a fairly liberal Jew.

When I first signed up for the program, I was prepared to help change somebody’s life. What I didn’t expect was how much she would change mine. I never fully understood the barriers immigrant students face every day. I also have been blown away by her kindness and generosity – she got me a birthday present and has cooked her favorite foods for me to try. It has been challenging to get her to open up, but as she has I have been fascinated by her life and world. It is unbelievable how vastly different our lives are, and I learn something new from her every day.

The Power of Mentoring…*

I’m not the only one thinking about how important mentoring is for low-SES students. In Michael Benko’s TEDxOU talk, he also speaks to the power of having a person investing in your life at a young age. Currently, there is a 1:500 ratio of guidance counselors to students in our school system. Benko’s idea is to give everyone their own success counselor, matching college students with high school students online.

In Lori Hunt’s TEDxCCS talk, she talks about the power of mentoring. She first talks about her struggles in the beginning of college, failing courses at a 4-year college she was not academically prepared for. Lori actually does not advocate for a particular program, but instead talks about informal mentors – the types of mentorships that occur organically. Her work study advisor became her mentor, helping her find the tools to make the right decision. She, like my friend from college, credits her with changing her life.

 

There are many avenues to mentoring. The bottom line is that these experiences are challenging at times but immensely life-changing on both sides of the match. If you are not already, I’d urge you to get involved in a mentoringship – it will open your eyes and could help change the trajectory of someone’s life.

 

 

*Name and some facts changed to protect her privacy.

advocating for a { liberal arts } education

Liberal Arts…*

I am returning today from my 5 year college reunion, and the weekend has left me nostalgic for the wonderful experience I had at my small liberal arts school. I am a biased advocate, not just for liberal arts but for small colleges in small college towns. My time at Colgate University reinvigorated my love of learning, and the small close-knit, isolated town in upstate New York was the perfect environment to cultivate focus, passion, and community.

IMG_6174As Patrick Awuah explains in his TEDGlobal talk How to educate leaders? Liberal arts — the liberal arts education instills

the ability to confront problems, complex problems, and to design solutions to those problems. The ability to create is the most empowering thing that can happen to an individual.

My coursework at Colgate prepared me to be a critical thinker and a strong writer. The community empowered us to ask questions that people weren’t asking, to learn with skepticism and a critical eye.

Interconnectedness...*

Another strength of liberal arts is that it emphasizes the interconnectedness of our world. As Liz Coleman talks about in A call to reinvent liberal arts education,

The progression of today’s college student is to jettison every interest except one. And within that one, to continually narrow the focus, learning more and more about less and less; this, despite the evidence all around us of the interconnectedness of things.

Coleman argues that the true liberal arts education is dying, but at the root of it should be social activism and a breadth perspective.

I love this idea because it relates to my recent post about rethinking passion. Rather than narrowing down to just one thing, the liberal arts education is well-rounded, mandating that learners take courses in many different departments. As an undergraduate Psychology major, I took courses in English Literature, Astronomy, Geography, Women’s Studies, Economics, Education, and Art History. I also fulfilled a core curriculum including a course about the Middle East and the class about the fallibility of memory that inspired my love of research – Science and the Malleability of the Mind.

Community…*

Best of all, as Alexandra Rice explains in her article Top 5 Reasons to Apply to a Liberal Arts College, liberal arts schools create a more cohesive community among faculty and students. Small classes invite more discussion and – at least at my school – a lack of graduate students led to more research opportunities for undergraduates. By the time I was a senior in college, I was a lab manager with three years of research experience. I developed close relationships with my professors, who opened their homes to us for the occasional dinner and some of whom I still keep in touch with today…*

More pictures below. Isn’t my alma mater beautiful?

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Photo courtesy of jless713 and colgate2010

Photo courtesy of jless713 and colgate2010

the power of [ awe…* ]

The Power of Awe…for altruism*

The NY Times published a great Op Ed this past Friday called Why Do We Experience Awe? In it, psychologist professors’ Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner cite studies that demonstrate the power of experiencing awe, “that often-positive feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” Experiences of awe are those that give you goosebumps.

In a series of studies, the authors found that awe is a “collective” emotion that motivates us to be altruistic – to act in collaborative ways and care more for the greater good than for ourselves. In one study, people were either given a few minutes to look at awe-inspiring Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees or to look at the facade of a science building nearby. Afterwards, an experimenter “dropped” a handful of pens. Those who spent the previous few minutes staring at the trees picked up more pens to help the other person.

Photo Credit: Institute of Paper Science & Technology (http://www.rbi.gatech.edu/)

Photo Credit: Institute of Paper Science & Technology (http://www.rbi.gatech.edu/)

In another experiment, participants who wrote about past experiences of awe or watched nature scenes for five minutes cooperated more and shared more resources.

The authors explain that

…awe imbues people with a different sense of themselves, one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger… fleeting experiences pf awe redefine the self in terms of the collective, and orient our actions toward the needs of those around us.

The Power of Awe…for your health*

Other research has indicated that awe is also beneficial for your health. One study found a strong correlation between experiencing positive emotions and low IL-6 levels, a molecule that promotes inflammation in the body. The stronger correlation was between levels of inflammation and having felt awe-struck.

The college students in their study reported feeling this “awe-struck” emotion 3 or more times a week, which is good news. Awe-inspiring experiences are out there if you look for them.

My Awe-filled Weekend…*

Piff and Keltner worry that today’s culture is awe deprived. The cite art, nature, and simple quotidian acts of humanity as places to find this awe and suggest that we more actively pursue awe-inspiring moments.

In a place like NYC, there are ample opportunities to find awe, if you take the time to look for it. Over the weekend I noted my own experiences of awe.

On Friday I visited the MoMA – a wonderful place to appreciate the beauty and wonder expressed upon a canvas. While there, I discovered a painting I had never seen before, entitled Hide-and-Seek by Pavel Tchelitchew (1942). This image is a game of hide and seek on its own, and the longer you stare the more images you find hidden in the canvas.

Hide-and-Seek (1942)

Hide-and-Seek (1942)

I spent Sunday at Coney Island, where the old school amusement park, giant busy boardwalk, and aquarium provided countless experiences of awe. Luna Park is a place out of an earlier time, with old wooden roller coasters and traditional carnival games. It was a wonderful break from the modern-day technological world to co-experience the joy of more simple entertainment.

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On the Coney Island Boardwalk, the colliding of cultures and experiences make for an awe-inspiring experience. There were dance parties, snake-charmers, and people of all ages, races, and cultures coming together to enjoy the beautiful weather (and Nathan’s hotdogs from its original location).

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At the New York Aquarium, we were mesmerized by tropical fish, sharks, and sting rays. I saw a sea lion show sitting beside two young children and together we delighted in the sea lions’ tricks.

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I hope you all had a similarly awe-inspiring weekend! Until next week…*

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Rethink { Passion }: Elusive, Idealized, & Obsessed

Having a Passion

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “have a passion,” and why our society values this so much. As I talked about in my recent post about the construct of “grit”, grit is a character strength defined by passion and perseverance of long term goals. People with grit have sustained passion for one thing and stick to it. Research indicates that people with grit succeed in life, both professionally and academically.

Yet are we jumping on the grit wagon a bit too enthusiastically, at the expense of exploration?

passion

http://goldengatebpo.com/blog/passion-in-the-workplace/

Passion versus exploration

In a NY Times article last month entitled Our Push for ‘Passion,’ and Why It Harms Kids, Lisa Heffernan discusses this strange new notion that, by high school, a child must “have a passion that is deep, easy to articulate, well documented and makes him stand out from the crown“. She jokes that this must happen before he begins his Common App, and anyone who has applied to college recently or helped another do so is awake of this phenomenon. As Heffernan states,

This passion, which he will either stumble upon or be led to by the caring adults in his life, must be pursued at the highest level his time and talent, and his parent’s finances, will allow… This is madness.

She warns that the obsession with seeking a passion comes with costs. Children latch onto “passions” that are not really things they enjoy simply to be able to proclaim one. They feel lost and pressured to find their “one thing” early on. If we are laser-focused on finding one thing our students are good at and then push them to pursue it doggedly, they may miss out on other things they are perhaps more suited to or enjoy more. Childhood is about exploration. As Heffernan concludes,

…childhood isn’t about passion, but rather about exploration. Our job… is to nurture that exploration, not put an end to it. When we create an expectation that children must find their one true interest so early in life, we cut short a process of discovery that may easily take a lifetime.

In some ways, the exploration that Heffernan prescribes is antithetical to grit. However, I’d argue that grit is great, once you find something you want to be gritty at. However, we can’t push young students to latch on so quickly, and sometimes it IS more sensible to quit rather than to doggedly pursue.

Find-your-passion

http://idealistcareers.org/category/job-search/find-your-passion/

 

Passion requires struggle

Evidencing the harm that societal pressure towards passion can cause, in a NYMag Ask Polly column last week, Polly assuages a 25-year-old woman’s fear that she does not yet have a passion. The writer calls herself “Life Is Buffering” and worries that she lacks an anchor in life.

Polly takes a different approach to the obsession of passion, explaining that children in the upper middle class who have been coddled by their parents and lived very fortunate lives often have known no struggle. Yet passion is not born from the easy life. She explains,

Passion comes from hard work. Passion bubbles up from intense, sometimes tedious labor. Passion floats in when you’re exhausted from doing something by yourself, for yourself, just to survive… Passion arrives when you stop seeing men and babies as a kind of solution to not having enough passion. Passion materializes once you give up hope and then you’re just sitting there, without hope, and you think, I might as well do something. I have to pay the bills some way, don’t I? 

Polly reminds us that passion is not “something that descends like magic at cocktail hour, when all the work is done.” It is instead an uphill battle through thankless work and setbacks and struggles. 

Moreover, it is okay to not yet know exactly what you want to do. Part of the struggle is defining that purpose. As Polly concludes,

Those people with the biggest question marks are usually the ones with the most passion of all.

Passion: Elusive, Idealized, & Obsessed

Overall, I believe that “finding a passion” is a bit idealized in our society. Moreover, for upper class students who’s parents and teachers are trying to give them every advantage in life, finding a passion can be a bit of a contradiction. Passion is not something you can be spoon fed, and it is not something that should be a item on your checklist for college acceptance. It is born from struggle and hard work, it takes time to develop, and it’s okay if you haven’t figured yours out yet.

This – of course – goes back to my obsession with failure. If we want our students to develop passions, we need to put them in situations where they can fail. We need to take them out of their comfort zones and into contexts where they will struggle. We need to let them explore and remove the expectations and pressures to zero in on one thing so early on. We must rethink what it means to be passionate, why we value it so much, and how to instill passion in our students without smothering them with the label.

rethinking { stress } to live a healthier life.

THE PRIMAL SCREAM…*

Last night I witnessed Columbia University’s traditional PRIMAL SCREAM. If, like me, you have no idea what I’m talking about, this scream is a tradition with variants at a number of prestigious Universities – including UCLA, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, U Penn, and Vassar. At midnight of the Sunday of finals week each semester, students open their windows or go outside and SCREAM blood-curdling, horror-movie worthy screams. It is quite the exhilarating and satisfying experience.The tradition is said to help students release their pent up anxiety and stress about exams.

It’s finals week at Columbia so stress levels are high and libraries are packed at all hours of the day and night with students finishing papers and cramming for tests.In fact, this has been an especially stressful year in my life. I’ve been working 60-80 hour weeks with an amount of responsibility on projects that has left me exhausted and anxious more than I’d like to admit. I’ve seen it affect my sleep, diet, and mood in negative ways. Which is why the following TED talk is so important.

RETHINK STRESS…*

As discussed in Kelly McGonigal’s TEDGlobal2013 talk, “How to make stress your friend,” McGonigal explains that despite what we’ve been told, stress is NOT the enemy. In a recent Pew study, results suggested that it is not the experience of stress but instead the belief that stress is bad for your health, that leads to death and other negative health outcomes. In other word, it is not stress itself but rather how you think about it, that leads to poor health.

Changing your attitude towards stress can change your body’s response to it. When we’re stressed we have a clear physiological response: our hearts beat faster, we breathe faster, we sweat. And our minds interpret these as negative signs of anxiety.

McGonigal asks, what if you view these changes as signs that your body is energized and preparing itself for a challenge? In a study at Harvard, researchers found that participants who were trained to rethink their physiological stress responses as helpful rather than a sign of weakness, were less stressed, less anxious, and more confident. More importantly, their blood vessels did NOT constrict. In a typical stress response, our blood vessels constrict which, if chronic, can lead to cardiovascular disease. But these participants’ physiological profiles more closely resembled people experiencing joy or courage.

 

http://ideas.ted.com/embrace-your-stress-a-visual-idea/

 

The Social Side of Stress…*

McGonigal also speaks to the social side of stress, specifically the power of Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a stress hormone that makes you compassionate and caring. It motivates you to seek support, to tell people how you feel, to surround yourself with people who care about you. It is, in essence, a built-in resilience feature for stress. And physiologically, releasing oxytocin and giving into its urges – seeking support and love – is even better for your heart health.

As McGonigal concludes,

Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy. And when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making a pretty profound statement.You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges. And you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.

CONCLUSIONS…*

To me, this TED talk gives the PRIMAL SCREAM even more profound meaning. This scream embodies the strength and confidence of the student body to tackle the week ahead. While studying for finals and paper-writing can often feel like isolating and solitary experiences, the unison behind the scream ties students together into a community that can accomplish anything.

So, if you are approaching the next week with anxiety or trepidation, let out a nice long primal scream and change your mindset about stress for a healthier, happier life. Never under-estimate the power of a good rethink…*

 

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