One of my good friends from college was a javelin thrower who went on to compete in the 2012 Olympics. Last year, after a shoulder injury before the Olympics that forced him into his ‘first retirement,’ he took a job at our alma mater as the Throws Coach, and was unwittingly thrust into the world of education.
I think he suspected, as many new educators do, that he would be tasked with simply solving an engineering problem with his athletes. This engineering problem – analyzing the mechanical skill of throwing a stick long distances and creating the most efficient technique for that particular athlete’s body type and strengths – turned out to be quite simple as compared to the other component of the educational equation that we so often forget about in our best-laid plans: the metaphysical problem of education.
The engineering problem of education “is the problem of the means by which the young will become learned,” wrote Postman, “But to become a different person because of something you have learned – to appropriate an insight, a concept, a vision, so that your world is altered – that is a different matter.” Tommy Caldwell talked about the idea that in order for him to complete his pipe dream – the Dawn Wall – he had to become the best version of himself, in every component of his life rather than just on the wall. His perspective of the world had to be fundamentally changed. The same is true for Olympic javelin throwers, and engaged citizens.
Once Craig realized the metaphysical problem of education, which can be tied to but isn’t fully contained in motivation, he set to work. The example that struck me came from a pre-meet talk he gave his throwers. The forecast had chances of rain, and throwers were inevitably bumming about it. His response: to use languaging and perspective expansion to explore all realms of possible. The video he sent of the talk shows him exclaiming “Now you have the opportunity to be resilient. If I had a meet where it mattered where I placed, I hoped for rain! If it’s going to pour, bring it on – because everybody else is going to be worried about it, and I’m going to be excited about the fact that everybody else is worried about it! And I’m going to beat you!”
And what else can you say? My perspective on challenge has been changed, and I’ve never touched a javelin. Here’s to hoping for rain!