Today I had my usual Financial Literacy class, but had an interesting interaction during the span of the course, which is split in half by a lunch period. In the session before lunch, we did an interesting but fairly typical lesson for me – we were analyzing the returns on the S&P 500 using a graphic analysis that separated each company in the index by industry and categorized them by size (of the company) and colored them by return over the selected time period. Students did well with the analysis, but I was ruminating a bit by the end of it on the fact that students didn’t seem that impressed by the ingenuity of this cool graphic analysis – it seemed to be ‘just another day on the internet.’ There are so many cool and useful graphics, programs, and information-sharing platforms out there now that even when I ended the session with a statement of appreciation of how cool this sort of a thing is in the modern world (‘have any of you ever programmed? Do you recognize how ingenious this was to program this?’), I didn’t get much of a reaction.
Normally I think this would have been the type of occurence that I would ponder over perhaps one more time during the course of the day before forgetting about it completely… but then the other shoe dropped during lunch. Our Executive Director called me into a private conference room during lunch to do a little thinking on some observations he had just made around computers in the learning environment. Our 6th-grade classroom is ‘One-to-One,’ a term that has become so commonplace in education as to seemingly no longer need clarification, though I certainly wanted it clarified. It means that there is a one-to-one ratio of technology (a Chromebook) available to each student. Computers are out for the majority of the day, and most of the work is done on the computers. Our Executive Director had taken a sample of 6 computers from the 6th grade classroom representing a sample of students that spanned the gamut – straight A’s to the Class Clown – and found that the search history indicated they were flipping from tabs unrelated whatsoever to the content every minute, on average.
For the classroom teachers reading this, there is no surprise to that statement. We all know, if we’re being honest with ourselves, that when computers come out productive work stops. That’s not to say that students aren’t more well-behaved (quiet) when the computers come out, or that no work occurs, but that the majority of time is spent on BS, even when school firewalls are enabled.
For a while, we discussed practical options for how to improve this phenomena – that’s a story for another day – and when I returned to my classroom, I just couldn’t go straight back into the lesson. Instead, I implemented the Lesson Plan on Slowing Down. We talked for a while, with me disclosing my own personal struggles with technology and slowing myself down (I am terrible about getting on the computer to do one, specific task and suddenly finding myself checking email or doing completely different things then I had intended to do) I also disclosed the fact that I feel like students at our school ‘get it’ with their phones, which they keep locked away in Yondr Bags for the duration of the school day, but they don’t necessarily ‘get it’ with computers. They do the same exact thing I do when I am sitting down and trying to write an essay – all of a sudden I am ordering that part that I need to fix my garage door, and I’m convincing myself that because it’s something that needed to get done, it’s OK.
And it’s not.
For some reason, this caused one of my students to raise his hand and say “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Sure!” and “Yes!” we all said as a class.
“You can’t tell Dinkel [our science teacher and his Crew Leader].”
“Oh but you KNOW how I like to gossip!”
He went on, undeterred by my sarcasm: “At the very beginning of the year, when we first got our Yondr bags, I bent the locking wire so that I could still get into the bag whenever I wanted. Then, Dinkel found out and gave me a new Yondr bag… but that one I just cut a bit off the end so that I could still get into it whenever I wanted.”
The statement kind of just ended… we could all feel that something was implied, or going on inside his mind on which he couldn’t put a finger. I took the opportunity.
“Can we do a little therapy session? A little psychoanalysis?”
“I would actually really like that.”
“How do you feel about Dinkel?”
He was a bit taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“What’s your relationship like with Dinkel? How do you feel about him as a person?”
“Well, I consider him more of a friend than a teacher…”
This, by itself is a very interesting statement, albeit for another time. What I think he meant was that he sees him as a mentor, specifically a life-mentor. Why modern students don’t seem to have ‘mentor’ in their conception of possible roles in a person’s life is very strange indeed – it’s almost as if they are working on a binary system, such that there is no space in-between the saturated teacher-parent-friend continuum… Nonetheless I continued onwards without making that distinction and going off on a tangent.
“So you are close with him?”
“How does it make you feel to be lying to someone you are close to? To have a secret that you could easily disclose to them but that you are actively using energy to not tell them?”
“Well, obviously not good… but if I just don’t think about it, then it kind of goes away.”
“What do you think he would do if you did tell him?”
“First, he would probably try to make me see again why having constant access to my phone isn’t a good thing in my life… like for my productivity and stuff but also for my happiness. And then he would definitely make me have a new Yondr bag and make me keep it in the science room so that he knew I couldn’t get into it.”
“So clearly this is a person who is not ‘doing something to you’ just to make you miserable. Who cares about you… and more than just your academics.”
“That’s cool that you have that in your life.”
“Sorry, that wasn’t part of the whole therapy session, I just thought that was cool. I only felt that way about 1 professor when I was in college. Anyways, my question is this: if you put all of this into perspective, what’s more important to you – the relationship you have with this person who cares about you and you clearly have a close relationship with, or that stupid box with a screen?”
“I mean, obviously the person… but the way it is now I can kind of have both.”
“And that’s where I want you to reflect a bit on your own. You don’t have to do this now, I just want you to think about it a little bit over the next week, because I’ve been thinking about it in my life also. The question is do you really have both? Without examples, that’s a dumb question, because the question is inherently about ‘seeing’ something that we don’t normally see. When I say ‘seeing,’ I mean making a causal connection. Meaning cause and effect, right?
“So here’s my example: if you have ever used Craigslist to buy something, you probably know that people will oftentimes try to bargain you down from your posted price. Now, when you are buying something from someone you don’t know, then you have no idea whether they posted a high-price expecting someone to try to bargain them down, or whether they posted what they thought was a fair price. So if you try to bargain someone down, what’s the worst that can happen? They say no. But if you know someone, and perhaps you want to become better friends with them also, you don’t try to bargain them down as much, right? Because you have two things at stake: the price and your relationship with that person. But something funny happens when we know a person really well – we feel that our relationship with them is cemented, and that bargaining them down won’t affect a strong relationship. But the thing is, it does. It irks us if someone we know well tries to take advantage of us. We might tolerate it, but it certainly doesn’t build the relationship up.”
[Awkward silence… Until finally] “Yeah…”
“I think the same thing happens on a smaller, and even less-noticeable scale with things like what you are dealing with, call them what you will; I dunno, secrets or something. They do something important to us, or at least important to me: they make us not be our fully authentic selves. And I think that’s one of the things that is missing in the world – people who can be their authentic selves. Steven Pressfield wrote ‘Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.’ [yes, I actually said that, because I have it memorized, because I use it for Senior Solo and we did that just a couple of weeks ago!]. I personally feel like there’s enough fake people in this world, and I’ve decided to not do anything that sends me down a path towards not figuring out who I am and what I stand for and striving towards it. And that includes getting so obsessed with a device that’s been programmed by geniuses to force me to distract my attention to buy into whatever it is that they are selling. And the shit of it all is that I’m still not that good at it! The programming is SO GOOD that they still make me think the stupid stuff they are selling is actually worth distracting my attention from my life goals. It’s hard… but, yeah, anyways, that’s what I want you to think about and reflect on. It’s a mess. But I think it’s worth it.”
Then, I transitioned very quickly and had them start back in on a financial activity for the second half of class.
I asked the student yesterday if they had told Dinkel about the Yondr bag. They hadn’t but they also said “but that ‘therapy’ session you gave me was really valuable. I’m going to tell him when he gets back to school tomorrow.”
That’s all I know at this point. He could be BS-ing me completely and have not taken anything from it. On the flip side, and this is the teacher-dream, perhaps I planted a seed that has viability.