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August 1, 2010, at 3:26 pm — Blogs | Uncategorized

A TEACHABLE MOMENT

I remember being bored mostly. Staring at the teacher drone on and on about something. Occasionally he or she would hit on some topic that would peak my interest, I would stop doodling cartoon characters and look up and listen –but, like some drug taking hold – I would slowly be lulled back into indifference.

That was school. For me and I assume a lot of other people. Every year I would secretly be excited that school was starting again, eager to learn new things, to absorb, to grow. Eager to grow up I was. And yet at some point in the first semester I would start dreading the work, the home work, the pop quizzes, the tests, the lectures, the over head projectors, the smell of chalk and dry erase markers. Nauseating after a short spell.

Why? Why the change? I came in excited and found myself bored looing to May with eager anticipation and until then 3PM would do just fine when I could go home and play with my GI Joes or build model rockets or ride my bike.

And it wasn’t just school. I remember my first day on a sitcom set as an extra, excited to be on a show that I was watching as a child just a few short years before but, like school, after about 6 weeks it turned into work – even after getting speaking part.

It’s happened to us all. Excited to start a new job and “a step forward in our career” quickly turns into our “daily grind.”

I think that may be what’s happening with some people’s view of the phrase a “teachable moment” and the man who often says it.

When Barack Obama was campaigning in 2008 his supporters, and heck even his rivals, were impressed with his demeanor. He was calm when others were sweating, he turned attacks into a lesson, he took the high road even when his opponents were throwing kitchen sinks. And people were impressed. People were eager to sit and listen to this young candidate speak of high ideals and deliver stirring speeches about personal responsibility and change.

He won the election.

And he didn’t change. Sure he stopped giving the big speeches all the time, but his idealism remained consistent. And it really peeved off the left and right of the country.

Locked on the idea of bi-partisanship, even as he lectured the stoic right, he pushed forward progressive legislation with what may be called conservative ideals mixed in. He admitted to our dependence on oil and repeatedly called for energy reform, even though he opened up some areas to drilling and had to deal with an oil spill by an irresponsible company and government agency. He would use the spill to remind people of how our addiction to oil has led us to be so desperate that we’re now searching for the black death in dangerous places with dangerous consequences.

And these are only two areas where his balanced approach, often self-called “teachable moments” – displeased some on the left and many on the right. And even those who were impressed with his balance a year before started getting restless, their eyes dropping down to their papers to doodle a bit more why the teacher droned on and on about health care or Afghanistan – wherever the heck that was – occasionally they peak up at the clock – looking for that 3 and the time they could go out and play with their friends.

But then they and we perk up – don’t we? The class bully throws a spit ball of “You Lie” and a reporter asks a question about a man named Gates (RaceGate?) and we perk up. Who cares about that Health Care stuff or that country with the funny name where we’ve been fighting for ten years and only have two years of news coverage – if it’s not on the television then it’s not important right? We want to know what was said by whom and to whom and did someone say race?

And so goes our nation. Bored with teachable moments, tired of being lectured to, behaving like children the moment a fun distraction comes along.

But unlike children our impatience comes with despair and we shut down. Even though if we listened to the man we might hear something a bit familiar buried amid his professorial style – something similar to something we vaguely remember reading about in history class – something about not asking what your country can do but what you can do. But screw it – we go back to doodling and watching the school clock – waiting for the bell.

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2 comments to A TEACHABLE MOMENT

  • Jen

    The sad thing about mocking “teachable moments” is that without them we never learn anything and are doomed to repeat the same cycle over and over. Maybe it’s not fun, maybe it’s a bit dry. The only thing I can think of that is worse than this oil spill, is if we will fail to learn from it and adjust our behavior accordingly. We need to grow up as a country, and “teachable moments” are pretty much the only way for that to happen. Otherwise we lose the point entirely.

  • As a former teacher I can say that one key factor in the success of a “teachable moment” is the attention span of those being taught. These little windows of opportunity were always seconds or minutes long for my seven-year-old drum students, but my most motivated high school band kids might live in that moment for hours or days, eagerly embracing that chance to reshape their understanding and grow as humans.

    From my point of view, then, there’s nothing wrong with us having attention spans. It’s programmed into us to pay more attention to things perceived as immediate threats, and also to pay attention to things that are different from the norm. The second we hear about an explosion on an oil rig we are offered both of those things. Months later, the inner workings of our brain have decided the spill is no longer either of those things, and it takes more and more effort each day to keep this chain of events high on the priority ladder.

    So I agree with you in part, Jen, that some “growing up” is in order. Our fixation with youth, celebrity, and scandal is debilitating. But other things are to blame, too. I would blame most of our leaders for not excercising the calm, leaderly, rational approach Obama does his best to model every day. I would blame Obama for being a less-than-engaging speaker whenever he’s not delivering a landmark speech to a roaring crowd. And I would blame the media for giving up and succumbing to the mostly-obsolete instincts of their viewers, focusing on what’s new and exciting instead of what’s deeply relevant and truly important.

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