Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake Virgin

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
Albert Einstein

Adam's leg was bouncing up and down in a kind of nervous shake. My friend Ryan and I were talking about art with him and his mom and sister. Sitting at a table on the sidewalk of the American Cafe, they were waiting for their food. And this kid's freakin' leg was going overtime.

“Who came up with 'Restless Leg Syndrome?' Did they make a lot of money from it?” I wondered to myself. It's genius if they did. Anyway, that's what was rocking the table so much, I thought. Some anxious kid shaking his leg.

And that was my whole experience of the earthquake.

For the rest of the sunny August afternoon, people shared their own off-kilter stories-- on the internet, tv, radio, in streets and shops, over food and drink, talking of how they hadn't experienced anything like it before. Most people told versions of the same tale:

“I thought it was the subway...”
“A huge truck rumbling by...”
“The boiler broke down...”
"I thought I was sick or something..."
“The neighbor's house was crumbling...”
“Someone was rocking my car...”

The story BECAME the story as everyone told and listened and retold and relistened. Some of my New York friends joked that people from California would laugh at all of us for making such a big deal. And many Californians did laugh, rolling their eyes at our near hysteria over a little “temblor” that appeared to have done almost no damage anywhere. To those who live in earthquake zones, we were like teenage girls hysterical over the newest boy pop idol talking to silvering beauties who, 40 years ago, fainted at Beatles concerts.

For those of us who have never experienced an earthquake, it was a moment of dumbstruck confusion. It was reminiscent of September 11th, if only briefly, because of the absolute lack of context for so many of us. We had no idea what was happening AS IT WAS happening.  

How did people react?  Well, some just cried like babies during a thunderstorm, or like Mets fans in late summer.  Others whooped it up like helmetless daredevils racing motorcycles, thrilled to have had the (terribly pathetic) opportunity to cheat death.  I was in this group, of course.  Still others yawned, shook their heads at the commotion, and went back to work.

As a teacher observing this range of response, this is very interesting.

Give Some Love To the Newbs

You see, all of us quake newbs became what we, in school, ask every student to be: disoriented, clueless, and lost. Students learning new concepts or skills are often completely stupefied. And here's where we in schools mess it up. We see these stupefied kids as STUPID. Instead of seeing them as simply dazed, we see them as unable or weak.

In fact, we see ignorance as either "virginity" (which must be protected ) or "idiocy" (which must be ridiculed or destroyed). In fact, ignorance is merely a stage in the learning process.

Think again about the earthquake. Here is a case study on how people act when they are dumbfounded. It is a sneak peak into how people deal with a donkey punch of not knowing what's going on.

What are you like when you have no idea what's happening? When you've lost your bearings? When nothing makes sense?

The best learners are not good at mastering the material. The best learners are good at being lost. They get slammed with a new experience, are dizzy and confused, and then... they try to figure it out.

So, what am I saying this pansy little earthquake is telling us hysterical quake survivors?  What badge of courage have we all earned from this (lack of) wreckage and terror?

Embrace your newbness! You don't know what the hell is happening? You can't tell your arse from your elbow? Good! You're in the perfect place. You should get lost more often.

Now: learn, you moron.

1 comment:

  1. "Grandma," Sage announced last week as we tried finding our way though a maze of streets in northwestern Spain, "everyone here speaks Spanish very well. Except for us." When we forget that language is inexorably intertwined with culture, everything you say makes sense. Without the "language" of the ANTS we're called losers or worse. How can we play if we don't even know that a game has been invented? Who is around to tell us that we're really okay? That it's the system that's corrupted? What can I tell my granddaughter?