Learning and Changing

Kerry - Azusa, California
Entered on May 9, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in the transformative power of knowledge.

I am a teacher, so I suppose that isn’t a surprising statement. Both of my parents were teachers, so, naturally, I was going to be a…veterinarian (?!). And then in my sophomore year of college, Dr. Arnold Wallendar asked me to be his teaching assistant and I got totally hooked on teaching and seeing students experience those “ah ha!” moments. I have now spent 26 fabulous years coaxing those moments from a new set of 150 students each year.

My version of the MasterCard commercial goes something like this:

…imitation light saber for use as attention-grabbing pointer: $9

…computer software to demonstrate volumes of solids of revolution: $142

…that “light bulb” moment when a student finally gets it: priceless

Those “light bulb” moments are truly priceless because they can transform a student into a learner, someone who suddenly sees the world bigger and better and differently.

For me, learning to read was such a transformation. Once I learned to read, my parents had to pry the books out of my little hands at dinner time, so engrossed was I in the amazing worlds of Stuart Little or Wilbur the Pig. Reading exploded my world into many worlds, many universes, many dimensions. Something as simple as the knowledge of “abc” completely altered who I was.

I’ve actually had many such moments, some big, some small, some found in unusual places. One of my favorite old Star Trek episodes has Captain Kirk transported to a planet where all the inhabitants are slaves who must fight each other to “entertain” some omnipotent aliens. After some de rigueur kisses and kicking butt, Kirk frees the slaves and teaches them about their right to be free and to choose their own destiny. As a kid, this episode appealed to me because I saw for the first time how a simple idea, like the right to be free, can have a revolutionary impact on a society. That, and it also had some really cool looking aliens!

By now, you probably think I teach literature or government. I don’t. I teach…math.

Yes, I hear those of you out there going “yechhkk I hate math”. People have disparaged my chosen field right to my face many times; I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

But learning the language of math can transform the way you think. What more magical verbiage could there be than a language that lets you understand the way the world, nay, the way the very universe works? Math is the dialect of chemistry, physics, astronomy and so much more. With math, you can send people to the moon and get them back safely. Math brings structure and logic and order out of chaos…it can change who you are in a fundamental way.

I believe that each one of us has some special knowledge in store for us, waiting for the time when we are ready to learn from its gifts. My hope is that we can each find the learning that resonates in both heart and mind, the understanding that can be…transformative.