Maybe the most important question of all…
By: Malon Hamoen-Giraldi
The students whose class I’ve currently joined have worked for months on my request for market research in respect of new business opportunities. They seem a bit uncertain when they look at me and I decide to break the ice by talking about something entirely different and by cracking a few jokes. If their non-verbal communication is anything to go by I think I’d better stop doing that. The tutor and I are sitting in the centre of the classroom and indicate that the presentation can start. A very elaborate explanation of figures and data follows, supported by PowerPoint. Thankfully, there is also a quiz challenging the tutor and I to share our thoughts on the result of their research. At first glance it all seems fine.
“Great results yet oh, so disappointed… Nothing wrong with it and still so boring… All the figures are there but nothing more.”
All of a sudden it stops and we can ask questions. I was surprised! These students were asked to dig into their creative abilities. I was hoping that they would develop areas that have never crossed our minds before! Yes, it was a rather broad assignment, and for that reason far from simple, but that is why it was such a challenging assignment for this group of people in particular: “Seek for secrets, seek for what isn’t there yet, be different, share your thoughts with me, travel far and off the beaten path!” This is what the questions I asked in respect of their presentation were mostly about: “Why did you stay within the boxes?” “Have you ever asked questions of people from within the discipline?” They were able to defend their point of view: “We asked experts, authorities, institutes. We had to assume that they know what it’s all about…” When the tutor continued questioning them it appeared that the students had suffered some resistance from the teachers. Which didn’t really surprise us. What we also knew, was that the teachers would have given their approval for the direction they wanted to take, but that they would have to fight hard for what they were trying to achieve. They kept going round in circles and repeated that they couldn’t fulfil the assignment because the teachers had opposed them. I believe them when they tell me they experienced it this way. There is no better school than having to deal with resistance, with constructive and non-constructive criticism, with – if you wish – methods that are not exactly educational. Having things presented to you on a silver platter, being handled with kid gloves, it doesn’t necessarily increase someone’s motivation and inspiration.
I get it, I see it. And yet, I’m disappointed. And in that respect I’m no different than any other, disappointment often follows from a too high or different expectation. I was doubting myself: Had I given the right message? Were they able to understand what I wanted, what I meant and what I wanted them to experience by colouring outside the lines?
“Who’s afraid of a real fire, of uncontrolled and grand flames? A wide range of colours and the feeling of warmth on your skin? Tantalizing and exciting?”
While I observe this group of youngsters I see people with a small burning pilot light. There is nobody there with a great ‘Easter passion fire’,sputtering and untameable. They just wanted to get their grades and nothing further. They did not want to look for opportunities to achieve their grades and discover new things in the process. I look at them critically and tell them that I can foresee their future – that if they don’t start igniting a huge fire they will be 40 before they know it and have a job, a car, a house and wonder: “Is this it?” (If I’m honest, I know a lot of such forty year olds). The tutor helps them to look at this from a different perspective: They looked startled: “That would have taken more time!”…
The tutor and I make our way to the university’s cafeteria for a cup of tea and a chat about what is actually going on here. My favourite expression is that ‘this is not the way to win a war’. Both he and I have a great love for students, for young people at the start of their lives. We want them to have everything… The road is open and who determines where it leads? I sometimes ask the students: “Who are your idols and why?” And: “Where is your path, what kind of footprint will you leave behind?” We want them to have a life where they can look themselves in the eyes and be proud of themselves. Content, satisfied and really tired, the kind of tiredness you feel after giving it your all during the day.
Sometimes things come at a price and that concept is what gives you a great and satisfying result at the end of the story. What it has cost you is part of everything you gain. How the pain and exhaustion has made you feel, the extra miles you travelled, they are all like extra cells to nourish your self-confidence. To feel alive and that you could scream of joy because you managed to achieve your goal, no matter what you had to do to achieve it.
“To feel totally wasted, completely broken.
‘Black and blue’ but never happier!”
Imagine that you want to climb a mountain with a group of people and you start out in good spirits. After a while you get tired and your foot hurts. Your socks get wet anyhow, despite all your well-thought-through preparations and you feel a blister developing on your heel. The next day you start off again and by nightfall you trip over a stone. Your left knee hurts and starts to swell. A piece of tape will keep the kneecap in its place and keep the accumulation of fluid more or less under control. You have difficulty sleeping that night because you’re in serious pain. Despite all this the next day starts off fairly positive and then, all of a sudden, the weather turns bad. You’re about to lose it completely. “Why did I want to do this in the first place, I could have stayed home and watch TV?” you wonder and for a moment all you want to do is wail and go home. And than it seems that somewhere inside you is an extra cabinet filled with willpower and you open that cabinet because the moment has arrived. Oh yes, you’re really going for it now. Your clothes no longer feel comfortable and you can only ascend calmly as you body has difficulty adjusting to the altitude. Other people in your group are better than you or they annoy you because they won’t stop nagging and complaining.
And then, finally… VICTORY! You made it. You got to the top. And it’s true. You really can do this! Dirty and hungry and oh, so tired, but the immense freedom you feel is astounding. You cry out of happiness. Photographs are taken to record this moment, so you can always remember what it was like and how you got here.
The young people I saw today also wanted their photographs taken on top of the mountain. They, however, prefer to travel there by helicopter. They get on board and fly across the landscape. They are feasting their eyes, it all looks so beautiful. And then they’ve arrived, at the only spot the helicopter could get to. Not as high as when you would climb the mountain yourself, but still quite high and beautiful! Photographs are taken and shared on social media. A few seconds of snapchat and then, because it is too cold and windy, they quickly have to leave. It has been an experience though that no-one can take away from them…
There’s no need to explain it because I’m sure you sensed the difference while reading this tale. It could be the most important question of the day, and I intend to keep asking myself this question and also the people I work with. And it is: “What sacrifice am I prepared to make to achieve a (much) higher goal?”
Source photographs Student and mountain NRC
Fire: Space travel in the classroom