Saturday, June 11, 2016

I Should Have Known

How may times have you said I should have known? With a universe as vast as our imaginings, there are endless opportunities for learning. There’s outer space to explore – inner space to discover. Is it possible to know everything?


Just yesterday I learned about quarks at a memoriam honoring the passing of a great man and mentor. A scientist spoke of his friendship with the deceased and threw in the word quark. Have any of you heard this word before? I never had. So, I googled the word and discovered it is a subatomic particle that has different flavors – the word physicists came up with to separate the different kinds of quarks. I still know extremely little about them with the exception the universe may end in 10 billion years because of them. AND, of course, wherever you have quarks, you have antiquarks.

Cartoon Quarks

The point isn't that I now know of the existence of quarks. It is that I learned something new. When I found out about quarks, I didn't tell myself I should have known. Why and how am I supposed to know about quarks? I've had no reason to seek out that knowledge. Now that I have it, I suppose I can always use it as an ice-breaker - How 'bout those quarks!

Stealing Student

More personally impactful knowledge is not so easy to google. The problem with learning is that it is a process. One thing builds on the next. It is pretty hard for us to be able to draw good conclusions if we don’t have all the facts, background knowledge or understanding.

One example happened to me while I was teaching a self-contained class of ESL students. One of the students was a notorious food thief. He would take apples, bananas and other food items from his classmate’s desks, stash them in his backpack which he would forget to close. The items sometimes spilled out. He wasn't a very good thief. It got so I would walk by his pack, retrieve the stolen items and return them without anyone being the wiser.

This student never stole anything other than food that I was aware of. In my learning process, I came to understand the motivation behind the stealing was hunger. The majority of my students lived in poverty. It was possible there were times this student's only meals were eaten at school. It took me a few months to pull all the information together accurately.

At first, I was appalled at the thefts. I thought that student was headed for certain jail time if this behavior wasn’t corrected. I mean, it’s a well known fact that a life of crime begins with the stealing of fruit, right?

After understanding his motivation better, I made a point of keeping food in the classroom and scheduling regular snack breaks. Having food available combined with other character enhancing strategies in and outside the classroom seemed to address the problem. 

Once I was able to connect all the dots, instead of celebrating, I told myself I should have known

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