I want to start this post by thanking Brenna McNamara. Her tumblr rocks, and if you haven't seen her comments on the Montaigne posts you're missing out.
Each of us has tremendous capacity to learn and succeed, and this year I will implore you to take the opportunity that Open Source Learning presents. This is where words and their nuances become important to our understanding. The word implore means, "To ask or beg earnestly for; beseech." Why would a teacher-- especially one with a Ph.D. and a reputation for being a demanding smart-ass-- beg students for anything? Two reasons: (1) Each and every one of you is capable of success and this opportunity is too important to pass up; (2) Asking is more effective than demanding because our connection in learning can't depend merely on titles or roles. All of us have to be present from the neck up, if you know what I mean, and that decision is strictly voluntary. (We've all mastered the art of appearing to think while our brains are far, far away.) I think of you as learning equals who want guidance and support instead of inmates who need carrots and sticks. My philosophy of learning is based on a few very simple premises, and the first one is this:
PEOPLE ARE GOOD.
Sure, sometimes we all make mistakes and do bad/stupid things. I've been making mistakes for nearly 44 years and some of them still make me wince. Occasionally that's what learning feels like. However, I believe that most of us do the right thing most of the time, even when no one's watching and there is nothing to be gained. More on this (along with the inevitable commentary on plagiarism and cheating) in a future post.
For now, as you think about next week and the beginning of your senior year, I want to share two brief videos about trees and lollipops. The video about trees is really a video about a high school student who saw a need in the world and created a way to meet it. TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis, who started the organization when he was 18, describes the magic that happened when, "We could see that we had actually healed something." Andy's experience of being a teen was no different than yours or mine: "As teenagers we had been told that you can't fight city hall, there's no hope, the problems are too big..." It's amazing what can happen when you forget all that and focus on the things that make you curious and caring in the first place.
The second video begins with a question I'd like to ask you: How many of you are completely comfortable with calling yourself a leader? In this course each of us is a fully-fledged member of a network. Gone are the days of the classroom one-to-many broadcast (even when I lecture it will feel more like a conversation). Gone are the days of being invisible in the back row. Every single one of us makes an impact on someone; yesterday I saw a sign at the Ventura County Fair that said, "To the world you are one person; to one person, you are the world."
Drew Dudley makes the point brilliantly. Each of you has immense value and your contributions enrich our experiences. Adding value by sharing ideas is what entrepreneurs do. Several of you have already demonstrated this publicly, which is why I started this post by complimenting Brenna. It's a thrill to watch the pioneers who lead the way, and Brenna's comments (and Lisa Malins', and others') have already changed my mind and changed my life for the better. If that sounds exaggerated or ridiculous, it's only because you're not used to hearing it. It's time for each and every single one of us to begin considering how this learning experience can be of most value to us-- and how we can be of most value to each other and everyone else in our lives. As Drew says, "Every single one of you has been the catalyst for a lollipop moment. You have made someone's life better by what you said and what you did." Let's celebrate the lollipop moments.