Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Comfort Level With Being Uncomfortable

If you are wearing a watch while reading this, stop for a moment and put it on your other wrist.

If your wrists are void of a timepiece, try operating your mouse or touch screen with your non-dominant hand.

Or, simply interlock your fingers with both hands. Now, continue reading this post but stagger your digits in the other direction (if your rights ended up on top of your lefts, switch your grip so that the lefts are on top).

Feel weird? Uncomfortable? Maybe even annoying?

Being creatures of habit and routine, we do not like it when the world we had once come to expect and accept is thrown off (even with something as trivial as the writs on which we wear our watches).

However, it is the nature of all education that old knowledge is surpassed by new. The familiar is disregarded for the foreign. The comfortable forsaken for the uncharted. All new knowledge is the product of putting our once held beliefs to the test and either retaining or adjusting them.

Education depends on this state of instability.

I see it every day in Elizabeth. New discoveries. New talents. New noises. Her world is in a constant state of flux.

Imagine education from this perspective. We take our prior knowledge and to it either add new knowledge or change our former way of thinking based on this new phenomenon. Not all four legged animals are dogs? Some things, like apples, are to be eaten, while others, like blocks and toes, shouldn't go in my mouth? In math, we are going to solve for a letter that's on the wrong side of the equal sign? America wasn't always the greatest and most powerful country in the world? Bad things can happen to good people? The Earth isn't flat? It's not the center of the universe either?

Imagine how basic and elementary our lives would be if we were unwilling to live in this state of discomfort in order to grow to new knowledge.

So, the saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks has more to do with attitude than aptitude. At some point in our lives, many of us grow tired of changing and feeling uncomfortable. The ever changing world of our childhood settles down, becomes a bit more predictable and we become set in our ways. When it comes to "old dogs", it's not that we can't learn something new, it's that we don't want to.

As Catholic educators, the current Easter season should teach us a bit about the educational process. Call it the greatest twist ever- the apostles find the tomb empty.


Even for Jesus' closest companions, this was a hard lesson to learn. While I'm sure they were completely overjoyed because Jesus rose from the dead, they were most likely in various states of disbelief. Imagine their unease, their anxiousness, their discomfort. Even for people who had witnessed all sorts of miracles, including Lazarus coming back from the dead, walking, talking, eating, and being with a "Resurrected" person must have been unnerving.

Someone must have stolen the body. Maybe we have the wrong tomb. Someone is playing a trick on us. We're hallucinating. Dreaming. Dead ourselves.

Jesus is dead (old knowledge). Correction: Jesus was dead (new knowledge).

Talk about a paradigm shift. Thomas offers the greatest insight into this unrest caused by the Resurrection. Show me your wounds. Let me touch them. Prove to me that it is You, Jesus. Is Thomas that different from a student grappling with a new concept? Explain it to me again. Give me another example. Let me try it myself. I'm willing to accept that what you're teaching me is true, but I need to experience it for myself.

There is a discomfort involved with education. There is also an element of risk.

Let us keep our comfort with being uncomfortable. In turn, let us keep this fire alive in our students. Let us continue to give them the confidence to do that which they don't think is possible-- perform in a talent show, learn algebra, try out for a team, stand up for what is right, become the person God created them to be.

If we nurture this spirit in our students, we must keep own candles burning. Let it never be said of Catholic educators of any age that we're too old, or too unwilling, to learn new tricks.

Expect to be surprised. Be open and willing to change. Try something new. Learn something new. Become the educator that God created you to be.

There would be no Church if the disciples were unwilling to accept that a dead Man could defeat death. Similarly, there can be no education unless we have a comfort level with being uncomfortable.