Lindsey, Scott. “Myers Briggs Type Indicator.” Leadership Team Workshop. National Weather Service, Anchorage. 11 Dec. 2014. Lecture.s
Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: HarperPerennial, 2005. Print.
Ripley, Amanda. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013. Print
In Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the author recounts a cross country motorcycle road trip, which he took with his young son. Beyond telling the story of his experiences on the road, the author intersperses universal truths and discussion of philosophical concepts. As the journey starts, Pirsig makes a list of essential items to take on a long road trip, where there is plenty of down time. Amongst those items, he claims to always take a copy of Thoreau’s Walden so that he can read to his son and spark conversation, “I read a sentence or two, wait for him to come up with his usual barrage of questions, answer them, then read another sentence or two….Sometimes we’ve spent a whole evening reading and talking” (41)… As I read about the author’s love of good writing and good discussion, I was taken back to two recent experiences where I shared the kind of intense and long-lived conversation Pirsig is recounting in the quote above. Both of these discussions revolved around teaching and learning, a common origin of discussion, much like the book Pirsig carries with him.
The first conversation was with my neighbor who is in the military and responsible for training his subordinates. It turns out we had both read The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, a book which recounts three different American students’ experiences as exchange students in Korea, Poland, and Finland. Over a two hour conversation we moved from questioning how other nations teach their students to how those ideas resonate in our own lives, even though we practice two very different professions. Our realization after hours of conversation was that learning simply does not take place with out directed effort, focused reflection, and planning for future success. If anyone of those steps is skipped, the learning process and experience get disconnected and become ineffective. We reasoned that, in general, too often teachers and students rush through content and leave out the reflection, when it is perhaps the most necessary step of all. Like Pirsig’s nights spent around a campfire discussing literature, I too have come to place great value on good conversation–the depth of understanding that comes from communication simply cannot be replicated in solitude with one’s own thoughts. The expression of ideas in response to another individual forces me to solidify my understanding and really think before responding. My thoughts are more disciplined and take on a more refined form.
The second conversation took place just last week, after school, with a fellow teacher. Although we started by talking about blogs and how to use them in the classroom, we ended up talking about how some of the best days in our respective classrooms were times when we didn’t have an exact plan and allowed students to lead the activities. We agreed that students simply learn more about the subject in which they are engaged when they are more active in the pursuit of their own learning. To further this notion, I retold the story of a class period where students really dissected an essay we had read, and fully engaged in conversation, using academic vocabulary that was appropriate to the subject. Likewise, the other teacher retold a story about a student who did a demonstration for her classmates, whereas in most cases the teacher would do it. The ultimate outcome of this particular conversation was a strong understanding that the more we can put students in charge of their own learning, the more they will engage with the content and the more mastery they will attain. This seems to prove the notion true that having to teach someone about a subject forces the teacher to become so familiar with the material they master it–the same can be said for student understanding. Perhaps we should flip our classrooms, structure sequences of activities to lead students to understanding rather than doing so much talking and thinking for them. This realization is addressed later in the book when the author claims, “Sometimes just the act of writing down problems straightens out your head as to what they really are” (105). It seems that getting our ideas into the air is the best course for gaining more certainty.
A second major idea in the book was Pirsig’s distinction between the classic view of reality and the aesthetic view of reality. This is a contrast that takes him many chapters to fully discuss, but perhaps the clearest example of the distinction is embodied in Mark Twain’s essay, Two Ways of Seeing a River, to which the author refers in chapter 7, “Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed” (81). In this instance the author is labeling an aesthetic view as one that values surface level beauty and form, while a classic view values the inner workings and specific structures underlying the beauty. Mark Twain travels this same continuum from figurative admiration as an author to literal interpretation as a steamboat captain. However, the author claims that neither way of knowing is superior and that we need to acknowledge that, “it’s important also to see what’s created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is” (81). At this final quote, I made a connection to a recent experience I had attending a Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory lecture, in which the presenter said something very similar. For discussion purposes, I’ll focus on just one of four letters that most relates to Pirsig’s distinction in the above quote–the thinking function: T, or the feeling function: F. Thinkers are much like the classic view of the world–they want to know how a system is put together, how the parts work, and how the hierarchy functions as a result of these inner workings. This is the more logical, literal approach. The opposite is the feeler–a person who reacts emotionally based on surface appearance. They are not so much concerned with the inner workings as the perception of the object a first sight. They value beauty, emotion, and connection. While they are opposites, no one is 100% Thinker or 100% Feeler; they must be combined to make a more coherent whole, just as Pirsig suggests that classic and aesthetic understandings must be blended to see the world more accurately as a continued process of understanding, where new insights–no matter how they are perceived–are merely new replacements for old understandings, and not necessarily a loss of a former, more preferable understanding.
Twain seemed to lose track of the river’s beauty when he was in the captain’s chair, yet there was nothing to stop him from returning to admire the river’s beauty when he was not responsible for a crew and passengers. At shift’s end I imagine he sat on the boat’s rear deck, watched the sun set, and allowed his classic understanding of the river to wane in favor of its aesthetic value. At this transition he would have taken the sun’s reflection on the water for what it was–beautiful. Then, when he had to take the ship’s wheel once again, he would have returned to his classic understanding of the river’s inner workings because it would have been a far greater guarantee of safe passage. We might be wise to follow Twain’s direction.
1296 words, including citations and headings.