In this new era of digital kids, what inspires the socially networked youth? Is it a great YouTube video, Skype chat or a MeetUp on FourSquare? What inspires them in school? Kids are pressed to perform on standardized tests, losing electives like art or music due to budget cuts, and many graduate uninspired and unprepared for college or entry level jobs.
Parents often lament the deteriorating quality of education, and the loss of direct communication with their offspring as a double edge sword of concern. Talking on the phone or sending email is now passe, and the average teen sends and receives close to six thousand messages per month via portable devices. They make and break up on Facebook, and share their feelings with single letters or emotional emoticons.
With constant stimuli, there is little time left for rest, reflection, cultivation or creativity. Precious few have time or temperament for lengthy dinner conversations, cloud watching, building a fort, fixing up an old car or writing a poem just for fun. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, writes, "We are increasingly connected to each other, but oddly more alone...our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other."
As kids become more networked, overscheduled and frazzled, the rare moments of deeply satisfying face to face connections becomes all the more poignant -- both at home, and with those who spend the most face to face time with our kids: teachers. We need engaging teachers now more than ever to coax our kids to reach for the stars.
Who was your favorite teacher growing up? Everyone has one or two that shifted life's path, encouraged a leap of faith, or went the extra mile to push untapped potential. Exceptional teachers elevate the imagination; inspire the mind and demands excellence. They are the Pied Piper's of the world who lives outside the lines, and can show up at any stage of life.
Steve Jobs was a Pied Piper to the world. He taught us how to use computers, and adapt to technology with style. He unveiled his new products with thrilling tutorials much like a college professor, and left everyone waiting for more. If you are one of the few who did not see Job's graduation speech at Stanford -- check it out. His love of learning calligraphy, music and art, with his commitment to "connect the dots" gave the world cool fonts, iTunes and gorgeous slick tablets previously unthinkable.
Today, the educational scene for our youth is less than inspirational. The "No Child Left Behind" act continues to loom like a Dark Lord over school districts, and anxiety over bubble tests begins on the first day of class. Budget cuts are so severe, many schools no longer offer enrichment as part of the curriculum, and if the current legislation passes, even more teachers will have their pink slips- leaving the remaining struggling with over crowded classrooms and limited flexibility to, well, teach.
Our only way out of this flushing toilet is to harness the power of inspiration. Magic happens when we are inspired. Our nation is sleeping in parks, waving signs, and demanding inspiration from our government in Occupy Wall Street. I am surprised the kids have not done the same, and started to occupy playgrounds or campuses. They deserve to be taught by those who love to teach, and are given the free reigns to make magic.
I had an opportunity to witness the power of a Pied Piper teacher this week, inspiring hundreds of young lives with nothing more than a song. I attended my 16 year old son's chorus concert, and had heard about the famously funny chorus director. I was shocked to see risers bursting at the seams as nearly 150 kids squeezed in together; the jocks, geeks, loners and superstars; all beaming with pride and belting out complicated choral arrangements with passion and precision. Special needs kids were clapping and swaying in the front rows in complete harmony of acceptance.
I was taken aback, and sheepishly put away my mobile phone I was fingering in my pocket; intending to surreptitiously catch up on the evening's emails. These events are often a chore that only a mother can tolerate- yet the reputation of this man drew a huge crowd from the community. They were actually good, and the collective adoration for their leader palpable.
What struck me was the power of engagement and flow of the kids -- something Facebook can never touch. They were asked to bring their inner selves to the stage, and in-between numbers, held up signs to describe themselves, read poems and essays about adolescent angst. A willowy blonde shook like a bird as she shared conquering her fear of being in crowds, and how singing in the chorus gave her confidence as her teacher would bellow, 'work it, girl!'"
Another soft spoken Asian girl came to the microphone clutching her papers, and read an incredibly mature reflection about being adopted from South Korea, struggling with self esteem and whether to find her birth parents. It was so raw; she made it through the first paragraph, and went mute. Within a split second of a pleading look, the Pied Piper was there, holding her up. With long hair protectively covering her face, and her head buried in his shoulder, the Director took over, finished her essay, and launched the kids into a passionate song about pride. There was a stunned moment of silence afterwards, and then thunderous applause.
As I wiped my own tears, I noticed the seats around me; a 300 pound tough guy on one side, mopping his cheeks, and an 80 year old woman on the other clapping and chirping about leaving some of her will to the music department. In that rare moment, not a single screen was blinking. A community was united. How do we bring that back into the halls of every school in the nation? How about into the halls of Congress?
Instead of "Waiting for Superman" it is time to Cultivate Superman. Who inspires you these days? I'd love to hear your comments below.