Helping your kids find their bliss
It was the perfect storm this morning as print smacked head on into digital. The most recent issue of Wired magazine includes an article titled The Power of Boredom. And my Flipboard highlighted a post from Brain Pickings called How to Find Your Bliss: Joseph Campbell on What It Takes to Have a Fulfilling Life. I’ve written a bit about this before but the intersection of these two articles resurrected the idea that we need to intentionally plan time away from tech, to find a quiet space, to be bored every once in a while. Why? Because boredom makes us not just better people but better problem solvers. Clive Thompson, author of the Wired article, asks
What if boredom is a meaningful experience – one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?
Thompson suggests that boredom is a good thing and cites research that agrees with him. The problem, says Thomson, is that we are training ourselves to never be bored.
We don’t wrestle with the slow moments. We eliminate them.
And when we do that, it shuts down the deeper thinking that can come from “staring down the doldrums.” We too often reach immediately for our phones – an act that one researcher describes as “eating junk food.” The Brain Pickings article talks about Joseph Campbell, author and mythologist, and the subject of the award winning 1988 PBS series The Power of Myth and its accompanying book. Campbell doesn’t use the word boredom but he does talk about the need to separate from the crowd and to find what he called a “sacred space” – a space for uninterrupted reflection and unrushed creative work.
[Sacred space] is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.
It’s this intersection of un-busyness that I think we sometimes fail to intentionally build into our lessons and instruction. We want kids to be engaged. To be active. To always be busy. And this activity looks good when the principal drops in for a walk-through. But eliminating boredom and replacing it with activity is not always a good thing. We need our students to practice thinking deeply about problems and to wrestle with possible answers, to realize that the best solutions aren’t always the ones right in front of them. So what can this look like? 1. Embrace failure Kids need to understand that making mistakes is a good thing. We learn from mistakes and bad ideas. The education is starting to move away from this a bit but we don’t often enough allow kids to start over and too screw up without the possibility of a bad grade affecting their thinking. 2. Encourage “distributed discourse” Build in more time for individual thinking and then pairs before having whole group conversations. This allows your students (both introverts and extraverts, by the way) the chance to become “bored” with the problem and to develop creative solutions. 3. Make learning relevant When using primary sources, for example, have students rewrite the evidence with current jargon or with only 140 characters or as a teen movie script or as a series of Vines. This supports a deeper understanding of its meaning. It also develops creative ways of thinking about the information, making connections to self, others, and places. 4. Start with great questions Our classrooms need to go beyond the simple multiple choice or even the kinds of things we might see at Reading Like a Historian. The problems we provide need to be truly compelling and even developed by students themselves. Examples? One teacher in western Kansas had her students address the fact that the Ogallala Aquifer is losing water at dramatic rates. What should be the response of residents and governments? Perhaps have students explore the connection between fracking in southcentral Kansas / northern Oklahoma and the incredible increase of earthquakes in the area. 5. Be patient This sort of activity is not a special classroom activity that happens every once in a while but is a replacement for surface level thinking. It’s going to take some time for permanent changes in behavior. Thomsen says that we shouldn’t avoid boredom but instead, we should “lean into it. ” He shares examples of how some of the most innovative people intentionally disconnect from tech and others to encourage creative and critical thinking. We can and should do the same – both with ourselves and our students.