Teaching in the Realms of Gold

The fog comes

on little cat feet. 4415428193_0e415b884a

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches and then moves on.

–Carl Sandburg, 1916

[I read a reflection recently about the role of moments of wonder, joy, and even terror in classrooms, and it fitted so well with this Realms of Gold website that I decided to invite the writer to be my first guest columnist. That there are actually future teachers who want their students’ minds to explode with the pleasure of seeing into the heart of things amazes and delights me.

Dakota Balunis is a sophomore at SUNY Plattsburgh, enrolled in a combined BA/MST program, with the BA degree in biology and the MST degree in education. This reflection was written in response to course work in An Introduction to Adolescence Education, taught by Dr. Mark Beatham. She writes, “We have a nice spread of subjects – English, History, Bio, Math, and one Environmental Science major.”]

Moments of the Divine


Guest Columnist Dakota Balunis

    This week we focused again on enthusiasm and language in the realm of teaching and learning. Right off the bat I would like to say that I really enjoyed watching the excerpts from Louder than a Bomb, even if my main focus isn’t on English or writing.

[“Louder than a Bomb is a film about passion, competition, teamwork, and trust. It’s about the joy of being young, and the pain of growing up. It’s about speaking out, making noise, and finding your voice. It also just happens to be about poetry.” – From a review ]

Visceral-Yet-Ephemeral Awe

     I can appreciate moments when you hear or read a line of poetry, prose, lyrics, etc. and get a little jolt that sets the hair on your arms to standing up. That “Oh damn!” moment doesn’t come frequently and it doesn’t come from the same things every time, but the wonder is worth the search and the wait. It’s the same sense of visceral-yet-ephemeral awe that I personally get when a concept in biology clicks into place inside my brain, when I link the nature of evolution to the almost-impossibly complicated workings of living things; at the risk of waxing poetic and overshooting, it’s as close to religion as I personally will ever get. I look at a cat wandering down the street and start thinking about skeletal muscles and sensory organs and predator-prey relationships, or I drink some water and appreciate how easy the action is to me when in actuality peristalsis and electrolyte balance is amazingly complicated. My brain feels as if it’s a hall of mirrors and the light of a single candle is being reflected all around; everything is clarity, but there’s so much left to see and understand. Some of it will never be understood fully, but the attempt is of itself important. Is that the “moments of the divine” we talked about in class? I think it might be. I kind of hope it is, because anything more revelatory than what I’ve described might be too much for me to handle. I’d like to skirt the absurdist cliff Kierkegaard talked about, not tip over the side into quasi-Lovecraftian madness.

[Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)is regarded as perhaps the first existentialist philosopher. He emphasized the priority of concrete human reality over abstract thinking. H.P. Lovecraft (1880 – 1937) is regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors of horror fiction.]

State Exams – Not Really the Point at All

     Anyway, back on track. I understand that my students won’t necessarily be as interested in biology as I will be when I’m teaching, and I’m fairly certain there will be a disparity in enthusiasm. That’s a challenge every teacher has to constantly contend with, I think, especially since public schools have a way of taking even the subjects you like and twisting them around until you’re just waiting for the state exam so you don’t have to take any more lessons or do any more practice problems. That’s not really the point of education – that’s actually not the point at all, especially when it encourages load-and-dump methods of cramming information that quickly decays as it’s not applied – and at the risk of sounding somewhat arrogant that’s not what I’d like to spend my life doing. If I have students, I’d like for them to experience those moments of religious-visceral awareness of the nature of life, but then again I have to keep in mind that they might never experience that. If they don’t, that’s not a non-issue, but I can’t force it. You can’t force wonder the same way you can’t force religion. You don’t get to the soul that way, you only get to the meat – or the clay, really, since getting to the meat is arguably the point of biology. I don’t think it’ll be my job to force kids to appreciate things, or even to try to make them curious – axioms about horses and water aside, it’s unfair to students if I try to proselytize. That just perpetuates the system.


The golden apples of the sun, The silver apples of the moon. — Yeats

‘Golden Apples – Moments of Wonder, Joy and Terror

     However, that doesn’t mean I can’t offer them some proverbial apples, right? How do you get people to experience wonder and peel back the shroud of everyday living? (Or, for that matter, how do you do it without the involvement of psychotropics? I’m fairly certain those will still be banned in schools when I’m actually certified.) Do you explain things a certain way? Do you try to link what’s learned to interesting examples, or do you pick everyday moments where the knowledge is relevant? Do you flat-out say to students that they should be experiencing moments of joy and terror as they learn, or do you wait for them to experience it on their own and coach them through it? It’s hard to say. I keep wondering about it and can’t decide either way.

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off,I know that is poetry. –Emily Dickinson

                                         PARTING OF THE SOUL by Roberto Lauro

PARTING OF THE SOUL by Roberto Lauro

Natural Learning: The Role of Telepathy

In Your Bones

I’ve been writing in a number of posts on this website about the Mess-Around Theory of how to learn.  That’s the name I made up for a theory I invented,  and I’m laying odds it will pretty much work for anything you want to do or get good at or know. Since that’s the way little babies and other creatures learn anyway, I could have called it Natural Learning, but you probably wouldn’t have bothered reading that. But ask yourself  How did I learn the billions and billions of things I know in my bones? Yes, in your bones.

                                                                Yes, In your bones

Yes, In your bones

Here’s the remarkable thing: When natural learning really gets rolling, it’s hard to separate it from what people call Telepathy, as you’ll see in the continuing story of Sandra Artrip and Rosie, the genius boxer,  out in Modesto:

Beyond Skin-Deep

Sandra told me lots of stories about telepathy – or whatever you’d like to call it — between the two of them. I’m telling you this, because we all do have this capacity, and we can turn it on whenever we want, whenever we’d like to  really get past the skin of anything in our lives.

I’ll pass on to you some ideas about how that might work and, more important – this is the good part – how we can “read the mind” of a piece of granite – or how we can let a theory of relativity tell us all about itself, or get into “Ode to Joy.” That would certainly come in handy in dispatching a challenging school subject like calculus or getting a good look at a Rembrandt, wouldn’t it?

While I was writing about Rosie,  I got an email from Sandra about a pan of carrots that almost boiled dry.

Sandra and Rosie

Why, who makes much of a miracle? — Whitman

I was in another room and couldn’t see Rosie.  All of a sudden I felt her tell me to come look for her.  She was waiting impatiently.  As soon as I put my eyes on her, she ran and took me right to the stove and started jumping up in the air. The water was almost gone in the pan. Somehow she knew, even though she’d been in another room – her hearing was bad – and there wasn’t a burned smell.

Even more remarkable, when it appeared that Rosie had indeed lost all her hearing, Sandra got an earache.

Four weeks ago, Rosie totally lost her hearing.  I thought it was because she was getting older.  About that time I started getting earaches myself, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. But it started getting really bad.  I couldn’t touch the side of my face. I went back to the doctor, and she still couldn’t find anything.  That night I was using a heating pad on my ear and I noticed Rosie’s ears were way down on the side of her head, not a normal position.  Rubbing her ears I realized she had an earache.  First thing in the morning I ran her to the vet.  She had two seriously bad internal ear infections and a ruptured ear drum.  They flushed her ears and repaired her ear drum.  My earache disappeared.  Maybe we have this link because Rosie and I are closer than most people are to each other. I do know that when I’m sick, she responds as if she is sick also.

The Poem of Creation


     A matter of making connections

Getting into each other’s heads should not be surprising. But before I  connect Rosie and tips on schoolwork or brushing our teeth, let me back off a bit and give a fairly respectable “scientific” explanation about why we don’t get telepathic messages all the time. We’ve become comfortable, for example, with the idea that our living rooms are chock full of round-the-clock radio and television broadcasts – programs that can be picked up anywhere on the planet, even out in the solar system, if our receivers are tuned to the right frequency. Ah, but, as Thoreau observed, “few are the ears to hear.’

Recently a radio was created at the University of California that is 10 nanometers thick and several hundred nanometers long.  (A human hair is 50,000 to 100,000 nanometers thick.) It works by vibrating thousands to millions of times a second in tune with AM and FM signals.



Telepathy and the Way We Learn


Brains are transceivers that may be set vibrating to frequencies of kindred transceivers.


If there was a clear channel between Rosie and Sandra, as indeed there was, then of course they  got each other’s  messages.  Not getting them would be the strange thing.

These messages are not in English, of course. When Sandra speaks of  Rosie telling her things, she says “I felt she was telling me,” “I’d wake up feeling her talking to me.”

How to learn physics

These messages are in the language of nature, of which human language is a pale abstraction.


In fact, interspecies communication involves a different kind of packaging altogether, a way of looking out at the world as if you were the other entity.  A kind of letting go takes over.

Teaching a dog English is about as possible as teaching English to a rock.  The dog simply doesn’t have a receiver that can decode linguistic structures. [And, gee, what a surprise: If a teacher and a student aren’t tuned to the same frequency, guess how much communication can take place.]

Here’s the good part: Messages don’t have to be encoded and decoded in human language  patterns.  In fact, human languages are an infinitesimal speck in the scheme of things. And the job gets done all the same. Any English sentence comes encapsulated in a field of information that’s washes over  all entities – such as us humans –  within earshot (and beyond, not doubt). The “lesson” of any school class involves all that, not just the physical sound coming out of mouths.  The message for us all?  Aw, Marshall McLuhan, you were SO right.  The medium is indeed the message.


The Need to Let Go

When you think about how most humans spend their days – even though it’s as natural as can be to pick up transmissions – it may not be so strange, after all, that we miss out on the messages enveloping us.  How often do we let go of intention, lie down in the grass, and let the world speak to us?

Soul in grass

Soul lying down in grass

Ah, yes, telepathy is not so mysterious when we recognize that most of us don’t pay a lot of attention.  Our growing dependence over the past several centuries on the abstracted world of linguistic structures has estranged us from the world of our noses and hearts  and the intelligence they download.  Rosie and Sandra used them both.

And you can, too, reader.  So, how do I use ‘telepathy’ to learn, understand, know, anything?  I allow myself to fall into the medium –  in a physics class, in the new-car showroom, embarked on a new date.  I let it wash over my senses.  I let it massage my nervous system. (Thanks,  Marshall.) The doors of perception open.  But the message is never in the words. Words are merely the vehicle.  Whitman asked, Why, who makes much of a miracle? Good question.



An A student

Natural Learning on Purpose

The way to make use of our natural learning ability is to make sure the our senses and our nervous systems are ‘turned on’ and then to let nature do the rest.   Years ago, a first-grade teacher wrote on  my dear little daughter’s homework, “Try harder, Kathy.”  No, no, no! Try easy!  Your Self knows just what to do.  Let it.

The Heart – The Missing Factor in Most Classrooms

Learning by Heart

Mark Rothko

–Mark Rothko painting

How can you get so good at something that it seems like magic?  If you’ve ever watched a tech work on your computer, you’ve seem her zip through dozens of steps in seconds – without even seeming to have to think about it.  Well, the fact is, she doesn’t have to think about it, and thinking would actually slow her down.   How the hell do people  get so damned good at stuff like this?

Contrary to what lots of teachers commonly say, it’s not by working hard at it.

It’s because they fell in love.

If you want to get good at something, fall in love.  If you don’t love it to start with, fiddle around till you find a door to it’s heart. Then let your own heart connect with its heart.   When you do, you may find yourself spending hours with it, but just like when you’re in love,  you will not even notice.  And no hard work is involved.

My fossil in rock

To get to know plum blossoms,
Both one’s own nose
And one’s own heart.
                                                  — Basho

How it works.

Where did my older brother study French when he was in Europe in WWII?  In bed, of course. You can learn paleontology that way, too, or linguistics, or . . .  you name it. And the heart is the secret ingredient, not logic, not the mind, not sweaty thinking.

We learn with our hearts.

When you fall in love, all the conditions for absorbing the “other” are there.  You fall into the pulsing ruby heart of the matter and become one with it. It’s the same with everything you ever truly absorbed into your nervous system. You’ve been doing it all your life.  If you buy into this metaphor, you can let yourself fall in love on purpose with anything, anything at all, a school subject, a maple leaf, Jupiter, a fly speck.  Take a moment an let that sink in.

If you want to get good at anything, let yourself fall in love with it.

“Get” that principle of learning and you won’t have to worry about getting to know anything ever again. If I’m wrong, sue me.  If I’m right, pat yourself on the back – and send me a check.

To Learn Is to Love

Here’s a little love story about how a dog and a human I met, Rosie and Sandra,  learned/loved each other so thoroughly that their communication seemed like – as it may well have been – telepathy.  It’s a fairly detailed story but too long for one posting, so I’ll give you just some highlights here.  There’s a key in this story to a way of learning for anyone, maybe for  you.  Watch for it.

The Time You Spend

“Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn.”Dune, Frank Herbert


AP student getting an intense vision of the facts.

In the midst of exploring interspecies communication for a book I was working on, how it is that humans and other creatures – parrots, horses, chimpanzees, dogs – are able to get into each others’ heads — what the mechanism of that is, the biology of it, the physics of it, I got an email from our daughter Kate,  who was gathering data for  a government study in the Modesto area out in the San Joaquin Valley.


I’ve just met an eleven-year-old boxer named Rosie who can do all sorts of things – square root, spelling, getting the remote for the tv – really wild!  Her owner, Sandra Artrip, asked me what my name was.  I said ‘Kate.’ She asked Rosie how many letters were in ‘Kate.’  Rosie tapped 4 times and then cocked her head –“Is that right?”

 Well, that sounded like an unusual dog indeed, so I emailed Sandra and got this reply:


Rosie’s the smartest animal I have ever had in my life, and I have owned many, many animals. Just a quick view of what Rosie can do: Rosie can add, subtract, multiply and divide. She knows her ABCs by sign language. She knows squares and square roots to 144. She knows how many letters in each of  all the primary colors, she knows the states, and about 250 words. She is also a certified service dog.  She turns lights off and on, gets five flavors of soda out of the refrigerator.  She gets towels, washcloths, paper towels and toilet paper and shuts doors.

Also, she does typical dog tricks like high fives and  low fives, and lies down, rolls over, plays dead, speaks, sits pretty, and says the words mom, I love you, go bye bye, no, damn, I’m hungry, playtime.  That probably sounds crazy to you, but I can hear the words plain as day.

I have had vets tell me dogs do not have the ability to do what she does, but I know for a fact she can do it, and after my vet saw it, he could not believe what he saw.

As Smart as You Need to Be

A very, very smart dog?  It may be that lots of dogs don’t learn what their human companions want them to because they don’t feel like it or are too aloof to learn stupid circus tricks for the amusement of humans.  Another boxer I know, Lucy,  seems able to pick up any behavior her human wants – if she feels like it.  Sandra teaches Rosie with food rewards.  Her brother never uses treats with his English bulldog.  His bulldog  thinks  playing dead, doing high fives, rolling over, and performing all sorts of tricks  is marvelous fun.  He does these things not so much to please his human, it seems,  as to participate in the game. Our wire-haired terrier Geordie was the worst student in his obedience class.  I figured on being humiliated when it came time for graduation.  But when our turn came, Geordie trotted at my side out to the middle of the floor, sat down nice as pie, and received his diploma in front of the whole class with dignity and aplomb.  Training – what a colossal bore.  It was more fun trying to bite the Doberman.


“More input! More input!”

Whose Poem Is This, Anyway?

Maybe we’re all, humans as well as dogs,  as ‘smart’ as we need to be. (And maybe school teachers need to think about this.  Who’s business is your education anyway, yours or some “teacher’s”?)  The great news is that  if we can find out how it works, maybe we can get smart on purpose — whenever we feel like it, of course.  That would come in handy, wouldn’t it, when you need to figure out why you  can’t get your cell phone to pair with the device in your  new car or you have to take some required college course you couldn’t care less about. It ain’t gonna happen unless you yourself want it to.

“It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.”

Here’s the chorus from Kathy Mattea’s “Comes from the Heart”  In my college skills classes — and often in other courses, too — I used to play Guy Clark singing that tune.

You got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work

If you have the time, you should stop right now and listen to the whole song; it’s great: http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/clark-guy/come-from-the-heart-32.html


What circumstances might have influenced Rosie’s ‘intelligence’?  I arranged to go out to the valley for an interview.  There were four assorted dogs in the chain-link fenced front yard when I pulled up, but Rosie, almost twelve by then, was inside, where it was more peaceful.  She was a brindle boxer with a gray muzzle, stiff joints and advancing hearing loss who accepted a couple of Trader Joe peanut-butter flavored treats from me. Then we all three  sat down on the couch – Rosie in the middle with her paw on Sandra’s lap  ‒  and we got straight to the interview.

Time Spent on Your Rose

I knew Rosie had been taken from her mother a little over two weeks after birth.  She had been  infected with coccidia – a parasite of the intestine that can destroy young animals –  and had been about to be put to sleep.  Sandra took her home.  Most puppies are placed with humans after they’ve been weaned – at about eight weeks – so Sandra had to take over the mother dog’s job of nursing, which involved bottle-feeding Rosie every two hours twenty-four hours a day until she weaned herself about three weeks later.  It took seven months of treatment before the coccidia were completely eliminated.  During that time Rosie and Sandra were together almost constantly, as they have continued to be ever since.  Aha, it’s the time spent on your rose!

It’s the Time You Waste on Your Rose.

To get into each other’s heads – or some prehistoric fossil –  we have to waste a lot of time on each other. (If you waste enough time on it, even a bit of old bone will begin to sparkle.)

I asked Sandra if she thought the way Rosie started out in life, the mother role being played by a human rather than a dog, might account for much of her phenomenal responsiveness to Sandra’s teaching.   That seemed likely, Sandra said, since she  hadn’t done doggie things with the puppy.  She hadn’t wrestled with Rosie or held her down when she needed discipline  the way her natural mother would have.  Rosie had had to pay close attention to cues from the only mother she knew and had developed a unique psychic and physical bonding  with a human.  Getting into each other’s heads may be no more complicated than that.

Sandra had had lots of dogs and Rosie did far more human things than any of the others. Of them all, only two came close to being as smart as Rosie, and like her, they had been taken from their mothers at a little over two weeks of age and hand fed by Sandra.  If they had had round the clock teaching the way that Rosie had had, might they not also have become ‘smarter’?

Unique in all the world

Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince had his own flower, a rose  he had tended every day and thought was unique in all the world. But in his travels he discovers there are millions of roses and is saddened to think that his rose is not so special after all.  Not so, the fox informs him,  “It is the time you have wasted  on your rose that makes your rose so important.”

The Time Wasted on Rosie

To get Rosie to  flip the light switch on or off, Sandra would hold Rosie’s paw over the switch, click it with the paw, say ‘light’ and give her a treat.  She did this  every twenty minutes or so, two or three times each, but not more than that so that Rosie  wouldn’t get bored.  The lessons were spaced out with only a few repetitions at a time.  Once she caught on to the process, Rosie got faster and faster at learning all the things Sandra had listed in her email. (Recently Sandra had to get a dog-proof refrigerator.  Her other dogs had watched Rosie and were getting into the old one any time they felt like it.)


Mark Bittner wasted tons of time on these guys.

What’s striking about Rosie and Sandra getting ‘inside each other’s heads’ is that the process is identical with the way one gets to ‘know’ anything, an ipod, crab apple blossoms, the  world inside an atom, a cherry-headed wild parrot, an autistic person, The Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra, or a peach pie.

Sandra had had an absorbing interest in animals of any sort – she had even had a petting zoo at one time.  Getting to know something  starts out, usually, as a playful curiosity and becomes so absorbing that one forgets lunch and dinner.  That’s always the key, an involuntary relinquishing of objectivity; you can’t help yourself.  The situation opens to you and you fall in.  When the wall between the worlds dissolves, the skateboard and the skater become one.

The Wall Between Worlds

                                                                          The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

Sandra had taken on the role of surrogate mother – with no strings attached.  There had been no barrier between the two mammals – tiny puppy and human – and there was physical contact during the feeding.  Information flowed back and forth between the two organisms, altering the wetware in each other’s skulls, absorbing each other’s sensory data.  They were quite literally inside each other’s skulls and on each other’s senses (and deeper still, in those pulsating subatomic frequencies sheathing the ‘physical’ world).  The puppy’s brain absorbed Sandra’s world and reconfigured itself.  The human brain absorbed the world of the creature in her arms.  No wonder Rosie turned out to be so smart.

This is always how the curtain between worlds is drawn aside.  Richard Feynman walks around inside the atom.  David Greybeard, a wild chimpanzee, touches Jane Goodall’s hand on a river  bank in an African jungle. Interest, attention, absorption.

Once you fall into each other, you have each other’s ‘number,’ and you can ‘call up’ each other.

Once you fall into each other, you have each other’s ‘number,’ and you can ‘call up’ each other.

In the midst of exploring the atom, say,  you get absorbed into it; meanwhile, the atom has got inside your head and heart.  It keeps on chatting with you, revealing itself even when you’re out sailing or watching ant trails across the kitchen floor.  This is how one can ‘talk’ with a rock.



And then there’s telepathy – which goes to the heart of the matter.  In fact, until that breakthrough into telepathic communication – where it is not necessary to translate – the process is not complete. Telepathy between Sandra and Rosie goes on all the time.  Rupert Sheldrake’s Dogs That Know When Their Owner’s Are Coming Home is full of anecdotes of telepathy between animals and humans and between and among humans, too. “If I think of going to the refrigerator, Rosie is there waiting for me as if she heard me say it.  If I think of leaving the house, she will go to the gate.   I’ll wake up from a dead sleep with this feeling that she’s telling  me she needs to go out or that her water bowl is empty.”

There’s more to this story, but I’ll save it for another posting.


Don’t waste your time taking notes. 

Don’t let your school work interfere with your education.  – Mark Twain.




The Universe posing as students taking notes

If you write down everything that happens, you may as well be a stenographer.  Stenographers are paid to do transcripts, not to understand what a lecture boils down to.  That’s what you’ll want to know, and you can’t be actively looking for the big idea and writing down stuff at the same time.  Yes, I know people are always advising you to take notes.  It sounds terrific. These  same advisers, like Polonius,  will tell you to be good, work hard, always say thank you, and use your napkin.

If you get to class a bit early, though, you can get your mind in gear but thinking about what happened last time and what’s likely to come up.  That’s called formatting, and what it does is set up a little web in your mind, a little skeleton,  so you’ll have someplace to lodge big ideas that come sailing by.

Your Own Invented Shorthand

Native Speaker

Expert Note-taker

During class, as a sharp observer, you will have jotted down – while the lecturer was clearing her throat – maybe half a dozen words or phrases in your own invented shorthand mixed with abbreviations and texting-type stuff.  You’ll have put those key ideas into your own words,  words that will jog your memory later on when you want to recall what that lecture boiled down to.  This is the sort of thing a self-respecting human being who values his or her time here on Earth, obliged to play the school game, would be doing.  You’re in charge.  You call the shots about how you deal with lectures. Speakers has there purposes; you, I would hope, have yours.

Your job is to watch for the main point. 

There will be only one.  You could be asking yourself, “What’s she getting at?”  If you figure that out, then you’ll want to know how she justifies that point.  She’ll probably have two or three sub-points.

Finally, while everyone else is escaping by the nearest exit, you will look over those bare-minimum notes you took.  You’ll be thinking, “OK, which of these is the big idea?”  You’ll mark that with a star or you’ll underline it or highlight it or put a big Roman numeral I beside it.  Then you’ll decide which are the key sup-points and mark them 1, 2, and 3 or A, B, and C.  And just to clean it all up, you’ll add any reminders that seem suitable.

Finally, finally, while your still sitting there, write down in your own words, the fewest  possible, the gist of the lecture.  If you skip this step, within a few minutes you’ll forget 80% of what you just sat through .  That’s just the way short-term memory works. This step reinforces what you just culled from the lecture and moves it into your long-term memory, which is where it needs to be.


Words are the source of misunderstanding. — The Little Prince



Then you’ll go relax and see what’s happening in your neighborhood.






[You can Google Jennis Jerz’s Web article: Taking Notes: 5 College Success Tips/ Jerz’s Literacy Weblog for some more good ideas.]



Passing Grade, Least Effort

If  you’ve decided you want a passing grade with the least effort – for whatever reason – you’ve come to the right place.  (If you’re taking a course that sets your mind on fire, you’ll do the things I’m suggesting  intuitively.)  Your guiding principle? Take charge.

                                            True or False: A classroom is where everything isn't.

True or False? A classroom is where everything isn’t.

Game Plan for Boring Lectures

Here’s how you can almost guarantee yourself a C or better—even if you do nothing else outside of class:

  • Pay attention –  playfully.
  • Attend every class — playfully.
  • Be sure to take every quiz and test — playfully.
  • Playfully.

These tactics work when you have teachers who see themselves, even in 2013,  as transmitters of information and feel guilty if they don’t “cover” everything in class. For a lot of them, the text is back-up material.

                                                                                     A guide to wakefulness

A guide to wakefulness



[In my November 11 post,there’s a streamlined way to dispatch textbooks quickly and efficiently:  “INTELLIGENT READING —  A 20-Minute Complete Course.”  So you can have some fun with your textbooks, too. When you put yourself in charge, things brighten up considerably.]





You can be pretty sure the tests these teachers think up will focus on what they talk about – what they emphasize.


                                                                                                 How to take tests

How to take tests


[ In my post of May 6, 2013,  “Turning Tests into Crossword Puzzles,” there are some tips and reminders on how to enjoy –yes, enjoy! – taking tests.]





If you don’t intend to study at all, make sure you select teachers who like to lecture. Then apply smart tactics in class.  The bottom line is all the time you’ll free up to go and pursue your education.  Above all else, do make a game out of taking classes. The worst thing you can do is to take all the rigmarole seriously. You mind won’t put up with it.  Till you wise up and start enjoying yourself, you’ll get headaches, diarrhea, insomnia,  and so on,.

What’s nice is that if you love a  subject you’re enrolled in and want to master it, these same techniques will focus your mind on  all the important information.  As you well know, a class that inflames your mind is sheer joy – and easy – “easy” in the sense that being fully engaged feels effortless.

Build new habits, but for heaven’s sake, don’t try to change twelve years of habits overnight.  One step at a time. Enjoy the challenge, and don’t take it seriously. It’s pitiful to watch the inevitable collapse of a massive self-improvement program, usually about one week later. The tactics I’m suggesting here are intended to be absorbed gradually at your own pace.

Use what you can now and add on as you go. Your own temperament is your best guide; build on that.

Teach yourself to pay attention while you are sitting there and you will be able to complete most of your work right in class. Occasional review could be enough to get by.

How to Be a Brilliant Student Without Even Trying

Escape from the Prison House

I was talking recently with my friend and former colleague of thirty years Karl Staubach about his time in the Army during the Korean War. He had finished a year or so at the University of Michigan when he abruptly enlisted, even though he would have been deferred.  Why?  Well, he told me, he couldn’t stand sitting in classes. Out of class he was never bored.  He had a wonderful life out of class – curious about everything, doing all sorts of physical and intellectual stuff –  but schooling was driving him nuts.  When he told the dean about how bad it was, the dean promptly said, “Join the Army.”

Where everything is

Where everything is

After a year an a half, he was discharged, resumed college and had a fine time.  I asked what had changed.  “I didn’t take it seriously anymore.  I took complete charge, including how to deal with teachers and classes.”  From then on he enjoyed the university and used all the good things a school does have – library, labs, telescopes, microscopes, artists, poets, brilliant minds to be engaged – he just didn’t let schooling interfere anymore.  He hardly spent any time on schooling, but got great grades and a beautiful GPA.  Meanwhile he was educating himself, just as he did when he spent summers as a forester on Mt. Adams inWashington or making his own sailboat out of Volkswagen van top or a guitar out of a cigar box.  Film, mythology, linguistics, optics, mathematics – you name it.  Once he was running the show and not his teachers, it was all fun.

  Shades of the Prison House

You Will Not Be Surprised to Learn:

Kids get more and more mind-numbingly bored as they progress through the grades.  In college they’re a little less bored, but, gee! over a fourth to two/thirds of your youthGYAOOC Pic disengaged?!

High school seniors: 28% of their time they’re  bored — mostly in class or studying for tests.

College students: 39% of their time they’re bored — mostly in class or studying for tests.

Humming birds, saints and poets?  Hardly ever.

“A classroom is where everything isn’t.” – Karl Staubach.

hummingbird 2

An A student


How to Take Classes, Part 1

GYAOOC PicOnce you think about it, it will be obvious that school subjects are not English, history, chemistry, biology, and so forth.

School subjects

reading textbooks
taking classes
doing assignments
taking tests
handling stress


Right? Of course. When you go to school, you spend your time on those things. They make up the structure of schooling – not of education. They are what is learned or not learned. But if you get good at them, you can actually enjoy your schooling. You can even have time for your education. Academic subjects are inherently fascinating, but to get time to get at them, to get “an intense vision of the facts” as William Carlos Williams might put it,  you need to dispatch these hidden school subjects first.

                         THE PASSIVE CLASSROOM

                                            True or False: A classroom is where everything isn't.

True or False: A classroom is where everything isn’t.

Even though research shows lecturing to be one of the least effective teaching methods, more classes than not are still conducted with students seated passively in rows and the teacher in front doing all the talking. Lecturing is so ingrained I’ve actually seen a teacher droning on at four silent and polite students seated in front of him. Another arranged the seats in a circle but lectured all the same.

Most college teachers don’t know much about what works and what doesn’t, even though common sense, much less the research, is right in front of them – if they ever bothered to look. Have a degree in physics?  OK, here’s your podium, never mind that you’re boring the kids to death. The old, counter-productive methods persist. Fear —”You’ll be tested on this”—is still used to motivate students, even though a warm and friendly atmosphere is known to result in better learning – with fewer neuroses. Classrooms still try to transmit information even though there’s Google out there,for god’s sake,  even though kids are falling asleep (if they bother to show up at all).  Antiquated, ignorant practices actually dull the mind.   What most students learn in boring classes is how to be passive, and of course, passive mental habits lead to C’s or worse for the majority of students. How often have you looked forward to your classes?  How often have all your senses, how often has your fully functioning mind, been engaged?

Get this: there’s good research that shows  95 per cent of these same students can succeed in other settings.

And, how about this: Even in crumby classes,  five per cent do succeed. They are not necessarily smarter. And they often work and worry far less than C students.

Any normal person, can figure out  the structure and use  it to get top grades in less time and with less work. All it requires are some new habits, some easy to acquire, some taking practice and planning.  In fact, the key to success in class and in doing assignments is habit.
Kid in Park





A classroom is where everything isn’t. — Karl Staubach