Sunday, December 5, 2010

Think About Routine

You are no doubt familiar with the (over-used) phrase instructing us to "think outside of the box." I think we've probably all heard it so many times that we don't even think about what it means anymore. It, of course, means to be creative and innovative. It means that we need to look at a situation from a different point of view. It means that we need to break what is routine, habit, or instinctual.

If you are anything like me (human), this can be difficult. To use another trite phrase, I am "a creature of habit." Each morning, I do my morning things in the same order. And, whenever I come home from somewhere, I always put my keys, coat, and bag in the same spots. Being this habitual is not necessarily a negative thing. For example, I always know where my keys are. I've also never been a "regular" at a coffee house where the barista didn't know what my usual drink was (and I've been a regular at a lot of coffee houses!). Sometimes I look at the menu as though I might get something different (every once in a while I do), but, usually, I end up ordering the same thing as previous visits: a tall soy mocha, no whip.

While routine can be comforting and easy, it can also be too comforting and too easy. Fifteen or sixteen years ago (maybe more), I made a sort of pact with myself to do something out of my comfort zone at least once a week or so (I don't remember the specifics). With that, I began going to poetry readings regularly and met some wonderful friends that I would not have met otherwise. It was really scary at first. But, then, there was the reward and satisfaction that followed. This is the way you learn about the world. Not only that, but you can learn about yourself this way also. You learn how strong you are. The next time, then, you can stretch yourself even a little further.

Several books that I read last year made an impression on me to the point that I consider them "life-changing" books, although "mind-changing" may be a more accurate description. Derrick Jensen's Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution was one of these books. Jensen writes about why schools are failing their students, and he demonstrates what should be done differently--with anecdotes of what he has actually done differently when teaching in the (college) classroom. I cannot go over all of his ideas here (but, as a sort of side note, I would definitely encourage anyone interested in teaching, education, writing, and creativity to read the book).

One idea, though, that has stuck in mind ever since I read the book, is Jensen's "seating rule." From the book: "'The one rule in seating,' I say, 'is that you can't sit where you sat yesterday. Nor can you sit next to the same people.'...The first reason for making this rule is obvious: I want for them to try to see things from a different perspective each day they come in. The second is sneakier, and something I wish my teachers had done for me when I was in school: I want to give the shyer members of the class an excuse to sit next to someone they might be interested in educing, or at least talking to, or at the very least admiring from close-up rather than afar" (Jensen, 2004, p. 25).

In his classroom, Jensen makes (perhaps, demands?) his students to think outside their boxes; he makes them break their routines. He gives them lectures that leave them with more questions. He does this because he believes that students (everybody, actually) need to question everything. He makes his students look deeper, beyond the lecture, beyond their papers, beyond the questions and the supposed answers. His goal is for students to discover something about themselves that they didn't know before. I think that this is what could be called critical thinking--something which I know is lacking in many classrooms in the United States. "When people know what problem they can solve using the gifts that are unique to them in all the world, they often know what they need to do next" (p. 46).

Those gifts cannot be discovered (or, at least, nurtured) until a person steps out of his or her normal routine or comfort zone. Think about what routines you may break in the upcoming weeks. Leave comments below, and let me know how it goes!

One final thought on routine (from Jensen's book): "If they give you lined paper, write the other way." There's a notation that he is not sure to whom to attribute that statement..."might have been Ray Bradbury, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings, or Juan Ramon Jimenez" (p. 53).

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