218. At the California Institute of Technology: Richard Brautigan

This generation is picky.

No connection is fast enough, or response quick enough coming.  I cannot tell if the irrupting is poor upbringing, indulgence or simply not knowing what delayed gratification is or feels like.

Unlike my peers, I do not believe television and computers have ruined this generation.  My students do not need to be constantly entertained.  They seek authenticity.  If they cannot get it, then entertainment will suffice to dull the moments between when they control the environment.

It is, then, our job to teach them to move beyond.  To seek and find authenticity.  My son was assigned to find out what a candidate’s position was on gun control.  Given an hour, he did it in five minutes; he just Googled “What is _________’s position on gun control.”  At home, he complained that class was boring.  We laid out ten questions about the candidate, his track history with the issue, what the issue even was, its origins….  He went to school the next day with more than sixty minutes of seeking.

I teach them why The Hunger Games is Literature while Divergent is entertaining pap, or they argue the opposite.  We seek out something more–something deeper.  Art is more.  Art is authentic and not merely a distraction.  I teach that.

It is, though, the small moments where the dissatisfaction of youth plays out.

When we write, I allow students to listen to music.  It helps block out distractions.  But students refuse to bring in their own headphones, or even earbuds.  They want the school to provide.  While exploring, I noted that our library had two milk crates of ancient headphones.  Mono, with 1/4 inch jacks, my query coincided with plans to toss them.  From Amazon I bought 1/4″ to 3.5 mm adapters.  Cheap.  I strongly suggest seeking out the bowels of the media center for such gems and adapting them to modern use; it tends to be cheap and practical.  We now have 30 pairs of headphones to lend.    

The kids hate them.  

Hard plastic padding around the ears carrying mono tinny sound, they will not be moved to bring their own yet they will not use what is offered.  I use them and they are perfectly fine for a distraction.  Retro cool.

My sister the psychology professor says a colleague studies the word “bored” and its use among adolescents. When used, it does not mean things are dull–it could be they are confused, tired, the subject repeats, the material is overly familiar, they need food, feel sick….  I keep this in mind when my students complain about being bored.  “I have just laid out a concept that has engaged the greatest minds of history, and you find it boring.”  Perhaps it is hunger issues.

Bored three times in a day?  Perhaps it’s you.  Bored people are boring.

What bores us and why?  Yet, people study that boring thing.  Create it.  Devote their lives to it.  Why?  Find out three things of interest.  Write an ode!

What is “interesting”?  Is there a universal declaration among the class?  How might another look at that activity?  A great writing prompt right there!  Why is kicking a ball more entertaining than hitting it with a stick?  That flash game vs. a book?  With the holidays coming, and the cold outside, the world will shrink.  But it won’t be boring.

Just filled with boring kids.

At the California Institute of Technology
Richard Brautigan

I don’t care how God-damn smart
these guys are: I’m bored.

It’s been raining like hell all day long
and there’s nothing to do.


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