Friday, October 14, 2011

The world needs more Andy Rooneys

Two Sundays ago, Andy Rooney's final 60 Minutes "sign off" aired.  It was typical Rooney--wise, dryly funny, and thought-provoking.  I haven't ever been a regular viewer of 60 Minutes, but when I did watch, it always seemed to be at the tail-end of the hour, and I always enjoyed what Rooney had to say.

In his final piece, Rooney shared some insights that seem to have wide application, but particularly for those who teach.

Here are some things I took away:

Stop worrying so much about having (or writing) original thoughts (because there probably aren't any).  Sometimes the pressure to do something new, exciting, or original becomes a barrier to doing anything at all and we sit motionless and paralyzed.  Although I wouldn't call myself a "writer," I do a fair amount of writing and when the stars align and I do have something close to a coherent and tight argument or what I might foolishly believe to be an "original" idea, it hasn't come as I've been staring at an empty page or blank screen.  Rather, I've started writing about something that seems relatively uninteresting and that exercise has eventually led to productive thoughts or ideas.  And, in reflecting on my teaching, most of the "disasters" I've had in the classroom or in a training workshop of some kind have come when I was more concerned about being original or creative than I was with facilitating good learning (even if it wasn't the "sexy" kind of teaching and learning that gets talked about on teaching blogs).  There seems to be power in teaching simple, but fundamental ideas, and doing it in simple ways.

Tell the truth.  Truth is, in some ways, tough to define and what is "true" to one may or may not be to another.  But, Rooney seems to be saying that if we were more concerned about being truthful (I wonder if another way to say that might be "sincere" or "genuine") and less preoccupied with being either provocative or "acceptable," depending on the circumstance, our ultimate impact on readers, students, etc. will be more worthwhile.  And, if nothing else, by being authentic and truthful, we will feel better about our efforts and be able to eventually look back on a career with contentment (like Rooney seems to have been able to do).  Rooney also wisely acknowledges the inevitability of our making mistakes and realizing, after the fact, that what we believed was true really wasn't.  However, seeking to be truthful would seem to help eliminate many mistakes that might be made otherwise.

Care about what others think, but not too much.  It was refreshing to hear Rooney's remarks about wanting to be liked.  It seems like an innately human desire.  And, when we feel some desire to have others like us it has a tempering effect on how we interact with and engage with others (read:  it keeps us from becoming complete jerks).  However, if being liked becomes the driving motivation behind our actions, we're likely to end up somewhere we don't like (and, ironically, become someone who others don't really like).  This is especially important for teachers because a lot of the learning--and nearly all of the most important learning--we want for those we teach requires hard work, some degree of pain or discomfort, and  some healthy failure. We don't always "like" those who ask these kinds of things of us.  teachers, parents, and bosses who care more about being liked than facilitating growth, supporting learning, or being truthful, are dangerous.

Of course, none of what I've said here is original and I probably haven't said anything you didn't already know or hadn't already thought about--but, I take comfort in Rooney's words that "that's what writers do."

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