Yesterday was the first day of spring semester for Salt Lake Community College, and while I’ve never considered myself to be one of those movie-type teachers that inspires and changes lives, last night I decided to give it a shot — because the more I thought about it, the more it fit with the curriculum for my intermediate class.
When they came in, I had them answer three questions. The first two were just “warm-up” questions to get them primed for the third, but I didn’t tell them that:
- something nerdy about you
- your claim to fame
- one issue you’d tackle/change
(Originally, question three read “one thing you’d change about the world,” but I tested it on my intro class, and half of them said “war” or “world peace.” Oops. A little too broad.)
My answers were (1) I have my library card number memorized but not my bank account number, (2) I have students who like me enough to take both the intro and intermediate courses from me (about a third of the class last night), and (3) I’d change how English teachers teach grammar.
And my students had awesome answers. They’d change CEO overcompensation or disability awareness or put more reform in the healthcare reform or more initiative and inventiveness in education reform or stop the ways we put third-world countries into debt. I wish I could remember all the ideas.
Then I showed this clip from Pay It Forward:
Best of all, it’s not only possible to have one idea change the world, it happens all the time. In the newspaper over New Year’s I read about “People to Watch” in the next decade, and they were all working on different things: studying stem cells, mapping Down Syndrome genes, saving the Jordan River here in Salt Lake County, using saliva as disease diagnosis, running cities, serving in the senate, drawing alternative energy from waste lagoons, writing plays.
That’s how the world changes. You decide on the thing within your reach you want to tackle, and you tackle it.
My dad is part of the 29th Street Weed & Seed Coalition in Tucson — a neighborhood group that unites residents, schools, and businesses in working to reduce crime and build community. They’ve had some amazing success, including a 43% drop in crime compared to 15% in Tucson in the same period.
Also, my dad gets grants of all kinds to help improve the education of his middle school students and the lives of their parents. Last year he started teaching a weekend/evening workshop for parents that focuses on how to have stronger families. The course is free for those who are selected because of the grants my dad applied for. And it helps end cycles of domestic abuse, neglect, poverty, etc.
That’s how the world changes.
For my students this semester, they’ll be changing the world with a website. I showed them some of the ones from last semester, how one student’s site worked to educate people about the connection between drug abuse and gang violence, how another helped families of people diagnosed with a particular form of sclerosis learn how to cope, how one student used his experience working at a credit union to set up a site teaching people about avoiding debt, how another focused on finding happiness by avoiding consumer mentalities. (There are links on my English 2010 page for anyone who wants to see the sites.)
Now that I’ve taught one semester of this class, I realize that it is exactly like that Pay It Forward clip. It really is about changing the world and teaching students how, through writing, they can make things happen — the way my dad writes proposals and gets grant money.
Writing can change the world, and I like that thought a lot.
What about you? What’s something nerdy about you? What’s your claim to fame? And what would you tackle? How would you change the world?
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