Thursday, July 28, 2011

Einstein's God Makes Me a Better Teacher


Learning about Einstein's God has made me a better teacher.

I’ve studied the “science” and “art” of pedagogy in many places – lectures, symposia, seminars, texts and the like.  One of the best places to capture something of the “mystery” (though that is too strong a word) of teaching comes from the writings and workshops/lectures of Parker Palmer and his Center for Courage and Renewal.

Earlier this week I listened to one of the most delightful interviews/podcasts.  Entitled Einstein’s God – I learned, I grew, I thought, I re-listened, I paused, I looked up highlights, I clicked through links, I thought some more, I wrote, I “rewound” (an odd verb for a podcast that is not “wound” like a tape used to be!), I toke more notes, and finally,  I finished the audio.  (You should read all of this as effusive praise for how much I enjoyed the podcast!)

But – when it was all over – I realized something elusive about great teaching – and great learning from good learners.

Great teaching and great teachers inspire learners to want to learn more – to think more – to read more – to study more. 

As I paused and replayed sections of the podcast – as I thought about its content and looked up links or connected ideas – I realized that the 50 minute interview, took me well over two hours to digest – and I was not yet through with digesting it all.  I still have more hyperlinks to read and more content to glean as I think about the extended issues that have emerged from this “single” lesson. 

I have long recognized that some of the people I most enjoy in life – are people who recommend good reading to me.  And, this podcast helped me realize – that good teaching – perhaps the best teaching – is the kind of teaching that propels us on the extended journey of continued learning, research and reading.  I “learned” as I listened to the podcast.  But, it compelled me to learn more – and read more – and think more as (and after) I listened.

I hope to be the kind of teacher delivers content worth “catching”  - data worth deciphering – information worth exploring. 

I am going to try harder to be a teacher who inspires learners (and learning)- and links and review and new exploration – as much (and more) than I deliver old data in ever-increasing-out-dated modes of technology driven content.


Two of the many wonderful insights from this particular podcast include – this quote from Einstein,

Why do we come, sometimes spontaneously, to wonder about something? I think that wondering to one's self occurs when an experience conflicts with our fixed ways of seeing the world. I had one such experience of wondering when I was a child of four or five and my father showed me a compass. This needle behaved in such a determined way and did not fit into the usual explanation of how the world works. That is that you must touch something to move it. I still remember now, or I believe that I remember, that this experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. There must be something deeply hidden behind everything.


And, this wonderful note from Einstein on John Calvin - [which I read, in part, as an indictment on how far religious traditions may have moved from their origin(s)(ators).]


Einstein's humor and humanity were revealed in his public appearances, but also in the vast correspondence he conducted with people of all walks of life. Here's a passage of a letter he wrote to one of his early biographers, who had asked Einstein to recall the details of receiving his first honorary degree. While still a patent examiner in 1909, four years after he discovered special relativity, Einstein was honored during the 350th anniversary of the founding of the University of Geneva by the Protestant reformer John Calvin.


Quote from Einstein: “So I traveled there on the appointed day, and in the evening in the restaurant of the inn where we were staying, met some Zurich professors. I had with me only my straw hat and my everyday suit. My proposal that I stay away was categorically rejected, and the festivities turned out to be quite funny, so far as my participation was concerned. The celebration ended with the most opulent banquet that I have ever attended in all my life. So I said to a Geneva patrician who sat next to me, "Do you know what Calvin would have done if he were still here?" Then he said, "No," and asked what I thought. I said, "He would have erected a large pyre and had us all burned because of sinful gluttony." The man uttered not another word. And with this ends my recollection of that memorable celebration.’


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