Friday, May 4, 2012

Think Like Einstein

"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education"

I am, by far, no genius, and science and physics were definitely not my forte, but I am an out of the box kind of human being, and I love when people think and do things out of their box. When Einstein began pondering what would become his Theory of Relativity, physics was grounded in basic assumptions from everyday existence. Scientists, I think, looked at the world around them and tried to translate what they saw into mathematics.  I remember my martial arts teacher telling me that math seems to always make sense to people then, and now.  Einstein's breakthrough was different though...he put the human world onto the behavior of tiny particles and waves of energy. On earth, as a human, you can always go faster, just press the pedal and accelerate, or jump in an airplane...speed is a variable. The speed of light is constant, you can never go faster than that, it's simply as fast as you can move. If you think about it, because you are moving at the speed of light, you are going so fast that you can no longer exist as matter, you become pure energy—in other words, light, which is why it's called the speed of light. And that's what E=mc squared means I think--matter at the speed of light becomes pure energy.  

To Einstein, the measurements we think of as constants in everyday life, like how big something is, or how fast time goes by, suddenly becomes variable.  Everything gets strange, new, and interesting.  He loved this stuff!  He loved that fundamental assumptions about our world cannot be imposed upon the wave or a particle.  I don't know if a ruler can stretch or shrink, or if time can run faster or slower---I just want to know how to get my kids to think out of the box, to think faster than a turtle, to open up and explore---to think like EINSTEIN!

Enough of physics that I really don't understand anyway--I'm trying to equate how teachers and students are here Botswana, or I should say in Mmathethe since this is my point of reference.  Many of the kids here have a hard time thinking out of the box. They are taught by rote memory, they don't have building blocks, art in the homes, educational toys, anything creative to help develop their minds in more rounded way, and definitely, they don't have a concept of Einstein's theory of relativity.  We have a library at school, but when is it ever opened.  Beating the kids with sticks is so prolific here, that many become to inhibited to speak up, hence, “I better not have any out of the ordinary thoughts, or stick up for myself because I'll get whacked.”  So what on earth makes their hearts sing like an Einstein?  The pure genius' like Albert are lucky they didn't grow up in Africa, they would've had their unique minds squished---but there are brains in many of these kids that are dying to come out in creative expression. When I first wrote about my host sister Kesego, I thought that it was great to be natural, to have to make things out of what is, and I still believe in that, but when you have no stepping stone to help that creative spirit, then twigs will still be twigs instead of becoming a house.  Some of the teachers don't even have life skills themselves, so how can they implement it---how can they help kids think like Einstein?

I try in my classes to draw the kids out of their boxes, to give examples, to create, but many of them are already stymied, feel a sense of rejection, or just have no confidence.  I need to get across to them that every rejection isn't about them, it's about other people, and what might be going on in their heads, or how they were taught to be.  In an attempt to bring them out of their scared boxes, I bring them in a photo of Einstein, if anything to get them to laugh!  I ask them what they think of him, how he looks, anything that could be projected onto him.  Some of them buy into the Just Say Anything Mode, some laugh, some do come up with their own ideas, and others just look like “how do I do this?”  I then had them look up and blow a tiny piece of toilet paper into the air to watch the different rates of speed it comes down.  And even though I couldn't really fully explain the physics of this, they were hysterical, and it forced them to do something they would not ordinarily do, or think about.  I tell them to try thinking like Einstein—out of the box, grasp an alternative, stop imposing narratives of your teachers beatings on every relationship in your life, where everything might not be a reflection of you, or the world your growing up in.  I promise you kids, it will give you a more interesting, and more accurate picture of the world, even here in Africa! 

 I just hope I come to school tomorrow with everyone's hair looking like Einstein!

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