The television show Sesame Street turns 40 this year.
One of my first school memories is my first grade teacher telling us about this new television show called Sesame Street. My mom was very busy with two little baby girls – my sister Laura was a baby, and Anne would be on the way soon, if she wasn’t already there. I pretty much ignored them. I was almost five years older than Laura, and really didn’t want younger sisters to interfere with my perfect little world of Barbies, dress up, and reading. I loved to write little books, too. I remember liking Sesame Street, but growing out of it pretty quickly. My sisters, however, loved it, and were a better age to appreciate it. While I watched it, my favorites were Kermit the Frog, and Bert & Ernie. I could never quite figure out why Bert was always so grumpy. Squidward has taken his place these days, to Spongebob’s Ernie. But Squidward and Spongebob never taught anyone how to read. It was revolutionary, too- Oscar the Grouch was the first anti-hero I had ever encountered; later came Max in Where the Wild Things Are. (If you don’t know what an anti-hero is, why don’t you research that and get back to me?)
If you have little brothers, sisters, nieces or nephews who are about 3 to 4 years old, please have them watch Sesame Street. My sister Anne could read a newspaper when she was 3 years old. Now, as an adult, she routinely tromps me and Laura on Facebook Scrabble on a regular basis, using words that I didn’t know existed. She’s a kindergarten/first grade teacher in Texas, and she rocks. Laura is super-smart, organizing intense school functions, raising her kids, and all-around amazing mom and friend.
If you didn’t watch Sesame Street when you were little, and feel like you missed out on some early reading opportunities, I’m sorry. But it’s never too late to get hooked. I’m not suggesting you start watching Sesame Street —only, it’s not too late to read. A lot. Of books. Now. Don’t live in a trashcan of ignorance your whole life.
There’s a new hybrid of science — biology and engineering — called “biomimicry” (by-o-mim-ih-cree – I make up my own pronunciation tricks, by the way…). “Mimicry” is means to copy, to mimic. Now, biomimicry is what IDEAS do scientists and engineers take from nature to help humankind, such as
Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example. I think of it as “innovation inspired by nature.”
The core idea is that nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on Earth. This is the real news of biomimicry: After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.
Like the viceroy butterfly imitating the monarch, we humans are imitating the best adapted organisms in our habitat. We are learning, for instance, how to harness energy like a leaf, grow food like a prairie, build ceramics like an abalone, self-medicate like a chimp, create color like a peacock, compute like a cell, and run a business like a hickory forest.
The conscious emulation of life’s genius is a survival strategy for the human race, a path to a sustainable future. The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.
Focus on the “superficial resemblance of one organism to another or to natural objects among which it lives that secures it a selective advantage…” Basically, what do some animals do to hide so they survive? They don’t want to get eaten. Well, who does? So…what do they do?
This lead me to think about: what do we humans do to survive in our natural habitat?
Well, many of you try to keep your hoods on. Or your hats. You don’t wear anything that is not the ‘normal’ clothing, so you don’t stand out. You won’t read your papers to the whole group, or do a presentation. You won’t raise your hand, take a risk–you might be wrong, and people might think you’re a geek, a nerd, you’re dumb, etc. Some of you survive by doing just the opposite – standing up in class, shouting a bad word at the teacher (well, not me, but a guest teacher –you’re too smart to say a bad word to me) and you make your escape – you escape from the lesson, the learning, the assignment – and you spend your time in mental camouflage in the detention room.
You escape to get a drink of water, go to the bathroom (where we know you are texting your friends), and once in awhile, when you’re actually in class, or post an assignment, you take a risk–you show what you learned, or where you need help. And you hear another reminder to take off your hood. “Oh, my bad,” you say, yet–you were just trying to survive.
Perhaps it’s time to make a new survival plan: Mimick those behaviors of students who are successful. We just talked about this, but it bears repeating. I’m not trying to make you all into little robots who can recite or who know everything. I’m trying to help you survive the big, bad, world out there–build your background knowledge so you have skills and strategies to navigate the world. Look outside the classroom. Acting like a turtle and putting your hood on, or bellowing like a lion to bolt out of class doesn’t get you too far.
Oh, kids. I’m starting to sense it. It’s that time of year when you’re looking at your assignments, feeling overwhelmed, like a deer in the headlights, unable to move forward. Now to mix some metaphors: The bad habits are setting in, like early morning frost, slowly creeping in, freezing our minds, getting us stuck in fixed thinking. You’re a frozen deer in frosty headlights. I can sense my own bad teacher habits bubbling to the surface, like so many globs of oil, getting everything filmy and gross.
I don’t want to be that kind of teacher–getting angry and frustrated. Letting the sarcastic comments slip in. I want to keep believing. Believing that you will take in what I’m saying, and what you’re saying–we talked about what makes students successful today, and come up with a pretty cool list. Two of the biggies: Read Directions and Ask Questions.
But how do you define success?
To me, success is problem solving in a creative way. Knowing when something is not working, and finding another way. Breaking a bad habit.
I believe what we’re studying right now is really interesting – I could spend a lifetime thinking about it. But I’m not Joseph Campbell. I’m not a professor in mythology and comparative religions. I can still think it’s pretty fascinating, though. But if it’s not coming through as something that’s interesting to you, we need to find another way. Creative, thinking people find a way to make what they’re learning interesting. Boring, stuck people don’t.