On Experience

Put down the book and go do it.

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Swim lessons

In general, the best way to understand something is to experience it. You should spend more time doing the right things than studying them. One hour of experience can teach you more than a lifetime of research.

Jesus didn’t recruit his disciples and then put them in a classroom for three years. Instead, he taught them through experience first and instruction second.

Experiential learning is how everyone learns best. Great teachers, great parents, and our great God get this. It’s how we’re wired as human beings. Why fight it? Why pretend it doesn’t apply to you?

For example, you learn how to swim by swimming. Yes, you can read up on it beforehand, and you can get lessons from an instructor while you’re in the water, but all the swim smarts in the world are meaningless without the experience.

If you’re not getting in the water, odds are you’ve got a block you need to work through. You’re afraid. Why? You’re ashamed. Why? You’re proud. Why? You’re discouraged. Why? You can either work through the block, or work through the book. The brave work through their blocks; the cowards hide behind their books.

The goal is not to learn as much through information and as little through experience as possible. The goal is to learn as much through experience and as little through information as necessary.  The former is about trying not to get bruised or embarrassed. The latter is about getting it done.

With so much information available, it’s easy to get lost in “just a little more.” We conflate knowing things in our minds with knowing things in our lives. Getting more facts may inform you, but getting more experience will transform you. Which one are you after? Do you want to be a great theorist or a great practitioner?

The masters of anything are the ones who have done it, are doing it, and will continue to do it. They can give you the facts, but they can also tell you the stories. They know of what they speak because they live it every day.

What do you need to stop studying and start doing? Make the transition and you’ll discover that experience really is the best teacher.

 

Why Podcasts Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be

The podcasts you love may be free, but are they really worth your time?

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I listen to a lot of podcasts. They’re free, fun, informative, and accessible. But the honeymoon might be over. Here’s why:

1. Most podcasts are commentary. They’re an interview with the author, not the book itself. They’re a discussion about an experience, not the experience itself. They’re a step removed from what you actually need most – deliberate engagement with the source material.

2. Most of the commentary lacks substance. On average, I’d say that only 10% of a given podcast contains truly helpful, relevant, and actionable advice. The rest is taking up valuable time and headspace that could be used for better things.

3. The substance you do acquire is easily lost after you’re done listening. If you had to pay 50 bucks an episode I bet you’d be way more inclined to do something with what you just learned. But the fact that podcasts are free, ephemeral, and mere add-ons to your busy life makes them that much easier to forget and take for granted.

Now of course there are exceptions. Not all podcasts are educational. The ones that exist for purposes such as entertainment should be evaluated on a different scale.

But most of my listening is related to business, self-help, spirituality, and health.

I used to think that playing podcasts at 2x speed was a good thing. Now I realize it’s not. The faster I can go, the more I already know. Only the genuinely useful episodes are worthy of 1x speed.

Don’t get me wrong. Podcasts still have a lot to offer. They’re a great discovery tool. They’re useful for expanding your thinking. They can help you find your tribe. And they’re wonderful for multitasking and passing the time.

I’ll keep them on deck, but I’m increasingly moving towards audiobooks, prayer, and reflection instead. Audiobooks take me straight to the idea source. Prayer takes me straight to the life source. And reflection takes me straight to the growth source.

Commentary has its place, but it’s best consumed as a supplement to the text, not a substitute for it. The podcasts you love may be free, but your time is not and your life is short.

 

 

Teaching to the Test

Most of us are more comfortable being told what to do and telling others what to do than we are with the labor of curiosity and the uncertainty of discovery.

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I thought this article on teaching to the test vs. teaching to think was interesting. It’s long, so I’ve quoted the main bits below. Hang with me for how it applies to you.

For most teachers and students, the classroom experience is shaped, down to the last detail, by the requirement to prepare for examinations. When students enter such classrooms, the focus is not on open-ended discussion or enquiry, but on learning ‘what we need to know’ to succeed in whichever examination is next on the horizon. Most likely, there will be a ‘learning outcome’ for the lesson, drawn straight from the exam syllabus. There will be textbooks with comments from the examiners, banks of possible exam questions and bullet-pointed notes with ‘model answers’. Far from being open spaces for free enquiry, the classroom of today resembles a military training ground, where students are drilled to produce perfect answers to potential examination questions.

‘Teaching to the test’, which increasingly dominates public school classrooms, produces an atmosphere of student passivity and teacher routinisation. The creativity and individuality that mark out the best humanistic teaching and learning has a hard time finding room to unfold.

Education is a philosophical process. It begins with questioning, proceeds by enquiry, and moves in the direction of deeper understanding. The journey of enquiry is powered by critical reflection, discussion and debate.

When teachers adopt the role of Socratic mentors, their questioning of students stimulates them to think for themselves about the problem at hand, rather than passively absorbing information.

Students who are taught to think for themselves are better prepared for life: better equipped to face the uncertainties of the future, to think creatively and independently, and to play a role as active, reflective citizens in democratic decision-making processes.

To close the achievement gap in our schools, let’s go back to where education started and do what Socrates did: sitting with his students, asking questions and, through dialogue, teaching them what matters most – how to think for themselves.

So I think that most of us can agree that the teaching to the test approach is producing very narrow results while ill-equipping students to excel in the real world. Plus, no one likes to learn this way. There’s a reason why you were bored in class.

However, many of us adopt a teach to the test mentality in life without ever realizing it. Let me explain.

When you are required to learn something new for your job or even just a project around the house, do you tend to default to whatever you’ve been told and/or mindlessly copy how others do it, or do you stop and think about the best way for you to do it and why it even matters to begin with?

When you interact with your kids and try to teach them how to behave are you a drill sergeant or are you asking questions, creating dialogue, and helping them own the ideas for themselves?

If you have any sort of leadership or management position, are you micromanaging widget makers or empowering change makers?

Truth be told, most of us are more comfortable being told what to do and telling others what to do than we are with the labor of curiosity and the uncertainty of discovery.

Yet think back on your own life. Odds are, your biggest breakthroughs and most important progress has been a byproduct of struggle, questioning, second-guessing, and purpose seeking. If this is true of you, why wouldn’t it be true of those you interact with?

Think about the best teacher, pastor, or mentor you’ve ever had. Did they merely teach to the test (dictate the right answers) or did they ultimately teach you how to think better (ask you questions to help you arrive at the right answers)? Now go and do likewise.

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