By Walt Williams
Today’s lesson is all about the excrement pool. Some days the pool is big, some days small but it is always there especially if you happen to be a sensitive teenager on social media with an underdeveloped filter for the world. Each day you have the choice of diving in and swimming around in the pool or just dipping your toes in or avoiding the pool completely, it’s totally up to you. Sometimes the pool pulls you in without your knowledge and sometimes you are so engulfed by it that you swim around blindly, unable to see out of it. The cool thing about the pool is that it’s totally avoidable, you get to choose when and where and if you want to dive in and swim around.
I build bridges over the excrement pool. I love waking up in the morning, carpe diem and all that. At 5:30 I kiss my wife lightly and head downstairs. I make super strong coffee, walk around my beautiful house, watch the sunrise, read the morning papers, talk to the dog, try to wake my 18 year-old daughter, make sure my 15 year-old son is in the shower, prepare lunch and breakfast for the kids, think, stretch and dance my way into a new day.
I pray at the alter of the agnostic pantheist. Thanking mother earth for another day of clean air and a healthy environment. I write, usually little ideas which plant themselves in my brain and either grow or die depending on the amount of other stuff occupying the space up there.
I ride to work whenever possible on my Schwinn Typhoon cruiser. Three miles to the local high school down the bike path and through the plaza. People come from all over the world to ride down the bike path and through the plaza; to me it’s my commute. I smile and greet total strangers, pass the angry crossing guard at El Verano, over the bridge, wait for the light in front of the skate park, look for a student who lives across from Taco Bell and likes to race me to school, then on to the bike path past Depot park, right on First Street East, say hi to Sam and Allison who are always having breakfast at the Basque, flip off the camera above the film festival office at First and East Napa Street (I don’t like being watched), yell good morning to Frank if his Porsche is parked in front of his office, right on Second Street East then in to the high school, big goofy Pee-Wee Herman smile on my face.
I arrive at the classroom, endorphins and dopamine pumping, change shirts, throw some water on my face and I’m ready for the 5 hours of academic triage that is my life.
Students arrive, learning happens, some focus, many don’t. I have only one rule in my classroom that is to maintain a Positive Learning Environment. All the other stuff falls under the PLE umbrella. Talking, texting, not paying attention, I experience all the universal classroom problems but in my class I give one warning to students then if it happens again, they’re out, “Don’t sabotage the PLE, if you are not ready to be here, fine, go to the office and make a plan to take the GED or transfer to Pivot (online high school) but stop wasting our time.” It’s the “our time” that usually gets them, enough students have bought into my philosophy that they want to be there and maintain the PLE.
Students need to buy in. All high schools should be run like colleges in my opinion, choose your classes, make your path, learn or leave. If you are 16-18 take the California High School Proficiency Exam, 18 and up take the GED. Go work at Taco Bell for $10.00/hour and see how long it takes for you to realize that education is the key to the kingdom.
Education can do a better job with keeping the excrement pool small. By 16 a student should have a general idea of his or her direction. College or a vocation or some path should be forming in their heads. Start with an interest profiler (www.cacareerzone.com) then think about where you want to be in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years. Remember thinking? It’s what people did before they became cyborgs, always connected to their devices (excrement pool).
One of my hardest jobs is hitting kids with the wake-up shovel. It is easy to grow up with arrested development especially in a wealthy small town where everything is taken care of. A few years ago at the Sonoma International Film Festival, I saw a short movie called “The Moped Diaries”. I brought the filmmakers into my class the next day to talk about it, as it is the perfect 11-minute encapsulation of life. The messages are simple and universal. Life is hard, life is wonderful, bad things happen, good things happen and in the end all we can do is strap our possessions to the back of our moped and go. Sometimes you need a wake-up shovel upside the head to get you out of the excrement pool.
It’s easy to stay out of the pool. Focus on bringing real things into your life: love, commitment, integrity, empathy, and fun, all the things I talked about above. Creating is real, watching is not. Interaction with people is real, social media is not. Learning how to live on Mars is real; knowing about the Kardashians is not. Think big, reach, try, fail, try again, and grow. Develop opinions, learn about yourself, say hi to strangers, dance, travel, and develop empathy. These things keep you out of the pool, and life is always better outside the pool.