Monday, September 15, 2008

The Large Hadron Collider and My Quest for Inspired Teaching

For the past several weeks I’ve been daydreaming about the Large Hadron Collider. It’s the world’s largest particle accelerator – designed to help physicists study the smallest known particles that make up all matter.

I don’t currently understand the first thing about the various wonders this 100 meter long machine is designed to find, but I am fascinated by their names: The Higgs Boson, an extra dimension, dark matter, the conditions that existed just after the Big Bang, Quark gluon plasma, antimatter, the Beauty Quark, cosmic rays…

My family has been quite puzzled by my new infatuation. I pretty much failed physics in high school and science has never been my strongest subject. So why this sudden obsession with particle physics?

It took me a bit of reflection to figure out the answer to this question, but now I know.
I’ve been working in education and school reform for the past decade and never before found such a perfect metaphor why I wake up every morning and still hunger to do this work. You see, to me, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic example of what people can do when they make the most of their innate desire to learn. It’s the largest machine in the world – and it was created exclusively to find the answers to questions.

Think about all the time, money, and creative energy that went into creating such a monstrosity.

Do a quick search of the web and become overwhelmed by the ecstatic chatter of scientists who cannot wait to begin exploring what the LHC is going to find.

This is hunger for learning in giant, incredible proportions.

Through my years spent in schools and in the company of passionate change agents I have often heard the doubtful voice that says our society is not built to handle an entire population of well-educated individuals. There aren’t enough colleges, enough jobs, enough career ladders to accommodate so much brilliance. They use this logic to explain away a lack of progress, a resistance to change. But the LHC is a splendid example of the fact that such nay-sayers are mired in a failure of imagination.

If every kid had an Inspired Teacher, and grew up to be a radically creative adult, take a minute to ponder the tremendous things human beings might invent to answer every question that comes to mind.

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