Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Matrix of Fushimi Inari

One of the most important teaching moments I ever had occurred while not in the classroom.  It was 1999 and I was working at a university in Busan, Korea, wrapping up mid-terms, and getting ready for my big move back to America, and the first Matrix movie came out.  It was fantastic, but the scene that stuck with me the most was right after the iconic 'Keanu Reeves dodges the bullets by bending backward' scene on the rooftop.  Carrie-Ann Moss, looks over at a helicopter, calls the operator, and has the entire knowledge of the craft and ability to fly it downloaded into her head.  It only took a second, but that was it.
 Usually Korean theaters are pretty noisy.  People talking, throwing popcorn, not very respectful...but at that moment, the theater was dead silent watching Trinity blink and shake as the program is inputted into her brain.  When she opened her eyes...the theater exploded with jubilation.  That's how we would all live in the future.  We would all know how to do .... everything.  Teaching was never the same after that.  I just kept pondering:  How do you download.... everything... into a kid's head?
The first time I ever saw a smart phone was a few years later.  I had returned to Korea in 2003 on a short family visit and was sitting in the Seoul airport minding my own business when a lean and lanky fellow rolled his suitcase over my toes, plopped down directly beside me, and attempted to hide behind my large copy of the Korean Times (Yes, newspapers still existed then).  When I looked up, hundreds of people were in front of us.  All aiming their small cell phones in my direction.  I mean, there were two hundred people filming us and getting closer as young school children started to clamor and shriek.
Completely disorientated, I looked over at the young man next to me and recognized him immediately.  It was Ahn Jung-Hwan, a Korean soccer hero of the 2002 World Cup, hiding behind my newspaper in a fishing hat pulled down over his ears.  As the crowd around us swirled, a security officer came and whisked this celebrity off to a VIP area and I was left in awe.  I had never seen a camera phone before.  Again, the world changed right before my eyes.
The first time I ever saw an iPhone in class was early 2007.  I remember the moment very distinctly.  We were discussing the most important documents ever written in history and I mentioned the Magna Carta and asked if anyone knew what it was.  For a moment there was absolute silence and then, in the back of the room, one boy stood up and slowly lifted an index finger toward me as if to say, "Wait one moment please," and then he read from the small device in his hand:  "The Magna Carta, Latin for the 'Great Charter of the Liberties' was signed by King John on June 15, 1215 and ensured due process, ended absolute monarchy, and served as the fundamental principle of constitutions around the world for the past 800 years."  He sat down in shock before an ovation of cheers erupted.  I knew then, that every questions I would ask students in the future, every way I asked them to respond, would have to change.
I'm not a perfect teacher, I've blown it plenty of times.  But what is important is the pursuit.  To make smarter, healthier, wiser, more intelligent people.  To harness our technology.  To make it personal.  More efficient.  And to imprint it upon those who come next.  Wandering Fushimi-Inari, with it's incredibly detailed temple gates passing one by one over my head, I couldn't help thinking about all we have in the palm of our hands and what has it really brought us?  Is it really the answer?  Is there another wave ready to change the world right before our very eyes.  Yes, there is.  There always is.  It's called... look at the past, your past, the past lives of others... and make it your own.

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