& Roo

the well-lived life is not a spectator sport

Is It Time To Throw Away The Instructions?

A few weeks ago this image made the rounds on Facebook contrasting the old way of teaching subtraction with a new way from the US's Common Core curriculum. The comments were so riddled with expletives and exasperations that you would have thought we were talking about gun control or abortion. So I clicked the bait, and looked at it. 

The funny thing is... this is how I've done subtraction all my life. For me, reverse addition (the 'new' way) is much faster than doing subtraction the way I was taught (the 'old' way). I never told people how I did it (and no one ever asked), but it was good enough to win me math competitions and ace the math section of the PSAT. And while I can't attribute most of those things to knowing how to subtract quickly, I can relate it to something else... feeling confident relying on myself. 

In Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance there's a great passage about using instructions as a tool, but not forgetting about your own brain and senses as sources of insight. IE If you're putting together IKEA furniture - following the instructions without thinking will often lead you to have to re-do things. Just last week I had to connect and disconnect a light fixture 6 times before it was mounted properly - all because I was thinking about the next step rather than the whole process.

I was reminded of this passage again last weekend when I stayed with a first grade teacher (hooray Airbnb) in Nashville. During a discussion about the Common Core and its impact on her, she mentioned that she often teaches kids multiple ways to solve problems so they can find the method that works best for them. This "one method doesn't fit all" approach helps kids understand that different ways of thinking are okay. 

When we disengage our brains and follow instructions we shut off our greatest resource - that supercomputer stuck between our earlobes that no actual computer can match. So whether it's doing math, installing light fixtures, assembling furniture or anything else in life remember to keep your brain engaged and listen to your senses.