Monday, May 23, 2016

Solitude and Leadership by Andy Jobson

In an earlier blog I referenced the importance of reflecting on what you read and on teaching students to think.  There is an excellent essay on these issues entitled “Solitude and Leadership” . It’s an address given to a plebe class at West Point (2009) by William Deresiewicz.  While I think you should read the whole thing, I will give you some of the details to pique your interest.

Deresiewicz has some harsh words for many of our “best and brightest” who have risen high by being “world-class hoop jumpers” or “excellent sheep.”  They can pass tests and achieve goals, but they can’t think original thoughts.  So Deresiewicz  has some advice about teaching young people how to think.

1)    Avoid multitasking.  He says, and I agree, “Multitasking… is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think.”  We have to develop our ability to concentrate on something long enough to develop an idea about it, and this ability is stunted when we are constantly distracted by an email, or a phone call, or a text, or whatever else comes along.  Find something to focus on- even manual labor can be a means to this if it enables you to free your mind to wander and explore new ideas.

2)    Read books—not tweets, or wall posts, or even magazine articles, although the latter can be useful.  Reading books forces you to concentrate on an argument for longer than a few seconds or minutes.  Authors of books have also generally spent a lot more time thinking about what they want to say and how to say it.  Old books are particularly useful because they engage us in the thinking of another time; we are forced to examine our assumptions through another lens.

3)    Develop some close friendships—the “deep friendship of intimate conversation.”  Finding someone you can bare your soul to with “doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask” allows you to think through such difficult issues.

These are all helpful to me as a teacher, but I also ask my seniors to read this essay and consider how it applies to their lives.  Perhaps your students will find it useful as well.

What do you think? Do you think multitasking is helpful or harmful? What about the concept of reading books instead of shorter pieces?



An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.