Joshua Medcalf: Reflecting on the Purpose and Structure of Modern Education

Joshua Medcalf is a former soccer player at Duke and author of “Chop Wood, Carry Water.” In this podcast, he shares his opinion and experiences on the education system, and how he would like to reform it.

Listen to the podcast here!

Education: A Status Check

Medcalf’s current assessment of our school system is that it is in need of dire help (true). He says that right now, students and teachers are only concerned about what’s happening right in front of them- what tests do I have? What homework do I need to complete? Am I prepared for the midterm? This kind of teaching, Medcalf says, damages the natural process of learning. In order to actually learn is to live in the moment and gain experiences, because while you might forget how to solve parametric differentiation problems, experiences will stay with you long after you graduate. And the most important thing of all is your product: how will you leave an impact? Will you change the world? Will you improve the lives of those around you? All of these points are paramount in crafting the perfect education system, Medcalf says.

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Student or Robot?

I think a few of Medcalf’s ideas are great and should definitely be incorporated into the school system. For example, his class is mainly about going out there and getting your own experiences, and then using those experiences as a foundation for your education (instead, say, a textbook, being your foundation). This is especially important because I feel like the do-or-die way that school runs right now robs kids of experiences- students literally never have time to do anything because they’re too busy making up a story for English about that time they Definitely, Like, Climbed A Mountain Or Something And Then Learned About The Importance of Friendship. Knowledge and experience should always go hand in hand. But on the contrary, these exact ideas are the ones that scare me.

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I think a balance of both “taking risks/being left on your own” and “staying in the safe lane” would be the most beneficial for students (or at least for me). Guidance is important in education- I know personally when teachers just throw work in front of me and force me to teach myself all the material, I get very frustrated and give up. Their class is not the only class I take, and while I would love to work on what they give me, I simply cannot complete things without guidance and then be expected to pass the end-of-unit test.

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Even if one TRIES to make a gradeless class or a self-taught class because studies say it’s beneficial, certain aspects of the school system will always be there. They will always be required to input some sort of grade, give us tests, and make us prepare for standardized tests. And if that’s what the education system is always going to be like, then yes, I want to conform so I can ultimately get good grades. It’s not good to set your students up for failure by not teaching them anything. This is where the balance comes in- let your students take the reigns sometimes and explore their interests. If they fail, help them get back up, guide them through the process, rinse, repeat. If anything, my 10 years of schooling has taught me that there IS a way to be a good teacher and prepare your students for the “real world” while also offering a useful, stimulating, and challenging class where students can experience things for themselves- teachers just need to find that balance.

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Rule #1: Don’t Demean Your Target Audience (I thought I wouldn’t have to say this…)

A large part of the podcast is how the evolution of technology has shaped the experiences of the youth. The fact that both Medcalf and Wettrick just categorize an entire generation into mindless zombies who just stare at their phone all day is ridiculous. Adults in general are so quick to demean the generations below them because they think they know best. They call us “soft,” “lazy,” “entitled,” you name it. “Well, when I was your age, I was destroying the economy and the housing market, I didn’t have any time to frolic around on my phone and eat avocado toast!” Sentiments like these only hinder society’s progress. After a quick Google search, I found a myriad of ways in which Millennials have been shaping the world as we know it (note to Boomers and Xers: Google (link here) is a great tool! Now you can check if the outlandish things you’re saying are actually true before you write another vacuous opinion piece!). For example, millennials are starting businesses at much younger ages than their Boomer counterparts (27 to their 35). They’ve also lead the way in societal changes like the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage, pushed for granting citizenship to unauthorized immigrants, raising the minimum wage, advocating for diversity in the workforce, and so on.

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Hoards of youth today have such creative imaginations and a pure drive to make the world better, and we need to foster this within our school system and allow it to grow. If we give kids a good learning environment and an opportunity to explore their interests, there is no doubt that they will all achieve great things. Will they cure cancer or colonize Mars? Maybe, maybe not. But don’t yell at that kid who draws all over his notebook in class- give him a computer and he’ll become a web designer. Don’t punish the outgoing kid who loves to talk and talk and talk in class- give her an outlet and she’ll become a famous writer.  Our youth WANT to change the world- we just need to give them a chance. While each generation might have had their downfalls, they also all contributed their own unique and important things to the world- that is undeniable. However, we, as a society, cannot brutally dismiss our youth because they are the basis for the generations to come.

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All in All…

This was overall a rollercoaster of a podcast- I wholeheartedly agreed with some things Medcalf and Wettrick talked about, while other things were outright insane. For example, one point that really sums this up is when he talks about how privileged and lucky he is to be white with money (and named Josh) because it opens up a lot more opportunities for him than if he were a person of color from a low-income community. Which is completely true. Yet, ironically, he doesn’t take the opportunity presented to him. If you have a privilege and can use it in a positive way, then take it. What he did by throwing away his education in its final phase is, quite frankly, extremely selfish and brainless. And, I quote, “Move your family to Africa, move them to the Philippines, go somewhere where struggle is a daily part of their existence instead of trying to manufacture opportunities for that to take place in your daily environment.” (around 15:15) What??

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When I first heard this, I honestly had no idea how to respond, but I’ll try… if you are blessed with opportunities to make your life great, then by all means, do it! Go to school, get a degree, get a job, change the world! Why not? I’m going to be brutally honest- going to Africa or the Philippines isn’t going to make up for your white guilt. Appreciate what you have, make the most of it, and if you still feel that guilt, then use your education to better their situation, instead of looking at struggling communities like you’re window shopping for the “perfect life experience.” You shouldn’t need to exploit those who are worse off than you just to put your life into perspective. Experiences will come to you through your education and through your day to day life– going out and saying “I’m going to look for an Experience™ today!” completely defeats the purpose. Education is an amazing way to not only better your own life, but the people around you, and ultimately leave an impact on the world– so while you should never stop pushing for change, also appreciate the education you were given.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

                                                                                                                         -Albert Einstein

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Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Final Project on Hero’s Journey

     Group Members: Jeremy Kohn, Stephanie Land, Matt Tremba, and Connor Roop


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The Pre-Process

     From the beginning of this project, our group was very certain in what we wanted to do. We felt that a game board would best represent how the Hero’s journey works: hitting all the steps, going on adventures along the way, and eventually restarting. Not only was it a way to clearly explain the Hero’s journey, but we could be creative with it as well. We designed it after Candyland (pictured below), with different blocks to land on and different adventures in each section, as well as game cards that tell you things like “you’re doubting your adventure, move back 4 spaces” or “you met your mentor, take another turn!” We also decorated the board with aspects of Haroun, which I’ll get into later. 

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Symbolism & Drawings

            My group member Jeremy and I decided to split the board between the “ordinary world” (left) and “fantasy world” (right), just like the Hero’s Journey is split up. I wanted to include symbolism and characters on my side of the board. So, I split the middle of my side of the board between the happy-go-lucky land of Gup and the dark, depressing land of Chup. The sides of the board also correlate with the steps: Haroun crosses over onto the land of Gup, meets his allies and enemies in both gup and Chup, and goes through an ordeal and seizes the sword in Chup, and so on. On the tests, allies, and enemies section, I drew Mudra the shadow warrior, as he is first thought to be an enemy but ends up being a crucial ally. For the approach, I drew Iff, Butt, and Haroun staring into the distance at the dark ship, deciding on whether or not they should risk their lives and go there. For the ordeal, I drew two hands sword fighting to symbolize the war. Finally, for seizing the sword, I drew two things: one, Kahani turning again, and two, the two sides of the moon combining again. Apart from specific parts, I also put Haroun and Iff peeking out from the top of the board. However, my favorite part of the board was the sea of stories. I drew the different “strands” of stories in the sea as colored strings intertwining, and at the bottom, I drew the “pollution” coming from the land of Chup and combining with the stories. In the corner, I drew a book with the pages flying away, and each page is losing more and more words, until the entire page is just blank. This was symbolic for Khattam-Shud and how he wanted to get rid of all the stories on Kahani.

 

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The early stages of the product. 

Self-Assessment

          The product overall was very satisfactory. Throughout our research, we learned about the different stages and the different versions of the Hero’s journey that exist, as well as the stories that apply to it. Once we learned about the Hero’s journey, it really opened up my eyes- I can now spot the Hero’s journey in most fiction books I read, even biographies. And the best part was that we created a tangible product to show what we’ve learned. Learning feels much more satisfactory when you can hold the knowledge in your hand than when it’s crammed into the back of your brain.

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If I had to rate us on the designs specs rubric, I think we most definitely hit the requirements for “make it beautiful, poignant, relevant, and unique,” and the “Surfer on the Sea of Stories.” We worked to make our project as unique and creative as possible while still describing the process of the Hero’s Journey as it related to Haroun, and I believe we were successful. The other groups also did a great job at relaying their information back to the class- I especially liked how the different skill sets of each group resulted in many unique projects. 

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While the Hero’s journey might be a lot more simple and “clear” than, say, allusion or allegory, it provided a lot of insight into the book itself, especially towards the question of “what’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” The Hero’s Journey showed how Haroun progressed and grew as a character through meeting his mentor, deciding to go on an adventure, being tested by man and nature, failing, and eventually coming through in the end. Once a character goes through the Hero’s Journey, they gain knowledge and experience that fundamentally changes who they are as a person. So, the Hero’s Journey answers Haroun’s question: once he embarked on this fantastical adventure through the land of Chup and Gup and literally living his fathers stories, he learned the importance of friendship, family, perseverance, and yes, stories.

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If you haven’t already, head over here to view all of the posts I made on Haroun and the Sea of Stories!

-T.M.