“There is no top.”
This was a great quote from a great interview I heard today on the Bob Edwards Weekend show from Rafe Esquith. Mr. Esquith is an exceptional teacher in Los Angeles, and he has written a book called Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender! The interview was inspiring, and I am looking forward to reading the book.
The quote above refers to the currently popular “Race to the Top” program, which is the latest attempt by the government to try to make our students competitive with the rest of the world. Mr. Esquith emphasizes the importance of the process and journey rather than an (arbitrary) end result. Much of my life has focused on process and journey, so this really resonated with me.
If life were univariate, there would be a clear top that was defined by one thing. For example, it might be the best grades. Or perhaps the best standardized test scores. Simple, right?
Well…no. Life is much more complicated that a single measurement with a single outcome that can be defined as the “top”. In school we might consider grades, standardized tests, athletic skills, performance in music or theatre, artistic skills, community service, admission to college, reading comprehension, math or science skills, etc… It is very difficult to define “top” when you consider all the variables that enter into an education. Life is multivariate, because many variables contribute to it.
What is success? Many variables contribute: relationship with loved ones, numbers of friends, job satisfaction, teaching others, helping others, income, wealth, health, contributions to the world, etc…
What contributes to health? There are many factors: blood pressure, pulse rate, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, other biochemicals, BMI, genetics, environmental factors, associated microbes, etc… Many of these things are linked, and they all contribute to health or illness. Life is multivariate.
Much of my blog is about balance in life. I love science, teaching, art, music, bicycling, travel, reading, exercise, dance, etc… I need to keep these things in some sort of reasonable balance, and it is a constant struggle. On April 29 I fell off my bicycle and broke my collar bone. This knocked everything out of whack: I was unable to work in my leather shop until last week; I needed to cancel several scientific conferences in exotic places; my exercise routine was completely changed, because most things hurt too much to do. However, some things filled the void: I got some nice scientific papers written that were long overdue; I also reconnected with my old a cappella group called Audacity.
Audacity has been one of the best things in my life. We were together for over 10 years with several different people over the years. A few years ago I needed a break, and some of the others did as well. I stopped singing with the group for nearly 2 years. During that time my leather work expanded to fill that part of my “non-day-job” life. My recent broken collarbone kept me from the leather shop, but I could sing! About that time, Mario, the Audacity leader, wanted to get a small number of the core group together again, and we once again started singing. We have done a few gigs now, including singing with the Drifters (!) and an impromptu visit to a local coffee shop during a break from signing for the Gainesville Art Walk that you can see on YouTube:
Now that my collarbone is nearly healed, I’m getting back into the leather shop, starting a big new science project at work, traveling, and singing. It is also great to be back on my bicycle! It is getting harder than ever to balance my multivariate life…