Are you trying to cure cancer?

Yesterday I overheard this statement from a student about one of their teachers:

“It’s not like he was teaching us how cure cancer.”

When we teach our subject with no connection to others, when we teach our subject with no connection to the world outside our four walls, when we teach our subject with no connection to the students lives, when we teach our subject with no pizazz or vigor, when we teach our subject with facts instead of problems, when we teach our subject with no connection to people across the street, state, country, world, when we teach our subject with no imagination, no place for dreams or passion, when we teach our subject with no interest in modeling love and empathy…our kids will never see the connection between our classes and curing cancer. I don’t teach social studies. I teach life. I do use certain social studies tools, topics and lenses to teach about life. I hope that someday, when a student is asked about me, they will say,”He taught me how to cure cancer.”


  1. Hi Paul –
    I found your blog via Doug Johnson’s. I love the philosophy you espouse here. I think, though, that teachers have to see these connections for themselves first and there are many who don’t. We are seeing an alarming number of teachers today who don’t see the big picture that you describe, so their students don’t see it either. Why do you think this is?

  2. Mary makes a great point that teachers need to see it also. I know that is one area I need to improve. I know that I need to see it, and that is the first step. I am also young and inexperienced. If I can make those connections I think that my students will not only learn better but also enjoy that learning more.

  3. I really like this line of thinking, especially as I am working with a group of charter people to bring these types of thoughts into their everyday planning and thinking.

    I’ve always asked (and encouraged other teachers/people to ask of themselves on a regular basis) “What’s the Purpose?”

    Maybe anyone can find a “purpose” to just about anything they want to, but this series of questions really gets to the heart of what perhaps, more specifically, they should be asking.

    Thanks for posting. Incidentally, this post was the one that sealed the deal; you’re on our list of must-read bloggers! 😉 You should see some traffic pick up as summer begins.

  4. Jethro- I know that one of the biggest differences between me as a rookie and me as a veteran is that when I started I accidentally included things in my lessons. Now I purposely ask those questions whenever I plan a unit. Why is this important to my kids? The answer must fit on a bumper sticker. If it doesn’t, it will never stick.

    Mary- I think I might try to tackle your question in another post. I do think it is fixable.

  5. I want to continue the cancer metaphor…Even if I didn’t teach them to cure it, if I teach them to understand it, to live with it, to cope with it, to handle it, to help others with it, to understand that it would be a part of their lives and that they can choose to ignore it, but it won’t go away just because of that, if I can teach them to embrace it, to run with it, to fall with it, to stand back up with it, then I will feel successful.

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