2 Lesson from a Mobile Fossil

A photo of Michael Starbird
Figure 2.1: Michael Starbird

Michael Starbird

I learned several things in college. One lesson occurred when I was a senior in a class on medieval art history. The course was taught by an extremely scholarly and extremely old professor. She knew everything about Gothic cathedrals, and we thought it was because she was there when they were built. I would sit in the back of the room, only because we were not allowed to sit in the hall. One day she showed a Byzantine picture in class and the dreaded question came from this mobile fossil. She asked, “Mr. Starbird, what do you see in this picture?”

If you teach students to be honest about what they know and what they don’t know, they will transform their lives.

The picture just seemed weird – the hands were too long, the head was too small, and there was a bright gold halo shining on top. I was a math major. Obviously, nothing was coming to mind. But I had been in art history classes, so I knew that art has “meaning.” I tried to imitate the art analysis that I had heard, and replied, “I think the halo represents the circle of life – emerging from the darkness of the primeval void, arcing into the glory of shining heaven, and descending again into the abyss of eternity.” I assure you, my answer was ripe. She said, “Cut out the bull and tell us what you see.”

And that’s the moral of the story. If you teach students to be honest about what they know and what they don’t know, they will transform their lives. Help students learn the habit of dealing with what they actually, personally understand instead of guessing what they think someone else wants to hear. Such intellectual honesty will completely change their lives.

A photo of UT El Paso campus with overlayed text reading, "It is a teacher's responsibility to engage all students, meet them where they are, and help all of them succeed."
Figure 2.2: UT El Paso Campus
A photo of Susan Doty
Figure 2.3: Susan Doty

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The Little Orange Book by The University of Texas System Academy of Distinguished Teachers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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