Why We Learn

Let’s go outside

My AP Psych teacher Mr. Vasarkovy entered the classroom on a mild Spring day in 2003. His face held the perpetual low-eyed scowl of a cartoon crank. As the most tenured teacher in school, he had seen it all, twice. He sat down into his creaky chair and stared at the class until we quieted down. He kept staring, a bit of old-man tremor rattling his head. Finally, exhausted, he threw his hands in the air, slammed them on the table. “Well. Fuck it,” he said. “Let’s go outside.”

He led his bewildered class out the door and across the street to St. Stevens Cemetery. “Go look around,” he told us. We spent the remainder of fourth period wandering between gravestones.

Teachers don’t tend to leave mysteries for their students. They assume their job is to provide answers, or point the way toward them.

Yet this is the only memory from high school that I return to every so often, gaze into like a Pollock, and reach a different conclusion each time. Perhaps he wanted to remind us that we all have a final destination, to use our time as best as we saw fit. Or perhaps it was a lesson in group dynamics: how might we respond to ambiguity? Would teams form? New friendships? Would we spontaneously begin teaching ourselves? Could also be that it was just a nice day out, one not worth wasting on a lesson plan.

All I know is that my biggest regret from my time leading a large team at Facebook nearly a decade later is that I never walked into my team’s meeting one sunny Wednesday afternoon, threw my arms up in the air, and said, “Fuck it.”

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