Plumber's Syndrome: a term coined by author William Deresiewicz. Otherwise known as Ivy retardation, or like The New York Times once put it: "when you can converse with people from other countries, in other languages, but can’t communicate with the plumber standing in your own house." It affects the many who attended elite universities in the States, but in the case of Peru, just the lucky few. Every year, Lima high schoolers are struck by this disease, one of the most recent victims being me.
As luck would have it, my phone got stolen over the weekend. Forgive my passive voice, but if I knew who took it, I wouldn't be writing this today. The tragedy took place on Saturday and thankfully my mom found a friend who could lend me her iPhone for a few weeks. On Sunday I had to go pick it up, and since both my parents and my brother are away, I had no one to take me. I usually don't take cabs. Whether it's my family or my driver, there is always somebody who can get me to where I need to be. Even if I ever do, I am always consumed by technology; completely oblivious to the presence of my surroundings.
Although it wasn't common for me, under the circumstances, I was forced to go on a taxi. The driver arrived at my house and gave me a call. He drove a red Toyota that must have been twice my age. I left my house and uneasily got into the cab only to become even more troubled after listening to the loud engine noises the car made at every turn. The man was in his mid-thirties, he wore a collared shirt and listened to Los Hermanos Yaipen. While usually I'd be immersed into the world of social media, with no phone, this was no longer a possibility. As the awful music and the unsettling motor sounds attempted to mask the awkward silence, I realized that I had nothing in common with this man.
It was a long drive. Probably about thirty to forty minutes in the car and I had no source of entertainment. I tried to ask him a question but found myself failingly searching for words to say. I am a twelveth-grade student at one of Peru's best schools, and somehow, I could not speak to my taxi driver. I had never felt so disconnected in my life. I usually find ease in delving into a conversation, but for some reason, it seemed impossible to relate to this person.
We must have spent about twenty minutes in the car before I asked him if he preferred cash or credit. It was a stupid question if anything, but it was a good start. After hearing his vague answer, I asked him his name and if he liked being a taxi driver and soon the conversation began. It wasn't easy getting over myself but after a while, I saw that this person--who now I know is named Luis--was actually kind of interesting. He was an aspiring entrepreneur who was planning to start his own taxi business with his brother.
Roosevelt is a great school. It offers students many opportunities to shape their learning. Although I love my high school, it does a terrible job at exposing students outside their bubble of eliteness. While I talked to Luis, I realized that we had more in common that I led myself to believe. He also had dreams and aspirations and a refreshing perspective on things. All of this made me think back to Corey's proposition for the Innovation Academy. Besides changing the way Roosevelt teaches, how about changing who they teach all together? By mixing people from different social statuses, students would be able to learn from people who might have varying points of view. This merging of socio-economic classes would broaden students perspectives and do a hell of a better job at, as Deresiewicz put it, shaping world citizens.
The start of this semester not only marked my last year living in Peru and my first year as a senior, but also my third year entering a different Innovation Academy cohort. I was part of the opening sophomore class and have gone through two generations of teachers and classmates. I have learned to work with changing group sizes and adapted to different teaching methods. I have been through a lot inside of this program, which is why it was strange starting a project with students who were new to the system.
iWeek is a week-long project that we do to kick-start the school year. I was a part of the Secret Condors and the Out of Uniform groups in years before, but for this round of iWeek, things changed a little. For starters, the teams were cohort-based rather than mixed, and this year, we were amongst the oldest. Also, while the old projects were slightly theoretical, this iWeek had a direct application. The purpose of the mini project was to build our class' culture, something that would impact us throughout the whole school year.
To be completely honest, at first, I didn't get the point of this iWeek project. Culture is something that you build over time; you can't rush it. I was skeptical about whether or not forcing this idea would work, but I decided to look at things with an open mind and see where the project took me.
When we first met as a class, things were a little awkward. Some of us hadn't met and were feeling somewhat uncomfortable. I have this image of the first day of class when we gathered in, and everybody was shyly sitting with the people from their grades. This feeling was soon to change tough, as we embarked on the project together.
From that Thursday at the start of class to the next one when we presented, the group was faced with challenges that we had to solve together. We began by dividing ourselves into sections and roles, and I was nominated to be the leader, a position I gladly took on. Throughout the week, we developed values, systems, and spaces that would help us develop our culture best. I was able to learn from people with different perspectives than mine and see how my future peers worked. Although at first I was doubtful, I realized that maybe this wasn't meant as a way to build our culture from scratch, but rather as a time to prototype the culture that we'd grow in time to come.
One of the reasons why I have been loyal to the Innovation Academy all these years is that I find it to be a program that succeeds at shaping individuals. Part of this goes along with the fact that everything is flexible, everything changes. Whether it is the syllabus, the classroom arrangement or your thoughts and mentality, everything is in constant transformation. By encouraging us to think outside of the box, we are continuously challenging each other's beliefs and doings.
Even though at first I doubted the iWeek project, by keeping an open mindset I was able to find enormous value behind it. While my family sometimes bothers me for being stubborn, I have realized that I am not like this as a student. I'd like to think that I was able to leave this trait behind thanks to the Innovation Academy. If I have learned anything from these past years, it is that I'm human, and I tend to be wrong. Some arguments I make may be logical but others won't, and only by admitting my mistakes and keeping an open mind will I be able to learn. While doing this may be hard at times and it does take some effort, the sooner you realize this, the sooner you can begin to make the most out of any situation, much like I did for iWeek.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”