December 29, 2020
The first story I ever thought to write down was about a young women, Mara, who attended a special high school. Her school was created after a terrorist attack targets a large conference of primary and secondary school teachers.
Teachers become a scarce resource. In a panic, society turned to every means possible to fill the void. Given the year we’ve just experienced, you might think this is a contemporary story, not one that has been tickling my brain for 20 years.
One day I hope to return to this story and find something worth publication. In the meantime, this year reminded me of a particular character from that world: Mr. Nelson. He was inspired from my childhood by a real person with same family name.
Everyone I’ve met who was worth meeting has a story about a teacher who had a meaningful impact on their life. I have several. Mr. Watts inspired me to study Computer Science, Dr. Allison made algorithms cooler than cool, Mrs. Mayall introduced me to Euclid and the beautiful art of mathematical proofs, and Mrs. Flannigan taught me there was no shame in being the smartest kid in the room.
And that list doesn’t include three of my high school English teachers, whose impact I still feel today. Mrs. Braaton made the classics of Shakespeare and Dickens come alive. Mrs. Hines showed me how to study and write critically about art.
But most of all Mr. Nelson infected me with love for the written word. My experience in his classroom informed Mara’s experience. The fictional Mr. Nelson and his class are set-pieces for an exploration into the importance of creative thinking.
In Mara’s story, I contrast creativity against rote knowledge—facts, recitation, and observation. My postulate is that modern education places an emphasis on the latter, at the expense of the former.
Mara’s school uses an experimental technique to encode information directly into a student’s brain. This frees a student’s time and energy to focus on what to do with that knowledge.
Mr. Nelson’s class is the penultimate lesson in creativity, which prepares his students for their final test.
Creativity has been on my mind a lot this year. We have all indulged in streaming media to help pass the time. Music, movies, podcasts. The fruits of other’s creativity have kept us from feeling isolated.
To help them fight boredom, the Architect and I have encouraged our kids to dive into creative projects. Now is the time… or so the thinking goes.
And that’s why I share these tidbits of a 20-year-old story with you. The theme of that story—the importance of creativity—is more relevant than ever. We need each everyone’s creativity to get through this trying period.
If you have a project or idea that tugs at you, now is the time.
There have been 17 Sundays since I wrote my first Sunday Letter. This post is the 12th, which comes out to an average of three a month. Two-thirds is a passable on-base percentage I suppose, but leaves plenty of room for improvement.
To everyone who has read my writing this year, thank you. I’ve appreciated your feedback and encouragement. Wherever you are, I hope you enjoy a happy and healthy new year.
Trying to write this story down is what prompted me to try and write an app for writing fiction. Which prompted me to build an app for prototyping apps, which in turn spawned the second half of my career. A fun story for another day. ↩︎
“Who do you think you are, Robert Rhyne?” Every time I walked into his class late. I never knew his first name, just that he was “H.W. Watts”. Whenever I would ask what the “H” stood for, he would smile and say “Hunk”. ↩︎
On our mid-term, he gave us the following question: “How do you sort 7 numbers in 5 operations? Extra credit if you can demonstrate how to do it in 4.” That extra credit haunts me to this day. ↩︎
She once told our class she gave extra credit to any student with the same name as her daughter. When I asked her if she had a son named Robert, she answered: “No, but I have a dog named Flower.” She called me Flower for the rest of high school. ↩︎
“The Flan” as she was affectionately known to all of my friends in AP Government. ↩︎
Anyone who believes that only modern writers use sex to sell their stories should have to study Romeo & Juliet with Mrs. Braaton. ↩︎
This knowledge came in handy later in life as I attempted to match wits with a young student of Architecture, who is as brilliant as she is beautiful. ↩︎
I read and studied two of my favorite books of all time in his class: Frankenstein and A Brave New World. He encouraged us to write fiction, and discover our own voice. I didn’t realize it until much later, but he was the spark. ↩︎
The colloquial name for the student’s final knowledge injection procedure. It is known to be brutal. Mara’s older brother committed suicide after undergoing the procedure. ↩︎