Challenge 75: Embrace the New

We continually stress the importance of change, and new experiences, but why?  What’s wrong with routines and a comfortable lifestyle?  These aren’t simply rhetorical questions, give them some though for a moment.  A certain amount of routine is necessary… it wouldn’t make very much sense to learn a completely new way to tie our shoes every morning.  Once we’ve figured out a system for lacing up our shoes that works, we can continue on with our shoe wearing lives!  Is it really that simple?

Lets explore what happens when we take even the simplest idea and allow curiosity to take over for a moment.  It just so happens that there’s a method for quickly tying shoe laces that just might save you an hour of your life every year.  Believe it or not, there’s also a website which lists 36 different ways to lace shoes, along with a list of pros and cons for each style.  Did you know that the earliest shoe with laces dates back to the year 3,500BC?  Probably not… this all may seem like random knowledge, and it may not seem very relevant to the way in which you lead your life.  However, this thought exercise is an example of what happens when you stop taking the world at face value, and you start asking questions.  Something which originally seemed banal and commonplace can suddenly seem fresh and exciting, when seen from another perspective.

Here’s another perspective on the importance of change: when we expand our mental framework via new experiences, we also expand our capacity to form strong (new) memories.  For example, we all have certain songs that remind us of a certain time or place.  Can you remember your high-school graduation song?  Can you remember the song that was playing during your first slow dance?  Can you remember when you heard the Beatles for the first time?  Can you think of a person with whom you strongly associate a certain musical style?  Perhaps nothing comes to mind immediately, continue to allow your mind to wander… Now, imagine what your life would be like if from this day forward you only listened to one song.  The exact same piece of music, all day, every day.  One song playing during the birth of your child, and the exact same song playing during dental surgery.  Do you believe the emotional significance of this piece of music might be lost, or blurred somewhat?

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about shoelaces or music, new experiences and new information can have a powerful effect on our perception of the world.  This week, you’re going to embrace the new with everything you’ve got!  New faces, new places, new sights, new sounds, new questions, new flavors, new new ideas, and new challenges…

The Challenges
For our seventy-fifth weekly challenge, please choose one of the following. Use the provided link to register your challenge selection.

Challenge One (register)
Get out and explore your community.

In your neighborhood there are probably certain places you love to go, certain restaurants you prefer over others, and certain meals you consider to be your “usual.”  This week make a concerted effort to switch things up.  Here are some ideas, try at least one of the following:

  • Grab your local newspaper and have a look at the events section.  Attend something this week that you normally might not have made time for.
  • Embark upon a walk with no particular destination in mind.  Take in the scenery and allow your route to unfold as you meander.  Leave your cell phone at home, and allow yourself to get a little lost.  In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
  • Try a new restaurant.  Ask your friends for recommendations, and don’t shy away from something just because it sounds exotic.  You can also search the web, there are many sites that can help you find local markets and restaurants.

Challenge Two (register)
Create a musical timeline of your life.

Research shows that we form some of our strongest musical memories during our early teenage years.  What songs were you listening to when you were 14?  Do you still have any of your old CD’s lying around?  Do you remember what kind of music your parents listened to?  This week, challenge yourself to find one song that represents each stage in your development, beginning with childhood.  You don’t necessarily need to find one song for every year, but this could be a great way to uncover powerful emotional memories.  Some websites such as might be helpful in your search.

Challenge Three (register)
Say “Yes.”

Every day you’re presented with several opportunities to step outside of your norm and try something new.  This week, you’re going to say “yes,” every single time!  Don’t let a single opportunity slip you by.  This challenge is guaranteed to place you in a number of unfamiliar situations, which may feel a bit overwhelming.  However, If you’re able remain open to these new experiences, and meet this challenge head on, you’ll remember this week as long as you live.

Selected Quote
“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”
-Jack Kerouac

This Week: You Should Know
Lost History: Test Scores Unveil Students’ Poor Knowledge of Basic History

Why did Missouri’s application for statehood in 1819 cause a political crisis?  During the Korean War, United Nations forces made up largely of troops from the United States and South Korea fought against troops from North Korea and what nation?

These questions, among others, were asked on standardized history tests to schoolchildren nationwide, the results of which, released last week, were bleak: just 2 percent of high school seniors knew the significance of Brown v. Board of Education, less than 25 percent knew China was North Korea’s ally during the Korean War, 35 percent of fourth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, just 9 percent could identify a picture of Abraham Lincoln and provide two reasons for his significance.  In sum, the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that students have made little progress in history since 2006, from America’s role in the world to basic facts of history. Just 12 percent of high school seniors, 20 percent of U.S. fourth graders, and 17 percent of eighth graders were categorized as “proficient” or “advanced” in history.  What’s worse: 12th graders have made no progress in their understanding of history since 1994.

What could cause such a catastrophic educational failure?  Author David McCullough, in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, points to a few reasons: students with degrees in education, as opposed to a discipline like history, math, or science, are handicapped in their ability to teach effectively; so much so that teachers are often asked to teach subjects in which they know nothing about.  Another reason is teaching methods:  “History is often taught in categories,” McCollough says, “so that many of the students have no sense of chronology.”  U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has his hands full, and has advocated a “plan B” for saving schools from the impending “slow-motion train wreck” of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education reform law.  Central to the debate is whether NCLB is pushing out subjects like history, art, and science are being pushed out of basic curriculums in favor of math and reading.

The lack of progress in students’ knowledge of history in the past 5 years is staggering, but comes as little of surprise to many.  The NCLB law was heavily criticized for “teaching the test” and lacking an appropriate balance of subjects right from the beginning.  But even as Secretary Duncan works to revoke NCLB and replace it with a substitute, no solution appears obvious or even likely to come soon.  Numerous state budgets remain in red ink, ensuring little ability for any fundamental overhaul of the nation’s school system without heavy federal funding – something just as unlikely given Congress’ own budgetary partisan gridlock.

Take a 6 question test from The Wall Street Journal on basic American history here.

Original Content Provided by BestMe 2011.


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