“Who were your favorite speakers?” I asked my 14-year-old son as we left TEDxOrangeCoast last week. I had volunteered to help with the event and decided at the last minute to let my son skip school and bring him with me. His teachers were thrilled and told me they could hardly wait to see him the next day and ask him about it.
“Jack Andraka,” he said without pause. “And the guy from MIND who talked about math.”
Andraka was the last speaker on the agenda and my son and I were both still thrilling to his presentation about his discovery of a new and better test for pancreatic cancer, the one that killed Steve Jobs. Andraka chronicled his passion to learn more about cancer screening and discussed his difficulty finding the time and space to set up and lab for testing. He even shared his science teacher’s annoyance with him as he pored over scientific studies in her class one day. “After listening to her lecture me about respect and then saying all the things she wanted to hear, I finally got her to give me my research back,” he said.
Nigel Nisbet from the MIND Research Institute talked about a revolutionary way to teach kids math via non-language-based instruction. “Ask our students their favorite subject and they’ll say ‘math,’” Nisbet told a group following his presentation. “Not because it’s easy,” he went on, “but because it’s hard. Kids love to be challenged. They want to learn.”
There were dozens of excellent speakers at TEDxOrangeCoast that day, but I was not surprised my son chose these two as his favorite. They both spoke to his own experience. Reminiscent of Andraka, my son had recently had a conversation with one of his teachers about respect and paying attention in class. He had been reading The Iliad and could barely lift his head from its pages to listen to her lecture, let alone respond to her prompts. And like Nisbet, my son has an innate love of math that has accelerated him a couple of years in school. These are the characteristics of bright minds, minds that pursue scientific discoveries and love learning new things, including math and classic literature. Minds of people who sometimes grow up to become TED speakers.
TED attracts these kinds of people. The speakers are often restless idealists who have spent years immersing themselves in their passion; the attendees are inquisitive, life-long learners; and the volunteers are altruists who feel called to advance events like this.
TED is the meeting place for bright and curious minds to share and learn and, sometimes, to just be reassured that there are others out there like them.