M. Erez Kats on Bob Marley and Reading

Noodle Expert M. Erez Kats discusses why travel has never disappointed him, what he learned from a very low score on a college exam, and the wisdom that comes along with seizing the day.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

I would like Bob Marley to teach me about writing music, lyrics, spirituality, and how he connected to audiences. I'd like to understand what motivated him to write the kind of lyrics he wrote, especially coming from where he was coming from in the world — a developing country torn by war and controversy. I'd like to know what his concept of God was, and why he wove religion into so many of his lyrics. Basically I would pick his brain on everything from how he came up with choruses and harmonies, which instruments needed to come in at which points, and how he arranged an entire composition. Finally I'd like to know his true ambitions relating to how he wanted his message to be conveyed to the world as spoken through his voice and his songs. I'd also want to know how exactly he felt he could effect change in the world.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

I've often been told to not think too much and just seize the moment, or the day if you will. I know it sounds clichéd, but I've always felt this is a very clever way to live. Too many people are just going through the motions in life, or faking and perpetrating a certain lifestyle that they think is who they are, but in reality is completely fake. When you just do what you feel, and take advantage of the moments and opportunities you have in life, you truly feel alive. And the adventures and thrills you experience in doing this create memories that last a lifetime, and at the same time shape who you are and who you will become in the future.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

Oh, there are so many places to go that are all worthwhile. I'm not sure that there is any one place. I would just say to travel to any place they have a longing in their heart to see, no matter where it is. Whether that is Thailand or Egypt or Rio de Janeiro or Antarctica, it really doesn't matter. But if there is one thing in life that has absolutely NEVER disappointed me, it's traveling. You always learn new things about a place, you always start to understand a different perspective, and you always form new connections with people you never imagined you could have such a connection with, and for the most part, your mind is always blown and you feel more alive than you ever had in a more routine life. It's wonderful!

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

One time in college I literally got a five (out of 100) on a major test. The score was so bad that I actually had to drop the class because of it, and ultimately take summer classes at a different college as a result to make up the credits I'd Iost. The books that were covered on the test were all classic novels, and I hadn't really read any of them. But I was familiar with all the stories, whether through movies or just osmosis ("Moby Dick," "The Last of the Mohicans," "The Old Man and the Sea," etc.) What I learned is that when a test is about books, always read the books. Don't use Cliff's Notes or watch their movie adaptations, documentaries, or chapter synopses online. You have to read the books or you really run the risk of having the professor call you on your BS and give you a 5. I thought I deserved at least a 40, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I went into teaching because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. I wanted to inspire them to have a love for the written word, and the English language in general. I wanted to help them understand that the images they create in your head, and the dreams that are created in literature, really can become real. That we can become absolutely anything we want to be in life, and education is the key to doing that. Education is the one thing in life that can save you from any difficult situation, and it can also enable you to find the path that you are searching for in any niche, genre, or situation. A love for learning is a love for life itself, and that education truly is a gift to be shared and passed on to others. Really, things haven't turned out that differently from what I had expected. I have found my way into those situations with students, and I feel that I have inspired them, that they have been drawn to me, and that they respect the knowledge I am trying to bestow upon them. I guess if anything has surprised me, it has been the sheer number of schools I have taught at, and the sheer number of students I have had the privelege of connecting with. I have been somewhat of a journeyman type of teacher, but the students can all find ways to relate to me. I hope that this will continue and that the students will continue to surprise and impress me, and keep me feeling like I am making a difference in their lives, which I truly believe I am doing.

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