In the teacher world, one of the things we talk about all the time is the idea of conceptual change. The gist of this is that when good teaching occurs, you’re not just giving kids facts to memorize – you’re providing them with experiences that update their mental models, or way of explaining a concept to themselves. Within the realm of conceptual change, there’s assimilation, which is adding detail to an existing model. And then there’s accommodation, which, in layman’s terms, is one of those moments where it’s appropriate to do one of those “mind blown” gestures that is somehow never not funny. You know the one.
As you may have guessed, accommodation is the one you have to be more careful with when you’re teaching. Kids (and people in general) tend to reject ideas that contradict their previous conceptions, especially ones they have held for a long time. And if you take a quick peek at the history of, I don’t know, the world, people have never been that great at accepting ideas that must be accommodated rather than assimilated.
The reason why I bring this up, though, is for a much more narcissistic cause. As I sat in my Washington DC apartment for the last three hours trying to figure out what to write about, I began to realize that the changes that I’ve been experiencing lately feel far more accommodated than assimilated into my mental model of myself.
For the last couple of years, my Vanderbilt life and my home life felt very much like an and. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area and a student at Vanderbilt University. But after living the last year of my life in four very, very different places, with the potential to add another as I head to grad school next year, the space in my mental model that holds my place is starting to feel a little bit overcrowded. It makes sense, I guess, that you can’t just keep assimilating new things into your identity. But despite spending the greatest percentage of my life (by a long shot, at that) at home, Albany seems to be the one being pushed out of the space.
It doesn’t seem logical, especially considering the fact that I’m 20 years old and it is still 100% acceptable for my mom to take me to things like eye appointments and drop me off at the BART station. But it makes me think of this chart:
I’m closing in on the end of the orange section and approaching the red zone, which, in precise terms, looks like a damn long time. The reason why I see this as relevant is that it seems like the accommodation that’s taking place in my conception of myself is much less a response to things that have already happened than it is a preparation for the things that are coming up.
In the world of adolescent development, we call this a huge success. A successful upbringing and education should prepare you for change before it happens, instead of throwing you to the wolves and hoping that you adjust. But in this cusp period, it just feels kind of, well, extra. It doesn’t make sense that my mental model is pushing Albany away because I was literally just there a month ago, but it makes perfect sense when you think about the fact that I have no idea when the next time I’ll be home for longer than 2 or 3 weeks will be.
When I was a kid, I was always eager to embrace change, which I think served me well. But I held this naive belief that if we try hard enough, we can assimilate instead of accommodate new parts of ourselves. It would be cool, maybe, to be a little of everything, but the philosophical part of me thinks that maybe stretching ourselves too thin takes away what’s so amazing about the things we passionately, unequivocally are in that moment. And in this strange, unnerving cusp period, maybe that’ll have to be reassurance enough.