Scott Madry, the Renaissance teacher

While I was in San Francisco, during my creativity tour, I had the chance to be invited as a guest to the Singularity University’s Global Solutions Program (GSP). This program, sponsored by Google, empowers participants with the tools, knowledge and skills for positively impacting billions of people.

During this day, I was able to share with Scott Madry, Executive Director at The Global Space Institute. He has been directing this in France and he was very upset by the French pedagogy and educational system that discourage its students. As a multiple potential individual, his vision of learning and teaching is very interesting and I wanted to share with you some of his views.

What was one outstanding experience that revealed what you direction you wanted to give to your life ?

It was this summer before I started university, I was working at a life guard at the university swimming pool. It was July 20, my father's birthday. I could hear the voice of a journalist, I went to the house to watch the journalist talking : I found myself in front of these terribly beautiful images : the landing on the moon. It the first time that anything like this had ever happened, it deeply affected me.

Can you tell us about actions that you did that even you didn't think that were possible ?

I come from a working family, I didn't think I was capable of getting a PhD, I wasn't a Math genius as well. I shyed away from Space several times, but I kept coming back to it. Finally, I decided to go get my PHD, and I did. I got my very first job at NASA.

Having the courage to make the decision and to commit is probably the hardest.

Many times, it is the fear of making the decision which is the hardest. If you believe you can do it, you have a high chance to commit and do it. That is why we need to teach courage and self-confidence.

People don't believe that I can do all of what I do. People limit themselves way too much.

You can pursue all of many interests from science to art and literature and be good at each. All these activities nourish each other.

For example, the way I lecture is very much influenced by my performance art. I approach my teaching in a very unusual way and that what makes people understand, listen and remember.

What are the subjects that interest you today ?

I do lot of different things : space, archeology, intercultural training, writing and playing music, writing and publishing books, and … teaching. Being a teacher is for me the most important, because I can inspire young people to have the courage to pursue what they don't even imagine to pursue.

What was the most challenging in achieving yourself ?

The hardest thing is putting up with the bullshit. There is so much stupid things on which you can waste your time.

That is why I want to work with people who are satisfied with achieving excellence.

The hardest part was not learning math but learning how to play the game of politics. That is why one of the reasons I left NASA to become a university professor. I felt I could have a better contribution than Nasa. I could help students to commit to excellence.

How do you see your life mission ?

After I realized I wouldn't be an astronaut, I got pretty disillusionned about Nasa. I realized I really wanted to be a good teacher. I spent a lot of time understanding what is teaching, how could I teach people who are really good teachers. In schools we don't teach people how to teach. They are just supposed to know. They have to learn how to teach, the craft of teaching.

I tried to learn and teach that being a teacher is an important as to be a researcher and scientist ... We have the responsibility to share.

What is your vision of transdisciplinarity ?

We have to learn and teach in the world we live. Our current education system is very good in gathering knowledge.

But we are not good at inspiring students to do beyond what they think what they could do.

In old years, we used to learn one skill and it would last for life. It is not anymore possible. We have to be trained for a lifelong learning.

I hate departments that compartmentalize the world. I have always taken transdisciplinary courses. I took flight course and french literature, International Space... People where telling me that It made no sense, but at the end I embraced a knowledge unique to myself.

This is the question we need to raise : How do we cross the gaps between disciplines, cultures … ?

How would you help someone to find and express their inner talents ?

You have to listen to that voice inside you, telling you : No this is not a good idea, I think I could do that. You have to get in touch with yourself enough. You are not to get a right the first time. It takes years to learn, you have to accept failures and realize you are not gonna get to your point the first time. You have to learn to live with failure. LEARN FROM FAILURES.
The main thing is to learn enough about yourself. You have to find a way to feed your soul and to be willing to achieve things that.

People over think, let go if it doesn't work. If its not it, try something else.

I have experienced it with my students : as soon as they let go, magic opportunities happen.

We needs to have the courage to let go when it is needed. If it is not working, you can challenge yourself and try something else. Good things happen when we finally let go.

Find something that you learnt and do something with it. Come up with only one idea.

Interview led by Diane Lenne on 17/07/2015, in San Francisco, Palo Alto