sponsored links
TEDxTelAviv 2010

Shimon Schocken: What a bike ride can teach you

April 29, 2010

Computer science professor Shimon Schocken is also an avid mountain biker. To share the life lessons he learned while riding, he began an outdoor program with Israel's juvenile inmates and was touched by both their intense difficulties and profound successes. Photographs by Raphael Rabinovitz.

Shimon Schocken - Computer Scientist, Educator
Shimon Schocken is a computer science professor and dedicated educator. Full bio

sponsored links
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Mountain biking in Israel
00:15
is something that I do with great passion
00:19
and commitment.
00:21
And when I'm on my bike,
00:24
I feel that I connect
00:26
with the profound beauty of Israel,
00:28
and I feel that I'm united
00:31
with this country's history
00:33
and biblical law.
00:37
And also, for me,
00:39
biking is a matter of empowerment.
00:41
When I reach the summit
00:43
of a steep mountain in the middle of nowhere,
00:45
I feel young,
00:47
invincible, eternal.
00:49
It's as if I'm connecting with some legacy
00:52
or with some energy
00:55
far greater than myself.
00:57
You can see my fellow riders
00:59
at the end of the picture,
01:01
looking at me with some concern.
01:03
And here is another picture of them.
01:06
Unfortunately, I cannot show their faces,
01:08
neither can I disclose their true names,
01:11
and that's because my fellow riders
01:13
are juvenile inmates,
01:15
offenders
01:17
spending time in a correction facility
01:19
about 20 minutes' ride from here --
01:21
well, like everything in Israel.
01:24
And I've been riding with these kids once a week,
01:28
every Tuesday, rain or shine, for the last four years
01:31
and by now, they've become a very big part of my life.
01:34
This story began four years ago.
01:37
The correction facility where they are locked up
01:40
happens to be right in the middle
01:42
of one of my usual trips,
01:44
and it's surrounded by barbed wires
01:46
and electric gates and armed guards.
01:48
So on one of these rides,
01:50
I talked my way into the compound
01:52
and went to see the warden.
01:54
I told the warden
01:57
that I wanted to start a mountain biking club in this place
01:59
and that basically I wanted to take the kids
02:02
from here to there.
02:04
And I told him, "Let's find a way
02:07
in which I'll be able to take out 10 kids once a week
02:09
to ride with in the summer in the country."
02:12
And the warden was quite amused,
02:15
and he told me he thought that I was a nut
02:17
and he told me,
02:20
"This place is a correction facility. These guys are serious offenders.
02:22
They are supposed to be locked up.
02:25
They aren't supposed to be out at large."
02:27
And yet, we began to talk about it,
02:30
and one thing led to another.
02:32
And I can't see myself
02:34
going into a state prison in New Jersey
02:37
and making such a proposition,
02:39
but this being Israel,
02:41
the warden somehow made it happen.
02:43
And so two months later,
02:46
we found ourselves "at large" --
02:49
myself,
02:51
10 juvenile inmates
02:53
and a wonderful fellow named Russ,
02:56
who became a very good friend of mine
02:58
and my partner in this project.
03:00
And in the next few weeks, I had the tremendous pleasure
03:02
of introducing these kids
03:05
to the world of total freedom,
03:07
a world consisting of magnificent vistas
03:09
like these --
03:12
everything you see here is obviously in Israel --
03:14
as well as close encounters
03:17
with all sorts of small creatures
03:19
coming in all sorts of sizes,
03:21
colors, shapes, forms
03:23
and so on.
03:26
In spite of all this splendor,
03:28
the beginning was extremely frustrating.
03:31
Every small obstacle,
03:34
every slight uphill,
03:36
would cause these fellows
03:38
to stop in their tracks and give up.
03:40
So we had a lot of this going on.
03:43
I found out that they had a very hard time
03:46
dealing with frustration and difficulties --
03:48
not because they were physically unfit.
03:50
But that's one reason why they ended up where they were.
03:52
And I became increasingly more and more agitated,
03:56
because I was there
03:58
not only to be with them,
04:00
but also to ride and create a team
04:02
and I didn't know what to do.
04:04
Now, let me give you an example.
04:06
We're going downhill in some rocky terrain,
04:08
and the front tire of Alex
04:11
gets caught in one of these crevasses here.
04:14
So he crashes down,
04:16
and he gets slightly injured,
04:18
but this does not prevent him from jumping up
04:20
and then starting to jump up and down on his bike
04:23
and curse violently.
04:25
Then he throws his helmet in the air.
04:27
His backpack goes ballistic in some other direction.
04:30
And then he runs to the nearest tree
04:33
and starts to break branches and throw rocks
04:35
and curse like I've never heard.
04:38
And I'm just standing there,
04:41
watching this scene
04:44
with a complete disbelief,
04:46
not knowing what to do.
04:48
I'm used to algorithms
04:51
and data structures
04:53
and super motivated students,
04:56
and nothing in my background
04:59
prepared me to deal
05:01
with a raging, violent adolescent
05:03
in the middle of nowhere.
05:06
And you have to realize that these incidents
05:08
did not happen in convenient locations.
05:10
They happened in places like this,
05:12
in the Judean Desert,
05:15
20 kilometers away from the nearest road.
05:17
And what you don't see in this picture
05:20
is that somewhere between these riders there,
05:22
there's a teenager sitting on a rock,
05:25
saying, "I'm not moving from here. Forget it.
05:27
I've had it."
05:29
Well, that's a problem
05:31
because one way or another, you have to get this guy moving
05:33
because it's getting dark soon and dangerous.
05:36
It took me several such incidents to figure out what I was supposed to do.
05:39
At the beginning, it was a disaster.
05:42
I tried harsh words and threats
05:44
and they took me nowhere.
05:46
That's what they had all their lives.
05:48
And at some point I found out,
05:50
when a kid like this gets into a fit,
05:53
the best thing that you can possibly do
05:55
is stay as close as possible to this kid,
05:57
which is difficult,
06:00
because what you really want to do is go away.
06:02
But that's what he had all his life,
06:04
people walking away from him.
06:06
So what you have to do is stay close
06:08
and try to reach in
06:10
and pet his shoulder
06:12
or give him a piece of chocolate.
06:14
So I would say, "Alex, I know that it's terribly difficult.
06:16
Why don't you rest for a few minutes
06:19
and then we'll go on."
06:21
"Go away you maniac-psychopath.
06:23
Why would you bring us to this goddamn place?"
06:26
And I would say, "Relax, Alex.
06:30
Here's a piece of chocolate."
06:33
And Alex would go, "Arrrrggg!"
06:35
Because you have to understand
06:37
that on these rides we are constantly hungry --
06:39
and after the rides also.
06:41
And who is this guy, Alex, to begin with?
06:45
He's a 17-year-old.
06:48
When he was eight,
06:50
someone put him on a boat in Odessa
06:52
and sent him, shipped him to Israel
06:55
on his own.
06:58
And he ended up in south Tel Aviv
07:00
and did not have the good luck
07:02
to be picked up by a [unclear]
07:04
and roamed the streets
07:06
and became a prominent gang member.
07:08
And he spent the last 10 years of his life
07:11
in two places only,
07:13
the slums and the state prison,
07:15
where he spent the last two years
07:18
before he ended up sitting on this rock there.
07:20
And so this kid
07:23
was probably abused,
07:25
abandoned, ignored, betrayed
07:28
by almost every adult along the way.
07:31
So, for such a kid,
07:33
when an adult that he learns to respect stays close to him
07:35
and doesn't walk away from him
07:38
in any situation,
07:40
irrespective of how he behaves,
07:42
it's a tremendous healing experience.
07:45
It's an act of unconditional acceptance,
07:48
something that he never had.
07:51
I want to say a few words about vision.
07:53
When I started this program four years ago,
07:55
I had this original plan
07:58
of creating a team
08:01
of winning underdogs.
08:03
I had an image of Lance Armstrong
08:05
in my mind.
08:08
And it took me exactly two months
08:10
of complete frustration
08:13
to realize that this vision
08:15
was misplaced,
08:17
and that there was another vision
08:19
supremely more important
08:21
and more readily available.
08:23
It all of a sudden dawned on me, in this project,
08:26
that the purpose of these rides
08:29
should actually be
08:31
to expose the kids
08:33
to one thing only: love.
08:35
Love to the country, to the uphill
08:38
and the downhill,
08:40
to all the incredible creatures that surround us --
08:42
the animals, the plants,
08:45
the insects --
08:47
love and respect
08:49
to other fellow members in your team,
08:51
in your biking team,
08:53
and most importantly,
08:55
love and respect to yourself,
08:57
which is something
08:59
that they badly miss.
09:01
Together with the kids,
09:03
I also went through a remarkable transformation.
09:05
Now, I come from a cutthroat world
09:08
of science and high technology.
09:10
I used to think that reason and logic
09:12
and relentless drive
09:15
were the only ways to make things happen.
09:17
And before I worked with the kids,
09:19
anything that I did with them,
09:21
or anything that I did with myself,
09:23
was supposed to be perfect,
09:25
ideal, optimal,
09:27
but after working with them for some time,
09:30
I discovered the great virtues of empathy
09:34
and flexibility
09:37
and being able to start with some vision,
09:39
and if the vision doesn't work, well nothing happened.
09:41
All you have to do is play with it, change it a little bit,
09:44
and come up with something that does help, that does work.
09:47
So right now, I feel more
09:50
like these are my principles,
09:52
and if you don't like them,
09:54
I have others.
09:56
(Laughter)
09:58
(Applause)
10:00
And one of these principles
10:05
is focus.
10:07
Before each ride
10:09
we sit together with the kids,
10:11
and we give them one word
10:13
to think about during the ride.
10:15
You have to focus their attention on something
10:17
because so many things happen.
10:20
So these are words like "teamwork"
10:22
or "endurance"
10:24
or even complicated concepts
10:26
like "resource allocation"
10:28
or "perspective," a word that they don't understand.
10:30
You know, perspective
10:32
is one of these critically important
10:34
life-coping strategies
10:36
that mountain biking can really teach you.
10:38
I tell kids
10:41
when they struggle through some uphill
10:43
and feel like they cannot take it anymore,
10:46
it really helps to ignore the immediate obstacles
10:48
and raise your head and look around
10:51
and see how the vista around you grows.
10:53
It literally propels you upwards.
10:55
That's what perspective is all about.
10:58
Or you can also look back in time
11:00
and realize that you've already conquered
11:02
steeper mountains before.
11:04
And that's how they develop self-esteem.
11:07
Now, let me give you an example of how it works.
11:10
You stand with your bike at the beginning of February.
11:12
It's very cold, and you're standing in one of these rainy days,
11:15
and it's drizzling
11:18
and cold and chilly,
11:20
and you're standing in, let's say, Yokneam.
11:23
And you look up at the sky through a hole in the clouds
11:26
you see the monastery at the top of the Muhraka --
11:29
that's where you're supposed to climb now --
11:32
and you say, "There's no way that I could possibly get there."
11:34
And yet, two hours later
11:37
you find yourself standing on the roof of this monastery,
11:40
smeared with mud,
11:43
blood and sweat.
11:46
And you look down at Yokneam;
11:48
everything is so small and tiny.
11:50
And you say, "Hey, Alex. Look at this parking lot where we started.
11:52
It's that big.
11:54
I can't believe that I did it."
11:56
And that's the point
11:58
when you start loving yourself.
12:00
And so we talked about
12:03
these special words that we teach them.
12:05
And at the end of each ride, we sit together
12:07
and share moments
12:10
in which those special words of the day
12:12
popped up and made a difference,
12:15
and these discussions
12:17
can be extremely inspiring.
12:19
In one of them, one of the kids once said,
12:21
"When we were riding on this ridge
12:23
overlooking the Dead Sea --
12:25
and he's talking about this spot here --
12:27
"I was reminded
12:30
of the day when I left my village in Ethiopia
12:32
and went away together with my brother.
12:34
We walked 120 kilometers
12:37
until we reached Sudan.
12:39
This was the first place where we got some water and supplies."
12:41
And he goes on saying, and everyone looks at him like a hero,
12:44
probably for the first time in his life.
12:47
And he says -- because I also have volunteers riding with me,
12:49
adults, who are sitting there
12:52
listening to him --
12:54
and he says, "And this was just the beginning
12:57
of our ordeal
12:59
until we ended up in Israel.
13:01
And only now," he says,
13:03
"I'm beginning to understand where I am,
13:05
and I actually like it."
13:07
Now I remember, when he said it,
13:09
I felt goosebumps on my body,
13:11
because he said it overlooking the Moab Mountains here in the background.
13:13
That's where Joshua descended
13:16
and crossed the Jordan
13:18
and led the people of Israel into the land of Canaan
13:20
3,000 years ago
13:23
in this final leg
13:25
of the journey from Africa.
13:27
And so, perspective
13:30
and context and history
13:32
play key roles
13:34
in the way I plan my rides
13:36
with the kids.
13:38
We visit Kibbutzim
13:40
that were established by Holocaust survivors.
13:42
We explore ruins
13:45
of Palestinian villages,
13:48
and we discuss how they became ruins.
13:51
And we go through numerous remnants
13:54
of Jewish settlements, Nabatic settlements,
13:57
Canaanite settlements --
13:59
three-, four, five-thousand years old.
14:01
And through this tapestry,
14:03
which is the history of this country,
14:05
the kids acquire
14:08
what is probably the most important
14:10
value in education,
14:12
and that is the understanding that life is complex,
14:14
and there's no black and white.
14:18
And by appreciating complexity,
14:21
they become more tolerant,
14:23
and tolerance leads to hope.
14:25
I ride with these kids once a week,
14:29
every Tuesday.
14:31
Here's a picture I took last Tuesday -- less than a week ago --
14:33
and I ride with them tomorrow also.
14:36
In every one of these rides
14:38
I always end up standing in one of these incredible locations,
14:41
taking in this incredible landscape around me,
14:44
and I feel blessed and fortunate
14:47
that I'm alive,
14:49
and that I sense every fiber
14:51
in my aching body.
14:53
And I feel blessed and fortunate
14:55
that 15 years ago
14:57
I had the courage to resign
14:59
my tenured position at NYU
15:01
and return to my home country
15:03
where I can do these incredible rides
15:05
with this group of troubled kids
15:07
coming from Ethiopia
15:09
and Morocco and Russia.
15:11
And I feel blessed and fortunate
15:14
that every week, every Tuesday --
15:16
and actually every Friday also --
15:18
I can once again celebrate
15:21
in the marrow of my bones
15:24
the very essence of living in Israel on the edge.
15:27
Thank you.
15:30
(Applause)
15:32

sponsored links

Shimon Schocken - Computer Scientist, Educator
Shimon Schocken is a computer science professor and dedicated educator.

Why you should listen

Shimon Schocken is a former dean at Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a new Israeli private university which he helped found in 1995. He's also taught at NYU, Harvard and Stanford. Together with Noam Nisan he developed a freely available, open-source, self-paced program for learning applied computer science: The Elements of Computing Systems. Offered in 2005, this led to one of the first successful open online courses. Now, courses based on the approach are offered by traditional universities as well as in crowd-sourced settings, and have been taken freely by thousands of self-learners over the web. Registration, lecture and project schedules are managed by volunteer course coordinators, and student questions are answered by the course alumni community.


His current project focuses on developing instructional materials for early-age math education, which he thinks can be transformed using low-cost tablet computers. He uses his other life passion, mountain biking, to teach adolescent boys in Israelʼs juvenile detention centers valuable life lessons through challenging bike rides in remote locations. He was co-organizer and program chair of TEDxTelAviv 2010.

The original video is available on TED.com
sponsored links

If you need translations, you can install "Google Translate" extension into your Chrome Browser.
Furthermore, you can change playback rate by installing "Video Speed Controller" extension.

Data provided by TED.

This website is owned and operated by Tokyo English Network.
The developer's blog is here.