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Lucky Me

By Mike Bonifer 2 years ago
Home  /  Education  /  Lucky Me
People get lucky in different ways. Lucky in games of chance. Lucky in love. Inheritances. Genetics. Business. I’ve always had luck in having outstanding teachers. People whose enthusiasm for learning is contagious. It’s been a celebration of education, and my good fortune is that I’ve been invited to the party.
My teachers have always connected what they teach to the world waiting outside the classroom. They don’t take themselves so seriously as to think they have all the answers, and they’ve been wise and perceptive enough to know what the questions are. And isn’t that what a person really needs to know? What questions are worth answering?

Naturally enough, my parents were my first teachers. It’s impossible to describe all the ways they educated my brothers, sisters and me. It’s an endless list, endless because it’s still revealing itself every day.

My mother, Fern Bonifer, who grew up on a dairy farm, taught us how to milk a cow. By hand. Two different ways. There was The Squeeze technique. And then when your hand begins cramping up from squeezing, you can move to The Strip technique. It has been awhile since I’ve had to milk a cow. By hand. Two different ways. And it’s been awhile since I curled myself up into a ball and rolled down a grassy hill–another thing my mother taught us how to do.

Everything else my mother taught us does still come into play nearly every day. Her love of music. Her patience. Her curiosity. Her generosity. Her effortless attention to detail when she’s sewing, or baking or quilting, or writing in her elegant handwriting, or when she’s learning anything new, which she is always doing. See, she taught us to be lifelong learners. She taught us her fearlessness. Her friendliness. Her love of language, and of games. Her strength and her grace in the face of adversity. Her sense of humor, which I’d describe as letting yourself be tickled by life. All of it. Every day. Those of you lucky enough to know Fern Bonifer know what I’m talking about. You’ve been tickled too.


Miss Linda Rohleder, my sixth grade teacher, wanted great things for us.  She was always getting us involved in activities that had to do with what was happening in the world, that tied the textbook to the times in which we were living: Astronauts, Vietnam, the Optimist Club Speech Contest, the County Spelling Bee, The Bookmobile, Food, Fashion, Charles Dickens, Theater, College, and a hundred other ideas about the world that cracked open doors we didn’t even know where there. She could make her sister’s concrete block dorm room in Terre Haute, Indiana, sound like a suite at the Ritz Carlton. She revered learning. From her, I learned how to learn. And that any idea in a textbook is only as good as our ability to see it enacted in the world.

Bill Bassler was my high school Latin teacher for three years. It’s hard to believe anyone could find three years worth of learning in Latin. Mr. Bassler did. He showed us how there’s life in everything if you know where to look, even in a supposedly dead thing like the language of ancient Rome. When he was guiding us through The Aeneid or Julius Caesar, Winnie the Pooh in Latin, or a Roman kid our age calling out to his buddy, (“Io, Publius, quid agis?”“Yo, Publius, what’s going on?!”), you were there, living it right along with him. Last weekend I spoke to Mr. Bassler for the first time in over 40 years. At age 90, he speaks more slowly but is as articulate and formal as ever, like Olivier doing Mr. Rogers. He says  he’s he’s still teaching–4th to 8th grade Amish children, in four different two-room schoolhouses, two of which don’t have indoor plumbing or electricity. He says they arrive at school in their pony carts, and are very attentive and hard working. (This is the best study we have for happens when there’s no phones, TVs, videogames or internets–people learn to pay attention.)

My lucky streak continues to this day. I still have teachers who give gifts I’ll be a lifetime paying forward. People who take great joy in sharing what they know. I’d rather have the luck that comes with having good teachers than win a hundred lotteries.

  Education, Identity, Quotes
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 Mike Bonifer

  (57 articles)

Mike Bonifer is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer for bigSTORY, a company of strategists & practitioners who are first in the world to utilize quantum storytelling, an emerging organizational science that accounts for how stories are created, live in networks, and influence behaviors. Throughout his professional life, Bonifer has been in the forefront of emerging storytelling practices and technologies. As the publicist on Tron, the author of The Art of Tron, and the writer and producer of Computers are People, Too, he explained computer-generated imagery to the analog world. As a founding producer of The Disney Channel, he pioneered the Walt Disney Company’s entrance into cable television with the legendary documentary series, Disney Family Album. As the producer of the award-winning website for Toy Story, he introduced movie fans around the world to Pixar’s extraordinary storytelling. He co-founded Network LIVE, which lives on as Control Room, producer of some of the biggest online music events in the world, including 2007’s Live Earth concerts for the environment, for which he served as Chief Storyteller. In 2007, he wrote and published GameChangers – Improvisation for Business in the Networked World, and, with Dr. Virginia Kuhn of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, co-founded GameChangers, a learning company that applied improvisation to business communication. His work with GameChangers dramatically improved the performances in units of companies such as Skype, Gap Inc. The Walt Disney Company, United Airlines Media, Gawker Media, NetApp and GE. He has conducted university workshops in Public Health, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, Sociology and Cinema; collaborated with Alan Alda on a workshop for the Viterbi School of Engineering at USC; explained quantum storytelling to physicists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; coached Ron “The Gangster Gardener” Finley on his famous TED Talk on urban gardening; and returned to his old hometown in Indiana, to tell stories about the legendary smalltown Hoosier baskeball team, his childhood heroes,The Ireland Spuds. He was the featured storyteller at the 2014 San Miguel International Storytelling Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He and his son, Alex, perform a two-person improv act called BonBon, the only father-son comedy improv act in the world (that they know of). In 2015, he will tour Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua on behalf of the Notre Dame Executive Education program. With bigSTORY, Bonifer and Jeremi Karnell have created a home for one of the most remarkable advances in storytelling of our lifetimes. A way of seeing the world through the lens of the stories we create together. A theory that accounts for the brilliant possibilities that await us when your story and my story become our story.