I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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I keep a handful of books shelved at my bedside, standing upright between a candle and container of really cool rocks that I’ve found here and there throughout the years, my keeping the books next to the bed like this is a new happening; we all know that most of us do our best thinking and processing as soon as our heads hit the pillow and we’re trying to fall asleep, so I keep them there for reference for a wandering mind. There is a copy of Swann’s Way, Meditations with Dante Alighieri, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, and The Element by Ken Robinson.
I first discovered Ken Robinson on TED.com, he was giving a talk about creativity, and education, and how schools, at least in the way that they are currently formatted, actually “kill our creativity.” I reference him several times throughout my blogs, because he deserves to be referenced. Ken Robinson is an education reformist, he recognizes that our school systems are creating thoughtless ‘monikers’ of the human race; Robin Williams, I think, said it best as John Keating in the Dead Poets Society, and “…the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, business, law, engineering these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love these are what we stay alive for.” Our school systems are devolving more, and more, and away from teaching children how to be desirous about their passions, and therefore their pursuits.
Reform makes me nervous because instead of recognizing where the foundation of our problems actually lie we are simply attaching or amending, applying an adhesive in attempt that our fix might mend the swelling dysfunction within the institution. Unfortunately, the flaw within the education system is the system, the point at issue lies at the foundation of the design of the way the institution was structured. I mentioned in a previous blog that our current education system was implemented in late 20th century, and was constructed for farming families and industry work, but, you know, like, what does that mean? Well, our education system is procedural, and is formatted systematically: course, semester, season, etc., and every year students spend the first semester reviewing what they studied the previous semester, and then in the second, and final semester students are more extensively examining what they reviewed the semester before—the same five or six courses year-after-year-after year—for twelve years. The institution was set up this way because the majority of students were averaging five to eight years of schooling before they were removed from school and expected to work on a farm or in industry to help provide for their families, it allowed for a quick exercise and review and overview for a number of subjects within a short period of time, and if children were able to continue their education they would dive a little deeper into familiar subjects and increase their knowledge base. It made sense for the average lower and middle class families, which, at the time, outnumbered the upper classes significantly, only the system became our only source of education, and it continued much, much longer than it should have—you know, like, it somehow manages to exist even now, as our primary public educational means; which is, obviously beyond me.
In Ken Robinsons’ book The Element he discusses how, because of the lasting curse that is our education system, we elevate certain subjects over others, we think of them as more important or more relevant in our day-to-day lives, subjects like math and science are revered when the vast majority of us don’t really employ either of them that often, and when we do it’s when acknowledging time and going over finances, things that are not actually taught to the majority of us during our primary schooling anyway, and other aspects of each that we employ daily we experience unconsciously when we confront them naturally—in the natural world, in the way that math and physics are the “language of the universe,” but, you know, like: “Cool!” Yeah, it’s awesome how the Fibonacci Sequence, The Golden Ratio, and Fractals apply themselves in nature. And Pythagoras, and his relationship with math, and music are undeniably intriguing and influential; a number of my favorite musicians (David Bowie, Andrew Bird, Josh Ritter, The Flaming Lips…) utilize math and science in their songs. Otherwise, I mean, math and science are as relevant as dance and literature depending, only, on whom is actively applying them. Meanwhile, in school, subjects like art and music and dance are ignored or belittled, subjects that far more people employ not only on a day-to-day basis but professionally, and with more passion. Because the simple fact is that far less people think and process like a mathematician or a scientist than the number of people who think and process the world like artists, and musicians, and dancers, and writers. So why is our education system designed not only to create scientists, and mathematicians, and college professors but to do so as if we all process the world in the same way that scientists, and mathematicians, and college professors do?
Ken Robinsons’ The Element challenges people to find what their Element is, and suggests that once you do figure it out your relationship with the world will change dramatically, because it is not only possible to learn math, social sciences, geography, and language through the lens of a dancer—or any Element—but necessary in order for some people to actually understand, and relate to the world. In his book Robinson gives the example through a number of ‘case studies,’ he tells the stories of Mick Fleetwood, Faith Ringgold, Meg Ryan, and Others, of how our traditional education systems very nearly secured a world without the music of Fleetwood Mac, or the acting of Meg Ryan, or the choreography of Gillian Lynne.
I would go as far, even, to acknowledge our general lack of understanding when relating to our emotional selves. People have a series of emotions and moods that affect us, and our relationships every single day, and yet we dedicate zero time to learning how to acknowledge and relate to those emotions. I cannot find the sense in that at all, in fact it’s systemically dangerous. And, quite likely, the reason for our present devolving moral and political situation. I mean, we have a difficult enough time actually surviving in the world, let alone becoming an adult, being expected to handle a career, bills, taxes, relationships, and people without the underlining stress of dealing with erratic, sensational, and seemingly unpredictable emotions and moods; and then we die. We got all that going for us, while behind the scenes there are people creating budgets based on a foundation of education that we, generally, accept as a sensible standard, but why? For all intents and purposes there is no sense at all for these people to continue looking for ways to get rid of art, and theatre, and music, and dance in school.
My idea of a healthy and formidable education system would be as follows: imagine a system where we spend the first few years of our lives learning how to relate to those reoccurring, and unpredictable, and overwhelming emotions that we experience, sometimes without any apparent reason, so that we might recognize what we’re feeling, when, and why, and in various situations and then knowing, as adults, how to go about behaving. And then, in the years following, after having spent the previous few years of education learning, not only about our emotions, but simultaneously, and unwittingly, ourselves, and, as a result, we have a better understanding of our own Elements, and then being taught those, seemingly, core subjects through the best lens that we have in order to relate to our worlds, ourselves, and one another. The best way to educate yourself about a topic is to relate to something that you’re interested in, and the best way to others to educate us is to do exactly the same, because we cannot assume that we all think and process theories, and facts, and ideas the same way—because we don’t. If you’re still on the fence try reading The Element by Ken Robinson and Embracing the Wide Sky by Daniel Tammet.