How do I know what I think until I see what I say? – E.M. Forster
I assume, if you are reading this, that you are an adult, someone who has left behind childish things and is now seeking Wisdom or Riches or both.
If that is so, you probably have the education system to blame – the system that systematically strips us of creativity and abandon in order to prepare us for a world of order where we must find our place.
Although that’s probably not fair – I didn’t have that kind of education and neither, probably, did you.
When we look for the reasons why something is not working as it should we tend to swing towards to extremes.
We either look at individuals and try and assess whether they’re performing well or poorly.
Or we look at the system they’re working in and ask how well it’s supporting them in delivering what they should be doing.
In most cases it’s the system’s fault.
And, in most cases, we look to blame the people.
But it may be that, when it comes to teaching, the teacher you have does matter.
Teachers who believe their job is to “Teach” – that knowledge is something they force into a child have one way of approaching their lessons.
On the other hand, teachers who see their role as putting students in situations where they can discover what they need to know are the ones you remember as being truly great.
These sorts of thoughts are the ones Keith Johnstone, a director, teacher and writer on theatre craft, explores in his book Impro: Improvisation and the theatre.
He reminds us that children of all kinds are deeply interested in things they are interested in.
If you try and force a child to read something that she finds boring then how can you be surprised when she stops when the timer goes off?
On the other hand the same child, when engrossed in a task that interests and engages her, will spend hours working away at it.
In this witty TED talk Sir Ken Robinson argues that schools kill creativity because “Truthfully, what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.”
In the beginning, as children, we’re excited by almost everything – drawing, singing, running, playing – it’s like we’re a growing bush with leaves everywhere.
As we get older, the leaves drop off.
We stop singing, we put away the paints.
We focus on something that we can do that will bring in money.
And we end up older, bigger – with a set of skills.
But have we lost all the leaves in the process?
Johnstone writes that he “began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children.”
What his book is about, then, is about getting that childlike state back again.
For example, right at the beginning, he suggests an exercise that you can do with your children.
Look around at things and call them by the wrong names.
Keep going, naming around 10 things.
We did this, the kids got quite excited, although they didn’t know why they were doing it.
The idea is that this exercise acts like sandpaper on your surface, getting rid of all the stuff that’s been collecting and stopping you seeing things like a child for the first time.
Suddenly one of the kids pointed out a towel holder on one wall – and I have to honestly say that in four years of walking in and out of this room, I have never seen that thing before.
It’s clearly been there all this time – I’ve just not noticed.
But I did – as a result of this exercise I saw the things around me clearly for the first time because we called them by the wrong names.
That’s a very different approach to taking an inventory – tabulating and checking what’s in there.
Much more exciting, lively, engaging, interesting.
Not a very grown up thing to do.
Johnstone’s book promises to deliver more interesting ideas – so I might come back to it in subsequent posts.