Saturday, 11 October 2014

I Shall Not Conform

When I was in grade four, we had an art session where we were to create whatever we liked. I opened a book and found a photo of a tiger that appealed to me and I began to recreate the drawing with pencil and paper. The teacher was wandering around looking at the things the kids were working on and she stopped at my desk. She looked at the open book and the drawing I was creating and said, “That doesn't look much like the picture. You should try something else.”

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In her view (and in front of the entire class) she had devalued what I was doing based on her narrow view of what my tiger should look like. I was nine.

I never drew again.

In high school, I had an English teacher named Mr. Wilson. There was a writing contest during grade eleven and I entered one of my pieces. It was a big deal for me to put myself out there where something I had created could be scrutinized by anyone who was able to read... particularly by those peers who already thought I was different and made a point of publicizing it. Not only was I commended by Mr Wilson for the writing (I didn't win the contest) but I was encouraged to keep working at it.

I have been writing ever since.

We cannot manufacture people... and yet, our education system is predicated on exactly that... the linear build up from Kindergarten to university or college with the brain being the only focus. These days, kids are being interviewed before going to kindergarten. Can you imagine sitting in the interview as a four year old and some panel of stuffed shirts determining whether you've done enough in your life to warrant acceptance into their school? Seriously? Particularly when what is really on your mind is seeing if you can make your bike fly or wondering what mud tastes like.

The education system is predicated on the idea that we start school from day one preparing for university and then for a life of doing one thing until we retire.

It's wrong.

It's wrong and it doesn't work any more. Our fathers concept of working for 40 years and finally getting to do what you really want to do if you retire doesn't work. That concept of human worth being valued on a narrow band of acceptable careers and thought functions doesn't exist any longer yet we are still mired in the idea that linear education is the only way things work. It's nothing more than a societal habit.

I once heard a story of a woman who was preparing a Thanksgiving meal and she was cutting the ends off the ham. When asked by her husband why she cut the ends off, she didn't know except that she learned it from her mother so she called her mother and asked why. Her mother didn't have the answer either so she suggested she call her grandmother. The woman dialled her grandmother and her grandmother said, “Well, I cut the ends off the ham because the pan I owned then was too small.

We pass things on to our children that have little or no bearing in newer circumstances and as children, we don't question the status quo. The education “system” is no different. It has a basis in two hundred year old circumstances and we are expecting our children to follow that path despite what their real talent may be..

There is a hierarchy of importance given to what is taught in schools. At the top are mathematics, science and language and at the bottom are the arts (dance, music, writing, etc). At one time, education was structured this way out of necessity to move society forward. That time has passed. As children, we were steered away from things we liked followed closely by the reasoning that we will never get a job doing that. The entire system is built around the idea of getting to, and making our way through, university. There are many, many brilliant children whose innate talent was suppressed simply because it didn't conform to the idea that we must get through university. Why is this so?

More people are getting degrees and degrees are becoming of less and less value... because more of us have them. It's simple economics... the more there is of something, the less value it carries. You don't need a BA to get a job any longer. You now need an MA. And what used to require an MA now requires a PHD. The letters after our names (I have a few myself) are meaningless.

So, how do people discover their talent and ultimately what they are brilliant at? We are encouraged to follow our dreams.

I'm reminded of another story I heard during a TED talk by Ken Robinson about Dame Gillian Lynne. Gillian Lynne is a dancer and choreographer who had humble beginnings. In school, she was always fidgety and distracting the class. She couldn't sit still. The school called her mother and said Gillian might have a learning disorder. Today, she likely would have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD but they didn't know what either was in the 30s when Gillian went to school. Her mother took her to a specialist. While there, the doctor spoke to Gillian and her mother for several minutes then excused himself and Gillian's mother leaving Gillian alone in the room. On the way out, the doctor turned on the radio. While Gillian's mother and the doctor watched from outside, Gillian got up from her chair and began dancing around the room. The doctor turned to Gillian's mother and said, “There is nothing wrong with Gillian. She simply doesn't fit into the school she is in. She should be in dance school.”

Gillian Lynne went on to become the choreographer for Cats and Phantom of the Opera. In today's schools, Gillian would have been drugged and forced through the industrialised school system.

There are any number of people you meet in your daily life who don't know what their talent is. There are very few who do know and even fewer who are making a living at what their talent is. If asked, the vast majority of people would not be able to name their innate talent. The reason is, it has been suppressed by an education system hell bent on getting as many people from A to B in an orderly fashion as possible.

The new world will be based on doing what you love and not what you have to do to survive. The education system needs to catch up.

I'm the yellow guy.
Have you ever tried to line up a group of five year olds? It's like lassoing water. It ain't gonna happen. How orderly is that? Five year olds will migrate naturally to what they love. They will figure it out. The school system, more often than not, will devalue anything that doesn't move children along the prescribed, industrialised path.

When I was in school, my real talents were squashed by a system intent on making me conform to their idea of what my talent should be. I was forced to choose from a narrow band of societally accepted career paths because the industrial machine needed those people. I have always bucked the system because it didn't feel right to me. Having dreams of how the world should be and communicating those thoughts through art, photography, writing and speaking were not acceptable to the machine.

Seeing the world from a different perspective is my nature. Dreaming of what can be is my nature. Not conforming is my nature.

It has taken me fifty years to recover.