Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thinking Outside the Box in a Super Competitive World

I like to dance in the living room. My son thinks this is quirky. (But I`ve never been ashamed of being a bit different, as least since adulthood.)

 I have saved 60 or so episodes of the Barefoot Dancer and sometimes use them for my daily dancing. Or sometimes I just pop on the Galaxy channel, Big Band or Latino, depending on my mood. Needless to say, dancing is good for the old bones and the old arthritis, although it is on occasion very bad for the body, as when I hurt myself. But I keep on truckin`.

I didn't dance as a child. I was very tall - so no one pegged me as a dancer. And it wasn`t de rigeur to give little (or freakishly tall) girls ballet lessons.  I rode horses and sometimes played baseball with my brothers. I had better eye hand coordination than either of them. And my neighbourhood school, that had pretty good teaching standards, had no gym program to speak of.

Anyway, today, deciding I should get up off my ass, I turned on the TV for a short dance session. The TV was on the CBC where a child's program was airing. Something called Pirates, Adventures in Art.

There was a little song being performed THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.. as in Do not be afraid to...

I found this educational video somewhat ironic, well, VERY ironic.  I stopped and re-round the show.  It featured a Pirate and he was discussing Da Vinci. Da Vinci was a genius, you see,  because he thought outside the box.

Now, I think this is ironic because if you are going to think outside the box, you are going to FAIL more often than succeed. But failure, in today`s schools is not an option ...not for  the ambitious or anyone who hopes to get a good job in today`s competitive market. That`s why middle class parents are spending a fortune sending their kids to expensive private schools, joining churches just to access the church school, moving to `good educational districts` and using tutors when the teachers seem to fail them, in either the public or private sectors. (Yesterday, I read a Guardian piece where an education writer is apologizing for having chosen a public school for her children (which is private in our North American terms.) Many thought her a hypocrite.

I didn`t say it first. This guy did and BRILLIANTLY, on a TED Talk. This lecture by Ken Robinson has, you can see, 11 million hits.

Even Da Vinci`s Last Supper is full of mistakes, some say. (Or it`s full of coded messages that the great man put there to defy the authorities. Even he had restraints on what he could create.)

Any college kid will tell you, if you want to get good marks, repeat what the professor tells you. Don`t  dare to argue, unless you have superb rhetorical skills.  A young woman was just the other day giving me an example from her Master's Course.

(And this must be especially true in Business Schools, that are underwritten by Big Business Concerns.Why would they want to train people to put them out of business?

My son has a science degree, but he started out in Business School, a very prestigious course that he had worked hard to win the marks for.   He went into business because he was good a math, and a teacher he admired suggested he should. Not because it is what he wanted to do in his heart.

But also that year he became a `radical`vegetarian (after seeing a video of a slaughterhouse in a course in Jr. College) and he became interested in issues around industrialized food production. In a paper on the subject he dared to defy the teacher`s point of view (which was, of course, pro business)and he got a failing grade on paper.

I didn`t see the paper, but I saw an earlier paper (I sneaked a peek) from the year before in Jr. College where the teacher suggested he submit his paper to The Guardian, so he could write I guess. 

So we have this very sad Catch 22 for modern students (even pre-schoolers!) : everyone is saying they must be creative, entrepreneurial, to survive in the world of work,  and yet the skills needed to become this way are discouraged by the education system. 

A degree with C's is fairly useless these days, unless you have connections and/or are wealthy.. The kid with straight A's and a Post Graduate degree (and good connections from his Private School) is going to get the job over you, even if he has to take 5 internships to get it.  Even if the kids with All A's (and it happened in my day) chose courses that would guarantee him an A - and you chose courses that were challenging and creatively stimulating and where the prof on the very first day warned his students, "No one gets an A in this course unless you are freakin' Da Vinci."

I feel sorry for today's graduates, I have empathy. I too graduated in a BUST period. No one but engineers got good jobs out of college in my  graduating Class. Well, a business graduate I know got a good job. She got a job in PR for a tobacco company. And, sadly, one of the engineers I knew of died in the Ocean Ranger disaster.

Of course when Leonardo was an apprentice and thinking to leave Florence, he wrote a famous letter to the Duke of Milan, which included his resume.

He could make any kind of bridge, he said. And machines for offence and defence. He could design chariots of any kind, safe and attackable.

He could create machines for agriculture.

Oh, and by the way, he could render statues in marble bronze and clay and he could paint a bit.