Monday, August 31, 2009

A new purpose for school education

According to education supremo Sir Ken Robinson "schools kill creativity". And although all children are born talented, mistake making is so stigmatized they become frightened of being wrong.

Creativity is now more important than literacy to cope with a world of accelerating change, where knowledge reaches its use-by-date in decades rather than centuries.

He says schools are designed as a competition to educate people from the waist or neck up, and "slightly to one side". The winners are people who become lecturers and professors who "see their bodies as a form of transport for their heads".

We place the sciences and mathematics at the top of the learning hierarchy, the social sciences in the middle and the creative subjects such as drama, art, dance, and physical education at the bottom. Robinson argues it should be the other way around.

What we now have now is a left frontal lobe learning system, that educates young people out of their creativity. We socialize them into giving automatic "correct" responses to closed questions. We squander their talents and preparedness to take risks. We equip them for jobs that will not exist when they complete their studies.

And so the wonderful right frontal lobe ability to create and implement new ideas becomes lost to society, except for the very few, who rebel against the system.

Here's a workshop to creatively explore what we would like the education system to become in the future:

1. What would the learning system be like if it was designed for a rapidly changing world with a greater focus on creativity?
2. List and describe the major changes in the world we might expect over the next few decades and the impact this will have on the lives of people in the 2030s. (e.g. entertainment+education > edutainment etc.)
3. Describe the lifestyle of a typical 30 year old citizen living in 2030. How will he/she live?
4. What kind of work/activities will people enjoy in the mid 21st Century? Name and describe the new activities e.g. nano-medic, replacing body parts with nano-machines.
5. What will relationships and family life be like in the mid 21st Century?
6. What kinds of skills, values, attitudes and outlook will a 21st Century citizen need to be successful in business/community/life?
7. What does our school, college or university currently do very well upon which we should build or focus? (e.g. drama, art)
8. What are the aspects of our school, college or university we would want to change/improve over the next 20 years?
9. What kind of learning experiences will we need to create for young people to acquire the skills, values, etc. to be effective and successful in the next century?
10. What will our school to be like (structure, relationships, culture, staffing, technology, linkages)?
11. Describe a day in the life of a student at our school in in the mid 21st Century.
12. What should be the key goals for our students in the mid 21st Century? How will we/they know if they have been successful?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are their eyes shining?

When you interact/engage with another person as a speaker, playmate, spouse, lover, parent, sibling, boss or co-worker do you leave them with "shining eyes"?

According to orchestra conductor Benjamin Zander, the ultimate test of a successful interaction is whether their eyes are alive in some new way. Not just a twinkle. But beaming.

It's all part of the process of perfecting our co-performance with others.

He demonstrates the progress of pianist from neophyte to expert. First we hear the stilted performance of a hypothetical seven year old who emphasizes every second note. Then the passable performance of an eight-year old who stresses every fourth note. Next the competent performance of a nine year old who gives weight to every eighth note. And finally the remarkable "one-buttock" performance of the same hypothetical player, now aged 11.

In the presence of a one "buttock player" we are transported from the first note to the last in one undivided stream of consciousness, enveloped in the richness of the journey. Like a bird soaring over fields on its' way to another world, so immersed in its' greater purpose, "it does not notice the fences" below.

As a conductor, Benjamin Zander says he makes no sounds at all. Instead, his job is to make the performers look good. To be powerful. But completely silent he is not. His body speaks volumes, a conversation, not with himself, but with the audience.

Perhaps he has an overdeveloped Broca's area, the part of the frontal lobes where speech and gesture orchestration lie side by side. Partners in performance. The empathy center of the brain where the same "mirror neurons" fire when we watch a performance and when we perform the actions ourselves. The part of the brain that helps us form an image of another person and what they might be thinking or feeling.

Benjamin Zander is a "gestural chatterbox". His whole body is constantly in motion. The raised buttock. The lift of an eyebrow. Waving arms and expressive hands emphasizing ideas. Physically "speaking" with the audience. Striding around the stage seemingly at random but with deliberate purpose to warmly "embrace" everyone with whom he comes in contact. Clapping the audience for their excellent co-performance. Connecting with people and the emotions they are expressing to help reveal the inner, blossoming you.

An orchestrator of music and the mind.

So here's a workshop to explore some of Benajamin Zander's ideas:

1. What's the difference between those who are "passionate" in your organization/family/team/community and those who have no interest whatsoever?
2. Explain how Benjamin Zander engages his audience passionately in the music. How did thinking about a departed loved one help reveal the beauty/wonder of the music?
3. What are the features of a "one-buttock" organization/family/team/community?
4. How would you go about creating a "one-buttock" organization/family/team/community?
5. What happens to people when you as their leader have a wonderful dream but "you are not sure whether they will be up to it"?
6. What are the essential elements of co-performance?
7. How does believing in what you do change your role as a leader?
8. What "notes" do you play in your world that make the previous "notes" sad, happy, amusing or surprising?
9. No one is tone deaf, otherwise we could not change the gears on our car or tell the difference between speakers' accents. How do you people deny their abilities so you don't participate more fully in your organiation/family/team/community?
10. Explain how you would walk/talk if everyone loved what you do? How would you perform differently?
11. If you could engage with people's passions (instead of trying to grow the market for your ideas from 4% to 5%) what would you need to do in your organization/family/team/community?
12. How could you "light up a village" with shining eyes? Describe something wonderful you could do....voice and gestures please.
13. In a world of co-performance what new names/labels do we need for "audience", "leader", "conductor", "speaker", "performer", etc.?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our aquatic origins

Octogenarian Elaine Morgan has been fighting for most of her adult life to gain acceptance for her aquatic ape theory that humans evolved in an estuarine environment rather than the Savannah.

There are big difference between us and other primates. We live on the ground. They live in the trees. We are naked. They are hairy. We walk on two legs. They walk on four, although they wade through water on two. The fossilized pollens found with ancient human remains are not found on the Savannah.

Most other naked mammals such as the dugong, walrus, dolphin and hippopotamus live in water. Even the ancestors of elephants and rhinoceros

Humans are one of a group of creatures with control over our breathing which is a precursor to the development of language. The other primates can't talk. We have a layer of fat just under the skin which would insulate us better in water. They have hair which works best in air. We are streamlined and built for diving into and swimming in water. They are not.

So why has it taken so long for this idea to take hold?

Elaine Morgan cites Thomas Kuhn whose theory of scientific revolutions contends that when a theory gets into strife scientists just carry on as normal. They pretend nothing has happened. Worse still, this "head in the sand" approach is far from rare. It happens all the time.

Why then do scientists ignore the mounting evidence and stick with the Savannah hypothesis? Why do the academic journals refuse to touch the theory, even with a "barge pole?" And why does the theory get lumped in with UFOs, astrology, extra sensory perception and poltergeists? Or is the theory fundamentally or just a little bit flawed?

Here's a series of workshop questions to explore why scientists are sometimes slow to change their minds:

1. Brainstorm a list of DISPUTED theories (and what they claim) for which there is little or no scientific support/proof. e.g. phrenology, phlogiston
2. Brainstorm a list of SUPERB theories (and what they claim) for which there is substantial scientific evidence/support/proof.
3. How would you explain the reluctance of scientists to consider the aquatic ape theory?
4. When Rupert Sheldrake's book "A New Science of Life" - in which he described his theory of "morphic fields" to explain patterns of biological development was first published - some of the establishment said it was "a book fit for burning"? Why might some scientists react like this?
5. What does it take to shake off an old scientific view and adopt a new theory?
6. What explanation can you give for the widely held belief (48% of Americans, 2007 Newsweek poll) that the world was created during the last 10,000 years?
7. Why do you think some scientists continue to support old theories rather than new theories which offer a better explanation of the phenomena?
8. What explanation can you offer for other great schisms in science e.g. instructionist vs. constructivist models of learning, behaviorism vs. socially mediated psychology, big bang vs steady state theories of astrophysics, animal cognition vs animal instincts?
9. Explain why you agree/disagree with the following statement: "Fundamentalism is a belief in an outmoded point of view no matter what."
10. What parallels, if any, might there be between the evolution of ideas and biological evolution?
11. Describe an experiment to more thoroughly explore the aquatic theory of human development. What should be the key elements of the research?
12. If you were given the task to "market" the aquatic ape theory to the world, what would you do to help spread and gain acceptance for the idea?