In his book “Lila”, Persig talks of static and dynamic quality: too much static quality leads to atrophy and death, too much dynamic quality lead to chaos. The dialectic of structure and creativity; of limits and freedom.
I come from a culture that puts high value on individual freedom and creativity and registers a high threshold to risk in tests. I work in a culture that values stability and efficiency and has one of the lowest thresholds to risk taking in Europe.
I can understand both points of view – but it is more difficult to reconcile them.
I see power and control kill motivation in both teachers and students.
I also see students who fail to make progress because of a lack of structure and discipline. Problems with writing, drawing and the creation of multimedia projects all have their origin in a lack of coherent structure.
Much of what we consider highly creative necessitates enormous discipline; playing an instrument, drawing, writing or cooking.
The fact is that these qualities of structure, discipline and clarity do not have to be equated with power, control, fixity and closure.
It is the dominance of an individual, one-point perspective that creates problems; where, as in modernist doctrine or standard operating procedures in companies, an individual, or group of individuals, try to imagine every possibility contingency and create procedures that dictate the response of everyone.
Life is fluid and reality in its wholeness is unknowable; our powers to explain are limited. We create models of reality that we share; these models are in constant evolution according to the metaphors and understanding of our age and our cultural perspective.
The fear of uncertainty, the desire to dominate or the lack of imagination to see that the world may be different from another point of view: these things lead to a simplification of life that can threaten our very humanity and our capacity for adaptation and for subtlety. “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility, humility is endless”, wrote T.S.Eliot. The simple thought “what if I am mistaken?” could regulate many evils of the world.
In terms of teaching this requires listening to the student rather than imposing upon him. John Holt wrote:
“We cannot know at any moment what particular bit of knowledge or understanding a child needs most, will most strengthen and best fit his model of reality. Only he can do this. He may not do it very well, but he can do it a hundred times better than we can. The most we can do is try to help, by letting him know roughly what is available and where he can look for it.”
Neil Postman wrote:
Certainly, anyone who has worked with children in an inquiry environment knows what a delightful, fitful, episodic, explosive collage of simultaneous ‘happenings’ learning is. If the learning process must be visualized, perhaps it is most authentically represented in a Jackson Pollock canvas- a canvas whose colours increase in intensity as intellectual power grows (for learning is exponentially cumulative).
The research of Sadler leads him to the conclusion that “student development is multidimensional rather than sequential, and prerequisite leanings cannot be conceptualized as neatly packaged units of skills or knowledge”. And yet, most assessment of the student is what he terms “Convergent: “‘In convergent teacher assessment the important thing is to know if the child, knows, understands, or can do a predetermined thing.”
There is another approach which Pryor and Torrance term “divergent” which “emphasises the learners’ understanding rather than the agenda of the assessor. Here the important thing is to discover what the child knows, understands, or can do.”
Such an approach equates with that of Oliver Sacks’ approach towards his patients:
“One must drop all presuppositions and dogmas and rules- for these only lead to stalemates or disaster; one must cease to regard all patients as replicas, and honour each one with individual attention, attention to how he is doing, to his individual reactions and propensities; and in this way with the patient as one’s equal, one’s co-explorer, not one’s puppet, one may find therapeutic ways which are better than other ways, tactics which can be modified as the occasion requires. Given a ‘policy-space’ no longer simple or convergent, an intuitive ‘feel’ is the only sage guide; and in this the patient may well surpass his physician.”
We do not need to impose; we need to listen and to guide. We can help the student to create his own education. To do this we need to teach our young how to structure their time and their thoughts: how to analyse, evaluate, compare induct and to synthesise. How to follow and create an argument. How to create connections; to understand a point of view in relation to the circumstances that gave rise to it. How to evaluate and assess his own progress.