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Month: September 2010 (page 1 of 2)

life is good

It’s funny how sometimes the best weekends are the ones that you don’t really do anything but spend time with those you love. That’s how this past weekend was. Originally, we had a pretty busy weekend planned–a trip to the Adler Planetarium, dinner with friends, visit with family. But, then plans changed and we found our weekend virtually open. Friday (yes, our weekends typically start on Friday) we were planning on heading downtown to explore the Adler Planetarium, but we were having a bit of a lazy morning and decided to skip the planetarium and just hang out in town. Aidan really wanted to do some letterboxing so we found one close by and headed out for the day. We ended up at Hickory Creek Forest Preserve for what we call a “scoot-walk” (Aidan scoots, Mike and I walk) while we followed the letterbox map and uncovered for the hidden treasure. We also spent some time taking photos while Aidan climbed a tree and pretended to be a pirate sailing the high seas in search of gold doubloons. It is always so nice to see Aidan in his element–laughing, running, and enjoying the natural world we live in.

Finding our Saturday open we decided to just embrace the rainy weather and venture over to a Native American event in Frankfort. Unfortunately, we when arrived they were closing down for the day due to the rain. But we tried not to let that get in our way of a fun time. We walked around and looked at what was still remaining and talked with a few of the fine folks from the organization. Aidan got to do a little trading at the trading post and picked up a little woven basket with a gem inside. We then headed over to Wholefoods for some groceries. Most people wouldn’t think grocery shopping on a Saturday with a seven-year old would be fun (and often times it’s not), but this Saturday we all had a blast! We laughed a lot, bought a lot of weird veggies (that Mike and Aidan want to take photos of before we eat them), and sampled some yummy stuff. When we got home we made veggie enchiladas and spent some time reading and playing games on the computer.

Sunday Mike and I both got a run in in the morning and I did some gardening. And then the three of us spent the afternoon at the park playing 16-inch softball, doing another “scoot-walk”, and playing on the playground. We picked up food on the way home and enjoyed a nice meal and conversation, which included dreaming of property and log cabins in the U.P.

Somewhere during the weekend Mike and I got some work in and did a few things around the house. Mike and I even got to spend some time just the two of us–talking and chilling together and watching a movie one night and an episode of Doctor Who another night.

As I said before, sometimes the best weekends are the ones were you find yourself just hanging out and enjoying the simple things that each day brings. Life is good!

reading ken robinson’s out of our minds

This past summer I read Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative by Ken Robinson. The cover of the book has been sitting in the “Good Reads” (formerly “Now Reading”) area of this blog for nearly a year, so I figured I should drop a few thoughts on the book and rotate the cover image to another book lest folks think me perpetually stuck in this text. Although, if one’s mind had to be stuck in one text perpetually, this might not be a bad choice.

For some time now, I have been fascinated by what it means to be creative, that is, to think and act creatively. Robinson’s book came to me just when I was ready for it. Robinson discusses what it means to be creative and offers a prolonged discussion of how academia and, by extension, many of the driving forces of our contemporary world are systematically stifling human creativity. He traces this matter back to 16th and 17th centuries when the Enlightenment and rationalism supplanted Romanticism along with intuition, myth, and felt sense. “The driving forces of the Enlightenment and of the modern world view,” Robinson writes, “have been rationalism and empiricism. The aim has been to see the material world as it is stripped of superstition, myth and fantasy” (71). This has been felt nowhere better than in the Academy, but by extension has been carried through most post-industrial western culture. “Academicism,” Robinson calls it–“the conflation of academic ability with intelligence” (80). An ability to perform well in school and intelligence are not the same thing, as academic ability embodies only the narrowest of views on intelligence. The Academy privileges above all else “a particular sort of critical analysis and short-term memory” (85). The academic illusion he calls it. This is the idea that all knowledge must be framed in terms of rational, critical, empirical analysis. The disconnect is no more obvious than in the arts, as approached by the Academy.

Professors of English are not employed to produce literature: they are employed to write about it. […] Producing works of art often doesn’t count as appropriate intellectual work in an arts department: yet, the equivalent in a science department, doing physics or chemistry does. So why is it that in universities writing about novels is thought to be a higher intellectual calling than writing novels; or rather if writing novels is not thought to be intellectually valid why is writing about them? (66)

So, regarding this academic illusion, Robinson concludes that it isn’t the subject matter that divides traditionally academic (i.e. privileged) work and knowledge; rather, it is the way in which one engages with the work. “You didn’t do art in university; you wrote about it,” he contends (83). This bugs me because the implications are huge. Our students are being educated out of their creativity (as Robinson states elsewhere). In the vast wake of the era of Enlightenment, we have become detached from what we feel in favor almost exclusively of what we can verify in the physical world. The cost is a division between intellect and emotion (not to mention between science and art), and this is a dire cost. The two are not incompatible nor can they be truly teased apart. The human experience and a more accurate view of human intelligence is one of both emotion and intellect.

This broader view of intelligence and of knowing is something I’ve been exploring with my students for a couple years now through the work of Gregory Ulmer and his mystoriography approach to learning and writing. Ulmer writes the following:

[Mystory is] designed to simulate invention, the crossing of discourses that has been show to occur in the invention process. Realizing that learning is much closer to invention than to verification, I intended mystoriography primarily as a pedagogy. The modes of academic writing now taught in school tend to be positioned on the side of the already known rather than on the side of the wanting to find out (of theoretical curiosity) and hence discourage learning how to learn.

The idea in Ulmer’s mystoriography approach is that knowledge and “the wanting to find out” can operate just as much on a sub-rational level as on a rational one–on an emotional level that is best conveyed through the juxtaposition of words and images such that a mood or a feeling is suggested. It’s messy, intuitive, emotional work that does not fit neatly into the compartmentalized world of the Academy or the rational mind. Robinson touches on this very point when he discusses E.M. Forster’s notion creating as a lowering of a bucket into the subconscious mind to draw up something that is normally beyond our reach (154). Emotion should not be dismissed. It is equally a part of our human experience as is the rational, critical mind. Why one is privileged over the other is a mere consequence to historical, social, and political forces. There is not an innate superiority of intellect over emotion. These are divisions and hierarchies of our own creation–and they are detrimental to human creativity. “A critical factor [in creative work] is intuition and a feel for the materials and processes involved. The relationship between knowing and feeling is at the heart of the creative process” (Robinson 137).

Many of the problems we face in the world today are unlike any we’ve seen before. To address them will take an enormity of human creativity–a dipping of that bucket deep into the wells of our selves to see what we might draw up. We must learn to re-frame our view of knowledge and human intelligence so that we can give proper attention to what is possible. This means asking the right questions. “The most important characteristics of an intellectual age is the questions it asks–the problems it identifies. It is this rather than the answers it provides that reveals its underlying view of the world” (Robinson 72). We must resist single-mindedness in the true sense of the word–and embrace our more complex selves that allow for the richness of our imaginations. “If our explanations are theoretical, our questions are ideological,” writes Robinson (73). We have to reconsider. We have to look again. “Creativity is not a separate faculty so much as an attitude: a willingness to reconsider what we take for granted” (Robinson 137). Everything is possible.

come sail away

Recently we spent a beautiful day down at Navy Pier. We started our day taking a ride on the giant ferris wheel–a first for all of us. This 150-foot wheel was modeled after the very first Ferris wheel, which was built for Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. It was a fun 7-minute ride where all three of us were happily snapping pictures of the Chicago views.

Our main pull to the Pier that day was the tall ships festival, which included viewing twenty majestic ships and boarding about half of them. There were ships of all sizes and from various ports, including a several from Canada and from Europe. It was fun reading and learning about the history of the ships and the current usage for the vessels. One (the Unicorn) is used for sail training and for leadership development for teenage girls and women. Another, the Bounty, was used in a variety of movies including Mutiny on the Bounty, Treasure Island, and Pirates of the Caribbean. This ship was one of the largest ones that we explored–we even got to go down to the lower section to check out the cabins. While I enjoyed the seeing and exploring the ships, after boarding seven or eight ships they all started looking the same to me. This, coupled with tiredness setting in for all of us, led us to just looking at the last few from the dock, which was just as satisfying. It was a fun family day out.

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