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Tag: books (page 3 of 9)

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.

books, books, and more books

Aidan loves books; simply loves books. So we read all the time. While he does like doing his own reading he’s still learning so reading to himself goes slow, often slower [singlepic=775,350,350] Aidan with mom outside the librarythan he wants. But fortunately he still enjoys me reading to him! This is a time that I really cherish each day–snuggling together, him with his blue blanket me with a cup of coffee, and we read sometimes for hours a day.

While we read a lot all throughout the entire year, Aidan likes reading in the summer. The reason is because this summer, like summers past, Aidan has participated in the summer reading program at our local library. This program is one in which you record the hours spent with books–reading to yourself, having someone read to you, or listening to audio books. There are sheets to record your hours, and after each sheet is turned in kids get small prizes (e.g. a plastic ring, a bendable rubber alien, bookmarks, etc.) throughout the summer. At the end of the program “grand” prizes are awarded to the readers with the highest hours. Aidan has won larger prizes in the years past, and today we found out that he won again for his age range. Eighty-four hours of reading for the past month and a half! He was thrilled to receive a huge Indiana Jones Lego set, a t-shirt, and a few coupons to local places, but even more then being excited about the prizes he was very proud of himself. And Mike and I were also proud of him and very happy for him!

Now off to do some reading! :)

two good reads

We love books in our house and we tend to read a lot. That’s why I decided to share a bit about some of the books we’ve been reading. While I always seem to be in the middle of some book, my focus today is more on some of the great kids’ books that Aidan and I have been reading. We have read many of the typical kids’ series–from Magic Tree House to Boxcar Children to Times Spies (once Aidan finds a series he likes we have to read all the books in the series!).

But just recently I stumbled across a couple excellent books. One was Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. This was a wonderful story about the adventures of Minli, a young Chinese girl, who meets up with a dragon as she travels through the land trying to find the man on the moon in order to change her families fortune. Along the way she and the dragon are helped by various people and characters who provide insight on the meanings of family, friendship, love, and happiness. And in the end she finds that she and her family had everything they needed from the beginning. It is a book full of descriptive Chinese folktales intertwined within the beautifully written story of Minli’s adventures.

Another awesome book that we just finished was Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth by Lee Welles. I highly recommend this book for everyone–not just kids, but adults too–especially with Earth Day just around the corner. This book brings forth the subject of factory farms and the negative impact they can have on the earth and the people around them (Here are a couple web sites on the problems with factory farms: Sustainable Table and The Meatrix). The main character of Enter the Earth, Elizabeth, meets up the the “spirit” of the Earth, Gaia, and learns powerful ways to connect with the earth in order to save her family farm from the monstrous factory farm that is trying to buy up (and “buy off”) the small rural community in upstate New York. It’s a great reminder of the power of nature and how everything on this planet is so interconnected; and how humans sometimes forget how destructive we can be to our own planet (and ultimately to ourselves)–often due to greed. It’s the first one of a newer series (there is going to be four total). We already have the request in at our library for the second of the Gaia series and can’t wait to read it.

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