Reading outside the lines
Continuing my thoughts…. This is the second part of my post for the first two chapters of the book We make the road by walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire. I am still doing this like an open can of brain, if you can imagine reading and someone eating alphabet soup as the thoughts are forming in your/my brain. It is a complete indulgence for me to allow myself time to think and an unbridled space in which to do it. My thought garden. (7 min read)
I’m starting reading on p.38 with the section entitled “I couldn’t use all this book learning” and I chose the image up top (CC-BY-SA by Stuartpilbrow) because it made me think what’s it like to conform, to have to abide by the rule(s). This part of the book begins with a story recounted by Myles about being taught by a sage-on-the-stage who lectured from a book and expected to have regurgitated answers. Horrifically, when Myles actually reads around the subject and answers an exam question with a wider perspective, he failed and was told – you should have listened to me.
My first reaction to that was holy crap! Oh no!! How completely crippling? Devastating. The impact of something like that, of having failed for daring to learn and demonstrate your understanding in a different way, can have unimaginable consequences on a person depending on who they are. One person will wave an angry fist, shake off the dust, and rise despite the setback, whereas another will crumble.
When I teach any class I start by saying to the class if there is something they would like to learn that is not already covered or if they want to work with something more, or in a different way, then TELL ME! Give me homework and I’ll adapt and build on what I already have planned. Once a class asked for a session on English Song, once a class asked to rearrange the setting, once a class asked why they didn’t have a class website – Go class go! I want students to be involved in how and what they learn. It doesn’t always happen that people pipe up and ask for change, partly because they are studying new topics and don’t necessarily have a wish list at their fingertips. But also, how often does it happen that the teacher asks what the students want to do and how they want to shape the curriculum/experience? (I am sure it is common for anyone who happened to find this post) I don’t know if students who don’t already know me always take me seriously at first, but I am.
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“…most people don’t allow themselves to experiment with ideas, because they assume that they have to fit into the system.” p.44
Isn’t that the truth. There are rules and there are rules, and who made them up anyway? I am bemused by concert etiquette at music events. Back in the day… audiences at operas made a great racket and talked and ate, and there was none of the silent, clap only at the end behaviour. That is not to say it isn’t very nice to be at a concert and be able to have your own bubble of experience that is undisturbed by interjections from others. Last year I gave a concert at which I pushed a little boundary and invited people to sit anywhere they like: behind me, on the side, next to the piano. This was partly to give them freedom to experience the event from a perspective they chose instead of having to conform to some prearrangement, and partly the idea came from my own practical experience of having a rubbish view when stuck in the back of neatly arranged rows. A few people took me up on the offer, but most people just conformed. I am reminded that change takes time. We ended up having a concert in the round…
Across all aspects of life it is difficult to step outside the system, whatever it is. And sometimes there are aspects that cannot and should not be sidestepped. Laws, formal regulations, required assessments, criteria, there are always things to shape what we do, but there is seldom only one way that is predefined to do them. Thinking outside the box, inside the box, heck, I even started thinking about eating the box. Really- I wanted to do an activity at a conference to do with people writing comments. There could be any variation on the type of comment; it could be a compliment, something you want to change, a task, anything… and these are written on rice paper so people could share their comment and then ‘eat their words’. How fun would that be? It would just be different, and hopefully liberating, and a bit silly. It didn’t happen as I needed to source edible ink as well as the rice paper, but I will certainly use it… perhaps in teaching next semester…
On the ‘where’
Ok, this next point that struck me in the book is amorphous, but I think it’s important. Myles describes working through a process of exploring learning in and from a community of people (p.45-51), and he has ideas, but what he strikes on is that he needs to think of a ‘place’. Now he talks about a place like a town, Ozone, or a house, and I can’t quite touch what it is, or how it applies to me/you/now, but I think there is an important element to being able to have an externally tangible something or somehwere for the meeting of minds. It helps with the translation from idea to action. Maybe? – I did say I didn’t know what it was, and I am genuinely figuring this one out on paper. Perhaps the place and including others is a vital step on that path to realising them. (image CC BY-SA by Jakob Nilsson-Ehle) See, I’m making a bit of mental road here. 🙂
“I was still stuck in that business of trying to fit in” p.51 This trips us all up at some point, and at the moment I think the only thing we truly have to fit into is our own skin. I’m not trying to be flippant about bodies or shapes of people, but that actually many of the rules of expectation are fabricated in our minds.
“I just needed to have a vision and that I shouldn’t know.” p.53
This just has to go in bold. There is a great release in not needing or being expected to know everything. Yes, as Freire says later (p.57) the teacher does need to know the content, to see the path, to have vision to help the student to find their own vision and way, but you do not know it all – or you’d be done. Saying that, not knowing it all must not get in the way:
“you can never get going without starting.”
People wait until they are ready. What is ready? When? Where? It’s not about answers and it never was. It is always a risk and you have never done that thing until you have done it. Perhaps ready is when you can let go of the apprehension and the ties that you should know. This is definitely existential candy for me.
But I’m reminded to put the seat belt on:
“you have a responsibility to go as far as you can in your head before you go out and just play around with people.” p.54
(Yes indeed. Point well taken. Thanks, Myles)
I’m going to boil the kettle and pour a nice cup of hot water. No caffeine for me today. Back to reading and another post in a few days…