Wednesday, November 30, 2011

creative engagement in the real world...

It puzzles me that some would think that students sitting in classrooms  with their hands stilled would be a good thing for the intelligence of our nation's kids. There are countless examples otherwise. Our most creative scientists and inventors are not idle in their pastimes. Alex Slocum, a leading professor at MIT is one of those pushing the frontiers of science, and in his spare time is an amateur woodworker. Columbia University Professor John Mutter, whose work at the Earth Institute has helped reshape our understanding of the earth is an amateur painter. Others may do all kinds of other things as "pass-times" that offer creative opportunities within their inventive minds. Seymour Cray who invented a series of computers that for years were the fastest in the world spent his evening hours and weekends digging a tunnel from his basement to a distant woods. And those who do not understand creative engagement in the real world would think that these examples are absurd and unrelated. They are not.

The way this works, for those of you who are not presently creatively engaged is this: Creativity is accomplished through the engagement of the left and right hemispheres of the human brain. The frontiers of human thought are pushed through the use of metaphor, the development of which is an exclusively right brained function. Nuts, bolts, spreadsheets and the like are one thing, creativity requires a more expansive view, and one thing you can see is that Slocum in his wood shop, Mutter at the easel, and Cray in his tunnel have in common is the opportunity for right brain engagement that comes as both hands are expressively engaged in doing real things.

I'm never quite sure how to explain all this but I'm trying.

In the lives of real human beings (here I'm talking about those who cannot be nailed down in spreadsheets), the shortest distance between two points is rarely a straight line, and certainly not an express lane. In Chinese philosophy, the I Ching, it would be called "happy wandering." We may have perfect destinations that are only arrived at through taking circuitous routes.

If you watch the news, what you will see are greedy, ill-informed, rude, thoughtless, and stupid behavior by those who had missed the opportunity to benefit from the creative engagement in making real things. A person learns a few things from craftsmanship. You learn honesty from the honesty of real materials. The materials will not lie, nor will they completely hide your character as a failed or careless craftsman. You learn humility, for attempting to accomplish difficult things will test your foolishly inflated reckonings of self. You will learn in time to create things that inspire others, serve others in simple ways, and in doing so will discover the simple un-inflated truth of your humanity.

The toy truck at left in the photo above is being made by a first grader using the model shown in the same photo at right. The project was his idea. I've helped by making a couple scroll saw cuts, lending my pen, and setting up the drill press to drill the right sized hole. My student even wanted to change the drill bit himself, and he did. All of the first, second and third grade students in todays classes said things like "Wood shop is my favorite class." And Wednesday is my favorite day because we have wood shop." Get it?

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You've come up with the best description yet of how I've lived my life. Happy wandering indeed!