Improving your Improvisation

Abstract: As society changes its emphasis from manufacturing to services and information, more people start realizing that in today's world many old-fashioned skills are no longer in demand; that what children are taught at school is largely out of date and out of step with the modern world. School claims to give students knowledge needed to become successful professionally. But knowledge can become obsolete, moreover, from a certain perspective knowledge turns out to be fallible. Therefore, self-learning should not be the exception. This article argues that creativity and improvisation will only become more important in future times and that school in many respects has a negative effect on such qualities.


A. Education has changed

In the old days, the education system focused on teaching manual skills. Society expected boys to become skilled robots, eager to earn an honest meal by working hard and being humble as they were taught to do. Many sons were introduced into 'the trade' by their father, while most daughters were only taught the basics of housekeeping and motherhood by their mothers. Many parents who never had such schooling themselves, regarded school as supplementary tuition to teach children things such as reading, writing, arithmetic and perhaps some religious and other disciplinary instruction. School was not expected to teach children much more than basic skills, it certainly was not supposed to give children more knowledge than they needed.

For those who continued their education after the basic school years, there was vocational training. 'Higher' education, especially university, was looked at with suspicion, as a world of absent-minded professors, as an elite world of young men in strange dresses who came from rich families. Many parents were suspicious about knowledge, as if too much wisdom could take away the respect children should have for their parents, could damage parental authority and make children start asking questions rather than obeying orders.

Meanwhile, work conditions have changed quite dramatically. Today many women work outside the home. Although many still regard Australia as a country in which wealth is based on agriculture, mining and manufacturing, for some 80% of its workforce work means providing services.

The education system's reaction has been a change in focus from manual skills to knowledge. School no longer merely teaches literacy and numeracy, it teaches foreign languages, 'life-skills', science, computer skills, anything that has an aureola of importance. Today many children dream of becoming a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, a veterinarian, an architect, a scientist, a computer expert, even a teacher. The education system claims that, to exercize such professions, one must first gain qualifications that prove that one possesses certain knowledge. And it is hard, if not impossible to gain such qualifications without going through the formal education system. But in its efforts to hold on to its monopolies, the education system has put science, or more generally knowledge on a pedestal that is about to crumble: Knowledge turns out to be fallible!

B. Science versus Information

Knowledge is fallible, as it generally resides in people's heads. Knowledge, or its Latin synonym science, is associated with ideas, thoughts, theories, etc. But even more than that, knowledge refers to the answers to questions, the solution to problems. Knowledge is something one has or has not. Knowledge is not something one can pick up easily; it usually comprizes many facts and complex formulas that are not easily understood.

At least this is the general perception and the education system does a lot to make it look that way. The education system makes it look as if knowledge is something that one obtains from the education system, from the teachers, from schools, etc.

But all the information teachers claim to offer to students is readily available in books. The difference between information and knowledge is that information transcends the human brain. Teachers have long given up pretending that all wisdom is in their heads. There are good reasons for using books, instead of human memory. People can make mistakes, they can forget things, while their kowledge of facts and details is only limited. Today, people who demand accuracy, turn to information in books and journals, on video and computer databases, rather than to teachers. Today, people interested in the facts, rather go to a library and to register with a University in order to attend a seminar by a professor who specializes in the area of their interest.

In the education system, knowledge is presented as facts and details that one is to absorb in one's brain as the truth. But information is not restricted to brains and the truth is rather elusive. Today, information is something one uses, rather than learns. And information is readily available outside the education system.

The education system polishes up the old image of a scientist who possesses knowledge that 'normal' people lack. But professors rarely have ideas that cannot be found in literature, and if they do, they will be quick to publish them. University professors, by their own admission use books, journals and computer databases as their source of information.

So what is all this nonsense that the education system is giving students knowledge? If the information one needs is readily available in books, on video, etc, why then should students go through the trouble of memorizing the lot? And even in the unlikely case that it were useful to put all this information in one's head, why should one go to school to do this?

The education system claims knowledge to be the key to professional success and insists that such knowledge is to be gained through formal education. But it is wrong on both counts. The education system is simply an archaic institution that has gambled on an out-of-date picture of the 'wise' teacher with all the knowledge. The education system has only half-heartedly accepted books, videos and computers, as its focus is on knowledge rather than on information.

C. The Teachings are wrong

School not only insists that students need to absorb information that they will never need in their lives. The horror of school goes much further. There is a lot of publicity on topics such as violence, accidents and other dangers associated with school. But few people realize that all the stress of school can literally make children sick.

Perhaps the greatest horror is that school teaches old-fashioned skills and out-of-date knowledge dreamed up by people of the past. School does this because this fits in better with the regime of discipline that school imposes on children. But by putting children into the straitjacket of discipline, school takes away the very qualities that the children of today will need to succeed in the world of tomorrow. Such qualities are an open mind, curiosity, flexibility, the ability to listen and express oneself with spontaneity; enthusiasm, etc.

The old keywords to success in business were access to capital, physical assets and labour. In tomorrow's world, the demand will be for original ideas, i.e. for people who are creative, who are independent thinkers and who can improvise. One cannot expect students, after completing their studies, suddenly to become creative, to start improvising and improve management and organizational structures. School has taught them the very opposite, as it disciplines children into preprogrammed mental and behavioral patterns. After all these years of adjusting and conforming to the straitjacket, school-leavers will tend to conform to existing structures, will ask for rules and supervision and, when facing the unexpected, they will collapse into incompetence.

D. Improvise to improve!

To develop one's abilities to improvise, one should not look at self-learning and improvisation as a second choice, as a default for 'normal' behavior. People often regard improvising autodidacts as amateurs, most people only improvise if the rules do not apply, e.g. in emergency situations.

Skills acquired at school do not go very deep, they only work as long as there are no surprises. Self-learners can cope with many different situations, as they understand their matter in and out. School focuses on discipline and imitation, denying students opportunities to seek their own answers. School ridicules self-learning and improvisation. But self-learning and improvisation are the keys to personal development. One should not waste time absorbing 'knowledge' that someone else says is true or is presented as a rule; that kind of information can be looked up in books if one is supposed to need it later in life. Instead, one should spend one's time and energy trying out things, and that way learn from experience, improving one's insight in the matter and becoming familiar with it through optionality.




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