Teachings behind School

Abstract: DonParagon's ideas on creativity are written down by Edwin Thor, editor of Quintessence's monthly policy magazine Optionality, in which this article first appeared. The article argues that the school environment inhibits understanding and that school is an outdated system, not geared to transfer information. The article concludes that the ultimate test is whether YOU are happy with what you are doing.

A. What is Education?

Some of the cliches of the Education System are that it offered students important information, taught them useful skills, made them think, understand and learn valuable things; all such activities are regulated by the Government under the banner of the Education System, with the claim that, this way, students will develop to their fullest potential.

The ideas of composer and musician DonParagon are behind many articles that have appeared in Optionality on education. In those articles the quality of information, the usefulness of skills and the appropriateness of subjects as taught at school are often questioned.

DonParagon believes there are some fundamental inconsistencies, even conflicts, between the school environment and the development of one's talents. The way school operates inhibits learning, thinking about and understanding of issues of importance, according to Don. Don questions the relevance of, the prominence that school gives to learning and education in general. "For a child to develop its potentials, a degree of reflection and independent thought, and opportunities for expression, exploration and improvisation are all of vital importance; also important are incentives, challenges and materials that are interesting to think about and work with. School doesn't offer such conditions", says Don.

"Do you think that, when the teacher speaks in front of the classroom, students are learning", asks Don, "in the sense that they are reasoning logically?" According to Don, language may be useful in communications, but not all thinking is done in verbal logic. "Thinking in many respects resembles observation. Does watching the teacher perform in front of the classroom add to any reflection about the matters addressed?"

"The blackboard may help, but it may well be that students are concentrating more on the pens in their hands, the faces of other students, on the hairstyle of the teacher, etc. It is hard to keep concentrating on, let alone to try to understand, something that does not appear to be very interesting. The school environment simply does not stimulate thinking, as it does not allow students to develop themselves", says Don.

"The classroom is deliberately made boring, in the belief that, this way, students will not be distracted from matters addressed by the teacher. Teachers take it for granted that what they say is important and that it has to be accepted at their command. But if students are not interested, then this force-feeding of information is nothing else but indoctrination".

B. The commercial World

The advertising industry is far more competent in penetrating the minds of children, than school is. Advertisements exploit the fact that much of what occurs in the brain, is of a different nature than the verbal 'logic' that children are fed at school. Advertisements like to show a happy face together with a product, also adding a pleasant tune, to give the impression that this is a nice product; whatever is said in the ad about the product is often less relevant; the most important thing is to feed happy associations with the product, explains Don.

Don makes a provocative comparison between commercial practices and school. "In retail"; Don says, "shopkeepers do not stand with sticks in their hands to threaten and instruct customers what to buy. A more successful practice is to let the customers browse freely through the shop, to let them make up their minds about what they want to buy. Hospitality simply sells more products."

"There is a good chance that the children who now go to school, will later on work in retail or other sectors where commercial practices are dominant. Isn't it important for children to get used to such practices? The commercial world has developed ways for suppliers to draw attention to their products, to distribute product-information and to make sure the message sinks in, without using force. If school is basically a supplier of information", says Don, "why can't teachers use the same practices? What's wrong with school?"

C. Manual Skills Training

Hearing Don's arguments, many questions come up. Why does the Education System not put the information that it regards as important for students, in a more attractave package? Why not let students learn in an environment that is more pleasant than the standard, boring classroom? Why not have quiet background music, why not distribute fruit and drinks to polish up the message?

Don explains that such suggestions cannot be applied to school very easily. The reason is that school has an entirely different background.

"In the old days, people were mostly disciplined and trained in manual trades. One learned a trick, a manual skill, without understanding why it works. One learned such things without actively involving the brain at all. The method used to learn such skills is repetition. If an action is repeated often enough, a pattern develops in the nerve centres in the spine to control such an activity automatically, i.e. without involving the brain. A trained person does not think, when using such a skill. Thinking takes too long when a rapid response is required, or a complex sequence of movements. As common in sport and martial art, training in manual skills is full of discipline, of repeating the same movement over and over again, of strict supervision to ensure that the correct movement is practised, etc. Thinking is discouraged during such practice, as thinking can only slow one down or lead on to try out "incorrect" movements. In this type of training, the teacher is the perfect example and the student has no say", says Don.

D. The Place of Learning

There is a place for such learned skills, be it that one can question which teacher, if any, is the perfect example. Moreover, one can question whether this type of learning deserves a prominent place. Developing routines and habits can be useful, as they may allow one to concentrate on more important things. But they are a means to something else, i.e. learned skills should not be given the highest priority. Similarly, it may be important to memorize things, so that one does not have to spend much time looking things up. "But the question is", says Don, "do the advantages of possibly saving some time weigh out the time spent to memorize all this?"

Don continues: "School concentrates on training and discipline, on teaching skills and routines, on memorising all kinds of facts and details. But will all these skills ever be put into useful practice? The 'justification' for all this training was that it supposedly allowed the student, later in life, to concentrate on what is important, to get on with the job without having to learn how to, e.g., write first. But should it really take twenty years or so to become, say, a nurse?"

"I doubt whether teachers ever think about what the future will require in terms of skills. All indications are that there is a world of difference between what is taught at school and the commercial practices out in the real world. School does not allow students to develop their talents in areas that matter most in this respect. School bans conversation, exploration, creativity, spontaneity, improvisation, imagination, etc, it just forces children ta become robots. In the process, the children do not develop the use of their brains, especially the use of their right hemispheres".

"The development of artistic and creative talents, of ethical consciousness, of an assertive and independent mind, this is in many respects the opposite of the old-fashioned type of learning. In the old way, thinking, any use of the brain was discouraged. Nowadays, school teaches facts and details in the same way as manual skills were drilled into people. School cannot act otherwise, as it is geared towards this old way of teaching. Such facts and details are dropped in the form of symbols (letters, words, numbers, formulas) in the left hemisphere of the brain. Repetition and don't ask questions!"

"Students who really try to think about matters do not fit in well with the disciplinary and distractive aspects of school. Even memorizing facts and details often must be done in the privacy of the student's home - school is not the right place!"

Don questions the benefits of memorizing such facts and details. When a laptop and mobile phone can give me instantaneous access to a wealth of details", he says, "should I rely on what I had to memorize say 10 or 20 years ago at school?"

E. Learning versus Improvisation

DonParagon suggests a shift away from the emphasis on learning and more focus on improvisation. To develop one's talents, I recommend improvisation, not learning", says Don. "School drills children like soldiers, under the pretence that they are learning things of value. Few people express any doubts about this; but why should children learn all the time?"

"The Government may allow what it calls home-schooling, but what it expects is that children are disciplined at home so they learn all these tricks, facts and details again, all under the supervision of a teacher".

"This is not what I have in mind when I advocate improvisation. Learning presumes a master-slave relationship between teacher and pupil. Learning is a means to achieve something, it is done in order to do something else that one really wants to do. It all implies that learning is not what one really wants to do. So, why not try to do what you want to do in the first place? Improvisation can benefit from interaction with others, who are not necessarily more skilled. In improvisation, the emphasis is not on learning, on getting skilled by doing repetitive exercises, but on understanding, on achieving the things one is proud of and in building up confidence. The emphasis of improvisation is on working out the ways you yourself propose to do things; it may be a bonus if anything is learned in the process, but improvisation is not done in order to learn, but with an eye on personal development."

F. A Change of Attitude

DonParagon: "When I make music, I do not intend to give people a lesson. I do not want to force people to accept something they do not like. I do not expect people to learn any useful skills or obtain valuable information by listening to me. I am not out to reward diligent students for learning. Anybody who has to take my message home for further study has not really listened".

"My satisfaction is in grabbing the attention in order to establish a certain attitude that is expressed in my music; sometimes, you can see people look up and you can hear them think: What is that? That is when I strike a chord".

Don's message on the topic of education goes a bit like this: 'People have become subservient to the teachings of the Government, which prevents them from developing their talents. Most people's attitude is obedience and blind discipline towards this system that is out to destroy their ideas, their creative potential, in short their identity. All it takes for this attitude to change, is for people to realise what the Education System as imposed and controlled by the Government stands for, what it does to people, what values it preaches'.

As Don says himself: "Such an attitude-change is instantaneous, rather than the result of a long process of accumulation of knowledge or refinement of skills. Also, such an attitude change is a voluntary decision, it cannot be forced upon someone; it is a question of people making up their own minds, deciding for themselves what they want to have in their brains, rather than to obey commands from others that are out to exploit them."

"Unfortunately, most people are not comfortable with finding out things for themselves, they think they always need an expert to tell them what makes sense. But why accept a second-hand opinion as superior to your own views? Explore your own world, don't let anyone else tell you what you can so easily find out for yourself! If you work things out to your own satisfaction, you are likely to understand things better in the first place. But don't aim to outperform others all the time! The question is if you are happy with what you are doing, not if you are doing something better than someone else", is Don's final message.

DonParagon says that he does not like writing articles about all this. "Words can be so rhetorical, they can lead to endless discussions about nothing. I don't want my ideas to be preached as lectures or seminars, instead I want people to make up their own minds. I prefer to express myself with music. That way, I believe I can better express, better than through text, what I want: Optionality!"

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