Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thinking Outside of the Box



It is almost a miracle that modern teaching methods have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom.

~~Albert Einstein~~


I once worked in the public school system for many years as a teachers' aide in the regular, gifted and resource classrooms. I am a HUGE fan of innovative teaching, creative learning, original thinking (which I found in the gifted program, but unfortunately not in the regular classrooms). Children should be taught the rules of reading, writing, arithmetic, but they should also be taught to think outside the box. They must learn that teachers are not always right, history is fluid and is always being revised, and that coloring outside the lines is OKAY.

I taught art classes to fifth/sixth graders which included Drawing on the Right-side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, one of my all time favorite books. In the book there are exercises which train and stimulate right-brain thinking. This is one area which is sadly lacking in public education.

The students came into my classroom saying, "I'm a horrible artist. I can't draw a thing." But they left saying, "Wow, I'm really a good drawer." And it was true, there was a remarkable change. How important it is to help students feel capable.


In one exercise, I had taped an upside down copy of a drawing to each desk. The kids weren't told what they were drawing and could only look at the picture upside down. They spent the hour drawing an object they knew was a man, but they weren't allowed to look their drawing right-side-up or the other picture until they were finished. When they were done, they turned their drawing around and realized it was Igor Stravinsky by Pablo Picasso. Then they turned around the Picasso picture and compared it to theirs'. They were amazed at how similar the two pictures were. "I can draw like Picasso!" they shouted as they ran from the room. The exercise doesn't just help with drawing. It helps anyone at anytime with creative thinking.


It takes a shift in thinking to come up with new solutions to old problems--a shift in paradigm as Thomas Kuhn put it. Humans, by their very nature, resist change. We are afraid of the unknown, the untested. We are afraid of being different. We truly want to conform. (If you want to read something political into this, you may.)

Several years ago, Bill and I drove to Bridger, Wyoming on a sunny September Saturday (pardon the alliteration) to attend a Mountain Man Rendezvous. The highlight of the day was listening to a magnificent young Lakota male speak about his culture. Dressed only in a leather loin-clothe, with his long, black, feathered hair blowing in the wind and his gleaming, muscular brown skin, I could not take my eyes off of him as he spoke so fluently and eloquently about his people.

"White men live in boxes (house). They sleep in boxes (bed). They get up and bath in a box (bathtub) and look at themselves in a box (mirror). The eat three square meals at a square table. They drive to work in a box (car) on streets that are laid out in squares. They work in a box (building) where they sit at a box (desk) and look at a box (computer). They pass around pieces of paper (again boxes or rectangles) and they read boxes (books). At night they sit in front of a box (TV) to watch the rest of the world. They follow a straight path through life and when it is all over, white men are buried in boxes!"

"The People (Native Americans) do not understand this square way of thinking. In nature and in life, everything is a circle, a cycle. The earth, moon and sun are circles. The seasons of the year come in circles. Our lives are cycles--we are born from a circle (womb), we live, we die, but the cycle continues in our children and grandchildren. We live in circles (tepees or wigwams). We revere our old people, because they are part of our circle. Our lives are not about fitting into boxes. We cannot do this." This is the gist of what he said, but not nearly as impressively stated.

I have always found great wisdom in Native American ideas. Right now I am stuck in a box--in my thinking and in my life (see prior post). My thinking is all left-brained. I am a SQUARE.


It's time to jump out of the box!



5 comments:

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Keri(th) said...

My son could use a teacher like you! He is way outside of the box and I often feel that people are trying to cram him back inside and tape it shut. I have always enjoyed perspective from many different angles - I learn something new every time.

Keri(th) said...

Sheri,

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PI said...

Sheri: at last my grand children are here and I can put the award you so kindly gave me on my side bar; which I shall do with pride. Thank you so much.

PI said...

I suppose my glass cage was a box.