We are now at the end of Sir Ken Robinson’s book “The Element”. it has been a fun ride for me and I hope for you as well. I see this book as a follow up to Csikszentmihalyi’s great book “Flow”, written back in 1990. Both open the door to higher levels of living.
But Sir Ken does have an afterward. And in this, he offers some cautionary words. There are effects, he says, from our cultural abuse of individuals. I use the word abuse in the sense that culture does not nurture people’s quest to find and live in their elements.
One is the destruction of our ecology via overly mechanistic thinking. Rachel Carson attempted a wake up call some decades ago, and yet, we have not change much since then. It now is part of our daily discourse – the climate crisis. But according to Sir Ken, there is a second climate crisis – and this is our intellectual climate.
We are still obsessed with the idea that we and the world as well work like machines. We believe in “mechanization”. In fact, we and the world around us live in organic environments. What is the difference? The mechanistic view is about separating things into categories that are neatly defined. In the organic reality everything is interconnected. We need to see this organic perspective if we are to survive as a species.
Is it aiming too high?`Well, we cannot see it so easily. But we cannot see the seeds of flowers waiting in death valley for a spring rain either. Yet they are there. We know it when they suddenly bloom after that rain comes. Sir ken ends with a thought form Michelangelo – the danger is not that we aim to high, but that we aim too low achieve that mediocre result.
That is it for ken! I will be moving on to a next book! Stay tuned!
Mindfulness is all the rage these days. All sorts of writers, poets, gurus and even bartenders are preaching the benefits of increasing your mindfulness. What they mean is becoming more aware of you in your surroundings. Perhaps it is the same as become more sensitive to the way in which you live.
Of particular interest for my practice regime is becoming more mindful of my mindfulness. In other words, my brain — like yours — delivers all sorts of images and messages to me during the day. I might suddenly think whether the laundry is done. Or I might remember a scene from my childhood. Normally, I do not pay attention to these for long. They are distractions from what I am doing. I dismiss them and they vanish.
But do they vanish? Well, not really. They leave my conscious mind for sure. But my mind is far greater than my consciousness. There are deep process at work there. And these processes have value, even if we don’t see it at a given moment.
In this light, check out this interesting article about the work of Heidegger on being. If you cannot due to the NYT paywall, here is the key thought. We take for granted that we are separate from the things we see. So if we see a rock, the rock is outside of us. It does not rely on our seeing it to come into being. Heidegger rejected this line of thought. For him, there is no reason to separate what we see from giving existence to the things that we see. We can give more or less meaning depending on our attention.
Well, you may not go for this. Not many folks do. But the argument has more intuitive appeal when we apply it to those thoughts that pop up in the mind. When we give attention to them, we bring them into the conscious world — and practicing how to use that form of mindfulness helps train the mind to gain capacity.
How?I am tracking some — not all — of the thoughts that pop up. I write them down and think about them as if they were real. What kind of world do they come from? Is it a world that I want to live in? Is it a world that is sustainable? And is it a world that is larger than myself? Interesting questions to practice.
Check out this video of Tony Robbins talking about how he acted in a movie. Now check out this video of Tony Robbins talking about his morning routine.
Notice a common theme? Tony believes in the value of getting out of your comfort zone. Of shocking the system to open up new lines of thought.
The truth is that I have never thought this way. I do shock my system from time to time. But I always valued the recovery more than the shock. So when I ran the half mile in high school, I hated training and I loved post training rest. And btw, it was no huge surprise when I gave it up. So when I went skiing, I couldn’t wait until I was sitting by the fire after a great day on the slopes.
I am beginning to come around to Tony’s point of view that comfort is not always your friend. You need a balance of shock and recovery to keep your balance. And that means valuing the shock as much as the recovery. I will start monitoring how often I “shock” my system during the day. Do you do that?
Over the last month or so, I have been experimenting to build up a “regime” where I practice certain basic parts of my daily ritual to see if I can improve. It does not matter how important these things are. For example, writing a book and sweeping the stairs have the same priority in my practice regime, even though sweeping the stairs will not pay the mortgage.
As I have done this, I noticed a result that I expected. The more closely I monitored what I was doing, the more I did. Drucker pointed out that we can only improve what we measure, and the mere act of tracking what I did, caused me to do more and become more sensitive to the result. My stairs, for example, are much cleaner than they ever have been.
But more recently, I bumped into a problem. I started to tinker with how I track things. I was not satisfied with doing this on a wordpress format and so I started writing things down. Changing how I track changed what I did. The structure of my day shifted. Ooops.
This is not a total disaster. But it is a partial one. Now that I have changed my data collection methods, my data review and assessment is screwed up. I think this is a relatively common problem and will be writing about how I get back on track as I go forward.
In this last section of his book, “The Element”, Ken Robinson sums up some core ideas about what ideal education would look like. It would be based on helping kids find their elements (where abilities meet passion). That would mean doing away with prioritization of subjects. Indeed, perhaps doing away with subjects altogether. Instead, one might think of “disciplines”, areas that build bundles of knowledge, skills and practices. And the curriculum should be personalized rather than standardized.
He offers a nice contrast to better see how assessment of education might work. You have two types of standards in the restaurant business. There is the fast food standard for guaranteeing quality — where everything is done according to a single set of standards. The results are uniform — and uniformly mediocre. Then you have the michelin guide system. Michelin does not demand that restaurants offer the same foods or look the same. The quality standards are based on what customers love. Education standards should be of the Michelin type.
We have just been told by Ken Robinson, who knows what he is talking about, that education reform is not the way out of our current problem. The way forward is with education transformation.
What does that look like? He gives a number of examples, and they all have one thing in common. In each example, schools create an alternative reality for the kids and they learn in order to do stuff in that space. That alternative reality may be via use of drama or even creating a new locality governed by the school. But the context engages the imagination and makes work fun.
The point is that one does not focus on a “subject” as such (a given domain). Instead, teachers focus on creating an environment that gives domains meaning. And yes, this means ´using the arts as well as other creative tools.
So if we want to transform a sterile classroom lecture hall into a learning environment, we need to find ways to introduce context. To stimulate imagination rather than rote memorization.
Stanford University has a new course in its curriculum that is wildly popular. It is called “Designing Your Life”. The goal is to provide tools to students that give them a head start to having a great life.
So what goes into this course? It is absurdly simple. Step one is to explode the myths that students have about what goes into a great life. Step two is to offer students the tools for them to design their lives themselves. So simple. Why don’t more educational institutions offer this?
Well, who knows. But we do know some rather obvious myths about the good life. The most powerful myth is that the good life is about power and money. The more power and money one has, the better one can live. It is true that a degree of affluence is useful. And it is also true that feeling powerless is psychologically dangerous. But it is not true that accumulating these things produces a one to one benefit in life.
Why not? Csikszwntmihalyi explained back in 1990 in his book “Flow”. What is the key element to having a great life? It is happiness. If we find happiness in life, all else is secondary. And what produces happiness? Kahneman exploded the myth that it comes from having great experiences. In fact, our memory of experiences dominates our thinking about happiness. And in fact, we do not remember what happened.
What do we remember? Csikszentmihalyi argued that we remember our interpretations of experience, especially those that seemed to give “meaning” to us. In other words, finding happiness is embarking on a search for meaning.
So do accumulating power and money give meaning? In fact, they tend to detract from it. Why? Because they make life easier rather than more challenging. And we know that easy things may give us pleasure, but our capacity for pleasure is limited. And pleasure and ease move us in the opposite direction from finding meaning in experience. Instead, they drive us simply to find more pleasure, and reduce our tolerance for enduring hardship.
So – lesson one . Go ahead and seek out power and money. But if you do, know that you will be wasting valuable time and energy in your quest to design a great life.
So we might agree that our educational systems are promoting the wrong thing: conformity rather than creativity. How to change them? Everywhere around the world, people are talking about education reform. But reform what? There are three options – curricula, teaching methods or assessing results. Most of the reform focus has been on curriculum reform and assessment. And Ken Robinson thinks this has been a mistake
The mistake is that reforming curricula and testing do nothing to change the environment in the classroom. And that classroom environment is what creates or does not create “the element” for students. And creating that new environment means “transofrming” education. Ken talks about that next.
FC has a nice article today about a course at Stanford called “Designing your Life” . The article gives a brief overview, and then discusses the pros and cons to the approach.
I think this is pretty great — as students get too little help in figuring out how they can use what they are learning in the real world. This can be seen as a design question and I like using the “design” word. But how do you do a life design?`Well, in fact, you do it using strategic tools.
We are talking about life design here in Tartu and I hope we will put together a fun short course soon. If you are interested, let me know!
I have posted about John Wooden before, and it is time to do it again. He is one of the great masters of the idea of mindful practice. It was Wooden who made the point that it should be more satisfying to know that you have practiced as hard as you can so that you play as well as possible So winning a championship game is all the more meaningful if it took a lot of hard practice. Losing means nothing if you did as well as you could. He called this a winning attitude.