Thinking Outside the Box

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Clichés, I love them.  Take one of our current Canadian educational clichés, for example: “We teach you to think outside the box.” I have met many teachers at various levels of education who tell this to me, and to their students.  Yet most of these teachers cannot themselves ‘think outside the box’. What they usually do, when teaching, is shut off the student’s original box by teach them to build a slightly larger one around it. They must now learn to think inside this new box in the way the teacher wants. Hence the cartoon above: We build bigger boxes and Building bigger boxes.

The central motif is, of course, the original ‘tiny’ box outside which the student must be ‘taught‘ to think. For ‘taught‘ substitute one of the following: persuaded, bullied, pressured, beaten, shamed, starved, embarrassed, … depending on the time and place, all of these words are sadly suitable and yes, in my learning career, I suffered at one time or another at the hands of teachers who used each of these methods, and others equally (or more) brutal, sometimes more than one at once.

What was inside that original box? Of course the contents vary with each individual, but creativity is in there, challenging authority is in there, self-belief is in there, a desire to ask endless questions, a childish wisdom to see the world as it is, not as the grown-ups say it is. I ask you, have they really ever grown up, have they ever escaped from their own hand-built boxes? Education: locking down the walls of that original box. Do away with creativity [not that way, this way!], free thinking [you mustn’t say things like that!], challenging  authority [cheeky, disobedient child!], asking questions [little children should be seen and not heard …. silence! … silence in class!] and finally, do away with self-belief and make the child dependent on the teacher [please, Sister Mary … please, Mother Theresa … please Father Maguire …] …

As the walls of the bigger boxes grow thicker and stronger, so it becomes more difficult to once again think as a child. Questions are answered by authority figures or on the internet with answers to FAQs and pre-packaged concepts. How do we regain our creativity? I assure you, we have never lost it. Where is it? Where is it hidden? In this world of folly and rush, of hustle, muscle, and busy bustle, so few of us have the time or can afford to take the time to sit and think, to undo those false walls that surround us, to find again the child-loving pleasure of thinking for ourselves, of discovering for ourselves, of being creative in the ways that we were so very, very long ago. Remember what Picasso said of his later paintings: ‘it took me a long time to relearn how to see the world as a child.’

Creativity: it is always with us. We must rediscover it. We must unwrap it from the tarpaulins that the system placed around it. We must dig it out from under the walls, the ruinous walls, with which the system surrounded us. It is still there, waiting for us to rediscover it. Believe. Roll up your sleeves. Dig deep inside yourself. And think for yourself. Then, when you have found that original box, open it, find exactly what is in it (the universal gifts to the new born), and become creative yet again. Only then will you have taught yourself (yourself, because others won’t teach you) to truly think outside the box, the multiple boxes, that the system and society designed to trap your creative spirit. Open the cage door: , release your creative spirit and let it soar to the skies.

Writing at KIRA

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BOUTIQUE WRITING RETREAT
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 30 – SATURDAY OCTOBER 6

This KIRA Boutique Retreat invites former KIRA Resident Artists (Roger Moore (June, 2017) and Jeremy Gilmer (July, 2018) to blend their knowledge and skills with those of the Kingsbrae Artistic Director, Geoff Slater, in a unique Artistic Retreat, tailored to the needs of each participant.

KIRA Boutique Retreats offer a series of one-on-one and small group encounters within the glorious surroundings of the KIRA Residence.

The KIRA Boutique experience includes scheduled one-on-one interviews with each of three instructors, Blue Pencil Cafés, small group workshops (according to demand), lively meal time discussions, and evening readings and talks by facilitators and participants.

The secret of these unique KIRA Boutique Retreats is the unbeatable ratio of participants to facilitators within a small, welcoming artistic community.

Your KIRA Boutique Experience may also include the wonders of whale-watching, the award-winning gardens at Kingsbrae, special events at the Kingsbrae Gardens, the beauties of the resort town of St. Andrews, and the outstanding gourmet food of the  Kingsbrae Garden Café.

As a participant, you can enjoy the solitude of your 20’ x 20’ artistic studio or you can join in the artistic discussions launched by our expert facilitators.

RETREAT FEES:

The KIRA Boutique Experience costs $750 for a six night residency.

This includes:

1. 6 nights accommodation in the beautiful KIRA residence.
2. 2 meals a day.
3. Tailor-made writing workshops (on demand).
4. Blue Pencil Cafés, one-on-one interviews with the facilitators.
5. Round-table artistic discussions at meal times.
6. Evening talks and / or open reading sessions.

Facilitators:

Geoff Slater, Artistic Director, Kingsbrae Garden / KIRA.

Roger Moore, award winning poet and short story writer, KIRA (June, 2017).

​Jeremy Gilmer, CBC finalist (short story), KIRA (July, 2018).

Please contact Mary Jones to sign up.

Phone 506-529-8281

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE THIS EVENT

Click here for the direct link to  KIRA and Kingsbrae.

 

Loss of …

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Loss of …

By the time I remembered your name,
I had forgotten your face. Then I couldn’t
recall why I wanted to talk to you.

I trace dark landmarks on the back of scarred
hands: blood maps, unremembered encounters,
dust covered photographs, grey, grim, anonymous,

not belonging in any family album.
At night I cruise among islands, emerald green
against sapphire seas. Why didn’t I visit

some of these places? Golden sand trickles through
night’s fingers and time’s hour glass, as stars
sparkle and planets dance in Platonic skies.

My memory fails. I wake each morning
unaware of where I have been the night before.
I track the sails of drifting ships, white moths.

I think I have caught them in overnight traps,
but they fly each morning in dawn’s forgiving light.
I give chase with pen and paper, fine butterfly nets

seeking wild thoughts waiting to be caught, then tamed.
I grasp at something just beyond my fingertips,
but I can’t quite remember what it is.

Comment: I first published this poem on July 31, 2018 (click here for the original post). Here it is now, in revised form. I find the revision process to be totally fascinating: the polishing of old ideas, the arrival of new ones, a different structure, a reshaping of the poem’s internal logic. So much happens in the revision process. Many great poets wrote and rewrote their poems, again and again.  I consider Francisco de Quevedo and Juan Ramón Jiménez to be poets who continually revised. A perusal of the variants to their poems (28 versions in the case of some of Quevedo’s poems) gives the reader an understanding of how the great poets think, of how they purge, intensify, sometimes simplify, usually improve their initial instincts. We lesser poets can learn so much from the greats. Above all, we can understand that poetry is a life-long practice, that it is a love of words and emotions, that it is a desire to catch and preserve the uncatchable that can never be completely caught. The critics say that the reader can never know the writer’s intentions. I agree with that, to a certain extent, as I never know why I am writing what I put down on the page. I guess I often have no intent. More important, my original intention can change as I write, and what I write is by no means what you understand I wrote when you read, for each of us processes the imagery, especially metaphors, in a different, and very personal, fashion. That said, when I rewrite a thought pattern emerges and my intentions become that much clearer, not from the words on the page, but from the footpath that led me in different directions until the final version emerged on the page.

Knowledge

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Knowledge
Thursday Thoughts
9 August 2018

In response to yesterday’s post, The Curse of Cursive, I received this comment.

“I have always blamed my own illegible (except – well sometimes – to me) scribble on the hours sitting in college lectures attempting to make a record of what was being said. Consequently, I could only ever record about every 3rd sentence. Something which I claim accounts for all those gaps in my learning.”

This comment merits a Thursday Thought.

First thought: the whole process of note-taking. One of my professors in Bristol University, where I did my undergraduate degree, was in the habit of sipping Harvey’s Bristol Cream while munching his sandwiches, consequently his post-lunch thoughts were always most enlightening. Here is his post-lunch declaration on knowledge: “Knowledge is that which passes from my notes to your notes without passing through anyone’s head.” This statement was followed by a closing of the drowsy eyes and an enormous hiccup.

For me, the art of note-taking goes way beyond the copying down of another’s ideas. As  note-takers, we must sift the incoming information, break it into salient and important features, and get the main drift of the argument down on the page. And not just the argument, but our own questions and challenges as well. Much of what I was taught at the various schools I attended was, frankly, nonsense. However, I learned a great deal about teaching from those who taught me that nonsense. A dictated note from an early geography class, preserved for ever in the young student’s mind: “The earth is geoidal, ie, earth-shaped.” Good one, teacher. “Please sir, if the earth is earth-shaped, what shape is the moon?” “Don’t be cheeky, boy, I’ll see you afterwards.”

When I received my first important teaching award I realized that it came to me on account of what I had avoided (all those inadequate lectures and lessons) and that what I was doing was engaging students and challenging them to challenge me by developing their own questions and ideas, by doing their own background checks, and by establishing their own thought processes, rather than trying to imitate somebody else’s dictated and regurgitated notes with their partial pictures of (in)complete and often antiquated knowledge, and all this often dredged up and recycled in the form of ancient, dusty scrawlings from pre-historic graduate courses.

I realize that this is unfair to several lecturers I encountered over the years who were able to deliver riveting and thought-provoking adresses. However, these were few, very scarce, and much appreciated. Their names and ideas are engraved on my mind. They and their methods are not forgotten, even now, but, as I say, there weren’t many of them.

As for knowledge, it is so personal and becomes an integral part of who we are and what we do. I know people who received everything they knew about life with their first degrees. They thought they possessed everything, the complete tree of knowledge in one rolled up certificate. Alas, many of them spent their lives never progressing, standing still and contemplating their known world, neither learning nor needing to learn anything else.

Our knowledge is incomplete. If we are at all ‘thinking people’, we know this. We also know we can never get enough knowledge. A PhD is great: knowledge Piled higher and Deeper. But often it is Reinforced Ignorance, the false knowledge that this knowledge is the only knowledge, well, the only knowledge that matters to the individual who, at a substantial living wage, ekes it out with great care and tests other people on their ability to reproduce it in its exactitude. “And I never-ever thought for myself at all” (I am the Monarch of the Sea, the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy, HMS Pinafore).

And here we enter the world of clichés: life-long learning, an everlasting thirst for enlightenment, for more light, more knowledge. The only real knowledge that we simply must transfer to our students, our followers, is how they can gain knowledge and even more knowledge for themselves. A love of and a desire for life-long-learning is the teacher’s greatest gift. If the teacher can pass that on, then the world of ideas will not fail, knowledge will not become carved in stone, set in concrete, entrenched in notes ‘that pass from my notes to your notes without going through anyone’s head’.

Here ends my Thursday Thought. A rant, really, and a very satisfying one. Thank you, Roland of Roland’s Ragbag, for turning on the tap and allowing these refreshing waters to once again flow.

Comment: Opening photo, knowledge set in stone. One of the Bulls of Guisando (Province of Avila, Spain), with graffiti carved by a Roman legion.