In the developed world we privilege a certain way of thinking, We have thought this way for a long time. As a result not all thinking is free to grow naturally. That is what I want to allow. There have been changes to this certain way of thinking, however, changes have been relatively minute and slow coming. Some forms of change are speeding up, namely technological change, and are accepted because they fit into that certain way of thinking and lifestyle we perpetuate. I am of the belief that this way of thinking is no longer good enough for the well-being of the planet and it’s inhabitants. It is just that simple.
For example Bhutan has a gross domestic happiness index, it is the only country that has this. It is said the people of Bhutan are some of the happiest in the world. The country does not focus on economic growth but on well-being for its people and environment. Singapore is one of the most developed countries on the planet, it’s streets are clean, modern and organized. It focuses on the economy, technology and infrastructure. It is said the people of Singapore are some of the least happy in the world. The world is trying to go in the direction of Singapore.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that money and the current model for success does not necessarily make the world a wonderful place. There are other ways of living and I’m going to talk about ways to make room for them, I’m not the only one talking about it either, there is a grand history of people trying to make change to allow for true freedom of thought, freedom of action and freedom of lifestyle. In this presentation I will attempt to explain my understanding of modern western thought, design thinking, what it can do to help, the current western education system, where it’s come from and where and why it needs to change.
“A new relationship between the individual, the local and the global is the emerging, and it is here, not in the public realm of governance, that there is a re-evaluation of what an ethics of living might be. …The individual practice of identity making, of negotiating relationships and defending oneself against the social forces of capital, racism and sexism, is not simply an aesthetic of lifestyle, but the necessary emotional work of everyday life.” (Jonathan Rutherford, 2000: 66)
A brief history of the schism in modern western thinking.
In the primordial soup of human thought, when our powers of abstraction had developed to a point of use, there was a great desire to define the immortal attributes of human life. The great thinkers of those days undertook this challenge, achieved what they thought was success and called it philosophy – which enshrined the knowledge and thoughts in a permanence that still exists. Our love for defining things based off this initial school of thought has shaped the whole development of the world, I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with defining things however, it’s when a definition becomes definite that you get unstuck. Let me explain…
One of the most monumental principles of philosophy which came from these immortal attributes is the differentiation between mind and matter and further still the patterns of thought where people tend to believe reality or truth is only that which is definable, measurable and conceivable and those who believe reality is what you believe it is, it is what you think, whatever that may be. As much as it is hard for us as modern, developed and ‘civilised’ minds to grasp there was actually a time where that division did not exist and the time was a much more harmonious one.
“Heraclitus called the Immortal Principle fire and introduced change as part of the Principle… He said there is a One and there is a Many and the One is the universal law which is immanent in all things. Anaxagoras was the first to identify the One as nous, meaning “mind.” Parmenides made it clear for the first time that the Immortal Principle, the One, Truth, God, is separate from appearance and from opinion, and the importance of this separation and its effect upon subsequent history cannot be overstated. It’s here that the classic mind, for the first time, took leave of its romantic origins and said, “The Good and the True are not necessarily the same,” and goes its separate way.” (Pirsig, 1974: 381)
Essentially what Pirsig is saying in his book ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’ is that there are now two schools of thought. They have been labeled in many ways over the years; hip and square, straight and bent, sane and insane, rational and irrational or as Pirsig likes to call them – classic and romantic. The romantic school is based on inspiration, hope, creativity, intuition. How one feels dominates over facts. It does not proceed by reason, It proceeds by feeling. The classic mode, by contrast, proceeds by reason and by laws, through definitive and provable answers. The two schools of thought both have something the other doesn’t, both are needed, but now only one is privileged in this world and that is something that he and I both agree needs to change. I bring up the moment of the schism of thought to prove that it was not always this way and it does not always need to be this way. In fact I plan to prove that we need to join the two in harmony again in order to make anymore real progress.
“You never gain something but that you lose something” …the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he had gained the power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability… but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude; an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it.” (Pirsig, 1974: 382)
After learning about his schism and reading about the history of modern thought I can now identify the deadly negative stigma that seems to have drenched almost every aspect of conventional life. I did not realise for quite some time what was generating this niggling uneasiness in so many people, including myself, and what exactly it was niggling at, however, I have now come to a conclusion. The schism. It divides us as a people, the two schools of thought think they are agitated by one another however I believe that it is the divide that is the agitator. I began by investigating the building blocks of society and development, why do some things take preference over others, why are some things shunned and others not and why is this ‘classic’ form of knowledge privileged over others to the point where some schools of thought are said to be completely false, wrong, insane, mislead? The schism, that’s why.
Design Thinking thrown into the mix
Design, in a traditional sense, tries to think outside the box, an entire design degree is based off changing the way you think about things to try and coax out of us more inventive and innovative solutions to problems. However design, for the most part, does it from the pool of thought that has created all of the problems; the mass manufacturing perspective or that of the industrial age, feeding consumerism, boosting fame or growth of financial capital. Designers are people after all and often fall into traps of limited patterns of thought. However it is still an issue. Clay Shirkly in his book ‘Cognitive Surplus’ talks about a design project for Mcdonalds based on trying to make the perfect milkshake. The man who ended up coming up with the most amazing data and design solutions was the one who didn’t assume anything, as it turns out most of the people who bought milkshakes from Mcdonalds came in in the morning, bought a milkshake and nothing else, always got take away and where alone. People were buying a milkshake for their daily morning commute! What a strange thought!
“All the researchers except [one]… made two kinds of milkshake mistakes. The 1st was to concentrate mainly on the product and assume that everything important about it was somehow implicit in its attributes, without regard to what role the customers wanted it to play – the job they were hiring the milkshake for. The 2nd mistake was to adopt a normal view of the type of food people have always eaten in the morning.” (Shirkly, 2010:10)
That is – designers often design off of the pre-existing, based from the presumption that what they currently know about the situation is true. It’s beneficial to forget what you think you know in order to learn something new and be amazed. This assignment, due to its nature, has guided me to also look at the design thinking that has created all of this thinking about thought. What you come to realise is that no one can ever truly know anything, all thought is different, what makes my thought truer than someone else’s thought in the grand scheme of the world? essentially experience is everything and all problems are unique, nothing is forever, nothing is the ultimate truth, but that design should know that at least and continue on with this in mind.
The flip side of thought
It is fantastic to observe the flip side of conventional thought coming through the cracks. Obviously the romantic hemisphere of thought is still very much alive in society, you can’t erase a natural way of thinking just by defining something you think is true two and a half thousand years ago. Many people live like square pegs in round holes for their whole lives conforming to classical thought and lifestyle that ensues, but also I think it’s important to point out how there is not only a line dividing thought at the moment but there are also limits on thought that prevent change and innovation even on the privileged hemisphere.
Upon looking at who we revere as the ‘great thinkers’ of the modern ages one can spill out names like Socrates, Da Vinci, Einstein, Newton, etc… They were amazing classic thinkers, they lived in analytic worlds of thought. Interestingly one can also confidently pool these men into the basket of being named insane in their lifetime. And so comes my theory that you have to be insane to do anything original.
Insane is the definition for a state of mind that prevents normal perception, normal is defined by the usual, average, or typical state or condition and perception is defined as the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. This all adds up to define sane as being able to become aware of something usual or typical through the senses which leads me to believe insane is a state of mind that allows the ability to become aware, through the senses or not, of something that that is unusual or not typical. Well isn’t that everything new or original that has ever been thought? By definition anything discovered that doesn’t already exist in our minds or that is perceivable by our senses is a product of insanity. This stigma is actually written into the very definition of what it is to be sane and is riddled through our modes of thought and education system. No wonder we are where we are and change comes so slowly. People are afraid to think of anything new without basis or justification. Telling or trying to teach someone to be inventive or innovative in the true sense is like sending someone into a shooting range for thought, knowing it will be shot down. Only the few will listen to the truly original. The rest will dismiss you.
below is an example of a classic and a romantic thinker – it shows the schism of thought and the judgment that debilitates a lot of people in their lifetime. What I love about this is the classic thinker is in a role that would usually be for a romantic and the romantic thinker is pursuing a love that is usually associated with the classic.
There are people rising up against the odds. They feel the need naturally. They follow their hearts. Some however end up in ill suiting jobs creating i’ll suiting lives and as a result there is a lot of pain in the world. Often the people that are the most content with life judge the least. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we stopped believing that it was impossible and decided to try to move towards a world where that was the norm? The world is an amazing place and people are coming out of the woodwork everywhere and doing this.There is the common refrain that one cannot solve a problem out of the same thinking that created it. If that is not a reason to encourage other ways of thinking then I don’t know what is. There are designers out there working on projects of this nature and doing a fantastic job. Knowmads are a group I stumbled upon in the Design Management Institute journal.
“We shape the world through the paradigms we use to describe it. Only when we observe with new consciousness can we find different answers and fresh solutions to problems”. (Spinder, 2012: 26)
They are a team of dedicated professionals based in the USA with an empty space and a bunch of students. They sit the students down at the beginning of the year and say essentially ‘the rest is up to you what do you want to do with this time?’. The students pay a fee which covers admin and wages for the staff and come out of it in the end with no accredited piece of paper, no qualification but they do have a wealth of experience and knowledge based directly on their passions, interests and effort. It’s an incredibly flexible and radical model of education with no grading system, instead it offers a support and feedback system based on conversation and peer to peer review. They have no limits and only a few permanent staff so if there is something wildly different a student wants help with they are able to organise specialised guidance and guest lectures. The knowmad crew also offer a space within their building for the continuance of projects, businesses and work where graduates can receive continued support.
Its just such a lovely successful example of brave and alternative ingenuity, and the fact that students come knowing they will have no official recognition of this education at the end is proof that this type of experience is wanted and needed. The knowmads say that they focus on heads – for knowledge, hearts – for feeling and hands – for experience. It is the way design solutions can be. Brave, abnormal, insane, positive and successful all at the same time.
“I think that if we are going to reform the world and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another, I think that kind of approach starts at the end and presumes the end is the beginning (milkshake mistakes) Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values are right. the place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hand’s (knowmads policy), and then work outward from there.” (Pirsig, 1974: 300 – 301)
Straight to the motor room
The pursuit to find the basis of modern thought comes from always wanting to get to the very seed of any problem being tackled. If it is necessary for someone to change the way they act then they must first change the way they think and sometimes the basis of what they believe.
Most of our problems on this planet stem from negative actions based on a lack of awareness or a lack of care. There has been many a journey undertaken trying to create a situation where people could generate care and awareness. Now we know that one of the largest manipulatable and consistent external influences one is exposed to in the developed world is education, it runs through the formative years of a persons life. It is also a school of thought in a literal sense, which teaches the school of thought that creates the problems. That is something that can be played with. Look out classical thinking – here comes romantic thought on an equal playing field, incorporated into the formative years of a person’s life, their education. I’m going to pour it straight into the motor room.
I stewed the real meaning of the word ‘education’ all the way down from the ‘acquisition of knowledge’, to ‘the process of becoming aware’. Because the meaning fits my purpose I have hope that it will succeed. There was an education one could get in ancient Greece that was based on this pure principle, given to young people who could afford it by teachers called sophists, who were in a battle with Socrates and those men of the immortal principles incidentally. Sophist is also the origin of the word sophisticated. It is interesting to observe that the very origin of formal secular education is the origin of the word sophisticated merely because education now has abandoned its origin ‘to become aware’ almost to the point of being completely opposite but is still considered to assist someone to becoming sophisticated. Something is amiss.
“I really think [that it] is the most fundamental challenge facing human beings… education will be the key to solving all the other problems we’ve got” Bill Bryson – Author.
Aside from why it is the way it is I also want to know what to change it into, all of this has helped me want to discover other ways of thinking, living and designing. My interest in this area has been growing rapidly from early 2011 where I was exposed to some alternative educational methods in my first year of university. I was fortunate enough to be given the freedom to pursue this interest in semester two of 2010 and completed a project investigating the in’s and out’s of society and what education can do to increase general well-being. Since then the floodgates have opened and I have been ferociously gathering information.
Most recently I have been volunteering teaching English with the Goodwill Group Foundation in Bangkok. The foundation aims to improve the quality of life of young Thai women via skills training and career services. I think a lot about education but the opportunity to again get my hands dirty is extremely valuable. Through this experience I can say I have at least learned that relevant syllabus is a huge factor to absorption of information and interest in class, building a relationship with students is key to them being honest with you and confident enough to speak up when they need more help or don’t understand and varied forms of interaction is the best way to check their progress.
There is an endless list of questions to ask when investigating a system such as this. Billions of dollars every year are poured into education all over the globe which is a modern indicator that it is somewhat of an important issue. People are trying to change it but the reason the changes haven’t worked is because the problem is incredibly complex. The education system is often called a ‘wicked problem’, one with an indefinite number of contributing factors and one that will create an indefinite amount of unforeseeable ripples of change after it is altered.
Public education, paid for by taxpayers money, came into being as a direct result of the needs of the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries when the world needed a workforce that could do certain sorts of things. We essentially still run off a model that was created 200 years ago. The hierarchy of subjects reflects that bygone era. The subjects at the top are subjects that were useful for work. It is easy to imagine that a lot of people were steered away from subjects that interested them as children because the jobs in that field never earned enough money to make doing them attractive. The Languages, maths and science are no longer more important than the arts and creative fields and no longer are there less job prospects in those industries and yet the hierarchy remains. Educate them a tad more holistically than that and you will not only get them a job but they will be better at it, it will be more suited to them and they will me more well rounded individuals.
I watched a TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson titled ‘Do schools kill creativity’ and he told a story about Gillian Lyn who is the choreographer of the world famous musical theater productions such as Cats and The phantom of the opera. She was apparently ‘hopeless’ at school, in fact her school rang her mother and informed her that they thought Gillian had a learning disorder. Gillian’s mother took her to see a specialist who spoke with her about all of the problems she’d been having with the teacher and the class; being disruptive, always fidgeting and that sort of thing. After a while he took her mother out of the room and on his way out switched on the radio. The specialist told Gillian’s mother to stop and just watch her for a moment. As soon as the music was on apparently Gillian was on her feet dancing, the specialist said, ‘your daughter isn’t sick, she’s a dancer, take her to dance school’. This story depicts the struggle of a lot of romantic or creative thinkers in the education system that aren’t so lucky as to have the assistance from that specialist.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein.
There are some assumptions of the current system that probably need revising one is that; students learn and retain the knowledge and skills that they acquire in school and the other is; because the information is relevant and useful and as a result of having learnt through a process of experience, students can apply them to situations outside of the classroom.
I’m not really sure what could be more wrong than those two assumptions. One of the most important factors in the classroom is individuality, not all students work, learn or think in the same way and so teaching should be specific to each student however, it is not. Schools divide students in brackets of age, as if that where the number one contributing factor to a person’s ability to learn. There are a lot of students that do not in fact learn or retain the knowledge and skills they learn in school because to learn you must be taught in a way you can understand. The current system doesn’t allow for different styles of absorption; kinetic, audial, visual, experiential, through movement, by rote, etc. Another incredibly important role of education is to prepare students for a future in a world we cannot even conceive. Students starting school this year will graduate around the year 2070. Given that we can’t predict what the world’s going to be like in 10 or even 5 years, 2070 seems unfathomable. The world is a dynamic place, learning is dynamic and information is dynamic. Teaching should follow suit. Adding an aspect of flexibility to the syllabus would allow more individual freedom for both the students and the teachers to be stimulated.
The act of teaching through forced imitation is still very much alive. If you choose not to imitate what the teacher wants, or you can’t, then you get a poor grade. In higher levels of education you are encouraged to be original which is deceiving because what they really want you to do is imitate the teacher so as not to make them think you are imitating. For that you are awarded A’s. Originality will get you anything from an A to an F. The whole grading system has actually intrinsically against originality.
And so what is the point, now, of going to school or university? Is it to get a job? Perhaps 40 years ago it was, today people are coming out of the education system with a degree and moving back in with their parents to play video games. The qualification no longer guarantees you a place in the working world. Is the point the knowledge? The passion? The education? Well I can’t imagine it can be given the rigidity of the system and the nature of the method for appraisal. It could be for some, but I know that they hit walls of red tape, walls of old fashioned thinking, walls of criteria. Then what is it for?
Success based on status. There are students in Thailand that ask to get fake braces put on their teeth to appear to their friends as coming from a wealthy family, working in a big office is better than working in a small office, I have a beautiful wife, I have a degree in law, I have 8 T.V’s in my house. Success? Status? I have an education, I went to Harvard, I can now get a job as a corporate dog and and buy that fast car so that all my friends will be jealous. I believe the system has molded around the rat race. What causes things to have a higher status than others? Cost. Money. Financial value. Those who appear to have went well in school based on their grades are presumed to go on and have a happy life as a result of their high status job prospects. Those of the knowmads school or the like have a degree in an institution that is not recognised and gives no qualification, others have an equally good education in the school of hard knocks, potentially they know more than the specialist who studied at university because they taught themselves and they learnt it through experience. Nope, no job for you sorry, you went to where? the school of knocks? never heard of it. Can I see your certificate? – The point of school is so you fit into society.
“You’re at a disadvantage the first time around and it may cost you a little more because of the parts you accidentally damage, and it will almost undoubtedly take a lot more time, but the next time around you’re way ahead of the specialist. You, with gumption, have learned the assembly the hard way and you have a whole set of good feelings about it that [the specialist] is unlikely to have” (Pirsig, 1974: 310)
And so those who don’t fit into society, why don’t they? Perhaps they don’t like it, they don’t work that way. The man in Honduras with his helicopter doesn’t work in the way of the world. should he be punished? He has been. Why can’t we all just do what we want to do? Well we can if we just go ahead and do it, they say if the people lead the leaders will follow. A common belief among teachers is that the worst students are actually the best. They think in different ways, they react to different things, they slice up the world differently, Gillian Lyn also did things differently and thank goodness! She’s given joy to the masses and helped to create some of the worlds most famous musical theater productions of all time. Through all schools is the built in expectation of equal opportunity for all students but it is merely a ghost, it does not exist.
The awards system in schooling is a big ruse to encourage students to jump through hoops they have no interest to jump through. What about the intrinsic motivation of a person? We are forced to reward our students because the tasks they are being rewarded for aren’t intrinsically important. The Carrot and stick model of education is simply to allow the old model to appear like its working. Some alternatives for students exist, the vocational training alternative is for those who aren’t achieving academically and that like to work in a practical sense with their hands, which is actually a fantastic concept however it is built off a deficit model. If you aren’t good enough academically you can fall back on vocational training. The stigma exists there too.
The financial model of school’s is one of a business. In the next 10 years you will see principles become a thing of the past and schools being run by CEO’s. They run as a business not only to make money and achieve successful results but also to create members of society who earn big and spend big to keep the economy growing and generate bigger salaries to be taxed. It is in the governments interest to perpetuate the mentality of what it is to be a success in schools in order to create more taxpayers and more taxpayers dollars.
The Light bulb
“Self mastery, Self cultivation, Self direction, Self Overcoming” (Thus spoke Zarathustra)
Its easy enough to change what people know – you just teach them different things and after a few generations this will be the ‘truth’ but I don’t want to do that. Who has the authority to tell someone what they ought to know? One can teach students skills and knowledge to assist them with their future life however if you know the future is unpredictable and on top of that you want to try to change the direction we are going, then what is it you teach? What should we fundamentally know as the population of the world? Perhaps if you open peoples minds and hearts to be able to; think and feel freely, be confident and inspired to achieve all that they can, listen to their own pure desires, feel able to invent something if it doesn’t exist and to have the skills to invent then you will have a fairly good formula. On top of all of that you teach in a way that is natural for the individual to learn, you give autonomy, endless opportunity, a grand scope of stimulus and support in areas that fit naturally and finally keep all informed about the serious issues we face as a community today and try to bring out in them an empathy for other beings, that may lead to their wanting to help solve problems and create positive change.
The new model is based on being in the world for as much time as you are in the classroom; learning through doing, maths through cooking, science through nature, exercise through ocean swimming, empathy through seeing destruction, singing through the echo of a canyon wall, business through creating an enterprise and language though cultural immersion. The new model also has a strong focus on support, equality and friendship. Teachers will need to remove the student teacher hierarchy, hand some power over to the students. Autonomy and understanding are two key aspects in desperate need of attention. This will allow the teachers a greater insight into the students natural modes of learning and personal talents and desires.
“we must address students not as receivers of information but as shapers of knowledge” (IDEO, 2012: 3)
Along with the fostering of natural talents the new system will encourage a make-do attitude and encourage inventiveness in students so that they aren’t limited by having a lack of resources in the future and can create something completely new, if need be, to suit their needs. Teemed with an open source of resources and opportunities, that allow students to go down infinite pathways, that is accessible and interpretable for them. The connectivity of social platforms on the internet is for the first time in human history mobilising minorities and offering inspiration and support to people who forever thought they were isolated and alone in their opinions and thoughts. Communicating online with specialists of any industry is readily available and should be harvested more for its potential to inspire and to teach.
For this to be effective the new system will encourage a community that does not pass judgment on one’s topic of interest of skill. It will be a place where failing and succeeding are seen as the same, where creative and scientific are understood to be equally as valuable and where different disciplines interact and work together often to produce understanding and respect of the different schools of thought. Built from this will be the need to expand understanding and respect beyond the classroom and into the world. Students will be required to respond sensitively when confronted with a controlled exposure to forms of poverty, greatness, adversity, destruction, etc. Understanding stems from both the belief in equality and a feeling of empathy, both are valuable traits for the educational environment and future life.
Space has a great effect on the people interacting with it and so the space of the school needs to be designed from the user centered approach. Take away the archetypal board and teacher at the front, students in chairs facing forward. Why not make all spaces round, how about you sit in a circle and chat about Shakespeare, detach everything from the walls and make the whole room multipurpose and interchangeable. Allow all surfaces to be used, write-able walls, light up flooring, adaptable furniture.
The new model will instill in students a sense of hope, belief and confidence to act on what they personally find to be important. Confidence, hope and belief can be generated through positive reinforcement that will need to be a constant from start to finish, it will start from the faculty of teachers and eventually move out into the student community, by removing the barriers of fear by assisting students to recognize, process and overcome those barriers and finally by proving that the impossible is possible, to do this one doesn’t need to go very far, there are a multitude of examples in every community of people and further still in the great biographies of adventurers and athletes all over the world.
At the heart of all the changes are the conveyors of this knowledge and message, the teachers. Teachers need a wider and stronger support network themselves, personal and occupational development is something that will be privileged and supported. The reputation of the art of teaching needs to be improved potentially by offering a higher salary and working off the Nordic model of teaching qualification where one need’s to have obtained a masters in teaching to work in a classroom. After all this is a terribly important area.
Ch ch ch ch Changes
The world as we know it is saturated in a school of thought that has created a certain way of life, priorities, environment, definition of happiness and success. It started with the ancient philosophers trying to define the world we live in which dramatically influenced the current state of affairs. This attempt to define gave rise to logic and reason and caused a schism between mind and matter, subject and object, feeling and truth and thought and reality. before then these divisions did not exist. I think that ‘classical’ form of thinking needs to move over and give room for another equally as important form of thinking that was around long before the division, ‘romantic’ thinking, so that we can make an attempt to bind the two again so as to live truly harmoniously with each other, ourselves and this world. It is not purely accepting and being susceptible to change the will create solutions. It’s not changing what we know or how we learnt it, not how much we care or how intelligent we are so much as it is how we process what we become aware of and what we chose subconsciously to absorb that counts. It’s how we think and how we see thought.
If you have something important to say, you should say it, it’s the mixing of minds and opinions that brings us forward in this world. There is a large resurgence of romantic thinking occurring in society, organic farmers markets in Australia, laughing clubs in India, Pay as you feel restaurants in America. Change is about. So you can’t change someone but you can be a good influence. The way we’ll make big movement on this issue is by being a really big good influence in the schooling system and leading by example.