Just over a month ago, I had my first piano lesson. It was very hard. The teacher kept trying to teach me about “Middle C”, a term that had little meaning and even less perceived value to me. And she taught me to play music that was so inanely simplistic that I was bored before I’d finished playing the first bar. But the experience was fascinating. Especially when you know how good some pre-school students are!
After getting bored with drills intended to train me like they might train a 3-year-old, who will take an average of 1200 hours of formal practice to achieve Grade 5 (according to Sloboda’s Leverhulme Project), I decided to just learn how to play a piece of music. I chose to play one of my favourites, Gymnopedie. It looked easy enough.
It wasn’t easy. To start with, it was hard. Very hard. And it was hard in very specific ways.
Sir Ken Robinson and I share many things in common, particularly with respect to viewing the crisis of education. There is a great need for our society to be filled with more people who love what they do and less people who just go through the motions, a shift that may be facilitated by moving away from thinking of education as being like an industrial process – that Ken likens to the “fast food approach” – and more like an organic, bespoke, Zagat or Michelin context for an individual to experience the conditions for them to flourish.
He ends his presentation at TED earlier this year with these words from W.B. Yeats:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
As I watched Ken reading, I couldn’t help but think of Elton John’s Your Song, a song that the late John Lennon described as “the first new thing that’s happened since we happened”. Just in case you don’t remember the lyrics, here are the first two verses:
It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide
I don’t have much money but boy if I did
I’d buy a big house where we both could live
If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a travelling show
I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you
So was Your Song original? Or did Elton read a little Yeats to Bernie one night before bed after a few bottles of wine, and have Bernie wake up the next morning with a flash of “inspiration”?
Perhaps Elton and Bernie have acknowledged the inspiration of Yeats in the past or perhaps the connection is only tenuous. Or maybe they came to this idea independently. Even if the ‘idea’ was from Yeats or even someone else, it was Sir Elton John that brought such a sentiment to the world in a form that we could embrace, love and enjoy today.
Creativity is sometimes strikingly divergent from the status quo. Sometimes it is a refinement. Other times, creativity might be more like a renaissance – a rebirth of older ideas so that they can find new life for another generation. This leaves the challenge for us to cultivate those conditions and contexts where those around us can find a way to express their uniqueness. And where we can express our own uniqueness.
Here is Sir Ken Robinson’s presentation at TED from earlier this year. I hope you enjoy it.
Most of the time we don’t make rational decisions. Much of the time we can’t – there’s too little information and too much uncertainty. But if we can start to use some numbers, we can make the comparisons simpler, less subjective, and give us more of what we want, more often.
That’s the point of this post – and I’ll get back to that in a minute…
I have been reading Common Wealth, economist Jeffrey Sach’s take on how to make the world a better place. This morning, I came across his chapter on the economic proposition justifying social welfare – how increased taxation with a corresponding increase in social services can be fiscally responsible and yield quantifiable social benefits. While his argument was quite one-sided – after all, it’s his book – it got me thinking how we can use a bit of mathematics to make better decisions. Sachs was asking this sort of question:
If you were in government and thought that you had too much money, would you cut taxes or increase social welfare?
But I was thinking about my everyday decisions.
In the next few months, I have a number of flights scheduled though not yet booked. For example, I am due to fly from Sydney to Brisbane sometime after 7pm on the evening of 28 January. That route is mainly serviced by Qantas and Virgin Blue at that time. So how does one decide which flight to take?
With only a few months to go, we figured it was about time to check out the child development options around here. Montessori is well known though the implementations can be inconsistent and there isn’t one really close by. So we checked out a local place that is supposedly part of an international conglomerate with 600 or so centres.
I was a little disappointed. Turns out they’re charging ¥240 ($42) per 45 minute class… and you still have to be there. The walls are pretty colours and the leaders are very animated, though the children didn’t seem at all engaged. And I can’t quite call the staff ‘teachers’ since they’re mostly just English majors who did a 2-month in-house course.
Yet what are the options?
The sales guy suggested that Shanghainese parents don’t know how to play with their kids so they bring them there instead. Ouch!
Maybe I had an enlightened childhood but it just looked like the kids were on the set of a second-rate version of the television show, Play School.
Maybe we’ll be looking elsewhere for a place that has a stronger pedagogical foundation than “let the kids play and they’ll learn something”.
Training courses can be expensive. They can cost a lot more to attend than buying a book on the same subject. Earlier today, was asked, “What is the difference?”
And it’s a good question to ask. A book costs a lot less than a training course – and is far more convenient to read – so if you could get the same thing from a book, it would be a much more convenient way to learn. So why do we teach our children in schools and our corporations through training courses when we could just give them books to read? Anyway, I gave an answer like this:
When I was younger, I read books about martial arts. I looked at the pictures and ran through in my mind the exercises and explanations. And it looked really cool! It got me excited and interested so I kept reading.
One day, my parents allowed me to start martial arts training. It was the same – and yet totally different. While I already knew in theory much of what we were learning, training in a class with other people like me meant that I learnt much more than ever before. I realized that I didn’t really know as much as I thought that I did. And I had the experience of really learning. If I had kept reading books, I could become very knowledgeable, but I could never have become a Master.
If you want to learn about a topic, reading books is great. If you want to develop some serious skill, you will want to find the right context for your to explore, experience and expand yourself in ways that you might have never realized possible.
If you want to develop real skill, you’ll want to find the best training opportunities around.
Only you know if it’s the right time. But that you’re asking about this suggests that some part of you believes that you would benefit from some training. If so, we look forward to having you join us.