Humor, education and creativity

You probably remember the old chestnut of Philosophy 101, Metaphysics: If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, did it make a sound?

Well, enjoy Ken Robinson’s twist on it, 14:40 minutes into the talk at the end of this post:

If a man speaks his mind in a forest, and no woman hears it, is he still wrong?

The talk is another great example of the British humor that I love and am often surrounded by at The Economist. But humor is best with substance, as a vehicle that delivers a serious point more memorably.

Does Robinson have such a point? Yes. It is:

Schools kill creativity.

As he says,

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’re never going to be original.

But we–first in our schools, then in our companies–stigmatize “mistakes”. We do, don’t we? Even on this blog, I am sometimes so worried about saying something stupid that I end up saying nothing at all. As Robinson says, we “educate people out of creativity.”

Well, let’s stop doing that, certainly here on The Hannibal Blog. Watch the whole thing:

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19 thoughts on “Humor, education and creativity

  1. The IB is the way to go! I’m hoping to find a program for my kids when the time comes.

    Jag, I meant to ask: Why are your Us selectively capitalized? I’ve been considering and rejecting various puns, but I think this one is over my head….

  2. This is an inspiring post on several levels. I just forwarded the video to five people. I don’t know where to begin without getting too personal (enough about me, what do you think about me?). I’ll just write one thing (no, two things).

    In the early days of the internet Groups, I remember a thread about why people hate science (have I already written this?). Wow, some people really hate science (and math). They might like watching NOVA, but when it’s time for the heavy lifting, enthusiasm wanes. My favorite analogy comes from a response to some arrogant prick talking about how his first year chemistry students just couldn’t appreciate the beauty of quantum mechanics (gack). The brilliant reponse was that this teacher was like someone trying to grow corn by throwing it on the ground and yelling at it until it grows (grow faster, corn!). In fact, we know that you have to plant the corn, and water the corn, and allow the sun to shine…

    Unfortunately, education is also a business (right, Cheri?). People pay money (e.g., taxes, tuition) and they expect results in a finite amount of time. Science and math are ‘elevated’ above dance because science and math are useful for curing disease, national defense, etc. Educational progress in science and math are arguably more easliy quantified. So when the customer is looking for results, he looks at math scores (and the like).

  3. Golly, Mr. Crotchety,

    After reading your comment, I feel like break dancing in a dizzying circle in front of my business–the business of school (yuck). I need you to park your brilliant brain, (and OK, your body) at the door to my lobby.

    How does one quantify literary curiosity? Tell that to my SAT, AP, and GPA conscious clientele.

    Your last paragraph depresses me because it is true.

    By the way, YOU have inspired me to become more scientific, so I am ready The Canon by Natalie Angier. I am now in the physics chapter.
    Last night, very late, I learned that protons are more important than neutrons.

    Would you be willing to write a poem on the relationship of protons to electrons to neutrons?

  4. Hasn’t Diversity made its way to nuclear physics? All little particles are equal (think Special) in God’s eyes. I mean, without neutrons we wouldn’t have isotopes. No isotopes, no dating (carbon dating, that is).

    I haven’t read ‘The Canon,’ but I’m happy that you are inspired. Have you seen ‘The History Boys?’ This play (turned film) addresses your very question about literary curiosity.

  5. Since Cheri has called for particle poetics:

    There once was a lonely wee lepton
    in its atom it always got stepped on;
    it said Sod off, you quark,
    you’re just some dork,
    I might just call my brother the hadron.

  6. Thank you, Andreas. I see you have many talents.

    After looking up the words lepton, Sod off, and hadron :(, I award this little ditty an A- (which from me, is really good…)

    James Joyce wanted quark to rhyme with Mark, right?

    How and when did it become pronounced quork?

  7. Andreas – hopefully this won’t disrupt the above outbreak of poetic physics(!)

    Re those capitalised Us – there is, as you feared, a bad pun involved. I suffer from I.V.S. (Irritable Vowel Syndrome). The equivalent of having an eccentric British accent in email. Sometimes useful for drawing distinctions, and attention to distinctions, between US and UK concepts that share the same word.

  8. Cheri, I could lose my job over such an assigment. Here’s four to start. (throwing caution to the wind as AK would ask)

    1. The Pauli Exclusion Principle (for Fermions)

    Adjacent urinals in the men’s restroom shall not be occupied until every pair of urinals is half occupied.
    If you must (go), don’t stand next to me unless there is no where else (to go).
    If you must (go next to me), make sure that I am zipping up as you are zipping down.
    (Do this without looking).

    2. Entropy (S)
    I am warm. I vibrate. I rotate. I translate. We hold hands. We vibrate. We rotate. We translate. We cool.

    3. ‘Rico
    I find myself lost at sea, dashed upon the shore or up the creek.
    Mermaids lead me. Sailors come and go.
    Enrico Fermi sat at his desk and found
    sea level.

    4. (no title)
    electron neutron proton notorp nortuen nortcele

  9. When we speak of “education”, or an “educated person”, what do we mean?

    When I grew up (longer ago that I’ll admit to anyone) an “educated person” was, among other things, a “well rounded” person, a person who could talk sensibly of many things – things as disparate as shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages–and kings……..

    Just the other day I was speaking with someone, a someone around fifty, with a university degree in something-or-other, and I made mention of Paul Robeson, and this someone asked me who’s Paul Robeson?

    I asked myself (sotto voce, of course), how can this be, that we have an education system from which graduates can emerge – with caps and gowns and all of that – and not know who Paul Robeson was?

    I come across these sorts of lacunae in “general knowledge” all the time, so that, particularly when now speaking with interlocutors below certain ages, I take care not to refer to public happenings which happened more than twenty years ago, or to public personages who were in the news more than twenty years ago.

    But sometimes I lapse, as in the case of Paul Robeson.

    I’m no longer quite as shocked as once I was, since I’ve reasoned that our education system isn’t there to produce “educated” people, in the sense of “well-rounded”, but “trained” ones, who – while trained admirably in commerce, marketing, computer science, mathematics, or medicine – will never know who Paul Robeson was.

    But then, this may not be important.

  10. Am I supposed to feel gratified or horrified that I don’t know these references?
    And Christopher, I have to admit to you (blanch, grimace, and hide) that I don’t know who Paul Robeson is (was). Since I was an English major, am I excused?

    With this last post, I shall retire to my chair to read more of Natalie Angier’s The Canon…still in the physics chapter.

    By the way, I totally get #4, dude.

  11. Yes, Cheri, you are excused, if only because, when reading Peggy Noonan’s latest piece in the WSJ, I came across the name “Walker Percy”, and I had to look up Wiki to learn who Walker Percy was, whose name I absolutely know you, as an English teacher, are as familiar with, as I am with the name of Paul Robeson.

  12. Hello, Andreaslkluth. I’m Chourou from Japan, stopping by here via Cheri’s blog. She strongly recommend me to do so since The Hannibal Blog would be so impressive, and now I found it definitely true!

    Schools kill creativity, you told above, and I’d say the situation is the same here in Japan. Teachers say that students’creativity should be sufficiently cultivated and cherished in the clasroom, but the nation’s educational system itself kind of stands on the contrary.
    What we call “serendipity” is numbed, as stereotype ways of thinking are heightend.

    Making mistakes or outstanding excessively is apt to be regarded as unfavorble out there, whearas many companies recruiting rookies desperately want guys who have what it takes to change a conventional paradigm drastically, not getting scared to be failed once or twice…that’s so ironic.

  13. I had to look up Paul Robeson, too. I wouldn’t admit this if you hadn’t, Cheri. If I were more crotchety I would take issue with the idea of ‘general knowledge’ or ‘general studies.’ These are oxymorons, but your point is well taken.

  14. Welcome to The Hannibal Blog, Chourou!

    I can’t speak for Japan, but I’ve peaked into the “other” Confucian societies in East Asia a bit in my time. And I did get the impression that, if the shortcomings that Sir Ken talks about were spread out on a spectrum, the Confucian societies would be on the far (ie, bad) end of it.

    The hierarchical relationship of student to teacher; the faith in rote memorization; the worship, totem-like, of “engineering” as a life path preferable to all others; the non-encouragement of the new, strange and wacky…..

    But I also think that this is generational. I think all developed societies will grow out of that mind-set during this century. As a parent, I just plan to beat everybody to it. 😉

    BTW, Paul Robeson: ?
    (Am I still allowed, ahem, to read The Hannibal Blog now?)

  15. By the way, I’ve turned on “comment threading”. This means that you guys should now be able to reply directly to specific comments, and have that show up as a discrete conversation….

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