Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What Do You Think?


  When a reader is told how to think or feel about a piece of literature creativity is lost. A book is written from a perspective, usually one human with one set of eyeballs, but occasionally multiple writers collaborate, adding additional perceptions and eyeballs.  As a writer, I found this to be true.  As a reader, I know it to be true. 
     In English classes across this great country, (pardon me, but the new name is Language Arts), teachers are telling students what the writer meant in a book the class is undertaking.  I know this to be patently impossible when the author died over a hundred years ago.  It isn't possible even if the words were written down last week.  In non-fiction this may be true, if the author lets the reader know what is going on their minds as they are creating the sentence.  But in most cases we throw words at a page, waiting/hoping to see what will stick, it is in a state of somewhere else.  Out of body, out of mind, writers are in a distant land filled with ideas, letters, anguish, terror, bliss and mayhem under an umbrella of possibility.  What we attempt to convey under that possibility changes with each breath we take.
     The current state of the educational system has been taken to task repeatedly, with many opinions about why and very little in the column of how to address the problem. For myself, after two decades alternately mentoring and screwing up offspring, I have come to the conclusion adults tell kids how to think and feel about everything and this has caused they're discerning brains to be sucked right out of their heads.  Thus, they have great difficulty answering themselves when there is a choice to make.  Many parrot what a grown up has told them.  A parent should not be gratified to hear a young cherub repeat verbatim what has been handed down to them, they should be concerned about what happens next. Using remakes, movie or book as an example, we ought to all be very concerned. 

      Where will the next big ideas come from?

They will not arise from generational repetition.  It won't happen.  There will be mild fluctuations, but not the first rocket into space kind of seismic shift.  That kind of thinking required free thinking.  A mind tango without restraint, tether or rigid beliefs, a fluid dance with possibility.
      Today's public education has devolved into parsing out information as true.  It isn't an exploration, it is questions with only one answer.  

     NOTHING in life has ONE answer.  

Instructors inform students what an author meant and are basing this on a multiple choice test which will prove they have done the job requested, but not that the student has expanded their knowledge, creativity or captivated their spirit.  In my belief bubble we are an evolving species and this requires change not repetition. Our gnarly brains will not jump on the treadmills themselves, the drive must come from a constant wondering.  A constant and continuous wondering.  

     Why am I here?

     What do I think?

     What do I feel?

     What do I  believe?
      
In English Lit several decades ago, Mrs. Paulsen shrieked madly as Miss Haversham,

     "What do you think?!  What do you feel?!" 

Reading Great Expectations was a wild ride while this glorious and half crazed teacher reenacted the book chapter by chapter.  Standing before me, demanding an answer I grappled with words to describe what the story meant.

     "I don't know.  What do you mean?"

     "You read it dearie, something had to come up in that big brain of yours."

The class waited for my answer, I waited for my answer.  

     "Tick-tock goes the old ladie's clock."

She smiled wickedly at me, Miss Haversham in the mind if not the flesh.

     "I guess I think Pip's an idiot."

     "Why?"

     "He keeps going back day after day hoping he'll get them to accept him."

     "So?"

     "I wouldn't do that."

     "Precisely."

She flounced away drifting back into the pages of memory.  
     Mrs. Paulsen didn't lead me to her answer or tell me what the author meant.  Each page she demanded students stay engaged with words written over a century before about times and places we had never and would never see for ourselves.  That exercise could be extrapolated into what is believed about everything.  Each day humans are inundated with statements about what is true.  Without Mrs. Paulsen, I may not have a brain which is able to sort the information into two piles.  What is true for another set of eyeballs and what is true for mine.