I’ve been involved in teaching lately (wrote a book, teaching in NYC Monday and Tuesday, mentoring at a Scotiabank hackathon later in the month, and mentoring someone) so I’ve been thinking about how people learn a bit more. I had a chat with one of Kate’s friends last night about the education system and apparently some of the earlier grades are moving toward open ended learning. Instead of having a strict assignment to follow (color in the lines) a bunch of material is placed and a child has to explore that space. Much of the lego today has instructions for building a certain thing. If you follow the instructions, you’ll have your tie fighter just like on the tin.
I saw this article today which is what got me thinking about this more:
“Try to engineer a certain kind of success, and the best you’ll get is an ambitious robot. If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.”
I think we’ve been doing it wrong.
Indian music is an interesting case to look at. In our schools of music, we expect our students to be able to take a piece of sheet music and play exactly what is written on the paper. A good musician is one who can play the things on paper very well with expression exactly as described on the sheet. Just like a kid following the instructions for his Lego tie fighter. People who write music are those that have a personal interest that leads them to explore music on their own terms. Everyone else is stuck in a box and wouldn’t be able to improvise. Why can’t the same thing apply to music though? Maybe an open ended approach works there too?
In Indian classical music, a “raga” is a series of 5 to 9 notes in a scale that are a “tonal framework for composition and improvisation.” Someone learns the raga and then they improvise and play with it. There isn’t a strict “here is how you play this” – it’s an open ended problem. Like a bunch of blocks on the table. The student has to explore that space on their own and put it together in their own way. It’s blank canvas and the student gets to paint whatever they fancy. Can you imagine if we took our kids and asked them to do this today? They wouldn’t know what to do because we train them to be obedient robots. http://raag-hindustani.com/Introduction.html
We need to nurture the creativity in our young, to teach them how to think and play. To find their interests and nurture them instead of training them to play the game, to color in the lines, to play the music that is written. One of the biggest complaints from my profs in school was that most people aren’t able to think. Handing people an open ended problem was very challenging to a lot of people. Without strict detail of what was expected, a student would not be able to complete a task. What happens when people get into industry then? They can complete tasks handed to them, but they can’t innovate and drive change toward their vision. Doing things because it’s the way they’ve always been done means a company will stagnate. Once someone questions the status quo and has a vision for change, then they can impact the world. I asked my friend the other day what he looks for when hiring and he replied with “curiosity.” That’s the quality that a person needs to grow and adapt and change. We need our children to grow up understanding that their interests and curiosity are important, not simply that they need to be able to do things exactly as instructed.