Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wise Words from a Serendipitous Book Find

One of the things I love about my library's on-line book catalog is how it allows me to discover interesting books that I might otherwise never know about. While looking up the record for The New Global Student by Maya Frost (an excellent title that I plan to blog about soon), I saw that it was tagged with the subject "experiential learning". As I'm a big fan of that practice, I decided to see what other books in the catalog were similarly tagged.

That's how I discovered Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way by Mary Catherine Bateson. I didn't realize it when I requested the book, but Dr. Bateson is the daughter of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead. I've only read the first two chapters of Dr. Bateson's book, but it's been excellent so far as she is quite a gifted storyteller (guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree).

I was particularly struck by the following passage:
"The quality of improvisation characterizes more and more lives today, lived in uncertainty, full of the inklings of alternatives. In a rapidly changing and interdependent world, single models are less likely to be viable and plans more likely to go awry....Adaptation comes out of encounters with novelty that may seem chaotic....The improvisatory artist cannot be sure whether a given improvisation will stand as a work of art or be rejected as an aberration....

This same ambiguity sets new tasks for parents and teachers. Instead of passing on hallowed certainties and maintaining the status quo, they must make childhood an open-ended introduction to a process of continual change in which self-observation can become the best of teachers. If we knew the future of a particular child, we might be able to prepare that child with all the necessary skills and attitudes, and we might say at a given moment that the preparation is completed and it is time for real life to commence. That situation, however, is long gone, if indeed it ever existed. Rarely is it possible to study all the instructions to a game before beginning to play, or to memorize the manual before turning on the computer. The excitement of improvisation lies not only in the risk involved but in the new ideas, as heady as the adrenaline of performance, that seem to come from nowhere. When the necessary tasks of learning cannot be completed in the portion of the life cycle set aside for them, they have to join life's other tasks and be done concurrently. We can carry on the process of learning in everything we do, like a mother balancing her child on one hip as she goes about her work with the other hand or uses it to open the doors of the unknown. Living and learning, we become ambidextrous."
A big goal of my homeschooling is to incorporate it into our family's life as Dr. Bateson talks about in the above passage. I discussed a bit about how I do that in this post.

I also agree with Dr. Bateson about the importance of flexibility and creative thinking. As Daniel Pink points out in his superb book A Whole New Mind:Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, my kids are going to need so-called "right brained" skills in order to compete in this globalized economy. They may work in jobs that don't even exist today- certainly I know folks who work in jobs that did not exist when I was a child. Change is something they're going to need to know how to deal with- if they cannot figure out a way to adapt to changing circumstances, they're going to get left behind.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

A few years ago, I read MCB's "Composing A Life" which I really enjoyed. It was about the life of the intellect from a woman's point of view. Thanks for the tip, I will be looking up this one, too!

JJ Ross said...

I love Pink's Whole New Mind too!

Imo it would be a fine use of tax money to buy copies of it for every public school.