The Glory of a Pencil

Posted on 2012 May 30 Wednesday


Have you ever stopped and looked at a simple pencil? Who came up with this incredible piece of art? It is functional, utilitarian, practical. Able to create, change, adapt, destroy. But it is also beautiful, aesthetically designed to flow and function, capable of handling mistakes and correcting them. It’s beauty lies in its simplicity of form combined with specific function, but adaptable to multiple conditions. And look at the sheer variety of writing utensils. Crayons, pencils, pens, paint brushes, quills, chisels, computers, et al, all capable of making a mark on the world, impacting it for good and ill, creating, destroying, adaptable to specific purposes or to the unknown. We need to teach our kids to become like that.

We are rapidly approaching, if not already past a crossroads in humanity. And if we don’t stop and take a look at where we are going and how we are getting there, we will be riding the proverbial hand basket straight to a very hot destination. We cannot continue treating and teaching our children as if they are factory stamped-out models: we must start creating individual works of art that are capable of creating and recreating themselves, not in a particular image, but unique and diverse and capable of change.

The only true insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results (Einstein anyone?). How has increasing core standards and demanding tests improved our students? We need to radically change our view of students as factory mass produced products and start creating ever changing pieces of art capable of creating and recreating themselves, not in their makers image but in their own, capable of utilitarian, practical decision making, capable of doing specific things but also capable of adapting, changing with the needs and demands of our ever changing world, capable of individual creativity and creative collaboration.

We must stop creating factory stamped pieces of crap capable of only doing one thing (and doing that poorly) and start creating adaptable artists creating the world for their needs and sensibilities. Despite our best efforts, we are incapable of predicting the future, so why are we teaching our students as if we can? Not one of our best and bright can see what is going to be the next big thing because they are the next big thing. They must be to survive. We need to be teaching survival skills, adaptability for an ever changing environment and world.

The view of Success as a final product, as a finite goal, automatically limits our selves to one thing, whether it’s money or fame or being a part of, if not THE, next big thing. We must go beyond this finite view of success, that there is one formula, one panacea that will cure us all and save the world. We must go the next step, that these minor, finite successes are a smaller part of a much larger organism, something that adapts and progresses (dare I say evolves) past what is currently seen and known. We cannot prepare ourselves or our children for the great unknown because it is what we are creating now, this moment that is leading us to the next because each next century, decade, year, next month, next week, tomorrow, each next moment is going to be different than what we know because we haven’t been there yet. We haven’t Created it yet. It is an ongoing process. All artists can tell you that mistakes will, even must be made, must be accepted, dealt with, and moved past. Somethings have to be adapted and changed and some destroyed and started anew in order to progress. And one of the first things that needs to go is that we have any idea of what the hell is going on.We limit when we label, when we pin success to a finite goal, a specific test score that was randomly generated from one person or groups expectations of what the future holds.

Drawing Hands by M. C. Escher, 1948, Lithograph.

There are these Internet memes that are running around that say ” They told me I could become anything I wanted, so I became …” usually tied to an amusing out of context photo that is purposefully misinterpreted as some other goal. Our students are creating these memes and they are cries for help, for direction, for us to actually help them create the future. Because that is their job, not ours. Our job has always been the future, it has been teaching the ever changing here and now so they can

Move beyond us into that great unknown.

We are finite creatures attempting to define the infinite: our own potential.