Creativity, Writing & Time Management

I’m at Victoria Station today, trying to write. Yesterday, in terms of writing, was a totally failed day. I didn’t get anywhere that I wanted to get in terms of writing. On the other hand, I had a lengthy conversation with a former student via iChat, a longer conversation with a potential student in person, and a couple of poems done. A good day’s work, even without much writing.

Both conversations I had yesterday revolved around issues of time management, creativity and excellence. I find that I’m really happy to have read Forrest’s book On the Four Powers while I was out in Colorado. Also Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The two together are proving really useful in having these conversations.

In the in-person conversation, the issue of “what do we teach them in these schools?” came up. told the story in her journal yesterday about a waitress who couldn’t subtract $1.50 from a bill of under $10.00. Josh told me about a guy who couldn’t write; another student of mine has his driver’s license and can’t read much beyond street signs. And many of my former students get into trouble with drugs, with alcohol, or being unable to finish school — whether high school or college.

Somehow, what we have been teaching is dysfunctionality. Students are getting through school on the basis of their own put-togetherness, in spite of what we teach them. Which means that we — that I — am genuinely failing them. That worries me.

Theophane the monk tells a story which may be relevant. A priest goes on retreat to the Magic Monastery. There is a monk there, he says, who never provides answers, only questions. The priest asks him for a question, and the question is, “What do they need?” The priest goes back to his room, and writes for several hours, trying to get through his head what it is that they need. He comes to the realization that he really wanted to work on his own spiritual life, and not the life of his congregation. He returns to the questioning monk, and says, “I’m sorry to bother you again. Yet while your question was helpful, I really want to work on my own spiritual life. Do you have a question to help me with my own spiritual life?” And the monk says, “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t understand your request the first time around. If you want to work on your own spiritual life, the question I asked before is totally the wrong one. The right question is, “What do they really need?”

This is the question I’m thinking about this morning, rather than my WWGS assignment. What do my students really need? I’ve been assuming that that what they need is a sense of history, the movement of places and peoples, the geography and the timeline of world events. I’ve been assuming that they need to know how to write, to read.

Yes, they need all that. It’s expected, it’s what the curriculum requires. But is it what they really need? What if what they really need is license to dream, permission to be creative, self-discipline to be organized, the right to pursue their own interests, and a diploma in self-hood? It’s as though there’s an official curriculum, the history and the English and the Latin (names and dates, indefinite articles and subjunctive clauses), and an unofficial curriculum, in self-management, in study skills, in creativity, in personal growth, in developing one’s abilities.

In essence, what I want to teach is a course in miracles. In using magic and mystery to turn one’s life into beauty. And that strikes me as a worthwhile goal. Any objections, comments, questions, concerns?

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  1. Re: Progress on pondering

    Any new thoughts on how you’d teach this course? Can I audit from LJ?

    I haven’t thought hard enough about how I’d teach this course, but I’ll arrange to post the the curriculum and the homework assignments here, so you have the chance to participate if you want to.

    Would it make a difference if your students did things where they could fail?

    yes, absolutely. Jimmy the Greek said, “I love winning a hand [of poker] when there’s a lot of money on the table. But I learn more when there’s a lot of money on the table and I lose.” So there are things that can be learned from failure, because it teaches us where me must be successful and how we can be successful.

  2. Progress on pondering

    What if what they really need is license to dream, permission to be creative, self-discipline to be organized, the right to pursue their own interests, and a diploma in self-hood?

    Most adults need that too. 🙂

    If you can teach those things, it would be a great gift for your students. I wonder if it’s teachable, or if it’s something that comes through experience.

    I don’t have much experience with kids, so I looked at this question through my own life. Please excuse my narcissism.

    I didn’t WANT much of anything in middle school or high school. Well, I wanted badly to be in college, and until then to get back to my book in peace. In a lot of contexts I was smart enough that I didn’t have to work very hard, so I didn’t. In most classes I got away with that. My parents weren’t the type to push. They helped when I asked for something, like flute lessons, but didn’t push me to become a musician. My perception was I had no discipline, or effectiveness, or direction. I failed a few classes my freshman year of college and came home very, very burnt out and depressed.

    In contrast, in my twenties I switched careers from publishing to software. I worked my way over into the industry, and then spent three and a half years getting a masters at night. I knew why I was there. It was a totally different experience, and it astonished me to discover my own competence.

    If I could go back in time, I would march my younger self to karate. It would have given me a context to be disciplined, make progress, see that I could accomplish goals, and continually make choices and see the results. That might have given me a better foundation.

    If I had been in the class you propose to teach… I don’t know if it would have helped. Would I have been able to grab on to it? Is it something you only figure out through experience and having to push?

    There were certainly teachers who made a difference. My tenth grade art teacher, fresh from art school, taught real art. She walked us through a real drawing curriculum even though it was frustrating. We knew she was teaching substantive material, and I took it as a kind of respect. It mattered.

    Would it make a difference if your students did things where they could fail? In a way school felt like playing a game with monopoly money. When I think back, it seemed like if I made some kind of effort, it was a given that I’d get through. Maybe not with A’s, but my half of the bargain only required I make some kind of effort. Even with sports — I didn’t play them, and understand that teams fail games — it doesn’t seem like much is on the line. It might have been deeply instructive to do something where the outcome depended more on me.

    Any new thoughts on how you’d teach this course? Can I audit from LJ?

  3. Re: definately not boring

    it’s not just kids who are asking themselves those questions…. so many people are wondering those same things … otherwise why is the whole country on antidepressants?

    why am I so busy — because society demands so much?

    why am I not happy — because I’m disconnected from those friends I made in school?

    why am I in this dead-end job? — because work is becoming more and more exploitive and impersonal, less and less connected to real life? Less about people and more about corporations as great godlike entities shifting money around and forgetting that they need human beings to do the work, and human beings need to be given something for their effort?

    We can’t all be self-made, self-employed — somewhere along the line, there has to be a community, and that’s what I see disappearing…

  4. Re: definately not boring

    These kids, at least, get a lot of work in building community. They have to be on sports teams, they have to be on dormitories with kids that may not be their best friends, they have to be in classes and work projects together. All that is about building community, at least to some degree.

    The issues my former students wrestle with are more related to why am I so busy? Why am I not happy? Why am I not going anywhere? What am I doing in this dead-end job? Those are partly about community, but mostly they’re about personal growth issues. So that’s what I’m conscious of it.

  5. definately not boring

    “license to dream, permission to be creative, self-discipline to be organized, the right to pursue their own interests, and a diploma in self-hood? self-management, in study skills, in creativity, in personal growth, in developing one’s abilities. “

    What about community and connection? Is that what teachers give them, or what they give to each other?

    I find it’s more and more common for kids to be more interested in playing video games or computers than to play with other kids! I am not sure if it’s true (though it certainly is for me) if all creative people grow up feeling a little bit isolated, so maybe I’m biased, but one of the things that is most important about school is learning social skills.

    Personal growth is important, but so is interpersonal interaction. It’s interesting that you left this out. Is it true that if you teach/encourage kids to love themselves, it will automatically spill out to loving others? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. But it’s interesting to contemplate…

    It’s the question of what do we really value more, the individual or the community, and is community something that can be taught?

    just my two pence

  6. You may be misunderstanding my use of the term miracle, but I take your point, in any case.

    What I need to demonstrate to them is that they are in this life for themselves — not parents, friends, family, or anyone else, but in fact to live in a way that makes them happy and feel fulfilled and beautiful. It’s one thing to feel fulfilled, another to BE fulfilled. It’s not about grabbing what you want, it’s about taking what you need, and giving back.

    That sort of thing does involve study skills and self-discipline, but it also requires a degree of self-awareness and consciousness that many of these kids don’t have, but need to get.

    Anyway, I still have to work on refining these ideas.

  7. Okay, a couple of comments:

    (1) not boring. Not boring at all actually.

    (2) teaching may very well be the hardest job anywhere. but I don’t think you’re looking for “miracles” (unless I am totally misunderstanding what you mean there). I think, for most students the foundation of things like study skills, time management, self-discipline is the most important thing a teacher can give them. Because once a person has those skills, they can pick up a damn book and learn the rest on their own. how to balance the desire to teach those essential life lessons in with the curriculum is where the biggest challeges are.

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