The recent debates on the topic of education heating up in several countries across Europe, and particularly in France, are quite worrying. More than ever, the clash of civilizations, values and beliefs is taking on mammoth proportions and turning our routines, ways of thinking and comfort zones since the beginning of time upside-down. Philosopher Pierre-Jakez Hélias once said, “Before we become, we come from.” Today’s societies are such a hodgepodge that the thought of hanging a “Cultural Origin” sign in schools has become mission impossible, not to mention a set of references in common, be they cultural or historical, in the pursuit to build tomorrow.
If all knowledge and culturally-based teachings were to undergo examination, and if we were to rely solely on our own beliefs, it would seem only natural that the role of the teacher or Master be revisited and reworked accordingly.
Montesquieu states the following in The Spirit of Laws: “Today, there are three different or contradictory types of education out there: that of our parents, that of our teachers, and that of the world. Everything we are taught in the latter undermines everything we are taught in the first two.” There is little linking parents, teachers, and the World that the Master and apprentice are at a loss when it comes to making sense of anything. Who are we to believe? What are we to believe?
I would like, for the apprentice’s sake, the practice of design and its creative potential to play a central part in breathing new life into the Master’s purpose. A driving force in the teaching and understanding of all things, the Master enables the apprentice to take ownership of the design field’s breadth and the myriad opportunities available there within. He fosters broader reflection, and helps channel context- and realm-based scenarios.
With globally-reaching solutions dependent upon creativity, the practice of design allows every Man and Woman the possibility to configure his and her own knowledge base. Creativity is a binding cement in the acquisition of knowledge. It shapes ingenuity and instinct, the ability to think ahead and plan for the future, and ultimately brings out the Humanity in every one of us. Should ever computers attain the be-all and end-all status in terms of knowledge gain and grandeur, never will they have what it takes to stand for something and stand behind it, solve the Epimenides or Liar Paradox, or reach a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction.
Teaching and driving creativity mean teaching free will, bias, freedom, and accountability. Being creative is a non-option when new space is needed to regroup and provide direction for those who have strayed inadvertently along the way.
I cannot help but refer back to the story of the “circus flea trainer”, which doubles nicely as a cover for what a Master embodies. “Once upon a time, there was a flea trainer who had taught his circus act how to jump. Before making his entrance, he would put the flea in a glass, and with the audience’s help, he would ask the flea to jump. The flea would start to jump all over the place, higher and higher, executing death-defying and increasingly complicated acrobatics. The more the flea performed, the more confidence it had to tackle new and even riskier figures; ones that had even escaped the flea trainer’s wildest imagination.
The flea trainer was no longer in a position of force or authority. His role was now to encourage, entertain, and give the flea what it needed to continually move forward and re-invent itself and its act. There were limits, however, to how much and how far the flea trainer could intervene for, ultimately, it took being a flea to know what was and was not possible.
The flea fed off the enthusiasm and cheers from circus onlookers to come up with even more spectacular combinations and novelties. Left to jump about freely above the glass, it wooed all those present. In the span of the circus act, the flea managed to “change the world” of those in the audience happy to be taking part in something so whimsical.
Feeling deprived of applause and acknowledgment, the flea trainer decided to take matters into his own hands. He took a moment to exchange with the audience, and when doing so, placed his hand over the glass. When the flea heard the audience cheering, it began to jump around. Once, twice, three times to no avail. It kept bumping its head against the flea trainer’s palm. It was confused as to why the flea trainer was so set on wanting to keep its antics bottled up, but never did it think to question him for he was the Master. Surely, he knew what he was doing.
After several minutes had passed, the flea trainer lifted his hand from the glass, and asked the flea to show off its expertise. The flea jumped and jumped. To the audience’s dismay, the flea could no longer jump all the way to the rim of the glass. It was lights out for death-defying acrobatics and freedom. The Master just pulled the plug on the creativity of his Apprentice.”
Whether in education or training fleas to jump, a Master’s job is not to make knowledge an oppressing force, but rather one that opens doors. It is meant to be passed down to the apprentice who is given free rein to do with it as he pleases, infusing his touch and identity to trigger yet another purpose, a different purpose, a purpose that surpasses its predecessors. Regardless of time spent mentoring, the Master remains a catalyst of progress and change.
“What else should we want for our children other than that they do better than we did?” Creativity-inspired education means accepting that the apprentice is brighter than his Master, enabling him to forge new bonds with the world, build new bridges with the future, and go down paths that have been, up to now, roads less traveled by those who have shaped them. Doing what has already been done makes little sense; doing everything better makes much more.
In an era where the answer to any question is but a click away on the web and the claim that teachers are the epitome of knowledge resembles a myth more than reality, this new angle on the Master-Apprentice relationship is a fantastic opportunity wherein to rethink and re-lay the foundation of the Ecole, as well as restore trust in its purpose as a thriving and ever-evolving habitat of knowledge and creation. It means having the desire and determination to set in motion a new way of living, thinking, doing. It means being open to letting go of the apprentice, letting him fly solo, and giving him just the right amount of guidance and confidence to make him a go-getter and builder of tomorrow so needed by society.
It means teaching design from a very early age. “Reading, counting, creating” should be the new trilogy in elementary schools. Steve Jobs spent a lot of time tinkering in his garage growing up. At school, children should be encouraged to do the same.