Friday, March 22, 2013

Teacher Our Young to Be Creative

Back in my high school days, I liked my music loud and aggressive.  My favorite bands shifted over the years from heavy metal icons Motley Crue to perennial rockers AC/DC and then to industrial juggernauts Nine Inch Nails and KFMDM.

While my music tastes have broadened considerably since that time—I listen to the local pop radio station about as much as I listen to my MP3 collection, which even includes some Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and even Katie Perry believe it or not—I still can’t pass up the opportunity to see my favorite bands when they tour in the area.

In just a few minutes my lovely wife and I (along with the kids and grandparents who will be babysitting) will be off to Pittsburgh.  We (just my wife and I) are going to see KMFDM.  I haven’t been this excited to see a show in a long time.  I saw them once before back in 1997, and of the few dozen concerts I’ve been to in my life, I will always credit that 1997 show as being the best.  Heck, I even saw Nine Inch Nails with the Jim Rose Circus freak show act and an unknown Marilyn Manson at the time, but even that one didn’t compare to KMFDM.

I’m not going to hoot and haw over them, because I doubt hardly anyone has heard of them.  Their most popular songs have been “A Drug Against War” and “Juke Joint Jezebel” in the 90s.  They received a bit of unfortunate notoriety after the Columbine massacre because one of the shooters was a huge fan and posted a few of their songs on his website.  And their music does generally portray a message of standing up to the authority.  KFMDM itself is an initialization of “Kein Mehrheit Fur Die Mitleid”, which loosely translates to “no pity for the majority.”  So yeah, it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea.  Loud, in your face, industrial music with heavy guitar riffs, screeching male and female vocals, horns and brass instruments.  Great stuff in my opinion.

I’ve always been a huge fan of music, although I’ve never really pursued it as a skill.  I own a couple of guitars and can play a few chords, and long ago I was invited and entertained the idea of trying out for several bands.  People always got a kick out of my deep voice, and I could play rhythm guitar well enough for a garage or bar band.  But I never did because I was always too busy or had some other excuse (perhaps I was a bit too introverted at the time).

But I was always big on art and, of course, writing.  I took an art class every year from K to 10, and the only reason I stopped in my junior year was that the art classes offered at my high school interfered with honors and AP courses.  I recall in 7th grade, though, having our first, real, not-making-silly-crafts-out-of-shoeboxes art class, and on the very first day our teacher asked us to draw her.  Simple enough.  Just draw her on a sheet of plain 8.5” x 11” white paper with a number 2 pencil.  When we were finished, she looked over the drawings, nodding every so often, and then handed them back to us.  Only three of us in a class of twenty-five drew her as they saw her rather than curly squiggles for hair and child-like noses and smiles and whatnot.  I was surprised by this, because while I drew like that when I was younger, somewhere along the line I realized that drawing circles and squiggles, shapes and patterns, was so limiting to reality.  And I mean, just think about it—we see circles everywhere, like my webcam lens or my cup or my fan, and yet all of these things were manufactured by man.  How many circles do we see in nature that are naturally occurring?  Not very many, unless you are looking at the atomic level.  When you look at a person’s hair, is it really just a bunch of squiggly curly q’s?  No, nobody’s hair REALLY looks like that.  Are eyes really shaped like ellipses?  No.  Are faces ever oval?  No.

In 9th grade and then even more so in college, I took creative writing classes.  I always did well in those classes, and I’d attribute that to my inquisitive mind.  I’m never satisfied with most stories I read or movies I watch, because I’m always so quick to find plot holes or silly bits of writing.  For example, I saw a trailer for Stephenie Meyer’s new movie, The Host, and I was so irritated by the monologue.  The girl says, “This is the beginning of a love story.  It might not seem like a big deal, except for one thing: this is the future, and humanity is all but extinct.”

I’ve not read Stephenie Meyer’s books, and I’ve only been able to stomach through one or two of the Twilight movies.  She is successful, and I have to give her credit there, but that monologue just pains me.  Why?  Because nobody would EVER refer to themselves as being in the future.  Think about it.  I’m not going to call my mom and say, “Hey Mom, this is the future, right?  It’s not like it was back when you were a teenager—back in the present.”  You never actually EXIST in the future unless you have time-travelled there, and then when you are there, it is still your PRESENT.  I get the fact that she’s trying to tell us that the setting is in the future, that’s fine, but by saying, “THIS is the future,” it just sounds silly to me.  How about, “This is the beginning of a love story.  It might not seem like a big deal, except for one thing: it happens/takes place/occurs IN THE FUTURE, where humanity is all but extinct.”

I digress.

Music, art, literature.  All of these things are so precious and valuable.  Yeah, very few people will become rich and famous by making music or selling their art or writing books, and that’s partly the reason why they tend to be neglected in some institutions of learning.  None of those courses are as important as math or science.  Reading, yeah, but writing?  Not so much.

Yet even a doctor with all of his knowledge of the human anatomy needs creative skills to diagnose patients.  If it’s not this ailment, then it could be this one, and if it’s not this one, then it could be that one.  Computer programmers need creative skills to envision new algorithms and solutions for automating processes.  Even investors need to be creative when it comes to identifying trends and studying markets.  Without creativity, we’d accomplish nothing.

If you have a little one, I’d strongly encourage you to have him/her draw or write or learn an instrument.  Allow that little mind to not just learn a new skill but also the ability to imagine and envision.  I once had a crazy old teacher named Mrs. Harvey who had her ladder of abstraction, and while everyone scoffed at her teaching style—which was probably more fitting for gifted elementary school kids and not teenagers—she was very right about one thing: kids need to learn how to think for themselves—and think in the abstract.

Because we really don’t want or need a world full of followers, unable to think or do anything outside of what they are told.

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