Thursday, May 28, 2009

Are We Human...or Are We Dancers?

"Are we human...or our we dancer?" That is a line from "The Killers" song "Human". I understand that the song was a reaction to a remark once made by the late Hunter S. Thompson, an acerbic journalist famed for “telling it like it is”, often in offensive terms. He had commented that America is nowadays raising a “generation of dancers”. I don't think he meant that in a positive light!Thompson committed suicide in 2005. This song seems to be about people losing their humanity and all being trained to be the same. When it comes to being different or pursuing an "open door" the lyrics go:

I did my best to notice
when the call came down the line
up to the platform of surrender
I was brought but I was kind
and sometimes I get nervous
when I see an open door

close your eyes, clear your heart

cut the cord
are we human or are we dancer
my sign is vital, my hands are cold
and I'm on my knees looking for the answer
are we human or are we dancer

After listening to this speech, I think of "Are we dancers" in a different light. Are we allowing our children to dance to the beat of their own creativity? Our we allowing that particular door to be opened? Or our we and our educational system closing that door to our children in the pursuit of other lofty goals? You will get it when you hear the story about the dancer at the end.

Sir Ken Robinson gave this speech in June 2006 for the TED conference. Here is the introduction from the TED blog.

"Why you should listen to him: Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. It's a message with deep resonance. Robinson's TEDTalk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006. The most popular words framing blog posts on his talk? "Everyone should watch this." "

This is an entertaining speech that will make you think. Here are some "killer" lines from the speech. There are more, give it a listen.

"And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.

So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status"

I want to hang that one on my classroom wall, or at least write it out and leave it on my teacher's desk to remind me not to "lose" the teaching of creativity.

"I heard a great story recently, I love telling it, of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson, she was 6 and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this little girl hardly paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated and she went over to her and she said, "What are you drawing?" and the girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." And the teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like." And the girl said, "They will in a minute."

I wonder how many kids like this, we miss in our classes as we don't allow them to pursue something passionately.

"You'll never come up with anything original, if you're not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.

And we run our companies like this, by the way, we stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.

And the result is, we are educating people out of their creative capacities."

I actually have had a quote similar to this on a poster I created, up on my classroom wall. "You can't make anything, if you are afraid to make mistakes."

"Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it. So why is this?"

I always tell my class, something similar about science. They were all great scientists once before they got to school. They threw their food off the high chair while they ate, to see how gravity worked. It kept working until someone gave them a helium filled balloon! And the questions that little kids ask, "Why? How come? and so forth. Where did they go? Recall how easily a 3-year old studies ants on the ground. I asked my class a week ago, when was the last time they observed ants. It had been a few years! Where did their enthusiasm for science go?

"But something strikes you when you move to America and when you travel around the world: every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one, doesn't matter where you go, you'd think it would be otherwise but it isn't. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on earth.

And in pretty much every system too, there's a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think maths is very important but so is dance. Children dance all the time if they're allowed to, we all do. We all have bodies, don't we? Did I miss a meeting?

Truthfully what happens is, as children grow up we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side."

There are plenty of other great quotes in this video. Wait until you hear about the "dancing" girl. Everyone should watch this.

By the way, I can't dance. Not one step! I have to be the world's worst dancer!

Here is a more recent post by Sir Ken Robinson about not just reforming education, but transforming it.


gloriagloria said...

I don't understand why everyone is okay attributing the quote about raising a generation of dancers to Hunter S. Thompson just because Brandon Flowers says it was a Thompson quote. Does anyone know where and when Thompson said that? Everyone is writing it or commenting on it as a fact, but nobody seems to be able to say where or when Hunter S. Thompson said this. What happened to fact checking? We can attribute the explanation to Brandon F's interview response, but it's not for certain that he's telling the truth since there's no evidence of a statement made by Thompson.

Mr. Froberg said...

Sorry, but that's a ridiculous comment. Who cares who said it? Getting caught up in who said it totally misses the point of the association being suggested between its implications to society and education.

Ryan W. said...

Who cares who said it? The people who are interested in what the song means. The context of a quote influences its meaning. The person saying "We're raising a nation of dancers" mentions dancers in a positive light, the quote has a totally different meaning than if he mentions them in a negative light.

As for attribution; people cite sources so it's easier to unravel if someone else has made a mistake.

Anonymous said...

The people concerned with the source of the comment sound exactly like the children you discuss being educated out of creativity. If it is a mistake, so be it. The point is still valid no matter where the quote came from.

turin said...

The point is valid maybe, but this is depending on what point you are looking at it from. RW is right, the context of a quote absolutely influences its meaning. Besides,without actual proof HST said this thing, I find it completely irresponsible to put words in his mouth