Lead or lead

Let's take this out for a spin and see how it comes back. 

Leadership is a big word, honored by history, always sought by aspiring learners, and rarely achieved by contemporary middle managers. I am looking for a group of peers in which I can believe and vest all of my energies. The current academic landscape is strewn with dozens of progressive curriculums attempting to articulate our ever-changing era. Many of these programs are functioning on a set of practices developed, at best, at the end of the last century, true innovation in teaching is frightfully hard to locate. Dramatic new ideas of learning and knowledge-acquisition are frustratingly mired by potentials of litigation, or never ending university sociological studies, innovation is being stifled by the need for anecdotic statistical case studies to support what current educators already know. We can no longer teach this population of students in the manner we have always done, we must abandon the path established in the ancient classrooms of the New Deal, the Bauhaus, and the academies of Italy. We must stop the master to apprentice model and remove the grid from the classroom and bring our students inherent skills for knowledge-acquisition forward like never before. 

The current population of learners have an acute focus on learning, and they have been slowed and snubbed by the present state of academia. They are literally dumbing themselves down when they enter our classrooms. And we are encouraging that dumbing through budget constraints and dogma bent on getting as many students through the system as possible. Teachers need to find inspiration in their classrooms, they need to find imagination in their students and they need the support of the leaderships of their institutions to do it. Education is the most vital and necessary component of civic life. No society can survive without the education of each new generation, and beyond survival is growth and innovation. Great societies, magnificent cultures, real communities are totally reliant on growth within new generations. Intellectual growth remains our most chaste value, the larger population of contemporary America struggles with the concept of elitism, believing that no one person should think themselves at a higher status because of their intellectual prowess, and they have been convinced not to value the attempts to educate and grow the brain-trust of our entire country. Resistance has been built against education and teachers, a resistance to learning and knowledge, a childish demonizing of educators. We are a people of thinkers, every generation should admire the great thinkers that immerge from within, we should cherish our geniuses beyond economic rewards. It is nonsensical to believe everyone has the same chance to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps…” Bootstraps have little to do with contemporary life, but social issues have been driven into the forefront of our arguments and caused an unprecedented distraction. Genius exists in many forms, and it must be allowed. 

We are all born with the same rights to opportunity but we are not all born equal, not even close, and I am glad for that when I see heroes rush in while everyone else is rushing out. I am glad I was born an artist, I am glad when I meet someone born a musician or a builder, or a leader. I do not often imagine people want to change who they were born as, but instead increase the value of the life they are living. There has been a great confusion between all of us having opportunity to pursue our dreams and the entitlement presented by privileged birth. We must maintain access to the future for all people born under any circumstances, but we must acknowledge the differences and strengths inherent in each of us. We are not all meant to be wealthy bankers, nor are we all meant to be laborers, we are all meant to be proud of our lives and I believe that is a necessity of our society. We must respect our differences and cherish our distinctions. Who we are should be a source of pride, not a source of derision. Every student must be treated fairly and provided the same menu to pick from, but once they have selected or opted in to their education we must teach them, we must rise to their level of interest and feed their hunger for growth. We must not hold them at the door of imagination and limit them to our own understanding of the subject or materials.

While a total rejection of the past is never my intention, I fear emulating it too closely. I feel our history should function as it is, in our past, we should use it as a reference and as a rich source of inspiration, but not as a blueprint for the future. We must use our farthest-reaching dreams to build the future, we must extend out forward of what is plausible or economically sound, to instead create a very new thing, an unexpected result, an anomaly of society. We need to create a future that is completely irrational to what we currently know. For if we build a future with the ideas of yesterday and the technology of now, we will only have a simulacra of what we already know, and that is most assuredly not a future, that is instead still a present, and we already know the present. The trick is to build a thing we have yet to know, a future which will exist in its own time.

With this in mind it is imperative to allow ourselves the freedom to explore bad ideas, argue against our own best intentions and try saying yes to things we fear. We have few leaders who can take us out into the open pastures away from the politics that bind all of us into bureaucracy and negotiations of budgets and benefit plans. We are in desperate need of leaders who are leading not for the paycheck but for the sake of leading, because like in art we do it because anything else stopped making sense the moment we started the conversation. Artists are makers, leaders are builders, and all of us who work with those leaders are collaborators in a future we all want, because weather we ever really get it or not, is irrelevant to the point that it is going to happen. The future is going to happen, and I am very concerned with being an architect of the big beautiful bright lives we will lead.

Art is no longer imitating life, art has become the core of our contemporary life.

Art education right now often misses the great opportunities this technological era has presented us. I want to turn students into active learner-makers. People who can activate their conversations through their imaginations and articulate their ideas in new and innovative ways. We must help them tap the wells of inspiration which reside in all of them, we must help them develop methods of collection and interpretation of those inspirations. We must guide them through the enhancement of their skills as thinker-communicators, giving them the right cues and signals to manifest their raw emotions and feelings about the world at large, the people and environs close to them and most vitally their own personal understandings of self. We must give them a faith in their abilities and their potential, we must make them arrogant enough to believe or even know that what they have to say and how they choose to say it is of the greatest importance to all of the rest of us. Few students are given the chance to grow all the way, to build into the biggest most interesting version of themselves, but when they do, when they step beyond their own expectations, beyond the expectations laid out for them by their pasts, when they begin functioning at full capacity as learners, thinkers, communicators, makers, leaders, knowers, and they find a method for maintaining that height, that is the moment when we as educators as collaborators and as friends know success. Anything less than this attempt is a missed opportunity.

Education is not just providing examples of past successes and visuals giving anecdotal evidence of achievable goals. Education is not just assignments which will cause the student to face new challenges. Education must be learning how to connect the physical and theoretical. Slamming together experience with evaluation. We must cause them to think, cause them to do, we must create an environment and encourage exploration of that environment which unavoidably inspires them. Then if we are lucky, we will know we did our best. 


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