Sunday, 15 April 2012

Natural outsiders: Thinking about Jonah Lehrer's 'Imagine'

I've been making the most of my non-teaching time recently to get a bit of reading done, in particular Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: The science of creativity (which also seems to be sub-titled 'How creativity works'). 
The world is full of natural outsiders, except we don't call them outsiders; we refer to them as young people. The virtue of youth, after all, is that the young don't know enough to be insiders, cynical with expertise. While such ignorance has all sorts of obvious drawbacks, it also comes with creative advantages, which is why so many fields, from physics to punk rock, have been defined by their most immature members. The young know less, which is why they often invent more. - Jonah Lehrer

This issue of what young people have to offer (and in my particular case, the young people who are part of the Curriculum Integration Project) is one that I've been reflecting on a bit recently. While it's nice (well, sometimes nice, and sometimes incredibly challenging or frustrating!) for them to be part of an 'authentic learning project', if all we're doing is re-producing a 'real world' experience in an educational context is that really making the most of their potential?

Is a paper and web-based magazine about visual culture the ultimate product that 20 'natural outsiders' can produce? Or can they/we produce something that is properly innovative, that moves beyond the bounds of our current experience, and really connects the visual culture of their world with their colleagues? How can we best help them take advantage of the 'virtues of youth' to create something new rather than reproducing a version of something old?

In five years time when we look back at what they invented you'll be mentioned in the credits Jonah. And in the meantime, when we're cursing the idea of taking on such a big project, you may also get a mention!

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