Friday, January 20, 2012

Militant angles

I worked as an instructor, or a teacher for quite a few years. Went to school for it even. Studied it. Education. So I've thought about it a lot.

One of the key things I figured out is that different people perceive things differently. Not to be confused with the common idea in education that different people learn differently. They do, but largely it's because they perceive things differently.

I've seen several really great educators address this issue by accident, and I've also noticed that some of the worst educators are bad because of well intentioned but flawed attempts to address it. I don't know that I ever came to any really good solution myself.

The problem across the board is that there is almost always a certain constituent of any audience who will protest if you try to address perceptive styles that are different than theres. And these are the people who complain to the dean. The result is that anybody in education who tries to address this core issue in educating a group of people will get complaints against them, and sooner or later they are either dismissed, or disheartened so much that they leave the profession. I used to like to think that tenure was the solution, in some roundabout way, but the fact is that this is where the disheartening comes in. Un-tenured people are fired, tenured people are harassed into hopelessness and they give up. There's always a mechanism.

So. Why? Well, first: some examples: One of the most intentionally aware approaches I ever saw was my biology professor when I was in ed school. He broke each hour and a half lecture into reasonably accurate ten minute segments. Switching modes for each segment. It was about halfway into the semester when I picked up on it, and then only because I was also taking ed theory classes and was looking for this kind of thing. He'd spend the first segment of a trio basically re-hashing the book, if you will, covering the topic at hand in a standard theoretical way. Then after ten minutes of that, he'd switch to telling a story that demonstrated where and why this topic was germane. I remember one of these segments having to do with why his hair was white, and why it was a bad idea to use dye to color it (the general gist was that the dye had lead and would make you stupid, so white hair, in his story, meant wisdom in a very banal way). The third segment in a trio would be the nuts and bolts. Experiment, formula, etc... And then he'd start a new trio on a new topic.

I don't think he was specifically targeting different perceptions, but rather just trying to be a good teacher. I asked him about it at the end of the semester, and he didn't realize he was doing it, he said. He thought about it for about twenty seconds and then just said: "I don't want people to get bored, I guess." --After a lot of years of thought on this, I'm inclined to think that his method also worked because he'd found a way to take different angles on a subject without drawing the ire of the one track people. He'd tricked them. He was a genius.

I tried his method, but sadly, my topic area doesn't lend itself to this approach. And the result was that I got fired from my first job after only one semester because: I spent too much time wandering off topic. --according to the dean, as he summarized the student (singular) complaint.

The worst case was your ninth grade math teacher (mine anyway), who misinterpreted the issue and thought that the key was repetition. This developed as dogma in the educational community at some point: that repetition was key. I'd guess that it happened because somebody saw a good teacher covering something over and over from different angles, and the takeaway was that it was the repetition that was good, not the different considerations.


What's the point? The point is that these types of people that like to see something presented to them in the 'right' way tend to overwhelm systems and the world ends up working the way they want. And they are a minority. So this leads to systems that don't really work. This is why a company that started of good, when it gets big enough, collapses. Because these 'right' way people have choked the dynamism and flexibility out of the business. Same thing happens in governments, and clubs, and movements and pretty much anything where you get a quorum.

And I don't have any solution, sorry to say. I wish I did, but I can't think of any defense. And part of the reason is that the people doing it aren't wrong. They're just intolerant. But the issue of immediacy is always whether they are right or wrong, and they aren't wrong, so they're unassailable. But there's so much difference between not being wrong and being right. And in the difference is everything that's good about life.

Since I do photography, and I have the good examples, I'll use those to illustrate here:

One of these images is done 'right' and the other breaks pretty much every rule there is in photography, and yet they are both equally good in my mind. In fact, these were both taken by me fairly close together in time, and they both, to me, serve the same purpose: they evoke the powers of nature. They both show a bird against the elements. I think they're both pretty good. One does everything 'right' and the other doesn't.

Here's the 'rules' involved:

-rule of thirds: the sunset pic has the horizon in the bottom third and the sunset middle third and sky top third. It also has a gull at the top-left intersection and one at the bottom-right. The sparrow is smack in the middle of his composition.

-sharpness: the sunset pic is totally in focus, everything is within the hyperfocal perception of the sensor. The sparrow is out of focus in several ways, and so is the rest of the scene. There is crappy lens blur, motion blur, camera shake, subject movement, inaccurate focus and light flare.

-exposure: the sunset is a high range image that manages to perfectly strike a balance of all the elements from the sun itself, through the clouds and the water, setting the birds and shoreline in silhouette. The sparrow, while a fairly consistent level of brightness, is strongly overexposed. Every part of it is blown out.

-story: the sunset shows one bird sitting and another flying against a striking backdrop. It's the end of the day and they are looking for their last meal before dark in their own ways. The sparrow is just sitting there.

Now: would you like a world that ostracized the sparrow picture? Disallowed it? Well, that's what we have. The only way the sparrow pic comes into being is through stubbornness and determination. Having a singular opinion that stands up to critique and popular opinion. In the long term, somebody has to suffer for the sparrow.

Thanks for reading,

Dave DeHetre

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