Saturday, September 8, 2012

Innovation: Play, Passion and Purpose and the Problem with Standards

Today I pulled out some paint, gel medium, gesso, photographs, altered pages from a notebook, and batik paper I had previously made and began to play.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to compose but I did know that I wanted to make use of materials that were new and ones I had previously made. Hours went by and so involved was I that I paid the clock little notice. As I worked a sense of purpose emerged.

Hung the Moon (M.A. Reilly, Mixed Media, 2012)

While I worked, my son two floors above built a replica of the Soviet Typhoon-Class submarine, a few destroyers and battleships in Minecraft that then used them in the course of playing on the server with others.  Like me, he too worked and played and hours passed. We each were fueled by passion and a sense of play, and out of these--purpose emerged.

Screenshot 1(DC, 2012)

Screenshot 2 (DC, 2012)
No one dictated what we should or should not do and this got me thinking about the importance of play, making, and agency--and how these reveal and help to define purpose.  Tony Wagner (2012) in Creating Innovators writes about the relationship among play, passion and purpose. He notes:

In the lives of young innovators whom I interviewed, I discovered a consistent link and developmental arc in their progression from play to passion to purpose. These young people played a great deal—but their play was frequently far less structured than most children’s, and they had opportunities to explore, experiment, and discover through trial and error—to take risks and to fall down. Through this kind of more creative play as children, these young innovators discovered a passion—often as young adolescents. As they pursued their passions, though, their interests changed and took surprising turns. They developed new passions, which, over time, evolved into a deeper and more mature sense of purpose—a kind of shared adult play (p. 30).
I appreciate the idea of the links among play, passion, and purpose--although I would imagine the links are less developmental and more iterative and recursive. Nonetheless that they are co-specifying feels important. Also the need to solve problems seems inherent in all three.

Both my son and I ran into design problems as we played that we each addressed by recalling past work (such as photographing, making things from Legos), leaving the work for a bit of time and returning to it, changing perspective, and trial and error. Creating as we each did today required a large block of time, permission to spend that time as we each wished, and tools necessary to get the work accomplished. It also required not knowing the end when we each started and in fact, not really having a start that was formal.  Rather, the beginning was well over from the point when we might have been able to name it as such. There is an ambiguity here that is rather critical.

All of these ways of composing, coming to know and producing that my son and I each employed are somewhat antithetical to traditional U.S. schooling, especially with its emphasis on external standards. External standards presupposes a neat world--one in which knowledge is defined and the transfer of the defined knowledge is often an end goal. Is it any wonder that so many find school a dead end? My son's interest in the Soviet Union grew out of play, not history class. My interest in textures, mixed media, and photography has grown out of play as well.

On Saturdays like today, I wonder a lot about the spaces of permission necessary for creating to happen and how schools might become such places.


Work Cited




Wagner, Tony (2012-04-17). Creating Innovators. Scribner. Kindle Edition.


4 comments:

  1. Play without strings can result in a soulful symphony. I relearned that as an adult through playing around with watercolors on a bleak day in China. Not that I produced a great work of art, but the results speak to me of a child laughing with God. Hung the Moon is another soulful symphony.

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    1. Coming from you that is such an honor. Can't wait to see your finished book via your China experiences, Deb.

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  2. ah. loving this Mary Ann..

    Creating as we each did today required a large block of time, permission to spend that time as we each wished, and tools necessary to get the work accomplished. It also required not knowing the end when we each started and in fact, not really having a start that was formal.  Rather, the beginning was well over from the point when we might have been able to name it as such. There is an ambiguity here that is rather critical.

    critical ambiguity.

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    1. Hope you will write more about critical ambiguity. Feels very important.

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