Rethinking education: asking questions about how we are taught
My friend Ginny and I went to see ‘Rethinking Capitalism: emotions as commodities’ at LSE today - a talk by Professor Eva Illouz about the rise of consumption as culture in modern society and the intensification of the search to find products and experiences that will provide us with the emotional reactions that we crave.
Professor Illouz explored how we use commodities to express our emotions, engaging in rituals of exchange in order to communicate that we care.
Illouz is clearly a highly respected academic in her field and the list of interestingly-named books she has written duly impressed me, however, Ginny and I both left the lecture feeling a grave sense of disappointment - what could have been a stimulating discussion on modern culture was instead presented as a stifling lecture, read out from a script, delivered from the immobile podium. It got us both thinking - were we the only ones in the lecture theatre who were disappointed by that talk? From the sounds of people fidgeting and leaving, it did not seem that way. I am not criticising Illouz, but am more interested in the conventional aspects of the academic lecture which contrast our expectations that we brought with us and our accepted notions of information dissemination. At a public lecture at a university, we did not expect the majority of the information to be indigestible by the average, educated young person. Ginny argued that this is why other people on her graphic design degree course shy away from intellectualising their work - academia is dry, difficult, intimidating, boring.
However, surely complex ideas do not need to be presented in this age old format? It seems that we need to find a compromise between the easily accessible pop-lecture by Rachel Botsman and the barely tolerable jargon-filled spiel of the academics.
In the same way that McCandless managed to rethink the presentation of data, I think there is space for a re-thinking of the way that we disseminate this information to ordinary people who want to learn. My experience of university has been ambiguous to say the least. I spent a year at UCL having philosophy lectures read out to me from handouts by old men in tweeds. I think this just does not cut it anymore. My experience at King’s College London is an improvement, but there still seems to be an assumption that students come to university to get knowledge that can be delivered to us from the podium. I just don’t think this is the case. We have the information literally at the tips of our fingers. I can produce greater and more accurate information about Shakespeare from my iPhone than I can from my lecturer. What we are seeking is an experience that is much harder to pinpoint. We are seeking experts, certainly. But we are seeking experts who have the ability to communicate their knowledge and experience in a way that is powerful enough that it provides us with understanding and inspires and excites us.
Am I asking too much? Perhaps Ginny and I are simply spoonfed products of our generation, or perhaps we are just demanding more of the experts that hold the key to unlocking vast amounts of opportunities for understanding the world in which we live.
So I saw Rachel Botsman talk at the RSA the other day on the fact that we are using the Internet differently today than how we used to. (No shit Sherlock).
Whilst I felt like half of her talk could have been followed by those parentheses, I suppose:
a) half of the audience looked like they might have been too old to be able to walk unaided, let alone use a computer so it was only fair to make it simple
b) that is kind of the point that she was making - that she is only highlighting what is already happening in our society, not something that will happen some time in the dark, distant future.
No one hangs out with their neighbours anymore - the average person has 120 friends on Facebook and yet 7 out of 10 people don’t know their neighbours’ names.
90% of the stuff we own, we use less than once a month.
The average power drill gets used for about 12 minutes in it’s entire existence.
However, what interested me most was when Rachel talked about usage - that for my generation, usage and access are way more important than ownership. This makes so much sense to me - I don’t want possessions, I want the things they give me access to. I want the music, not the CD, I want the film, not the DVD and frankly I don’t even care that much about my iPhone, except for the fact that it let’s me do tons of cool shit that other phones won’t. (like updating this blog on the move).
I think we are still consumers, but we certainly are stretching out to explore other ways to live our lives - as Rachel says, we are also collaborators with a renewed belief in the importance of community. ‘More’ for us, does not mean what it meant to our parents. We can use the Internet to connect more, and better with the people around us in the real world.
I am currently the proud pregnant mother of a humungous food baby, thanks to a delightful evening at Newington Green’s popular supperclub establishment, The Shed (www.theshedlikesfood.blogspot.com). Nicola has been running her friendly, back-to-basics style supper club with her partner Andrew from their shed at the bottom of their garden for about a year and a half now - we figured out that that equates to about 500 hungry mouths happily fed and watered in the shed during that time!
Today was pie themed and the idea was that Nicola would bake a couple of pies and all the guests could bring a contribution to the supper in some shape or form.
That veggie pie was the best bloody pie I have ever tasted.
Contributions: cheese (lots and lots of cheese), banana cake, strawberry and rhubarb cordial (yes, that was us), champagne and some lemony/cream pudding thing which was so tasty it made me momentarily forget where I was an loose track of all of the conversation going on around me. You know when a pudding is good when it does that.
Anyway, the night was yet another great opportunity to throw myself into the company of some strangers for the night and to meet some locals of Newington Green! A lovely bunch, great food and a beautiful beautiful shed.
“I am for art that is smoked like a cigarette. Smells like a pair of shoes.
I am for art that flaps like a flag or helps blow noses, like a handkerchief.
I am for art that is put on and taken off, like pants, which develops hles, like socks, which is eaten, like a piece of pie, or abandoned with great contempt, like a piece of shit…”—
(Taken from my friend Ginny’s dissertation. More about that later.)