Monday, April 17, 2006
Red Lights, White Eggs, and Blue Scarves
An art instructor decided to test the basic observation skills of the new group of students for his Introduction to Painting class. For the initial lesson the teacher chose a still life composition, consisting primarily of white styrofoam cut-outs of various geometric shapes; placed in the center of the shapes, however, was an open carton of fresh white eggs.
The entire still life set-up was bathed in a soft red glow, courtesy of floodlights off to the side, giving white styrofoam and white eggs a temporary crimson hue.
The painting students were left to interpret the set-up unguided by their teacher for this early exercise, since the point was for the instructor to gage the starting skill level of his new painting class.
To his surprise, while each student had chosen to reproduce the styrofoam in the appropriate red, the eggs remained white! When the art teacher attempted to point out the seeming irony to his group, he was surprised yet again, this time by the strong protests of his students: “but these eggs are white!” “Eggs are white, not red”; their belief became their perception, unadaptable.
Despite what they were clearly looking at, the students chose to see something that wasn’t there, such was the unassailable strength of their pre-conceived notions.
Today, most of academia reverses the roles expressed in the previous scenario, as students who are just beginning to learn how to see, are confronted by sophists dogmatically asserting that eggs turned red are still white. The potential chasm of understanding between looking and seeing, is dismissed with a tyrant’s wave of the hand, forbidding scrupulous measurement, vigorous analysis and (horrors!) the admission of error.
The better teachers, announce "I need you" to their students, confessing the limits of their knowledge, and establishing a worthy goal for the students to rise to: teaching the teacher.
The worst teachers declare: "you need me!", blinding themselves to any change to their academic point of view. "You only look, it is I who sees; who are you to challenge me?"
The best teachers are themselves still students, energized by an eagerness to keep learning, humbled by regular testing of their accumulated knowledge, and re-invigorated by placing themselves in a public arena where they can find themselves facing others with the mutual goal of self-betterment.
Every week, in numerous encounters across Canada and the United States, such students gather publicly to learn. Online, we acknowledge each other through our blogs, in person we identify ourselves through the shared symbol of a blue scarf. Inspired by a new movement begun late last year in France, La Revolution Bleue, we meet publicly to discuss the topics we blog about, to learn, to compare, so that we may humbly yet assuredly verify that what we believe we look at, is in fact what others are seeing as well.
This Thursday, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, we will be meeting yet again, in the Atrium of the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
Where will you be?