We who cut mere stone must always be envisioning cathedrals.
Dr. Frank Pajares, an educational psychologist and professor of education at Emory University, and my greatest adult mentor, used the quote above as one of his four foundations of teaching and learning. I wish he were still alive for many reasons. This week, I am re-reading Michael Michalko’s Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work, and I think Dr. P would have loved Michalko’s metaphor of the cathedral – I wish Dr. P and I could discuss it.
Before you go to school, your mind is like a cathedral with a long central hall where information enters and intermingles and combines with other information without distinction. Education changes that. Education changes the cathedral of your mind into a long hall with doors on the sides that lead to private rooms segregated from the main assembly.
When information enters the hall, it’s recognized, labeled, boxed, and then sent to one of the private rooms and trapped inside. One room is labeled “biology,” one room is labeled “electronics,” one room is labeled “business,” one room is for religion, one is for agriculture, one is for math, and so on. We’re taught that, when we need ideas or solutions, we should go to the appropriate room and find the appropriate box and search inside. (8-9)
We hear this segregated-room thinking when we hear someone ask, “What do you teach?” More often than not, people answer with a subject title, grade level, or discipline. What if we answered with a human-centered response? How would that eventually change how we see ourselves? It makes my hair on the back of my neck standup when I hear someone say, “Oh, I this is math class. We don’t write in here, and you’ll have to ask your English teacher that question.” And, I bristle even more at comments that dismiss we adults knowing something because of the subject on which we concentrate – “This next question is for all the history teachers…”
Michalko goes on later in the chapter to explain a piece of why Leonardo da Vinci is considered the greatest genius in all history. He did not overly segregate his thinking. Michalko’s attributes this partly to the fact that da Vinci was not allowed to attend university – his mind was allowed to remain in Cathedral state, rather than roomed and boxed. Children’s minds are often the same…until we school them into thinking, “Oh, that’s math… and that’s English… and that’s history.” Then, after formal schooling, we seem to begin the process of re-integrating our thinking – opening the doors of the roomed hallway to re-intermingle the ideas in a cathedral-like space (or coffeehouse-like space according to Steven Johnson).
Last week, Lovett’s American Studies Institute (#ASI2012) reminded us that “we who cut mere stone must always be envisioning cathedrals.” Dr. P would have loved the walk down that long, integrated, intermingling central hall. I think he would have loved considering that “the revolution” may return us to building cathedrals instead of apartment complexes…to thinking more like Leonardo.
Michalko, Michael. Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2011. Print.