More than words
It’s amazing to see so many people who think highly of someone else (or perhaps themselves) for internalizing and being able to recall a large amount of information, as if it was a kind of stage trick; it conveys the impression that knowledge is prized higher than all else. The unfortunate aspect of the pursuit of knowledge is that it places way too much emphasis on one aspect of perception (the intellectual) while devaluing all the others; it’s harmful because it leads to a surface understanding of everything – knowledge in the form of Information takes precedence over a greater awareness of one’s environment and the other aspects of the universe that surround that knowledge. That’s why teaching the test leads to students memorizing and forgetting – Information is the goal, whether or not it’s in their bones. If accumulating knowledge was the sole basis of learning, then it would make perfect sense to replace every student with a computer: a teacher could provide something to be remembered, the Information would be stored away, and when requested, the machine would regurgitate exactly what the input was.
This kind of emphasis also seems to exist for verbal forms. For a student to prove their understanding of a topic, they are often required to read about it, then write about it. Why isn’t experiencing a topic first-hand required as an addition to reading about it (or perhaps as an alternative)? Why is the essay/dissertation the nearly exclusive form of output encouraged or accepted by academic institutions everywhere when there are so many other ways for a person to communicate their thoughts and express themselves? The Rite of Spring and the Matrix both make powerful statements in their respective forms – their expressiveness and impact would be comparatively crippled had their statements been realized in the form of an essay.
How can the world make any progress when future generations are being trained to limit their scope to what can be expressed in words? (I mean scope to be the range of dimensions one is open to in their perception, as opposed to a set of behaviours or interests). It’s interesting that the people to whom progress is attributed seem to have no end to their scope: consider Bach, Prokofiev, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Glenn Gould, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Steve Jobs, and so on – they expressed themselves through composing, performing, conducting, creating visual art, broadcasting, speaking, teaching, fashion, hardware, software, or anything they could get their hands on; many of them wrote words as well! They all had the understanding that though the intellectual is important, the aural, visual, emotional, physical, physiological, FORMal, and so on, are also significant and can be used as a means of making a statement; their minds are wide open to any possibility.
A common response to these issues is that words are objective and measurable, whereas other forms are subjective and immeasurable. That is true, but by not acknowledging those subjective perceptions, we are putting a limit on the trait that makes us human – our individuality; any artist will acknowledge that at least 50% of the party is at what cannot be expressed in words. Why homogenize everyone when the prime characteristic of any of the aforementioned progress makers is that they were strong individuals? Perhaps the purpose of education needs to be rethought so we are enabling minds as opposed to measuring and limiting them.
The thought of encouraging everyone to express themselves in their own way scares some people because they fear it will lead to chaos. I think it would lead to many more progress makers finding new original ways of building on the past and taking us forward. Where would art be if that was the case? Where would the world be?