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Automatic English For The People

Friday, July 14, 2006

Beauty, Vibe, and Other Touchy-Feely Things

by AJ

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"Aesthetics matter.
Beautiful things WORK better."
--From Kathy Sierra's most recent post.

One of the best things about freelance teaching is that I'm able to choose aesthetically pleasing environments in which to do it. I typically meet my private (face to face) students in local coffee shops. These shops get the "beautiful things work better" thing. They have a warm, inviting, cozy environment. The air is saturated with the smell of roasted coffee. Pleasant music (classical, opera, "world"..) resonates. There are large windows, ideal for people watching.

Likewise, I have a comfortable environment when teaching online-- my apartment. I open a big window to let in the light and air, kick back, and enjoy myself.

The most frustrating thing about the educational "culture of ugliness" is that its so unnecessary. Beautiful things don't cost more. In fact, funky fabulous furniture can be bought from thrift stores for a fraction of the cost of the sterile stuff favored by most schools.

Most cities have an art/design school or two-- why not hire a couple of students to beautify the school?

I keep asking these questions but I think I already know the answer. The "culture of ugly", after all, is not an isolated problem. Its just a small component of the "school as factory" mentality. This mentality goes very deep into the core of traditional educational. Its a mentality that values control, standardization, numbers, detailed syllabi, tests, grades, authority, and obedience. However nice the individual teachers and administrators are, they all become infected with the "factory virus". Students, too, become infected.

This virus is very difficult to cure.

The safest and most effective cure is quarantine-- that is, removal from the school environment. Though it takes time, learners who leave school and embark on self-directed study do recover. They recover their curiosity. They recover their enthusiasm. They recover their motivation, energy, and passion.

Teachers who leave often recover as well. They recover their humanity. They recover their joy. They recover their passion and enthusiasm. They recover a sense of purpose and a love of learning.

The power of environment and aesthetics goes well beyond a few touchy-feely vibes. The environment has a massive impact on our expectations, our beliefs, and our attitude. A learner in a school environment behaves much differently than a learner in a coffee shop.

Perhaps the simplest solution to the myriad evils of traditional education is simply this: leave.



San Francisco, CA

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