[permaculture] perception, observation, and design-was schooling

Jenny Katz jennykatz at sbcglobal.net
Sat Jul 15 21:51:16 EDT 2006

Kathyann wrote: "Noting the patterns does not reduce the plant to only those
elements but allows me to include it and its value whenever I consider the
area as a whole and gives more details than I may recall when tending it."

And Jedd wrote: "Observe and [then] interact --- to pick a commonly cited
aphorism... Is the observing component of this dictum inherently
anti-creative?... I'd suggest it isn't... the tools used to come up with
metrics are merely tools, and so long as the results you glean from these
are treated within the context of their own strengths and weaknesses, they
can be immensely useful."

These comments (and the general idea of education, observation, and
evaluation) reminded me of Edward deBono, the guy who coined the term
"lateral thinking." He's written several books about creativity and thinking
skills, which he insists are rarely taught in schools (or anywhere else) but
certainly _can_ be taught. He focuses on the importance of perception in
this process and emphasizes the fact that, in general, we perceive only what
we look for (shades of quantum mechanics here).

It's clear that evaluative tools, as Jedd and Kathyann suggest, are both
helpful, even necessary, and limited. Certainly maps, to use only one
example, are as much about what you leave out as what you put in. What's
more, it appears that the tools very often end up shaping what they're
setting out to measure. (The double-slit wave/particle experiment comes to
mind here. Also the effect of language in all of this: Books like Teaching
as a Subversive Activity, Metaphors We Live By, and Ishmael talk about the
essential role language plays in the process of perception and therefore of
action. The message is the medium is the message.) I can't help thinking of
the repercussions of "No Child Left Behind," which tests certain skills in
reading and math to the exclusion of almost everything else, and which has
resulted in many schools' (particularly inner-city schools, the students of
which tend to test poorly and are thus at particular danger of losing
funding) dropping nearly every non-tested subject from the curriculum. Even
in my own kids' school, which is in a wealthy soccer-mom exurb, test
preparation takes up at least a month and a half of the school year.

I've liked reading deBono because he's helping me think about systems of
observation that _widen_ my sphere of perception instead of narrowing it.

Not coincidentally, deBono talks about good thinking as a process of
"design" as opposed to more one-dimensional "problem-solving" or "critical
thinking." Very pertinent to the permacultural mindset, obviously. I love
how all these seemingly different ideas, at bottom, reveal themselves to be
part of the same whole--like the elephant and the blind men. (My farmers'
market newsletter is entitled The Whole Elephant Enterprise, partly because
it gave me the acronym WHEE!, to remind me that this thing ought to be fun
as well as serious.)


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