I have found a new way to live my life. A new reality. It’s called home. I work from home, work-out from home, and teach from home.
In my “old” reality, I was always on the move. Constantly commuting and traveling. Attending meetings and making presentations. One of the highlights of my life was to return home — home was a sanctuary, a place to escape from reality.
And when I was at home, I rarely watched TV shows. I turned on the television late at night to flick through the channels for a few moments before going to bed.
One year ago, I could not have imagined that there was another way.
But now that I am home so much more often, I have subscribed to all the major streaming services. I am particularly interested in movies and series that inspire me to become a better teacher.
This is The Way
My wife and I started to watch Star Wars’ The Mandalorian.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s about a bounty hunter, rescued and adopted by a tribe of warriors from the planet Mandalore. They raised him according to the principles of a strict code. For instance, they never remove their helmets when other people or creatures are present. The series refers to the code with the catchphrase, “This is The Way.”
No matter what you think of the series — I don’t want to give any spoilers — two things have caught my attention.
First, the series was able to introduce another catchy phrase that will stick with you. Everyone knows, “May the Force be with you.” “This is The Way” has a similar impact.
My wife and I are now using the sentence every time we need to justify doing something unusual or when our dog does something she isn’t supposed to do.
“This is The Way.”
The second, and more important, observation is that the series holds up a mirror to us all — we have all started to look a lot like Mandalorians ourselves.
The Disney series is science fiction, but, like all the best fiction, it captures an important truth about how we live our lives and shows it back to us. We all want to live our lives in a certain way. We love customs and routines and prefer to look for “best practices” in almost everything we do.
The Mandalorian “way of living,” like any code, is about managing expectations — both of ourselves and others. It provides a framework for reducing complexity and smoothly navigating the world.
Unteaching the Way
Unfortunately, the Mandalorian way is also embedded in our approach to education. And here, like any code, it has a downside.
I was teaching on a training program last week. At one point, we discussed how organizations must adopt measures very quickly to adapt to the new reality of a post-corona world. The pace of the digital transformation is accelerating. Every business must become a data-analytics company and everyone must experiment with new digital products and services in the workplace.
But it was challenging for the participants to imagine a world with jobs that have never existed before. It was even more challenging to understand the digital impact on their current work.
Thinking about, and adapting to, “other ways” is never easy. Finding an easy way out or living in denial are always easier. Once we have found “our way,” it is difficult to step outside and see things from the outside.
The problem starts already at school. We are teaching students to behave and work in a particular way. The same goes for the way we want them to communicate (how papers are written and tests are done).
I experience this all the time. If I give an assignment with the instruction that students are free to deliver their work in any format they find suitable, confusion prevails. I am bombarded with questions.
Schools do indeed kill creativity.
Our Mandalorian approach to education also has a massive impact on learning. The expectations and prejudices about the right way of teaching and learning hamper the development of important self-learning skills.
Finding a New Way
But it isn’t all bad news. The main character of the series, Din Djarin, meets other Mandalorians who don’t live by his strict code. He uses the phrase “This is the Way” less often. Did these encounters trigger Din Djarin’s unconscious mind into recognizing that there might be a different (and possibly better) way?
This exposure to different realities — and different worlds — prompts him into seeing and considering alternatives. Doubt is introduced into his world and he begins to change.
And when he is presented with a tough and challenging problem, he is willing to put his rules aside (by taking his helmet off in a public space in broad daylight, for example).
The science fiction story fits with my experience of education.
I have to spend a lot of time, “unteaching” the students. How? I present them with a challenging problem and don’t accept a general and standardized answer. And, when I force them to experiment and innovate — to search for a new way, an original solution — something magical happens.
I tap into the creative power that I genuinely believe is present in everyone. Once activated, the students have shown me the most creative and fantastic ideas, presented in mind-blowing formats.
And this is the thing, when you are persistent as a teacher, students love the opportunity to become creators and builders. The success of Roblox, for example — the creative gaming platform for kids — makes me believe that this compulsion to create stuff is hard-wired into us. Creating is one of the most effective “ways” to find meaning and happiness, particularly in our new economic reality.
Creativity is not a talent, but a way of operating. It is just another code. A big part of this code is to continually experiment and convince ourselves not to settle for a quick and easy solution. It’s crucial to tolerate the discomfort and agitation that we experience when we are presented with a problem and struggle to solve it. It often leads to more creative and innovative solutions.
It’s fascinating how a Star Wars show reminds me that one of the most important roles of educators is to unteach “the way” and unlock the capacity to make something new.
It’s time to take creativity more seriously in education — time for a new way.