Back to School)
Learning isn’t always fun. Especially when you are learning something that you don’t care about, and must do so by a firm deadline! I still consider some of my required college courses to be the most torturous ordeals I’ve ever gone through! Not simply because they were hard, but because they just didn’t interest me. I could handle difficult courses if I cared about the subject, but if I didn’t, then studying for them was sheer misery.
And, like many students, I would run away from the drudgery, finding refuge in the likes of novels, movies, music, and games. I would “take a break,” trying to find something that was as far away from “education” as possible.
Or was I?
Because when I think about the movies I watched, the books I read, and the games I played, I realize that they were all educational in their own way. They challenged me and required me to learn things I didn’t know, just like the very lessons I was running away from.
Take Lord of the Rings for example, one of the most demanding novels I’ve ever read. It’s prose was thick, it’s world was sprawling, and it’s lore was voluminous. Without even realizing it I was filing away a multitude of facts about the geography, history, and politics of Middle Earth and these were often the very subjects that I was running away from in the real world. Here, though, they were a delight to me!
Or what about when I watched Good Will, Hunting, a moving drama about a young man who has incredible potential, but is held back by all the emotional scars he carries. I’d watch that movie and feel that it had taught me so much more about psychology, society, and mental health than any of the college courses I was taking.
And there was also Portal, one of my favorite video games of all time. Here I was taught basic concepts of physics and teleportation, and then required to prove my mastery of these concepts by combining them in increasingly intricate ways. Portal helped ease me into the art of complex problem solving, which was a great boon to my classes in logic, mathematics, and programming.
So was I really coming to these movies and games and stories to get away from education? Absolutely not! Learning is one of the absolute greatest pleasures for us in life! Learning is always fun!
When it’s done right, anyway.
A Curious Mind)
Our minds want to be stimulated. We genuinely hate to be bored. William Faulkner once wrote, that “given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain,” and there have been studies conducted that show he is far from alone in this sentiment!
Behind boredom is the insatiable yearning to discover new things. This is why we have never had a generation that looked at what they already had and said “that’s enough, I won’t try to add anything to it.” We always try to discover something more. Every invention and advancement is always surpassed by another, because we are made to learn and then create.
And whenever our learning surpasses what we can create literally, we create them literarily instead! Think of Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne, who lacked the technology to build out the rockets and robots in their heads, but they went to the workshop of the mind and invented it all anyway, laying a foundation that both fiction and science have continued to build upon ever since! Continued to build on because, of course, we do not see their work and say “that is enough.” No, we have to press further, reach higher, and discover deeper!
But then why are school courses often so tedious? What is it about some forms of learning that is so pleasant, and others that is so repulsive?
To some degree, of course, it will depend on the subject and the student. All of us may be curious, but none of us are curious about all things. For one student mathematics is a challenging delight, for another it is genuine torture. I mentioned a novel, film, and game that all stimulated my mind, but not everyone likes Lord of the Rings, or Good Will Hunting, or Portal. If each of these were required in school courses, there would be those that saw them as the exact same drudgery that I was trying to escape from.
But I do believe there is a common trait that typically separates positive learning experiences from negative ones. It is when the education involves some sort of personal interaction from its pupil. Being “told” an education is never going to be as stimulating as actually living it!
Earlier, when I spoke of how our minds want to be stimulated, that thread quickly ran into examples of people inventing things. Education is at its absolute best when it is gained through the act of discovery or invention. Thus the best education is given incomplete, requiring the pupil to make the second half of it.
Lord of the Rings, for example, is already an interesting book, but what made it truly come alive for me was when it sparked visions of fantasies that weren’t on its pages. And Good Will Hunting is a moving film in and of itself, but it became so much more because when it made me reflect on my own life, and the ways I keep my own potential locked behind my wounds. And of course Portal, being a game, is designed entirely around interactivity. It gives the problems and the tools, but every solution was an invention of my own.
And this same inventiveness has always been present in my favorite courses at school. Because yes, I actually do have a lot of pleasant memories from school as well. And virtually all of those pleasant memories are based around classes that told me to come up with my own program, or draw my own picture, or write my own story. Then I wasn’t simply using my education to rehash what other people had discovered, I was using it to discover my own secrets. Secrets that the world has never known.
And this is the exact sensation I am trying to capture in my latest story, Covalent. Cace’s exploration of the Ether is meant to capture all the best parts of discovery, invention, and education. But even more than that, I am hoping that it will spark a little inventiveness in the minds of my reader as well. Hopefully by my leaving some stones unturned, the reader will have a way to make their own mark in this world!