Monday, 9 November 2009

Retire before you stop learning.


I was at school and we were studying Seamus Heaney . My teacher asked "so, what do we think the author meant by the language he's used just here....?".
I vividly remember my answer innocently ringing out that; Seamus had "written down what he meant right there, job done", to which trite repost my teacher (wearily) dragged out a sighing" .. yes ... yes Jonathan, but what does he really mean, beneath the simple printed text?"

In retrospect I think maybe he wanted us to talk about metaphor and simile but at the time although I loved books and still do, I'd had enough of picking poems apart and just asked (bristling) whether Seamus Heaney was dead or not.

I'm not sure, at this point if my teacher foresaw the orientation of this tetchy discourse. He may even have perceived a window of inspirational opportunity, because he launched into waxing lyrical about Mr Heaney being very much alive, prolific and defining what poetry is, and can be for all of us etc etc. Which set me up beautifully to deliver the painfully logical answer to his original question -

"Let's ring him up and ask him then. Lets find out what he means, because even though he's as good as you say he is, you still don't know what he's talking about, and you're meant to be teaching us this."

Ouch. Fail.



I always ask Photography students 'Who their favourite practitioners are? And, if they're alive?'

I'll then follow this with 'Okay, great, so what do they think of your work?'

Followed again by; "What ? They're that important to your practice and you haven't engaged them in any way ? "

For student fresh out of high school, this seems a vaguely absurd question. Not because they wouldn't know how to get in touch, because the mechanics of doing
that are as blindingly obvious as to be assumed knowledge to them. No, their sticking point is usually why? Why might this person speak to me?

There's another group of people that find this a vaguely absurd question and oftentimes they re-inforce the students ill-founded outlook. But for very different reasons. Theirs isn't simply a case of porting existing social media habits into their professional practice. For these people, the thought of bridging the gaps between enthusiast and established practitioner are so other worldly and unsettling as to be vaguely uncouth.

These are the people that piss me off. They're the teachers/lecturers/professors/"experts", who's patronising smiles, knowing nods and mutters of 'boyish enthusiasm' turn me back into the obstinate seventeen year old. And worse.

Err.. here's a news flash for those people (and please pass it on because I don't think you're one of them) - contrary to what they might think, this is actually not a 'novel idea'.

This isn't even optional.

This is absolutely, mind numbingly crucial for anyone planning on being proactive about their career right now.
Note that I said right now, not in the future,but right now.



The internet is substantially older than most of the students going through college, look at this through their eyes for a moment, what will they think ? You've actually had their entire lifetime and more to get used to the idea of the internet. Did you not see the writing on the wall?

How as an "educator/expert or otherwise person of influence" can you not be leading on developing new understandings of what we/they do and how we sustain those practices? Every time I hear someone in a position of educational authority or aspirational influence bleat that Photography/Journalism/Books/Music is/are dead/dying/gone I want to retire them to oblivion.

Perhaps as a compromise and where teaching resources are rich they (the dino-teachers) could teach pure craft, whilst the current generation of new learner/practitioners apply them. Before they (the current learners) then come back to teach how they made them relevant and sustainable to yet another generation of Lens-based practitioners.

Who was it that said "Some people die at 25 but don't get buried til they're 70"?

Well those people shouldn't teach.


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